DALE EARNHARDT, JR, NO. 88 CHEVROLET SS AND TEAM OWNER RICK HENDRICK, met with the media at Hendrick Motorsports to discuss Dale, Jr.’s announcement that he would be retiring at the end of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season. Full Transcript:
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Good afternoon. I want to thank everybody for being here today especially on such short notice. It’s good to see a lot of familiar faces. We’re here today to confirm the news you received this morning that I’ve decided to make this season my last as a NASCAR Cup driver. The response just in the last six hours from teammates, colleagues and friends and fans has been incredibly overwhelming.
So, before I go any further, I just want to thank everybody for making me feel pretty incredible today. You’re wondering why I reached this decision, it’s really simple. I just wanted the opportunity to go out on my own terms. I wanted to honor my commitment to Rick, to my sponsors, to my team, and to the fans. I’ll admit, that having influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely.
As you know, I missed a few races last year and during that time I had to face the realization that my driving career may have already ended without me as so much getting a vote at the table. Of course in life we’re not promised a vote, and that’s especially true in racing.
But, during my rehab, I was given something else that I wasn’t accustomed to, and that was time. Time to understand what’s important to me, time to realize the incredible support system I have in my wife, my team, and my doctors, and time to work like hell to wrestle back some semblance of say‑so in this whole matter. So that became my motivation. The opportunity to stand here at this podium to announce my choice rather than some fate that was decided for me.
In that regard, the race car wasn’t my goal, it was merely the vehicle that got me here today.
Now planning my exit this way gives me the chance to publicly thank those who made the last 18 years possible. First and foremost, Rick Hendrick.
Without a shadow of a doubt, I think the toughest thing about this decision was having to tell you. I just didn’t want to disappoint you. You mean so much to me.
So, on March 29th, I drove over and had the conversation with him, and his response, he told me he loved me. Becoming a bigger part of your life has changed mine forever. You gave me guidance and direction that will reward me for as long as I live.
My wife, Amy, most of you have been around long enough to know what I was like before I met Amy. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t remind me of the incredible positive impact she’s had on me. Through thick and thin, Amy’s support and encouragement has been constant. The rehab that I spoke of earlier, she went through it too. The only difference is she didn’t have to, but she did. There were no days off. There were no hours off. There were no minutes off. It was just Amy and me. Without her help in those days of recovery, I wouldn’t have been able to return to the track for this season.
The most difficult thing, or the second most difficult thing about this decision was telling my brothers. Greg Ives and the guys on my 88 Team. It’s a privilege to race with this group. Greg is one of the most talented yet humble guys in the garage. We are very close, and I appreciate the sacrifices that he and his family have made for the good of our team.
For my road crew to the pit crew to all the people in the 48/88 shop, I’m a better driver and a better person for my time with you guys. You’ve helped me mature and grow well beyond the racetrack. We loved to work together, and I look forward to every single trip we have left on the schedule this season.
Kelley Earnhardt Miller, I think if I were to sum up Kelley’s life in one word, it would be sacrifice. You all know the stories, and they’re all true. She dropped out of one school to enroll in military school, where I was, because she was worried about me. She came to work for me even though it meant that she’d have to take a massive pay cut, but she knew that I needed her. She didn’t think twice about it.
She made it her life mission to have my back. I’m telling you today, Kelley, how much I appreciate that.
Brenda Jackson, my mother, she loves me through my good races and my bad races. But what makes her uniquely my own is she definitely is going to tell me when it was a bad race. Everybody deserves to have someone in their life that you never have to wonder, and with my mother, I never have to wonder.
To my father, Dale Earnhardt, I would not have been a race car driver if it not for him. He believed in me. It might have taken a little encouragement from Tony Eury Sr., but eventually dad came around. I appreciate my father, everything he put into my career, and all the guys on the old 80 AC Delco team who gave me a shot.
To all the team members and co‑workers that I’ve worked with: I’ve only driven for two teams in my career, from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports, I was blessed to work with the most, body men, chassis builders, engine builders and so on. As I matured personally, the bonds I formulated with my team became so very important to me. They weren’t just co‑workers, they were friends. We cared for each other. We could fight like brothers, which me and Tony Jr. so often did. But I needed them, and I so badly wanted them to need me. I miss that camaraderie, and I’ll miss it for the rest of my life. But the friendships I’ve made will live beyond the time we’ve spent in the garage together.
To my fans: One thing that’s made this career the incredible ride that it’s been is Junior Nation. The fan support that I received straight out of the gate was in large part because of my famous last name. But throughout the ups and downs it occurred to me that the fans that stuck it out and the new ones that joined us, they were there because of the person I was and not who they wanted me to be.
