NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Gatorade Duel
Topics: Gatorade Duel 1
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
February 15, 2007
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
THE MODERATOR: We're pleased to be joined by the driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet and that's Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Talk about your run out there today on the first duel.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we had a pretty good car and had Michael out front there leading. He was pretty much a sitting duck there. Had Tony pushing me, really, really good out of the tri-oval. I was going to try to make a pass on him. I was around him. I really wasn't looking in the mirrors, I just know one minute I was going straight and then I was going toward the inside fence.
I guess looking at the replay, Michael pushed up on the corner, which it's a common place to get real tight, and he obviously hadn't had a lot of laps on that car. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt there, mainly because we didn't hit the wall (laughter).
Yeah, I was pretty happy we didn't have too much damage. The car suffered a little bit of suspension damage, a little bit of body work. When we spin around like that it changes the pressure inside the trunk and underneath the crush panels and in the rear, and it just changes the pressure so drastically that it can beat some of that stuff around.
The trunk is a little tore up by looking at it, and so -- and it bent the right rear trailing arm a little bit, and we might have buckle a front lower A-arm, too, because the car was traveling more in front and bottoming out more after that, so normally that's a lower that's buckled.
So we'll make the necessary repairs and probably change a lot of stuff that doesn't need it just to make it be on the same side, but the car still ran good after that, just every time I showed the nose, or getting clean air I was struggling with the car, so we're going to work on the cal a little bit to see if we can't get the car to run a little bit better by itself out front.
Really, really proud of my team for taking care of me and making sure the car was in one piece. I was afraid we might have some crush panels dragging tires. We had a lot of cut tires today. I was proud of my team for getting me back out there. We were fortunate to get to the lucky dog and get back up there and get us a good starting spot for the race Sunday.
Q. How much of this can you take from today and work into Sunday's race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We tried some setup stuff. The cars were really real tight with the wind blowing into turn 3 yesterday. Busch cars, everything that drove yesterday, it wouldn't turn through 3 and 4. We took a couple drastic changes. We made a couple -- we tried a couple things that -- we went on the extreme side of some setup changes and like changing springs and stuff like that.
We went farther than we'd ever ran here before to try to get the car to rotate, turn. I told them handling was our utmost priority when it came to the car considering how it drove yesterday. I was real happy with the way the car our car turned around the bottom. It hadn't done that all week. We really were miserable with the Shootout with the way the car pushed all night. We really didn't have that.
As we continue to lay rubber on the tracks, the Trucks get out there and run, Busch cars, the tracks improve, so we can back off some of those changes, and some of those things we're running that might be causing us a little bit of straightaway speed as the week gets longer here.
Q. What do you think about what's going on with Michael, and does he deserve to be in the race on Sunday?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I don't really know more about it than what a few of you guys have printed. I haven't read everybody's story. I know they found some stuff in his fuel. That's a pretty serious offense.
You know, I'm not one to say whether what those other guys did, where it all ranks on the severity list or whatever. But I think that Michael has got a new team there and a new program, and that's sort of unfortunate. I know in hindsight Michael wishes he would have had more control over that situation and his company wouldn't be in the position it's in.
But pretty dire situation over the last couple days for them. But I think as the weekend goes they'll feel a little bit better about it. I don't really know, the penalties and all that stuff -- penalties are penalties; they give you what they think you deserve, and you take it. That's part of the business.
Q. Just to follow up, do you think drivers should be held responsible for illegal cars?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: There's a fine line there because, you know, when the driver is the owner, he has quite a bit of -- he should have quite a about the bit of knowledge as to what's going on you would think. In the case of last year with Jimmie and Chad, maybe not so much. A lot of times, being a driver, a lot of times crew chiefs don't tell the driver. The less people that know about it the better in those situations. If you're cheating a rear window up, you don't go tell everybody on the team. You don't want all you guys in the garage running up and down Pit Road with that knowledge. Maybe only a handful of guys know about it.
So it makes me want to kind of to believe Michael a little bit when he says he was unaware of it. It's hard to imagine -- as a driver I would take that for what it's worth, but it's hard to imagine as an owner that you wouldn't know something about that. But that's neither here nor there.
I think it's a case-by-case deal, and there is no system for penalties, points, money. There's no bracket that you can place people in for whatever they do. NASCAR has to make the best judgment they can on the severity of the penalties, and I for one should know.
You know, I felt like I was ripped off a Talladega when we cursed on the television, and I've never changed my opinion about that. But that's not -- that doesn't make it any different today.
You know, NASCAR makes those decisions, and we are to live by them. You know, I feel like hopefully they know exactly what they're doing because they're driving the boat.
