MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
I LOVE NEW YORK 355
WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL
TEAM CHEVY PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
AUGUST 5, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his season thus far, the differences between Sonoma and Watkins Glen, road course racing in general, and more. Full Transcript:
TALK ABOUT WHAT IT HAS BEEN LIKE TO INTERACT WITH FANS DURING YOUR APPRECIATION TOUR:
“I’m proud of Mike Davis and all of the work that the folks at JR Motorsports put into putting together some sort of a campaign that targets what we want to target. Hopefully we are doing a good job of showing the fans what they mean to my career and to me and the team. We have a few more shots along the way to make that happen. It has been great. The fans have been real supportive and I Iook forward to the rest of the season.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH T.J. MAJORS:
“Well, he was the best man at my wedding so he means quite a bit to me personally as a friend. He’s a great spotter, the best spotter particularly on the (restrictor) plate tracks. We really complement each other well at those tracks. That gives me a lot of confidence when I am out there. He is a guy that has drove a little bit so he kind of understands what he is seeing. He is good to talk to and bounce stuff off of outside the car. He’s just been really supportive for me. He just had another child this week. He is an incredible father. He is setting a good example for me there. Just a really good guy that it has been a lot of fun to work with. Whoever gets to work with him next year, they are getting somebody that knows what they are doing, and he makes a difference I think in how we perform. He is a compliment to the team for sure.”
DO PEOPLE HAVE TOO BIG OF EXPECTATIONS FOR YOU COMING BACK FROM BEING OUT LAST SEASON? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE BACK AT YOU WERE LAST YEAR?
“I feel like I was ready to go personally and physically. We have just not run good this year at the majority of the races. I don’t know that has anything to do with any individual. It is just that you have good years and you have bad years. We just didn’t draw the right cards. Just a lot of circumstances have led to the performance of our car this year that you can’t really put on one thing. As far as just frustration on the track, you want to go out there and run good. It isn’t where we want it to be. Today has been a struggle. We thought we had a great car at Sonoma coming in here. The car is not very good off the truck. We are making a ton of changes right now. I don’t know what the expectations were. I really don’t know what people would assume what we are capable of. I personally thought we…I know what our potential is. You look at 2013, 14, 15…that is our potential. We have been progressing as a team for years all through that period. I expect us to be able to maintain that type of performance, and we haven’t been able to do it. I think that is what we are capable of, but for a lot of reasons we haven’t been able to put it together and have the speed we need in the cars. The No. 42 (Kyle Larson) has been really strong all year. The No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.), they are really strong, they are in a different world man. We want to go out and win races…it is easy to say that, but damn; we have a lot of speed to find. It isn’t like we are going to show up and drive around those. We have some work to do before the end of the year if we want to feel like we can legitimately contend for a win. We had a little speed earlier in the season I thought. We got through Texas and I felt like that things are where they should be. We have lot a little bit along the way at a few stops. Just losing a little bit here and there. We haven’t really developed any speed through the season as we have progressed through the year; we sort of have not found anything additional to what we had at the start of the year. A lot of teams have and we are sort of playing catch up right now.”
DO YOU RECALL YOUR DAD WINNING THE POLE HERE WITH A SEPARATED SHOULDER? WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WATKINS GLEN FOR YOUR FAMILY:
“That was pretty cool. A lot of people thought that was a big deal. He was hurt and in a lot of pain, but he must have had a really, really damn good race car that day. He could drive them but the car had to have been pretty incredible as well so you have to give Richard Childress and the guys working on that team at the time a lot of credit to give him a car he could drive. He led a lot of laps in the race I think and didn’t finish too poorly. Just another circumstance in his career that define him as a person and how tough he was. The Glen….nothing really sticks out otherwise to me as far as my Father’s career. But, obviously our win here in the Xfinity Series was a big deal. Didn’t realize what a big deal it was. Now that I have run all these years in the cup series and realize just how much of a challenge road course racing is and have seen some people do it really, really well. I realize kind of what that win what we really accomplished that day. There was a lot happening for us at that particular time. Now that I have been through all these years, knowing how challenging it is to beat some of these guys and how good some of these road course guys are and some of these cup regulars have gotten. It is something I am quite proud of.”
HAVE YOU BEEN AROUND THIS TRACK THAT INCLUDES THE BOOT? SHOULD NASCAR RACE THE BOOT? THERE HAS BEEN SOME SIMULATION TO STUDY POSSIBILITY:
“I think it would be great. I don’t think it is an incredible adjustment for anybody – the teams, the fans, the sport. Just adding a little bit more distance to the track. So it’s not a major change that I think would affect the bottom line when it comes to economics. It might actually give a little bit of spark to the people tuning in, so might like to see how that goes the first time around. I think it would be neat to try it and see how it goes first time around. Doesn’t seem like you need a simulation for that, just go out there and do it.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT YOUR XFINITY SERIES TEAM THIS YEAR RUNNING FIRST THROUGH THIRD IN THE STANDINGS, WHO DO YOU VIEW AS THE BIGGEST COMPETITION GOING INTO THE PLAYOFFS?
