MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
QUAKER STATE 400
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPTS
JULY 7, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Kentucky Speedway after receiving a Jukebox from the track as a retirement gift that will be given in his name to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., answered questions from the media and discussed this being his final race at Kentucky, his thoughts on NASCAR silly season, and many other topics.
ON THE GIFT FROM KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY:
“That’s awesome because I know the kids are going to love it. We just came from there yesterday and really enjoyed being able to visit. That is going to be something they are all going to love to mess with and play music. We got them a little stereo, but this is going to take the cake. So, thank you, that is a very creative and thoughtful and it will make a lot of kids smile when they are around this jukebox and enjoying it together. I appreciate that. Mel () is here with us today as one of our patient champions, you think everybody is going to love this at the hospital? Yeah, I do too. So, thanks a lot, it means a lot.”
WHAT IS THE BALANCE LIKE AS YOU MOVE INTO THE FINAL SECTION OF YOUR CUP CAREER AS A FULL-TIME COMPETITOR? HOW DO YOU BALANCE ENJOYING IT PLUS THE PRESSURE TO PERFORM?
“Well, I mean, you don’t balance it very well. I just spent what three hours practice today and never once thought about my retirement or this being my last year. I was thinking about how in the hell to get that car to go a little faster. Nothing has come easy today. And so, on days like today, you could tell me I had five more years of this and I wouldn’t know any better. It feels just like any other race, any other practice, because you get in there and you get competitive you want the best out of your car, you want to win, you want an opportunity to win and that is all that really matters. And that is all we are trying to work for in those moments. Then you get out of the car and you go and you kind of have to check yourself a little bit and calm yourself down a little bit. You’ve got to work and tune the car with your crew chief and give him the opportunity to understand what the car needs. It’s business as usual to be honest at the race track.
“I think that during the week things aren’t quite as tense or there is a little more ease of mind knowing there is a definite end point. So, during the week I think I’m a little more relaxed and able to not stay so wound up like I used to be. Man, you get to the race track and you can’t help it.
“I told myself when I was out of the car last year I had this realization of man, I just need to enjoy this, why do I put so much pressure on myself. Why do I make this so miserable? When I’m supposed to really love what I’m doing and I do, but I mean you would get so miserable trying to achieve greatness and be the best. And boy does it get harder every year. So, I told myself when I had that little time out of the car that I was going to come back and I was going to enjoy it and I was going to be this great guy and so much fun to be around and not so hard on everybody, but you can’t help it.
“I’m already midseason, I’m back to midseason form with my attitude (laughs). You can’t help it when you want to do well. I want to do as well this weekend as I did at this track six years ago. It’s not more, no less, if you are going to come here and do the work and put all that effort in there you might as well try your best and you end up getting real competitive about it, just like you always have been. But, yeah, when practice ends I kind of calm down and say, man, I’ve got to be cool and try to help my guys and help Greg (Ives, crew chief). So, yeah, it’s tough to balance, very tough.”
EARLIER TODAY MATT KENSETH SAID HE IS PROBABLY NOT GOING TO RETURN TO JOE GIBBS RACING AND DOESN’T HAVE A RIDE FOR NEXT YEAR. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HIM POTENTIALLY BEING IN HIS FINAL SEASON AND WOULD YOU MAYBE PUT IN A GOOD WORD FOR HIM TO DRIVE THE NO. 88?
“Matt (Kenseth) is going to have a job. I don’t think he’s got to worry about that. I think that it’s smart for him to let everybody know early what his plans are or the lack thereof. He is a talented guy who is just a couple of races removed from being a winner and could show up any week and get to victory lane. I think that the situation with (Joe) Gibbs, from an outsider looking in is there is just not enough room. There is the (Erik) Jones kid is probably going to come in there and take that ride or there is some agreement beforehand possibly that that was what was going to happen. I don’t know why they couldn’t move Matt over to the No. 77 or whatever the plan is there. But, Matt will get a job, he is so good and so talented that he will be in a great car with a great opportunity next year no less than what he has this year.”
DID YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS COMING IN HERE TODAY THAT THIS WAS YOUR LAST RACE OF 2016 AND CAN YOU JUST IMAGINE WHAT YOU WERE FEELING A YEAR AGO TO NOW?
