MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
COKE ZERO 400
DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
JUNE 29, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with media at Daytona International Raceway and discussed racing at Daytona, the emotions of racing, his favorite wins, his future hopes & plans, and more. Full Transcript:
YOU LAUNCHED THE JUNIOR NATION APPRECIATION TOUR THIS WEEK. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT AND YOUR CONNECTION WITH THE FANS AS YOU START THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON:
“I was a little bit concerned about what we were going to do, and how to wrap all of this up the right way. In a way that I feel comfortable, and a way that would be meaningful to me. I have been given a great gift being a part of this sport; to be able to run in some great cars and win some races and a lot of great things that have happened to me. So what I wanted to do was to try to make sure that the people who have helped me accomplish all of those things know how much we appreciate them. And that the fans that have supported us through everything we’ve been through know how much we appreciate them because it doesn’t happen without that support from the fans. I know that. There is a lot of credit due to a lot of people for giving me the opportunity that I have had and opening the doors that have been opened. We just want to make sure that we acknowledge those folks throughout the season. It is going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully we do a good job by the end of the year and everybody feels appreciated. That would mean a lot to me. That would really make me feel like we accomplished our goal.”
WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT DAYTONA, IT ALMOST SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT A PERSON ALMOST, SO CAN YOU EXPLAIN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TRACK?
“Daytona has been so important to NASCAR. The Daytona 500 is so important to our sport and the health of our sport. A lot of great things have happened here. A lot of drivers have made their careers here. It is something to be proud of if you are in the industry. It is something proud of. It is a pretty fun race track. It is going to get its character back. This was a great, great place to race in the early 2000s. The repave changed the track quite a bit, but I’m sure some drivers loved it then. Not to say it changed it for the worse, but as they say, as a track ages, in my opinion, it just gets better and better as the grip goes away and handling becomes more important. It is a very fun track; a challenging track even though it is a superspeedway and we kind of run wide open. When the handling becomes an issue, you can’t run wide open. You have your hands full. I appreciate and admire that about the track.
“They did a great job on the remodel. The grandstands that we have that allows accessibility to come up to the windows and it’s got the Fan Zone which is a great place for fans just to hang out. It is just a great facility that we as a sport can brag about and be proud of. A lot of great history here.”
WHY DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN SO GOOD ON THIS TRACK?
“I know this is not a lot of fun to write, but it’s the cars. We have had some really, really good cars here. When I get the car that I need or when I’ve had the cars that I have had that were so good here, you could just do whatever you wanted with them. If you know a little bit about what you are doing, you can make some things happen and control the race. I say that because I have had some races here that I haven’t had the car that I felt that I needed – me personally. And, I know without that kind of a race car, I don’t feel confident in getting the job done. The car has always been really critical. When we had our string of runs at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) from (20)01 to (20)04, we could be here or Talladega in Xfinity or the Cup level and those were some really amazing cars, and some really smart people…we had kind of the whole thing. We had the guys that knew how to create the bodies the way they needed to be, and we also had some great motors with (Ritchie) Gilmore and those guys working on those engines. We just had a really awesome, perfect situation for a while there for the plate stuff. I knew that Hendrick (Motorsports) had the same kind of strength having raced against them. So, when I got in those cars, it was no surprise to me that we ended up coming up here in some pretty fast stuff. Probably should have won more races than we did. It starts with the car. You go out there and practice. It either surprises you – I had my car yesterday do a couple of things that I thought ‘WOW, this is alright’. Sometimes you go out there and practice that first practice and you are a little underwhelmed, and then you are kind of concerned and you work on it, and hopefully improve, but sometimes you don’t. You take a car like that into the race, it is just hard to be confident in making choices and making moves and being on the offense and doing stuff all the time. When your car is really, really strong, you’ll try any run you get because you just know that if it doesn’t work, it’s not going that bad; you are not going to fall back too far. There’s not a whole lot of risk in trying whatever you want to try. So the cars are a big part of it.”
