MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPTS
JULY 29, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Pocono Raceway and discussed his relationship with the track over the years, his thoughts on the first practice session and many other topics. Full Transcript:
Prior to starting his formal media availability at Pocono Raceway Nick Igdalsky (CEO at Pocono Raceway) announced that in honor of Dale’s retirement as a full-time Cup Series driver, the track is donating $8,888 to both the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Foundation and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital for a grand total of $17,776.
“That is awesome. That is perfect that is going to make a lot of folks happy. I can’t thank the folks here at Pocono enough. This place has been a track that I came to quite often considering that the races were in the summer. I came here in the ‘80’s quite a bit and saw a lot of great races here. It’s a terribly challenging race track with all the corners being so different and it did take me quite a while to figure it out and I’ve got a lot of respect for it. They do an amazing job. I really enjoy the job they do for their fans and the folks that come out here to watch. I’ve always had great experiences here outside the car. It’s obviously a great area to visit and one of the more entertaining and comfortable stops on the circuit with the Pocono Mountains and everything. We’ve always enjoyed coming up here. We have stayed in the bus lot, we’ve rented condos and been out and about. And it certainly is beautiful up here. It’s one of our favorite trips.
“The family here has been incredible to me and our family. We have always enjoyed supporting the track. Over the last couple of years, we have traded off paintball for the team. We will do a Q&A on Sunday over here behind the grandstands and the 48/88/24/5 guys get to play paintball over at Skirmish. And that has been something that we’ve done for the last couple of years. It’s a big deal. It sounds kind of small, it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it makes a big impact for our team and the comradery of our guys. I appreciate, it’s the little things like that Pocono does really well. So, it makes you appreciative that the track is so accommodating.
“Yesterday at the Fan Fest was great. We won the cooking portion of the content. Had a couple of Canadian’s cooking pork and chicken and we ended up winning somehow. It’s a lot of fun and hopefully the fans enjoyed that. That is going to be a bit of a new trend for some of these tracks to try to go to these two-day shows. I hope that Friday was an entertaining Friday for the fans that come out here and spend the day with us.”
WHAT IS THE CRAZIEST THING OR THINGS YOU’VE EVER SEEN AT THIS RACE TRACK?
“I mean there have been some fun things. There is a lot. I think the craziest thing that I ever witnessed here was I had a front row seat when me and Steve Park crashed off of Turn 2 and his car hit that fence on the inside it spit out between my car and the fence straight up in the air like a bar of soap in the shower. I had a front row seat for that and it was just the most amazing… I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. That visual was incredible and it was scary of course and it was great that Steve was okay, but we were flying into that fence and I thought this is going to be a massive crash and to watch that car go up in the air right in front of me and just sort of tumble in slow motion was really… we just see so many really vicious crashes here. Elliott Sadler knocking the motor out of his car and my Dad flipping down there in Turn 1 in ’82. He broke his collar bone in a wreck here in ’79. So, I mean it’s a long straightaway you are getting it by the time you get to the end of it.
“I remember I was watching a replay of Bobby Labonte beating me in 2001. I think about that and I’m like what could I have done different, but coming here and being able to sweep the races was a surprise to me. We had never won here before, so we won one and we were like ‘wow we were lucky’ and then we swept them and won the second one and we thought ‘man maybe we are not just lucky maybe we are pretty good.’ That was an awesome experience.”
WHAT HAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP BEEN LIKE WITH THE IGDALSKY AND MATTIOLI FAMILY OVER THE YEARS HERE?
“Brandon (Igdalsky) I think has done an incredible job. This track I think for a long time fought for respect and credibility amongst its peers. In the last several years, last couple of handful of 15 years or so, Brandon I think has done an incredible job to help it earn that respect and become one of the stops on the circuit that I think a lot of people actually, drivers, teams enjoy coming to. We’ve got a lot of room in the garages. That sets itself apart for me personally from a lot of race tracks. The facilities here are really nice. The surface of the race track when the repaved it they did an incredible job and again, their ability to be flexible and accommodating to the drivers and teams really helps out a lot and makes you want to work for them and want to help them. I’ve just got a good relationship with Brandon and I sort of think we both share a bit of a common theme in our lives trying to prove ourselves as the sons of some folks that did a pretty damn good job of it. I was proud of what he did and what he has accomplished. I’m excited for his future, but I think that Pocono is in great hands going forward and I’m obviously going to be coming back and can’t wait to continue to come here year after year.”
HOW OFTEN DID YOU SHIFT IN FIRST PRACTICE AND ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH WHATEVER YOU GUYS HAVE IN THE CAR?