“Oh, I was not feeling too good physically and yeah, I’ve thought about that quite a bit just how big a difference it is from today compared to last year. It reminds you about how much we had to overcome and how much rehab went into trying to get healthy and yeah this is where it all kind of started to come to the surface where the symptoms and all that stuff started to be a concern. It is a bit of a reminder and I’m proud that we worked so hard to come back and worked hard to get healthy. You start racing this year you kind of forget about last year and I think we all do, we kind of forget about everything that happened and little dates like this will bring those memories back and remind you to be thankful and fortunate.”
WOULD IT MEAN SOMETHING TO YOU FOR A WIN TOMORROW NIGHT OR A GOOD PERFORMANCE? WOULD IT BRING THIS WHOLE THING FULL CIRCLE?
“No, I mean a win is going to be great any week, but this is a hero one week and a zero the next sport. You are going to go one day and feel like you’ve got it figured out and then reality is going to slap you in the face the next Sunday. Even if we have a great run tomorrow night or a win, which would be awesome, there is another hill to climb and another one after that each week. This sport is so competitive and for us as a team it’s been a real challenge this year to sort of find our footing. But, we need a win to get in the playoffs. I think if we won tomorrow that would be the first thing that would come to mind is how that has helped us get an opportunity to be in the post season in the final year, that would be great.”
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF THIS TRACK? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE REPAVE? IS THERE A PART OF YOU THAT WILL MISS KENTUCKY?
“Well, this track is kind of strange to me. We used to come here all the time testing and it was a very fun track to test. And with the way the cars were back in ’02, ’03, ’04, whenever we were testing here, we just really kind of got around this place and it drove completely different. Nothing has changed about the configuration, as far as Turns 3 and 4 that is. But not enough has changed about the track for it to drive the way it does today compared to back then. So, a lot of it is probably the cars and the tires and the evolution of the sport. But, it doesn’t remind me today of anything like it was back then, nothing, completely different.
“It’s very strange that it is like that, but this place is such a challenge to get around now. Entering Turn 3 is so flat. (Turns) 1 and 2 with the new configuration allows for more speed. It is a very simple corner as far as the circumference of it is very simple, it is easy you go right around there and you come down the back straightaway carrying a lot of speed into a very, very flat entry and the cars are just so wicked loose getting in there. You are driving into this vast sort of wasteland that there is no really definite way to go through the corner and you just kind of end up wherever you are. It does make it challenging. Once this place sort of ages and that groove widens out and you have choices getting into the corner, right now we don’t have a choice. We just kind of dirt track it down in there and hope for the best. But, when you can kind of move around a little bit that really makes it more fun and gives you an opportunity to make more passes. We had a couple of races here where there was a middle and a third groove, complete blast, a lot of fun because you are not kind of stuck behind everybody in that situation. You can make some choices to do something different in the corner to give you a chance to get around a guy and that is a lot of fun.
“Once this place gets that age on it, it is going to widen out and be a really great race track. It’s an awesome track now, but it’s going to continue to get better. (Turn) 1 and 2 is going to widen out a little bit, that will be a great corner, have an opportunity to get around a guy on the outside will be an awesome thing, particularly in (Turns) 3 and 4 it is a really challenging corner, but I don’t remember it being that way at all when we came here and tested back in the day. We were getting around here.”
DO YOU SEE THE POTENTIAL FOR SOMEONE NEW TO BREAK THROUGH INTO VICTORY LANE THIS WEEK IN LIGHT OF THE CHANGES THAT HAVE BEEN MADE TO THE TRACK?
“Yeah, I mean it’s hard to tell who is going to win from week to week. I was just looking in practice at the top 10. It’s a new crop. You’ve got guys that are running good this year that you didn’t worry about last year. So, the cycle has happened as far as the teams that were strong seem to be kind of mid-pack and struggling a little bit this year and there are some new teams and new faces up there competing and running fast laps in practice and running towards the front. So, yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a non-regular win the race this weekend. But, you’ve got to expect the same, the No. 78, No. 18, those guys are going to be quick. The Gibbs cars looked fast today, but the No. 42 is fast, so, I think we are going to have to beat the same regular guys that are going to be up front every week.”
DO YOU FOLLOW SILLY SEASON? AND, TALKING ABOUT MATT KENSETH, THERE WAS A DAY WHEN SPONSORS WANTED WINNERS AND VETERANS, BUT NOW THEY’RE LOOKING AT THE YOUNG GUNS. IF YOU HAD THE CHOICE, WHO WOULD YOU LOOK AT AS FAR AS AGE AND FOLLOWING ALL THE MOVES OF SILLY SEASON GOING ON RIGHT NOW?
