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Daytona Q&A With Dale Earnhardt Jr

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed winning his second Daytona 500, drafting styles and working with Tony Stewart.

WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK ON THE DUEL TOMORROW AND THEN THE DAYTONA 500 ON SUNDAY?
“We probably will practice very little.  When we get into the qualifying race we will race pretty hard, but race smart.  Hopefully we will not have to pull out a back-up (car).  You would love to win that race (the duel qualifying race) and make a statement going into the (Daytona) 500.  It would give the team some confidence; get your sponsors a little extra coverage.  Winning would get everybody in good spirits for this Sunday.”

WE’VE SEEN THIS TACTIC USED MORE IN THE PAST AT PLACES LIKE TALLADEGA WITH PACK RACING, WHERE THE GOOD CARS WILL OFTEN GO HANG-OUT IN THE BACK FOR AWHILE.  TONY STEWART AND JIMMIE JOHNSON BOTH SAID WITH THIS PARTICULAR PACKAGE, YOU CAN’T REALLY AFFORD TO DO THAT.  WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
“I don’t really think about it.  I want to go up and win the race. I just don’t spend a lot of time thinking about riding in the back. I don’t waste a minute of the day doing that (laughter).  I know what you are trying to ask me, but I don’t know.  I don’t have an opinion about it.  I think you could do it, if that is something you wanted to do; I think it would work.  However I don’t plan on doing it.  I never really plan on doing it.  It may sound like we make that decision prior to the race; but you make it during the race when something happens, or you see something happen that you don’t like.  You’re like ‘man, these guys are probably going to wreck; I don’t want to be right up behind it. I can’t get around them because the track is four or three wide or whatever.’ So you move back a couple of hundred yards.  I think it is poor judgment to think about it during the week, because you are not thinking about what you need to do to win the race.  You are thinking about going backwards.  That is not something I want to concentrate on.”

ARE THERE SOMETIMES WHEN GUYS WAIT TOO LONG TO TRY TO MAKE THEIR MOVE? “Yeah, I’m not good at riding in the back.  I have never made it back to the front at the right time.  We’ve always, me and Jimmie (Johnson), have tried to do that the last couple of trips when the tandem was all you did all day long. We didn’t get to the front.  When it came time to go to the front we were either not fast enough or they were too far ahead, or the track was too blocked and we were behind too many cars.  I don’t think I’ve ever used that style and made it work for me.”

HAVE YOU SEEN ANY PARALLELS BETWEEN TONY STEWART’S RECORD AT DAYTONA AND YOUR FATHER’S (DALE EARNHARDT SR.)? YOU KNOW TONY PRETTY WELL, DO YOU THINK IT WEARS ON HIM THAT HE HASN’T BEEN ABLE TO WIN THE (DAYTONA) 500?
“Parallels? Not really.  I think Daddy (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) has won thirty-something (total) races here and I don’t know who is close to that or who would be next.  I was real happy when I won the (Daytona) 500 because it happened so early in my career.  I know other drivers aside from my father have had to wait a long time to win that race and some who have never won it.  That was probably one of the biggest reliefs about the whole deal was that I did get my Daytona 500 win. I wasn’t going to have to keep coming back and wondering when it was going to happen, if it was going to happen.  It’s a very frustrating deal.  Tony has come down here with a lot of great race cars.  He’s talented enough to know how to win this race. Things just haven’t worked out for whatever reason.  I think his talent will carry him for so many more years and I think he will be in enough competitive race cars to have plenty more chances to win it.  The odds are really good for him compared to other people in the field.  I wouldn’t get too concerned or worried about it if I were him.  It will eventually come about.”

TONY (STEWART) WAS YOUR DANCING PARTNER FOR A LOT OF YEARS SO YOU KNOW THE KIND OF TALENT THAT HE HAS AND THE SKILL LEVEL OF THE TWO TOGETHER.  CAN YOU ADDRESS THAT?  ALSO, IF YOU HAD TO SELL WATCHING SUNDAY’S RACE TO THE CASUAL SPORTS FAN OR PERHAPS THE FAN THAT WALKED AWAY BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T LIKE TANDEM DRAFTING, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THAT FAN TO GET THEM BACK? “Tony is a great guy to draft with.  He is, for whatever reason, always thinking the right things.  He knows where to be to be safe.  He knows what to do when he wants to go forward.  He has a good way about calling his race from the seat at Daytona and Talladega.  He has made that style work where if you want to go and chill out in the back, he knows when to go.  He knows how early enough to go to be able to win the race, but not go too soon to get into that last accident.  He is just really clever and really smart. He is a great guy to draft with.  He sees things happen before they happen.  He is checking up when it is time to check up; just doing really important things.  He is very easy and very nice to draft with.  I’m sure he will probably want to work with his teammates, but if I get the opportunity to work with him, that has always been a bonus for me and worked out well for me.  I would tell the fans that were turned off by the last couple of years that NASCAR has done a ton of work.  I’m surprised at how hard they went after it and how many changes they were willing to make. They really just opened the whole book and went after a lot of different aspects with the car to make the car respond.  From what I have seen so far we are really pack racing pretty hard, more than we ever have.  With the new asphalt the cars can really get on top of each other and stay there.  Nobody is really chasing their cars around the race track at all.  I think we should have close to record lead changes, if not breaking the record.  We should have a pretty tight pack, probably the tightest pack from front to rear that we have ever had.  I just can’t imagine the racing getting more competitive than what it is or what it is going to be this week.  I would hate for anyone to miss that because I think it is going to be pretty epic.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE WITH THE RULE CHANGES THEY MADE THAT THIS PLAYS INTO YOUR HANDS A LITTLE BIT AND IS MORE LIKE THE STYLE OF RACING WHERE YOU WERE REALLY GOOD HERE? DOES IT GIVE YOU MORE CONFIDENCE GOING INTO THE RACE BECAUSE OF THE CHANGES THEY HAVE MADE? “Yeah, I would agree with that.  I feel like I’m definitely more comfortable with this style.  I feel like I’m more in control of what is happening. In the (Budweiser) Shootout I felt like I was able to formulate a plan to get to the front and take the lead.  I would see something I wanted to do and try to go do it and it would happen. That was a good feeling.  I do feel more confident than I did coming down here and tandem drafting.  I never felt really great about that.  It is a completely different style of racing and it’s not what I enjoyed.  I definitely feel better about this.  Still, tandem is going to win the race.  It won the Shootout and it will probably win every other race down here this week. For the most part, I feel like I can be in a better position with this style of racing coming into those last few laps.  Hopefully, find the right partner right at the right time like Kyle (Busch) did to win the Shootout and win my share of races down here.”

