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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 4, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined in the media center by Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Texaco Havoline Dodge, and just walked in, as well, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet.
Gentlemen, thanks for taking the time to join us. Juan, we'll start with you. You walked in here first so we'll start with you. You're currently 16th in points, only 25 points out of 12th place. I know it's a little bit early to start thinking about that 12th place, but obviously you're adapting very well to your first full-time season in NASCAR. You won the Busch race in Mexico. Tell us about how happy you are with your progress and your first impression of Richmond International Raceway.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think things have gone pretty well. It's hard to say, you know, are we going to make the Chase or anything. As you said, it's too early. We're just going race by race, making sure we bring the car home.
I was more concerned dropping out of the Top 20 and getting into the Top 12. Last race was actually a good race for us. It was a tough race, but I adapted myself pretty good to it.
This one is a pretty tricky track. I think there's going to be a lot of tracks where we're going to struggle. Bristol was one of them at the end of the race we were pretty competitive, but it was too late.
You've just got to take advantage, when you're comfortable, score good points, and when you're not, just bring the car home. If you manage to stay away from wrecks and stuff, you'll be fine. I think you've got to wait probably ten more races to sit down and say, okay, we've can make the Chase, we've got to focus on this or that.
THE MODERATOR: As defending champion of the upcoming race here at Richmond, the Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400, let's just revisit that race really quickly last year. Most everyone last year was chasing the 29 car but the end of the race turned out to be a pretty good finish between you and our local guy here Denny Hamlin. Can you just take us back to that race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, it was fun. We had a good car. The 29 was fast all night, and they had some troubles, some bad pit strategy or whatever, made some mistakes, not pitting when they should have. That seems to be what the short track race is all about.
All the cars are so easily matched that are running toward the front, it's more about pit strategy and who can get out first on that last stop and try and maintain position, and that's what we were able to do.
THE MODERATOR: Seemed like you had a lot of fun with the burnout at the end, even turned it into a TV commercial for you. Can you rate on a scale from 1 to 10 that burnout that you did last year at the end of the race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't know, my daddy never liked them too much so I'm not much of a big fan of them, but people have come to expect them so you don't want to disappoint anybody. It's a lot of fun. When you win, you're pretty excited and it's a great feeling. It's one I'd like to experience a whole lot more often, but we're working really hard to get there.
Q. If you could talk, Dale, about the mandated changes for the COT and the foam and what kind of effect you think that will have and your concerns about safety inside the car.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, they had the fire this past weekend in the 29 and they made some changes and cut the foam out around the exhaust pipe or put in some kind of a fabricated piece, a square, to keep the foam if it did get hot not to move down or change its form, you know, and get down near the pipe.
I think that the COT we'll learn a lot of little nuances and things like that within the car and make changes as we go with NASCAR. They've done a great job up to this point. They're being real lenient in a lot of areas with the car. As we start to understand it, they'll start to tighten the grip a little bit on the technical inspection and whatnot.
But I'm pretty pleased so far, but we've only ran some short tracks with it. I'm sure it'll be a new ballgame when we go to the bigger racetracks and it'll be a whole 'nother puzzle to figure out.
Q. Can you just talk about the tests so far, how much have you learned and at this point how do you see the COT racing here at Richmond?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think the racing will be good. A lot of guys are running in the middle, moving the grooves up, so that's a good sign. It's a great racetrack.
I think the racing -- the type of racing you get is more conducive to what style of track you're on more so than the car. I don't think you can build the car to improve the racing. It's really more about the style of track and what the track characteristics are.
I think that the testing has gone pretty good. We're not really that fast right now but I'm not too worried about it. We were really poor at the Bristol tests and we turned out okay there. I don't know why we can't really run fast laps in testing, but the car is reacting and we're learning.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: For me it's been pretty good, I think, for the whole Ganassi organization. We've just been really fast, we've run pretty good, as well. The thing is you're three-tenths of a second of the fastest guy, and you're lining up 30th in practice. There's still a lot of things.
It doesn't matter how fast you can run over a lap. I think what's more important is how consistent your car is because when you come down here to the race it's all about that, how -- consistency, how comfortable you are in the car. If you can work with that, then it'll be interesting.
With these new cars there's so many things you need to try, the bump rubbers and all that kind of stuff that if you can figure out better than anybody else, you're going to have an advantage.
Q. I had a question for Junior and I have a question for Juan. Are you experiencing problems in getting the car to turn that we hear from a lot of the other drivers?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The car is no more difficult to figure out than any car we've driven in the past. The other cars, the older cars, you struggled trying to get the car to work in the middle of the corner. It's no worse with the COT.
