MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
BOJANGLES SOUTHERN 500
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. SCHEDULE
SEPTEMBER 1, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and discussed the two practice sessions today, his love for Darlington Raceway, his thoughts on the potential for a cone rule in NASCAR, his emotions heading into Homestead and many other topics. Full Transcript:
PRIOR TO HIS FORMAL MEDIA AVAILABILITY, TRACK PRESIDENT, KERRY THARP PRESENTED DALE EARNHARDT, JR. WITH A COMMEMORATIVE PRINT AND ANNOUNCED THAT ANNUALLY DARLINGTON RACEWAY WILL DONATE 88 TICKETS IN DALE AND AMY EARNHARDT’S NAMES TO 88 CHILDREN IN THE SURROUNDING AREA TO VISIT DARLINGTON RACEWAY AND LEARN MORE ABOUT NASCAR RACING.
“I appreciate that. You have been a great friend of mine. You have been great for this sport as an individual in many, many ways. I appreciate you as a person. This track has definitely meant a lot to my family. Dad had a lot of success here. I appreciate you guys honoring him the way that you do. It certainly makes everybody in our family feel good when you guys do that. So, I’m speaking on behalf of his brothers and sisters and his mama and his kids that we can’t thank you enough for everything you do to honor my father. So, that means a lot to me. I appreciate you doing what you are doing with the tickets. That is going to be cool to hopefully hook some new fans over the years. I will certainly look forward to coming back here and Steve (Letarte) tells me this is one of the funnier ones to call. I know how the racing is here and how difficult it is here and I can imagine that there is not a dull moment up there in the booth because I know there is not one in the race car. So, thanks a lot. This track here has earned my respect more than any other for how difficult and how challenging it can be. It’s not lost its reputation whatsoever over the years if anything it’s just continued to grow. With a person like you and your staff here it has got an amazing future. So, thanks a lot.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE DRIVING UP TO THE TRACK AND SEEING THE NAME EARNHARDT TOWERS UP THERE?
“I think that Dad would be incredible proud to have something like that done in his name. My association with it certainly makes me proud as well. My sister took a lot of pride in it and came up here today to be a part of that. She drove up here this morning to be here for an hour and a half to drive back home to Charlotte. So, that tells you what it meant to her. All those kinds of things are certainly very new to me. I have never been in a situation where anything like that has been done in my name, but I have seen it happen to my father quite a bit over the last decade. I love when anything happens that helps people take a moment to remember him, recognize him, honor him. You know that was one of the first things I thought of when he passed away was, man, I hope that nobody ever forgets who this man was. And Darlington and the sport does a really good job of making sure that is never going to happen. That means a lot to me.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR LOVE AFFAIR WITH DARLINGTON AND COMING HERE AS A KID:
“Well, it’s really, really hard. I remember coming here with the Cup garage was on the other side and hanging around in the bus lot. The bus lot, actually Daddy’s bus was over here in Turn 2 and I didn’t realize how hard this track was. I was here when Lake Speed won and was here all through the 80’s, came to all the races and I didn’t realize how hard this track was. You know, they had a lot of nicknames for it and they would comment and talk about how difficult it was, but you can’t understand that until you go around it and try to go around in competition.
“I was telling Greg (Ives, crew chief) just a minute ago we were standing in the garage watching the last few minutes of practice wind down and I was watching the big screen, (Brad) Keselowski was out there running and I told Greg, I said, ‘you watch that car go around that track on the big screen, you can’t tell, but it’s hell in there and he has got his hands full.’ And it doesn’t visually come across from watching the cars, but this place, there is no harder oval to get around, to set a car up for and there is not a track that I know of where the car makes such a dramatic change over the particular 10, 15, 20 laps over a tire run the car just goes bonkers as the tires are starting to get ate up. You’ve got your work cut out for you and it’s always a little warm here, so inside the cockpit is not very comfortable.
