Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke a 76-race winless streak last Sunday at the Michigan International Speedway, and in the process he gave NASCAR a much needed lift.
He talked about the importance the win -- both to his team and to the sport -- after the race. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: What is the significance of your victory for the sport itself?
Earnhardt: I think it's good for the sport. But the sport has done well this year with ratings. Attendance is back and forth, up and down. But maybe that's more due to the heat and the gas prices and stuff like that. I think the racing is the same; the way it plays out and the drama and the excitement of coming to a race and the experience that you have all weekend or just on Sunday, whichever you choose, is still as fun as it's always been. I know what it means for our little corner over here, but if it helps NASCAR and makes NASCAR happy and it does something for NASCAR, then great, I'm happy to be a part of that. Better than I won the race and nobody be happy about it. If it helps Brian (France, NASCAR chairman) and he's excited about that, then great. But we worked so hard to get the win regardless.
Question: How much did the winless streak wear on your confidence?
Earnhardt: You know, not really. I never wondered, man, will I never win again. You know, I'm going to be around here if I can have my way, I'll be around here for quite a while but I'll have good opportunities driving good race cars for hopefully a good time and more opportunities to win. I just, you know, the winless streak didn't frustrate me as much as most people would think and I was so happy to be where I am and so satisfied with how we've ran to this point, that I wasn't really, I wasn't that frustrated about not winning. I felt really fortunate to have what I had. So I missed that, and that was the motivation for me to get back to victory lane. But the winless streak wasn't bothering me. I was stilling running good. I was still making a case for my job and having my job, you know what I mean. I still had a good effort and felt like I was doing what I was told. Just a matter of circumstance before we really, you know, put one in Victory Lane.
Question: Your relationship with Tony Eury Jr., your cousin, often is fiery. How satisfying is it for you both to win?
Earnhardt: I want the car to be right, now. And we are still learning this car. We are still trying to understand what this car likes and needs, what I like about it and don't like about it. And Tony Jr. is really smart in the fact that he's real good at finding trends in my setups and themes and things that are always constant. We work around everything and we always end up, like roof springs, he doesn't have to tell me; he puts them in, and he knows, the car's faster. And that's why I like having him as a crew cheap chief, he makes me fast and I get that constantly and I get good runs. It's just been, it's a work in progress with the new team and all, but the hardest part is just not getting impatient, just wanting to get on down the street. And this win is going to help us a lot. Hopefully it opens the doors for more opportunities to win races. That's all fate, we just put ourselves in the top-five every week and like I said circumstances will predict our wins and top-fives and where we finish. Me and him are both real lucky. Man, this is storybook. So I'm fortunate to have the job I've got and be in the position that I am in this sport and I'm fortunate to have my cousin on my side with me every step of the way.
Question: Can you contend for a championship?
Earnhardt: The summer stretch is sort of, you know, always been a difficult stretch for me. Tracks like Pocono, hit or miss, the road course races, getting them in and out of the way. Yeah, just trying to get out of the road cars with a top-10, you're lucky as hell. But I don't know, you know, I just the summer stretch, we've never really been smoking hot in the last eight years. We'll see, with this equipment and this opportunity that Rick's given us with these motors and these cars, we may turn that around and really sure is surprise ourselves throughout the summer. I guess I'm in a maintain mode. I'll be real happy if I can just be as consistent as I've been the first part of the season. We go out and we race hard. I've run hard every lap. I'm qualifying every lap. But I'm smart, I don't back my car into the fence and I don't run into the side of people and spin myself out and I try not to be around people who do that. But we'll see. This will be interesting. I've really anticipated every weekend going to the racetrack with Hendrick Motorsports equipment, and I've been positive and eager, you know to, it get on the racetrack and see just how we measure to everyone every weekend, because I go to the racetrack, with what I feel like is the best stuff, motors and cars, and personnel. So there's, you know, you can put pressure on yourself, and say there's no excuse, but I look at it as an opportunity.
Question: Your win came on Father's Day. How important was that for you?
Earnhardt: It's special. You know, my daddy, he meant a lot to me. There's a lot of people that I look up to that just happen to be great fathers themselves, role models for their sons. It means a lot to me to do well on Father's Day. It's a special day for my family, special for my sister. She's very, very happy at home and in tears on the telephone so it means a lot to her. I'm glad she's as happy as she could possibly be today under circumstances. And it makes me feel good. I know I can't tell my father happy Father's Day but I get the opportunity to wish it upon all of the other far as out there, and I genuinely mean that when I say it, because that's what today is all about. It's for all of the fathers out there.
Question: Will your win take pressure off your cousin, Tony Eury Jr.?
Earnhardt: Well, I tell you one thing. It goes it's a little underestimated, but that trust is there every time I climb in the car. I wouldn't choose this job. I would go do something else if I didn't believe in my crew chief and didn't have faith in what kind of race car he built. And if I didn't have that option and opportunity, I don't feel like that this would be very enjoyable. I'm his worst critic; he's my worst critic. We want the best for each other. We want to see each other have an amazing time at this, and see each other just experience so much success. But you know if we are feeling like and working together, if we feel like we want the most for each other and that's not happening or if I feel like this works both ways, like he feels the same way I do. But if I feel like he's not going down the right path on any given Saturday or Friday, we talk about it, and we talk about it in our own way. There's times where we get together in the room, close the door and we just go at it, and it's great, because I don't want to go back and sit in the bus or stand around in the garage biting my lip and get angry. We've got to go at it, and it's great. But as long as we work together, which I hope is forever, we're going to go at it because that's just how we want the best for each other. We want the best out of each other. We just go at it and I think it's important. If I show up on a race weekend, and Tony Jr. and if I have to go out there and give 80 percent, and Tony junior doesn't chew my ass, I'm going to be disappointed. I'm going to be worried. He pushes me, and I need it, and I push him to make sure he's doing what he's supposed to do.
-- Compiled by Don Coble