“We ain’t broke it yet. We made some changes to the mechanics of our transmission that are unique for me and nothing that we did across the board for all the teammates. I did a couple of things with my transmission to help me stay in that outside gate, that third and fourth gear. We just stiffened the spring which… if you grab the shifter when it’s in neutral obviously it takes some effort to pull it to the left to get into that inside gate of first and second. It takes effort to get it to the outside gate of third and fourth, so if it’s sitting in neutral it takes some effort to go there, but it’s very little effort. Well we made it very hard to get into second and so I should just be able to go in and out of third and fourth and stay in that outside gate without really any problem. Probably something that we should have done a long time ago just for some extra assurance. Because it is possible… I have made that mistake before of getting in the wrong gear at a lot of tracks, road courses in particular. But we got through Sonoma shifting and doing all the things that we do at Sonoma without any problems. That gave me the confidence that maybe it was just something unique to the pattern or we were doing that particular weekend and it gave me confidence coming back and some of the changes we made to our transmission also gave me a lot of confidence for this weekend. Should be no problems going forward.”
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO MISS MOST ABOUT THIS TRACK AND RACING HERE AT POCONO?
“This track offers so much character. The Tunnel Turn was one of the more terrifying corners to try to get used to in this sport. It’ such a challenge. We go through there so fast. It was one of the more intimidating corners in our series. I’m going to miss how unique it is. It’s so different from turn to turn, obviously the shape of the track and everything about it is a bit of a change of pace, which is nice. Obviously, I will be coming back and enjoying the area, which I like a lot. If I’m still cycling this is a great area to do that. I don’t know. I think it will be a new perspective and a new way to experience it from the booth and just being outside the car as I make this transition into the next chapter of my life. I think it will be a different perspective and new things to appreciate. And what I might miss I will probably pick up on some new stuff and seeing the race from a different point of view. I’m looking forward to that. I have really enjoyed racing here. It took a while for me to sort of figure that out or understand how to enjoy the track itself, but the racing here is pretty fun. Restarts are really wild and Turn 1 is a blast, especially when you can take advantage of a lot of folks and get a lot of spots. With the shifting and the uniqueness of each corner it creates opportunities to make runs and passes. You don’t really seem to get lulled to sleep like you do at some of the bigger tracks. This place there is so much to be doing and so much work happening inside the car every lap that it keeps you busy and it’s fun.”
IS THERE A PLACE IN THE NEXT SIX THAT YOU CONSIDER MORE LIKELY TO PRODUCE A WIN? IF SO, IS IT GOOD FOR YOU OR MAYBE BAD TO PUT MORE PRESSURE OR EMPHASIS ON THOSE PLACES?
“So, I know we are here this weekend, we’ve got the Glen and then Richmond in the last one right. What are the other ones? Michigan? Michigan is a good one that’s a good track for us. Bristol? I could probably win there. What was the other one? Darlington? (Sigh) Darlington man if we come close that is a win. That place is tough, but you never know we will just have to keep showing up and see what happens. You’ve got to keep trying. I think here and Michigan are tracks that I have obviously have got some wins, recent wins at, so there is going to be some more expectations going into those or more confidence going into those. I hate to say that because we’ve got to go in there and even, like I said on social media the other day, we’ve got to go into Watkins Glen like we can win. We’ve got to go in there with that attitude if we want to win. If that opportunity falls in our lap you have to have your head on straight. We will go to all these tracks with a great, positive attitude and see how it works out for us, but here and Michigan are probably the ones at the top of the list.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MEMORIES YOU TAKE AWAY FROM WINNING HERE? HOW MUCH WOULD GETTING A WIN HERE IN YOUR LAST TIME AT POCONO MEAN TO YOU?
“I remember we had a Make-a-Wish kid one of those weekends, Chris, got to become friends with on social media. So, I remember him. We always say if we win we will see you in Victory Lane. And the odds are not in your favor because the competition is tough, but that particular day we actually got to take Chris into Victory Lane. That was fun. He had an awesome weekend. The broom, sweeping and the broom, and (Steve) Letarte he had a hell of a pit call in both races that helped us get in position to get that track position we needed for our car to win the race. His reaction to that pit call is now a good GIF on social media, his sort of expression on top of the box when he made those calls is one of the funnier moments of our work together. He was really proud of his call.
