Dale Earnhardt Jr, No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, met with members of the media at Bristol and discussed racing at Bristol, payback, celebrating his Daytona 500 victory and much more.
COMING TO BRISTOL, FIRST SHORT TRACK ON THE SEASON THIS SEASON, TALK ABOUT YOUR MINDSET COMING HERE. YOU’VE HAD A HOT START. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR THIS WEEKEND: “Just to have some fun, you know. This is a fun race track. I love racing on the short tracks.
We feel like we’ve got a shot to compete for the win there and hopefully we’ll have a good weekend with that. Kevin’s (Harvick) won some races here so we’re excited to see him drive for us here at this track. The cup car, we’ll just get in there and see how it is today. Like I said, just have some fun.
I love coming here, been coming here since I was real little. I mean, even over Charlotte, this was the one race that I didn’t want to miss all year long – or the two races that I didn’t want to miss, especially the night race that was just so much fun when you’re a kid. Hopefully we’ll have a good time and hopefully the car’s going to be fun to drive. Hopefully, Steve’s (Letarte) got her handling good and we’ll work on it if he doesn’t. We’ll keep plugging away until we get what we want.”
BRIAN FRANCE HAS SAID IN THE PAST HOW YOU GO, THE SPORT GOES. WITH YOU RUNNING WELL, ARE YOU STARTING TO NOTICE THE ATTENTION GROWING AND PICKING UP ON NASCAR: “It’s hard for me to kind of have my finger on the pulse and know exactly how much the needle is moving. They say we can’t really look at the Daytona because of the rain out. The network broadcasts are about the same if not a little bit, a percentage point one way or the other. I guess my fans have been tuning in all along. We just enjoy what we do. I try not to really worry about – I can’t concern myself with how much I move the needle. I think that goes outside of my comfort zone and what I feel is and what I think you need to concern yourself with if you’re as an individual.
I just don’t think it’s something –it’s relevant to me of course but not important to me. I want the sport to be healthy. And I want to do things that help the sport and make an impact on the sport. I try to do those things always taking opinions and advice on what I can do better and what I’m not doing that I could be doing to help the sport. You want to leave a mark of some kind. We all do. Everybody here wants to have some sort of mark left in their field and in the sport because we all care about it.
There are so many personalities and other drivers and new guys coming in. It’s an ebb and flow of personalities. So, I try not to get too caught up in it. It ain’t always gonna be that way. You know, something could happen this weekend between two different drivers that reach far beyond what I could do, and that will be great. That’s how the sport survives. It definitely doesn’t live and breathe on everything that I’ve got going on. It would be perfectly fine without me, but I’m glad to be a part of it.”
DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE CONCEPT OF DRIVER OR ATHLETE BEING IN THE ZONE. IF SO ARE YOU CURRENTLY IN IT WITH THE START YOU HAVE HAD: “Well, we’ve really got to take last weekend in perspective. We were going to probably run fourth to eighth in that race if we stayed on the strategy with everyone else. So, we can’t get too carried away by ‘yeah we were in the position to win’ but we did that on a strategy that a lot of people weren’t willing to take. We’re not going to be able to do that every week. We’re not going to be able to turn an eighth or a fifth-place run into a second or third or first-place run every week. We’ve got to keep in perspective what happened last week.
We weren’t by any means running with Brad (Keselowski) and those guys up front and battling for the lead at any point in the day. So we definitely can look at that and be excited that we had a chance to win. But also we need to focus more on how we get better so we’re running up front regardless of the strategy we’re running and the fuel strategy we use. It feels – we started off last year I thought with a lot of top fives and stuff to jump into the points lead early in the first five or six weeks of the season. We did some things just like we did at (Las) Vegas.
We went to California last year and we were like 22nd on that last restart. We come in and got tires and we passed about 10 to 15 cars on the outside in one and two and somehow nobody got in the way and we got lucky and ended up running second after they wrecked in the corner down there for the win. Just things happen sometimes for you and sometimes against you and we just been getting the luck here lately. Hopefully we can keep it going. This place here isn’t going to hand you any favors or give you an inch. So you’re going to have to work hard to get - whatever you take out of here, you’re going to have to earn it.”
DO YOU LIKE THE OLD BRISTOL BETTER THAN NEW BRISTOL? WHAT DO YOU THINK – THE NEW FORMAT AND THE NEW SURFACE AT BRISTOL? DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE ANY DIFFERENT AT BRISTOL HERE, MORE AGGRESSIVE OR ANYTHING? “I think so. I’ve talked about this year before with several of you. If you look back at the Bristol race, and the one that comes to mind is, because it’s the perfect scenario, where Matt (Kenseth) was leading and Kasey (Kahne) was running second. I think Kasey would have been much more aggressive in that situation to try to get the win had we been using the current format for the points system.
So, yeah, when it comes down to it, if you’ve got a guy running second within reach of the leader and he needs a win he’s going to do a little bit more than he probably would have done last year, probably be a little more aggressive and rightfully so. I think that things definitely changed, things have changed in the drivers’ mentalities over the years. You used to see people using the bumper all the time.
