MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
TALE OF THE TURTLES 400
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
SEPTEMBER 15, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Chicagoland Speedway and discussed the importance of his win at Chicagoland in 2005, his goals for the remainder of the season, if there is a disparity among the manufacturers and many other topics. Full Transcript:
Chicagoland Speedway announced today that it would donate $8,800.00 to P.A.W.S. an organization in the Chicago area that is dedicated to helping animals. Over the weekend fans are bringing items to Chicagoland Speedway to assist in the efforts to helps those animals that are in peril after hurricane’s Harvey and Irma.
“That is awesome. I’m definitely a dog lover and a pet lover, so I appreciate the track for their donation and making a difference in the community. It’s awesome that there are programs like P.A.W.S. around that are taking care of these dogs. I’m sure that is going to help a lot, so I appreciate the track doing that. That is right on par, we are right in line with the types of things that we like to see at these race tracks from week to week as we finish out this last season. I really appreciate that. The thought is incredible and imagine all the animals that are going to make a difference for. Very important, so I appreciate that. This has been a very good relationship with this track over the years and it’s a race track that I enjoy. We won here a couple of years ago and definitely a track that has a lot of different grooves, which puts it right up towards the top of the list for me. Also, it’s an incredible market for us as a sport. I think we do really well here, so I appreciate that a lot, so, thank you.”
HOW BIG WAS YOUR 2005 WIN AT CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY?
“You know I think it was a … we talked about it in our social media content that we have been pushing out, our appreciation videos. Steve Hmiel had worked for us for a long time and I don’t know, I mean we had had difficult times as a company before losing Dad and all that and everybody stuck together. We had had a great year in 2004 and looked like we were on the uptick. A lot happened that last little bit of 2004 that changed a lot of things for the company and we struggled that year all across the board. Michael (Waltrip) ran great, but I think as a company we had taken some wrong turns. It certainly derailed my career. It was on a pretty good curve and it changed that dramatically. So, that win was about the only thing we had to celebrate that year.
“I had a lot of admiration for Steve Hmiel for who he was and what he had done in the sport. I looked up to him because of his history and where he had been. I thought it was cool that he even worked at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.), but for him to kind of step down he stepped out of a manger role to crew chief. He could have said ‘we’ve got this other guy that will do it and I don’t feel like doing that’, but he stepped in and we made the best of it. I was kind of beat down and not sure about what I needed to do to get better and he was a good influence on me. He was a positive influence on me as a crew chief and working with me over the radio. So, we got along really well. But, it wasn’t a long-term fix because he was over qualified and for DEI we needed him to continue to manage, but he filled in and helped me and helped the team. Once we sorted all that out we needed him to get back into his original role to help steer the company because of his expertise in the sport. That was going to be better for the company for him to be in that position.
“But, it was pretty neat. He called for two tires and ended up making it work. I didn’t think we were going to win that day.”
DOES YOUR MINDSET CHANGE NOW THAT YOU ARE NOT RACING FOR A PLAYOFF BERTH?
“Absolutely, yeah, the pressure of trying to win the championship is not there, but that is a pressure that you kind of want. Even though you want it, it is not there. There is a concern, I guess, that you could get sort of complacent and go through these races and maybe some of the urgency or importance falls away a little bit because there is no ultimate carrot about there like that championship trophy. So, I think, you know, we will consciously all kind of remind each other as a team to keep pushing hard and to keep working hard. I’m done at the end of the year, but they go on. That off-season break… how the team sort of ends the season is a catalyst for how it begins the next one. So, it’s important that we try to be as successful and find and learn and study and improve for the betterment of next season. That off season is a few months, but how you end the season it definitely effects how you begin the next one. If you sort of tail off and you don’t put all your effort into that ending you sort of start flat the next year and it takes you awhile to sort of get things sorted out. So, without that kind of carrot or that urgency of being in the Playoffs I think it is just important for us to continue to remind each other to push. Continue to remind each other to work hard, to set personal goals for the team.
One thing we talked about today, as silly as it is, is to try to get ourselves into the top 20 in points. We have the opportunity to beat a few guys, so it sucks that is our goal, but we are going to put little goals out there for ourselves that are personal achievements to push ourselves to keep working. You take pride in that. We feel like we should be in the Playoffs, we are not, so we are going to try to gain as many spots until the end of the year as we can and in the points. That is a goal. That is a carrot for us to continue to push for. I think that is important.”
