MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPTS
JULY 22, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed, how he is handling his final season, competing in his final race at Indy, the importance of social media and many other topics. Full Transcript:
Doug Boles, President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, presented Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with the No. 8 from the old pylon from the track as a special gift to commemorate his final Brickyard 400 as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series competitor.
“I like stuff like that. We have a lot of old memorabilia and I’ve got a great spot for that one. This track, to me, has so much history beyond obviously the stock cars. It’s really interesting what this track has been through and how its survived recessions and wars and initially you know this is where all the guys were bringing their cars that they were building Louis Chevrolet and guys like that were coming here and racing and kind of created the auto industry at Indy. I have a lot of respect and admiration for this race track, for its history, for what it means to American motorsports and what it means to motorsports globally. It’s an honor to have an opportunity to ever race here. So, I appreciate that a lot.”
WHEN MICHAEL PHELPS WAS GOING THROUGH HIS FINAL OLYMPICS HE SAID THAT HE HAD A DIFFERENT FEELING ABOUT IT GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS HE WAS STOP AND SMELLING THE ROSES AND APPRECIATED THE LITTLE THINGS MORE. HOW HAS IT BEEN FOR YOU GOING THROUGH YOUR FINAL SEASON?
“Well, it’s certainly different to have an end point. To have a time and a date out there that you know is coming. For years and years, you just never knew when you were going to retire. I still feel like I have to allow myself to get competitive and I want to go out there and do well in all the practices and all the races and I want our team to have success. There is not as much probably stopping and smelling the roses as I would like. I guess if we were maybe running a little better it would be a little more of that. But we are just grinding away trying to get our cars better. We are working really hard trying to get our performance up and that takes a lot of focus. That takes a lot of commitment from everyone, me included. So, it has felt a lot similar to all the years before. I maybe don’t stress as much about not performing as well as I would like as I had in the past. I certainly let that get the best of me before, but I won’t allow that to happen this year.
“It’s nice though. You know, I’ve enjoyed the season. We turned the corner and we are coming down the last straightaway and going to these race tracks and this year is going to wrap up pretty quickly before you know it. Just trying to enjoy being behind the wheel. When you are out there driving and beating your head against the wall trying to figure out how to get faster, you’ve got to remind yourself a little bit to enjoy it, enjoy these last few runs because it is fun. It’s fun driving the car. Just the pure enjoyment of racing and driving is always going to be there and that is going to be there long after I retire and I will miss some things about that. So, I’m just trying to make sure I’m really taking that in, just the driving part. There is a lot of stuff that you try to take in, but we are still trying to get faster and get better. It feels real similar because it takes so much commitment to run well in this series. Farewell tours aren’t quite as graceful as they sound. You can’t really kind of skip through a season even if it’s your last.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU MIGHT BE A LITTLE BEHIND THIS WEEKEND SINCE YOU DID NOT COMPETE IN THIS RACE LAST YEAR? HAVE YOU DONE ANY EXTRA WORK MAYBE IN THE SIMULATOR OR TALKED TO THE TEAM ABOUT THEIR NOTEBOOK FROM LAST YEAR TO PREPARE FOR SUNDAY?
“Yeah, I didn’t think about it. I didn’t even think about having missed the races and feeling like I’m at a deficit. We did work on the simulator. I think we learned some things there. I think that Indy to try to make some sense of it the simulator matches up well with some tracks and other tracks it doesn’t. Some tracks I’ve ran in the simulator and it doesn’t remind me of what driving the car in real life feels like. So, it’s kind of hard to correlate the adjustments and feelings and really trust what you are feeling and what you are learning in the sim. But some tracks do match up well, I thought that Indy was one of them. So, we worked in the sim a little bit Monday. Just to try to get through some changes, practice is so limited here it’s an advantage to be able to sort of simulate practice. But I haven’t really thought about missing a lot of races or not having run here. It’s really not an excuse even if we are not running well. We’ve actually been pretty quick today. I don’t like the way the car drives at all, but the speeds are fast and maybe everybody’s car doesn’t drive well. But, I’m a little concerned about the balance of the car, but our speed has been good. But, yeah, I don’t think that I should struggle at any of the tracks due to missed time, having run so much and raced for so long, you should be able to jump right back in there and be right up to speed personally. So, hopefully, we don’t struggle too much.”
THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER YOU HAVE COMPETED AGAINST SUCH LEGENDARY DRIVERS, LOTS OF RACE WINS, DRIVERS THAT HAVE WON CHAMPIONSHIPS, BUT NONE OF THEM CAN TOUCH YOU IN TERMS OF POPULARITY. DO YOU SOMETIMES WONDER HOW FATE OR THE SPORT CHOSE YOU TO BE IN THE POSITION THAT YOU ARE IN?
“Yeah, I mean I know how that happened. I was getting autograph requests as a driver when I was racing in the late model series at Myrtle Beach and I knew that I hadn’t done anything on the race track to warrant that. I knew it was because of my last name. Not that that was a bad thing, but I just knew that it was not for the reasons that I was trying to achieve. I think with everything that happened we came onto the scene, had a really successful 1998 and 1999 in the Xfinity Series, big splash, got everybody excited about another generation Earnhardt. My Dad had so many fans that this was really exciting for them that there was another Earnhardt that has potential. And then with everything that happened with Dad’s death that certainly changed a lot of things as far as how the fans feel and how they reacted. But I feel like… so we gained a giant following without ever having done much.
“But I like to think that we did good hanging on to it and growing it. We worked and made effort to get in front of people that didn’t know racing. We were able to get into some mainstream publications and so forth that a lot of drivers didn’t have access to. We did that not only for our own benefit, but we tried to help grow our fan base. I think that we might have… a lot of Dad’s fans wanted me to be just like Dad. That wasn’t going to happen, so I know we lost some of those guys, but we gained a lot of people for I think how we carried ourselves and represented ourselves throughout my career. I feel like we did some good things in the last 18 years.”
IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS THAT YOU TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR CAREER THAT MOST OF THE DRIVERS IN THE GARAGE AREA THEY WILL SAY THAT YOU ARE VERY FAIR AND CLEAN TO RACE WITH?
“I appreciate that. I was never… I’ve turned a few guys around and you can be aggressive when your car allows you to be aggressive. When your car is fast enough for you to be aggressive with it you can certainly be aggressive, but I appreciate to hear that and yeah, I want to be considered a clean race car driver and a guy that you can trust to race with. That is one of the first things I think you do as a driver when you are racing against your competitors is the trust part. Whether you really think you can get down in the corner and know they are going to hold their line and not do anything stupid. Then you learn a lot of other things about them good and bad as the time goes on, but that is the first thing you sort of develop with everyone individually is that trust or the fact that you can’t trust them. I appreciate that and hopefully they enjoyed racing with me. I certainly have enjoyed racing all the guys that have come and went.”
HAVE YOU SPOKEN WITH MICHEL OHER ANYMORE AND WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO SEE HIM GET RELEASED FOR FAILING A PHYSICAL KIND OF KNOWING SOMEBODY GOING THROUGH CONCUSSION AND NOT BEING ABLE TO GET HEALTHY ENOUGH TO PLAY?
“I haven’t talked to him. When I talked to him the first time that meeting was put together by our doctors. And I would only talk to him if he wanted that or my doctors thought that would be a good idea. I don’t want to interject or get in anybody’s business. But, I support anybody going through that situation. His situation and mine were kind of similar in what we dealt with as far as symptoms and so forth. That was a reason why I think they wanted me and him to chat a little bit because it really helps to hear from someone going through it. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to talk to somebody about concussions that hasn’t had one. I wasn’t bothered by him getting released. The only thing that it made me think about was is that it’s a shame that he is not healthy yet and that hopefully he continues to take the time. I know that he tweeted a couple of days ago that he was headed to see Mr. Collins. That made me feel good because he is seeing the right people in Pittsburgh and that I’m glad that he is still persistent and following their orders and getting in front of the right folks. That is all you can do. He just needs to take the time necessary. I don’t think football should be anything that he is probably thinking about right now. And he might not even care about football right at this moment. He might just want to do whatever he needs to do to get well. Certainly, going through that experience changes your priorities. He certainly seems to be making the right choices for himself if he is up there seeing Micky (Collins) and still pursuing what he needs to do get well. I’m there to support him or anyone else really going through that situation.”
