MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
FEDERATED AUTO PARTS 400
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. SCHEDULE
SEPTEMBER 8, 2017
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Richmond Raceway and discussed his interim crew chief, Travis Mack, thoughts on his farewell tour thus far, his outlook for this weekend at Richmond and making the playoffs and many other topics. Full Transcript:
Richmond Raceway announced today that they would be making contributions in Dale’s name to Blessings in a Backpack and FeedMore’s backpack program. They also presented him with a commemorative photo of his three wins at Richmond Raceway.
“Thanks a lot. This track has always been kind of special to me. I’ve been coming here, I know since 1981, at least that is the last photo evidence I have of me being here. I might have been here sooner I just can’t really remember, but I really appreciate that. We have worked with Blessings in a Backpack for many years and it is awesome that you guys are going to be working in your community and making a difference in some kids’ lives for sure. I learned quite a bit about those type of programs over the last several years. You are thinking that if a kid is in school you would think that there are other things that are priority or other things maybe more important to their education, but if they are hungry and they literally have nothing in their bellies they can’t concentrate on what they are trying to be taught in the classroom. And a lot of these kids are in such bad situations financially that they get sent to school, just for the school lunch because their parents know that they will get fed and that might be their only opportunity that day to have something to eat. So, these programs really do make a huge impact. They obviously work in the underserved communities that really need it. I appreciate that. That means a lot to me. We are going to continue working with Blessings in a Backpack and nice to meet you with FeedMore and we will certainly be learning more about your program as well through this connection. It means a lot to me, so I appreciate that a lot. Thank you.”
HAVE YOU ALLOWED YOURSELF TO THINK OF TOMORROW NIGHT AND WINNING THE RACE, MAKING THE PLAYOFFS AS A FAIRYTALE FINISH? ALSO, HOW EXHAUSTING HAS YOUR FAREWELL TOUR BEEN?
“I haven’t thought about any fairytales and it’s not been exhausting at all. It has been a big relief to finally have an end date and a decision made and knowing that is it. The reaction from the fans and everything that I’ve experienced from week to week has been really uplifting. It’s been a positive, fun experience. You know the results are not great, but I’ve dealt with that in my career in the past. I know how to deal with that emotionally and personally and I know how to work through it. So, that has not been that difficult to be honest with you. The reaction and support from not only the fans, but the industry and the folks around the sport, whether it’s in the media or in the garage has been really special to me. It’s meant a lot to me. So, I’ve really enjoyed it. I think that hopefully it is enjoyable all the way to the very end. I’m sure Homestead is going to be just a big ole blur of… I don’t know how that day is going to feel, but you know it’s going to be one of those deals where you won’t be able to… it’s just like winning a race. I don’t think you are able to take it in at the moment, but I have been able throughout this season to take in these little moments here and there throughout every weekend and they have been really nice.”
WHAT DOES JOSH BERRY MEAN TO YOUR COMPANY EVEN AT THE LATE MODEL LEVEL?
“Well, you know I think that Josh he is still winning races, we just won the Bobby Isaac Memorial this past weekend at Hickory (Motor Speedway). There were some key runners there. I guess South Boston or Motor Mile one of the two had rained out and a couple of the big guys came down and ran. Our cars finished first and second. You know Josh is going to just keep on grinding. We did run into some financial challenges with our sponsorships for our late models for this season, but we have been able to continue to be competitive. We have just had to be a little more selective about when and where we run. So, Josh doesn’t get to race as often as he would like, but he is still able to put a quality car on the track and be competitive. That is better than running all day in fifth or 10th every week. If we just go and run hard when we can and make a good showing and keep ourselves toward the surface so people can see us I think is all we can ask for right now until … we are just one phone call away from a sponsor that is actually looking for a driver. That is rare in this sport. Usually, they come hand in hand, but we are just … you just never know. We make a lot of phone calls. We make a lot of cold calls. We have a lot of companies call us with interest, some of those interests are to be involved with the race teams or with the race cars, some are not. Some are personal service interest, but you never know, that phone call might happen tomorrow, but you’ve got to be at the phone when it does. So, we are still working to help Josh get that opportunity. I think he can do it. So, we are still working in the direction, but it has certainly not moved too much over the last couple of years.”
