Teleconference: Dale Earnhardt Jr

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., was this week's guest on the NASCAR Teleconference as he prepares for this week's UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway - Race 4 of 10 in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."

Q: Dale, it looks like a really good time for you guys to be coming back to Talladega, considering past success. I guess the obvious question to start is, how is the confidence level for your team coming into Talladega this week?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We're pretty confident. I mean, we've been running good all year long. I'm real happy with -- it's probably the best cars I've had in my career all year long as far as consistently showing up and being quick and the car's driving good.

They're very tuneable, especially this weekend, sort of a microcosm of how all the season's went for us. We run great, had good cars, ran up front the whole race, and just, for some reason, whether it be guys beating us on gas mileage or whatever, we've finished 10th instead of 5th. That's sort of been the way the whole season's been.

Q: You were talking on the radio about the problems with your car and the damage to your car in the front and the spring rubber change that you were joking that was going to come about as a result of getting things from the track into the car, your car filling up with smoke and you maybe needing a relief driver. Can you talk about exactly what that was?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We don't really know what the smoke was. I'd run about five or six laps in practice and the car was filling up with smoke inside. I thought that -- we had exhaust run out the right side, and I thought the rubber was getting in the crush panels and laying on the rocker, because the rocker was so hot, obviously, and in pretty much everybody's car it burns the paint on the other side -- on the interior of the car.

I was thinking it was just baking the rubber or whatever, the rubber debris that you pick up, we need to seal the crush panels up better. We sealed up the crush panels and we got it running in the race. There wasn't really anything consistent about it, but every 20 laps or whatever the car would fill up with smoke for some reason.

I couldn't really tell you whether it was oil or a fluid or rubber or what. It didn't have a distinct smell like it normally would, like rear-end grease or a tire rubbing. It didn't have kind of a distinct smell so I could really point it out. We also had a little bit of an oil leak on the lower pan. That might have been causing it.

But just depends what it was. Can't really find it. I mean, I was fine. I just wanted -- I didn't know if I'd be able to get Tony, Jr. the kind of warning to get silly or anything or get drunk in there smelling whatever I was smelling. I didn't know if I would be able to give him a warning, so I just told him to have somebody ready in case he saw me go down in the corner and go straight.

Q: Are you going to be screening the Earnhardt movie next week from CMT? Can you tell us anything you know about that?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm going to the premiere. Y'all know about the premiere, don't you? I'm going to that. Is that what you mean?

Q: Yes. Have you seen a screening of the movie?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I've seen a little bit of it. I think it's great. I was a little skeptical at first because I didn't know -- I didn't really know what Teresa had in mind. But this is an awesome movie. I mean, I'd be pretty honest with you if I didn't like it, but it's something else. I've seen it.

It's a little bit lengthy, but it's really a lot of footage. I mean, it's a lot of footage that I have never seen. Basically they took a lot of stuff while the camera was rolling but before or after the interview. It's him kind of joking around and picking. Him really in his personality that a lot of people didn't see all the time. He was a very funny guy.

I really, really enjoyed it. I really did. There's a lot of footage -- a little bit of footage in there of me that I forgot I'd done, parts of my life that I didn't recall. It was pretty awesome to see. I'm looking forward to it. I'll watch it again. I'm looking mainly for the reaction from everybody else, because it's really, really good.

I was really, really proud of it 'cause I was nervous, you know, that we were just trying to get something out real fast to counter the 3 movie that ESPN did, because a lot of my family felt that wasn't a very good dictation of his life. But this is really good. I'm really proud of it.

Q: This is a loopy question. I was wondering if you have any childhood memories of hearing that Talladega was kind of a haunted racetrack or possessed, or, you know, had demons with it? If so, what did you make of that as a kid or now, if anything?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I heard the story. When I was probably, I don't know -- I was racing late models in the mid '90s, I heard the story that Bobby Isaac heard voices. Leading the field, come in and parked it with ten to go or whatever when he was driving Bud Moore's car.

You know, I believe it. I belive Bobby Isaac comes in with the lead with 10 to go and tells you he heard voices, you better believe it.

You know, I don't know. I definitely have a lot of respect for the racetrack. If what they say is true, you know, it would be kind of freaky. I've heard that story a long time ago, and I heard that the airport previous to the track was built on an ancient Indian burial ground. I don't know if that's true or not, but that would be quite a twist. I don't know why they haven't used that in their advertisement.

Q: Apparently it hadn't really stopped you from doing well there.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I mean, you know, maybe the spirits like me. I don't know (laughter).

Q: This has been one of your best chances to take home the championship. I know your fans out here in California are all very anxious for you to do that. Have you been hearing much from your fans? What has been the support you've had while going down this Chase trail?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, you know, I hear from my fans periodically throughout the season, get a good wave. Gives you an idea of where they're at.

