Team Chevy Racing News |
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his Father’s win in the Brickyard, going back to Pocono and other topics.
QUESTION: Talk about racing here at the Brickyard.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: “We’re coming here with pretty high expectations, coming off what’s been one of my best years maybe in my career. We like coming here. Like the history of the race track; the history here is incredible all the way to when it was shut-down through the war. How they had to renovate the place and bring it back. Just how it was able to survive a lot of things like that. Here we are racing on it today. It is just incredible. It is a challenging place. One groove and you kind of fight getting aero-tight behind people. You know when you show up for practice what you kind of need out of your car. We’ve been working on our car today and hoping that we can get it to doing the things that I want it to do, and it needs to do. I feel like at the end of practice, we were pretty happy with how the car was showing speed. The cars aren’t a real dream to drive, but I don’t know that even when they are fast they drive very well. We liked the speed the car has. We went into qualifying trim and didn’t really put down any good laps that I was happy with for some reason. We’ll evaluate that and move forward. But, I think the cars got some good speed in race trim. Just hopefully have a good start, and work on the car. And, work hard on Sunday, and see where we end up.”
Q: Is there anything specific you can put your finger on as to why this track has been hard on you in the past? Do you feel like the way you are running this year might translate to being better on this race track?
DEJ: “I think that it could. I think I could come in here and probably have my best finish here in quite awhile. I think the reason I struggle here is because it is one groove, and following people around the race track and not being able to get to their bumper because of the aero push; I don’t have a lot of patience for that. I like race tracks where I can change my line. You don’t have but really one choice to run through the corner here. You don’t have a top groove. You can’t really take a bigger arc in the corner, or change how you exit. You kind of have just one choice. Everybody has that same limitation, and you sort of snake around the race track without with the challenge of the aero push and everything, it is really difficult to get two people…when you are talking about running in the top-five, everybody is really running the same times. I’m just not a patient driver, so I get a little frustrated and end up over-driving my car, and I just can’t. When I got to race tracks where I get stuck behind somebody because it’s tight, I can move around, and do things that get creative, and do things that might help me, might now. But, in my mind, I feel like I’ve got more freedom. That is not a knock on the track. I think it’s just that some drivers are really, really smooth. Really patient. I’m a bit more brash in how I drive the car.”
Q: Were you here in 1995 when your dad won?
Q: What was that like for him and your family for him to have a win at this place so early-on in the history of the race?
DEJ: “I remember him talking about it before he had won here about how he wanted to be first. When they first came here to test, he had to be the first guy out on the race track. There was a lot of competition between him and Rusty (Wallace) and all the guys to get on the race track first because of the photo opportunity. (LAUGHS) The same thing about sitting on the pole for the first race, and winning the first race. When he didn’t win the first race, I think that disappointed him. He expected to come here and win the first race at this track. I knew it meant a lot to him when he did eventually win here because he knew, I think, that he was on the backside of his career. He wasn’t certainly wasn’t staring at 15 more years, and knew the opportunities would be limited coming here once a year. It meant a lot to him to get a win.”
Q: Is it extra frustrating for you here knowing this is the kind of place that cements driver's reputations and you haven't had that break through here yet?
DEJ: “Yes, I guess so. I don’t really feel as frustrated about my performance here, I think, as one might think. I remember some cars that I had here were pretty good. I thought we had a good car here last year, and we got a bunch of grass on the grill and had to come in, and lost a lot of track positions. We just fought all day long to get that back. And then Juan (Pablo Montoya) hit the fence in front of us and decided to quit the race, and ran into the side of my car going on to pit lane. It was a little bit of a rough day. But, I thought we had good speed. I look at the positives. I don’t come here thinking ‘I’ve never been able to get my finger on this place’. I feel like I know how to get around here. I’m just looking for the right balance in the car and just putting together a good race. That’s something we’ve been able to do this year. Something I’ve improved on; the team’s improved on is completing races and putting together full events. Not having a good first half, and then disappearing. We’ve been able to finish races and do well even when we haven’t been the best car. I think we can continue that here. This track lends itself to Pocono where I felt like we were really strong. From what I saw today, I thought the car had good speed, and I thought we were a top-five, top-10 car easy.”
Q: As laid back as he is, has Steve Letarte (crew chief) kind of helped you with your patience?
DEJ: “Yup. That definitely is true. To use an example; today in practice, we put scuffs on. I had seen some guys change tire, and I saw them go out and make some laps with stickers on. We put on scuffs and went out, and we were about three tenths slower than the guys that were putting on stickers. I was disappointed in that. T.J. (Majors – his spotter) was saying the laps I was running were pretty good. I was snapping back that I didn’t think they were good at all. I was getting frustrated. Probably five years ago, I would have destroyed the morale of the whole group. I would have changed the mood in the entire garage with that kind of attitude, and I would have just continued to get frustrated and sabotage the whole practice session. But with Steve, I just kind of wait. I wait on him to evaluate the situation. Then we put on stickers and we went out and ran what I thought we should be running. I was getting upset, in the past, I think for the wrong reasons. He has definitely brought more structure and has got me a lot more focused. Especially during the practices. That is when you have got to make hay is during practice.”
Q: Where does your new Nationwide commercial with Danica Patrick rank on your favorite commercials you have ever done?
DEJ: “I like the commercials we do for Nationwide. There are some of my favorites. I’m a little more…I appreciate the sincere ones a bit more, where we talk about the lack of shareholders and stuff like that. Where we talk about the nuts and bolts of their organization, and what they are about because I feel like that is me. More genuine, and more sincere. The funny stuff, I don’t think I am a very good comedian. I do what they say and we make a commercial. But, the sincere stuff, and the stuff where we really get down to it is what I like doing.”
Q: Talking about Pocono, do you feel like you have as much confidence as you have ever had heading there?
DEJ: “Yes. I really am. I had a good, strong run at Pocono in a long time. I felt like we had a great car there last time. Definitely looking forward to going back there. I think the whole field will be a little bit stronger than it was. It will be a bit tougher. But, I thought we had some good speed. Really looking forward to it. This place is a bit of an anomaly. The corners are similar to some other places in the sport. Whether we run good, or struggle, I wouldn’t take too much away from it, because the place is so much different than the other tracks we are going to run on the rest of the year.”
Q: What kind of accomplishment is it historically to be in the group of drivers who have four wins here at either the 500 or this race?
DEJ: “Four wins, anywhere really, is incredible. Anytime you look at stats and statistics at race tracks, and you see it is a rare group of guys that are making stats like that. It is always Jeff (Gordon), or my Dad, or (Cale) Yarborough, or somebody like that. Never any surprises in those kinds of statistics. I think what it says is it solidifies your greatness, your talent level. It puts you in elite company. It speaks for itself, really.”
Q: Are you going to the Michigan tire test, and are you afraid they will find something that will take any advantage you had away?
DEJ: “I don’t really know. (laughs) But, no. I thought that the change in tire during the week was really going to be our downfall, and we still ended up winning the race. I’m not really worried about the tire that they choose. That tire that they gave us was really extreme. I don’t see them going any harder than that tire. I think going softer is better for me. But, if we end up running the same tire, fine with me. Whatever. I don’t think that the tire really had much difference in how the race…or how teams run, or how competitive teams are. Everybody has the same tire. If you get a softer tire, I might run faster than everybody else. But if everybody has the same tire, my confidence is still the same going into that race. I don’t particularly want to do that tire test. For the record (LAUGHS). I can think of other places that we need to work on.”