“A lot of that does have to do with how we run the race track now versus years ago they ran right along the bottom and that was the only way you could get around people was to move them. But the mentality’s changed over the years. You don’t want to go throw your trash in your neighbor’s yard just for the hell of it, but if you give me a good reason, I might do it. So, that’s kind of, I mean you want to dump somebody at a race track like this; you’re going to need really good reason to do it.
The mentality has changed over the years and the new system changes that mindset slightly too where if you move a guy out of the way for lack of a better way to explain it, you can blame the system and move on. Years ago, I don’t know how that’s changed or whatever, they would run over each other and argue about it and throw water bottles. But then the next week they could be professional and go and race at the next race track. That was the way it was.
This new system, definitely, you need to win. Winning is important. So, if you need to move somebody to win the guy that gets moved has to see it coming and understand that in the same situation he may have done the same thing. I think that’s a good thing. And hopefully – not that we all want to go out there and see each other running each other into the fence - but hopefully that definitely is what we see at places like Bristol when we’re presented with them opportunities Fans get more excitement and get more bang for their buck.
I think it’s definitely going to change the way people do strategy. We saw that last week. And at the short tracks, it’s definitely going to change the way guys race each other. At the short tracks where you can get within reach of each other, you’re definitely going to maybe be more aggressive in them situations for sure.”
IF YOU DID WANT TO GO THROW TRASH IN YOUR NEIGHBOR’S YARD, WITH THE NEW CONFIGURATION, THE ACCEPTED WAY OF DOING FOR YEARS WAS THE BUMP AND RUN WHEN YOU GUYS WERE RUNNING THE BOTTOM. NOW YOU GUYS RUN THE TOP, SO HOW DO YOU ROUGH SOMEBODY UP? IS THERE STILL A BUMP-AND-RUN TYPE STRATEGY? HOW DO YOU DO IT WHEN SOMEONE IS UP AGAINST THE WALL? “Yeah. You know, he’s going to get the quarter-panel in the fence a little bit but he will be able to race on. The think about it is, fans will even tell you this – they don’t like you to park a guy. Nobody likes. It’s just wrong to fence a guy and end his race. I don’t think the drivers ever intentionally do that. I’ve tried to move guys and accidentally spun them out before. I mean, it happens.
You know, at the short tracks, you’re not running as fast, you can just get a guy loose and if they’re running the high line, they might get their quarter-panel in the fence. (Joey) Logano and Denny (Hamlin) were an example of that. (Joey) Logano was able to race on and finish the day and be relatively competitive. So, you know, you can move a guy out of the way, get the position and make the pass without just ruining his day and throwing away everything him and his team worked for. You take the spot. That’s how you try to do it. That’s how you try to accomplish it.”
SINCE YOU FINALLY GOT HOME WERE YOU ABLE TO DO ANY DAYTONA 500 CELEBRATION WITH YOUR FAMILY? OR WAS THAT JUST AT THE RACE TRACK WITH KARSYN: “I got home. Sonny was there. My mom was there. It was like 2:30 in the morning so mom, and Sonny and I and another buddy of mine we drank a beer, talked a little bit about the race. You know. I had – just stuff was piled up everywhere that I had to go through and do. I needed to go over to HMS. We have our team meeting. So, it was a pretty typical week. I did a photo shoot with the Unilever folks.
I had a little work and got back to normal. And I went to see Karsyn (Elledge). She runs with the box stocks. Over the last several years she runs with the box stocks, which is basically kids her age and this year she’s moved up to the big karts with the grown men. She ran fourth against 12 karts so I was blown away. That was a lot of fun to watch her do that. I’m sitting there watching these guys, these grown men, like all of us our age walking around at this little dirt track and she beat several of them. She’s just a little girl. It was pretty crazy. I’m real proud of her. We had a good week. It was nice to be home. My family was real excited to see me.
WITH THE START YOU ARE OFF TO, YOU’VE ALREADY REACHED A HISTORIC LANDMARK – BEING ONE OF ONLY FIVE GUYS TO START THE SEASON WITH THREE CONSECUTIVE TOP TWO FINISHES. THERE’S ONLY BEEN ONE GUY WHO HAS DONE IT FOUR STRAIGHT – RICHARD PETTY. AS A HISTORIAN OF THE SPORT, WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU TO JOIN PETTY AS THE ONLY TWO DRIVERS TO HAVE FOUR STRAIGHT TOP-TWO FINISHES: “Anytime – you know, I’m going to sound cliché – but anytime you’ve do anything that Richard has done and you put yourself in the conversation with him to do with any statistic, it’s you know, a pretty awesome accomplishment because of everything that he has ever done winning as many races as he has and running as many races as he has. He’s been such a fixture in the sport still today.
Yeah, that would be awesome. Just something else we can hang our hat on and we’ve got a shot at it, man. We really run good here. I like coming here. We felt real good about our car last time we were here when the 5 (Kasey Kahne) or the 21 (Trevor Bayne) we were running with those guys and we ended up sort of chickening out on the fuel strategy and pitting and ended up giving up all of our track position.
