MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
AUTO CLUB 400
AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
MARCH 24, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Auto Club Speedway and discussed making his 600th Cup Series start, his thoughts on NASCAR choosing not to penalize Austin Dillon, thoughts on potentially running restrictor plates at Indianapolis and much more. Full Transcript:
ON MAKING HIS 600TH CAREER START:
“…I just wanted to drive. I wanted to race cars for a living. I wanted to do it well enough to be able to afford to make a living doing it. I didn’t have vision or assume that I was going to make all of the money and success that we have made, but all I really wanted to do was to do it long enough so I didn’t have to get a real job. I mean that as sincere as I can. I’m real thrilled that I’ve had the opportunity to stay around and drive for some really great teams. Some really awesome owners. Worked with a lot of amazing crew chiefs and crew members. We have a really great group of guys that we race with in this current situation, we are having so much fun at the race track and really enjoy working with Greg (Ives, crew chief), so I feel fortunate and lucky and hope to have good success this weekend. I really like Fontana and I wish that we could have a good weekend is all. We have kind of been struggling a little bit to put together a good race this year and we qualified well last week, but didn’t run as well as we wanted to. We had a little issue with the brakes and stuff like that, but those things are going to happen. We will keep processing what we are learning and keep showing up every week and put it together eventually. I really, really like this race track. Obviously, you are running all over the race track, a lot of different grooves. That makes it a lot of fun as a driver. Looking forward to some fun this weekend and hopefully, a good result.”
600 STARTS, WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT YOU LIKE TO THINK ABOUT FROM YOUR CAREER? AND SECOND, WHEN YOU MEET FANS WHAT DO THEY NORMALLY LIKE TO COME UP AND SAY?
“Yeah, they talk about wins. ‘I was at Daytona when you won in ’04, I was at Daytona when you won in ’14, I was at the All-Star race when you won or I’ve watched every race you’ve ran.’ You know you hear… really, they remember the moments on the track more than anything. And I do the same thing. I think back about the wins and maybe not even the wins, some races are really fun and satisfactory, but you are the only one that will remember then because you ran third or fifth or something like that and they are kind of obscure in most people’s minds. I think about winning the All-Star races as a rookie just how fortunate we were to do that. Winning the Daytona 500 twice. I didn’t know that I would even win it once and everything that has happened. The list goes on and on. Just been so… I would have never thought it would have been as good as it has been or as fun as it has been along the way. I have made so many good friends. I think about … as you get older you start to understand how you prioritize the things that are most important to you about the sport. The camaraderie and the friendships that I’ve made kind of started down the list and as I’ve gotten older that has crept up the list and if it’s not number one, I don’t know what is. All the people in the garage, the industry, the press, the friends that you make. That probably is what you will miss the most once you are done driving is the people. You are going to miss being around all these folks. Driving cars and the adrenaline and all that is great and a lot of fun, but man the friends that you make here that is something we talk about too. Just people we all have in common and have friendships with.”
WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON PENALIZING OR NOT PENALIZING ON THE TRACK? DRIVER’S SHOULD THEY SETTLE IT FOR THEMSELVES OUT ON THE RACE TRACK?
“I’m going to be a bit of a hypocrite because I’ve done a lot of these things. I don’t think taking your car and running into somebody is the way to go. In between the flags, I guess it’s okay. If you dump a guy for a win that is just your choice. I think in that situation you get handled by the court of public opinion and otherwise everything in between the flags is free game. But once the race is over you would prefer not to have any shenanigans going on, but I myself have been guilty of that in the past. It’s not and it’s going to happen down the road and that is not … I don’t think we need to go out of our way to penalize Austin (Dillon) to send a message to him or anyone else, but to do nothing kind of bothered me a little bit. To do nothing at all.
