Team Chevy Racing News |
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, met with members of the media at Talladega Superspeedway and discussed the mindset it takes to win at Talladega, his thoughts on JR Motorsports and many other topics.
Talk about coming to Talladega and your outlook for this weekend.
“Really have had a lot of success here, a lot of great runs. Always feel confident when we come here that we are going to have a good car, going to know how to use it and I think we feel that way coming in this weekend. We had a great run at Daytona. Feel like as far as a company goes Hendrick Motorsports has done a great job with this car at these particular race tracks. Our confidence level is real good, real high. Just looking forward to getting a little practice in, make sure everything is working the way it is supposed to. Probably won’t run a whole lot, but the weather here is going to be odd all weekend. Hopefully, we get an opportunity to race on Sunday and go to Victory Lane. We really feel like we have a good shot at it and feel like it is about that time for us to win one here at Talladega.”
Now that you have several races under your belt with this car, are you enjoying the car? Do you like driving it and do you have a great sense of how this car will race at another plate race?
“I am enjoying the car. We are learning as we go. It’s hard to have a real good idea of what to expect every week. There is still so much to learn with this car that the competitive line is a moving target. Someone will find speed and really force the rest of the sport to chase that mark down. Then the ante just keeps getting raised it seems week after week. So it’s still a lot of questions and stuff about the new car. I really enjoy it I think it’s been good for me and we have run well pretty much everywhere we have been. I think that I’m not sure exactly what to expect on Sunday as far as a style of event we are going to have, style of drafting we will have and the way that the race will play itself out. I think the asphalt has aged a little bit hopefully it is getting slicker and slicker. Makes actually racing around each other a lot more challenging than it has been lately at the plate tracks. That should really separate the men from the boys.”
What do you expect is going to be the toughest part of the race on Sunday? Are you worried about another last lap scrum like we have had here a couple of times lately?
“Yeah, that is something I think you worry about every week. Especially at a short track like last week and you feel like that could happen at any short track race. The mentality is the similar at the plate tracks. Someone is going to have a position on somebody and not be willing to compromise and somebody is going to get turned around and bring about that green-white-checkered. I don’t know everybody likes to see as far as race car drivers go. I mean I don’t know the fans probably love to see that kind of ending and see that kind of excitement.
“I’m certainly if I’m a fan I think that is one of the best ways to end the race is make it as exciting as possible with a green-white-checkered. As far as some of the drivers are in position and putting themselves in position especially the plate tracks to make a move at a certain time that works out for them when the checkered flag is expected to fall. Then when those plans kind of go out the window with a green-white-checkered you really have to scramble to put something else together because you are going to line up behind another guy or a different person or be side-by-side on the restart with someone else and the plan you had is not there anymore because there are different people involved. It’s really a challenge at the plate tracks when the green-white-checkered start to happen to put something together and be able to trust the person you are trying to work with because they might not be a teammate of yours. They might not drive the same manufacturer you do. So it’s really a big challenge and something that can really turn the race upside down.”
Last night you were with Rick Hendrick at the Hall of Fame. What did that experience mean to you?
“I was really moved by the speeches from all the guys that were inducted. Particularly Dale Inman just his appreciation really showed through and the comments he made. It meant a lot to him and you could tell that he had seen a lot. You could tell he had been through just about as much as a guy could go through in this sport. It was really neat to be able to see him get some kind of recognition and for him to get that opportunity to speak in front of everybody. That was really emotional I think for all the guys involved and for the people who know these individuals. It was inspiring to me. Even some of the things that the drag racers were talking about, as far as his father being a man and that means more to him than the stats. Some of the quotes and some of the lines in there really said it all and really encompassed the meaning of the night and the meaning of being inducted. It was really inspiring to be there and to be able to listen to some of that stuff.”
When you get in the car here you just don't know. You might win, you might wreck. How would you describe that thought process when you know it going in?
“I think that you go in still with this mentality ‘I’m going to put it together, I’m going to make the moves, the car is going to be there and we are going to make great pit stops.’ You still go in with the mentality that you are going to put together this formula that is going to win the race. You are going to do all these things that equal victory. Even though you know it’s really a lottery in some aspects. You still go in there kind of turning a blind eye to that part of it. Restrictor plate racing is a race where you can get swept up in something that is totally out of your control and totally random and at times ridiculous. You can be so frustrated by how out of your hands that happens. How there was nothing you could do to avoid that fate. You’ve really got to be able to put that behind you fast. You’ve got to be able to know that is a possibility, a real possibility much more than any other track. When you are running a short track you can see trouble coming. You can avoid trouble. You run your car how you want to run it. It’s hard to explain, but you have got to know that is right around the corner. You have got to be able to accept that kind of result and move on and go to the next race the next weekend. At the same time you’ve got to feel like you are going to do everything right. You have to have confidence in what you are doing. If you are not making confident choices or not having confidence in what you are doing on the race track sometimes that type of mentality and just driving with caution or driving without confidence sends you backwards or puts you in a mess that tends to be the one that takes you out. So you have got to make confident moves, make moves with assertiveness and conviction. That sort of has a better result more times than not.”
JR Motorsports has never led the Nationwide Series. Regan Smith is currently one point out. What does it mean to you to have that program competitive again and would the series lead mean anything at this point?
