NOTEBOOK: Earnhardt says keep it simple and go to the front
His timing is frequently off
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Some drivers have better timing than Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he knows it. Earnhardt Jr. says, for him, winning the Daytona 500 is a matter of getting near the front and remaining there.
“I don’t really think about it,” he said. “I want to go up and win the race. I just don’t spend a lot of time thinking about riding in the back. I don’t waste a minute of the day doing that.
“I think you could do it, if that is something you wanted to do; I think it would work. However, I don’t plan on doing it. I never NASCAreally plan on doing it. It may sound like we make that decision prior to the race; but you make it during the race when something happens, or you see something happen that you don’t like. You’re like ‘man, these guys are probably going to wreck; I don’t want to be right up behind it. I can’t get around them because the track is four or three wide or whatever.’ So you move back a couple of hundred yards. I think it’s poor judgment to think about it during the week, because you are not thinking about what you need to do to win the race. You are thinking about going backwards. That is not something I want to concentrate on.”
Besides, Earnhardt said he’s just not good at it.
“I’ve never made it back to the front at the right time,” he said. “We’ve always, me and Jimmie (Johnson), tried to do that the last couple of trips when the tandem was all you did all day long. We didn’t get to the front. When it came time to go to the front, we were either not fast enough or they were too far ahead, or the track was too blocked and we were behind too many cars. I don’t think I’ve ever used that style and made it work for me.”
By the time they get to Phoenix: Jimmie Johnson, riding a one-year championship lapse, said the 500 is the least of his problems.
“I think we are still chasing them (Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards), but in my opinion, it’s not due to what has gone on at Speedweeks,” he said. “It’s the way they closed out last year. We all know, when we get to Phoenix, it is a totally different style of racing and both of those guys were quick in Phoenix and at (Las) Vegas (in 2011). When we get into the meat of the season, they ended up as the best two cars. That’s more of a statement to me than what’s taken place here at Speedweeks.”
Breaking rank: Many drivers profess to preferring the so-called “pack racing” to the “tag teams.” Not Paul Menard, who thinks it ridiculous.
“We set records for lead changes and for the number of different leaders with the two-car draft,” he said. “We had close finishes, and I think it's safer. Honestly, I didn't see anything wrong with it. What's racing when you think about it? Lead changes, different leaders, close finishes and safety. We had all that covered. Also, there was enough of a gap that if two cars got into each other, they didn't collect everyone else.”
Acquired taste: Plate racing hasn’t come naturally to Edwards, though he managed to finish second in last year’s 500.
“My average finish is getting better and better, and I’ve had some real close races that I feel like I could have won,” he said. “I learned something through all of them. I think there’s a lot of calculation at these races and I think you have to kind of catch on to patterns that aren’t very clear,” he said. “You have to see which line is working best and how things develop through a run, and which guys are willing to stick with you and build a model in your mind. If you operate correctly, you get a good outcome.”
Monte Dutton; 704-869-1841; twitter.com/montedutton