DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed racing at Martinsville, the tire situation for Sunday’s race, Texas Motor Speedway, Kimi Raikkonen and other topics.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE TIRE SITUATION HERE THIS WEEKEND? “It is pretty disappointing. Just hopefully we can figure out what is wrong; why the tires aren’t as good as they should be and get it fixed.”
WHAT IS IT DOING FOR YOU? “Same thing it does for everybody else.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT TEXAS? “The car needs to move around. The track is pretty wide. It needs to work in several different groves; roll the center of one and two real good and get out of that corner real good. It is real loose off of two if you ain’t careful and tight in the center of one and two.”
YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NIGHT RACE AT TEXAS? “Either way is fine. It will be good.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND’S SCHEDULE? “It’s all right. It doesn’t matter one way or another. It is fine like this, it’s good.”
AT TEXAS IT WILL BE 100 RACES SINCE YOUR LAST WIN IF YOU DON’T WIN HERE ON SUNDAY, DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT? “You come to the race track every week to try and win the race. I don’t really keep count, but it has been a long time. I feel closer to victory lane than I have I have in the most past. It is going to take some luck to make it happen this weekend because of the tire deal. We’ll just have to see how it goes. Texas is a good track for me.”
WITH THE SUCCESS JIMMIE (JOHNSON) HAS HAD HERE, BEING IN THE SAME SHOP NOW, DO YOU THINK THAT HAS HELPED YOU AT ALL? “He helped me just as much in the last several years. We knew what their setup was and we’ve run pretty good here. He was a big help over the last several years just being in the same camp as him as they were doing really well here and trying to see what they were doing. But, everybody has a little bit different setup here. When you come to this track, you like a little bit different feel. Jimmie’s probably going to have a great race. Hopefully this package we have in our car is good. I’ve always really liked running here and liked this place. The tire is really crappy, but, that is just the way it is, there ain’t much they can do about it.”
LIKING THE TRACK HAS A LOT TO DO WITH YOUR SUCCESS HERE DOESN’T IT? “Yeah. I guess. I like the track because I run good here. It is hard to tell which one came first.”
HOW ARE THE TIRES GOING TO IMPACT THE RACING TOMORROW? “I don’t know. After 12 laps, everybody was kind of falling off pretty fast. There was no rubber built up and there was a lot of marbles. You couldn’t get out of the bottom groove. You had to run right next to the curb. If you got in the marbles, it would ruin you. Once you got in the marbles, you ruined that set. I mean, there is no way to get them off. We don’t go fast enough here to really grind them off. It was messy. It was just real messy all day.”
IS IT GOING TO CHANGE THE FAVORITES HERE? “I really don’t know. I mean, I think that is secondary to what the real problem is and what our concerns should be.”
THIS IS THE SECOND TIRE PROBLEM IN THREE WEEKS, IS THAT JUST COINCIDENCE? “No, it is not coincidence. I think there’s a good explanation for it. I talked to some people at NASCAR and got a good explanation and you guys can probably go get the response that I got and it made a little bit of sense. We’ve had some good events here and hopefully we’ll get lucky and the track will rubber up. But it’s not looking so good right now.”
SHOULD THEY BE TESTING WHENEVER THEY CHANGE THE TIRE? “I think that would be the best thing to do. But, It is hard….of course, if you are going to make a change…obviously. They needed to make a change. There was a reason they made a change. They had to make a change. A lot of people assume ‘Ah, what are they doing messing with the tire. They didn’t need to mess with it’. But there was a reason they had to make a change. But if they are not sure about what is going to happen, then we probably should have some reliable data from testing to make sure it is going to be ok.”
IS TESTING THE SOLUTION? “I don’t know what else you can do. How else do you put a tire on the track and make sure it works?”
WHY DID THEY HAVE TO MAKE A CHANGE? “I’m not real sure. I can’t even recall really what all the wordage was for the reason I got but it sounded legitimate. So, just go ask somebody at the big trailer and maybe they will tell you.”
WHY ARE YOU GOOD AT MARTINSVILLE? “I don’t know, I just like racing here. It is a good short track and I have fun racing here. I like different tracks for different reasons. The place is close to home and just fun.”
A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY THE MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACKS ARE JUST COOKIE-CUTTER TRACKS, WHAT MAKES TEXAS DIFFERENT THAN THE OTHER MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACKS? “It’s not. It’s the same…it is in that group. It has some really, really, really weird transitions like the exit to turn two is just strange as heck. But it is what it is so….”
KYLE BUSCH IS GOING TO RUN KIMI RAIKKONEN IN A TRUCK AT CHARLOTTE, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT A GUY MAKING HIS DEBUT AT THAT TRACK? “I think Kimi Raikkonen has got enough experience to debut at a place like that. I’m sure they will go and get him a good amount of seat time and Kyle’s trucks are amazing. It is great equipment. You couldn’t ask to be in better equipment there. I think it will be fine. Should work out great.”
HAVE YOU EVER GOTTEN IN A TRUCK FOR KICKS? “No. I mean, I am curious as to what racing them would be like and I hear they are good fun and I will probably do it before I hang it up. But no hurry right now.”
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PASS TOMORROW IF THE UPPER GROVE IS ALL GUMMED UP? “You just won’t want to be in the second groove. If you go into the second groove, if there is marbles there, you don’t want to get them on your tires, they won’t come off. So, you wouldn’t want to be up there at all.”