YOUR CREW CHIEF THIS WEEKEND FAMOUSLY DELIVERED HIS OWN CHILD. I DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE YOU CAN TELL US ABOUT TRAVIS MACK AND WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE HIM ON THE BOX FOR SUCH AN IMPORTANT RACE:
“Yeah, Travis was on my car when (Steve) Letarte was there. He was a mechanic. He left Hendrick (Motorsports) to go to JR Motorsports to be a car chief with Greg (Ives) on the No. 9. They won a championship with Chase (Elliott). He came up with Greg to be a car chief on my car. He has got tons of ambition to be a crew chief and I think he is going to get that opportunity really soon. It may be at the Xfinity level, but he none-the-less he is always looking for what he needs to do to get that next opportunity. He has the talent, he has the mentality, he is a racer, not so much an engineer. He is a bit more of a racer because he is a car chief and mechanic, so he has a different… there is sort of a, I don’t know if it’s even an argument anymore, but a lot of people think that engineers make great crew chiefs. Some people don’t think they have people skills and that racers making great crew chiefs. If a racer has the people skills and has great lead engineers that is a great combination. But, sometimes you can find that engineer that has that personality to go with it, but you still often have to have the people below you, the lead engineers and everyone else, the car chief has to be very talented throughout these teams. But anyhow, back to T. Mack, I think that he has certainly paid his dues and has a ton of ambition. Like, this guy, you are pulling the reigns on him all the time saying ‘just be patient, wait your turn, it’s coming… you are going to get these opportunities and he is just all the time seeking out what he needs to be doing and who he needs to be talking to. He asks for advice all the time, which I think shows a lot about his ambition, but I’ve worked with him a long time and he has always been a very productive employee. He takes care of the company which is important. When you come down to the Xfinity Series you learn quite a bit about guys because you have to have a completely different mentality in the Xfinity Series than you do in the Cup Series. In the Cup Series, you can go grab any part you want off the shelf. In the Xfinity Series, you’ve got to ask for it. And some guys don’t quite understand that change in thought because you have to run right into the budget, but he was really good at that at JR Motorsports working with what we had and making the best of it. I like him a lot. When we got the news about Greg, I said I think Travis is the guy that you put in charge and between him and our lead engineer Tim O’Brien, you let those guys sort of battle the car and sort the car out throughout this weekend and we should be fine.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE TAKING AWAY WINS IS APPROPRIATE IF CARS ARE FOUND TO VIOLATE THINGS POST-RACE? AND WOULD IT BE A DETERRENT WITH THE CURRENT PENALTIES AS THEY ARE?
“I always didn’t have a problem getting thrown out of a race back when we raced on Friday and Saturday night at short tracks. If they found your car wrong, they threw you out. And nobody ever thought that that was crazy. At this level of competition, with the process of inspection, and maybe the news cycle and so forth – there is a lot of elements that play into what they do today and the decisions they make today. I hear there is more and more thought put into eventually trying to take these wins away. I heard Denny’s (Hamlin) comments today that he thinks it’s the right thing to do. There’s only two things that matter in racing and that is trophies and money. Those are the things that are going to be the deterrent and the things that will be impactful.”
YOU DON’T SEEM TO BE TOO SHOOK UP ABOUT CREW CHIEF GREG IVES NOT BEING HERE THIS WEEKEND. IT ALSO SEEMS YOU ARE MORE PRESENT TO STEPPING UP TO BE THE LEADER OF THE TEAM. WILL IT BE HARD TO NOT HAVE HIM HERE THIS WEEKEND EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE A GOOD CREW CHIEF FILLING IN?
“I already miss him. We have a relationship on how we trust and depend on each other and that is a void that is hard to replace. There is really nobody that can step up and fill that like Greg does. So, you know, in the hauler and so forth we are going to feel that void and feel that absence. He has the ability to be the voice of reason in a lot of discussions inside the hauler and obviously he is the leader of the team. He can keep everybody in their lane. Without him everybody is trying to jump up and speak up and everybody is a lot more vocal. With that said, I was watching practice and watching the team work and listening to Travis, listening to Tim, and listening to our second engineer (Travis) Peterson and just listening to the guys and all of them are much more vocal than they usually are on any other given weekend. In my opinion, I hope to give them this advice, but I will go ahead and share it with you. That is what they need to be doing every week, even when Greg is here. They need to be more active, supportive and vocal. Everybody on the team had to raise it up a level for this particular situation. And I think this is what we could have been doing and could be doing going forward that might help the whole team. It’s been good to see, but I think if Greg were to come back and I think if he was here in the garage to see it, he would think, ‘man, this is how these guys need to be every week. This is what we need out of every individual every week – 110%’. It’s a no idea is a bad idea and all hands are on deck kind of thing. I think there will be some good things to pull out of this experience and use going forward. There will be something to learn from it. So that is our goal. I feel really good though with T. Mack and the fact that its only one race. Greg is in the shop setting the car up and he can send it down the road and say, ‘try this, try, this, here is your list to try if the car doesn’t go well’.
