Team Chevy Racing News |
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/The Dark Knight Rises/National Guard Chevrolet, met with media and discussed his car paint scheme this week, feeling very close to winning, how well his team is working together, the speeds at MIS, and more.
QUESTION: Talk about your car and how nifty it looks.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: “We’re just out here promoting the new Batman movie with Diet Mountain Dew. And that’s the 'Tumbler', the new Batman mobile. It looks pretty cool. I’m interested in going up there and taking a better look at it myself. But, it’s pretty exciting. I think it’s a great cross-promotion for Hollywood and NASCAR and hopefully they enjoy it and I’m sure we will.”
Q: Do you like having a black car?
DEJ: “Yeah, I normally wear white suits because of the heat in the summertime, but I’m going to see how it goes. I never remember driving a black car before, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Q: What do you think of the speeds around Michigan International Speedway this year?
DEJ: “Well, they’re fine. You don’t really feel like you’re going that fast. They’re really high and they look big on the sheet and they look impressive on the stats, but the speeds really don’t feel that fast. The car is real comfortable and it’s really surprising to hear the speeds that we’re running because it doesn’t feel like we’re going that fast.”
Q: Do you think you'll be able to run the high line like you have in year's past?
DEJ: “There’s no groove up there yet. So until somebody goes up there and puts one down, I’m going to run where the groove’s at.”
Q: Are the speeds ridiculously high or are they fast here and then slow down? Can you put it into perspective?
DEJ: “The speeds don’t feel that fast. I feel like my car is going 180, but it says on the chart it’s going 200 or whatever. It just feels like it’s always felt here. It kind of just feels like qualifying, but there’s a lot of grip and the car is pretty comfortable.”
Q: What stands out most for you from your win here four years ago?
DEJ: “Oh, probably just the nerves the last few laps and all those caution laps and knowing we had a green-white-checkered and not sure we had enough gas to make it.”
Q: How close do you feel like you're getting back to that?
DEJ: “I feel like we’re getting really close. We’ve been really competing well and have been competitive every week and at every track. And that’s feels really good to say. The team is excited. We ran great last week. We had a strong car. So, the team is really excited. We’re just kind of going to each race track every weekend and seeing what kind of car we can put out on the starting grid on Sunday. I feel like if we keep going, we’re going to win some races. We’ve just got to keep working.”
Q: Greg Biffle was saying that you're so much better now than you've been the last few years, and that almost puts more pressure on you to think about winning more because you know you can win. Is there something to that?
DEJ: “I don’t know. I feel better right now than I have in the last several years when we weren’t competing well; when we weren’t running well and we had to answer as to why we weren’t winning. We were miles from winning, you know? We were so far away from being able to compete and win a race and be competitive enough to win a race that that was a tough question to answer. Now, it just feels like it’s right around the corner. So I’m getting excited. I’m getting more and more excited the more we run this year. The last couple of weeks we seem to have improved more as a team. Last year, we kind of held steady all year and we did well, and we were happy how we finished in the points, but we really just kind of held it steady the entire season. We didn’t really find speed throughout the year. But this year, we’ve been able to start off good and now in the Summer here in the last couple of weeks, we’ve found good speed more than we really had at the start of the year, which is really what teams that I see win races, do.”
Q: Are you surprising yourself where as the car comes to you that you're listening more? Or have you always had that, but now you have the equipment and the right combination?
DEJ: “It takes the whole team. You hear that all the time and it sounds like such a cliché, but it takes everything working at the right time, at the right pace, and everybody with a good attitude. One guy with a bad attitude can ruin the next guy that ruins the next guy that ruins the next guy. And it just takes a matter of about four or five weeks before the whole team is terrible and upset with each other. And they just ain’t enjoying racing together. And people can’t do their jobs under those circumstances. So the whole thing’s got to work. And right now, I feel like we’ve got a team that’s really clicking on all cylinders.”
Q: Jimmie Johnson said earlier that the media had given him a hard time for not winning in 16 weeks. He can't imagine four years. What have those questions been like? How fair has the incessant questioning been?
DEJ: “It hasn’t been that incessant. I feel like it’s just a realistic inquiry and I feel pretty comfortable answering that question. And I’ve been honest. When you ask you why we haven’t won, I feel like I’ve told you how terrible we might have been and why we weren’t winning or how close we are and that it’s right around the corner. I’m just telling you my gut feeling. But I don’t feel like you guys (media) have asked the question too many times because I think that if you weren’t asking that kind of question, I’d be a little worried that nobody gives a dang when you’re going to win. And then not too many people are paying attention to you or following you. So that’s a good thing in a way and we’ll just keep going. We’re getting close and we’ve got speed and we’ve just got to put it together to win races.”