WHAT WAS YOUR TEAM DE-BRIEF LIKE YESTERDAY AND HOW CHALLENGING IS THIS NOW? “It is real challenging. If the track rubbers up, it will get real, real tight. It has not even made one little step toward that direction. But I think as a crew chief, you’ve never been to a race track that hasn’t, you know? There have been some rare occasions we’ve seen like at Indy and those weird deals like that. But you just have to assume that the law of averages says it is going to rubber-up. So we don’t really want to tighten our cars up too much. We’re going to kind….they don’t drive really good after 12 laps. They get real, real loose, but we are just hoping that the track is going to do what it normally does and that will mean that the track will come to our setup. Hopefully that happens. You just have got to take that gamble; that is the problem. As the driver, you want to make the car comfortable for how the track is right now but as a crew chief, I think you want to assume that the track is going to rubber up and know how to the target the car for that kind of build-up and that kind of track condition.”
HOW LONG ARE YOU GOING TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE IN THE CAR?
“Normally, if it’s a green race track, say if it rains on Saturday, it takes about 40 to 50 laps. But it may take the whole race. This tire just comes apart and just marbles-up the race track and doesn’t really build rubber into the race track. But hopefully the trucks today will rubber-up the track a little bit and start that process. You’re wishing for the best. Goodyear is trying to make some changes to their tires and changes to the way the tires are make or whatever. I don’t know. There’s obviously got to be a reason for why they’re making changes. You just don’t make changes just to be making changes. So, hopefully they get it figured out. This is not as serious as the situation we had at Indy, it’s just going to be a slick race track and the drivers are just going to be asked to buckle down and do a little bit more after 12 or 15 laps when the tires fall off like they do. And that’s just what we’ll have to do tomorrow.”
WHEN OTHER GUYS FROM OTHER SERIES COME OVER, HOW MUCH MORE DIFFICULT DOES IT MAKE IT FOR THAT GRASSROOTS STOCK CAR GUY THAT CAME UP THE WAY YOU DID?
“I don’t think it makes it any more difficult than it already is. It’s super, super challenging for those guys and nothing really can make it more difficult, I don’t believe. And I don’t think it matters what direction, really, you came in or how you got here. I think it’s all good and fair here however you want to call it. I don’t really think that Kimi (Raikkonen) comes in here and steals anybody’s opportunity. I think it’s a neat situation. I’m excited to see how he takes to the sport. It would be kind of neat it Mr. Schumacher would come over here and give it a try. We’d all really be thrilled to see it. Whether you thought it was great or right or wrong, we’d all be watching. So, it’s kind of neat to see some of those guys have an interest in our sport because there is definitely such a big difference between the two. What we do here in America and what happens over in Europe, there’s a big difference. They have such an appreciation for what they’re doing and we’re very proud of what we do and it’s kind of cool when the two kind of get to check each other’s sport out and they come over here. It’s kind of nice to see their impression of our sport and it’s often a lot more intricate and impressive to them than they first assume coming in.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA SAID YESTERDAY THAT HE STILL GETS EMAILS FROM F-1 TYPES. DOES THAT SURPRISE YOU THAT THERE’S THAT LEVEL OF INTEREST FROM THEM IN OVAL TRACK RACING?
“I’m not really that surprised. I think that we have great popularity and there’s tons of intrigue and it’s natural for any kind of race car driver to know what the other half lives like, you know?”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT OLDER DRIVERS WHO HAVE ACCOMPLISHED SO MUCH IN OTHER RACING VENUES TO COME OVER TO NASCAR?
“I think number one is the popularity of the sport. That has pretty much everything to do with it.”
NOTHING ABOUT THE PHYSICAL ASPECTS WHERE THEY MIGHT BE ABLE TO ENDURE MORE HERE? DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH THE MONETARY OPPORTUNITIES?
“Yeah, popularity; that kind of all runs into the same.”
THIS IS THE TOP LEVEL OF RACING IN THE AMERICA. DID YOU HAVE TO WISH FOR A GOOD RACE? YOU USED THE WORD ‘WISH’ ABOUT THE TIRES. SHOULDN’T YOU KNOW?
“Yeah, you should know, but we don’t. We didn’t do any testing. We don’t really know what the tire is going to do. It should not be a debacle by any means. There may be some grumblings by the end of the race about it still, but we’ll get through it.”
ON RUNNING QUALIFYING TODAY, JUST TWO LAPS, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
“It doesn’t matter to me. Whatever they want to do, whatever they say the rules are and whatever they say the schedule is, is fine by me. I really don’t have an opinion either way. This is kind of unique but it’s the same for everybody. It’s an even playing field.”
YOU WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SPEED CHART AFTER PRACTICE. IS THAT WHERE YOU FEEL YOU’RE AT OR DO YOU FEEL ANY BETTER OR WORSE?
“For qualifying, that’s where I feel like I was. We were having good speed in qualifying, but I felt pretty decent about my car in race trim. It drives, I feel, as competitive as I’ve been here in the past. But we didn’t find the kind of speed we were looking for in qualifying.”
YOU HAVE A GOOD RECORD AT MARTINSVILLE. HAVE YOU DEVELOPED A COMFORT LEVEL WHEN YOU COME HERE? ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT COMING TO MARTINSVILLE?
“Yeah, I look forward to coming here. I really enjoy the racing here and the race track itself and the fact that it’s close to home. So I do look forward to coming here. It’s a fun place to race, it really is. And the races are always good. They always come down to exciting finishes and they’re fun to be a part of.”