INAUDIBLE: “I think there are a lot of smart plate racers out there. Denny (Hamlin) is awesome. (Joey) Logano runs great at these tracks. (Brad) Keselowski has figured it out. I think I know what I’m doing out there. But I don’t know how you rate one guy versus the next because we are all in kind of different cars every time we come back here. Sometimes Denny’s car gets the job done and he whoops us; sometimes we get the job done and sometimes it is somebody else. I watched Dad. I didn’t know what I was seeing when I was watching him. But once I got out on the track and I started doing things with my car, I realized what I was seeing all of those years, and why things were happening the way they were. I started to understand ‘why?’. How does a side draft feel if you have never been out there? Why do they do that? Why do they side draft and sling away? Why is happening? You don’t know that until you get out there in the car. I always try to get into practice and be aggressive. When young guys ask me about drafting I say go out there and practice and learn everything you can. We don’t practice as much pack racing as we used to. Back in the day there would be 20-25 cars out there in the draft. I was out there like it was a race and I was trying to put my car in every position I could to learn whatever I could about its ability and if we needed to go work on something. We don’t get to do that much anymore, but that is what I tell guys when they ask my advice is to go out there and practice and learn everything you can and be aggressive in practice. You can’t really wait for the race and then learn everything you need to learn.”
AS YOU COME TO THE MEDIA CENTER EVERY WEEK, IS THERE A CONCERN THAT YOUR EMOTIONS WILL AMPLIFY THE END APPROACHING?
“I’m not having any anxiety about the end coming, I feel pretty good about that. I feel pretty good about my decision. I haven’t had any second guesses or regrets about that. So, I don’t’ believe I will have any anxiety as it starts to get closer to Homestead. I just don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to miss a moment that I should take in. I don’t want to miss opportunity to let people know how much they mean to me. Everybody in the industry means to me. You guys – we’ve had a great relationship and I’m friends with quite a few of you in here. Not that I’m never going to show up again, or never going to around again. As far as my driving career, I just want to make sure that I have the opportunity or take the opportunity every chance I get to thank people for making this so much fun. So there is a little bit of anxiety there. Am I doing that? I am also trying to race; trying to win; trying to get in the Chase and trying to fulfill all the responsibilities to Greg (Ives, crew chief) and being accountable and available to him. There is still a lot of work going on. So it is kind of hard sometimes to balance between saying farewell and getting the job done – the best job you can for this season. “
DAYS OF THUNDER CAME OUT 25 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK. WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF THAT MOVIE?
“One thing that pops in my mind – now this is all here-say because nobody was in the room but Dad, the producer and director and (Tom) Cruise. Tom Cruise comes over to the Deer Head Shop. DEI wasn’t built yet. So we are excited. We are going to meet Tom Cruise. Me and Kelley are there – we are giddy. And he comes in…he is five-foot shorter than I thought he’d be and he had pimples all over his face. I remember that. They go into Dad’s office. And they come out 30 minutes later, and I guess they were picking Dad’s brain. But the rumor was they offered Dad the role of Rowdy Burns. I don’t know if that is really true or not, but that was the rumor. But Dad turned it down because he didn’t want to play the bad guy. Just a rumor, I don’t know if it is true or not. I was so young, you hear the rumor later but I never did get a chance to figure out if it was really true or not. Hard to believe if it true or not.
“I thought the movie was fun and it was great. I was a big Robert Duvall fan because I loved the mini-series Lonesome Dove when it came out. He is just great in everything. I liked him being in it and he did an awesome job. I thought it was a fun movie.”
WHAT ARE SOME FAVORITE MEMORIES ON OR OFF THE TRACK AT DAYTONA?
“Off the track would have been…there was a scoring stand down in turn one that is where all the wives and children went for the race. So, you would go down there into that stand to watch the race and there would be everybody’s kids. We would all be playing around and goofing off. That was pretty fun. Back in those days drivers, crews and everybody stayed in hotels on the beach. So we were in the pool all week. I remember falling off a high-dive one time and think I killed myself. Just being around in those hotels and seeing everybody. You’d have drivers in the pool after practice. That was cool for those guys to be able to do that. It seemed like it was just us there…just the family. It’s changed a lot now, it isn’t done like that anymore. That was pretty cool. Everybody kind of hanging around at the beach when they weren’t at the race track.”