They're always supportive no matter what we do. I mean, if you're a fan and you're continuously channeling your focus on our car, you'll see what we're doing in the race. You'll see the effort we put forth. If we go out there and give it a hard effort, like we did this past weekend, that was as hard as I could go. Every restart, every lap. They see that. They appreciate that more than the result. They just want you to try your hardest. That suffices anybody. If you go out there and do the best you can, that's all you can ask.

I was really proud of our effort. I think our fans are, too. Over the last several weeks, we've sort of squandered a couple good runs at New Hampshire and Dover. We had better cars than we finished the race with. You know, we're just working really hard, doing the best we can. There's a lot of wear and tear mentally and physically at this part of the season. We're really pulling ourselves together and trying to make the best of our opportunity here to win this championship while we got it.

Q: You mentioned there's a lot of wear and tear on you. How are you and your crew holding up? Is it a real upbeat attitude, or are you feeling a lot of pressure?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It is upbeat. You definitely look in each other's eyes and know that you can -- you can see amongst each other, it's definitely crunch time. You see the pressure. There's a positive attitude.

First off, I mean, we're just very proud of each other, I think, individually. I mean, I've said it a lot, but I'm really impressed with my guys, what they've been able to show me this year individually and as a team when they come together. It's the same. We work with most of these guys for several years. This is the best I've seen 'em. They've really came together this year. I'm really proud of them.

That gives us a lot of -- you kind of feed off of that a little bit. You feel optimistic about your chances. You feel -- not really con yourself, but you talk yourself into believing anything is possible. You continue to go to each racetrack 110% all race long, giving it everything you got, just so you know when it's all over with that you can't look at yourself and say, You left something out there. You left an opportunity to gain out there.

That's all I'm trying to do. I think individually throughout my team, everybody's doing the same thing. When it's all over with, we want to be able to say, win or lose, that there's no excuse. Nobody has any excuses or any lapses or any moment where they didn't carry their weight. That's the best you can do. That's the best you can do. If we're champions, we're champions we'll, and definitely celebrate. We just got to, you know, work really hard. That's all you can do.

Q: Had a chance to interview your nephew, Jeffrey. Have you been keeping up with his career at all? What are your thoughts on his future?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I want to put him in a late model here at my shop. I think Kerry is trying to keep him away. Kerry has got a plan I guess for him. He's kind of become quite a hot little commodity here lately because he went to test Busch cars with several other drivers for Richard Childress over at Caraway and did pretty good. He made it through that first step. He's going into another test at a bigger track, I think Nashville, with only a handful of drivers.

You know, Jeffrey, he's definitely got sort of the basic instincts and determination and drive, I believe. I see his brother, Bobby, more than I do Jeffrey. I think Jeffrey has an opportunity to make something happen here. I think that he will. I think he'll make the right choices. His dad is definitely the man for the job as far as leading him in the right direction. I feel like that's going to be a great situation, and we'll have some more Earnhardts on the track down the road.

Q: Even though you have a job at hand in the Chase, have you made any effort this year to really try to enjoy it, especially compared to some comments you made about how much pressure you were under in 2004, some of the things you faced then? Are you trying to take in a lot more of the scenes this year?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I don't really take in the scenes, as you say, at the racetrack. I mean, it is what it is. I've been to enough racetracks to know what's outside the door of the coach.

I have been getting all the time off I wanted, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays we've been keeping it pretty freed up this year. I've been very fortunate to have a little bit of leverage to conduct some meetings that have shortened up my sponsorship responsibilities off track pretty well.

We've also made it a lot more convenient with channeling a lot of those appearances in and around racing weekends. Gotten a lot more convenient over the last couple years.

I'm doing a lot of work off the track on my property, putting in a new pool, things like that. Been able to spend a lot of time around that, being able to help make the decisions, sort of keep that in the direction I want it to go.

A lot of other things I'm doing, too, as far as entrepreneur-type stuff, starting up a couple companies, whatnot. I've been able to be a part of that because of that with a couple more days off in the week than I've had in the past years.

Q: How much of the 2004 Chase do you remember about what you went through and just how much stress it put you under?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I mean, I was fine going through 2004. We were great till the rear-end gear broke on that car at Martinsville. We were sitting there with a great chance to win the championship. I think we was second to Kurt Busch after I cussed at Talladega.

When that rear-end gear broke, that was just ridiculous. We had a part failure. We shouldn't have had a part failure. Shouldn't never break parts. I mean, that's what you feel as a driver. When that happens, we basically were put in a corner, between a rock and a hard place there.

Then we went to Atlanta, and it looked like we might be able to gain it back because Kurt blew up in that race. We were sitting there running third or fourth, and got into it with Carl a little bit on the back straightaway and ended up in the fence. So that was probably more of a mistake on my part because I let it happen and I shouldn't have been racing.