“I am serious, I would have sent him on a Winner’s Circle appearance somewhere. None of the driver’s like doing those. And we complain about it to NASCAR all the time having to go to these tracks out of market and do these appearances. Now, when we go do them we do have fun, but drivers are spoiled and we don’t like to do that stuff, so I would sign him up for an out of market appearance to promote the next Phoenix race in the fall. And I would get him … the NASCAR children’s charity can never have enough donations, so he could write a small check to them and be done with it. It doesn’t really have to be anything that is harmful really to Austin.
“It’s that … what message do you send to all these guys that are racing at all the local tracks around the country? Are you sending the message that it is okay for them to drive into each other’s door after the race is over with? So, that is all I worry about. I know Austin knows right from wrong. It’s not about trying to teach him a lesson. It’s really what are we trying to tell everyone else all the other drivers? I know NASCAR takes these guys into the haulers and they do have these conversations with them and they do tell them what they expect in the future, but no one else is privy to that conversation. Not that I need to be in that conversation, but that is not sending the message to anyone because we don’t know what the message is right? So, I just wish that … I’ve got guys racing late models, I got this young kid and I’ve got Josh (Berry) and we’ve ran cars in all kinds of different series, Trucks and all that stuff and you just want those guys to know kind of what the etiquette is out there. Whether they choose to follow it is another thing, but it’s up to NASCAR to show them what is expected. I think that the ball was kind of dropped on this particular situation.
“So, that is kind of how I feel about it. I really … I’ve talked to Austin a lot this week, talked to him last night for a matter of fact. I talked to (Steve) O’Donnell (NASCAR Vice President) a little bit. And I understand that they want personalities, they want guys to be colorful. I agree with that. I think we have been. You listen to the Radioactive (program on FoxSports1) we all talk crap about each other all race long. We are just as annoyed as can be over everything going on around us. Like (Ryan) Blaney, me and him are pretty good friends and we are just annoyed as hell at each other sometimes on the track. There is plenty going on out there. I don’t think that would deter drama and any color in the sport. I think to do nothing is just such a missed opportunity I think. You don’t have to do anything crazy, just a couple of thousand dollars and just enough to say to these guys that are watching on Sunday that race on Saturday night and Friday night that this is not really what we want to see going forward, that is all.”
“In between the flags man. If he wants to…and I was one that and so people are going to say ‘well you know the Matt Kenseth deal was in between the flags, that was during the race.’ I agree with NASCAR that you have to handle things differently. I wasn’t quite sure about that, so I went and talked to (Steve) O’Donnell and he explained to me like in other sports there are flagrant fouls and there are intentional fouls and then there are little five yard penalties and 15-yard penalties, there is holding and facemask calls. I understand the variance and there needing to be a different degree of punishment for sure and it’s up to NASCAR to have the understanding to know how to manage those punishments and how to judge what needs to be done in those situations. But anything in between the flags is fair game. That has always been the case everywhere I’ve ever raced. You don’t always like it. Some guy is going to race dirty all the time. There are dirty players in football, there are dirty guys in boxing that are going to hit you behind the head and rabbit punch you and hit you in the clinch there are just people that are like that. And that is okay as long as it’s in between the flags.”
BEFORE THE SEASON STARTED YOU SAID THAT YOU WOULD TAKE A COUPLE OF MONTHS TO DECIDE WHEN YOU WOULD START NEGOTIATING WITH RICK (HENDRICK). HAVE YOU STARTED THAT PROCESS?
“It’s going to be a few races, but I feel really good. We have had some discussions about planning to get together. It’s not something I put on the shelf for sure. We are getting closer and closer. I feel good and made some good adjustments in my car in the off season. I had some meetings with NASCAR safety about things I could do better for myself and make my car safer. I’m mad that I didn’t think about doing that sooner, but it takes something to make you proactive. It seems sometimes you’ve got to get a kick in the butt to do something. I have done some things that I really think have gave me a lot of confidence in the car and in my ability to continue to race and so… yeah, I’m not in any hurry to sit down and have those discussions, but we have been chit-chatting a little bit about that we need to go ahead and start heading in that direction.”