I've found with the COT it's a little bit easier to get the forward bite and bump the corner. I'm not sure if that's just a fluke with this, but the car seems to be easier to get the forward bite better. I thought the corner of the car, either the width of the car or something to that effect, that helps the car come off the corner a little better, a little straighter.
The struggle at the center, that's always kind of been there, it's always been what you concentrate on. If you can get your car to roll at the center better, you're going to have a pretty good night.
Q. Juan, being new to this series, is the Car of Tomorrow maybe a little easier for you to get used to because unlike some of the other guys you're racing against, they've had years of experience in the other car to adapt to a new car, this kind of being your first season?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yes and no. Yes, because I haven't driven this car on some small tracks. But no, because I have -- how many years they've been racing the stock cars. I have six months of racing in the stock car against, what, 10, 12, eight years, 16 years? So it's a little bit of a thing that you've just going to be very open-minded about it. I think that helps me a little bit, I'm very open minded about trying stuff, and I think you cannot be scared of trying things here because you might surprise yourself with what works and what doesn't.
You've just got to be patient. Testing is hard. You've just going to be open about, okay, we go here, we go there. It doesn't work so just be patient, just take it back, try something else. You can find a little bit of a route where you're going. At the same time sometimes you get completely lost and you need to go back to basics. But that's the only way you're going to make some progress here.
Q. Dale, you've had a lot of success out here at the Phoenix track. You know all the nuances of the track. How do you adapt the Car of Tomorrow to a track, this mile track, for the first time?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think that what we're learning here in Richmond is going to help us a lot when we go to Phoenix. The tracks are similar in certain aspects, and the setups that we ran over years past have been pretty close.
I think that it'll be -- you drive Phoenix a lot like a short track even though it's a little bit larger, you drive it like a short track, and the car handling and the way you charge the corners and work the center of the corners is a lot like a short track. I think we'll try to apply a lot of things that work here when we show up in Phoenix and see how it goes.
Q. Dale, after your second DNF in California a lot of people started fretting about your season, the Chase and so forth, and you told everybody to chill out, that you thought everything would be all right. And sure enough, that's what happened, and you've moved up in the points. Can you talk a little bit about the confidence you had that early in the season that things would be okay?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, the season is really, really long, and you know, a lot of the guys are going to find themselves having the same misfortune that we did at the beginning of the year. It sort of evens out, and if you try -- if you show up with good race cars every weekend, you know, you've kind of cut the battle in half.
But I was real -- I was just so happy how our cars were running at the time even though we weren't finishing races and we weren't getting good runs. Our cars were so good and so fast, I knew it was just a matter of time before we started racking up the finishes we needed and we'd be climbing up in the points.
Realistically Hendricks and those guys, they're at the top of the charts right now, winning every week and running up front every week, and they'll be hard to challenge going into the Chase at this point. But if we can just continue to finish good and take good cars to the racetrack, we should be able to make that Top 12.
Q. My question is for Juan. You were having a pretty good race last weekend at Martinsville in the last lap and you had a coming together with Tony Raines. He was pretty outspoken about what he thought of the incident. I would like to have your view of what happened.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I don't know, it's just racing. You know, a short track like that, things like that are going to happen. You hit some guy, some guy hits you, and you don't really do it on purpose or anything, just the guy went to the inside really early, when I went to brake it was too late, I ran into the back of him and took him out. It's not like you want to do it on purpose. But at the same time even when you bump back bumpers, they're trying to keep a place and they keep hitting you. You know, you can't really expect anything different from a short track. I think that's what I like about a short track is it's like bumper cars.
Q. My second question is you had your best finish so far on oval, 1.5 mile oval in Atlanta. (Indiscernible) said that he thinks you could get your first victory there. Do you think the same? Do you think you have a good shot there?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, I didn't know he said that, but we were working on it like every weekend. You go into a weekend you're comfortable with the car, the car looks good, you have a chance. Here when you have a chance it's not like it used to be. When your car was fast and you were the fast guy, you had about a 90 percent chance to win. Here you've got about 50 because on any given day there's easily fast cars that can realistically win the race.
So you need to make sure -- like Dale said, you've got to be one of those cars and play smarter than anybody else out there, and then you have a chance.
