Dale Earnhardt reflects on
first half of season
(July 4, 2000)
Earnhardt, a 49-year-old seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup
champion from Kannapolis, N.C., trails points leader Bobby Labonte by 52 points after 17
of 34 events on the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule. Earnhardt gained 15 points on
Labonte last Saturday night with an eighth-place finish in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona
International Speedway. Labonte finished 12th. Meanwhile, defending NASCAR Winston Cup
champion Dale Jarrett finished second in the Pepsi 400 and gained 38 points on Earnhardt
and 53 points on Labonte. Jarrett is in third place at the midpoint of the season, 76
points behind the leader. Earnhardt talks about Sundays race at New Hampshire,
NASCARs proposed common templates, running for a record eighth title, his team and
why he has seven straight top-10 finishes and leads the circuit with 14 top 10s in 17
starts this season.
I think our whole program has come together from
last year to this year, Earnhardt said. The new Monte Carlo has helped us on
downforce, the drivability of the race car. Kevin (crew chief Hamlin) and I have got more
time under our belts together. Our crew has been fine tuned and moved around and everybody
really wants to be there. Youre getting paid to be there, but they want to be there.
I want to be there. Over the years, Ive driven for Childress. Ive been offered
bigger deals, but Im with Richard because I want to race, I want to win, I want to
be with somebody who wants to win as badly as I want to. I feel like that is the package
we have this year. We want to overcome. Our pit stops were not that good the first of the
season, but we worked on that and our pit stops are right there with everybody
elses. We came out of the pits first at Pocono and that enabled us to race for the
win. If we hadnt come out of the pits first, we probably wouldnt have been
able to race for the win.
Ive got four years of racing left, at least. Who
knows, I might even drive another car with my own team. Im not ruling anything out.
Ive got a job and an opportunity to win that eighth championship. Thats what
were focusing on. Thats what were driving for. Thats what
were working for. Were doing it with a more solid team than Ive had in
past years. I may have been hurt for the last two years and working with pain and stuff
and didnt realize it until it got worse and worse. I had to have something to do
about it. Thats all in the past. Its over. Were healthy. The team is
healthy. Everything is there. Now its ours to capitalize on it and move forward and
get those top fives. If we can keep doing what were doing and get a little closer to
Bobby and put some pressure on them guys... It puts pressure on them guys leading and
pressure on them guys trying to catch em.
I think Ive been a good driver the whole time. I
enjoy the pressure. I thrive on it. Im not one to go out and overdrive the corner
because someone is pressuring me into the corner. I try not to do that. His team, Makar
and Bobby, theyre putting pressure on themselves, but I dont think the racing
pressure gets to em.
I think the way we travel, and I do feel like the
motorhomes and the families being more involved and NASCAR has turned more family than it
used to be as far as the all-around family sport with the drivers and families being
involved and being here, more so than they used to be. Were right out here in the
motorhomes together now and a lot of times we used to not travel together. We hitched a
ride with each other or whatever.
Its like when I raced Mark Martin for the
championship until the end. It seemed like every week we were racing for 12th or first. If
I qualified bad, he qualified bad. Its really not that way this year. Im
looking around and Im (starting) 29th at Sears Point and those guys are up front.
Jarrett was in the middle, but again, I think the guys youve got to be concerned
with are Jarrett and Labonte. Sure, all of them can be a threat. All of them that are in
the top 10 can be a threat for the championship. It took half a season to get where
youre at now. Itll take another half of a season to get somewhere else. I do
think the 88 and 18 are the guys were going to be racing for that championship.
I dont think youll see one, you may not,
you may, Im not saying you wont, see one team excel and win several races.
Youve got to be there every week to be a contender. Give me Bristol back. Everybody
says Daytona (500) really hurt you. No, Bristol really hurt me (39th-place finish). If you
have a bad day and finish in the top 15, OK, youve had a bad day. We had a terrible
night at Bristol.
Were going there (Indianapolis) two days after
Loudon. Were working on testing at Watkins Glen on the 10th and testing at
Indianapolis on the 11th and 12th. Thats how serious we are about trying to make
everything count. All of them are important. The very next race is the most important.
Indy is on the list of tests. Surely you want to go there and win and the points are
important, but you want to win that race. If you can win that race, its a big
feather in your cap like the Daytona 500.
Im on an even plain when it comes to excitement,
except on race day. Like Pocono, when youre able to race for the win and you have a
legitimate shot at hey, I had that race won or I could have won that
race with a different turn of the wheel or a different situation and it would have come
out better. Given that, youre excited about it. Im just going through
the motions of practice and getting ready. When were ready to race, thats when
you get excited.