IN TERMS OF THE CONFIDENCE, IT SEEMS LIKE IT IS NIGHT AND DAY FROM WHAT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT LAST THURSDAY TO WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT RIGHT NOW.  DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS RACE FOR YOU IS RIPE FOR THE TAKING AND HOW BADLY DO YOU WANT TO WIN THIS RACE?
“I don’t know if ripe for the taking is… that would be a little bit of an overstatement. I still feel like so many people in the field have a chance to win.  Anyone in the top 35 cars are capable of winning the race and you never know who is going to come off turn four battling for the lead and weather you will be in that mix or not.  I do feel like I have a better shot at winning in this current style of racing. 

“With the new pavement and a tire that doesn’t wear out, you don’t really have to work on your race car and try to work on the handling. You can’t out handle somebody.  It is just really close all day long.  I just want to win anywhere really.  I just want to get that done so I can think about the next one.  I want to get the streak over with and get back to victory lane. 

“We lost a million dollars by not being in the winner’s circle program last year for the company. They could use that money. There are just so many benefits to getting in the winner’s circle.  Not only will it help our team and validate what me and Steve (Letarte, crew chief) have been trying to do over the last couple of years.  It is the Daytona 500 the biggest race of the season; it would be pretty spectacular for me personally to win it. It would do so many other things that I can’t list right now for the team and the company going forward. It would be awesome.”

I’M GUESSING THAT THROUGH WATCHING YOUR DAD (DALE EARNHARDT SR.) YOU HAD AN IDEA OF WHAT IT MEANT TO WIN THIS RACE.  WHEN YOU WON IT HOW DID THE EMOTION AND THE REALITY OF THAT MOMENT FIT WITH WHAT YOU HAD ALREADY ENVISIONED IT BEING LIKE? “I had no idea what winning that race would feel like until I won it.  I didn’t know what to compare that to. When you win that race it is really hard to explain.  It’s just really hard to explain.  All the things that you want out of life and all the pressures you put on yourself or you feel from other people all the things you want to accomplish; everybody sort of has this mountain in front of them that they put in front of themselves that they want to climb. 

“For a moment or for a day you are at the top of that mountain.  Nothing matters, all your wants and needs, all the problems you have little petty things that bother you everything goes away.  You just feel like you have realized your full potential.  Everything is sort of just maxed out for the day.  All the things that you wanted to achieve.  Obviously you set a lot of goals for yourself and that is just one of the goals.  But just for a moment, just for that one day whether it is thirty minutes or an hour after you cross that finish line you feel like it can’t get any better than this.  It is a pretty incredible emotion.  I feel so lucky to have had that opportunity to experience it.  It is such a special moment. 

“Every time I see a replay of me and my crew celebrating below the flag stand, it all comes back so clearly.  Every time I see that I just think about how fortunate I feel to have won that race.  Some of the greatest drivers come through this sport and don’t win it.  It just doesn’t seem right, but only certain ones get that opportunity.”

A LOT OF PEOPLE DEBATE WHAT YOU ARE THINKING IN THE CAR. YOU SAID YOU DON’T SPEND A LOT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT BEING IN THE BACK.  HOW MUCH OF WHAT YOU DO OUT THERE, WITH THE WAY YOU LOVE THIS SORT OF RACING, IS INSTINCT AND HOW MUCH OF IT ARE YOU ACTUALLY THINKING IT THROUGH EVERY MOMENT? “I think it is all instinct or you make your decisions really right at the moment they happen.  I wouldn’t know what to tell you if you asked me to form a strategy.  I wouldn’t really know what to tell you to do if you were about to run the race.  I really wouldn’t know what to tell you do to as far a series of moves or what kind of mindset to have.  There is no sure strategy that is going to keep you out of a wreck or having you lead the race off turn four.  You just have to go throughout the race and hope you continue to make every decision right.  Kind of like a line of dominos you just hope everyone that falls hits the next one.  Eventually, you come off the last corner and you are in position to try to make that last decision that is going to win the race.  That is about it.  I think you just have to have good instinct about drafting and what is happening around you.  What people are doing and how you can use what somebody else is doing to help you.  You have to be really selfish and always want to help yourself and always do what is going to help you.  Which is really not my personality, but for whatever reason I’m pretty good at it.  Hopefully it will work out for us.”
 

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Daytona Q&A With Dale Earnhardt Jr
 
Daytona Q&A With Dale Earnhardt Jr
“We probably will practice very little. When we get into the qualifying race we will race pretty hard, but race smart. Hopefully we will not have to pull out a back-up (car). You would love to win that race (the duel qualifying race) and make a statement going into the (Daytona) 500. It would give the team some confidence; get your sponsors a little extra coverage. Winning would get everybody in good spirits for this Sunday.”
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