HAVE YOU FOUND OUT ABOUT HOW THINGS ARE IN KEY WEST?
“Well, I can only speak to the folks that I know. From what I’ve heard of that, everyone that we have talked to, homes and structures are okay, but the infrastructure is in bad shape, power, and water. So, that stuff is going to take a long time to fix. There are a lot of power lines down, poles down, it will take quite a while for the lower keys to get some power back. The water system has been affected in several spots to cause some concern, so that will take a while before that is fixed as well. They are getting ready to open the airport here soon and that will allow people to get supplies down there and things will start to improve for everybody down there. I know there are a lot of people that did have a lot of structural damage to their homes, but most of the folks that we’ve talked to actually came away, fortunately, intact. Our stuff is good. We are down in the Old Town where all the houses are very close together, literally six to 10 feet away from each other, so they sort of protect each other.
“We had a guy, that is a friend of ours, he lives around Marathon and it was very dangerous to be up there because their houses are a little more spread out. So, he stayed in our house during the hurricane. He said you could sit on the porch while it was coming through there if you sat on the right side of the house. He said if you sat on the wrong side it would take your head off, but you could sit on one side and actually watch everything going on and it was pretty crazy. Luckily, we didn’t have too much on our own personal property, but I know there are a lot of people down there that are dealing with some pretty difficult situations and there is just a lot of stuff. There are people down there that I know that have homes that are in one piece, but they can’t stay there because of the infrastructure is down as far as water and power. There is just no … you can’t do anything without water, you know, until that is sorted out they can’t get back down there and get everything cleaned up.”
DO YOU STILL RECALL THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU GOT YOUR FIRST VICTORY AT TEXAS AND THE EMOTION YOU SHARED WITH YOUR DAD AND HOW THAT MOMENT OF GETTING THAT BREAKTHROUGH WIN AND WHAT IT MEANT TO YOU AND HOW IT SET-OFF YOUR CAREER?
‘I’ll be honest with you. It all came kind of easy, right out of the gate. I don’t consider myself very arrogant or cocky, but I was with Tony (Eury) Sr. and Tony Jr. who had more than enough to carry me and pick up the slack. Tony Sr. is the kind of guy that was upset and mad if he wasn’t on the top of the charts for every practice; not only just the races, but he wanted to win every practice. We just really had such good runs and great cars in the Xfinity Series and we came into the Cup series and I remember Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. talking like we’re going to be fine. We’re better than all these guys and we’re going to be good. And we came out and won Texas and then Richmond and then the All-Star race and I’m literally thinking, wow, these guys really know what they’re doing. I had no clue what to expect or what was going to happen. It happened so fast it wasn’t like a big relief. It came quicker than it should have, so it was a bit of a shock and too good to be true for that first win. And then we went to Richmond and won and then we won the All-Star race and we were strutting around thinking we were the top dudes. And I remember how we nose-dived and the rest of that season was a misery. Yeah, it wasn’t like relief or anything. It was shock. It was like wow, I can’t believe this happened so quickly. I’d looked up to everybody that had been running in the series forever and didn’t know that we were going to be able to beat them.
“I was glad, of course, that Dad was there. That’s the only reason why I started racing was to try to make him proud and try to connect to him and do things that would be like ah-ha moments for him, you know? I thought racing was cool, and a great way to make a living, but I really just wanted to do things that would make him really proud. That was certainly something we accomplished in the Xfinity Series way before we ever won that first race in Texas. I already had a lot of moments like that in Victory Lane with him. He would come in. They would typically practice right after our Xfinity races and he’d rush into Winner’s Circle in his uniform and say something and go to his car for Happy Hour, or whatever.”
THE PLAYOFFS HAVEN’T STARTED, BUT I’M SURE YOU SAW WE ALREADY HAVE OUR FIRST MINI-CONTROVERSY OVER THE DOMINANCE JUST IN PRACTICE, ALONE. BRAD (KESELOWSKI) SAYS THIS IS THE BIGGEST MANUFACTURER GAP IN 40 YEARS. AS A NON-TOYOTA DRIVER, DO YOU SEE IT AS THAT A GULF RIGHT NOW? HE ALSO INTIMATED THAT THERE IS SOMETHING NASCAR SHOULD DO ABOUT IT IF THERE IS A DISPARITY. WHAT COULD NASCAR DO TO ADDRESS THAT IF THERE IS A GAP?