By the end of my career, thanks in large part to social media, I’ve really gained a new appreciation for their dedication, their enthusiasm when we succeed, and their encouragement when we fall short of our goals. I don’t think that anything in my professional career has meant more to me than the treatment that I’ve received from track to track by the fans that so dearly love our sport.
To our sponsors ‑‑ this wouldn’t be an official NASCAR event unless we fired off some official sponsor appreciation. In the beginning of my Cup career, there was Budweiser. They sent me on a trajectory that was unprecedented. Steve Uline, Tony Ponturo, and their team of people, wherever you are today, thank you so much for taking that big leap of faith with me.
I want to recognize Pepsi‑Cola and National Guard for their role in my move to Hendrick Motorsports. They were the ones that got the 88 program off the ground, and to this day, I continue to enjoy a partnership with Pepsi and Mountain Dew.
Charlie Shaver, Jim Muse, and William Sturgill with Axalta, you guys have accepted me as your own. You’re building an incredible legacy here at Hendrick Motorsports. You’re fully invested into the 88 Team, and you’ve helped me take our Dirty Mo Media from a vision to reality. So for all those things, I’m very appreciative.
Steve Rasmussen, Terrance Williams and Jim McCoy all the folks at Nationwide, our partnership goes back a very long time. Maybe you guys heard it, but the Earnhardt family has been with Nationwide for more than 30 years.
But what I’m proud of more is we’ve accomplished a lot in the last ten. I hope you guys are as proud as I am, and by the way, Jim, I know you’re here in the room. I’m just going to say what everyone else here in the room is thinking, your brilliant use of the retired Peyton Manning is to be commended, if not replicated.
To Jim Campbell and Terry Dolan, it’s an honor to carry that Chevrolet Bowtie on my cars. I don’t just mean that on the racetrack, I’m Chevrolet for life.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have many other partners invest in my career, and I look forward to talking to them over the next several months, and I hope you feel I did a great job for you. I want you to know that my work’s not finished.
I also want to thank NASCAR for giving me and a whole lot of other fortunate people a place to race. I’ve never taken that for granted. Thanks to the France family for your support, and thank you to Mike Helton who has given me tons of personal advice. He’s always shot me straight, and he’s been a tremendous role model for me.
The sport is in a great place with incredible, exciting, young talent emerging as we speak. I look forward to seeing what the future and current stars in the sport can accomplish in the years to come.
In closing, I am eager to explore new opportunities. I don’t see myself really detaching from NASCAR. My intention is still to be involved in the sport on some level. In fact, I still have two XFINITY races to run for JR Motorsports in 2018, so even after this season is over, you’ve not seen the last of me on the racetrack. But more than that, I want to be a part of the future of this sport for many, many years to come. Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: Genuine, the one word I always think about when I think of Dale Jr., and I think we saw it there. We’re going to take questions from folks here in the audience.
Before we do that, Mr. H, wanted to first give you an opportunity to reflect on over the past not quite a month since that conversation, your thoughts today?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, first of all, I want to make it clear that I wasn’t the one that said we had to wear a suit, because the first time we went somewhere I had to get you to put your shirt tail in, today you made me wear the suit.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: That’s right. A lot of things have changed.
RICK HENDRICK: First of all, Dale, Kelley and his family, they’re more to me than just a race car driver. He’s like a son, and we’ve had, I don’t know, for many, many years a tremendous relationship. I really appreciate what we’ve been able to do together. And I appreciate the kind of guy you are and what you’ve done for this sport, for NASCAR, for me personally, our company, the sponsors and everyone. And to the person that I’ve talked to in the last few days, sponsors and all of our partners, the first thing they’ve said, we want what Dale wants. We want what’s best for Dale.
You have delivered and given more than anybody I know. I’m fortunate today because you and I have got a lot left to do. Dale wants to help me here at Motorsports, and at JRM bringing the young drivers along. We’re in the automobile business together, so I feel like I’m excited about the next chapter.
You deserve everything, all the awards, and all of the accolades. There will never be another Dale Earnhardt Jr. You’re the one. But I’m just super excited and very appreciative of what you’ve done and what you’ve meant to me personally, and what you’ve done for our company. But most of all, what you mean in my life.
- Dale, retirement decisions often come down to help, passion or ability. Do you feel any of those are the primary reasons for this decision?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, I don’t think that one of them stands out above the other. I had a lot to think about over the last several months, and I was not sure that I would have the opportunity to compete. This season has been a blessing to me. It’s been a gift to be at the racetrack, to run every lap. I don’t remember myself ever being so excited for practice on Friday and Saturday, getting up at 8:30 in the morning.