“Those are just… and social media you know I had just started that year and seeing how folks reacted to the win through social media was a new experience, which was a lot of fun and everybody was pretty excited. We didn’t really get to do that at Daytona because of so much going on that week and I was so new to social media I didn’t even know what I was looking at half the time. But, during those Pocono races you kind of got to experience what winning is like on those platforms and how the fans reacted to those wins.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO NEXT WEEK, IT HAS BEEN DOCUMENTED OVER THE YEARS THAT MAYBE ROAD RACING IS NOT YOUR FAVORITE KIND OF RACING. BUT YOU’VE RUN MUCH BETTER AT WATKINS GLEN AND SONOMA OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS. ARE YOU READY TO FINALLY ADMIT THAT MAYBE YOU ARE KIND OF A COMPETENT ROAD RACER?
“Well, we just quit testing (laughs). That was really why we started running better because we stopped trying so hard. We’d go to Road Atlanta and just run ourselves into the ground for two days trying to figure out how to become great at road course races. And finally, I told (Steve) Letarte (crew chief at the time) and I said let’s just quit testing because it ain’t getting us anywhere but wore out. And it’s two days of the week when it’s making the guys tired because we’re cramming it in between races and we’re not really getting anywhere. So, we just quit trying and we’d just show up. And we started running great. And so, yeah ever since they limited testing it’s been a plus for me at the road courses for whatever reason. Obviously, the cars have to be very good for me to be able to compete well at any race track, so we’ve got to give cars and what the company understands and what they’re taking to the race track that credit, because the cars have been really quick.
“So yeah, I think I went there and did well in my Xfinity days when I beat Ron (Fellows) that day, I know he was having some engine trouble. We were having some problems of our own. That was a big deal. And I went to school with Ron a bunch. We went to Bondurant and we ran Corvettes and tested Corvettes together. He drove for DEI and we would go over set-ups and notes and we just did a lot. We spent a lot of time talking to Boris (Said) as well and tested with him and shared information. Boris was an open book. I would be struggling at Sonoma and I’d go over to Boris and say what do I need to do; I just can’t figure it out. And he would give me the set-up. He’s day here’s my set-up. Put it in (laughs). I’d put it in there and pick-up four-tenths. I’m like, all right! That’s how good and nice those guys are. Andy Pilgrim was another guy I spent a lot of time with. So, I leaned on a lot of guys that I thought gave me great information and wanted to help me. When the cars are there and the cars are superb, I can do a good job with it. So, I think we can go into the Glen and be top 10. We should be top 10 without a problem. If we’re not, I think that’s falling short of my expectations for us.”
NEXT YEAR WHEN YOU’RE IN THE TV BOOTH, YOU’RE LIKELY GOING TO BE IN A POSITION WHERE YOU MAY HAVE TO CRITICIZE SOME PEOPLE WHO ARE NOW YOUR PEERS AND THEY MAY GE UPSET LIKE STEVE LETARTE AT INDY LAST WEEK. HE WAS SPEAKING HIS OPINION ABOUT JUSTIN ALLGAIER AND THAT GOT SOME PEOPLE UPSET. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’LL BE ABLE TO BE AS BLUNT AS YOU SOMETIMES ARE ON TWITTER WHEN YOU’RE IN THE BROADCAST BOOTH ABOUT PEOPLE THAT YOU KNOW?
“That’ll be a bridge I guess I’ll have to cross when I get there. I hope that I’m able to be comfortable being honest. You can cross the line, and I’ve done it before. You just have to know when you’ve crossed it and admit it. And I think that people, my peers included, are okay as long as you own it. But, I hope that I’m being brought into the booth because of who I am and how I am and how I act and my honesty and candid conversation. I want to be that same person I am in the booth. I don’t want to change or be molded into something different or polished up. I definitely want to get better and I want to be great at it. I want to work at it and do what I need to do. I also want that freedom to be honest and be candid. But, if you’re going to do that, you’re obviously going to step on a toe or two, and you’re also going to be wrong sometimes. So, I think when you’re wrong, and I’ve always felt like I’ve done a good job of that in owning it, and moving on. But Sam (Flood, NBC executive) has told me that he hired me to be me. So, I’m hoping that the ‘me’ he’s talking about is the guy that you guys (media) know and the person I am on Twitter and social media because that’s what I enjoy and that’s what I want when I get into the booth is to be that candid and be that honest. But, I’m not going to attack anybody. I didn’t like getting attacked when I was a race car driver and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that to any of my peers. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys.
