MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
NOVEMBER 10, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed his relationship with Matt Kenseth, the emotions of being two races away from his final race as a full-time Cup series competitor, what advice he has given Alex Bowman and many other topics. Full Transcript:
Prior to starting his traditional media availability Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was presented with some gifts from Phoenix International Raceway. Earnhardt, Jr. was given a special batch of pickles made by Mrs. Klein’s called ‘Dill Jr.’s’. The track also presented him with a $100,000 gift made to Child Help an organization working nationwide to help combat child abuse.
“I really appreciate that. It’s really great for the speedway to make an impact in their community and they certainly did an amazing thing today donating to Child Help and what an awesome amount of money to donate. That is quite generous. I think on behalf of myself and my family, all our fans, we really want to thank you guys for that and that will hopefully make a lot of people’s lives a lot better. The pickles are much appreciated too. My bus driver, Kenny, as I was walking out of here, he knows about those pickles and he is the one that gets them for me every time we come here. So, he opened up the bay door on the bus and said he had a surprise for me and he had 64 bottles of pickles and cases underneath the bus. So, I’m taking home so many pickles this weekend. We are not going to need pickles for a while. Actually, I’ve got enough so I can share, which is something I enjoy doing.
“Thank you to the track and this place has surprisingly become very special to me. I’d appreciated Phoenix for its history in motorsports and I appreciate the effort that the track puts behind the facility. As an example of the remodel that we see happening at the race track now, always put forth great efforts to be relative and to be on the cutting edge as a facility. I have always had a lot of appreciation for the track, but I didn’t know that we would have so much success here. So, that certainly made this place very special to me that we’ve won some races and had so much fun at this race track. Ever since we started winning here I loved the opportunity to come back and compete. I’ve enjoyed the reconfiguration that the track made several years ago. The area here is awesome. We love the weather. We never really have to ever worry about any rainouts and when it does rainout… good things happen on that rare chance. Again, thanks the track and I couldn’t be more appreciative of what you guys have done for our team over the years and we will continue to come here as part of the NBC team so it stays on the schedule and I’m excited about that as well, to be able to come back out here and enjoy this track for many years to come.”
MATT KENSETH IS APPARENTLY MOSTLY RETIRING WITHOUT A FAN TOUR. YOU RACED AGAINST HIM FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR HOW HAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
“It’s really kind of stayed the same. Matt engaged me early in our careers in the Xfinity series and I was really shy, didn’t have an understanding of how to interact with my peers and competitors that well. I was just trying to do well. I was really nervous coming up into the ranks, but Matt engaged me and we became friends through conversations with him really quickly. We were both sort of coming into the Xfinity series at the same time and then we went into the Cup series together. We did a lot of things, together. We supported each other and enjoyed seeing each other have success. Matt, I love his sense of humor, I love the person he is and the person he has become, the father he is. We always… since the very beginning have always been at most race tracks, probably 80 or 90 percent of them we have been neighbors in the bus lot.
“And so, you know he has always had an influence on me as far as how I race or the person I want to be or become. It’s just been a great friendship even today this year he rides and I ride, so we cycle a lot on Friday’s together and he jokes all the time when we found out about the news about Amy’s pregnancy he joked that he was angry he didn’t get a text from me before he read about it on social media. So, that is the kind of friend he is. He expects to be one of those guys that you text when you have that kind of news and I love that about Matt and I love that he thinks that is our friendship that we have. Because that will be with us long after we are done driving. And I hate to think that he if finished knowing that he wants to continue to compete. I know that he wants to race and I think he can obviously, still be competitive and I hope that he gets the opportunity he wants to be able to continue. It’s going to make Homestead even more emotional because we came in together.”
YOUR SISTER SAID YOU NO LONGER WORRY ABOUT LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS THAT YOU HAVE TO LIVE UP TO YOUR DAD AND THAT YOU ARE COMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN SKIN. WHEN DID YOU START FEELING THAT WAY?
“I don’t know. I don’t really know that … I read something on Twitter the other day about my brother, he said he has always lived under Dad’s shadow and that is not such a bad thing. I don’t know that you are always out from under it, but it didn’t bother me, but I was always compared to him and compared to his success, the person he was, people either liked I was different or didn’t like that I was different and wanted me to be just like him or whatever. It was often in conversation or part of the topic of conversation in articles and so forth. I really don’t know when that started to happen. I guess it is happening now. I am going to go do something else after I’m done driving. Hopefully, I’m just as proud of my accomplishments in the booth as I am on the race track. I would love for that career to be a success and that would definitely be out from under his shadow. But it’s not something I really put a lot of thought into. I just miss him so bad and wish he were here today to see all this happening. Yeah, I don’t know. I think you will always be compared to him one way or another for better or for worse as long as I’m around, I guess.”