Not 18 months ago I was on Twitter complaining about 8:30 practices, and I can’t wait to get to them now.
I just want to have ‑‑ I wanted to be able to make that decision myself on retiring and not really have it made for me. But I feel healthy. I’m having a really good time driving the cars and enjoying that with my team. We spoke this morning, and that was the real message, really, was that we feel competitive. We feel like we can go out there and do well. We’ve had some odd luck, but when the luck has been there, the results have been there, and the speed has been there in the car.
So I’m excited about the races that I have left. Again, it’s like the practices and the mornings that I get so excited for. Used to complain about the season how long it is, and this one here can drag on along for a while if it’s all right.
- Dale, when you sat down with a few of us back at speed weeks, you said that you had not ‑‑ that you were going to take the first couple months of the season before you decided whether you’d sign a contract extension. You said earlier that you first spoke to Rick about it on March 29th. So that’s probably about a month’s worth of time. Were you relatively quick in deciding that you were going to make this decision into the new year?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I made it just shortly before I talked to Rick and let him know my decision. So obviously I think every driver thinks about retirement and how they want that ‑‑ what they think that looks like for them as they get to a certain age. But I wasn’t really thinking about that too much until the last couple years. Once I started to realize how delicate things are and how quickly that can be made for you, it’s something I had to start thinking about quite seriously.
But, yeah, as soon as I got my mind made up, I got in touch with Rick and told him that I had made my decision, and that we should sit down and discuss.
- Dale, you’re sitting beside one of the most successful car owners in the history of Motorsports. Should we be shocked somewhere down the line if you and Kelley decide to evolve JR Motorsports into a Cup level team? Is that part of your scenario?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Kelley’s shaking her head no over here, so I’m going to have to go with that. I’d be honest with you, I’ve often admired the work that it takes and the commitment that it takes having been close to my family’s business, and obviously very close to Rick. I get to see just how much effort it takes that goes into it. Not only does Rick have to manage all of his automotive industry and empire, but this is a full‑time job in itself.
I tell him all the time that he’s old enough to start relaxing a little bit, but he won’t listen. So he loves to win. He’d rather be in Victory Lane than fishing off the back of his boat. Just barely, but that’s how he is.
I really enjoy being in the XFINITY. There is a reward that I get of helping people achieve their goals and get to the next level. Luckily with our relationship with Rick, we’ve been able to accelerate that and make some great things happen for a lot of people, whether it be drivers, crew chiefs, and aspiring crew chiefs. That’s really so rewarding to me. That’s even greater than the wins to see somebody get a job somewhere on a Cup level, get an opportunity to step up.
I feel like we’re doing it right if we’re giving people that platform, that springboard. I don’t know if you can replicate that anywhere else. I really enjoy that.
- I wonder if part of this takes pressure off you if you knew this decision was coming and a lot of people are debating publicly, is this really hard on him. Was he doing it because he felt a pressure to stay or to leave. Is any part of it that lets the future open up for you that you feel like the pressure’s off? And you sitting there in a suit, you are a businessman. You own Whisky River, you own JR Motorsports, would you like to be on the business side of things more, and do you see that for your future?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I definitely ‑‑ my heart loves being in the car. I love driving, and I enjoy it as much as I ever have. There’s a lot about it that I really love, and I love to do. And I think you guys see that when you’re at the track. We all know there is no fooling. But it’s not ‑‑ I don’t know that it’s been ‑‑ it’s really emotional. I just don’t like letting people down and worry about disappointing my boss and my friend, and my crew.
These guys, we all depend on each other to be there every day and to come in and say I’m not going to be here one day is very difficult. We all kind of wish we could stay together forever. But I’m still going to be here and want to be an influence and a part of their success, however that may be. I do have ambition to work. I’m not going to quit working. There’s a feeling of being an asset to something.
I don’t have to be the guy holding the trophy. But being part of that success, I really enjoy. I really enjoy making people happy and doing stuff as a team. I think I can replicate that in the next chapter of my life.
I’m certainly excited about all the things we’ve had going on with the dealerships and Whisky River. We’re growing the Whisky River in the airport locations, and the dealership is, I think, one of the best dealerships that Rick’s ever opened, to be honest.
RICK HENDRICK: Probably is.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: First class place.
RICK HENDRICK: Did you tell them, if they need a car call you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It’s in Jacksonville, if you want to go down there. It’s the only Chevy store in town, single port market.