You know, I totally -- about three laps before that happened, I went from thinking championship to thinking about winning that race, and I shouldn't have done that. I should have continued to think points and just try to get what I could get. But I went into win-the-race mode no matter what, and I ended up wrecking myself.

Those two races right there took us out. It bothers me as much today as it did when it happened. I told my guys at Dover that you have to work really hard every time, that you have to give everything you got, because if you think you're going to walk right back into the Chase for the championship the following year, you can never tell when the one year you're in it might be your last.

So you got to, you know -- how many opportunities do you have? How many chances do you have? How many Chases are you going to be in? You know, you just have to go at it like it's your last chance.

That's the way I feel about it. I know every time we let something slip or have a mistake. Even the ones we can't control, like the part failures, even when that happens, even though it wasn't in our control, those are the things that are hard to not take home with you.

I'm trying to work really hard and trying to motivate my guys this Chase, trying to get 'em pumped up and keep 'em pumped up so they'll be on their best on race day.

Q: There used to be a time when the Dale Earnhardt, Inc., cars were a given to not only do well in this race at Talladega but win it. You've had a couple bad finishes these last couple ones. How important is it to get another good result out of this race? Do you think you're maybe too far behind to have it make a difference? Burton has a pretty good lead on the guys who are in the bottom 10. How important is this race for you to get back on track?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I mean, Jeff Burton's no Super Hero. He's not invincible. He can have bad luck just like anybody else. Within one race, six or seven of us can be right back in it.

I mean, there's a lot of racing left. You know, if there's two races to go now, I'd sort of have the same feeling. But we got a lot of racing left and anything can happen to Jeff Burton or anybody else for that matter.

I mean, with that said, we got to feel like we got a great chance. I do. I still feel like we got an awesome chance. We gained a lot of points on everybody but Jeff. I'm basically back in it if you don't count Jeff. He could have a bad run any one of these races and then we reeled him back in.

You know, just got to do what you can do. We worked really, really hard this weekend to get 10th place. That sort of sucks because we should have finished in the top five. But we worked really hard. That's just what we got to be satisfied with.

Going into Talladega, I mean, it's important that we run good because it's in the Chase. It's a part of the championship. It doesn't really matter that it's a restrictor plate track to me. I don't really care to be the most dominant restrictor plate team out there. I want to run good everywhere.

There's only four plate races on the circuit. When we were dominant there, we got crap for not being good anywhere else. So I'd give it up to be running good at all these two-mile tracks like we have this year.

Q: You've talked in the past about your faith, that you're confident you'll win a championship at some point. Are you surprised that it hasn't come already, as you're in your seventh full season? Did you think it would happen sooner, especially with all the momentum you built coming in from the Busch Series?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, not really. You know, pretty much wherever I finished every year is really what I kind of expected.

I did feel like '04 was a good little chance we let kind of get us. You know, for the most part we were doing better than I anticipated all year long in 2004. We won six races. I never even thought about that happening ever.

You know, I didn't think I'd ever win six races in a season. You know, you dream about doing that kind of stuff. Winning is the fun part. I mean, the championship, the banquet is a lot of fun. But it's so late in the season, I think the thrill of winning that actual championship has subsided a small percentage by the time the banquet rolls around.

I don't know. I'd trade winning the championship for winning 10 races in a year if that makes any sense. I'm not that surprised. I mean, I didn't think we were going to come in here and burn the rest of the competition down. We won some races in my rookie year, but then from there on out that season it was terrible.

We were mediocre the next couple years, and then '04 was a great season for us. Then we had last year. Everybody knows all about that. Now we're trying to get back to where we were in '04.

I think physically, component-wise, cars, people, all the little things that come together to make the team, I think in that aspect we are better. The technology changes every year. It sort of sets a new standard every year. That's where you win championships, if you can keep up with that.

Q: How do you prevent it from being a burden?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Not winning a championship?

Q: Yes.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't know. I ain't -- I don't think it will be a burden. I got a lot to be proud of. I've had a hell of a life up to this point so far.

Q: Do you believe NASCAR champions have common traits and abilities? If so, could you identify a few?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I can't understand your question, ma'am.

Q: Do you believe NASCAR champions have common traits and abilities? If they do, can you identify a few of them?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I feel like I'm in science class (laughter).

Q: Your ability to drive would be a trait that is common to all of you.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah.

Q: Maybe your reflexes.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think some people have better peripheral vision than others. I think maybe all of us have the same peripheral vision, but others are more acute or aware to it. My father could look straight ahead but concentrate on something on the very edge of his vision, almost nearly behind him.

I think a lot of drivers can, not only do that, but can actually concentrate on two things that they're watching.

