DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Sonoma Raceway and discussed the happenings of this week following his victory last weekend in Michigan, his feelings on the No. 88 team as championship contenders and other topics.
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT THIS WEEK HAS BEEN LIKE FOR YOU AND HOW YOU FEEL COMING INTO SONOMA THIS WEEKEND: “It’s been a good week. I just did a little bit of media Tuesday and otherwise it’s been pretty typical. The team is excited about our win to finally get that out of the way and real happy with how the season is going. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer before the Chase just learn all we can learn and put ourselves in the best position we can during the Chase to compete and that is about it. I’m looking forward to the race this weekend. I enjoy coming here. I haven’t got the best track record at this track but it’s still a fun place. This is perfect weather for racing anyways. Hopefully, we don’t get any rain showers or anything and we can get on the track and see what we’ve got.”
HAVE YOU DONE ANYTHING TO GET A LITTLE MORE PRACTICE OR GET BETTER ON ROAD COURSES THIS SEASON? “We tested at Road Atlanta which is something that we have done for the last couple of years. That is a fun little track. We went out there and spent a lot of time learning what we could.”
STEVE LETARTE (CREW CHIEF) EARLIER IN THE WEEK IN THE NEWS CONFERENCE SAID FUN ABOUT FOUR TIMES AND YOU MENTIONED THE WORD FUN AGAIN HERE. WHAT ARE YOU GUYS TALKING ABOUT THAT HAS PERMEATED YOUR TEAM TO COME HERE AND HAVE FUN? “There are a lot of things that sort of do that when you come to Sonoma. Mainly I know I focus on the road courses I don’t really take them lightly but I know that is not my forte not really where my bread is buttered. You come in here and you have to kind of have a positive attitude and take whatever comes your way. Take the good with the bad the same. We have had such a good season and we come in here and we want to continue that. If for any reason we have some problems or struggle we won’t really dwell on it too much, but we would like to have a good run. We come in here with a positive attitude, but we know the reality of the situation is I don’t have a top-10 finish here. We just have to see what we can do. We just have to try our best.”
YOU MENTIONED THE CHASE, DID YOU NEED TO WIN A RACE IN ORDER TO TRULY THINK AND FOR YOUR TEAM TO TRULY THINK THAT YOU GUYS COULD GO ON AND MAKE A RUN AT THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS SEASON? “I think that helps us a lot. As far as for us personally to feel like we can contend and compete that we went out there and won a race. I don’t really know how it makes everybody else feel outside of our team, but for us yeah, I think it makes us even hungrier. It’s good to know we can do it. It’s good to know we got it done and we want to go do it again.”
DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANY RHYME OR REASON TO WHO IS GOOD ON ROAD COURSES COMING FROM YOUR DEVELOPMENT IN OTHER CARS? I WONDER IF GUYS WHO CAME UP RACING LATE MODELS IS THIS TRANSITION MORE DIFFICULT THAN MAYBE GUYS WHO CAME UP RACING ON DIRT OR IN GO-KARTS OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT? “No, not really. I think it is just something in the genes. Some guys, Rusty Wallace was real good at it. He came from ASA (American Speed Association). Ricky Rudd was real good at it but he ran a lot of go-karts when he was young maybe on road courses and stuff I assume. It’s hard to say. There are guys who are really good at it with little explanation as to why and then there are some guys with a lot of background and good rhyme and reason as to what makes them talented at road courses. I think it is either a niche you have or either you don’t. You can go to Bondurant and places like that and get speed and find your inner Boris Said (laughter). It is kind of like being able to play golf well. It’s something you have to do all the time. If you neglect it or don’t take it seriously you won’t be good at it. You can’t just pick up a bag of clubs and go hit every four months and think you are going to play a good round. It’s something you have to practice to be good at.”
ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE NEW RULES AS FAR AS THE REAR SWAY BAR STARTING NEXT WEEK? IS THAT AN AREA YOU GUYS WERE WORKING ON AND WILL THAT SET YOU BACK AT ALL IF YOU WERE? “I know a couple of the rule changes that particular rule change went over my head a little bit. I don’t know exactly what they were trying to do or what they were trying to prevent. It shouldn’t bother us any as far as our cars we are pretty… I talked to Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and he seemed pretty confident that we won’t miss a beat. The side skirt stuff seems to work in our favor. It seems to work in my favor. I kind of like my cars slick and lose and that is going in that direction. We feel like, me and Steve (Letarte, crew chief) that we have a nice package that we have been working with that is a lot different than what our teammates have been running. It has worked the last couple of weeks and we have run it on just newly paved tracks. We are going to have to find out whether it will work on these older surfaces and if it does that will be good for us.”
OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS I’M SURE YOU HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THE REACTION TO YOU WINNING FROM FAMILY, FRIENDS AND FANS. THIS WHOLE WEEK NOW THAT YOU HAVE GONE THROUGH IT WHAT WAS IT LIKE COMPARED TO WHAT YOU THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE LIKE? “It’s always bigger the real reaction is always bigger than what you imagine because just a lot of people will reach out to you that you don’t think about. L.W. (Miller) is my brother-in-law who is married to my sister (Kelley) he told me about a friend of his. His dad has gotten real ill and in the last couple of days he couldn’t recognize his own sons but all he was talking about was the race and us winning. That really kind of brings it home. It makes you realize how something like that affects a lot of people and really makes a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. That was pretty amazing to hear a story like that and to hear other stories like that. Just the amount of people that you don’t ever take it for granted that people are tuned in that much. I met Charlie Daniels a long time ago back when I was racing in the Nationwide Series. He told me back then how much of a fan he was of the sport, mainly the Nationwide and Truck Series’. For him to say something about it, mentioning it on his social media accounts meant a lot to me. Just little things like that really made it pretty special.
“I think my peers coming to victory lane and congratulating me means a lot. You go and congratulate people, I’ve gone into victory lane and congratulated other drivers when they when in certain occasions. You want to tell them you are happy for them but you don’t know what it means to them. You don’t really think about it I guess, but it means a lot. That was pretty cool for Brad (Keselowski) and Matt (Kenseth) and my teammates were happy but it was cool to see some of the other guys that I’m direct competitors with. Just all kinds of cool stuff like that was happening all week long and made it pretty special.”
HOW DOES THE MOMENTUM OF THAT WIN IMPACT YOUR TEAM MOVING FORWARD AND WHAT IS THE CHALLENGE LIKE TO MAINTAIN THAT MOMENTUM? “Well I don’t know really momentum whether it’s real or not. You just kind of keep going to the race track and keep studying and keep testing and keep trying to learn and take the best thing you can to the race track each week. If you have a bad week you’ve got to put it behind you and focus on what’s been working. We’ve got a lot of confidence and we are feeling really good about what we have been doing the best I’ve felt in a really long time. You just try to keep doing your job, keep doing it better and try to ask yourself every day: Can I work harder? Can I be smarter? What can I do to bring even more to the table? Because you can never get complacent or feel like even though we are doing good that this is good enough. In this sport there is always someone else about to step it up another notch and you’ve got to be working all the time to stay ahead of the game or stay even with the competition.”
YOU HAD A PRETTY PERFIDIOUS FINISH FOR LAST YEAR AND BEGINNING OF THIS YEAR HOW HAS THE FOCUS FOR YOU PERSONALLY OUTSIDE THE RACING? HAVE YOU CUT BACK ON ONLINE EVENTS OR PUT ANYMORE FOCUS ON THE DAILY ACTIVITY? ARE YOU HAVING MORE PAINT SCHEMES FOR THIS YEAR? “I don’t really know what our paint scheme roll out looks like. I’m sure we will probably do something, we always seem to do something for Daytona in July. We have been pretty busy with racing over the entire season. My lifestyle changed quite a bit, especially this year as far as my hobbies and stuff. I’m not racing online as much as I used to or spending as much time on the computer as I’m used to with my friends. I’ve been putting a lot more into my racing and focusing more and more on that. I also have been getting out a little bit more playing softball in the league in Mooresville. There is a league and the ball fields are right down the road from the house and we play against Mooresville Lowe’s or 84 Lumber or I don’t know who we played against last night. We are in the playoffs and having a good time. It’s all employees from JR Motorsports. Just getting out and doing stuff like that. That I didn’t do before.”
THE QUESTION A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE ASKING AFTER MICHIGAN NOT JUST BECAUSE YOU WON BUT BECAUSE OF YOUR CONSISTENCY THIS YEAR IS CAN YOU WIN THAT CHAMPIONSHIP? IS THAT A FAIR EXPECTATION NOW? “Yeah, I think so. We have been doing this a long time. We haven’t really competed for a title yet but this seems to be my best opportunity. I expect to be in that conversation or answering questions related to that as long as we can keep up our consistency and keep being strong.”