RICK HENDRICK: It’s in Tallahassee.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I’m sorry, Tallahassee (laughing). I’m a little spun out up here, sorry. But, anyways, I’m really excited about all those opportunities and being a bigger part of that. If they’re going to succeed, I’m definitely going to have to be involved and be a part of that.
I’ve made two or three trips a year down to the dealership, and we’ve certainly been a big part of the Whisky River brand since we opened it. Yeah, I can be more involved in that stuff. But it’s not going to succeed without my involvement, I know that, so I’ve got to be dedicated to it.
- This season hasn’t started probably like you’d like it to have started. If you had a win or two by now, would that have delayed this decision, do you think?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: That’s pretty hypothetical. I don’t know. I think that ‑‑ I do love winning races, but it’s not the priority as far as ‑‑ it’s not the one thing that I enjoy the most. The one thing that I enjoy the most about racing is my relationships with my team, my friendships with those guys and working with them now. When it goes right, we win races, we celebrate together, and that’s awesome.
But the friendships are much more important to me. Winning races is not that much fun when you don’t enjoy who you’re doing it with. Nothing, no success is really as sweet when the people you’re doing it with isn’t someone you connect to or have a relationship with. I think I got much better at that at the end of my career.
When I was young, I was really good at running everybody out of the shop with my mouth, and now I think I’m getting everybody together and rallying everybody and getting everybody excited about each thing we’re doing. So certainly learned a lot and matured. It’s been through those relationships and working with my team, my crew chiefs that I’ve grown. The wins were really important, and still are in a selfish way. But the friendships and the relationships that you make are things that will last forever.
- When you look at the big picture, the Daytona wins, Cup wins, the XFINITY wins, one day though people are going to remember that involuntarily you raised awareness of concussion treatment, and voluntarily you’re doing some major things. A lot of people are going to be very healthy and families are going to be together. How does that make you feel?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, I don’t really ‑‑ it makes you feel great. Anytime you get a letter in the mail or you run into somebody at the racetrack or wherever you’re at, and I’ve even had guys within our own organization come up to me and tell me how that’s effected them or helped them understand part of it or what to do or gotten them their own help.
One of the greatest things about that whole experience ‑‑ one of the greatest things about it is when I went up there to Pittsburgh and got the help from Mickey and those guys, I had some people come out of the woods wondering where do I get this help. Then to hear their success stories and hear them go up there, get the help they’ve been looking for for all these years, it’s been a tremendous experience for me.
So I enjoy helping people get in front of the right people. And I think this man here has made a big impact on my life and set that example for me. One of the first things I learned about Rick when I came to drive here is some of the employees’ family members were ill. Him having gone through his illness that he went through, he knows the value of being in front of the right people at the right time and how critical that is. And he would put people on airplanes and fly them wherever they needed to be to be in front of the right people.
You would hear these stories way under the radar. Nobody was preaching it. He wasn’t talking about it. So the person that I’m proud of, that I am today, has a lot to do with being here, being around Rick, and being with his organization.
So I love to help people, and I think that that just ‑‑ all of that has rubbed off on me. Just being in this environment has made me better. But it’s awesome to have that opportunity to be able to get people in front of the right doctors and get them the right help.
- You typically wear your heart on your sleeve, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on exactly how you’re feeling today. You seem solemn, but you said you’re spun out up there. Is this a sad day for you? Are you relieved? What are your emotions today?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, there are a lot. Very, very bittersweet. You know, it seems like I’ve told you guys this so many times, so I hate to rehash it over and over. But when my dad was doing so well, and there were a couple guys coming into the sport that were sons, it was difficult for them to replicate their dad’s success. I just saw even at an early age before I was a driver, that growing up in that man’s shadow was going to be a really hard challenge, but I wanted to race, but I knew racing would put me in that shadow.
So I kind of just ‑‑ I knew the odds of me really having any talent at all and being able to do it were thin. They are for anyone. So at a very young age all I wanted to do was be able to make a living driving cars. I didn’t set goals. I didn’t dream of winning championships or Daytona 500s or working with one of the best owners in the business driving for one of the best organizations. I just wanted to do it. I just wanted to be able to do it. I was afraid of not being able to do it. So I guess what I’m saying is have I accomplished way more than I’ve ever dreamed. Way more than I ever thought I’d accomplish.
So I’m good, you know? I’m good on that front. I’m so blessed and fortunate as far as what I was able to achieve. But I’m very sad because I know that I let a lot of ‑‑ it’s definitely disappointing for a lot of people to wake up to that news this morning. I know we’ve got a lot of fans that are very sad for lack of a better way to describe it.
So I feel that emotion as well that what I’ve announced today has had that effect on a lot of people. But with that said, I never assume what kind of reaction I’m going to get from anything. But it’s been really positive, and that’s meant a lot to me.