Reflexes, maybe, I don't know.

One thing is -- one thing that makes a champion, I don't know if this is necessarily a trait, but it's sort -- there's a raw determination that you are instilled with as a child that nothing can really -- like fame and fortune and money can sort of take that away from someone and take away the drive, you know. You sort of lose the drive once you've acquired an enormous wealth or whatever. Some people do.

The champions may acquire wealth. They can maintain that determination. I think that says a lot about their character. I mean, more tangible kind of traits, I don't know. The peripheral vision thing was something I was always amazed by my dad, because he could see a lot of things happening behind him. If you'd be standing out in the field, he was always that way.

Q: I bet you got his eyes.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I hope I do.

Q: Can you give me your high and your low of this season to date.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, my low, I don't know. Obviously the win was good as far as a high. Every week, you know -- I mean, this past weekend was a pretty good high. I ain't never had restarts like that. I've never really been much on taking advantage of guys on restarts. I said, what the heck with it Sunday, and just started jumping the heck out of them. Whenever I saw the leader or the lap car on the inside go, I just took off. I didn't care who I passed.

This weekend I was really proud of myself and my team's pit stops. I was proud of Tony, Jr.'s changes that he was making. His car was reacting really well to all the changes. A lot of times you'll run races where you can work and work and the car just basically drives the same. He was really making that thing do a lot of different things. That was great.

I mean, years ago when I was a rookie, a win would be the high point. But now that I'm a little bit older, I see a little bit more, understand the sport a little bit more, I think that this weekend was as big -- was as good of a job as that win in Richmond as far as my team and myself as a whole. We did as good of a job.

There's a couple high spots there throughout the season.

The low spot was probably -- I think, blowing the motor at Talladega was pretty bad. I was disappointed how we ran overall with that paint scheme. I really wanted to try hard for my fans and for my dad's fans. Everybody was obviously focusing in on that paint job we had, so I wanted to do well.

I don't know. We blew motors three times this year. I mean, Pocono was a bad downer. The motor we blew at New Hampshire wasn't too bad because we was actually running okay. But Pocono was pretty bad.

Q: Are you glad to see Martin is moving up and running with the lead pack now, especially going into Talladega?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah. Martin, I think I'm -- I'm not quite as happy as Martin is about it. You know, he's actually thrilled. He's such a competitor. He's a born racer. All he asks for is just equal equipment and equal opportunity as the next guy, and he thinks he can take that and outrun 'em.

You know, Bono and the guys are trying really hard. They are all doing really well. I thought that they obviously would have had some more success. I'm sure they did, too. They anticipated running probably better than they have. But it's really good to see them being as effective as they were there this past weekend. I think that they know they're even better than that. They have a great future in front of them. They're a great group of guys. It's great to have 'em in our shop, in our organization.

Q: What did Martin relay to you about what to expect from the track this weekend with the new surface? How are you and Tony looking at strategizing to figure out what your setups are going to be for the weekend since you have no idea what to expect from the racetrack?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, well, I wouldn't be any good to Tony, Jr. as far as what kind of setup we need for this weekend. Hopefully he's got a little bit of an idea as far as the test. I think Martin went to the test so he can get a little bit of an idea what they might have learned. Tony, Jr. is pretty smart and talented. He can make that car work. I'm looking forward to getting in there and driving it, seeing how the draft is with this new asphalt.

Martin said it was very smooth, that they actually did a little progressive banking work in the tri-oval, I think unintentionally. That might be a little tricky as we go through there side by side, moving around, pulling the air off each other's cars and stuff. Hopefully nobody has any issues and gets loose there.

I went there the other day and drove a Monte-Carlo SS street car around the course for several laps. I'm very proud of the job they did. They did an awesome job. It's one of the more awesomest facilities when you walk into it as far as on our circuit, it's just got so much history obviously. Obviously that little tale about its origination, the little eerie things that have happened there. And also the size of the track itself. I mean, it's just monumental. So it's one of the more important tracks on our circuit. I'm glad to see it get a facelift up to standards.

I was a little bit critical of the soft wall. It isn't perfectly symmetrical with the corner. It isn't straight. It sort of waves and changes lanes on you, if you will. I drove that SS Monte-Carlo around there, held it in a perfectly straight line around the corner. I think the right rear quarter panel hit the wall two or three times. The wall moves back and forth. Sort of reminds me of the old guardrail they had in Atlanta in the '70s.

Q: Do you think there's going to be more grip? Do you think the DEI engine program has caught up with Gibbs and Hendrick?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I hope so. There will be tons of grip. I don't know what that means for the middle or the top groove. Obviously typically that don't mean good things for it. Hopefully at Talladega it won't have a big factor on where you run as far as the grip. You'll be able to pass on the outside, inside, whatnot.

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