YOUR FANS ARE FOLLOWING YOU THROUGH THIS JOURNEY AND THEY’D LOVE YOU TO STAY. SO ANYTIME YOU SAY SOMETHING LIKE YOU MIGHT BE BACK AT DAYTONA ONE DAY THEY GRAB ONTO IT. ARE YOU JUST LEAVING THE DOOR OPEN JUST IN CASE? OR, YOU MIGHT NOT REALLY KNOW.
“Yeah, I don’t really know. I just definitely want to leave the door open for any opportunity. Somebody may need me to come in and help. I’ve seen when Tony (Stewart) needed some help and guys that come out of retirement to help and Jeff (Gordon) did that for us last year. I wouldn’t be opposed to helping somebody if they need some help. I feel like I’m done full time. And I feel comfortable about that choice. But I’m going to run roughly two to six Xfinity races for I don’t know how many years to try to continue to grow JR Motorsports and keep it healthy. Will that be enough to keep me happy? I don’t know. We’ll see. I don’t think that there will be opportunities for me in good cars to really want to come out and do it. I don’t even know what that looks like. I definitely want to be at Daytona next year. I’ll probably come out here and watch the race but I don’t be driving in it. We’ll just kind of see how it goes after that. I don’t really know. I wouldn’t be opposed to helping someone, for sure.”
YOU HAVEN’T BEEN ALL THAT EMOTIONAL ABOUT THINGS SINCE THE ANNOUNCEMENT. BUT HERE AT DAYTONA, HAVE YOU FELT ANY ADDITIONAL EMOTIONS? IS LEAVING THE DOOR OPEN A DEFENSE MECHANISM FROM FEELING THOSE EMOTIONS?
“I don’t know. That’s funny. I haven’t felt any emotions. I didn’t see any from Steve either when he was winding his deal down, until Homestead. He fell out on me on pit road. But I’m thinking it’s kind of going to be like that. This whole thing, this decision to retire, wasn’t a spur of the moment. It was sort of building inside me because of the things that we’ve been through over the years. What I mean is that I’m quite comfortable with it, more than anyone else. I got emotional last night watching that race on NBC. But, I do every time I watch it. I think about the Eurys and my Uncle Danny. I watched that celebration in the infield and I know I looked like I was letting it sink in but you can’t go back and do that over again. But, there were a lot of people there and brought up a lot of memories. That was a great team.
“So, when I see those kinds of highlights or something like that, it kind of brings some emotion around. Being at the track or getting in the car or hearing the national anthem or coming to Daytona for this last race, nothing really has bothered me too much.”
REGARDING NASCAR HISTORY, HOW IMPORTANT WERE THE INDEPENDENT-TYPE GUYS?
“I was a big Jimmy Means fan. Dad introduced me to him at North Wilkesboro. It was around 1985 maybe or ’84. I just always wanted to see Jimmy do well learning his struggle and understanding what a challenge it was for a guy like him obviously made you want to see him get a little bit more than what he expected out of his cars and maybe luck into a top 10 or a top 15 finish, which might pay him a little bit better for that weekend. You kind of felt that way about all those guys because Jimmy and those guys ran in the same circles of helping each other and leaning on each other down at that end of the garage. And, hanging around Jimmy’s truck with Brad Means, is son, I spent a lot of time getting to know how they operated and what they did and how they worked compared to my father’s teams and other teams at the other end of the garage. You couldn’t help but just pull for them and see them do well. I became a big fan of the underdog. And then watching history and old races I learned about all kinds of guys that almost got close a few times to really having some great finishes. They are as important to the sport as the stars of those days. They were out there competing and trying to do the best they could. I find their careers a little more interesting sometimes because of the hoops they had to jump through and the deals they had to make and how they got from one place to the next is a little bit more interesting than some of the other guys.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT GOING TO BRISTOL FOR POTENTIALLY THE LAST TIME IN A CUP CAR AND WHAT THAT TRACK HAS MEANT TO YOU?
