News & Media


Junior hoping two-car draft is just a passing phase

April 16, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Five-time Talladega winner prefers pack racing at Cup Series' two longest tracks

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a big fan of Talladega Superspeedway. He's just not a big fan of two-car bump drafting.

"I'm hoping this kind of racing goes away fast so we don't have to talk about this no more," Earnhardt said Saturday before going out to qualify for Sunday's Aaron's 499. "This is a mess. This is a bunch of crap. Y'all don't look at it and think it's strange?

"I'm hoping this kind of racing goes away fast so we don't have to talk about this no more. This is a mess. This is a bunch of crap."

--DALE EARNHARDT JR.

"Watch how fast these Cup cars qualify. We'll be lucky to break 180 [mph]."

Earnhardt's qualifying lap was 177.765 mph, more than 35 miles an hour slower than Bill Elliott's 1987 record. Jeff Gordon's pole-winning lap of 178.248 mph was easily the slowest pole run in more than 40 years of Cup races on the 2.66-mile oval.

Of Earnhardt's 18 Cup victories, five have come at the Cup Series' longest track. He first came here with his father in the early '90s, wrecked a couple of times in his first few races and admitted it took him "about six races before I figured out what not to do."

But "just finding somebody to push and just push them" isn't the way Junior likes to race at Talladega. He'd like to see two-car packs wind up being a fad like Pet Rocks and mood rings.

"I think everybody thinks it's cool now because it's new and it's neat," Earnhardt said. "Everybody's getting a big kick out of it. But over the long haul, man, it's not the best. It's not as good as 40 dudes in one pack, racing like hell, trying to get to the front. It's nowhere near as good as that.

"Give me that any day over this. Over the long haul, people will realize that. Once the newness of this wears off, how interesting this is and how unique it is, I think people will start to see."

No matter what type of strategy will come into play Sunday, Earnhardt said the winner will be a deserving one.

"Look at the guys who's won here in the last couple of trips," Earnhardt said. "They're good. They're talented. They won because they're talented. Nine times out of 10, that's going to be the case. Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500. He's got enough talent to do it. He was smart and used his head and did what he needed to do."

"Anybody who wins, you've got to do something right to make it happen. It's not just a buffoon riding around there. You can't discredit what anybody's ever done to win a race, no matter what track it is or where it's at."

According to Earnhardt, just because two-car packs work doesn't mean it's interesting for the fans. And considering the sea of green shirts that will fill the majority of seats on Sunday, Junior's pull with the fanbase is significant.

"You remember when we would go out to practice? Even the few fans that were here on Thursday and Friday, that's pretty interesting to them, to watch guys out there practicing," Earnhardt said. "And how interesting was practice [Friday]?

"I think NASCAR's doing what they think is right, and I don't want to say what they're doing is wrong, because I don't know. I don't know whether I'm right or wrong. I just know what I prefer and what I like. It's my opinion. I'm entitled to one. Everybody's got one. I don't know what's right or wrong."

When it comes to being able to switch radio frequencies during the race, Earnhardt wishes that technology was available in the past.

"I don't have a problem working with anybody or talking to anybody," Earnhardt said. "I think it's easier to do it that way. For years, when we've been racing and you always needed somebody to help you draft, it would have been great to have been able to communicate with that person while you were racing. We just never really went out of our way to do it."

When asked to give his 2011 season a grade, Earnhardt chose one just slightly better than average.

"I'd give it about a C-plus or a B-minus," he said. "We're doing better than we were last year. We've got a couple more gains to make on our finishing position. I think across the board, we could do just a little bit better, performance-wise, and we're working hard, trying to keep up our momentum and improve. I think we've got all the pieces of the puzzle and getting them in the right place."