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April 25, 2006

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

THE MODERATOR: The weekly reminder of the NEXTEL Wake-Up up call, this will be Friday, 11:30, in the Talladega infield media center and the guest will be Michael Waltrip. On today's call we are joined by Dale Earnhardt, Junior, driver of the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet. He's currently 7th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points standings. Dale is a five-time Talladega winner and his father, Dale Earnhardt, Senior, won ten times at Talladega during his legendary career. Dale, how optimistic are you about a sixth win at Talladega? I know it's a great track for you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's a good racetrack. I'm looking forward to this weekend. Talladega, you just hold it wide open, pretty easy weekend for the drivers. But you know we'll get out there and see what kind of car we've got. We've got new front bumpers on the car, going to test them out and see what we got when we get out there and practice with them. I think we have a good car, Junior and the guys are trying to improve on the car we had at Daytona. We think we have a little better program than that, so hopefully we can go back and we can show it.
Q. Fans are still getting acclimated to NASCAR and some still think every track is the same. What I want to do is give the reader a sense of the uniqueness of each track. I was hoping you could give me in your words what makes Talladega different than other tracks or, know, if that's not the case, what makes it similar to other tracks and sort of like a behind-the-wheel vantage point?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, Talladega is unique in the sense that it's the only track that you can run wide open all the way around all day long.
At Daytona, the only track that's even remotely close to Talladega, handling is a lot more of a factor, and the car will slide around a lot more and you have to use the throttle at little bit more at that track; even as big as it is, and a long gas run there, you have to use the throttle a little bit. Talladega, you have to hold it wipe open. Only thing you have got to look for is the guy in front of you. It's wide and you can run three-wide which is -- you can run three-wide for consecutive laps which you don't really do anywhere else and you can pass -- you might get a good draft to pass 10, 15, 20 cars in one lap or two or three laps and you might guess passed by that many cars in the next two or three laps.
It's a lot of fun, because you're never really out of the picture. You're never really -- you're never really out of the shock of wind if you're in the lead draft all day long, you play cars right, put yourself in the position there at the end of the race, and anybody pretty much can have a shot to win.
Q. I see you have a special paint scheme this weekend in honor to your father. Wondering what you think of the car, and what this weekend means to you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I heard about it sort of through the grapevine like everybody else did. A friend of mine actually slipped it to me a couple months ago, and I was -- I was very excited when I saw the car. I think the car looks good, and I think it's a cool way to honor my dad. It's going to be a lot of fun to be behind the wheel of that car, and sort of see the reaction that, I don't know, I guess more or less the reaction it gets from the other drivers on the racetrack. Hopefully I can get a little by more help on draft than we've been getting in the last couple of races on the plate tracks. It's going to be neat. I think the fans will enjoy it. I hope the fans appreciate it. I hope, you know, everybody at NASCAR appreciates it because it's a pretty cool deal for DEI.
Q. I know earlier this year when it was the five-year anniversary of his death and you were getting all of the questions about that, you sort of said some things, it was a little awkward to call it an anniversary. I'm wondering from all of these tributes and things ever get a little taxing for you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, there's just, I don't know -- I think his birthday -- personally, to me, it's really just personal choice in what your opinion is personally. His birthday is something I do enjoy pointing out or celebrating or recognizing myself personally because that was always a lot of fun with him when he would get a little bit older we were always picking about what his real age was.
But, I don't know, there were some things that come and go without a blink of the eye, but there are other things that come and go that you want to point out and you want to recognize and you do appreciate and you do miss or you do want to -- between me and my family or whatnot, and all of his fans, you do want to take a moment and remember. I think his birthday is a good one.
Q. Is it really his 55th birthday?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I believe it is.
Q. You were the voice about calm about bump draft and everybody else seemed to be screaming and you didn't seem to think it was that big a deal. If you look now at the softened up bumpers, how do you think that that might affect the race in that, okay, yeah, it takes away bump draft in the corners, but it sounds like it takes away bump drafting in the straightaways, too. How do you think it will affect the race and how does it affect you?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, they are really not. They are softer to a sense, like sometimes you would get guys that would get a run on you and they would not lift; they would just hold. They would just run right into you with everything they had coming. And that was would sort of be a big startle to the guy that's betting the bump draft, and it really was not effective. It just sort of put both cars out of shape and it really didn't -- might not have sent the guy that far, anyways.