“When I was a kid, the night race at Bristol was the one I got really excited about. They parked the vans over the corner and we was literally it felt like 20 feet from the cars sitting on top of the vans there. You just could see the drivers working in the cars and you could see the action. There was no better experience in my book than getting that close to stock car racing in those days at Bristol. Me and the other kids would run around and beg everybody to let us wax their cars or whatever we could do. It was such a small place. It was fun to get involved in anything and everything in the infield. During the race we’d probably watch from 50 different vantage points. We’d be climbing all over trucks and going down pit road and getting on this truck and that truck. We’d just be everywhere. So, I loved going there.
“The track itself is real unique. There’s not another one like it. It has always been a surprise to me that nobody has every tried to emulate it somewhere else because it’s such an incredible place. Particularly when it was asphalt, it was quite the race track. And it’s surprising to me that nobody has tried to rebuild that sort of race track somewhere else to see how it would do. But maybe it’s best there’s only one. It’s still a lot of fun to race on even though it’s changed quite a bit. And, I always thought that was one of the coolest trophies. It was taller than me for quite a large part of my life. Until I graduated from high school I don’t think I was any taller than that trophy and Daddy had a bunch of them in the house. He had a lot of clocks. He had a lot of Bristol trophies. And I wanted one of each. So, I feel lucky to have those now.”
LAST MONTH AT KANSAS SPEEDWAY GRAHAM RAHAL TWEETED YOU THAT HE WANTED TO RUN DAYTONA IN A CUP CAR OR MAYBE AN XFINITY CAR AND HE ASKED FOR YOUR HELP. HAS HE REACHED OUT TO YOU? IS THAT SOMETHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO HELP HIM WITH?
“It’s improbable. We have four teams. They’re full. And that’s hopefully how that’s going to stay. We don’t want to be in the all-star business where we have a car with six or seven or eight different drivers in it. That’s great. And, there’s good money in that because a lot of times those guys do bring a little bit more money. But, we really enjoy racing four cars for the title and four drivers and focusing on those efforts. And for us to run a fifth car really spreads us pretty thin. We’d have to do it on occasion. And as long as we have four full cars, I don’t see it as a possibility.”
DENNY HAMLIN SAID HE WANTS TO PASS YOU ON THE LAST LAP FOR THE WIN. CHASE ELLIOTT SAYS HE’S NOT GOING TO PULL OVER FOR YOU SO YOU CAN GET BY HIM. WHAT IS YOUR PERFECT SCENARIO FOR THE ENDING OF THE RACE FOR COMING DOWN TO THE WIRE?
“If I’m behind the No. 88 I’m probably going to let him win; hell yeah (laughter). I’m a little different than the other drivers. I won’t pass him.”
YOU MENTIONED WATCHING THE THROWBACK LAST NIGHT AND HOW YOU ALWAYS GET EMOTIONAL WATCHING RACES LIKE THAT FROM THE PAST. ASSUMING THIS IS YOUR LAST RACE HERE, YOU’VE WON 17 RACES, CAN YOU PICK OUT THREE THAT STAND OUT TO YOU THE MOST?
“Yeah, it’s on that painting. Winning the race in that Wrangler car was awesome. It shocked me. I really don’t know if I’ve ever felt any pressure like I felt that night. I didn’t realize it was going to be pressure until I got there and I got in the race and I thought, oh, man. I’ve got to win this thing because this car, this whole promotion, this is my favorite paint scheme that I’ve ever ran and that my dad ever ran. And, man the pressure was on. So, I was really relieved that we won.
“The 2014 win was a big deal. We really needed a shot in the arm like that for ourselves and the team and my career; and ’04 was a special moment too. The ’01 race I think is really hard; it’s probably my favorite to be honest with you because of the circumstances. It’s not the bigger race; it’s not the Daytona 500. Because of the circumstances that one is pretty important.”