“Yeah, I think it says a lot about the changes we made over the last several months to try to turn things around and get the program more competitive. I think it raises awareness to potential partners for us to help us afford to put a great competitive team on the race track. It says a lot about Regan (Smith). It says a lot about the employees that we have there and how competitive they are and how talented they are. It says a lot. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about their potential this year. I told Regan, ‘you’ve got to minimize your mistakes to do well in the points over a long haul’. If he does that he will have a great opportunity of winning the championship. I feel like that a lot of those guys in that series are going to… some of them are young and they tend to make more mistakes than the experienced guys. If he can just keep his head on his shoulders, he has a bit of a temper sometimes, if he can just kind of keep that in check he has a great chance. He has got a good team around him. They are going to get better I think because they just started working together at the start of this year. The potential there is through the roof for those guys if they can just all work together and stay on a good positive path mentally with each other and work together well. They have to go to the race track every week and try to do the best they can and stay out of trouble.”
You are so good at restrictor plate races. How much of it is that you are good at it and feel it? And how much of it is re-studying the change in the car and watching tape and thinking about it this year as opposed to other years?
“The one thing that’s been consistent with restrictor-plate racing since I started racing in NASCAR is that they constantly change the rules. They constantly change the plates and the spoilers. They’re taking away and adding things to the cars so the package itself is changing just about every year. And sometimes in the middle of the seasons, the package can change. And what that means is, every time you move something on that car on the body of that car, it’s going to draft differently.
“It’s going to react differently with cars around it. The weigh it pulls up on somebody and your ability to pull out and pass changes every time. So you really have to have an open mind and be willing to change how you’re going to race and how you’re going to draft because of the way the car reacts. I think that you find those things out in practice. We don’t really practice as much as we used to. As a sport, I think everybody has really backed off on how much they run in practice.
“I remember we used to come here in ’02 and ’04 and we used to run lap after lap after lap in the draft from the start of the day until the end of the day and just run every lap we could run. And we’d learn so much about how the car drafted and how it reacts and what works and what doesn’t work and what’s new as far as the package and how the draft works. But you don’t do as much of that anymore. The crew chiefs don’t really like you on the track as much anymore. The engine guys want to keep the miles down on the motors. For several different reasons, we just really don’t spend a lot of time out there in 20-car packs running lap after lap and learning too much. So, you’ve kind of got to learn in the race on the fly.
“But you’ve got to be open-minded about what you’re seeing and what you’re feeling in the car because the package has changed so much. You’ve got to be willing to change the style of the way you try to pass people and how you put together passes and how aggressive you are out there.”
Do you have any special plans for the upcoming Mother's Day?
“Yeah, we’re going to cook a brisket together. I just started. I bought Myron Mixon’s book, that guy from the show, BBQ Pitmasters, and I’m trying to learn how to barbeque (laughter). So we’re going to cook us a brisket and see how that goes. So, yeah, that’s going to be Mother’s Day for me. She lives 100 yards from me. We took her to lunch this week. I like sushi a lot and I just got her to where she’ll eat some of that. So we went and took her to lunch this week and got a haircut and just typical, normal stuff.”
Last time we were here, you were pretty angry about the racing in general. You know the possibility of a crash is there. When you roll in here, do you have a sense of dread? Are you apprehensive about what could happen?
“Well, I hate to put the blame on the concussion, but the feeling that I had physically when I got out of the car, I knew that I had set myself back somehow with the concussion thing. And so I was really angry with that because I had spent four weeks to get to where I could feel like I was great. And then now I’m going to take two steps back and have to do all that again. I was really, really mad that I couldn’t just get through that wreck and not have that happen.
“I don’t care if I’m in the crash and out of the race, but to get out of the car and feel concussed and feel like oh shoot man, now I’ve got to go through the process again and you’re not supposed to have them close together and all this stuff so you just have all kinds of worry running through your mind. It had me really, really angry and not myself, obviously. So, I’ve regretted that. I’ve regretted making those comments and I think I overreacted and overstated my feelings quite a bit. It’s frustrating when you run around and we spend all day running 495 miles and then crash in the last five (miles). The whole field crashes. It’s really frustrating to sort of accept that as what I decided to do today. I got up Sunday morning and decided to run 495 miles to crash in the last five miles and now I’m going to go home, and I’m all right with that. That’s hard to wrap your brain around, and I’m okay with it and everything’s cool. But I think I did over-react a little bit and just was real emotional. I think about feeling concussed. On Sunday morning I’m like man, I feel great and just 100 percent myself and I was just so happy to have that feeling and feel like I could get back on track and try to do well in the Chase and put that test crash behind me and get all that in the back of my mind and not worry about it ever again, and now I wasn’t the case after that race.
“But I don’t think about Talladega when I come here for a race such as this weekend, in a bad way. I think about it as a place where I’ve done well. I think about it as a place where we need to win and we can win. I know what I need to do to win at places like this and we can make it a good weekend. And if I drive the way I need to drive, I’m not in position to be in a wreck. I’m up front where I’m supposed to be. That’s my feeling inside is I’m supposed to be up front. And then, I get swept-up in a crash running 18th. I didn’t do something right. And I put myself in that position at some point in the race. So, if I do everything I need to do, then I won’t have to worry about being swept-up in the last lap crashes and we can go into Victory Lane and celebrate. That’s what I think about when I preparing to come here.”