Team Chevy Racing News |
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard – An American Salute/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his strategy for this weekend’s race, the sway bar rule change and other topics.
QUESTION: Talk about coming back to Daytona and your thoughts about running in the Coke Zero 400.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: “Just looking forward to it. The track just got paved recently and every time you come back, you kind of anticipate how the track is going to change. It should be changing quite rapidly, or at least I hope it is. It’s getting slicker and slicker with each time we come back. The color of the track itself has definitely lightened up quite a bit. It seems like every time we come back its quite a big change. That’s great for the drivers and great for the fans. I think it will be a good race. They made some good changes here last winter to shorter the spoiler and take a lot of grip out of the car, get us away from tandem-drafting by closing up the grills and putting the grills in a different spot. That to me made a better race and I’m looking forward to the weekend. Glad to be here.”
Q: As well as you did here in February, did Talladega take a little wind out of our plate-racing sails, or does it just not matter all when you come back?
DEJ: “Yeah, I don’t really remember what happened at Talladega. I feel like with the team I’m with, I don’t really worry too much about it. I feel like every time we’re going to come to Daytona and Talladega, it really comes down to the driver making the right choices and doing the right thing in the race. Our car should be good enough to compete, and good enough to compete up front and they were in Daytona. I imagine the reason why I don’t remember Talladega is probably because I didn’t do something right. I’m not too worried about it this weekend. We’ve been talking already this week about what cowl we need to run and things we need to try before we feel ready to wrap up practice. You don’t really practice a whole lot for these races. We know we’ve got a couple of things and don’t feel like we are as strong as we want to be. So, we’re definitely going to do some things and try to make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned in practice today. But, I feel good. I’m looking forward to the race. I love running here and love coming here, and I feel like the car should be plenty good enough as long as I can do everything right in the race.”
Q: Danica Patrick ran really well here in this race a year ago. She ran well during Speedweeks as well. How would you handicap her chances in your car tomorrow night?
DEJ: “She’s got a good chance. That car should be pretty strong. Tony (Eury), Jr. is really good at putting a car together that will run well at Daytona, so she’s got to feel pretty good about the equipment. I think the guys at Hendrick Motorsports have done a great job on the engines this year. Every time I’ve driven, the cars have been really, really solid. I’m looking forward to one of my guys trying to get a win. We haven’t had a win in a good while, and we certainly are due as a company and I know Danica would love to get a win. I think she’s got a good shot.”
Q: At the end of the race last weekend, you said you are not going to be as patient this time in waiting for another victory. How did victory feel to you this time around after a long drought?
DEJ: “You know when you are winning consistently you feel like all eight cylinders are hitting. You feel like that everything is working the way it’s supposed to. You feel like you are accomplishing what you are supposed to do. You’re going out doing the job that you get up in the morning to do. You’re celebrating and there’s a lot of great things happening, a lot of smiling and happy people. You just feel like things are what they are supposed to be. When you go 20 races, and 30 races, then 50, 70 and 100 races, you feel like there’s something not quite right, or a missing piece. There’s a broken cog in the wheel somewhere that’s keeping you out of victory lane. You get impatient, and you want to get frustrated. You can’t do that because you’ve got to keep a good attitude for the people around you. You can’t get a real bad attitude and get childish about it, because the guys on your team are working as hard as they can work to go to the race track every week. Every team in the garage is grinding away as hard as they can go. I remember back a couple of years in the Cup Series and in the Nationwide Series when we were winning, and in the Nationwide Series we were winning quite a bit, back then it felt like it was all a dream we were winning so much. I didn’t expect to win that many races in the first two years of that series. Then we came into Cup and won and then I got into the series after four of five years and had a couple of good years where we would string a few together. You just felt like you were the best team in the garage and everything was going like it was supposed to be. That’s what you want to be when you show up. Every week you think you’re the best and you want to be the best. When you are not winning, you wonder what piece is missing.”
Q: Last week, everyone was talking about the sway bars affecting you; I know you had said that you didn't think they were going to affect you, but other people were. (Brad) Keselowski said it was going to be a major difference and (Kevin) Harvick mentioned you specifically. To get through that race and it seemed like the Hendrick cars still performed really well. Do you feel like you answered some of those questions for yourself or others and what did you make of the people speculating that was going to be something that knocked you down a few notches?
DEJ: “We felt pretty confident about our cars all year. We have been running pretty good since the year started. That rule change to me was quite insignificant to every other variable on the car that we’re confident in. In my personal opinion it was a bit of a magnified view of one small part of a huge working machine that we have at our grasp. I feel like Steve (Letarte, crew chief) has not just that tiny piece of the car figured out but we have a lot of other things going in the right direction that have helped us run good all year long. One rule that gets changed that apparently only affects our cars (laughs) just sounds crazy. I think it credits us for being smart, it credits out company for being intelligent, but we aren’t the only ones out there with rear sway bars and we aren’t the only ones out there that know how to use them. Maybe those other guys are pretty smart for playing dumb, but the change wasn’t going to make a big different we’ve been running good all year long. I feel like we wouldn’t miss a beat. I really didn’t feel any concern over the rule change what so ever. I know it got a lot of guys excited and Brad (Keselowski) ended up going and winning that race, but I think we are still a good team and a strong team.
“I feel like the second to last run in that race we were super-fast and I know Jimmie (Johnson) was quick all night long. For whatever reason, which it happens sometimes, it’s happened to me a lot of times that last run on our tires we were just really loose. Jimmie (Johnson) about wrecked his car a couple of times and I about wrecked a couple of times, but we all ended up running pretty well and finishing pretty well. I felt like in the first practice and in the second practice we made our statement. I don’t think the race; I thought the race was an afterthought. I felt like just the speed we had in the first two practices on Friday should have been a good answer.”
Q: In trying to decide who to work with at the end of the race, do you lean more towards friends and people you trust, or whoever your car has worked with best druing the race?
DEJ: “I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I’ve won races working with my teammate before. I’ve won races being the most selfish guy out there. It just depends on what you need to do and what is happening or who is around and what’s happening. If you’ve got an opportunity at the end of the race on one of them last restarts to get with, if your teammate happens to be the guy that you are working with that is the best case scenario because we have seen that work a lot of times here. Where Matt (Kenseth) pushed (David) Ragan to win the Dodge’s of Penske with Kurt (Bush) and (Ryan) Newman teamed up and won some races. Me and Michael (Waltrip) in the DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) days won a lot of races; I mean that is a great scenario because you know you can trust each other. Neither one of you is going to do something that is going to ruin it for the whole company. Between the two of you one of you is going to find victory lane and that is the best scenario but at the end of the race if that doesn’t look like that is going to happen or that is not an option or not going to materialize for you, you need really be as selfish as you can be. Just be the biggest jerk you can be out there and that is the way it’s got to be if you want to get to victory lane. You ain’t going to do it by expecting favors you just have to go out there and take it from people and if you can get to victory lane you don’t have to worry about having somebody tell you that was stupid. It is tough. That is not my mentality (laughs). I don’t think of myself as a jerk, but you kind of have to be one if you want to win at the end of these races more times than not.”