So, yeah, there’s been some tears. The hardest part was telling Rick. I mean, me and him sit in the office and let it all hang out. We’ve said a lot of things to each other that I think we’ve both been wanting to say for a long time. You just never sit down and give yourself time to do it. Everybody’s so busy. So it’s been a lot of emotion.
At the same time, this isn’t the end of the road. I mean, we’ve got the rest of the year. I’m going to be in Richmond this weekend with my foot on the floor, going down the front straightaway, and this press conference will be a distant memory. So there is a lot of racing left that I’m excited about.
So I’m going to be on a little bit of a roller coaster this week, but I’m expecting it to be business as usual within a few days.
- You’ve almost made this sound like this was a simple decision. You said you wanted to go out on your terms. But can you explain what you went through in the process of coming to this point? How you determined it? You just talked about tears. How often did you cry? Was it in Rick’s office? Was it with Amy? How did it come to this point for you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, it’s hard to really spell that out. Going through what we went through last year was a challenge. I was pretty sick at one point. Didn’t think that I was going to get to race, and none of us were very confident that we were going to get to race again. I could tell that that was a very difficult thing for Rick, and I knew it was not a very good situation for my team to be in. Even though they did a great job with their substitutes and finished out the season really, really strong, it was just really hard to watch all that happen knowing that I had an effect on all of that and felt a little bit responsible for it.
But they picked up and got through it. They’ve done it before. This isn’t uncharted territory for Rick at all. But I don’t think I ‑‑ you know, going through that process, there were a lot of ups and downs. I knew when I got healthy that I’d want to get back in the car.
Once I started feeling like I’ve got to race again, I was talking to my docs, what do you think? I really kind of want to do this, it became about going to Rick and saying I really want to honor my contract, and I want to come back. For me, to know that I did it and I got healthy again, I wanted to make this decision on my own and not have it made for me.
It was really just a lot of time and a lot of emotion in that period. You think you’re out of the car, there’s crying at that point. You get healthy, I’m excited. I’m excited to be back in the car now and happy. But it’s a bit of sadness to make that decision to retire, but just a lot of stuff has happened over the last 10 months. We’d have to sit here for a few days to go over it to spell it all out.
But for me personally, it was a ‑‑ I’m at peace with the decision. I’m very comfortable with it. More concerned with the fallout of it, hoping that the transition for the team, the company and everything is a good one. They’ve got a lot of things to get excited about in their future. I just want the best for Rick, so I want to be a part of helping that process as we move along.
- The TV interview you did yesterday pretty much captured the essence of who you are as a racer, and there were a lot of jokes on the internet if that was loud‑talking Dale or if that was broken oil system Dale. It really captured who you are and why fans love you. I thought to myself in that moment, oh, NASCAR is so screwed when Dale retires. I literally looked and said that. So for both you and Rick, Tony’s gone, Jeff’s gone, and now Dale’s gone. What, and who is there to be excited about? What does this sport need? Because this is three huge names 3 years in a row.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, just to name two of probably a dozen guys that I’m excited about. I think that’s all I read about on Twitter yesterday was how awesome the race was and how much fun it is to watch Larson, and it’s true. He’s a real talent.
And all those guys have great attitudes, great personalities. I know them well enough to be excited about how fans are going to know them in the future. I feel like that these are the guys that they’re the cream of the crop, and maybe I’m the only one that sees it in this room, but I really have a lot of confidence in the personalities that we have.
In my history of being around the sport, there’s kind of always been these little gaps in between everything that cycles, whether it’s fashion or drivers or cars or whatever. It never really is a seamless transition from one to the next. I think that these guys that are coming in, they’re really sharp and smart about how to utilize social media, how to engage with fans.
You see the stuff that Blaney and Bubba do, and they’re not afraid to really show their personalities. That’s completely different than any of us older guys. We’ve never been like that. So this is a new batch of guys that are going to do things in a new way. They’re going to bring a lot of color and excitement and energy to the sport. We’ve just got to get them in front of the fans, let the fans get to know them, and I think the rest will take care of itself. But I’m thrilled. We definitely have tons of talent. There is no question. But I love the people they are.
Larson is cool as a cucumber. Easy to talk to, marketable. I mean, and Chase is the same way. Chase is so easy and approachable. That’s what you’ve got to be. These guys are effortless at it. So once they start to pick it up and understand the power of what they have at their fingertips, the sky’s the limit for NASCAR. I’m super excited about the future.