“Oh, it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of rumors floating around. I’ve heard about Matt’s deal for a while and everybody trying to figure out what’s going on with (Paul) Menard and Penske and what their plans are. They’ve sorted out something but it’s kind of all up in the air. Everybody’s walking around the garage saying, ‘Hey, did you hear’? Or, ‘What’s new’? There’s like a handful of guys in the garage that seem to know everything first. And it’s not just the Cup garage. They’re in the Xfinity garage, too, over there talking. But, my spotter, TJ, he thinks he knows everything that’s happening (laughter). The spotters get up there and boy, do they go to town with that gossip. So, it’s fun to keep your ear to the ground. I think it’s interesting for all of us, really, to see what happens and who gets what opportunity.
“What companies are thinking as far as how they may attach themselves to some of these new guys like (Ryan) Blaney or some of the new corporate sponsors or maybe a sponsor that’s been in the sport for a long time makes a move from a veteran to a rookie. Those things are very interesting and have big impacts on the future of the sport and the future of that team and driver. So, I stay plugged in. There’s a lot of talented guys. We’ve talked about them all year long.
“I think that Chase (Elliott) is definitely one of the top guys that I look at as a talent with the marketing to back, you know? He’s the full package. You look for guys like that that have maybe a legacy or just a great personality that are going to be good in front of the camera and they’re going to want to go to work for their sponsors during the week. I think that Chase and Blaney are great. He’s hilarious with a great personality and great with social media. So, those guys that do that well will have a leg up on some of the other guys that are just talented. If you want to really take the bull by the horns in this sport today, you’ve got to be a salesman and a pitchman and you’ve got to be able to talk the talk during the week beside what you do at the race track. I know the fans are all about performance and they don’t care what their drivers doing or they say they don’t care what their driver’s doing except for what’s on the race track, but it makes a difference when you’ve got a personality to build off of and to use. The sponsors can take that as a tool and grow the relationship and connect the fans and the driver. A driver like Blaney, who has such a knack for that, doesn’t have a problem really going into it and putting himself in front of new audiences, is a good thing.”
HOW MUCH OF A ROUTINE IS SOCIAL MEDIA NOW, ESPECIALLY LIKE DOING THE PERISCOPE VIDEOS? AND, AS YOU NOTED LAST NIGHT, HOW’S THE BUMP?
“Oh, I haven’t gone down there. I am not going down there to that drainage ditch or whatever that is on the front straightaway. It hit it last year. And, I guess don’t go down there is kind of the idea. Somehow or another, I was passing Denny Hamlin, and I was worried about him side-drafting me, and so I went below the line on the front straightaway and hit that thing, and I landed in front of him (laughter); and scared the shit out of both of us. It was terrible (more laughter). We came so close to crashing and like no one knew this happened, you know? It was kind of like in the middle of the race and everybody’s lulled into this kind of mode of just kind of watching cars go around and I was like golly that was so close to being a big deal. It looks like it’s a little bit better, but I’m not going to go down there and find out, either.
“Social media, I really have to hold back, to be quite honest with you. I could do a Periscope every day. I really enjoy social media. I don’t want to be that guy that’s on there too much and hey look at me and this is what I’m doing and man, I can’t get enough of myself. So, I don’t want to be that guy, so I try not to exceed. But, I’m eager to do it. I really enjoy it. I love the sarcasm. You get to know everybody so much better because we don’t ever have time to really be spending much time just to take me, myself, or the other drivers, and the media. We don’t really spend much time around each other except for these press conferences or when we do a story together, right? So, social media is so funny. I’ve gotten to know a lot of y’all and how y’all view and perceive the sport and the world and it’s a lot of fun. I use Twitter more now as a bit of a message board just to goof around and laugh and have fun and see what everybody else is laughing about. Whereas, I use Instagram more as a bit of a story telling with pictures and videos; but, it’s a blast and I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
IT’S BECOME CLEAR THAT YOU PROBABLY WOULD NEED A WIN TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYBODY HAS BEEN RUNNING DOWN THIS CHECK LIST PARTICULARLY AS DAYTONA APPROACHED, LIKE THIS IS DALE’S BEST CHANCE OR HOW DO THESE TRACKS LOOK COMING UP? DO YOU AND (CREW CHIEF) GREG (IVES) EVEN LOOK AT IT THAT WAY? OR, IS IT SIMPLY NEXT WEEK IS THE NEXT BEST CHANCE TO GET ONE?