“We don’t have a lot of practice to screw it up, so this isn’t going to be that big of a deal. If it was six weeks or four weeks, it would be tough. We would start to see the effect of that kind of nose in after a couple of weeks. We will get through this and I feel good about who is there. I didn’t think we needed another guy coming in to take over Greg’s position. We also have Kenny Francis kind of hovering over us in case he sees anything crazy happening or wants to step in. I think that is great and I have been friends with Kenny for a long time and trust him. So, he is just sort of hovering around in the background watching and otherwise, I think we are going to be fine.”
HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED AS A RACE CAR DRIVER?
“As a race car driver, I hope that people thought I was good and had some talent. Doesn’t matter to me where on the scale I rank, I just hope people credit me with having some ability. I hope they see me as someone that raced my competitors with respect. That I raced hard, but with respect. There are guys out there that I enjoy racing against and I hope that is the way people view me, my competitors at least. It’s a big body of work. Looking over my Xfinity races and all the Cup races, I think there is a lot to chew on there and a lot of substance. I feel pretty confident that I made a good impact on the race track as a driver – visually and on paper. Definitely enjoyed a lot of years. There were some bad ones, but I don’t know a lot of drivers that haven’t had some down years. I feel really, really lucky that I had a chance to rebound from that. I didn’t know if we would make it back to victory lane but we got ourselves righted and we won a few more races over the last several years. I think I am a pretty good race car driver and I hope that people acknowledge that part of it.”
HOW MUCH HAVE YOU BEEN KEEPING TRACK OF HURRICANE IRMA KNOWING THAT YOU HAVE A PROPERTY DOWN IN KEY WEST? WHAT ACTIONS HAVE YOU TAKEN IF ANY?
“Well, I’ve got a friend down there that has been looking after our property. Whatever happens to the property happens to the property it is not nothing that can’t be fixed. I do have a lot of friends down there, so worried about… I know they evacuated a lot of folks, but there are a few that are going to try to ride it out. We got to know that whole community down there really well. We have been going down there half a dozen times a year for the last 10 years and so we have met just about everybody in town and built a lot of good friendships. So, just hoping the community pulls together, they number one, get through it and then they pull together and fix everything that gets torn up. It doesn’t look very good. Kind of looked for a couple of days there looked like it was going to go up the East Coast, the east side of the Florida panhandle, but it is kind of starting to get a little deeper toward the gulf, so that is bothersome and it doesn’t look like it is going to slow down too much. So, it’s been devastating already there are a lot of folks that are in bad shape and it’s not finished yet. So, just praying for everybody and definitely got a lot of friends there in the Keys that we will be thinking about.”
WITH THE NFL SEASON STARTING THIS WEEK, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE REDSKINS THIS YEAR?
“Oh, man. Honestly, they didn’t look good in the pre-season. The offense struggled. But, they kind of play that way even in the regular season for the first couple of series. They don’t really come out of the gate firing, and they kind of buildup. It just seems like there’s a confidence that needs to build for that team to have success and it doesn’t come out of the gate where it needs to be. And as they play a few series, they start to play like they can and should. But, pre-season was pretty rough. But fortunately, they’re healthy. They didn’t lose any key guys to pre-season. And I guess to answer your question, it could be a six and 10 season or a 10 and six. It could go either way. They’re going to have to win some close games. The defense improved a little bit, but the offense just did not look the way it should have or the way I felt I was hoping that it would in pre-season. I don’t know if the timing is down between the quarterback and the new receivers he’s working with and I’m not sure that they’re on the same page just yet. We’ll see.”
