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Coffee with Claire B. from Talladega April 26, 2008

Posted by claireblang in 2008 Season, Coffee with Claire B., Drivers, Trackside.
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Good morning from Talladega Superspeedway!

Who is the favorite here at Talladega Superspeedway? I can hear the shout out from the campground here even as folks look up from frying eggs and bacon recovering from a night of Dega mania and “Hell Hill” yelling – “Junioooooor,” Jeff Gordon can’t be overlooked and, well, Tony Stewart has been in such a great mood!

The favorite here? I’d have to say Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Somehow when I drive in the tunnel here I can never forget the time that big E looked me in the eyes and I had probably the most engaging discussion that I ever had with him in all the interviews that I did. It was after his stellar performance here at Talladega in the fall of 2000. I had seen him race so many times here but this was perfection. He came through the pack from 18th to first place like a bat out of hell in the last five laps and it was brilliance. Later, there was a media event at DEI and I asked him to explain how he did it – and I told him my breath was taken away watching him navigate this racetrack. He looked me directly in the eyes and for what seemed like 20 minutes described how he did it. With Dale Senior you usually had to walk while you talked – or he had the glasses on so to actually get that much time and to have him describe his racing Talladega – I knew at the moment that it was a rare moment that I would not take lightly. I never did.

Today, here at Talladega I thought you’d like to read what Jeff Gordon said yesterday here in the garage about Dale Sr., about his career, and about his chances here. Below, is something to sip on with your coffee.

WHAT’S DALE’S LEGACY HERE?
JG: “Obviously seven championships. Being the Intimidator, a guy that’s just relentless. To me I think he was the greatest restrictor plate driver of all time. I don’t think there is even a question about that, but he has so many things that can contribute to his legacy it’s hard to pick one.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE RACING AGAINST HIM?

JG: “It was incredible. I miss Dale a lot. I miss racing Dale, a great deal, he brought a lot to this sport. Something I don’t think anybody can bring to a sport, just everything sort of matched up from his personality to driving style, his black 3 Chevrolet, his nickname to what he did in the race car on track and the fan following that he had. It’s all those things that make him the legend that he’ll always be.”

WHAT ABOUT THE ENGINE ISSUES YOU HAD EARLY AT DAYTONA?
JG: “Yeah, that won’t be an issue here.”

SAME CAR, DIFFERENT CAR?
JG: “Don’t know, couldn’t tell you. They all the same. I think we had our short track car at the shootout there in Daytona. All at issue was the stress we were putting on the upper control arms and it just broke the bracket, I think it was the left upper control arm bracket. We’ve addressed that. We feel confident we’ve fixed it and we didn’t have an issue here. This place is not near as hard on the suspension components as Daytona is.”

HOW MANY MORE YEARS, HOW MANY MORE WINS AND CHAMPIONSHIPS DO YOU HAVE LEFT IN YOU?
JG: “You always love getting asked that question. Makes you feel old. I don’t feel pressure. I feel I’m in a great place in my life and my career. No matter what this season offers me I have a lot to be excited and proud of and happy about. I’m a competitor, I like to be competitive and I think what’s helped me contribute to team’s I’ve driven for throughout my career and be successful. I hope it always continues until the day that I can walk away from it. Hopefully I can walk away from it on my own terms. I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you.
When you have tough years you want to walk away sooner when you have good years you feel like it extends your career longer. After last year I was excited to get back in this year and obviously a tough year ahead of us and we’ll see where it all ends up being at the end of the year I can’t give you a number, I don’t know. But if I never get the fifth championship, I will always be proud of my career, what I have a accomplished. My four championships and my wins. The competitor in me wants to keep going, I have a great race team, great people around me, so that is what I am looking at.”

WHAT’S THE BEST DIRT TRACK?
JG: “Man, there’s a question. I hate to say it but Kokomo (Speedway) would be on my top 15 or 20. Maybe because I wasn’t very good at Kokomo. I used to love Bloomington, Indiana, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Haubstadt, Indiana and I loved a lot of short tracks, Chillicothe, Ohio is one of my favorites. I mean I always loved Eldora. I think Eldora is probably the ultimate dirt track that there is. All kinds of race cars put on great races there. A guy that personally grew up on little short tracks, I’d probably have to say Lawrenceburg or Chillicothe or something like that.”

WHEN YOU GET GEARED UP TO COME BACK TO TALLADEGA, YOUR NOT SUCH A BAD GUY?
JG: “I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as the more things they throw at me, it seems like the better things are going for me. I think that our fans our passionate and I like to see their passion. Obviously you don’t want them throwing things. It’s always been a love/hate relationship for me ever since I came to NASCAR. Prior to NASCAR everywhere I went the fans were all for me and having an incredible fan following, but when you get in NASCAR you start battling Dale Earnhardt, you’re second, third year into the series created quite a rivalry among the fans and that’s just the way I’ve always looked at it.”

THEY AREN’T THROWING STUFF AS HARD NOW, MAYBE?

JG: “Sometimes they do, it depends on how good we are doing. You know. It doesn’t seem like it ever changes here at Talladega. There are a lot of Earnhardt fans here. But there are also a lot of Gordon fans. I think that is one of the coolest things I love about Talladega is the on going rivalry. When you are in the car and you are making a pass for the lead and you pass Dale Earnhardt, Jr., even if he is your teammate, you know the fans are going nuts. That is a cool feeling.”

DO YOU THINK YOU SHOULD BE THE FAVORITE HERE BASED ON LAST YEAR?
JG: “Maybe, I mean, if I was doing odds, I would definitely put us as one of the favorites. I don’t know how really separate them by much here. Anybody can win at this race track. The only reason you might put me is because we won the last restrictor plate here with this car and won the last couple of races. But Jimmie has been good here. Junior has been good here. I am very interested to see how Junior does here with Hendrick equipment, I think he is going to be really strong cause because he is a very good drafting.”

Time for me to gear up and get in the garage, but here are some notes before I run:

Loose Lug Nuts:

-Did anyone hear Carl Edwards say last week on camera that the race in Mexico was “the most fun he’s had with his clothes on”? I know I heard him correctly.

-I had Shane Hmiel on the air yesterday – He was banned from NASCAR due to not passing the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy. Since then he’s been in treatment and found out that he is bi polar. He said he used drugs to try to manage the bi-polar situation. Word is that ARCA may soon approve him to race in their series. He says he’s never been so poor or felt so good now that he’s straight. I’ll keep you posted on the ARCA deal and I wish him well.

More later.

Claire B
at Talladega Superspeedway

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