MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPTS
JUNE 23, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Sonoma Raceway and discussed making his final start at Sonoma as a full-time Cup Series driver, his potential future in the broadcast booth, his thoughts about competing at Daytona next weekend and many other topics. Full Transcript:
Note: Prior to the start of his formal media availability, Sonoma Raceway presented Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with three puppies named Amy, Dale and Junior who will all grow up to be service dogs helping children in the Bay Area. The track is sponsoring the dogs on Dale, Jr.’s behalf for training and placement. Dale was also given a commemorative wine bottle from the track.
ON HIS FINAL RACE AT SONOMA AND THE GIFT THAT THE TRACK PROVIDED HIM TO RECOGNIZE HIS IMPENDING RETIREMENT:
“Yeah, this is really, obviously we all heard the story and I think it’s a great thing that the track did. Amy is going to love this idea and she is going to be a little sad she wasn’t here to see the dogs today, but it’s nice to know that these types of things are happening and you guys are making a difference in people’s lives. We really appreciate that and obviously thank the track for their investment to make this happen. It warms my heart. We do love dogs and love making a difference in kids’ lives and this is a twofer. Pretty neat deal. Just thanks a lot Excited to maybe come back and see how the dogs are doing. Be a lot of fun to do that. We aren’t disappearing we will be back to see you guys again, so thank you.”
HOW DO YOU GO FROM ADORABLE DOGS TO BEING FOCUSED IN BACK IN THE RACE CAR?
“Yeah, this is pretty cool. This is kind of going to be par for the course I guess at some of the stops along the way. I love the idea that we… I can’t really say we, but the race track is going to do something that makes a difference for someone else. Our whole idea on finishing up the season is to try to show our appreciation. And sort of express that to our fans and everyone in the industry on making this an incredibly enjoyable ride. This fits right into that. It’s awesome that we are going to be able or they are going to be able to help somebody and help some kids. These dogs are going to have wonderful lives and they are going to enjoy doing that as well. The dogs will enjoy making a difference in someone’s life. That’s pretty cool.
“But, yeah, the car has been really good off the truck. We should be able to fit right back in there and get right after it here in the second practice. The last couple of trips here our car has been really good off the truck. That makes things a lot easier in the garage and trying to make the car better and make changes. It gives you a lot of confidence that whatever doesn’t work you can always go back and still have that speed.”
WHEN DID YOU STOP DISLIKING THIS PLACE AND STARTED GETTING DECENT AT ROAD RACING?
“Yeah, you know the cars, I have to give the speed in the car a lot of credit. When you are in a car that is making it difficult, no matter how good or talented you are at a road course, you are going to make mistakes and you won’t really learn exactly how you need to get around here or what you are looking for until you get in a car that gives you that opportunity. So, when the cars get to a certain point they are good. These last couple of years we have been here the cars have been really good. At least you know firing off a few laps. We would like our car to be a little better on a long run here today, but last Friday, last year was incredible how fast the car was. When the car is that good, then the only thing that stands out is your errors as a driver. In that moment in that situation you can start to clean those up and understand the things you need to do personally to get better. A lot of times when the cars a bit of a handful it is hard to tell what you need to do better and what the car needs to do better. But our cars have been so good the last couple of trips. If you get a good car at any race track that is the way to accelerate that learning curve and figure out what you need to be doing as a driver to get around that track. These guys come into this series driving cars that aren’t quite funded properly or don’t have the top stuff or the best engineering it slows down these guys learning curves. When they get in a fast car right off the bat, like Chase (Elliott) or those guys man they can accelerate their growth as a driver being in cars that are going to give them that opportunity to learn. So, it’s hard to learn in cars that don’t work. But the last couple of trips here we’ve been real fast and I think that has put the pressure on me as a driver to get better and fix some of the things that I might have been doing.”
NEXT WEEK YOU GO TO DAYTONA FOR THE LAST TIME IN A CUP CAR. DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ABOUT YOUR LAST RACE THERE?
“Well you never say never. I am just retiring from full-time racing. I am going to run some Xfinity races next year. I don’t know that I won’t ever run the Daytona 500 again if the right deal comes along. All these tracks you have memories at all of them, Daytona included. I am going to be coming back to these tracks and I want to continue to be part of the sport. I don’t know how it’s going to affect me really. It’s hard for me to put that into words because I don’t know what that is going to feel like. It will be pretty weird I think to come back to the 500, I’m going to go to the 500 whether I’ve got any work to do or not. It will be pretty weird to be there and not race. That is going to be strange. I remember when (Steve) Letarte went into the (broadcast) booth, when he wasn’t working a race he had a hard time being there. He had a hard time watching it and not wanting to be a part of it. That was pretty difficult last year, but it was different circumstances with the injury. It will be interesting I guess when we get to the (Daytona) 500 next year and see how that all feels emotionally.”
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANYTHING THAT IS A DIFFERENCE MAKER SO FAR AFTER THE FIRST PRACTICE?