The real effective way of bump draft is to once you get a run, right before you get to the guy, you sort of come off the gas and you get the bumpers and then you put the throttle back down, once you're in the slipstream of the draft you're able to actually push the guy along all the way down the straightaway. You just have to let go of him before either one of you start to arc the car into the corner. You'll still be able to bump each other in the corners, you'll still be able to bump in the straightaways and you'll see guys that will do it too hard and mess their cars up. You'll see people get penalized for bumping in the corner maybe, I don't know. I don't think it's really going to change a whole lot as far as how we race Daytona or how we've raced in the past.
Q. So for the guys that do it right, like you're talking about, the softer bumper should not have much effect and this should be a pretty good thing overall?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'd be surprised if you're not able to do it like you need to be doing it. With the tubing that I see that they are using and everything, I think you'll still be able to bump draft effective and it will still be an effective way to advance your position and the guy in front of you, as well. If you do it right, the person that's on the receiving end is appreciative of the help. People just don't like being knocked the fire out of all the time to where we're knocking the bumpers off. Because at the end of the race when the bumper is all the way mashed into the fuel cell, some guys won't push you because it just basically just lift the car up and spin you out, because all you're doing is getting into the bumper cover and there's nothing there. At least we'll have the bumpers on the back of the cars near the end of the race where you can still get some help when you need it.
Q. How much time did your father spend thinking about paint schemes, and in general, do you think about changes to the way your car looks and do you view your car as a reflection of yourself?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I do. You know, the paint scheme on my car has always been something I've been focused on. But we had it changed. I really enjoy a good, clean race car without a lot of different colors. Just, you know, if I had my choice, I'd be driving an all-white car. I'd paint it sort of like the delivery trucks that Budweiser has.
But, you know, I like the car I've got and I think it is a reflection of myself. I think it fits my personality as good as any. But, you know, my dad and Richard and the guys at Sports Image, which later became Action Performance, they always were thinking of unique ways or creative ways to incorporate another paint scheme or something else and certain races, you know, maybe honestly for the Winston and a couple other races, maybe the 500 and Shootout and stuff like that, they always were thinking of cool ways to do and ways to incorporate neat things that they like or enjoyed.
Q. After 2004 you said the parting ways with Tony Junior was a way to save the personal relationship. So now that you're back together and things are going well, is it a case of you guys just agreeing to disagree about certain things, or are there specific areas concern like car set up or race strategy where you're now on the same page and simply have a lot less to argue about?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, sort of both. You know when it comes to the setup of the race car, I think I believe what he's putting underneath there a lot more, I've got a lot more faith and confidence in what he's putting underneath my car. And I think that he believes or takes to heart everything I'm saying and tries to use that as information more so than we had in the past.
You know, we're both just showing each other a lot more respect when it comes to the two things. When I'm talking about the car and when he's putting the setup under there or wanting to make a change, I'm going with it 100%. There's no doubt in my mind that it's not going to -- it's going to -- there's no doubt in my mind it's not going to work. We're going to, you know, we're going to try to maintain that respect because that's sort of the key to keeping each other -- keeping each other happy. You know, when we start to get frustrated with the car, sometimes the car sort of -- sort of is your worst enemy when it's not doing what you want it to do, or when you're driving it and you're not getting around a conner like you want to and when he puts a spring in the right front and it doesn't do what he wants it to; that could be a deciding factor on whether you're both kind of on the same page or you're both getting along that weekend.
So a lot of times when that -- when we don't get results that we want in practice, or on a certain run in practice, one of us has got to get out and sort of pat the other on the back and put your nose back to the grindstone a little bit and try to get it back where it was.
Q. If it were a track where you guys used to disagree on something where now it's like, okay, we're now going to do it this way like California or Daytona or just someplace where you used to just not be on the same page and now it's like, okay, this is what we're going to do.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I can only speak for me personally about that. Like we would go to racetracks where I hadn't generally run well in the past. And with the pressure that can get mounted sometimes for myself and for the expectations of me, a lot of times, then I would sort of have a frame of mind of, well, whatever happens this weekend happens. If we run back again I'm not going to get all torn up about it. If we do run good, then that's out awesome, we'll be happy about it.
So when I go out and run the car, we run typically -- we'd run sorrier or not as good or as bad as we always have, I with not really have any sort of -- I'd just have sort of a blank expression. And I think that sort of spun Tony Junior out because he didn't know really how much of my heart was in it.
So, you know, now I go to every racetrack with a lot of confidence. I think it shows my team has got a lot of confidence. That makes me confident when they are confident. You know, I go to every racetrack with more confidence, and I believe that this is going to be the time that we go there and run good like we should and you know we try to get those results, and I just try not to let -- I just try to keep my confidence all the time. That was pretty much what I needed to do on my end of the bargain, and my determination showed outwardly instead of just kind of keeping it all in.