TWO RACES LEFT AND THEN YOU TRANSITION TO THE BOOTH WHAT HAS THE WEIGHT OF THOSE EMOTIONS BEEN LIKE THROUGH THE PLAYOFF AND IF YOU HAVE BEEN IGNORING THAT WHEN DO YOU HAVE TO REALIZE THAT AND WHAT DO YOU ANTICIPATE THOSE EMOTIONS BEING?
“Yeah, I feel like I almost need to apologize because I’ve got a pregnant wife, I’m retiring and I just feel like I’m going to break down any minute. I feel like every answer that I have has some sort of sad undertones and very emotional temperament, but I… yeah, it’s starting to really sink in. I hadn’t felt much. I went through Talladega, that was an emotional weekend regardless of how many races were left in the year. But, now, I think after Texas, I don’t know, I went hunting for a couple of days, so I didn’t really have to think about it too much, but got here and I’m like, man it’s just a week away. I am not sure that I’m like just ready to be going through all of that emotion that I will have in Homestead, but it’s coming. I hope that I can handle it well, but it’s definitely going to be interesting to see how that feels. Amy being pregnant, bless her heart, she is tearing up at the drop of a hat. All these videos and all these things that our partners are creating, this content has just been incredible. It makes you feel so good in your heart. The comments from fans. It is more than you can process and I’m sure that Homestead is just going to be like the cork coming out of the bottle. I’m lucky that Amy is going to be there, I’m lucky my family will be there and my team. I will have so much support and I want to support them. It’s going to be emotional for them and our fans. I don’t know really how to describe it, but I hope that you guys don’t mind it being a little bit heavy (laughs).”
DO YOU HAVE ANY GOOD DALE EARNHARDT, JR./MATT KENSETH STORIES THAT YOU CAN SHARE THAT MAYBE WE HAVEN’T HEARD BEFORE? ANY GOOD INSIGHT WE MIGHT NOT KNOW?
“Oh man, well Matt won his championship in 2003. I bet he was probably down 40 horsepower to everybody else, Roush probably wouldn’t admit it, wouldn’t like to hear that, but he was just an amazing driver. We beat him in the championship in the Xfinity series. We had a whole lot more race car than he did. And he ran us pretty hard. I felt like he did a lot in those two years with very little in the Xfinity series. I had always been impressed with his talent and his ability. He was as good a driver as anybody that is in the series today. I’m trying to think of… the things that I think about when … there are not any awesome stories to be honest with you. I wrecked him at Dover racing for the championship. We were kind of neck and neck in the Xfinity series championship. He had been leading all day. We had a restart and I had a shot at trying to get the lead from him and got loose off of (Turn) 2 and took us both out. That hasn’t affected our friendship so early in our careers with so much on the line.
“Me and Matt have raced really hard on the track. We have gotten out of our cars and said ‘what the hell’ to each other several times, but we stay friends. We just have a good friendship. One funny thing that we talk about we were getting our picture made for the cover of ESPN magazine back when we were coming into the Cup series and everybody knew that Matt had so much potential, so they had me up front and then they kind of had him behind me. The image was to express that there is all this hoopla about me coming in and there is all this attention on me, but you better watch this guy Matt, that was sort of the image was trying to express this guy is one you need to keep your eye on and he is lurking over my shoulder. But, Matt was really frustrated because the photographer kept sliding Matt a little further and a little further behind me. (Laughs) he kept getting more and more angry and he is whispering in my ear how pissed off he was at this photographer because he was like ‘they can’t even freaking see me’. And I’m like ‘Matt the story really… the image is to sort of show you as the real threat’, you know and people are talking about me and they should be talking about you. But, we still talk about that today.
“We joke about it because we seem to always be together doing things. We were in a little bit of a run for several months being promoted together as two stars in the Xfinity series moving into the Cup series, so we spent a lot of time around each other and just had a really good time. He has never been a guy, all us drivers have terrible egos and we can hardly stand each other and being around each other sometimes, but I’ve never felt that way about Matt. Matt has never done anything where I have felt like he was inflating his ego. He has always just been, Matt and was such a pleasure to race with and to know and be friends with. So, I hope that and I know we will, he is more than likely going to be hard to find once he is out of the race car, but I hope we can spend time together and we will definitely remain friends.”
IS THERE ONE THING IN YOUR RACING CAREER THAT YOU WISH EVERYBODY WOULD FORGET?
“I don’t know. I’m sure there is something. These are the questions that I don’t come in with a good mental note about. I’m sure there is some wreck… oh yeah, it would be really any crash that I probably started. I spun off of (Turn) 4 here and had the track blocked after the wreck was done, felt like a complete idiot. Tony Stewart said I was the ‘no driving asshole’ that day, which on that particular day, he was right. Yeah, I think that those are… I started a crash on the back straightaway trying to bump draft Marcus Ambrose in a test… we are testing and it’s January and everybody’s cars are brand new, everybody is testing their brand-new speedway car and I started a crash on the back straightaway and I’m like ‘oops, my bad.’ You go in the garage and you are like, man, I just want to go hide in the trailer. Everybody’s torn up cars are coming in and all the crews are all pissed off… those are some of the worst moments as a driver, some of the most embarrassing moments. So anytime you do anything like that you hope people have short memories.”