“But I came here and almost won somehow in the Xfinity car and I ran second to Dick Trickle and to be honest with you I was not thrilled with it that day, but after all this time it is one of the races that I am prouder of number one because we had a good day and it was only my second race here and number two, I lost to one of the greatest drivers that has ever been behind the wheel of a race car. I have had some good runs here and we’ve actually had a lot of top 10’s the last several trips. We had a shot at winning a couple of years ago, (Kevin) Harvick beat us, but it’s really rewarding when you get it right. And if you don’t get it right it’s a long weekend really for anybody outside the top three. It’s hard work, but I could go on and on, it’s such a tough race track. Man, I came here today and as soon as Xfinity practice started I couldn’t believe how much the track has changed in such a short period of time. It just seems like a few years ago this thing was pitch black and new asphalt and it’s greyed up so much and it’s back to its old self for sure and harder than ever to get around.”
HAVE YOU THOUGHT AHEAD MUCH TO HOMESTEAD? ARE YOU KIND OF BRACING YOURSELF? HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR EMOTIONS ARE GOING TO BE THAT WEEK?
“I’ve been thinking about it a little bit as we get closer because this will go by pretty quick, these last few races will go by pretty fast, so it’s going to be here before I know it. I haven’t really had any emotions yet and I know I will be sad as well. It’s hard to put so much into something and then have to stop doing it and change directions. No matter why you are retiring or having to change what you are doing it’s not… when you put so much into it, it is hard to make that change. And I don’t really know what I’m going to miss. If I knew what I was going to miss it would be more emotional and harder to deal with, but the fact that I’m not quite sure exactly what is going to be the most difficult part about it it’s really not set in yet. I know it will be emotional on Sunday at Homestead, that last race, I’m going to have a lot of friends and family there because of that moment. I don’t really have a lot of friends and family that come to the races. My mom doesn’t come to many races at all, but to have all them there it is going to make it more important and special for me. I’m not quite sure how that is going to work out.
“I know that I never really thought about what that would be like until Steve (Letarte) ran his last race with me at Homestead and he was as cool as a cucumber all weekend, at least in front of everybody, in front of me and the guys in the hauler and everything. He was great all the way up until every race would lean in the car, we would shake hands, we would say a few words about ‘have a good day, I’m here with you, we are going to work together,’ all those things that you like a crew chief to say and as soon as he come in there and started talking he just fell out and started crying and balling like a baby. And I thought, man, and I started crying too to be honest with you. It was a difficult moment. So, I imagine that is going to be part of it for me and it’s going to be hard to not have those emotions at that last race.”
HAS CHASE ELLIOTT COME TO YOU ASKING FOR ADVICE ON HOW TO HANDLE A RELATIVELY DIFFICULT START TO HIS CAREER?
“Well, yeah, to be quite honest with you I hadn’t really thought his start was that bad. I thought that he has had some good runs. I mean I’m kind of living it there with him, just like the rest of his teammates. We are behind closed doors with that organization and understand the ebb and flow of the company and what is going on. I thought that he has done a really good job and I really haven’t looked at his statistics on paper, but from what I’ve seen and watching him in practice he has got speed. He has been one of the better cars in the company throughout the whole year and I know that it is probably nagging at him not to go to Victory Lane, but it’s hard to win.
“It’s hard to win in this sport and there has been a bit of a turn of the page and a change in the tide to where Chevrolet is playing behind a little bit. Now, we expect next year to be completely different with this new car. And I know Chase and those guys can’t wait to get to work on it. I think personally, just looking at the car it’s going to be a big improvement performance wise for us as a manufacturer. We need that. In my opinion, we are struggling as a manufacturer and I think that has to be taken into the conversation with how Chase’s season has gone, but again, I think he has been one of the better Hendrick Motorsports cars on a regular basis.