- Your perspective on that? You’ve had a bit of an eye for talent over the years?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I agree 100% with what Dale said. I don’t know what I can add, really. I think he’s exactly right. I’ve never seen so much young talent. I can remember when the question was all of our drivers are in their 40s or they’re going to be, what are we going to do when they retire? I think we’ve got the answer. They’re here, they’re young, they’re aggressive, they’re fun.
The Bristol race was one of the best races I’ve seen. It was close, nobody got into each other, or I didn’t see any of it. And I just give Dale a tremendous amount of credit for the eye for talent. He’s been a huge ‑‑ when I really want to know the facts, I’ll sit down with Dale, and he’ll give me the unfiltered no bias, hey, this guy’s good for this. This guy’s great at that.
And I think the difference is going to be Tony’s in the pits, Jeff’s on TV, Dale’s got a huge commitment with four teams. He’s going to help the team he just got out of the car with. So he’s going to be visible. He’s not walking away. I think the sport has got a lot to be excited about, and I think the fans ‑‑ let’s face it, Dale is unique. You can’t replace Dale. I mean he’s got so many just wonderful traits of his personality the way he cares about people, cares about everything he does, and that’s why so many people are attached to him.
But his commitment is to see the sport grow, and mine and every other owner and every other driver. I think we’re in a great position right now. The competition is equal. All the talent.
So, again, I’m excited about this second chapter in his life, because we’re going to do a lot of it together. But he also is still going to be in and around and visible in the sport, and help tap these young guys on the shoulder and really tutor them. Tell them what they’re doing wrong, what they could do better, and how to ‑‑ because he’s been through all those cycles of life, no one in the garage could be any better than Dale Earnhardt to mentor these guys because he’s been through all the different stages, and every one of them look up to him.
So I think we’re in a good place. I’m excited about the future and looking forward to, again, him helping me in a lot of different areas working together. So it’s going to be neat.
- Dale, if the Cup season was shorter by 6 to 10 races, would you still be sitting here today?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don’t know. That’s another hypothetical question, and I don’t think that’s ever going to be a reality. I think the train’s running down the track and it’s just getting up steam and there is no way to slow it down. Some of the drivers might want to cut a few races off the schedule, but I don’t ever see that happening.
Like I said, I kind of want this season to drag just a little just so we make sure we get everything we can out of it. I don’t know. I don’t know any different than what I’ve been doing. We get out of the car for a couple months, the month of December and January, and we talk about, man, that was a long season.
But by the time we’re done with Vegas, all of us are ready to drive something. Any of those drivers, even though they’re glad to be off, would love to strap in one and just go race somewhere. It don’t last long before that feeling that you need some time off, it doesn’t last very long. You’re ready to get back at it. I think it’s a part of the competition and the competitor inside you, but it’s also because we’re all a family.
Everybody, not just the teams, but you see all the same people in the garage, the media folks, and it’s just this big traveling circus, and we’re all part of it. You get used to that every week. And man, when it’s gone for four to eight weeks, you don’t know what to do with yourself.
I don’t know. Yeah, I look at the XFINITY schedule and get a little jealous sometimes. But I don’t think that has anything to do with my decision
- Mr. H has alluded to the second chapter a couple times saying there is a lot left for you do together. I gather a lot of that is going to be focused around driver development. So with all the factors that go into that with handling the media, the grueling schedules to getting behind the wheel and actually winning, what about who you are will make you effective at bringing those guys along?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, I’ve worked with all the guys that we’ve had over at JR Motorsports, and you just kind of step in there whenever you think that ‑‑ you know, there is a time and a place. A lot of guys learn from their own mistakes, and if you can watch them from a short distance, especially when you’re the owner of the car, you keep a short distance.
But you kind of watch them make these mistakes, and you see them learn from them. And if they don’t quite learn, you step in and say this is what happened there and this is why that happened. If you don’t understand what went wrong there, you’re doomed to make that mistake again. That might be how he communicates or what he does on the racetrack. It could be something he’s doing off the racetrack, his interaction with sponsors. You handle that on a case‑by‑case basis, and every guy handles that criticism differently. So the delivery is really important.
Some guys want you to come marching in banging your fist on the table. Other guys want you to put your arm around them and play some basketball and talk it out. But I enjoy the race team that we have at JR Motorsports and the fact that we have graduated so many people. That’s something that I look forward to over the next several years is to continue to be a breeding ground for talented men and women that are mechanics and crew chiefs and drivers.
Our connection to HMS is critical to us having success to be able to do that. But we’ve worked really hard to where we’re both assets for each other. The relationships got to work both ways, and we work very hard to make it to where it benefits Hendrick Motorsports as well and makes them better on Sunday, and we intend to keep that going.