Q: Has the drought ever kept you up at night?
DEJ: “No. I never felt that it bothered me that much. There are other things about finishes and weekends and what happens to you on the race track that can bother you way worse than that to keep you up at night. If you just have a bad day or make a mistake that can ruin a race for your team or whatever; if you’re that guy and make that mistake on that day, it’s difficult to go home and shake it off. So, those kinds of deals are tough, but just the lack of winning and not getting in victory lane makes you really hungry and it makes you starve for it. Other than that it doesn’t really keep me up at night.”
Q: Compared to other sports teams, it seems like you take the brunt. People don't think about NASCAR as a team as much as individuals. Is it different?
DEJ: “I don’t know. I don’t really think about that. I think that I carry certain responsibility to answer to my accountability on the race track and I’ve always kind of done that. When people want to know why things aren’t going right or why something’s not happening the way it needs to happen or if it’s me or Steve (Letarte) or Rick (Hendrick) maybe is the guy you’re going to ask. You’re not going to ask the tire carrier or the car chief about his idea of where the team is or why they’re not winning. You want to hear from the driver or the crew chief. That’s part of the deal you sign-up for when you start racing in this series.”
Q: Talk about being on the same page with your crew chief.
DEJ: “Yeah, it’s great. I really feel lucky that I’ve got a guy that I believe in and get along with so well. I didn’t know that the relationship would be as good as it has been. I expected him to do a great job but it’s been better than I ever expected as far as how we’re getting along and how much I trust him and how good he is and how I believe in him and what he’s doing to my car and how he’s working on my car and preparing my car every week. There are a lot of great things going on there. That has a lot to do with our success too. I know that’s important to keep that going and keep that attitude and that relationship good and healthy.”
Q: Last week at Pocono, you told him 'Don't run me out of gas'. If that isn't the most honest thing you tell a crew chief. Any driver that's been there before, can you explain that sense of helplessness that a driver feels?
DEJ: “Yeah, you kind of have to make some decisions there, and make some hard decisions. Maybe we didn’t make the right one, but I believe in what we did. I believe in what he wanted to do and what I felt like I wanted to do; and we made the choice whether it’s collectively or not. I mean I really didn’t tell him what to do or really get into detail in helping him make a call on what do to on that as far as coming in for gas. But I’ve run out of gas there. It’s a very long race track. And when you run out of gas going down the front straightaway coming off of Turn 1, you’re going to lose a lot of spots and possibly a whole lap. So, I just don’t feel like we’re where we need to be to be able to take those kinds of gambles just yet. And maybe that’s not the right call or the right way to look at it; maybe we should have been more of a gambler and went for the win and we could have maybe won the race, who knows? But for the health of our team and the confidence of our team that we’re building and the momentum we’re building toward the end of the year to legitimately have a shot at competing and putting up a fight for the championship, we need to hold the reins a little bit and be smart about some of our decisions. I don’t know exactly what it would do to a team like us if we were to run out of gas and have a terrible finish. I’m not quite sure whether I want to test the waters and see how detrimental that would be to our psyche and how tough that would be on our team. So it’s just best that we made a good call and we were good enough to get back up to the top 10 and hopefully next time we have a car that fast, the strategy of the race and the way the cautions fall will fall more in our favor and we won’t have to make those kinds of decisions and we can go out there and try to win the race.”
Q: In essence, you're thinking way ahead of the win.
DEJ: “I want to try to win a championship. That’s what you run the whole season for and our team has really, really good speed now. We ran well last year in the Chase, but we weren’t in the battle for the championship. We did well; we did better than I think a lot of people anticipated us doing in the Chase. And so, we’ve put together a lot of great and consistent races and we’re second in points right now. And so if we can put together this type of performance in the Chase, I don’t see why we can’t consider ourselves with an opportunity to challenge for the championship. And we’ve got to go into that with great confidence. So, I want to keep plugging away and trying to stay healthy as a team.”
Q: Given your position in having not won, what would your reaction be to the opinion that it was actually a more gutsy call?
DEJ: “Well, I know that we weren’t doing the popular thing by pitting and taking the fuel. There were a lot of variables going on there. We didn’t anticipate that particular yellow flag to be an extra two or three laps longer than it was. They had called for one to go and then they dropped the trucks back out to look for some stuff on the back straightaway, and that took two laps extra to clean it up. So that really kind of put those guys that chose to stay out in a better position. And they didn’t get a green-white-checkered or anything that sort of would throw them a curve ball. It all kind of worked out in their favor. We just didn’t know if that was going to happen or not. We didn’t want to take that gamble.”