“I think that when us or the No. 48 and the No. 5 are struggling for speed, he is usually not. He has usually got his car up in the top five. I mean usually there is five Toyota’s and then everybody else, but he has been right there behind them kind of chipping away at it. But, I know that statistically he is probably definitely not satisfied at all. But he has not come to me. He is pretty much got a great support group with his father and everything that is going to give him everything he needs when it comes to advice and direction. So, I’m sure he’s getting everything he needs from Bill.”
HOW MUCH HAS THE TRACK CHANGED AND THE RACING HERE CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST STARTED RACING HERE?
“You know, not a lot, the line is pretty much still the same. You still fight the same things with the balance of the car and how it drives. You still fight the same things. I don’t think it’s changed much at all. When it got repaved it was crazy fast for a while and it was smooth, but now it’s gotten the bumps back and there are some patches in Turn 2 that we all knew so well for so many years when I first started racing here until they repaved it. Those imperfections are kind of appreciated at some tracks, rarely, but we have all gotten a bitter taste in our mouth from repaves, so the last several have just not been a lot of fun and it doesn’t improve the racing when they do that. So, it’s great that this place has aged again and it aged really quickly. I was surprised at how quickly it aged. Some of the tracks, like Charlotte, just don’t seem to wear out at all. Whatever they did here worked out really well.”
WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THE HONEY BEES?
“Oh yeah (laughs) so this house we are remodeling for our show there were a bunch of bees in between the ceiling of the first floor and the second floor. The house was built in 1870, so it’s really like a 4×4 beam there, so it’s a really tight space and these bees got into the siding which has brought a lot of water damage and holes in it. Every animal down in Key West has lived in this house in the last 20 years. I mean everything… so the bees they have been building in there a long time. There is no one lived in this house for 20 years and it’s been in pretty bad shape for the last 10 years, at least. They built that system in there and so when they… what you saw the picture of was when they peeled the ceiling away from the first floor. We have had a professional come out there because we know there is specific way they have to be removed safely for their sake. They said the workers were tasting the honey and all that stuff, they said it was pretty good, but we didn’t keep any of it. But, they took the nest out and it’s all gone. It’s pretty crazy. We knew there were a lot there, but we couldn’t exterminate them we have to get somebody to come in there and remove it properly, so we couldn’t do that until we got the ceiling out of it. Luckily, we didn’t have anybody get attacked between when we started and when we could remove them.”
HAVE YOU TRIED JIMMIE JOHNSON’S COOL SUIT THIS WEEKEND? HOW DOES THAT FEEL?
“Okay, was it Jeff Gluck that sent me… where is he? Did you send me that article about like the more you work out the more you sweat or something? Yeah, so, I guess ever since I started biking it has fired up my system to where I am just sweating like crazy. At least in the car anyways I have been losing a lot of water throughout the races and I was thinking Jimmie has been telling me for a couple of weeks, which he does this to me all the time. He is like man, you need to try this, you need to do that, you need to go over here and look at this and he just keeps pushing you until you do it, because he really gets behind and believes in something and he wants you to get in that world. So, I was like, yeah, I’m going to give it a try and I wanted to try it in practice today. I don’t want to go cold turkey into a race with that thing on, because if it quits working it’s going to ruin you. So, I practiced with it today and it worked okay. I’m not sure if I’m going to race it Sunday, but Jimmie loves it. I know a couple of other guys that use it, they love it and it’s really cold. But, I’m just so nervous about it not working. And if it doesn’t work I won’t be able to finish the race it will get too hot. It’s like a big wool thing with a lot of tubes and everything running through it. So, if it shut off, which there were a couple of times in practice when it quit and it just smokes you out it is just so hot. So, I don’t think I want to take any chances. We’ve got a pretty good car I think. We have been running pretty good in practice and I want to make sure I can get to the finish without any problems. But, it is definitely very cold, it is when it works, it’s very cold. It’s like a gel or something that runs through there.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE IS A CHANCE FOR YOU AT DARLINGTON? HAVE YOU COME TO GRIPS WITH THE WAY THE SEASON IS PLAYING OUT SO FAR? ARE YOU OVERLY WORRIED ABOUT THE PLAYOFFS?
