NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is having good start to the young NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Earnhardt followed up a second place finish in the season opening Daytona 500 with a fifth place run at Phoenix International Raceway last week. Thanks to heavy rain washing out qualifying Earnhardt will start 12 Sunday at the series third stop, Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 400. Friday at Vegas, Earnhardt met with the media. Below is the transcript of that meeting.
TALK ABOUT THE PAINT SCHEME ON YOUR RACE CAR THIS WEEKEND AND HOW THE TEST WENT YESTERDAY AND YOU’RE OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND AT LAS VEGAS:
“The day went pretty good. We had pretty good speed right off the trailer and just worked with a lot of things. Everybody had a lot of time yesterday to really kind of get up to speed. By the end of the day, everybody was running about the same times. We had more than enough practice really this weekend so I’m not too worried about what we didn’t get to do today because yesterday was way more than we needed to be honest. Feeling good, just hope we get a little time just to make sure everything is working right and get a couple laps Saturday just to make sure everything is cool and we’ll be ready to go.”
CAN YOU CARRY OVER YOUR GOOD RUN FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS RACE WITH THE NEW CAR?
“The car is really the same chassis, it’s still got the splitter. It’s just a little different, the body is different and the spoiler’s different, the aero is way different. It didn’t make a lot of rule changes to the back of the car, the way we were using the rear-end housing and stuff. We were ready to race in two hours of yesterday. Everybody knows what they’re doing and the cars aren’t really a mystery so just getting out on the track and making sure it don’t hit the ground and get the balance where you want and you’re ready to go.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN GAMBLE FOR THE WIN NOW THAT YOU ARE CONSISTENTLY IN THE TOP-10?
“I don’t know what we could have done to really gamble to win any differently. I mean it’s not like there is some window of opportunity in every race where everybody could just take a wild gamble. We’re running as hard as we can run every lap and that’s all you can do.”
WILL YOU CURTAIL YOUR COMMENTS AFTER DENNY HAMLIN’S FINE OR WILL YOU JUST BE YOURSELF?
“I think we were told a couple years ago to just sort of watch all the negative comments and tones when we were -- I think after Talladega was a good example several years ago, but I don’t recall which year it was. I thought it was clear to all of us to be careful how we said what was on our mind. I don’t think they mind you coming up in the hauler and talking about what you think about the racing and how you think things could improve or what might improve things. I think that they’re open to listening to that kind of stuff. We always want to get better and always want to strive to be better as a sport. I think we’re going in a good direction, I like the new car. Obviously, I’ve had a couple good runs with it so I’m excited about what we have going on and things are only going to get better from here as we learn more and more about tires and the tire is changing quite a bit with the way they’re trying to make tires and trying to go green on the tires and stuff like that. That’s really going to change the way the cars react. Everybody has to understand that the tire has a lot to do with how these cars drive. That’s what connects them to the race track. I think Goodyear is doing a good job trying to improve things there and we’re learning a ton so it involves more than just the vehicle itself. It’s all kinds of things and NASCAR is doing a lot of good things. There’s a lot of good ideas moving around, a lot of good conversations happening that I’m happy to hear and happy to see going on that I think we’re going in a good direction.”
WILL THINGS DEVELOP WEEK TO WEEK WITH THE NEW CAR THAT WILL MAKE THE RACING DIFFERENT?:
“The track and the surface of the track has a lot to do with it, the particular tire and the compound of the tire, the side wall, the softness of the compound. All those things really play a big role. Look at the variety of race tracks we have on the circuit, every one of them is completely different. We joke about how the mile-and-a-halves are all the same and all that stuff, but every one of them is different in their own way. You’re not going to go to every race track and see the exact same race. The surfaces are different, the tires are different and the way you set the cars up and the setups that you run in the cars are different. The geometry that you might run in one place versus another is different. Everything about the whole race weekend and the process is different so you’re going to see a different race everywhere you go. I think as we learn more and more about these cars and what makes them work and drive better, things can only get better as far as the product we put out there every week. It’s a new car, there’s a lot of things to learn and that’s what everybody in the garage is trying to do is trying to get an advantage on the rest of competitors out there. We had a good opportunity yesterday with 12 hours of practice. I was kind of glad to see it rain today because I practiced enough, I was ready to race.”
HOW TELLING WILL THIS RACE BE TO HOW YOU WILL BE ON INTERMEDIATE TRACKS THIS YEAR?:
“It can. This place has got a lot of bumps going into turn one. They are something else, I’m impressed each time I come here how much rougher it is. That really challenges you to set the car up to be able to get through them bumps and you might run a little different style shock package to do that where at Michigan or Charlotte or somewhere that doesn’t have bumps like, you don’t have to run that style of package so the setups are getting further apart I guess as far as most mile-and-a-halves and we run at Vegas. It does set the tone. Confidence is everything and when you go to Vegas and you run well, you expect to go to the next mile-and-a-half at Texas or wherever it may be and run well.”
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY?:
“At Fontana? I like the way the track has gotten really wide and you can run at the bottom or you can run at the top or the middle. I just love tracks like that. They put on really good races and there’s opportunities to pass when you run a guy down, you can change the line you’re running and get some clean air on your car and you feel confident that if you do the right thing and drive the car well that you can make a pass. I love that about that race track. The surface has got a good age on it and we even run on the apron some down there in turn three and four, which is a lot of fun when you can get your car to do that. It’s a wide track, I think the racing there is a lot of fun for a driver.”
DO YOU THINK MEETINGS BETWEEN THE MAJOR DRIVERS IN THE SPORT STILL TAKE PLACE LIKE THEY DID YEARS AGO?:
“Who’s to say those meetings don’t happen today? I think they do and I think that those meetings are very productive and it’s a great way to get a lot of good ideas moving across the table and I think that a lot of the innovation that you’ve seen in the sport in the last probably five or six years have come from those discussions. There’s a lot of good dialogue and I think those style of meetings are still prevalent.”
HAVE YOU INSPIRED OTHER PEOPLE WITH YOUR CLEANSE DIET?:
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend what I did to anybody. I really did it on a dare plus I was alright that if I lost 10 pounds then that was going to be a bonus. A buddy of mine just dared me to do it. He told me about it and I was a little jealous so I went for it, but it only lasted 15 days. It was no problem.”
ARE YOU BACK TO EATING CHEESEBURGERS?:
“No. I like a good steak, but I haven’t ate a cheeseburger in I can’t remember how long. Once I got about 34 or 35 I kind of had to start watching the cheeseburgers and chicken wings and the pizzas because I swear I would probably eat two or three pizzas a week around that time. Those were the good days.”
WAS THERE A SPECIFIC REASON YOU ARE RUNNING THE NATIONWIDE RACE THIS WEEKEND OTHER THAN SPONSOR WANTING YOU TO RUN?:
“It had probably a lot to do with the financial side of it, but I was looking forward to doing a little more racing. I do enjoy racing at the plate tracks, but I think to truly benefit me in any way on Sunday, I think it would be better to run at one or two more mile-and-a-halves. I’m excited to have the opportunity to run this weekend to hopefully learn a little bit about maybe the tire or something or how the track changed or what condition the track is in as far as Sunday goes. Even though we didn’t run very well last week, I think Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus) feel like they learned a lot about the tire and the track and just a little about the strategy stuff because the tire wasn’t wearing out that much. Taking two tires and alternating left to right, things like that really started to show themselves Saturday so they learned quite a bit. We want to definitely use that race on Saturday to help us if we can in any way and I haven’t been in the Nationwide car so I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of speed we’ve got. Hopefully we’ll get out there for a couple hours.”