- You made this decision nearly a month ago. Have you waffled back and forth? Has there been an internal struggle for you? Mr. Hendrick, have you tried to get him to change his mind?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, I’ve never woke up since I talked to Rick and had a change of heart. I think ‑‑ I wouldn’t do that to Rick, for one. I wasn’t going to him until I was 100% certain this was what I wanted to do, and he knows me well enough. So when I made my decision, it was easy to stick to it.
- We’ve seen a lot of drivers retire and maybe go try something that I’ve wanted to do. I saw Brian Vickers run Le Mans, we’ve seen Sports Car Racing, Sprint Cars, you have a lot of passion for late‑model stocks. You have the two XFINITY races next year. Do you see yourself doing anything else? Maybe going to Martinsville trying to win a clock in the late model or something like that? Or are you done with those two or wherever that may lead you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I’m definitely ‑‑ I think I’m open to being a driver over at JR Motorsports when it works and benefits the company. Certainly that’s why I’ve done that over the last several years. It’s a critical piece of our partnerships in many instances over there. So we’re definitely going to leave the book open to continue to do that, and open to do that, depending upon the packages that come across the table other.
Otherwise, I told Amy I might slip off and run a 40 lapper at Hickory one night. So if I’m missing on a Saturday night, she might know where I’m at. But other than that, I don’t have any plans.
- Dale, when you reflect back on your career from the race wins to the time with your guys and your team, what have you enjoyed the most? We still have quite a bit of racing to go in the season, so what would be a satisfying successful final season for you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I can say right now, winning races. We feel very confident that that’s not out of the question. Me and Greg have had more communication this year than ever. We started this off‑season sort of admitting to each other that we both could put more into this relationship. And for us to be successful or more successful, we’ve both kind of got to dig in. We’ve been communicating weekly about what we saw that we liked and didn’t like.
We’re utilizing that communication to keep motivating our guys when the chips are down and if we have results like we did this past weekend. But as positive as me and Greg are, that kind of trickles down to the rest of the team, and those guys are fired up. Especially after today and just talking to them this morning, we definitely have had a lot of urgency to go out there and try to make some things happen this year, which makes me feel good. So, yeah, to get some wins.
Obviously, if we win a few races, we make the Chase and get a chance to run for the championship. So all that stuff leads ‑‑ you know, one thing leads to another.
What do I look back and I’m mostly proud of? You know, coming out of the gate and winning two XFINITY Championships blew me away. I had ran 159 late model races and only won four. I didn’t think I was going to get a job. I thought, actually in ’97 dad came up to me and Kelley and said, Your late model funds have dried up.
And I ran about seven late model races that year and didn’t have anything else to do going on. I was struggling to figure out what my next step was. I called up James Finch and begged him to let me drive his car and he turned me down. I still give him crap about that today. But believe it or not, I know you guys, a lot of you weren’t around or some of you were, but there was a point around ’96, ’97 where it just about didn’t happen.
So going in there and winning those two championships and winning those a little more than a dozen races in a couple years was incredible. I was just shocked at everything we did every week. And to be doing it with Tony Junior, Tony Senior, my family, Uncle Danny, to be doing it with my dad’s family team was just so fun.
Then one of the other things was coming back from our injury in 2012 and winning the Daytona 500 with Rick. We won ‑‑ we swept the Pocono races which was really cool. But winning the Daytona 500, I always kind of wanted to leave some kind of mark here.
Jimmie Johnson’s got them all over the place. He’s marking up this joint left and right. Great teammate. But, yeah, I wanted to leave some kind of Mark that somebody would know I was here. When we won that Daytona 500, that made me feel good about my impression on the company. It’s always fun to win with Rick, because like I said, that’s what he loves the most.
- Whether it’s fair or not, a lot of people do associate the health of the sport with Dale Jr. and what he’s doing, and how he’s doing. Did any of that weigh on you in making this decision?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No. I just had to make the decision that I’m happy with. We certainly want to ‑‑ it’s a tough thing to have to tell people and certainly was challenging expressing to my family and very close friends what my decision was, with you I have to make the one that I want to make and the one I’m comfortable with living with. So that’s what I did.
- Rick, you’ve known for a month now about Dale’s decision, have any plans been set in motion about what will be done with the No. 88 come next speed weeks in Daytona?
RICK HENDRICK: No, we’ve got a lot of people to consider, meaning partners, like our sponsors, and we’ve just been talking to them. Priority one is to get everything prepared, get the day over with, and then we’ll take time to decide what we do there.
