MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
TOYOTA OWNERS 400
RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
APRIL 28, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Richmond International Speedway and discussed the rest of the week since making his announcement to retire at the end of the 2017 season, all the outpouring of love and support from his fellow competitors and fans and many other topics. Full Transcript:
BIG WEEK FOR YOU. TAKE US THROUGH HOW EVERYTHING HAS GONE SINCE MAKING THE ANNOUNCEMENT ON TUESDAY:
“It’s been real positive which I’m thankful for. I was worried people were going to be upset and angry, like ‘what the hell’, so I was glad that they… so far, for the most part it’s been real positive. Obviously, the conversations I’ve had with folks in the media, the industry and the garage has been great. So, it’s been good, we also went to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Thursday, which was a really timely good thing to do because I was ready to get back to work and get back to my routine, if you will. That was fun to go there and sort of get the whole announcement and everything else off your mind for a little bit. But, yeah, it really went great. I thought the press conference was set up well and that all went as smooth as I guess I could have hoped. I felt like when I was up there giving my speech that I sounded like a monotone robot, but everybody seemed to be giving me positive reviews on that. Otherwise, it was really good. It’s been hard to admit that is what I want to do and that is the choice I was want to make, but otherwise the feedback has been great.”
DO YOU THINK NOW THAT YOU MAYBE HAVE LESS PRESSURE? HOW WILL THAT BE?
“Well, I think there will still be… the fans are going to want you to do as well as you can. They are still going to have expectations per usual. The team, the guys, they all and myself we would love to win some races. I’m going to say a race, but some races would be great going out in your last season to get some victories. We just want to go to Victory Lane one more time just to get that experience one more time would be awesome for me and I think the guys would love it for sure. But, I certainly did feel a lot more relaxed now. I don’t know whether it’s because I finally got to tell everybody and let everybody know what we are doing, get that over with, but I certainly felt real relaxed today in the garage during practice. I felt like there was less pressure from somewhere and a large amount, a lot different. We had a good practice. We weren’t exactly right when we started. And I guess that freedom of thought and free from the stress of whatever that I was dealing with helped us get through a good practice and find some speed.
“I don’t know whether we will be that fortunate every practice and in every race, but you know I kind of thought about when Steve (Letarte) we knew it was Steve’s last year when he was my crew chief. He called that whole season completely different. He was more aggressive and I think it was because he had the freedom to be that way. He was like ‘what if it doesn’t work’ and a lot of times it ended up working out. We won both of those Pocono races on pit calls that he made. We didn’t just out run everybody. There are things he did in the middle of the race that we might not have done had he not had his mind made up what he was doing and hey this is my last hooray, we are going to go for it kind of attitude. I noticed that whole year he was a much easier going, approachable, I mean he’s pretty damn likable, but he was much more likable and easier to be around. Everything rolled off his back, we didn’t get frustrated as easily and I am anticipating that being similar for me. That is, it.
“Usually when we start practice and the car is tight in the center and stuff the tone of the conversation is completely different, but since being able to make that announcement and let my guys know and everybody else included, I am not going to get so spun out if something is just not perfect on the car or the car is not exactly what we need or we are a little slow. I guess I won’t be as panicky about it and the frustration won’t jump in there as quickly as it usually does. I had to stay late Friday and help the guys pick up pits and all that stuff because I was too frustrated and mouthy on the radio and so, there will be a little bit less of that.”
HOW MUCH INPUT DO YOU EXPECT TO HAVE ON YOUR REPLACEMENT?
“I would love to have a lot. In my position, I’m paid to drive Rick’s (Hendrick) car. If he wants something else from me I’m going to wait for him to ask for it. I wouldn’t ever go in there and go ‘man this is what you guys have got to do.’ With (Doug) Duchardt (General Manager, Hendrick Motorsports) and all the folks that they have working there they all probably… I can’t read their minds, but I’m sure they all have a direction that they want to go and they have ideas. There are just things about the company that I’m not quite as in touch with that they are that will help them make that decision. They probably have everybody in the world telling them what they ought to do and they don’t need me, but if they ask for it I’m certainly wanting to be involved in that. I want the team to have more success. I want it to be… I said this every off season. Every off season is a chance to be better than you were the year before. It’s an opportunity to make those personnel changes and those hard decisions. It’s a chance to do it. The things you can’t do in the middle of the river, in the middle of the season.