Q. Last month at Bristol, Bobby Gordon was held for what NASCAR said was verbally abusing one of their officials over a disputed call. A couple of years ago when one of your guys, Steve Mill (ph), got tossed out of a track for, again, verbally abusing an official over his radio, as a driver, is it difficult to hold back saying something over your radio that you should not direct towards NASCAR especially going to a place like Talladega where so many judgment calls like going below the yellow line can come into play?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: That's just a person-by-person experience. I've been in that same position myself where I've gotten out of control on the radio and said things about NASCAR and how they ran their show, and I was pretty much put in my place after the whole deal was over with.
I think once you go through that experience and you listen to their arguments, and how it's going to be, you're fixed. I don't think you're going to have that problem again, at least I wouldn't have that problem again. But we were -- I think that's just, you know, either you're the type of person that can handle that type of stuff, or you're the type of person that's going to lose it once and NASCAR is going to fix you. I don't think you'll see Robby, myself or anybody else been through that experience do it more than once.
Q. Sometimes a driver will say something to you that will strike you and you'll think about it. One of the things you told my, I was just kind of thinking about it every time we go to Talladega is that you like to control the pace of a race at a track like this, as a prizefighter would control a fight. Can you talk us through that just a bit? It just surprises me that you would think of it that way, and from the driver's seat, tell us about that.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, when you've got a really good race car that can run up front, run in the Top 3 and challenge for the lead, through the whole duration of the race, you're definitely -- you're definitely one of the guys up there pulling the switches and matching the buttons or everybody behind you.
A lot of times, I mean, I've been on the other side of the fence, too, where I'm one of the guys trying to hang on, you know, and trying to get into the Top-10 and get into the Top-5, and it's just a real struggle to do that all day long.
But when you've got a car that can run up front all the time, you just sort of control, you know, what's going on around you as far as the people that you're drafting with and who you want to help and who you don't want to help and who you're trying to get to the front and who you're not trying to get to the front. Obviously you can change your line a little bit and you can sort of through, you know, when you drive a race car and you see guys around you, you can see their body language in there. You can see their temperament and how they are driving their car, and it comes out about -- it comes out as their car goes around the track, you just sort of see what mood they are in and what their attitude is and that they are upset and having a bad day or just chilling or being patient.
So you sort of feed off of that and you just watch people around you and see what they are doing, and that's how you decide what you do. You know, if you see a guy that's fast but he's a little erratic and bouncing off people's sides and stuff, you're not going to be as inclined to go up there and really draft with him that much because you don't want to be the guy that pushed him into the wreck. But because I've been on that end of it, too.
But you look for guys that are smooth, fast. I like to go to the front, so I want to be racing with somebody who is wanting to go to the front all the time like Tony or Elliot, guys like that, that are trying to get every position they can get within reason, and that's the guys you try to work with.
Q. Did you say earlier that you think not as many people have been going with you, and why do you think that that is, performance of your car or something else?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think both. Over the last -- probably over the last four races, we've obviously not had the dominance that we've had in the past, not since '01 to '04, we were pretty strong. In the last several races, we have not been that good and I think it's starting -- when I was -- I always tell guys that have trouble finding drafting partners, a lot of the rookies especially, that if they have got a good car, they need to go out and practice and show it. You have to be respectful and not do anything ridiculous, especially if you're a rookie, but you need to go out there and show everybody how strong your car is because that's when people decide who they are looking for on Sunday.
If I can go out there and take the lead and pass a lot of cars and just draft by people effortlessly, I'm going probably going to see a lot of help on Sunday. And if my car is not that strong, I can just try to pull out on the racetrack waiting on the draft to come by and practice and just try to get in the lead and hold it and maybe fool everybody into thinking I've got a really good car. Those are some of the tricks and the things that you've got to be thinking about when you're practicing to try to get yourself as much help as you can on Sunday.
Q. It's going to be hard now for anybody to do what your dad accomplished, winning seven championships and 75 races in today's NASCAR. Are the expectations that people have for you unrealistic?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I don't really know exactly, and I don't really know exactly what those expectations are. But I know that they are high. I know that people want us to win or expect us to win, expect me to be a contender, you know, week-in, week-out, and, you know, there's a lot of variables.
There were a lot of variables in my dad's day. He had sort of up-and-down years earlier in his career trying to get with the right program, the right people and all of the sudden he got with RCR with a good group of guys, with Will Lynn (ph) and Curt Showdy (ph) and all those guys and they all clicked and it all worked out.