“But, I really didn’t have a problem with what I heard over the weekend at Indy. I think that the fans appreciate a broadcaster who isn’t favorable toward one guy or another; and Steve must have felt pretty strongly about his opinion about that particular situation and chain of events. And while it was playing out, nothing struck me. I was watching the race and listening to Steve and nothing struck me as wow, I wouldn’t have gone there; or that was strong or that was wrong. I know that Justin took it personally, obviously with his rebuttal on Twitter or Instagram. And if he wants to handle it that way, that’s fine too. That was a hard thing to watch (laughs). That was a big old mess of screw-ups all in one. And it was hard to watch. But as a broadcaster, you have to tell people what you’re seeing and that’s just what was happening, I thought. But that’ll be interesting to go through.”
HOW DID YOU DECISION TO RETIRE CHANGE YOU ATTITUDE ABOUT YOUR FUTURE?
“When I was deciding to retire, I really didn’t know what my future looked like. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know how I was going to make money and what that all looked like and what opportunities would be there for me. We did partner-up with an agency that will produce some interesting opportunities. I’m a little nervous about that, but also excited. I’ll be going out of my comfort zone. It’s been real easy to drive a race car and hang out in the garage because I know all these people and I’m comfortable there. But I’m going to have to get out of that area and go places I’ve never been before and do things with folks that I’ve never done before and try to broaden my horizons a little bit. So, I’m a little nervous to do something new. But, hopefully it all goes pretty smooth and I don’t stumble out of the gate too much. As I get closer to the end of the season and what comes next, it starts to get clearer as to what I’m going to be doing. And it gets more comfortable. And I’m starting to learn that I’m not going to be put in any compromising situations. I don’t have to do anything that I don’t feel comfortable with. As we accept and decline different opportunities, we’re going to have ultimate control over what we get ourselves into. So, anxiety is coming down a little bit. And the excitement level is rising a little bit as it gets a little more clear as to what I’m going to be doing; because when you make such a big change in your life there’s a lot of unknowns and you’re a little nervous and scared at first. But all that is starting to clear up as we get closer and closer to the next year.”
YOUR FIRST RACE HERE BACK IN 2000 WAS THE DAY THAT JEREMY MAYFIELD BUMPED YOUR DAD OUT OF THE WAY. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT DAY AND DO YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING THAT YOUR DAD MIGHT HAVE SAID ABOUT IT?
“We didn’t talk. Me and my dad never talked racing. We just didn’t. I wouldn’t go up and ask him about that unless I wanted to upset him. I hated it. It was something you were used to seeing Dad doing, and I didn’t like seeing nobody do it to him. He was my hero and I didn’t like seeing my hero getting moved out of the way like that. So, it’s not a race that I like to think about (laughs). But I certainly, knowing my dad, it’s nothing I would have brought up in conversation in the rental car on the ride back to the airport, for sure. We didn’t talk racing a lot. We just didn’t. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity. I was running Late Models for four years and I don’t think he ever saw me race Late Models during the ‘90’s. And then when we got in the Xfinity Series I had two years of that and one year in Cup and then he was gone. So, we had three years of just not really any conversation about driving or advice about it. He was more worried about me keeping my head on straight and keeping focused than how to get into the corner. He was more about how to be outside of the car and keeping your head on. Everything was happening so fast and we were having so much success I think he was just making sure that I wasn’t going to be careless or be an idiot outside the car. We talked about that all the time; getting up on time and not sleeping until noon and being on time for appearances and all that stuff.”
IF YOU DON’T MAKE THE PLAYOFFS AND YOU STILL WIN TWO OR THREE RACES LATE IN THE YEAR, HOW WILL YOU LOOK BACK ON YOUR LAST SEASON?
“When you talk about that I think about that Martinsville win a couple of years ago. We got knocked out the round before that. Everybody was down and bummed out. We thought we had a great season. We were in the top 3 in points all year and we just got bumped out. We had a couple of bad races. And, we went to Martinsville and won, which for me is definitely in my top 5 as far as wins that I personally appreciate. And we celebrated and it was the greatest. You’d have never known that we were disappointed about anything. And all that disappointment and upset feeling was gone. We won a clock. We had an awesome day. And, we checked a big old box there for me, personally; and I think the team felt the same way about it. So, you’re going to be disappointed if you don’t make the playoffs. There’ll be a big hurt in your heart because you feel like you deserved to be in that group. You feel like you’re good enough and feel like your team is good enough and when you don’t make it, it doesn’t feel good. But if you can win a race during that time when those other guys are trying to win that championship, it’s a bit of a statement I think for anybody that’s not in the playoffs. So, it’s a great feeling; maybe a better feeling to do that than to win any of the regular season races. So, that would be awesome if we could do that. If we can win any race before the end of the season, just to go back to Victory Lane and know that feeling one more time before it’s over with, that would be awesome.”