“When Steve (Letarte) was on his way out, me and him both said anytime anybody in the team is being replaced or if they are being promoted you’ve got to try to make that spot better than it was before. I felt like that Greg (Ives) was the guy that could come in there and make that job better than Steve if we are going to make a change at crew chief we want to upgrade. If we are going to make a change at driver we want to upgrade. I want that team, I want them to have a driver that I feel is plenty capable because I want to see those guys win races because they are my brothers and I also love it when Rick is happy and he likes to win. I certainly have… I’m invested in that team personally, so I would love to be a part of their future and what they decide to do. I will just wait and see if that is something they want me to be a part of.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOU THAT ENABLES YOU TO HELP PEOPLE THAT YOU SAW PEOPLE WHO NEEDED HELP AND GIVE IT TO THEM?
“Well, one of the things that enables me to do it is our notoriety, our ability to connect with partners to be able to bring in partnerships and to fund that race team at JR Motorsports. People want to come there and be a part of that. That gives us an opportunity to give drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, all those guys a springboard to whatever their dreams are. The Navy came to us and said you guys want to start a team? I mean why did they call us? I think our reputation and notoriety in the sport led to our opportunities to help those people. That Navy sponsorship indirectly got Brad Keselowski his opportunity with Penske. We were able to get Brad in the car. I can’t run the car without the funding. Our connection with Hendrick as well. We weren’t a very competitive team when that communication and that connection wasn’t as strong. We made a lot of changes in our organization several years ago that increased the communication back and forth. Basically, I brought in a bunch of guys that Rick wanted to cultivate that were possible future crew chiefs. Trying to find the next Chad Knaus. We brought them all in there and we are responsible for these guys and giving them the opportunity we can to succeed and it now connects us to Rick because he has his people in our organization that he is trying to grow. Like Greg Ives story is a perfect example, Chase’s (Elliott) story is a perfect example. For us to become an asset to Hendrick Motorsports in that way to where they need us as much as we really need them was really key to give us opportunities.
“It just seemed to have been lot of luck, a lot of good things a lot of good fortune for those opportunities to line up. When me and Teresa (Earnhardt) started Chance 2 (Motorsports) I was talking to Richie Gilmore (President, ECR Engines) and he said you need to look at Truex’s son. We were at a race somewhere, a practice and he was testing. He was out there running around and I had my car there and we were flying. I said ‘you ought to get in my car, man, this is exactly how your car is supposed to drive.’ So, he could go back and work on his car and know exactly what he is trying to do to get his car to work. We struck up a friendship and he ended up driving for us, just a lot of random encounters and people tipping you off. Mark Martin is one of the guys that was always really good at tipping you off about drivers. He was a good scout as well. I always admired that about him knowing when he saw talent. I always wondered what he was looking for and how he found it. Another part of it is your own ego. You kind of want to leave a mark on the sport. You want to leave some evidence behind that you were a part of it and you were there and you did some things to help it move along. As we’ve ran through the last several years with the Xfinity program I’ve been really proud with what we have been able to accomplish. I feel like we have done a lot of great things outside the car as well as what we’ve done inside the race car on the Cup level. To be quite honest I’m not very hands on. I love being a part of it, but Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) deserves the majority of the credit because she is the day-to-day operator over there.”
“Yeah, I mean the best thing about this job is working with your friends. When we start going to the race track as a kid you take your buddies, you don’t take strangers with you. If your paths can cross… one of the coolest things about owning that Xfinity team was being able to get my peers like (Jamie) McMurray to drive my car at Atlanta and win it. (Tony) Stewart, drove our car several times, Robbie Gordon drove it a couple of times. All those names, (Kevin) Harvick come in there and really helped us a lot as a company. He didn’t just hop in the car like he was big on helping us get going in the right direction with our equipment with how our cars needed to be and helped us understand how to be more diligent there. So, the list of drivers that I’ve been able to put in that car I’m super proud of having the opportunity to do that. It’s basically about working with your buddies and having fun with your friends.”
WAS THERE A SINGLE DAY, LIKE YOU WOKE UP AND SAID ‘YEAH THIS IS IT FOR ME’?
“Well, yeah it didn’t happen like that. When I was hurt last year, there were several chunks of time where I was like I don’t think I can race again if I wanted to. So, there were several points in the deal last year where not driving cars was a real possibility. I didn’t really even care, I was so sick. You were so sick that you just wanted to be normal. You didn’t care whether you got to race again. You were so bad you just wanted to, hopefully, just get right. So, it wasn’t like it happened this season where I was like I’ve made my mind up. What I went through last year, as I got well the idea of racing became a real possibility, but one thing that never left my mind was… I mean retirement was kind of always in the back of my mind and I never could get myself to 100 percent say ‘man I want to do an extension, I’m going forward 100 percent, I’m in mentally, everything is 100 percent.’ I couldn’t ever get there. I just was like that must mean it’s time for me to hang it up. It’s so hard to explain how that happens, at least for me. It wasn’t like a switch it was kind of like just a long, what has it been 10 months since I got hurt? That whole experience is part of the decision. It’s not really like one reason or nothing really stands out. It’s what I need to do. I need to do it. I needed to make this decision. My heart still loves to drive and I will have so much fun the rest of this season doing that, but there is a time when you know it’s got to come to an end and that is how it is for me.”