“I haven’t really looked at the points. Obviously, anybody driving a Gibbs car full time is going to be competition. Those guys produce incredible equipment and fast cars. And especially as the playoffs show up, a lot of guys have parts and pieces on the shelf that they ain’t going to run until it’s time to win. And you’re going to see it at the Xfinity level, the Truck level, and the Cup level. You’re going to see some teams become more competitive. So, we’re having a great season. I think that we definitely are in the conversation with where our guys are, but you don’t take anything for granted. You don’t really know what everybody is holding back and what everybody might have in store for themselves going into those last few races.
“Some of these guys maybe, like I say, they may have some performance and speed sitting on their shelf that they’re just not willing to run until the time is right. And they also might be trying to develop other ideas and theories within their own set-ups that they’re trying to find some advantage before the playoffs get here.
“It seems like the guys who are competitive and even the guys that win the championship in the Cup and Xfinity Series, but more so the Cup Series, look at their regular season. They’re not the guy that everybody was talking about. Look at Jimmie (Johnson) last year or Kyle (Busch) when he won. They struggled in mid-season Summer time. When (Brad) Keselowski won the championship, Hendrick cars were beating everybody all through the regular season. You can’t really determine who is going to be strong when it comes down to it.
“So, we’re having a great year. I’m glad. But, I told the guys after we won Indy, I said, we’ve still got to keep our guard up and stay at it and not think that it’s going to be easy.”
YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF YEARS OF SUCCESS, BUT YOU’VE ALSO HAD A COUPLE OF TRYING YEARS. WHAT DID YOU DO TO GET THROUGH THOSE YEARS AND ARE YOU PULLING ON ANY OF THAT THIS YEAR TO POINT YOUR TEAM IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION AND SAY WE CAN STILL DO THIS?
“Yeah, we had some pretty rough years; more difficult years than this season. At least this year, at times, we’ve had some speed. I’ve had seasons where we’ve had no speed. We ran bad and I finished bad. But at least at times this year there’s been some glimpse of potential. But, I’m not going to be able to tell my team anything they don’t know. They understand the reality of the situation and where we are competition-wise and points-wise. The only thing I’ve told them is one of these races we’re going to show up and we might have what we need. And for us to be able to win that weekend, we need to be ready mentally. We can’t drag our feet into the race track on Friday and expect to be on our game on Sunday. We have to go into every race like this is going to be the week that we get it done. I think that’s the only attitude you can have if you expect to take advantage of an opportunity because one might fall in your lap and we just might find what we’re looking for before the season is over. Certainly if we miss the playoffs, we’re still going to try to win a race. We’re still going to show up and try to give it everything we’ve got. So, there’s nothing worse than leaving the race track feeling like you didn’t try your best or didn’t give everything you had. And I certainly ain’t going to finish my last season like that and carry that with me the rest of my life. So, we’re going to work hard all the way to the very end and hopefully we have something to smile about at some point before it’s over with.”
YOU ARE A STUDENT OF THE SPORT. WE ARE HEARING ABOUT DRIVERS WHO MAY NOT HAVE CONTRACTS FOR NEXT YEAR AND TEAMS WHO MIGHT CUT BACK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AS THE DYNAMIC GOING FORWARD AND CHANGES DO YOU SEE THAT THE SPORT NEEDS TO SUCCEED?
“I don’t know (laughter). You can probably figure that out before I can. But, I’ll tell you one thing that’s new and that’s good. A lot of these young drivers are taking smaller contracts. You’ve got to look at guys like myself. There’s sort of been a major shift in how much drivers are getting paid. How they’re getting obviously changed with the new agreement we had a couple of years ago. Drivers started taking more of the purse. I don’t know everybody’s contract situation, but there is a less of a base and more purse-driven. But one thing that’s changed is that you’ve got a lot of young guys coming in being offered and accepting contracts that are a fifth to a tenth of what veterans are getting paid. And, that’s money that can go into the team, you know? These sponsors aren’t giving teams the money that they used to. So, the owners and everybody’s got to take a little cut. Everybody’s got to dial it back. Everybody’s got to realize that they have to accept some of that fallback and difference. And that’s the same with the drivers’ contracts. A lot of these veteran drivers are getting paid multi-million dollars; and a lot of these guys coming in are getting a fraction of that.