Q. What's it going to take to beat Tony on Sunday do you think?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It might take the Yates rocket. That 38 car looks really, really good. He was very patient today with his car. He had some opportunities to get around me and a couple guys, and he chose to be patient. I thought that was very wise. I'm sure he had a lot of teaching with the guys he has around him.
But the 38 is very, very strong. Either one of those guys gets in the lead, it's going to be real, real tough to pass them. You may be able to get up beside them, but I don't know if you'll be able to pass them.
We've got to work on our car. It's pretty good, but like I said, we've got to fix some damage and stuff. We've got to really go over a lot of things on the car after the spin, make sure things are straight and the trailing arm and whatnot. I can drive up there if my car drives good the way it did today. Whether we've got anything for Tony or not, we'll have to see.
Q. With you being a former teammate of Michael Waltrip, does it bother you some that this may cast some questions on all the restrictor plate dominance and success DEI enjoyed or are you positive there was never anything like that at DEI with the jet fuel?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: You must not have been around here long (laughter). I never really thought about that as far as it really linking to DEI at all. I think it's NASCAR's job to police as best they can, and they don't pull any punches and they don't really let you get by with too much. They catch the good guys and the bad guys when they're cheating. You know, but I don't think that -- I've never smelled any jet fuel in my car, and I know what it smells like when it's burning because I count the dollar signs every time we fire my jet up (laughter). I ain't never smelled that smell, either. I think I've been running standard here the last several years.
Q. If you don't mind another one about cheating, kind of in the antics of cheating, it seems like NASCAR kind of has looked at maybe finessing the aerodynamics of the car in one light, but when it comes to tinkering with fuel, that that seems a much more serious, kind of no-tolerance thing to do. In your mind is one sort of understandable and the other just outrageous?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't really know what you mean.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I mean, you know, Michael is here and he can probably -- he doesn't probably want to talk about it no more than I do.
When I raced late models they had systems of checking fuel and it was very easy to know what you had in there. Nobody was really smart enough to know what it was. When I ran late models I would put propylene oxide in my fuel and they would run the tests, and they would check off the top three and all of us were wrong, so who do you throw out?
You know, it's easier to detect things like that obviously, through tests and whatnot, where when you're looking at a body or maybe some manufacturer or some guy dreamed up engineer-wise on a mechanical piece or a body or something like that, it's a little bit more of a gray area, and it's harder to tell whether they meant for that to be the way it is, whether the guy will admit to cheating.
Obviously if something is off or something is different, you're going to say, hey, you're trying to cheat here, I see what you're trying to do. But when it's sitting there staring you in the face like something in the fuel or something being off in the compression ratio or whatever in the motor, that's staring you right in the face, that's hard to ignore.
Q. Sorry to stay on the same subject, but 10 percent of the crew chiefs have been booted from Daytona at this point. Obviously NASCAR has upped the penalties. Are you surprised by that, and why do you think they're doing this?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, what else would you propose? You know, NASCAR has to maintain a level playing field and has to appear as if it's governing properly at its fullest. I would hate to have to race four to eight weeks or whatever without Tony, Jr., but if NASCAR thinks we did something wrong and he gets penalized, that's part of the deal. We knew that going in. We knew that when we signed up to get our license. That's just the way it goes.
I don't agree nor disagree with what's going on. That's just -- it's part of the system, and you're part of the system, so you just go along with it.
Q. Hope you don't mind that this point isn't about cheating. You've had another 70 laps on these new tires now. Can you talk a little bit about the tires? You talked about having to make a lot of adjustments and now you have to go back, but can we talk more about tires?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I didn't know we had a new tire. Is this the tire I ran in the Busch Car in July last year on the right side or something? I don't know what the difference is in the tires.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, my car drove pretty good today. It didn't drive good in the shootout. But normally as the track gets older, it gets slicker, and when we come here at the beginning of the speed weeks after the 24-hour tests, all the oil and everything, them guys run such a long race, the track is bound to be kind of filmed up with some debris and whatnot.
It takes us a week to get some rubber down, get some grooves working, get some traction, get some grip, but the Shootout has been pretty miserable the last couple years for me, pushing and carrying on.
I mean, the tire seems fine today, but a week ago it wasn't good. I didn't like it at all, but it's good today as we get rubber down on the track. But it's really, really hard, so when the track is new and it's like when you first showed up at Rockingham, you'd wear your tires out right and left trying to get a hold of that place, and later in the week, Saturday afternoon or whatever, after the Busch race, you'd feel like you had a little more grip and the track was in better shape, worked in, so to speak. And that's kind of what I feel like is happening here.
But I don't mind the tire too much.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Dale, Jr. Good luck on Sunday and good luck tomorrow in the other races. Thanks.
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