Junior blasts COT, holds court at Lowe's
Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't afraid to speak his mind. He came through again Monday, opining on the COT, Richmond and just about anything else he was asked, writes Marty Smith.
CONCORD, N.C. -- A jovial, if not laissez-faire Dale Earnhardt Jr. stood outside the No. 8 transporter Monday afternoon at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Washington Redskins fitted cap flipped around backward, signature sunglasses shading his eyes, red beard masking his face.
Amid a throng of tape recorders and television cameras, he waxed current on NASCAR's hottest topics.
Not a fan of the COT, huh? Should we run it full time next year? You gonna leave Chevy? Are you the voice of the garage? And of course, the inevitable: What's up with the contract?
He answered most everything, pausing often to collect his thoughts before speaking.
He's not much into the notion that Hendrick Motorsports is unbeatable. And he's not big on the Car of Tomorrow at present, said it won't turn through the corner worth a damn and that it's all but driving him crazy.
In fact, he said it's the most frustrating thing he's ever had to deal with in his racing life.
That's not to say he'd do away with it, mind you. He knows it's a safer car, and if he had his druthers, he'd run the thing full time already.
"I don't like doing two different kind of cars -- it's [got to be] one or the other," said Earnhardt, on hand to test a pair of No. 8 Chevrolets for the All-Star Challenge and the Coca-Cola 600. "I'd go full time with the COT right now. Why not? We're all pretty frustrated with it and struggling with it.
"We may as well get as much time in it as we can get -- week in, week out -- even if it drives us all crazy."
He has no suggestions for NASCAR on how to remedy the COT. If he did, he'd be in that truck yesterday. He has begun to realize the power of his voice, the weight it carries. When he said Texas Motor Speedway should fix a bump on the track between Turns 1 and 2, it got fixed.
He likes having that kind of impact. And Monday, the newly appointed track doctor pulled out the stethoscope yet again, offering a suggestion to Richmond International Raceway: Bring back the sealer.
"The thing about Richmond, honestly, they need to start sealing that track again," Earnhardt said. "You ain't going to have a second and third groove at Richmond if the sealer ain't up there to use. I don't know why that ain't registered in anybody's brain.
"When that track was good is when they were sealing it every year. We'd practice on it, the trucks would run, Busch would run, we'd wear the bottom sealer off and move up into the second groove. You'd get on that sealer because it's tacky. Hello?"
RIR spokesman Keith Green said that the last time the track put down a sealer was 2002 and that he doesn't expect it to happen again for "a long, long time," given that RIR was repaved in 2003.
"If they want to get the racing better -- I don't know how much it costs to seal it, but it can't be that much," Junior said. "It can't be no more expensive than that thing they did over at Texas to fix that bump."
With that, Earnhardt offers a hearty chuckle. Then the conversation shifts to recent news that Dale Earnhardt Inc. could ditch the Monte Carlos and Impalas for Ford Fusions. Would he really consider leaving Chevrolet?
"No," he said. "I don't know why I'd leave Chevy. I like Chevys."
And he likes his team. He said DEI's engine program is on par with the competition's. He called his pit crew and crew chief "awesome." It's really about the homework -- homework he's not personally interested in completing.
"I hate testing, so you're not going to drag me to a test every week during the winter," he said. "But we could wear Paul [Menard] out, get Martin [Truex] to do it a couple more times. These other teams have the David Greens and those kinds of guys to test like hell for them.
"That's what we need to be doing so we get the data and learn. We're going into Richmond with three races under our belts [in the COT], maybe four or five tests. These other teams are going into Richmond with three races and 40 tests."
Earnhardt said he's hearing that Hendrick Motorsports has road-racing ace Max Papis out in Sonoma, Calif., testing. And testing. And testing. DEI can't keep up with that.
"Not many teams can keep up with that. There's a few, but not many," he said.
Earnhardt knows NASCAR is open to suggestion, and he said it needs to talk to crew chiefs and mechanics to gauge how best to fix the COT.
"I drive [the cars] and tell 'em what's wrong with it. I can't fix it," Junior said. "They don't turn that good, and they need to turn better. It's somewhere in the front-end geometry or the high center of gravity this car has. I'm not really sure.
"But the car has an awful lot of rear downforce. The body on the car is slid pretty far back. There's not a lot of nose on the car. Basically, even when you're running in second or third position, you're just the best of the worst-handling cars out there.
"You just try to be the guy with the least amount of problems when it comes to handling. And that seems to get you towards the front. It's going to take a lot of time to figure it out."
Lastly, he pondered the noticeably improving performance of teammate Martin Truex Jr.
"I'm pretty proud of Martin," he said. "His attitude -- he gets really, really bent out of shape when he doesn't run good. He had a pretty good car yesterday, and he was really ticked off. I said, 'You blow a tire on the last lap, leading the Daytona 500, you can start acting like that. You need to cheer up a little bit.'
"He needs to realize that. When you get all ticked off, you've got to let that go. It's the only way you can focus and rebound. If you stay pissed, you can't rebound. You screw up the next thing."
Sounds like a Dr. Phil moment. Maybe the track doctor is trying to diversify.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.
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