HOW DO YOU THINK THAT NASCAR CAN BALANCE THE TRADITIONAL VIEW OF KNOWING THAT FANS WILL KNOW THE WINNER OF LEAVING OUTSIDE OF THE GRANDSTANDS AT THE END OF THE NIGHT BASED ON YOUR STATEMENT THAT YOUR STATEMENT THAT YOU WERE THROWN OUT OF SOME OF THE RACES PREVIOUSLY IN YOUR CAREER, ESPECIALLY IN THE LATE MODELS AND THE WAY THAT THEY DO IT AT SOME OF THE SHORT TRACKS? AND DO YOU FEEL, AS A TRADITIONALIST, THAT THEY CAN DO THIS OR EVEN MODIFY THIS IN THE CURRENT ENVIRONMENT?
“Yeah, that’s the tough part, I guess; that’s a good point. I mean that’s what they would always say for years is that they don’t want the fans to leave. They want them to leave the race track knowing that this guy won the race. I don’t know. I think that there needs to be a lot of discussion about it and I don’t know that it bothers me that a win is taken away on Tuesday or Sunday night, you know? It doesn’t bother me. I don’t know if it’s a blemish on the sport or it doesn’t look good for the sport to have it happen that way. But you can’t tech the cars quick enough to declare everybody clear. And a lot of the things that the guys are doing or trying to do will only be found in the technical center. So, it’s a difficult situation to be in but I wouldn’t care either way, whatever they did. If they left it like it is, that’s fine; but if they want to start taking wins away I don’t have a problem with that either. I, too, don’t have to worry about it anymore. So, I don’t know whether I’m the guy that should be in the discussion about it. I think this is something that could go down between the competition committee, the driver council, and NASCAR, and they could sort out what they feel needs to happen and should happen. But I don’t think what’s going on now is satisfying a lot of people. So, would you agree what’s happening now with the encumbered wins and all that, that sort of is confusing to a lot of people; it’s a little weird, wouldn’t you say? And it seems to be guys are having a little tougher time getting through the inspection process when they get back home. It’s competitive as hell out there. You’ve got to get everything you can. You’ve got to push it as hard as you can. With the rules as tight as they are, you’ve got to get everything you can get. But either way, if they want to leave it like it is, it’s fine. I just don’t like that word, ‘encumbered’. I don’t think anybody likes the word. If they had a different word, maybe we all wouldn’t be talking about this. If they had a really cool word, we’d just go with it (laughter).”
YOU SAID YOU HAVEN’T BEEN THINKING ABOUT A FAIRY TALE, BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR CHANCES ARE OF WINNING TOMORROW NIGHT?
“Well, after practices, we could run a fast lap that was a top 10 lap in the first two practices in race trim. After about 30 laps, we were behind the Penske guys on speed and we were behind all the Toyotas on speed by a tenth or two. Our teammates don’t look any better. So, I don’t know that we can look in the direction to lean on those guys too much. But, we tried some things in the second practice that won’t get us front-end speed, but we did some things that I think will help our car on the long run. So, we’ve got to just hope that’s going to work for us in the race. But, these races aren’t typically long run races anymore, especially with the stages and late cautions and stuff. I don’t know. Just right now, if we had to line-up and race, I think we’ve got about a sixth to 12th place car.”
WITH THAT BEING SAID, AT A TRACK WHERE YOU’VE HAD PRETTY GOOD SUCCESS IN A MUST-WIN SITUATION, WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS SATURDAY NIGHT AT RICHMOND RACEWAY?
“Oh, I think it would be awesome. If we could come out of here with a win, it would be quite the surprise, not only for all you guys, but us included. You’ve got to go in there and try. Like I said, our car is not off the charts slow, but it’s not the best car here, either. But, I don’t know that we’ve ever had the fastest car in practice at any races we’ve run here; even the ones we’ve won. So, a lot of things can happen in the race with strategy and so forth. With pit stops and stages, you can get yourself in the right position on the last re-start, and you can do the job. So, I think we’re a little faster, a little quicker, in practice than we have been here in the past. Our qualifying set-up was not good, so we’re going to try something completely different and we’ll see how that works out. But, when the race comes, I’m looking forward to it. We found a couple of things that I think will help our car on the long run and I’m kind of anxious to see if those things will really work out for us in the race. But yeah, it would be one of the biggest top 5 wins of my career if we were to do that considering the circumstances of win and get in and we’d be in the Playoffs and all that good stuff. So, that would be fun.”