“I got on a bike after practice and rode 40 miles with Jimmie (Johnson) which was a terrible idea, just for the record. So, I missed the whole debate. But, from my point of view, I just look at the board watching the times. I see Fords and Toyotas up there in the top 10. I don’t just see one manufacturer. I think that Joe Gibbs and that whole organization have done an incredible job of getting four teams to work very closely together. And, I’ve never seen it done any better, where one organization literally has four cars that seem almost equal every week. They live it, so Denny (Hamlin) and those guys might not see it that way. They might not see it so equal being in the thick of it. But, from the outside, it’s really impressive how well they’ve done. I think that it’s more than just manufacturers. You’ve got to look at how Joe and those guys run their business and how they build their cars and what’s the process that they take from start to finish when they build a car from the ground up. I think that they do it in a way that it took a while, but it’s got harmony across the board for all the teams. And, they have a great way of sort of cultivating their talent outside of the car, their crews and engineers and all that stuff, through the Xfinity Series and their programs there, which I think we do a good job of that to and JR Motorsports with Hendrick. When I just look at the board, I see Fords and Toyotas running up top. I don’t see just one manufacturer up there.
“To answer your question about what they could do, I don’t think there is anything they can do. We all sort of have the same rules to live by. So, all the cars should be pretty close. We could complain, but Kyle Larson runs too good for all the Chevys to complain (laughs). If Kyle Larson wouldn’t run so damn good then we’d have an argument. But I think you have to look at more than just are the Toyotas better or the Fords better or are the Chevys better? It’s really how people run their business and I think the Gibbs guys have been working on how they build cars together as a group across the board and how all the teams work together and I think they’ve really got it going on right now. We’ve noticed over the last couple of years sort of their method to their operation and certainly see some things that they do really well.”
WE KNOW YOU’RE GONE AT THE END OF THE YEAR AND WE NOW KNOW THAT DANICA PATRICK IS OUT AT STEWART-HAAS AND WE COULD POTENTIALLY LOSE HER TOO. YOU ARE TWO OF THE BIGGEST NAMES OUR SPORT HAS RIGHT NOW. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU FEEL THE NEW GENERATION OR NEW CROP OF DRIVERS CAN DO TO TRY TO CATCH THE PUBLIC EYE IN THE SAME WAY THAT EACH OF YOU HAVE?
“Yeah, absolutely. I think that these young guys are really crafty with social media and I think that’s a great direction for them to interact with not only current fans, but to find new fans. I think they do a great job at that. I had to learn what Twitter was and how to use it. These guys grew up in this generation and they are sort of already masters of it. There’s a lot of great things going on on Instagram and Twitter and I think that there’s a lot of opportunity there to capture an audience and make new fans and create new fans.
“They need to push themselves, which is hard to do. I didn’t want to do any of this when I was young. But when NASCAR says we need somebody in New York to do morning shows this week to promote the Playoffs. These guys need to jump on that wagon and go. It’s not a ton of fun, but once you’re in the middle of it, doing it, it’s really enjoyable meeting these people and these personalities and making these connections and networking with these people. Flying up there is crap. Flying home is crap. But the process of doing it is great. I think Chase (Elliott) and (Ryan) Blaney is really good at it. He don’t say no to nothing. And I think all the guys need to try to be aware and be active and trying to get those opportunities. NASCAR can really get their foot in the door to do a lot of cool things. We did a funny or die skit several years ago. Those are great examples of what these drivers need to try to get themselves involved in; and NASCAR can get them there. The PR team and so forth, can open these doors for these guys and they need to try to grab it. And it’s anything outside of the industry. It’s easy to come in here and sign autographs at the race track and do some media here with you guys. But that’s going to happen on its own. You need to try to do things outside of the box. That’s L.A., New York, Chicago, and anything sort of outside our little bubble. Do that now and start to build your brand. I thought building a brand, why would I want to do that? It should just build itself. But, you can actively build your brand and grow it up. By the time these guys are 28 or 30 years old, they could be bigger than anything we’ve ever seen in this sport.”