“I’m not overly worried, I mean, it will either work out for us or it won’t. I have been in this situation before and I have certainly come to terms with how my season has went. Am I happy about it? No. Am I satisfied? No. What we are as a team trying to steer ourselves in the right direction positively. With a good attitude. I have seen this situation in the past and teams that I’ve even been in fall apart and it just goes worse and spirals out of control. So, we are dumping buckets of water out of this ship trying to figure out how to get going and get it right.
“So, we had a good day today. We went to the simulator yesterday, these are the little positives that you pull out of every day that you are struggling. So, we went to the simulator worked our guts out, found some things, we brought them here today, they worked exactly like they did on the simulator, which is pretty impressive. We had some decent speed, are we as fast as some of the other guys? No, but we are right there. Do I think that we have the car to win? We don’t. I know that there are maybe only two or three guys that can say that, but we do have some speed, which has been missing for the past several weeks. And we worked hard to show up here and be competitive. The first half of the year when we didn’t run well, we always had good speed and we always were running well and that kept you positive that if we could just complete a race and put one together it is going to result in a good finish. And then midway through the summer we lost speed. And we had crappy finishes and no speed. So, we are trying to get that speed back because you can’t run well without it. I’m not giving up or anything, but I’m not going to beat myself over the head about what happens the rest of the season. We are just going to work hard and I don’t want my guys to remember this season because we fought and fell apart and got negative and nasty and short with each other. I want those guys to remember it, even if we don’t’ win, or have success, I want them to remember that we worked our guts out and we stayed at it to the very end. We fought hard to the finish.
“I had an experience in 2004, me and Tony, Jr. and Tony, Sr. won six races and we got in a matter of three or four weeks we had gotten to Homestead and didn’t want to work together anymore in a month. We went from winning six races, happy as we could be, worked together all our lives and in one month couldn’t stand to be in the hauler together, didn’t even want to talk to each other. And we split up and it was a bad decision. We ended up me and Tony, Jr. ended up getting back together, but we had already done the damage. We were a great unit and it busted up, so I know we can’t let that happen no matter how the results are. We are all very close and that is probably most important is that we remain positive and keep working together.”
LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME YOU WERE TALKING TO US ABOUT YOUR PROGRESS FROM YOUR INJURY WITH SO MANY UNKNOWNS. TO BE HERE TALKING TO US BACK ON THE TRACK THAT MUST BE A SOURCE OF PRIDE YOU WERE ABLE TO COME BACK THIS WAY THIS SEASON:
“Yeah, I mean that is one thing that I am very proud of. There were some weeks where I wasn’t coming back and knew I wasn’t coming back and didn’t want to come back and thought my career was over and had wrapped my brain around that. So, I am thrilled that I was able to get back in the car and compete and I think about that. Me and Amy talk about it or I might talk about it with some of the guys or my family about where I used to be and how much of a struggle it was and the results having been where we wanted this year and we haven’t run like we thought we should have. But, physically, it’s not a miracle, but it’s a blessing to be healthy and clear minded and not in that space I was in. It was awful.”
WHAT IS YOUR SENSE OF WHETHER THE CONE RULE COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN?
“I think you could. I would have to really think about it. I haven’t really sat down and said what would be bad about it or why wouldn’t it work or why couldn’t it work. The only thing I see that could get in its way is maybe some procedures and the way we do things with our pace laps and so forth and we wouldn’t want to extend that period of time to run an extra lap or two to get that sorted out. And what happens is the field, the first several lanes are going to get this sorted out perfectly and then you are going to see a lot of guys doing things, taking advantage of guys and jumping a few rows and there will be a lot of bickering and carrying on I imagine from about 15th on back.