“We go to every race hoping to win and thinking man, we might show up and this might be the week that we’ve got a car that can win. We went to Texas and ran really good on the new repave. So, we came here thinking man, this might be a great shot. I thought we had a car that would win at Texas and I didn’t do what we needed to do. We had the fastest car at the end of the race and I didn’t do things in many, many laps prior to that; many restarts and opportunities there to make passes to win the race. But, we came here thinking maybe we can apply the same things, technically, to the car that we did there since it’s a repave. So, mentally we come in with a confidence or maybe that positivity that maybe this is a great opportunity if things can go as well as they did in Texas, we might have a fast-enough car. I don’t know if I’ll do that when we go to every track. But, we came here on a positive front because of our experience on the last repave.
“But, yeah, I think at Daytona there was an urgency, you know, because I think it’s an easier race to win for me than it is here. Or, I think that I go in there knowing what I need to do to win. I felt like I was very aggressive in the race and having a lot of fun and my car was amazing and all I needed to do was to be right there at the end and we didn’t get to do that. Do I think that we don’t have any more chances? I think we can show up somewhere and get the job done. But, it’s just not going to come as easy as it might have come at Daytona. And it’s going to be some work.”
THOUGHTS ON GIFTS FROM TRACKS AND THOUGHTS ON MAKING HIS LAST START AT BRISTOL:
“My last run at Bristol, I think we’ve got a special paint scheme for that that I’m kind of excited about, but that track is… going to the night race at Bristol was one of my favorite races to go to as a kid. Just a great tiny little race track and as a 12, 14, 15-year-old kid, you could see the whole place before the end of the weekend. Me and my buddies were all over it. We had a blast every time we went there. I have a lot of fond memories there. I’m glad I’ve got a trophy from that race track and that will be one of the tracks that I miss running at more than some others for sure. I love the short track racing. It’s probably what I love the best about this sport and it’s one of the few that we get to run on. It’s such unique race track, shape, banking and all that. There is nothing that compares to it. I will always feel special about it.
“It’s only been a few weeks with the presentations and gifts and stuff, but things like this mean a lot to me, where I know this is going to go to the hospital and the kids are going to love it. I would rather the tracks sort of follow that road to making a difference in someone else’s life long-term whether it is through a charitable contribution or what have you. Those things are going to be everlasting. My house is full of stuff. I don’t have anywhere to hang any photos or put any plaques and I don’t know that Amy wants any of that stuff hanging around on the walls, so these kinds of contributions to the community are going to be the ones that I think are going to be the ones that I like the most. I guess I’m encouraging anyone going forward that wants to do this to go in that direction. It feels great. I’ve got everything I need. I’ve got a great life. I don’t need anything. But to have something that is going to impact someone else or a group of folks long-term is the best thing. I encourage tracks to do that going forward.”
WHAT DOES NATIONWIDE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL MEAN TO YOU?
“The Nationwide relationship has been one that I’ve had for a long time. They introduced me to the hospital. It’s something that they have put a lot of money into and they have been connected to for a long time and they said, look, this is special to us, this is maybe one of the things that means more to us than anything else. We want you to know about it, experience it. I’ve gotten to go to the hospital on half a dozen occasions over the last three years and enjoy every visit. I’ve had the opportunity to take friends, my crew and my wife along with me. It’s awesome to watch them go through the tour and see them understand what is happening there and what the place is capable of. It’s fun to watch everybody sort of be amazed and pick their jaws off the floor. I didn’t know what to expect the first time I went there and I’m glad for Nationwide introducing me to the hospital because it has impacted my life. It has allowed me something to focus on to be a part of to make a difference. We have made some great friends with the staff and many of the patients as well. It’s been just an amazing experience for me and many other people that have had the opportunity to go see it.
“We will continue to go. They happened to put mine and Amy’s name up in the hospital over the activity room where the kids go play and they have their graduations and celebrations in there as well. So, we will be connected to that place forever. Can’t wait to go back. Can’t wait to take a whole plane load of people with me that have never seen it before so they can see what is going on.”