YOU DON’T WANT THIS TO BE A ‘TRIBUTE TOUR’, BUT OBVIOUSLY WITH YOUR POPULARITY AND THE WAY THE SPORT HAS STRUGGLED WITH FANS….
“Did I say that?”
“Man. Why’d I say that? That was dumb (laughter)”
BUT OBVIOUSLY WITH YOUR POPULARITY AND THE WAY THE SPORT HAS STRUGGLED, TRACKS ARE GOING TO KIND OF MILK YOU FOR EVERYTHING THEY CAN, YOU KNOW, RIGHT TO THE FINISH LINE. ARE YOU COOL WITH THAT? IS THERE A WAY TO USE THAT TO PROMOTE SOMETHING ELSE THAT YOU’RE LEAVING BEHIND?
“Yeah, I don’t really know about the second part of the question, but the tracks have got to do what they’ve got to do. None of that is going to rub me the wrong way. You know, in my head, I’m going to be thinking, man this is the last time I’m going to do this at this track when we go to these places for the second time. Yeah, I’ll certainly be like this is the last time I’m going to race this race track in competition with these guys. So, I’ll be thinking about those things and having my own experience with that. Whatever the tracks need to do, that’s okay. It’s a little weird. The packages like the ’88 bucks’. That stuff has always been a little bit weird to me, but it’s whatever the tracks need to do. I’m cool.”
HOW WILL YOU DECIDE WHAT IT IS THAT YOU’LL DO NEXT? I HEARD THERE HAS BEEN A BIG AGENCY HIRED AND KELLEY (EARNHARDT MILLER) BEING INVOLVED, AND YOU PROBABLY HAVE SOME IDEAS. HOW WILL YOU MAKE THE DECISION?
“I couldn’t talk to anybody about what opportunities were out there. There are a lot of things, obviously, that I’m interested in to see if I’m wanted and see if there are places for me to be. Rick (Hendrick) has told me he wants me to be involved in HMS. I don’t know what that means, but I want to be a part of racing. Whatever he wants me to do, I’m certainly open to sitting down and seeing how I can be useful. Obviously I enjoyed my fun in the booth. If that’s an opportunity for me, I’m certainly going to have those conversations to find out. But I haven’t been able to really talk to anybody and even try to sort that out because I couldn’t communicate to anyone, man I’m going to retire so can we talk about XY&Z, and do you think this is something I can do? But now I can. Now I can have those conversations with the people that I really trust.
“And yeah, we did team up with an agency. We met with several. It was really coincidental. It wasn’t connected to the retirement decision because we still kind of hadn’t made that decision in the initial meetings. But, we ran through a few opportunities with different agencies and we basically did that solely because we feel like we’ve exhausted everything we can do under the roof of JR Motorsports with my sister and Mike Davis. We kind of wanted to open ourselves up to what other opportunities and possibilities there are for us and whatever ideas that they might have. That just seemed to be ‘the time is right kind of decision’. I hadn’t chosen to fully return when we started meeting with them but that’s going to be some stuff that I think produces opportunities; maybe not career-long opportunities, but just kind of one-offs here and there. We’ll just see. I don’t know. I want to stay busy. I want to work. One of the people that I really respected a lot was Benny Parsons. I thought that he left as important of a mark outside the car as he did inside the car. Whatever mark I can leave, I would love to be able to be as big an asset to the sport as I can be beyond driving. It’s up to everyone else as to how big an asset I was up to this point, but I’d love to still be helpful and do whatever I can to help the sport. I love being around it and being a part of it and I love racing. I love watching racing. We’ve got a lot of things to be excited about. There’s a lot of young talent pouring in and they’re going to be fun to watch.”
ON FAVORITE MOMENTS AT RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
“Well, anytime we won a race here, that was great, obviously. We won a couple of Cup races here and a few Xfinity races. Last year we won and that was really the highlight of the (Xfinity) season (laughs). It’s been a great race track. I think I like this race track so much because it really reminded me of Myrtle Beach. It’s very similar in shape as well as grip level. And I kind of grew up racing in Myrtle Beach for about four years in the mid-90’s. So, when I cam here it was like wow, I’m not intimidated, and I really didn’t have to find my way around this place when I first started coming in the Xfinity Series in ’98. It just kind of seemed to fit because of my experience at Myrtle Beach.”