If youre counting points at that point (October)
in the races, you might be counting down. At this point, Im not counting them off.
Im just waiting until its closer to the end and then Ill add em
All of them have been hard. Winning your first
championship is hard. Winning the one after that is hard. Ask anybody. Jarrett, Elliott,
Wallace, you dont go out and just do it again. Terry Labonte and Rusty Wallace have
never won the Daytona 500. Have you asked them about that? Winning (No. 8 championship) is
the next one. Its our next goal. Thats our next focus. Yeah, its
important. Were competitive, and we have the team to race for it. Its like
having the privilege to race to win. Guys play in the minor leagues and never get to go to
the majors. Guys get to race in Busch or the truck series and never get an opportunity to
drive a Cup car. Im there. I have the opportunity. Im excited about what I do.
Im not content with not winning. If somebody tells you Im riding my years out,
theyre not paying attention.
We put a great opportunity in front of him (Dale
Earnhardt Jr.). Tony (crew chief Eury) and the guys at DEI have built a great program for
the Busch team right into the Cup team. The kid has done well. Hes has taken the
resources and applied his ability and came out of it. I had expectations of him going out
and winning the first race he drove. Thats dad looking at it. It took Kerry
(Earnhardt) a little longer. Winning at Pocono (ARCA race) was really big for him. Again,
it took us putting the program together. Thats our cars and team. Hes going to
go up to Michigan and test Dave Marcis car for him, and well see what happens
for Kerry down the road.
Youre so proud of your kid. Thats a given.
Youre proud of your kid. You see that (win) happen, and youre proud of your
kid, but when you win a race as a driver, thats pretty damn exciting. Thats
what Im driven to do. Thats what I get up in the morning to go do -- race.
Yeah, Im proud of him (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) winning. Im excited about it.
Im excited about it for our team. Ill probably get more excited as I become a
full-time owner. I reckon Ive got the best of two worlds. Im a winning driver,
a winning car owner. Look around. Theres not many people thats done that and
done it the way I have. I dont know that I could drive for myself. Im pretty
set in my ways, and Im set to drive that 3 car as long as Richard (Childress) is
there and the team that we have is there. Weve got a great opportunity and a great
organization. Ive got to stick with these guys. Thats why theyre in it,
and thats why Im in it.
Im proud of Matt Kenseth and Dale Jr. coming from
Busch together and racing like they do. I was glad to see Matt win at Charlotte. He
deserved to win as much as Dale Jr. did because of the time he put in. Robbie Reiser
(Kenseths crew chief) and the time they put in. Tony Eury and those guys are pretty
much on the same scale when it comes to hard work. To see Robbie and Matt and Tony and
Dale Jr. winning races is a pretty neat deal. Those kids are having a good time racing.
Its pretty awesome.
Look at all my kids. Im pretty proud of all of
them. All of them did the right thing in life. Kerry (30-year-old son) raised his two kids
and got married again and is doing well. Dale Jr. (25-year-old son) is doing well with
keeping his head on straight and going forward. Kelly (27-year-old daughter) is getting
ready to give me a granddaughter in another month. Shes got a great job. Shes
making more money than I would pay her. Then Taylor Nicole (11-year-old daughter) is
growing into running the show back home.
The key to it is the team. Its got to be an
effort from everybody, a team. You look at that 18 bunch, and theyre all excited
about being there. They all work together. You look at the 3 team. Theyre together
now. Its like the Tony Eury and Tony Eury Jr. and Dale Jr. combination. You put that
combination together and they win. Thats how you win races or championships or
anything. That group of guys that want to do it and want to do it for the reason of
winning, not because Im getting paid a lot of money, because I want to do it. I want
to be good. You never give up. You never quit.
I dont weigh if I want to win this race, or put
this race against that race or this championship against that championship. Ive
really enjoyed them all. Again, Im so damn fortunate to grow up in a family that
raced. To get into it and accomplish what I have in my life, its pretty damn
awesome. To have your kids come along with you. I didnt make Dale Jr. go be a racer.
The kid wanted to be a racer. Id just as soon him be a doctor, a preacher or
whatever. Im not sure Id want him to be a lawyer. Again, thats another
subject. Ive got the first car he ever won a race in. Im restoring it.
If physically and mentally I cant do this. If I
cant go down in the corner and drive competitively with the next guy and beat him or
win a race, thats going to (determine when I stop). Your reflexes and health or
whatever is going to tell on you. I dont see it happening in the next three years.