IT WAS FRUSTRATING AT POCONO THE LAST TIME YOU WERE THERE, BUT IT WASN’T SO LONG AGO THAT YOU SWEPT THERE. ARE YOU A SUBSCRIBER TO THE THEORY THAT IF YOU CAN DO WELL HERE AT INDY YOU CAN DO WELL AT POCONO? WHY OR WHY NOT?
“There are some similarities with the race tracks. I talked with Greg (Ives, crew chief) just even about our car; and if you can pull anything from Pocono, it’s Turn 3 and how the car gets through the center of Turn 3 and the exit of that corner. It’s very similar to centers and exits of these corners. Some of the characteristics that the car has and what makes the car work well in Turn 3 at Pocono probably would help here. So, you kind of point Greg or your crew chief in that direction and say whatever we get or hit on in Pocono that might have helped us in Turn 3, there’s some tools I would probably go to first to try to get through the corner here.
“But, other than that, if you ran great here, it wouldn’t make me more confident for Pocono, it really wouldn’t. I don’t see the tracks being that similar. This place is so unique to itself with the 90-degree corners and the challenges that we face here in trying to get through the corner are just Indy. That’s just the way it is at Indy. And, I don’t know that there’s anything that I’d do at any part of the rest of the season that I could pull from that would help us here. We fight trying to get the cars to turn in the throttle and push off of the corners. The race will be a little bit different, but we fight a lot of the same issues every time we come here; no matter what spoiler is on the car and no matter how much power you’ve got and no matter what springs and shocks you’ve got in the car. It’s just inherent that you’re going to chase the same issues. But there are some things at the latter half of Turn 3 at Pocono are kind of similar. And what gets through that corner may help you here.”
YOU SPOKE EARLIER ABOUT THE HISTORIC PART OF THIS TRACK. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN HERE, ESPECIALLY IN YOUR LAST GO? AND, WHAT WILL YOU MISS MOST ABOUT RACING HERE EVERY YEAR?
“It would be awesome to win one of the big key races in the season, having come here and been more frustrated than now. It is a race that I think all the drivers feel is very important to our series and a big milestone in your career. It ranks right up there probably close to the Daytona 500 in importance and pride to be able to come away as a winner at this place. And, considering how our season has gone, a win here would right all the wrongs, you know? We’d probably forget about all the struggles we’ve had to get a big win like that.
“What I’ll miss the most is the feeling that you get when you come into this race track. When you walk through Gasoline Alley and your kind of in the F-1 garage and so forth, and just the feeling that you get when you know what’s happened here. You know who has raced here and who has been here. I was just thinking about that in practice going down the back straightaway about all the names that have gone down that straightaway. It’s so overwhelming. If you could go back in time and just experience everything that’s happened here, it’s so overwhelming to think about. So, I’ll miss that, you know? I don’t know how you explain it or put that into words, but the feeling that you get when you walk in here is such a special place, it’s hard to put it into words. There’s not a lot of tracks that give me that feeling. Daytona, maybe. I’m so proud of Daytona and it means so much to me. What happened here is a little bit bigger as far as what’s happened here in the last hundred years. It’s a little bit bigger than all of us. And so, it never gets old coming here because of that. I’d like to be able to come here after my retirement, especially for the Indy race. I’ve never been to the Indy 500, obviously, so that would be a great experience. It’s an impressive place.”
REGARDING YOUR TWITTER PRESENCE, HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK IT IS FOR DRIVERS TO HAVE A BIG SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE?