“Not really. We come off the trailer pretty fast and everything we’ve sort of worked on in practice we haven’t really uncovered anything of note. But, the track isn’t quite as fast as it was last year. I was looking at the lap times in the first practice and we got quicker and quicker, especially when we put that last set of tires on everybody was running in the 15’s. That didn’t really happen today for whatever reason, weather or whatever. But we will see, we had a really good car last year on Friday and we didn’t carry that speed over into the race for whatever reason. We just are going to be aware of what kind of… you look at what your comments are today, then you look at what your comments are on Sunday from last year and you try to get ahead of that. And say alright, what we are fighting today this is going to get worse, this issue on Friday isn’t even in the race. Something get worse, somethings go away completely and that is the same every week. We try to look at those notes and get ahead of it and work on the things that we think are really going to crop up in the race. That is going to be forward drive, trying to get out of the corners getting the power down, especially around Turn 7 or whatever you want to call that corner down there at the end where we turn around and come back this way. That is a real hard corner to get the power down. You are in second gear, you are going to go to third gear, you are all the way down in first gear there so you’ve got to go to second and third gear trying to shift and get the power down before you hit the esses. There is a lot of time there to be lost or gained. You try to work on those things as hard as you can today.”
YOU MENTIONED HAVING SOME WORK NEXT SEASON THERE WAS A REPORT LAST WEEK THAT YOU HAVE BEEN TALKING TO THE TV NETWORKS. CAN YOU SAY HOW LIKELY IT IS THAT NASCAR FANS MAY SEE YOU ON TV NEXT SEASON?
“Well, I definitely did enjoy doing that and we are certainly open to discussing the possibility of seeing what options I have. Who wanted us, what kind of job they want me for and we are sort of in the middle of understanding that and that just goes along the lines of doing due diligence on everything. I’m not retiring from work. I want to keep seeking out opportunities to make a living and make money and be relevant be a value to my partners. I want to continue to be a part of the sport and not just as an owner in the Xfinity series. I want to be a valuable asset to the growth of the sport and continue to help raise the bar and raise the awareness of the sport and promote the sport as much as I can. So, we were just kind of looking at what opportunities there are out there for me. Obviously signed with WME that is really sped up that process of being able to vet through some of these things. I think it is just a natural curiosity for me to see really what those options are on broadcasting.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR. WAS IN HERE BEFORE TALKING ABOUT THAT HE BELIEVED THAT STAGE RACING IS MORE PROMINENTLY SHOWN AT THE PLATE TRACKS MORE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON THAT?
“Well, it certainly is going to show up more at the tracks where you can get into pit road and not get lapped. Road courses, Indianapolis, the plate tracks, are kind of close to that. These guys can do all kinds of strategies in those scenarios where you can get down pit road and get back out on the track without losing a lap. You can cut them stages short and try to leapfrog some guys as they pit during the stage break. You see a little bit of that, too, when NASCAR throws a yellow shortly before the end of the stage. Like in the Xfinity race last week, we had a caution with three laps left in a stage. Obviously, that shook, it all up. The No. 1 car got some points toward the championship and the guys that aren’t in the points, they ended up cycling all different kinds of ways and checking everything off. You’re going to see that at the plate tracks. You’re also probably going to see that here and at Indy and maybe at some other places.”
YOU SAID IN ONE OF YOUR ANSWERS THAT THE TRACKS HAVE MEMORIES. I REMEMBER ONE OF THE FIRST TIMES YOU WERE HERE, YOU INTRODUCED YOURSELF TO THE TIRE WALL IN TURN 1. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR BEST MEMORIES AND WORST MEMORIES OF THIS PLACE?
“My best memory is definitely when we finished third here about four years ago. And we had just started kind of winning races again as a team, and we were celebrating those races with a lot of energy. We’d all fly back home and they’d come over to the house, I don’t care if it was midnight or four o’clock in the morning, we were having a team party if we won the race. Everybody was off on Monday. We were going to go to the house and have fun. And when we run third here, I think we all said we’re going back to the house and everybody showed up when they got off of flying, they flew like nine hours with two stops on the way home. But everybody showed up pretty much the next morning at the house and I think we partied harder for that third place than we did for any win that year. And we were just so proud of ourselves because I ran here for so long and I think our best finish was 11th forever. Just couldn’t get it done and couldn’t figure out how to get around here. This place is not as challenging, technically, as The Glen. The Glen has the straightaway turn, straightaway turn. This thing has turns in succession so if you screw the first one up, all the rest of them are messed up until you can get out and get on to some straightaway to just sort of calm down. So, it’s a really technical race track.
“But that was probably our best memory here. Obviously Fast Friday last year; that was a surprise. We didn’t expect to be that quick. So that was a great thing to go over there and get the scissors and stand in Victory Lane. I’m sure that surprised everybody. We’ve had some rough days here. The funny thing is, is there’s not any bad memories that really stick out because we don’t really come in here with high expectations (laughter). So, when we have a bad day, it’s easy to brush off, you know? You go to tracks like Daytona, where you think you should win, and if you have a terrible day there, you beat yourself up forever trying to figure out what happened. But if we don’t come out of here with a good day, it just wasn’t meant to be. But, I certainly have gotten closer to the track and enjoy coming here than I used to. It was just really challenging for me, for so long. But our cars have been really good here lately.”