A Q&A with Dale Earnhardt
David Poole, The Charlotte Observer
(January 31, 2001)
Q: Even though you didn't win the championship last
year, you had to feel good about once again being among those who challenged Bobby
Labonte. Can you do that well, or perhaps even a little better, this year?
A: Richard and Kevin and the guys have all
worked really hard in getting our stuff ready for this year. We had a pretty good year
last year. We made some mistakes near the end of the season and didn't finish the year
like we wanted to, being a contender for the championship.
Congratulations to Bobby Labonte and Joe Gibbs and those
guys. They've just moved the bar up higher and made us work a little harder. I think we
can do that. I think Richard and Kevin and all of the guys at RCR are ready to go out and
race for a championship this year. I know I am. I am ready to go racing with Richard and
Q: You won at Talladega in October using the aerodynamic
rules that will be in place for the Daytona 500. What do you think that race will be like?
A: I think it's going to be a great race at Daytona.
Daytona is a tighter race track. The race car is going to have to handle better. I think
it will be a lot more competitive than last year. Everybody had a chance to work with the
rules at Talladega.
I think the racing is going to be great at Daytona. The
capability to race and draft and pass is going to be good. It made it better for the fans
and for the press. Talladega was tremendous.
Q: You mentioned Joe Gibbs Racing raising the bar. How do
you keep up?
A: We have to work harder to come to that level. We are
aware of it at Richard Childress Racing and DEI. It's a tremendous effort that goes into
these race cars and these teams. We're aware of that. Yes, we want to win another
championship. Everybody sets that competition level higher each year, and you have to work
to get there. You have to commit yourself that that's what you're going to do.
Q: Qualifying has not been your team's strong suit in the
past few years. Do you need to improve that to be a factor in the race for an eighth
A: I drive a race car that is comfortable and I drive it
on the edge during the race. I drove the car harder in the race than I did in qualifying.
We worked on the qualifying package last year and I did qualify better. This year, I think
we'll be even better than last year
Q: You will turn 50 in April. Can you still keep up
physically with the demands of running a 36-race schedule and be there at the end?
A: Competition drives you to stay in shape and do the
kind of things you've got to do to be competitive. With the injuries I had in '96 and '97,
where I hurt my neck, I fought it for a couple of years and finally got it fixed, I saw a
big difference last year. I think there will be a bigger difference this year. I feel
great. I am fit to drive the race car. I know what it takes.
Q: Your son, Dale Jr., talked some in the preseason about
getting burned out toward the end of his rookie season last year. Do you know what he's
talking about and how do you prevent that from happening?
A: We all get to a point in the season where we tend to
get worn down some. All of the years I have been in racing, I know how to handle that and
pace myself through that time.
Dale Jr. will learn that. He's going to have to learn it fast
to stay on top of his game. He'll make it. He will be a lot better this year than last
year. Last year was tough for him. He came in right off the bat and won and ran
competitive, then had some tough races after that. Everybody has to adjust and work with
that. At the first of my career it was really fun for me to race. In 1981, things fell
apart and there were some tough times. You learn from that and you find your stride.
Q: Was the pressure on him last year a factor in that
feeling of being burned out?
A: The pressure came because once he won he felt like he
should win again. You put pressure on yourself. It was the whole team's problem. The whole
nucleus of the team was beating itself up more and more. Instead of stepping back and
going and getting it right, they just kept stepping back in their mess.
Q: Did you talk to the team at some point, trying to get
them back on track?
A: We sat them down and talked to them several times. All
of us, and I think we finally now have a direction and a feeling. I have gone through
several ups and downs. I think that team can do everything you've seen and more.
Q: When people are critical of you for some reason, does
that have any effect on you?
A: Everybody has his opinion and that's fine. My goal is
to go out and race and win. What people say, they will have to say it. I can't do anything
about their opinions. I have my own agenda to look at what I have to do, and go do it.
Q: Do you think the sport needs to promote rivalries more
than it does? Are we missing some of that today?
A: I think there always has to be some rivalries. I don't
think it can just be a lot of different winners and a lot of good races. Rivalries are
good. I enjoy great races. I enjoyed racing Darrell (Waltrip) and Rusty (Wallace). It's
fun. Jeff (Gordon) and I didn't have a great rivalry. It's hard to pick on a kid.
T h e E a r n h a r d t C o n n
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