Q. Would you be willing to give us just a general update on your sister Kelly? There were reports early that she's going to be fine, but the recuperation process will be slow. Can you give us kind of a general picture of that, and also does that keep everything, as you said at Bristol, kind of on hold for a while, or is there room for her to kind of work and work toward the contract now?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: She's doing a whole lot better. She's going to be sore and she can't lift anything for several weeks. But she's doing really, really good. She's out of the woods, so to speak, and we're all really, really happy about that.
You know, she'll start carrying out her typical duties, and she's starting to phase back into what's been going on over the last six to eight months and get back to work.
Q. Dale, as you mentioned, the Hendrick team is very hot right now with the COT. Do you think it's fair that this year's champion very easily could be decided by whoever gets the handle on the COT first?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think it's fair. I mean, everybody is in the same boat. We're all having to learn it together.
We've ran better than I anticipated we would at the first two races already. We didn't test as early and as often, and going into those races without that much data and knowledge about the car, I was really pleased with how we did.
I was really worried that it was going to be trouble for us because I didn't think we would pick up on it, and we still may run into some roadblocks, like I said, when we go to the bigger tracks. But the with the way my team has been working, with their confidence level, I feel like we're getting that chance, we can make a challenge.
We've had some great opportunities and near misses at points in the last couple of chases that we've been in. We saw where we've had some opportunities to win a championship, and we just have to put ourselves in that position again and try not to make those same mistakes.
Q. Dale, I wanted to ask about coming to Texas, Texas Motor Speedway said they repaired this dip. Are you eager to see if they have repaired the dip? I noticed that you are going to be involved in a roundtable discussion before the movie "Dale" is shown at the track. Can you talk about that and why it was important for you to be a part of that as they show this on the big screens for the first time in the Dallas area?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I'm excited that they've repaired the dip. What happens is at every racetrack is where they put a tunnel in, over years the water and rain and whatnot settles the ground over the top of the tunnel and creates a dip in the track and a bump in the track.
I was telling -- I used the media, but I told Gossage and those guys at Texas how the track was coming into its own and creating a second and third groove, but the dip was so bad at the top of the corner on one and two that it was hard for us to run through there. We were running on cold bound springs and stuff like that. And when you go over a big old bump like that with a cold bound spring it throws the car in the air, so I told them if they could fix that they'd have a better racetrack. He was upset that I used the media to tell him that, but sometimes you guys got the loudest microphone.
As far as the "Dale" movie, I was really thrilled with how that turned out, very proud of the whole project and just want to give it the best opportunity to be seen by as many people as possible. I'm just trying to help that.
Q. This question is for Junior. Junior, there's been some people complaining that Doug Johnson and Jeff Burton didn't dump Kyle Busch at Bristol. They all cited the way your dad raced, how he didn't care who it was or what it was, he was going to win a race no matter what. Talk about racing etiquette and evolution and whose it changed that much.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think different guys race differently. You have to understand that Jeff and Jimmie are teammates and they're friends and they know each other really well, and believe it or not, in that situation, it's easier to -- it's easier for Jeff to go in there and give Jimmie the bumper. If it were another competitor like Tony Stewart or Jeff Burton, maybe that wouldn't have happened, Jeff would have drove totally different.
But being close as friends as long as they have, they can lean on each other harder. It's like me and Tony, Jr., being able to cuss at each other in the garage area and being able to walk it off, and other crew chiefs and drivers don't have that style of relationship.
I think that the circumstances comes down to which two drivers are involved and how they've raced each other in the past. Every situation is going to have a different outcome. I thought it was good to see. I thought -- I didn't think any driver really had anything to complain about.
If anybody had anything to complain about -- if anybody who was having a bad day it was the guys that missed the race who were sitting home watching it on TV. I was very happy to be running up front with a first shot at the win, and I think that's the way those guys probably felt, too.
Q. Dale, your team really came together through the challenges. There was a sense of panic about you getting to the front where you wouldn't make the races or something like that, and I think Tony, Jr., said that he even went to see the preacher man or he was going to church more often or something, but your team didn't fall apart. What does that say about the fact that you guys did not panic through that time, and now you're 11th in points?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: You know, this sport, you can be in this sport or any form of sport, anything you do, you're going to have a lot of things thrown at you. You know, you just kind of -- you see it through the other side, and normally things work themselves out.
Like I said, it was way early in the season and there was no point to really get too concerned with how things were going, and I've always been -- you know, I've always been the kind of person that you give your best effort and the result is the result and that's what you've got to live with, and like it or not that's what you have.
If I wasn't running as hard as I could, I wouldn't be able to -- we would probably be panicking. But we were giving everything we had, things just weren't working out. We just had to wait until it would.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it.
End of FastScripts