HAS IT SUNK IN THAT RETIREMENT IS A WEEK AND A HALF AWAY? WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO ABOUT BEING A BROADCASTER?
“Yeah, I think the retirement has definitely creeping in the weight of all that coming in a few days is definitely speeding up fast and my feelings are coming to the surface about it. What am I looking forward to most? I think… man it’s hard not to admit this, but to work with Steve (Letarte). I think that I remember how awesome it was to work with him and when we worked together we spent a lot more time together, around each other at home and around each other’s families. I love the guy. He is like one of my best friends and somebody that I just think the world of, so to be able to have the opportunity to have his ear about this whole process and be like ‘hey what’s next, what do I need to prepare for?’ Having him on your side again and having that opportunity to work with him is going to be just so helpful. It will be awesome, fun, but I think it will be just as helpful as he was as a crew chief. He is very good at encouraging me and he just knows how to get the best out of me and I think he will be able to do the same thing in the booth. So, I’m really looking forward to that and I’m sure there are other things that I have no idea about that are going to be really awesome about it that I’m just clueless about because I’m so green and have no idea what I’ve got myself into.”
TALK ABOUT ALEX BOWMAN AND ANY ADVICE YOU ARE GIVING HIM AS HE STEPS FROM SUBPAR INTO GOOD EQUIPMENT:
“Yeah, the one thing that I told Alex about is that he raced with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder the last several years. He invested in himself and I think we all in this room know about his story and how hard he worked to get this opportunity. I told him that now he has this opportunity, now is the time to drop that chip and let people get to know you. Let the people know the good guy Alex, the nice guy Alex. Not that he has shown this edgy chip on his shoulder but now is the time for him to stop feeling that its him against the world and he is trying to get his foot in the door. Now his foot is in the door, he is ready, here is his chance. So, I told him to put a smile on his face and go to the race track and enjoy what you are doing because you have made it. I told him to express that and I tried to help him understand to be good with you guys (media) and you guys will be good to him. I told him that he has a lot of responsibility with Nationwide to be a professional, to be mature, and to do a good job in and out of the car. It’s going to be quite an experience and a tremendous change for him in his profession. You know, he has never been in this type of situation before, but I think he is going to handle it well. Those are the kinds of things that I have told him to make sure he has his head on straight. There is no more goofing around. He has a great personality and he can hang on to that. He can continue to hang on to his personality and engage with the fans, but he can drop the chip and get to work.”
YOUR FINAL WIN COULD BE THIS RACE AT PHOENIX TWO YEARS AGO IN AN ODD WIN. DID THAT OCCUR TO YOU THAT IT COULD BE YOUR FINAL WIN?
“No, I never thought about it as far as that way. After our dry spell, every win after that I celebrated it and thought about it being my last win. The Talladega win, the Daytona 500, the July Daytona race, Martinsville, here – every one of them I was thinking might be the last. I wanted to get it all out and have some fun and think, ‘boy, how lucky we are’. That was the feeling we had every time we won, so yes, we felt that way when we won at Phoenix two years ago. I felt lucky that we were running good enough to win the race. Greg had done some pit strategy that cycled us into the lead at the particular point when the rain came. And I was thinking, ‘man, that is how it’s supposed to work’. You know, your crew chief is supposed to have that vision and man he had it that day. I was so proud of Greg and I felt lucky. It’s great to back into them (a win) every once in a while, or luck into them every once in a while. I have been on the other end of that where you felt like you should have won the race and don’t for some odd reason. So, I was feeling like, ‘heck yeah’. We would go straight to Key West from here, then we would drive to Homestead and then we would go back to Key West after Homestead. So, we partied hard after that Phoenix win and it was fun. We had a good time that night down at Captain Tony’s. That is where we went (laughs).”
YOU HAVE RACED HERE AT PIR MANY TIMES, DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL RACE OR SPECIAL MOMENT HERE IN ARIZONA?
“The wins in the Bud car stick out because that car was just so freaking awesome. It was so fast and turned so good in the corner. We used to come here before I won a race here, and we would come here and I would watch Jeff Burton go down into turn one and would go straight beyond the corner and turn real hard and would drive across the bottom and off of turn two. And I was like, ‘how the hell is he doing that? I can’t get my car to do that’. He was flying all the time and I was often wondering how that car was set up to drive that way and how he knew to do that. I was chopping the entry and couldn’t get my car to turn like that. They would use the apron down in turn one and two. We used to drive down on the apron some and turn the car and man, that car would do it all. For a stretch, our car was doing everything I wanted it to do and it was so much fun to drive. Tony Jr. always had a smile on his face every time we came here for several years. We all looked forward to coming here knowing that we had such good speed and how well the car handled.