Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the guest on this week's NASCAR Teleconference. Below is a transcript:
QUESTION: Dale, your crew chief, Steve Letarte, said you need wins to get back into the championship hunt. What do you think your chances are starting your run this Sunday at Dover?
DALE JR.: “Well, just going to have to work hard. Our chances aren't looking that great because the guys ahead of us are winning races. They've had a pretty strong couple weeks to chase off.
“But don't give up, keep working. If we can win a couple races, no matter what happens in the championship, that will improve the results of our season and give us a lot to be happy about.
“So it would be great to go ahead and go to Dover and get that done. But we're trying every week. I thought we were pretty aggressive this weekend trying to get ourselves in position to win. Ended up with a pretty good result. Couple things go a little bit different, and I think we get a shot at Matt and give ourselves a better opportunity to get the win.
“It's good to be able to look back on Sunday and feel like we had potential. If we can be as aggressive as we were this past Sunday on pit strategy and many different things, just going after the set up of the car and working real hard on Saturday trying to prepare the car for the race, I think we can put ourselves in position more often with just a few races left.”
Q: What would wins here over the last eight races mean for you as far as momentum going into next year? Are you a big believer in the way you finish one year has a big impact on how you start the next?
DEJ: “Well, not really. There are so many changes in the off season. We're always looking with the new car, you're looking at higher potential that there will be changes in the off season and lot of new things to learn, lot of new things to sort of science out. Really, if we just win races, it just vindicates the work we do and gives yourself confidence that you can do the job. Helps you understand where your team is and what things you can fix and change to get better before the next year.
“So I think as far as it carrying over to next year, I think we're going to really see some changes in the off season on how the rules are with the car, maybe some things might happen I think enough is going to change in the off season that it will be almost like kind of having to start over a little bit next year as far as learning what works and what doesn't work.
“Either way I feel pretty good with that. We have a good organization that can start from scratch and make some things happen.”
Q: Do you feel like I know you talked earlier in the year about feeling that you were close to being a winning team and competing for wins. Do you feel like you're at that same spot? Do you feel like you're any better? Do you feel like you've fallen behind at all?
DEJ: “Yeah, we started the year out strong. I mean, if we could have beaten Carl Edwards out in that last pit stop in Phoenix, we thought we could have won that race. We had a string of good finishes and we were leading the points in the first five or six races of the year. I feel like we really applied ourselves and adapted to the new car pretty quickly.
“Now that everybody else has sort of caught up, and even surged ahead in some areas you're seeing Matt have an awesome year, and it looks like Gibbs is having a better year performance wise all around. Some teams at Roush are starting to find some competitiveness just as the season has gone on things have evened out a whole lot more.
“So I think we'll have to work in the off season to try to put all the teams are working in the off season to try to start the year off with an advantage over everybody, and we'll just have to do that. Work really hard in the off season to see what we can learn.”
Q: You kind of hit on the fact that you guys can kind of go all out with the front and the top three running so strong already in the Chase, does that kind of change your strategy a little bit? Like maybe the rest of the field feels like, hey, we'll just go for all we can get because we just hope that they don't? Does that change your strategy?
DEJ: “I guess. I wouldn't say it changes the strategy. You know, I think it just changes the way you appreciate. You look at your position in the Chase and you see, all right, we're way behind. We've got ourselves off to a terrible start in Chicago. So we don't really need to try to string together decent finishes. That's not going to do much for us. We're behind so far that trying to be consistent and just rattle off top 10s if we can, there is no moral victory there. We can gamble on tire strategy and get off sequence in the race and try to make it work for you and get to victory lane.
“Now we do that all year long, really. The regular season is long enough to where you can be pretty risky and have a couple go your way and couple go against you and still be okay points wise and not really work your way out of the Chase by getting too crazy on the strategy.
“But in the Chase, you know, obviously you want to win all the races like Matt's doing. But if you just run smart and run as hard as you can, obviously, and try to finish as good as you can, like Kyle, for example. He's hanging around, and that's going to pay off. If Matt makes a mistake or has trouble similar to the way me and the 22 had in Chicago, Kyle's consistency and Jimmie's as well will bode well for them and that will put them in position to take advantage of Matt's bad luck.
“So you want to be consistent if you can, but if you start off like we did, you just kind of throw it all out the window and try to get a trophy or two before the season's out.”
Q: Dale, do you know, a lot of crew chiefs are starting to talk about, like you did, feeling that changes are coming and pretty widespread. Do you know anything about that area that you feel like will be changed? We heard about the Fords maybe. Have you heard anything about what part of the cars will be changed or what they're looking at?
DEJ: “I don't. I don't really know. I know there are always ongoing discussions to improve the sport, improve how the cars race each other. We've been working really much harder, I think, in the past five to ten years on trying to put a better product and better race car on the track than they ever have, but that's just something that's happened in the sport every year. It's always been a process that's ongoing in the sport and it will happen again through this off season.
“With more information, more technology, more ways to gather data, understand data and understand what the cars are doing and how the cars are talking back to us about what's working and what's not working, I think you'll see more of that. More conversation, more ideas moving around on what can improve things.
“So, yeah. I don't know what changes we'll see in the off season. I don't think that it's uncharacteristic that there is conversation, and I wouldn't be surprised to see something happening. It happens every year. I don't think it's something that's new or unique.
“Usually, it's aerodynamics, involves aerodynamics or involves the way they're always trying to improve, obviously, on how much air and down force the guys in second and so forth get as opposed to the lead car. That's an area we've always wanted to work in and wanted to improve, and I think that's probably going to be ongoing.”
Q: On the analyst side of it, you're talking about what might happen in the Chase. Obviously, Matt Kenseth has been so strong, but Greg Biffle said he too has come out strong at the front of the Chase and then dropped off the face of the earth. Do you expect it to shift a lot? Do you think the points will shift around quite a bit yet for some?
DEJ: “Oh, absolutely. There is a lot of racing left. There are eight races that's a lot of racing and a lot of potential for good luck and bad luck to be shared by everybody. I'm certain Matt and his team are going to try real hard to be smart and continue on the success that they've had. But nobody's immune to someone else's mistake or something reaching out and altering the way the race is going for them.
“Even Matt, as strong as they've been, something could happen to those guys and it may not be something of their own doing. That's why everybody in the series just continues to work hard because you don't know what's going to happen. Fortune or misfortune could be around the corner.”
Q: With the way the first couple of races have gone and Gibbs being up there and Jimmie, Dale, is there anybody that you think people might be overlooking? Somebody that you think might be hanging back there four, five, six, seven that shouldn't be overlooked yet, as you mentioned, with so much racing to go?
DEJ: “Well, I don't really know anybody in particular, but anything could happen. There is a lot of racing left. Just as Matt won a couple races, any one of us could hit on a streak, get real competitive and launch themselves right back into the heat of the battle. Just as easily as someone can get behind, someone can rebound and win a race or two and have a couple great finishes and the competition have some difficulty and things can be reversed rather quickly.
“We're only two races into this thing and a lot of tough competition in the Chase, and nobody's going to make it very easy on Matt. I think the more especially the larger his lead gets, I think more of a bullseye the guy gets on him, and the tougher competition tends to race you. He can expect things to be pretty competitive going forward. He's been in this situation before. He's obviously got a strong competitor, one of the strongest competitors in Kyle and Jimmie both right on his heels and Carl Edwards and a couple guys lurking back there in the shadows.”