Judging on the years before 1996, he wasn't the sole reason why those guys won all those championships. It came down to every one of them having some sort of a talent and some way to fit the pieces to the puzzle together. You know, that's sort of -- that sort of plays a lot into it, just like last year, we struggled. I felt like I had a great team, it was confusing and hard to figure out why we could not win races and run better than we did because I felt like the guys that I had were winning guys. I felt like every one of them had enough, if not more talent than we needed to win races. I just don't know why we couldn't put our car up there where we needed to be and why the car didn't drive like it should.
There's a lot of things that play into winning races and being successful year-in and year-out. I think Tony Junior is one of the best crew chiefs in the business. I think that will be recognized years down the road after his career is over with; that he was one of the good ones, and I guess just try to stick around and try to feed off of that as much as I can and win as many races as I can with him, and try to get that championship. Because, I mean, we all -- I feel like I can win a championship. I'm a good enough race car driver. So basically that's what we just focus on is go out and win races and win that championship.
Q. Your father being inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega Thursday night, with all of the success you've had at that track, how special an honor is that for you?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's pretty cool. I'm looking forward to being there and watching my family up on stage and see what they have got to say. It will be pretty fun.
He would have been real happy about that. That would have been a big deal to him. I think that's a great shrine that they have over there and as a kid I would not wait to go to the racetrack so I could go through it every year. I think it's just a huge honor. It's one of the biggest honors in the sport. I'll be one of the first ones through the gate.
Q. Of all the things your father did, ten wins and coming from behind like he did in 2000, what's your greatest memory of what your father did there at Talladega?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, probably the one, the race where he passed like 18 or some cars there with three to go. Being in that race, and being right -- I was running second thinking I was in a position to try to get me a win, and I can see him and his line formed on the outside coming up, getting closer and closer. Every time I look in the mirror, he'd moved up a few more feet toward us and was come on.
So everybody was sort of in a panic mode, everybody on the bottom line was sort of in panic mode as to, wait a minute now, this thing ain't playing out like we had in mind. That was pretty cool. That was fun because he was really proud that he was -- any time -- he sort of had a way of, you know, he would do all kinds of stuff like that, make big comebacks or big, great saves or just crazy passes. And everybody always said he could do a lot of things with a race car a lot of other people couldn't a lot of other drivers couldn't. He'd take pride in those things personally. Never would get out and jump up and down and brag about it. But, you know, when it was all said and done and over with and everybody went only home, he would take pride in doing those things. I think that comeback was one he really -- he really enjoyed.
Q. Could you have asked for a better mentor?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: My father? No, I don't think so. I think all those guys that he raced with, they were always trying to pick his brain and trying to get to the core of him and try to figure out some things that could help themselves.
With you know one of the cool -- probably the coolest thing that any body could ever say about my dad is when it's from another driver, when it's from Bobby Labonte or Dale Jarrett or one of those guys says something that they thought he did was cool, something they remember, or a day they spent with him. Those are the things that I appreciate and cherish the most are hearing stories from other race car drivers and other people that worked with him.
Q. Do you have a favorite question that was asked or a favorite story that was told to you by anybody that sticks out in your mind?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was watching something where Bobby Labonte was talking about going on -- riding around on a farm with Dad. And I know that was something Dad was real proud of, and any time one of his peers would come buy, he would jump at the opportunity to give them a ride down around the back and show them the farm. That was probably one of his favorite things to do. But he would not ask them to just come over. He would wait for some business they had to talk about or something like that where they would be around.
But it was cool. I've got a lot of respect for Bobby and Dale Jarrett. Those two guys are probably near the top of my list and to hear them talk, either one of those guys talk about my dad, means a lot to me.
Q. Certainly it's been documented your team has gone through a lot in the last year and kind of building back up, but looking back to only have one victory in the last calendar year for you with the Chicago win, how challenging is that, and what needs to still happen for this team to win races like you say and to be a championship contender?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, right now, I feel like we're one rung low on the ladder as far as championship contender goes. We're right there. We've just got to get a little better footing.
But I feel like we're right there. I made a real bad mistake getting into Kyle this past weekend. We didn't have a good car. We were going to have -- we were going to have a good enough car to finish somewhere around the Top-10, and that would have been a great salvage compared to where it did end up. So as a driver, that costs us a lot of points right there and cost Kyle a body on his race car.
But just, when I'm in a position and I can't -- when you go there and expect to win, expect to run the Top-5, and it's not happening, you sort of have to take what you can get and that's what I didn't do. I sort of pressed the issue and put myself in a compromising position and wrecked Kyle and myself and a couple other people. So just made myself look foolish.