“I think it’s really important considering that we need to target the younger demographics. Our fan base is getting older and older. And that’s where they are. They’re all on social media, on various platforms. We’ve got a lot of young drivers that are comfortable on those platforms and comfortable being themselves and showcasing their personalities. They may be doing that unintentionally just being themselves. But, I’ve had a great time since I’ve joined social media. I was a little weary because Jimmie (Johnson) was telling me it was sort of 50/50 as far as how nice people were. But, I swear; I’ve said this and I really believe this, Twitter has some sort of special filter on mine where I only get the good comments (laughter). So, it’s all roses for me. I think it’s a great way for fans to feel a better connection, a little stronger connection with the sport and with the drivers who are in it. Obviously, it’s a great place for information and to see what everybody is up to and what they’re doing. But, I think my generation has had to learn how to use social media; whereas (Ryan) Blaney and those guys grew up with it and they see it a little bit differently than we do. They utilize it a little bit differently than we do. And, they are a little bit more unguarded, I guess. And that’s good. I think that raw experience that the fans get when they follow some of these younger guys is going to be important to the sport, going forward, in creating a new generation of fans. And that’s where it’s at. It’s going to be through social media and it’s good that the drivers are using that.”
THIS IS THE BRANTLEY GILBERT BIG MACHINE BRICKYARD 400. I’VE HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO BRANTLEY AND HE SAID HE IS A LONGTIME EARNHARDT FAMILY FAN AND THAT HE’S PULLING FOR YOU IN THIS RACE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HAVING HIS NAME AND BIG MACHINE ON THIS RACE? AND, HAVE YOU EVER HAD A CHANCE TO MEET BRANTLEY AND HANG OUT WITH HIM?
“I think we did get to meet one time, if my memory serves me correctly. The country music industry has had a big influence on our sport for a really long time. And so, I think it’s a great positive. Hopefully he enjoys having his name on the race. That’s quite unique. Anyone should be excited about that. But it’ll definitely be great for him and for his fans. I’m not sure he’s got many fans that aren’t aware of NASCAR, but maybe the ones that aren’t might become NASCAR fans. So, it’s a great co-promotion and it’s a good fit.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED AT THE BACKLASH THAT AMY (WIFE) GOT THIS WEEK FROM YOUR COMMENTS AND DO YOU THINK SHE HANDLED IT WELL?
“You know, she had to put something out because she felt like she needed to say something. I put her in that position and it’s probably my fault for throwing her under the bus like that. But, she’s been there for everything and a lot of folks that may have a different opinion about it weren’t there through the whole process. And so, if anyone knows how difficult it was beside me, it would be her. It wasn’t a lot of fun for her. And we look at the Clash and then people are like why are you racing at all? So, the Clash has a real high crash rate. There is a real big potential to either finish the race or wreck. We’ve internally complained about that for years. Why do we even run that race because we tear up all four cars? It’s kind of a joke that we have. But, you’re instinct, when you win that pole, especially when you don’t win one for four or five years, is that man, I’ve been trying to talk them into making this Clash more about pole winners. That is what you would hear a guy say when he would win a pole back in the 90’s is, ‘Man, I’m excited’. That’s what they would get out of the car and say. That was the best promotion you could have for that race. It kind of lost its identity. So now that they are kind of leaning back to the pole sitters, I was excited to win the pole. My first reaction was that I got an opportunity to run the Clash. It sounds like a great idea right off the bat, but maybe it’s not worth it.
“But, I feel much more in control of my own fate in the remainder of this season and anything I do beyond that, than I do being out there in the Clash, to be honest with you, even though it’s a pretty cool race to be in. If you just look at the past history, at least my history, it’s been feast or famine. You either usually run really good or you end up tearing it up. It’s just probably not even worth it. But if it’s something she feels strongly about, we have to sit down and I have to hear her out. But, yeah, I kind of threw her under the bus there and probably should have never even mentioned it, but it put her in a tough spot and she felt like she had to voice some sort of a statement about it and I thought she handled it well. For no more characters than she used, I thought she got her point across (laughter).”