With the way things are now, we don’t have to do that. We can go for it and be aggressive, so that will be interesting to see if we can be in a situation to do that and try to capitalize and get another win or another top three or top two or whatever we need to join Richard in that statistic. We’ll be going for it.”
DO YOU FEEL ANY PRESSURE AT ALL BEING THE PERSON THAT CAN ELEVATE NASCAR TO ANOTHER LEVEL?: “That’s a very uncomfortable question and to get asked about it really makes me uncomfortable because there are so many other drivers – there’s guys like Jimmie (Johnson) who have done so much and accomplished much more than I have. And they do a lot to elevate the sport. They do a lot of things that, you know, carry the sport as well or better than I do.
It’s just very uncomfortable because I don’t have the accolades and the hardware that a lot of these guys have, like a championship and things like that. I’m comfortable with the popularity and things like that because I feel like that we do a lot and we have a great fan base and we do a lot to engage with them. But carrying the sport is a whole other conversation or being the face of the sport is a whole other conversation. It’s a very uncomfortable position to be put in. I don’t think it’s realistic. All the drivers have a role in that and they are actively doing that.”
I UNDERSTAND YOU TOOK THE GAMBLE YOU WANTED TO TAKE LAST WEEKEND WHEN YOU FINISHED SECOND. BUT COMING THAT CLOSE TO WINNING AND NOT WINNING, DOES IT STICK WITH YOU FOR A WHILE? “Nah, it bothers you and it will anytime you talk about it. We still talk about Charlotte years ago running out of gas off of four and it bothers you when you talk about it. There’s part of you that’s like ‘Man, we almost won that race.’ Then you think about those words – ‘we almost won that race’ – and you get disappointed all over again. Yeah, I mean, it will bother you because it’s Vegas, too.
It’s a big race that’s in a unique market. They definitely have a whole different way of presenting our sport from the way we do the driver’s meeting. Everything about that whole town is unique and different. So to win there, I think would be a lot of fun and a good celebration and an enjoyable time and something that you could be real proud of. So I was very disappointed to come up short. At the same time, we took a gamble that wasn’t supposed to make it and I can justify why we didn’t win. But to come that close really does disappoint you.”
WITH THIS NEW FORMAT THERE IS ALMOST THE EXPECTATION THAT YOU COULD GET HIT FROM BEHIND IN THE CLOSING LAPS IF YOU ARE THE LEADER. WITH THAT SAID IF SOMEBODY DOES THAT AND YOU UNDERSTAND WHY IT HAPPENS THEY STILL HAVE ONE COMING FROM YOU DON’T THEY? “I mean you definitely are going to be upset if you get run over or get moved out of the way. That is not going to be fun. Yeah, especially in front of the fans of the sport in attendance and on television nobody likes to get showed up, put in the fence or moved out of the way. You feel had. You are obviously going to have a tinge of revenge in the back of your mind and you will carry that with you. You might do it you might not.
“I got ran over accidently. I ran my first Nationwide race at Myrtle Beach and Jeff Green was in front of me. I was running seventh, Jeff was sixth and Jason Keller was fifth. Jeff pushed Jason into the corner way up into the marbles in (turns) three and four. Jason just turned left and was trying to get back down the track and hit Jeff Green in the quarter panel. He hit me in the door as I was following through and spun me out. I always wanted to get Jason Keller back, but I never did.
I just never was in the perfect… and I know Jason is a great guy and I probably would have never been able to bring myself to do it, but some people you get a chance to get back. Sometimes it’s teed up perfectly right in front of you and you take it. Then sometimes you just never see them again or you are never in that position racing for a win. Or you are just never presented the opportunity for whatever reason. Yeah, if somebody runs you over you definitely can put it in the back of your mind and you don’t ever forget it.”
LAST WEEK BRAD KESELOWSKI SEEMED EXTREMELY ENTHUSED TO BE JOINING THIS GROUP OF YOU AND KEVIN HARVICK OF ALREADY HAVING A WIN IN THE BANK. AS THE WEEKS GO ON HERE HOW DO YOU THINK THIS DYNAMIC WILL EFFECT THE RACING? “Yeah hopefully that is the case. When it was just me and Kevin (Harvick) and you guys began to talk about that and we began to think about being able to be more ‘man the pressure is off’. You were like man I don’t want anybody else in this club. Brad is in it who is probably the last guy you want in the club because they gamble regardless of the system. Some of the things they did in the Chase to win the championship that year were big gambles and they were gutsy to do it.
Yeah, they will take risks and stay out on old tires and Brad will drive his guts out. We know that. The more people that join it as an early member of the group you don’t want anybody else in. You like that advantage if you will. But I think as more people are lumped into that winners box you are definitely going to see it will be good I think to see guys out there on so many different strategies and it will provide more passing because you will have guys on old tires, guys come in and get two tires, new tires or whatever.
You are going to be at tracks where you will see there will be a difference in performance between vehicles because of the strategies and therefore there will probably be closer racing and more action. The cars won’t just be spread out because everybody will have the same tires, same fuel it will be a little bit different at each track and it presents some good races more often than not.”