I WAS TOLD EARLIER THAT YOUR TEAM WILL HAVE A VERY FAMOUS GUEST HERE ON SUNDAY JENSEN BUTTON THE FORMER FORMULA 1 MCLAREN DRIVER:
“That is news to me. Is he going to sit on the pit box? Because (Graham) Rahal is coming too. I ain’t got but so many seats (laughs).”
NO, I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHEN YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO TALK WITH JENSEN BUTTON WILL YOU CONVINCE HIM TO MAKE THE MOVE TO NASCAR?
“I mean I assume everybody wants to move to NASCAR, right? I don’t think I would have to convince him. Just there are only a few opportunities out there and sponsorship money is hard to find. Anybody wanting to drive in the Cup Series is going to have to find 20-30 million dollars to do it. We could daydream all day long. I would have loved to have seen what Michael Schumacher would have thought about our cars and so it would have been awesome if he would have had the opportunity to drive a stock car, just to hear what his thoughts were you know being the legend that he is. Anytime the F1 guys or anybody for that matter, the IndyCar guys it is such a different discipline driving F1 to stock cars. Anytime they get in our sport it is great to hear their take on it and what they really think about it. Any of them guys that want to come get an opportunity to run some laps it would be fun to hear what they have to say.”
“Yes, and did it successfully. We miss him. He was a lot of fun to have around. Me and him, boy the fun we had at driver’s intros. Hanging out with all my besties at driver intro. No one? That was dig at (Steve) Letarte. Yeah, I miss seeing (Juan Pablo) Montoya man, he was always nice to me and always was an approachable guy.”
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO YOUR VERY FIRST RACE WHAT WOULD BE THE ONE THING THAT DALE, JR. NOW WOULD TELL DALE, JR. THEN?
“Oh, well, my first Cup race? Well, we ran… well yeah, I don’t know you know. I was really nervous. I remember sitting on the starting grid or sitting in qualifying for the race and telling (then crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. that I would switch with him for a million dollars so he could do this instead of me because I was scared to death. Just they had made such a big deal about that whole thing. I don’t even remember what the… they had some kind of a … they called it something Countdown to E Day or some mess. I forget what it was, but Budweiser made this big promotion about it and it was so much pressure and I was so nervous. We did okay in the race I think we finished 16th or something like that. I was overwhelmed with the weight of the situation and how much attention it was getting and it made it really hard to soak in and enjoy it I guess, but we just wanted to do so well and not fail. I don’t know what I could tell myself that would have made much of a difference in how I felt. I don’t think I could have calmed myself any more with any kind of advice. It would have been difficult to make any difference, I guess, it was so crazy. It was fun. It was a wild time.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF STAGE RACING?
“Well, so far my experience has been I’ve been sort of in the backside of the top 10 for a few of these stages. The intensity really ramps up when your crew chief or your spotter is like ‘alright man you have like 15 laps to go in this stage.’ You are like ‘oh man I’ve got to hang on to this one point.’ You really get nervous. You are sitting there riding along thinking about your car, having fun, driving along and then they tell you that and you are thinking ‘man I don’t want to give up this point.’ All of a sudden for whatever reason this one point is so valuable. So, that is good. I think that was their intent to really get the drivers up on their toes and it definitely has us on our toes as those laps wind down towards the end of each of those stages. On the other side of that, when you are 15th, 18th and the stage is winding down you are maybe not as intense as I have been in the past at that particular part of the race. Yeah, you are kind of like ‘well you know the stage is wrapping up, we are getting ready to wrap this up, start a new stage okay.’ And your kind of you are just chilling until it is done. As long as you don’t have any visual opportunity to try to get a point it kind of makes you reel it in a little bit and save a little bit maybe getting ready for that next stage and start thinking about alright how can we actually put ourselves in position to get some points here for that next opportunity. So, it’s pretty interesting. Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. I don’t know exactly what the intent was and what they are trying to accomplish, but it does bring some intensity that wasn’t there in the past. Especially if you are in that eighth, ninth, 10th spot coming down to those last few laps. You are like ‘man I don’t want to give up any points. I really want these points.’ That was never the case before. We never had points to race for, so we were just kind of getting through the day hoping to be there at the end to get the points and now we are having to worry about points throughout the day.”