I feel like Darrell Waltrip in his heart right here
wants to drive and still can drive. Circumstances have to be more right to him than they
used to be. The will and want and drive to do it... I just hope he comes through until the
end of this year and has some success and can go out happy. I dont want to see him
just get by until the end of the year and go on out. Id like to see him be
competitive. I was really proud of what he and the 1 car guys did when he drove our car.
He showed that ability and has that ability. He didnt lose it when he got out of the
After the crash in Talladega, I was bruised up a year
with my sternum and my collarbone. I probably hurt my neck then. Maybe another crash at
Talladega in 97 aggravated it more or whatever happened since then. It finally
started putting pressure on a nerve and started causing a problem. Surely 99 was a
terrible time, a terrible aggravation for me, but I got through it and got fixed. Now in
2000 Im perfect, other than I need to tighten up the gut a little bit. Thats
just age. They kept me from doing situps. I couldnt do none of that stuff when my
neck was out. I got a little flabby. Forty-nine years old, it dont come off as easy
as it went on. Youve got to take care of yourself.
It took us a very short time to see we both understood
we had the same mental focus on what we wanted to accomplish with the race car and setup
or whatever. Kevin (crew chief Hamlin) is more my type and style of crew chief. Hes
constantly thinking. He never quits on making it better. Hes not the kind of guy who
blows it off and kicks and screams. Hes the kind of guy who sits down in here and
listens to what I say and talks about what were doing and tries to make
improvements. Hes so much like Kirk Shelmerdine. When I say something, hes
already thinking it, and thats the way Kirk was. Were thinking a lot to the
same note. Its been that way. Im so happy Richard made that change. I
havent regretted it one bit. I love Larry McReynolds to death as a person. We won
the Daytona 500 together, but day in and day out, I work well with Kevin.
I like em all (NASCAR tracks). Youve got to
get the car turned (on the flat tracks), and you cant drive a tight race car.
Ive never liked tight race cars. Youve got to keep the car free and turning
and going all the time.
If I had known what was going to happen up there at
Pocono, I would have let Jeremy (Mayfield) up under me going into the corner instead of
behind me. I would have let him have the inside going in. I survived until then,
didnt I. That deal was a racing deal. I dont know why he made such a big deal
out of it. It was like he was guilty and he had to come up with an excuse or something.
The fans have all said stuff about it, but heck, its over. It happened, but I
wasnt jumping up and down screaming and hollering after the race. It happened. OK.
Im a big boy. I can take it. I had in my mind to get in the corner as best I could
and get back in the throttle and get off the corner. He got to me, got into me and got me
loose. It was just a situation of controlling the car. It wasnt a thing of
this has happened to me or Ive done this. I was thinking about getting
back to the flag. I will be bold and say this. There aint many (SOBs) sitting in a
seat that would have not wrecked that car.
I think it (points race) is going to come down to the
team and driver. It (manufacturers influence) is important because of the support we
have from Chevrolet. It helps us be competitive. As far as the teams and drivers, I think
it will come down to that. There may have been a (Ford) advantage at Daytona with Jarrett
and maybe Talladega. If NASCAR goes with the common templates, which I think is wrong,
because if they have a NASCAR template, are they going to pay NASCAR contingency money
like they do with Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge? Are they going to give me factory support
like Chevrolet does?
Chevrolet, from what I understand, will not permit
their bowtie to go on a NASCAR car or the engine in a NASCAR car. So where does that leave
me? I dont know how Ford or Dodge or Pontiac feels about it, but thats not why
theyre here. Theyre here to race with their product and sell their product.
Theyre not here to sell a NASCAR car, which is not even a car. Why is NASCAR pushing
so hard for it?
You go back to the start of time. One cave guy was
fighting another cave guy because his club was bigger than his or his woman had longer
hair. Thats competition. Its been that way from the start of time. Or those
apples are redder on that tree over there. Lets go over there. Were racing and
We spend a lot of money and a lot of effort to sell
Chevrolets and to make their product the best on the race track. I sell them at my
dealership (Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet in Newton, N.C.). NASCAR has got to recognize that.
They cant just go out here and say, well, here is a NASCAR template. You can
run it or dont. If its a faster template for a car, then what are you
supposed to do? OK, Im going to run one. What if your support is cut out? Well, what
engine do I run in it? Chevrolet says I cant run their engine in it. I wish we could
T h e E a r n h a r d t C o n n
e c t i o n
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