“Will NASCAR have to say ‘whoa you know get in line’. Guys are going to be running three-wide, ‘I’m supposed to be in front of you’, ‘no I’m not’, ‘I’m supposed to be in front of you’, ‘I wanted this lane’, ‘you took it before we got to the finish line or the cone’. And there is going to be all kinds of… if it doesn’t work it will be in the drivers hands I guess is what I’m trying to say. So, NASCAR will have to lay it out pretty clearly on how you would make this decision as you come up to this cone, but I think it’s worth looking into for sure because the one thing that I think all the drivers would agree on is that a lot of these race tracks are so predictable about what lane is the best lane and you might have a great car run in the top five all day long, but get two or three late restarts, which happens all the time, and be in the wrong lane for every one of those.
“Like at Michigan, you can go from running fifth all day to finishing 15th in 10 laps because of those restarts and being in the wrong lane, restarting in the wrong lane. You get on the bottom at Michigan on the restarts you are losing spots unless something miraculous happens or you just drive it up into the right side of everybody and run them up the track. That is frustrating as a driver, so I think that is why the cone rule is even talked about today as a possibility. So, I would love to have more discussions about it and see if it is something that could come into the sport. It has just never been done on a bigger track than a half-mile, so how would that work and what would that look like and is it even possible. But, I think it is what the drivers are curious about because being in the wrong line sometimes is four or five positions on a restart. There is not much you can do about it and that shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t be sitting there running so good and then you have to restart on the inside when the caution comes out and now you are in a bad spot, it’s frustrating.”
CAN YOU TELL THE STORY ABOUT THE UBER RATING?
“I only rode in an Uber maybe a dozen times and apparently you’ve got to ride in it a certain amount of times before they ever let you see your rating. So, I’m looking we are riding in an Uber and there are about four or five of us in there and they are all talking about their rating. And I look at my phone and my rating it doesn’t come up, so I don’t have my rating in front of me and they are like ‘well, why don’t you have a rating.’ I’m like maybe I haven’t ridden in enough Ubers to have a rating yet and the driver goes, I see your rating it’s 4.0. And I was like, alright, you know I thought four out of five stars that’s not too bad. So, everybody in the car is like ‘whoa, my god’ and that is terrible and the Uber driver says yeah, I almost didn’t come get y’all because of that 4.0. Because they can just turn you down, he said he saw that rating and was like I almost didn’t come get you. And I said I don’t know what… I have been in only maybe four Ubers up to this point. And so, I guess I got in an Uber that had a driver that was not a fan of me… that is the only way I can explain it because I’ve not done anything in an Uber … I’ve been pretty reasonable and nice and conversational, so, after that ride my Uber rating did come up and it said 4.1. So, we rode in maybe six or seven more Ubers over the next four or five days. Every time we needed an Uber it was with Amy and her family. I was the one calling it because I was like, gotta get this rating up and everybody on Twitter was like ‘keep us updated’, so I got it to a 4.5 once our vacation was over. But it is a great service, really convenient, so I’ve got some more work to do.”
YOU MAY HAVE THE MOST POPULAR UBER RATING…
“It’s not very popular apparently (laughs). I’ve got to get, I think, a 4.8 would be where the anxiety levels would get low and back to normal.”
YOU HAVE TO TIP WELL:
“Well, I did, but I believe that I only started using Uber over the last couple of months and they just started allowing their drivers to accept tips. I don’t’ know, maybe I didn’t tip the first couple of guys because I didn’t know you could and so maybe that is why they gave me… we talked to all the guys that give us rides and they were like ‘yeah if you don’t tip us we are going to give you four stars.’ So, maybe I got a couple of four stars out of the gate and now it’s going up. So, we had conversation about it with every one of the drivers and we learned a lot about their profession it was pretty interesting.”
“Yeah, I was a little bit relived that they didn’t give me too much crap about it. They had some funny tips. They had a little humor about it. I’m a fan of the service and their Twitter interaction only made me like that more. So, it seemed pretty cool.”