THERE HAD BEEN SOME REPORTING THIS WEEK THAT RESTRICTOR PLATE COULD BE COMING TO THE BRICKYARD 400 IF IT WORKS WELL IN THE XFINITY RACE AS A STAND OUT IN THAT FORM. HOW DO YOU THINK IT WOULD PLAY THERE?
“I don’t know how it’s going to look or workout, but I’m up for whatever. That race is really suffering as far as the show and how entertaining I think it is to watch. I don’t really know what the answer is to make it more exciting, but I think this is a great opportunity to find out if this is the direction to go. I am all for it. And I like the idea of trying it in the Xfinity Series or the Truck Series or what have you whatever track it is at to try it in that feeder series. That is an opportunity to see if we can get it right without ruining anything for the Cup guys. Hopefully, I think NASCAR watches the Indy 500 and they see those guys drafting and passing and they are competitive. They have to try to put on that type of show if not better at that race track. It is not good in conversation to have the IndyCar race be more exciting to watch than the NASCAR race there. That is just business. I think it’s great for them to be aggressive. We tried something last year in the Cup cars with the big spoilers and all that drag, didn’t work, but I’m good with it. I really think it’s easy to say ‘hey man let’s go back to IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park) for the Xfinity guys. But how do you fix the Cup race? You want to fix the Cup race too. You want to try to improve Cup racing there if you can. We would love to keep the Xfinity Series at Indy if we can. If we can make that exciting that is where they belong. It’s great for our company. It’s great for us as owners to have that big marquee event and it’s a race that is easier to sell than maybe a Road America or something like that for sponsors. It’s a big deal. We want to be there. I would love to race at IRP. I would love to see a race at IRP, but it’s good for owners to be at Indy. If we can make that work that’s great. I’m open to trying anything.”
ARE THERE OTHER CUP TRACKS WHERE PLATES WOULD BE WORTH A TRY?
“That is a good question. I think it’s a good question. I don’t know that would be popular at every other track. Since Indy is kind of an odd configuration and the racing has suffered there I think that it’s worth an attempt to see if it will be an improvement. I don’t think we have a race that kind of stands out as an issue like Indy does as far as the show and how entertaining the race is. I think if you looked at other tracks, Michigan and those things come to mind, but the racing there is good and it’s going to just keep getting better as the track ages. The configuration is really a thorn in the side of Indy for our cars. There is not ever going to be a second groove for us there. The Indy cars really don’t run through the corners side-by-side on a regular basis, but the way their cars work aerodynamically they are able to draft and pass and it’s a really great show. We need to figure out how to make that happen for our cars. The straightaways are long enough, we just have to figure out how to get our cars to where we can really get the slingshot runs. I think what they learn in that process if they can accomplish that would lend itself to other race tracks, especially at Daytona and Talladega. Man, if we could bring the slingshot where one guy can pull out and pass someone on their own, what a race that would be. We had quite a bit of that in the ‘80’s where guys just flying by each other every time they went down the back straightaway somebody else was taking the lead. It would be awesome to have that again.”
HOW DO YOU ANTICIPATE YOU WILL DO THE STAGE RACING ON THIS TRACK?
“I don’t think that the stages are going to dictate a different strategy than we have had here in the past. The tires are going to be so critical. You are going to get four tires every opportunity you can. So, when the caution comes out you are not going to have guys trying to trick the system with the new stages. You will want to come down and get your tires and take advantage of having new tires every opportunity. Yeah, it’s nice that the temperature is going to be more tolerable this weekend. Last week was pretty hot, but we made the most of it and it wasn’t too bad. I felt great after the race.”
THE TIRE PERFORMANCE HERE YOU THINK?
“I love it. I mean it’s a rough, really rough, like it’s got a lot more bumps than it’s had in the past. Wore out surface, the tires fall off that is what the drivers love. I think the drivers are really looking forward to this race.”