- Dale, can you talk about your relationship with Kelley and knowing you’ve got her by your side? How important knowing that you working with her side‑by‑side made this decision easier looking towards the future?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I’ve got to give not just Kelley a lot of credit, but my whole team, everybody at JR Motorsports Rick, and Jesse, and his whole group for helping make this decision a lot easier. Obviously my wife Amy has been ‑‑ she’s present every minute of the whole deal. So there’s been a lot of folks that have been part of this discussion over the last month.
Kelley certainly, as I said, she’s sacrificed so much to help me keep my business affairs in order. Not only being my general manager, but handling JR Motorsports, our licensing arm, and marketing arm and so many things. She’s been super supportive.
Mom was great. I thought mom would be so upset, but she was a real trooper. My uncle Danny, he was probably the one in the family that was most upset with me. He just loves watching us race so much. But anyways, it’s been a big group of guys. Mike Davis was a big, big part of it. So Tyler Overstreet and everybody involved, it’s been a group effort to organize this and letting the right people know, having the right conversations, plan it properly, and also to move forward and to be productive moving forward.
We’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
- Dale mentioned the toughest part was that meeting with you and not wanting to disappoint you. What was it like when he finally came to you and said for sure this was it? What was that meeting like for you?
RICK HENDRICK: Normally when we just extend it I get a call from Kelley saying get the paperwork ready, so when he said he wanted to talk to me, I had this inkling it might be pretty serious. But, again, I felt like a member of my family came and sat down with me and said this is what I’ve decided to do, and immediately ‑‑ I mean, I’d love to have him drive as long as I own a race team. But as the conversation went on, I felt like we’re going to do things together, and this was going to come at some point.
Everybody gets to a point in their career that they retire. I think we immediately ‑‑ we spent a lot of time talking about how much we’ve done together, care about each other, and then immediately went to the next chapter. But it was a tough conversation, very emotional conversation, but just because of our relationship and how we care about each other.
He knows there are just a lot of people involved. But I feel like when we came out of that deal we were excited about what’s next. So I’ve been trying to focus on what’s next.
But on one hand it was tough, but the other hand it was a great feeling that you can share with people that you don’t really have many of those opportunities in life.
- You have quite the farewell tour coming your way for the rest of the season. Jeff Gordon was a fan of it, Tony Stewart maybe not so much. Is that something you’re going to embrace for the rest of the season?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I really don’t know what to expect to be honest with you. It might not even do me much good to ask them two because they both had different opinions about it possibly. But I’ve been treated so well by the industry and by the fans everywhere we go.
It’s business as usual for me at the racetrack want to go in there, race, do well. But I’m sure it will be quite a bit different. So we’ll just take it as it comes. You know, we only have to go to Texas once instead of twice, so I know Eddie won’t have too many opportunities to pull any crazy stuff on me. He’s the only one I’m probably worried about to be honest with you.
- You’ve talked about your family support and the folks that were okay with the decision. Your uncle was a little disappointed, and you’ve dealt with some hypotheticals. One last one for you. What would your father say to you today?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, I’ll always let other people tell me what they think dad would think in a certain situation. I’ve always ‑‑ I never would have assumed that he was proud of me when he was alive. Certainly wouldn’t make that mistake after he passed.
I just never felt like I was worthy of assuming that of him. I always was open to hearing from people that know him really well what they think he would think. And I’ve talked to some people in the past 24 hours that know him pretty well, and they’re pretty confident that he would be very proud. I think there are a lot of things I’ve done over the last several years that he’d be super surprised. He’d probably be somewhere already surprised.
So I think he would have ‑‑ he wouldn’t tell me to my face, but he would probably tell Rick or anyone else that would listen here today that he was very proud of me, and then I’d have to go hear it from Rick.
RICK HENDRICK: I knew your daddy pretty well. I knew him real well. He would be proud of the man that you are and what you’ve done for so many, and all the charities and all the good will that you’ve done. He would be very, very, and is, is very proud of you.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, I was going to give you a chance for last comments, but that’s probably a great one for you to end on.
Dale Jr., closing thoughts?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I want to thank all the media for coming on such short notice. Things kind of got scrambled on our timing due to the weather yesterday in Bristol, so it was short notice for you guys and I appreciate that. Our relationship has always been really important to me, and I think I’ve got a great relationship with a lot of you guys and look forward to seeing you all throughout the rest of the season. Hopefully I’ll be in that media center for some podiums and possibly a few victories before the season is over with. So thank you very much for coming out today.
THE MODERATOR: Dale, you said you wanted people to know that you were here, take my word for it, they knew you were here, and throughout NASCAR Nation.
Thank you on behalf of all of us. Thank you on behalf of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports for joining us today, and have a great afternoon.