DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET, FINISHED 15TH:
WHAT HAPPENED THERE AT THE END? ”
I got busted for speeding on pit road. I really hate that happened. I don’t think I was; but I don’t (think) any driver ever thinks he was speeding. Congratulations to Brad (Keselowski, race winner); he drove a great race. We had a good, fast car. We didn’t have a good car here last year. We’re improving. Things are looking up for our team, and we’ve been running strong this year. I expect more of it. (If) We put cars like we did today on the race track; we’ll get some shots at some wins.”
YOU SAID ON YOUR RADIO THAT YOU FELT RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT HAPPENED WITH JEFF GORDON BLOWING A TIRE. HE SAID IT WAS ONE OF THOSE RACING THINGS:
“I absolutely feel responsible. I got into his door a little bit. We were racing and having a good time, to be honest with you. I put the pipes up against the left rear tire of his car, and knocked the side wall out of it. I hate…I feel bad about that. I’m going to have to do some damage control this week. I know Jeff understands what was going on out there, but his boys work real hard on their car, and they had a good run going. They had a potential win, or good finish going too; and they deserve it.”
ONCE YOU GUYS GOT SOME TRACK POSITION YOU WERE PRETTY MUCH A TOP-FIVE RACE CAR ALL DAY. TELL US ABOUT YOUR RUN: “We were fast all weekend. I’m real happy with the way the National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet ran all day. We sped on that last stop I guess. I came down the back straight-a-way and I had green lights all the way down. I had two red lights on the front straight-away.
“I was told I was speeding on the back, but if anywhere I was speeding on the front. I don’t know. This place is probably hard to tell exactly what is happening. I don’t really trust those timing lines too much. If they say so I guess we were speeding. It’s a difficult way to give up a good finish. We ran hard. We worked hard all day.
“I hate what happened to Jeff (Gordon). We were racing really hard. It was fun. If there is a track where you can lean on each other a little bit then this ought to be the place. We just barely rubbed down the back straight-a-way.”
I HEARD YOU SAY (ON THE RADIO) ‘I DIDN’T GET INTO HIM MUCH’: “Well you showed it on TV. I’m sure some people might have thought that was a hard hit. That to me was good hard racing. The (tail) pipes on my car cut the left-rear tire down. I feel terrible about that happening to my teammate. Those guys work really hard and they were running good and happy with their car I’m sure. But, there are four of us out there we are bound to race each other and run into each other every once in a while. Otherwise I’m just frustrated about the finish, but we did run good. We run better than we run here last year. We run really good pretty much everywhere except for Phoenix. Things are looking up for our team.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AROUND HERE, BRISTOL IS USUALLY PACKED. DO YOU THINK THIS NEW CONFIGURATION IS WHY PEOPLE AREN’T HERE NOW?
“I think the racing has suffered since the change. Go and watch the first race we had here with this surface. That was a great race. Carl (Edwards) and Kasey (Kahne) battled for the win all night. I remember being up in the middle of that and we were running three-wide for the lead. It’s possible to have an awesome race here. And I think Goodyear could come in here and pull some trickery with the tires and improve the racing. This tire is a great tire. But Goodyear really holds the key I think to improving this surface and this configuration. Aside from digging it up and trying again, they’re going to have to move the tire around a little bit to see if that will affect the racing.”
ARE YOU TICKED-OFF? OR IS THIS JUST STUFF THAT HAPPENS?
“I’m upset that I screwed myself on pit road speeding there; I’m pretty upset about that. Otherwise, I feel bad about running into Jeff’s (Gordon) car and I had a good day other than that. I had a good time. Long green flag run, man. That put us all to the test. I was watching for somebody to fall out of the seat; I don’t know who did and who didn’t, but I watching for a couple of them to pull over (laughs).”
HOW MUCH REPAIR WORK ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE TO DO WITH JEFF GORDON?
“I’ll just have to sit down and talk to him and see where he’s at. I’ve got to own up to my responsibility in the situation, which I will, and go from there.”
IS IT EASIER TO TAKE SOMETHING LIKE THIS WHEN YOU’VE HAD A PRETTY DECENT SEASON SO FAR? THINGS LIKE GETTING INTO YOUR TEAMMATE AND SPEEDING ON PIT ROAD?
“I feel bad at what happened to Jeff, but we were just racing. And that wasn’t nothing. We barely touched. That’s just kind of a freak deal. So, I’m not going to beat myself all to hell about it. I feel bad (about) what happened to him and I’m going to tell him about it. But I screwed myself on speeding. And we were running good. I think we were running good as a team. We’re a good team.
“We’re showing all the signs of any of these other guys capable of running up front and maybe winning us a race or two this year. We’re going to keep it up. I’m going to take all the positives I can out of this one. We ran good. We didn’t run good last year. We struggled and just kind of limped around and made something out of nothing. Today we ran good; and I feel good about that.”
YOU RAN MORE GREEN FLAG LAPS THAN PROBABLY EVER BEFORE HERE TODAY. KEVIN HARVICK MENTIONED THAT IT’S RUINED WHAT BRISTOL IS ALL ABOUT
“I don’t think so, man. They ran a race here in 1973 that didn’t have any cautions. Cale Yarbrough won that and led every lap. I don’t know if that was a boring race. But racing is racing. You line ‘em up and let ‘em go and I’m glad NASCAR didn’t step in and throw a bunch of debris cautions all day long to try and make a show out of it. Some of the racing is more exciting that others; some tracks are better than others, and that’s just the way it is. Everybody is just going to have to live with it unless somebody wants to spend the money to dig it up and re-do it, we’ve pretty much got what we’ve got.”
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE GRANDSTANDS THIS EMPTY BEFORE?
“I don’t know. When it was a lot smaller they had a lot less people here (laughs). I don’t know man. It ain’t all the surface of the race track. It ain’t. It ain’t. It ain’t the track’s surface and the way the track’s configured. You could say that’s part of it or all of it, but it ain’t. You put the right tire out there; these tires have different configurations on the left and right-sides and different compounds. That changes how you race. It changes the way the cars go around the track. Look at that first race we run here and do your story. That was an exciting race. And it’s the same track.”