“Well, when you look at it, you’ve got a car, right? Say we all are sitting here with race cars and nobody to drive them. You’ve got a guy that you think has got a lot of talent, very young, a lot of potential. And then you’ve got a veteran who is established. But he wants three, four, five, or six times the amount of money. You’re going to go with the younger guy because it’s a better deal financially. So, that’s something that I think is transitioning in the sport. It took a while but when we had our major reset when the recession hit and everything sort of changed and the value of everything changed, the trickle-down affect I think is coming down through the drivers contract and it’s making a big difference in the decisions these owners are making. You can’t pay a driver five to eight million dollars a year if you ain’t got but $10 million worth of sponsorship. That ain’t going to work. Guys aren’t getting $20, $30, $40 million a year on sponsorship. Owners aren’t getting that anymore. Drivers are having to sort of understand that change is coming down the pike if it hasn’t happened to them yet, it’s going to happen to them. And the young guys, they don’t know any better. They want to race and they’re taking whatever they can get. That’s a good change for the owners. Somewhere in a quote years ago, I do believe I admitted to being overpaid (laughter). But I wasn’t going to complain. That’s a shift that’s going to be better for the sport and get those salaries into a realistic range for how much money we have from corporate America. All those things have to change, you know? Drivers’ salaries included. Yeah, all those drivers out there in the garage are going to say that’s easy for him to say (laughter).”
THIS IS YOUR LAST SEASON IN CUP RACING, BUT WILL YOU MAKE ANY GUEST APPEARANCES IN CUP OR MAYBE VINTAGE OR MAYBE A 24-HOUR RACE OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT?
“No, I don’t have any plans to do anything like that. I have no real curiosity of doing much of that. I’m going to run two Xfinity races next year. We haven’t really sat down and talked about where or whatever. I’ve never ran that Iowa race and I think that’s amazing what that track does in being able to run multiple grooves there. It looks like a lot of fun. I tested there one time a long time ago, when me and (Martin) Truex were teammates at DEI. But, I’ve never been back and I think it would be fun to go there. We’ve got to figure out where we’re going to run those two races and that’s really all I have planned. We have our Late Models and I’ve talked about, or half-joked about, going and running them one time. But that’s something if I did anything outside of the Xfinity stuff, it would just probably be messing with my Late Model or something somewhere. Outside of that I really don’t have much interest to be honest with you.”
WHAT ROLE HAS WATKINS GLEN PLAYED IN YOUR DEVELOPMENT AS A DRIVER OVER THE COURSE OF THESE YEARS?
“It’s played a big role, actually. I remember before we ran the Xfinity races here, my father and DEI making an investment in me and Steve Parks in Bondurant to be schooled by some of the best instructors in road course racing. That was an incredible experience for me as a young guy at that time. And it was quite common for a lot of folks to go to Bondurant and get a little bit of tutoring. It was really helpful for me. Obviously we came here and had good speed and ended up winning. And, we did all that preparation strictly because the Glen was the only track we had to run in road course racing. It also introduced me to a lot of individuals that I have become great friends with and admire (like) Boris Said and Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim and a lot of the guys I leaned on for advice and support when it came to getting around road courses. I was introduced to those guys due to our involvement in racing here.
“It’s not as technical as Sonoma. You have a little bit of time when you screw-up a corner. You really don’t go into another corner. At Sonoma when you mess-up one (corner), you mess-up the next three or four, because they all really kind of have to work together. You have to hit each corner right to get through that series of directions. At the Glen, it’s a little simpler. And that’s good for guys who are inexperienced at road course racing. You go down a straightaway, you turn. You go down a straightaway, you turn. You sort of get to think about what you’re doing wrong and you can see how to improve it and see how to fix it. I never came here as intimidated by the track as I was at maybe Sonoma and some of these other places. This track, to me, was something that was achievable if I applied myself. And I think we certainly worked hard on it early on going to Bondurant and getting to know all those different guys I named to learn what we could.
“But, if there is a road course I think the Cup cars can get around pretty good, this would be it. The Cup cars weren’t really built for road courses, but this place here is easy to get around. I don’t want to say it’s easy to get around. It’s hard to explain, but I think for a young guy it’s not improbable to come here and figure it out, you know? If you’re not a road course racer, don’t strive to be great at it. You can still come here and do really well with the right equipment and applying yourself outside the car to become as good as you can at road racing. Sonoma on the other hand, is not where our cars can get around very easily and it’s a handful to help your team and figure out what you need in the car. But here, it’s a little bit different. I like coming here and I like the series coming here. The weather is always really pretty good. And the fans support this place consistently. So, it’s a good stop.”