I've got to use my head and take what I can get in those situations. I think the cars and the team and everything is there for me; when I'm ready to match the gas, it's all there. I don't know, winning races is going to be -- always is going to be a challenge, especially as the competition level in this sport sort of increases across the board. Everybody that rolls up to the racetrack, 90 percent of the teams there have got an opportunity and got the equipment and the opportunity to win, and it gets harder every year.
I don't know, it's going to be tough. But I think we can be there and I think we can make the Chase. I think we can be competitive in the Chase when the Chase comes. So I just can't make the mistakes that I make, and I've got to give my team an opportunity to improve my race car later in the race and try to get something out of it.
Q. Does it seem like it's been that long since the last win?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We've been so use busy -- you know, when you don't win -- I don't know. Aside from 2004, I only had two or three wins a year. So it wasn't like I got used to winning on an often pace or regular pace there.
Yeah, so, I don't know, I haven't really thought about it being that long since I won. But I know that I wanted -- coming into the season, I wanted to get into Victory Lane as fast as I could and sort of get that little speed bump behind us and get over that fence to where we can start trying to click off some more and get that confidence.
It's all about the confidence, you know. You've got to get all that confidence built up, and once you get a full tank of confidence, man, you're hard to stop and it's hard to beat you. If we can get us a win, early, we can go into the rest of the season with a little bit more confidence to those Poconos and the Sonomas and those Michigans and those places where I haven't had a whole lot of success in the past. That's what we're going to need to go in there with, a lot of confidence, to be able to try to do better.
Q. Just to follow up a little bit on the earlier question about expectations, at Texas at the back of the truck, you said something that really didn't sink in to me until we kind of all walked away from there, but you said that you get called overrated all the time. I just got thinking about, where do you hear that or read that or whatever, is it like on Web sites you see it or do you hear it in the garage or e-mails from fans, or how do you get that negative feedback or whatever it is?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, you always -- regardless of the situation, you're never going to have -- you're always going to have some people that pretty much despise what you do and what you're about. I guess you just hear it from different angles, not necessarily -- I don't really get on Internet and read too much, unless I just won the day before.
Yeah, like when I have a weekend like we did this past weekend, I probably don't even turn on the TV too much to see what's going on. You just sort of hear it because we had -- it was probably more so last year. You know, last year was every haters opportunities to really throw stones if they wanted to and a lot of them did. We were down and out and struggling, and, you know, it was probably -- I heard it more through the grapevine, like things that were said to my team. A lot of those guys had been working with Michael.
And I told them, when the season started I said: "Man, when you put that red shirt on, it's going to be a little different." And I don't think they really knew what I meant until they walked in and out of the garage, before or after a race and would hear some of the things that fans -- because there's an opportunity for all of the fans that didn't like Bill Junior or didn't like the Bud team to come out and got them and had an opportunity to be slang toward them, and they did. They were real hard on them boys and that was something they really didn't expect.
Q. Did that hurt Dudley bad, or did it at all make you angry knowing how much your team was struggling? And also, do you think that's something that people, maybe we in the media and everybody don't realize, we go to Talladega, we see a sea of red in the grandstands and all, is there sort of an equal but opposite real vicious reaction that maybe we don't see as much?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Not necessarily. I mean, you know, I've got a big 'ol core group of fans and they more than -- they more -- they totally, you know, overshadow all of the things that you hear from people or hear somebody said about you or whatever. I mean, we're always going to -- you know, when I have a bad weekend, I get letters about how to keep my head up and keep digging and everybody is behind me. We don't really get -- I mean, the people that are not my fan, they are not going to write me and tell how happy they are that I didn't run good.
I read the letters that are positive and I listen to the fans after the race when I run in the Top-10 and they that I, "Man that, was a good run." Those are the things that are cool. Obviously when you win a race and everybody is happy; but when you put in a hard day's work and you run 5th or 8th or whatever and it was a good hard effort and the fans appreciate it, that's more of a compliment to me that they spent their money, came to the race and their driver ran well and they are happy.
You know, just every once in a while, like last year was a hard year for the team, hard year for myself, and there was a lot of things said to my team leaving a lot of racetracks that I heard about later that were hard for me to imagine. If I were there, it would have been tough for me to listen to and for them guys to walk back in the next week after all that meant a lot to me; that they didn't -- that they were still behind me and still getting after it, even after the things that they had to go through on some occasions.
THE MODERATOR: Dale, that you have very much for joining us. Appreciate it. Great media crowd today and great answers from you and good luck this weekend.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Thanks for everybody tuned in and I'll check the Internet the next couple of days and see what you guys put out there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone.

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