Daytona 500: Earnhardt, Jr - Media Day visit

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with media and discussed his thoughts about the Daytona 500, how the sport has changed, the anniversary of his father's death, new things for 2011 and more.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. Having a good day?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Not the best day, but it's good.

Q. How do you feel about the 500?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I feel good about it, I guess. Just, you know, anxious to get out in some packs and draft and see how the package is going to work versus the new surface, see what we come up with, some ideas on what the best plan of action is to try to win the race, what you kind of need to do.

Obviously, it's going to probably be the same: try to stay up front, stay out of trouble. But the way things work in the draft and stuff could be just a little different with the surface.

Hopefully still, you know, you got options and the racing is really good, which I think it should be. It was when we were here in December, but it's a little bit different plate.

Q. For those of us that weren't at the Media Tour, can you talk about your feelings regarding your dad and the tributes, getting involved in them.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't know what you mean about 'getting involved in them'. You know, he will be recognized a lot over the weekend, I'm sure. It will be awesome to see all those things, hear all the great things. Anytime anybody says something good about him, it makes you feel great.

It will be good. It will be a good weekend for the family. My grandmother will probably enjoy hearing all the great things that will be said, as will all of us.

Looking forward to seeing everybody, you know, recognize his accomplishments and what kind of person he was, how he affected everybody.

Q. How has the sport changed?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The sport's gotten bigger. The sport just keeps getting bigger every year. More things seem to happen. The spotlight gets larger. The stage gets larger and more competitive.

I think the sport is really healthy right now. When you look at the crop of talent that we have in the series, from 1st to 35th, it's a lot of talent in there. The quality of the equipment from 10th on back is better than it's ever been. It's really competitive. I think it's a good sign of how healthy the sport is.

It's just a huge machine, you know, that just has this incredible diet. It's a lot of work for everybody and a lot of effort put forth across the entire platform from the fans, the drivers, the media, the employees of NASCAR. Everybody is sort of putting their best foot forward and doing everything they can to do their job.

Q. Mark Martin reiterated you have the broadest shoulders in the sport for everything you have on you. With so much on the line with the beginning of this season, the changes, the questions, then with your dad's anniversary, how challenging or how tough is this mentally? Are there things you have to do differently because there seems to be so much that can weigh you down?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, you know, I think the only thing that really concerns me is my performance on the racetrack. The only thing that affects my mood and my personality I guess is directly connected to the performance factor in the sport. That's the one thing that weighs on you I think.

I use the word 'concern' because I feel like it's a better description. When you say something weighs on you, it sounds as if it's a negative thing or you dread or it's disappointing. Of course, our performance needs to get better and it has been very disappointing and upsetting. My concern is that we're going to fix that. That's the only thing I think about.

The anniversary of my father's death, just regular wear and tear, responsibilities aren't on my mind as much as just sheer performance, what I need to do to run well with Steve and the team, what I need to do as a driver to give them confidence in me and make them feel like I'm ready to go.

Q. What do you need to see out of Steve? You seemed to be a little bit guarded after the 500.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We ran second because we kind of got tires and a lot of guys didn't. Tires are such a big deal on this track with the old surface. We were able to knock it up through there a little easier because of that - a lot easier actually.

You know, I enjoy running here. I've said it a million times, how much I like this place, how important I feel like it is to all of us. But it's such a different beast compared to everything else we do throughout the season.

When you run well in the 500, it's not a sign of anything other than the fact that you ran well at the Daytona 500. That's all it is.

Q. Are you at the point that enough is enough; you need to run better? You said your mood correlates with your performance. Have you been in a three-year bad mood?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, yeah, I guess so (laughter). I mean, you could say that. That's a good way to put it. I mean, I've tried to be as nice as I can to everybody, but it's not been at all pleasant.

I take full responsibility for how I've ran. I don't put that on anyone else. One of the worst parts about it is, running bad, it affects not only you, it affects your crew chief, your relationship with your team. I had an awesome relationship with the guys that I worked with last year. I have a good friendship with Lance. But you hate that those people are directly affected by how your performance is, especially mine. The fans take a lot of wear and tear going through stuff like that.

You wish that it was just all on you and that you were the only one affected by it, but you're not. So starting with a new team, I just want to be able to run well, not have those guys go through that same experience that Lance and the team that I was working with the past couple years went through.

But, yeah, I mean, running bad puts anyone in a bad mood. I don't think I'm any different than anybody else. Of course, you want to turn it around as soon as you can. I think it's just the same for me as it is for all drivers. 'Enough is enough' was last year. I mean, I'm ready to get going and get to the racetrack and see if we can turn things around.

Q. Have you doubted yourself?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't really doubt myself. I never, ever put the responsibility on anybody else. I never doubted Lance or my team 'cause I think Lance and Mark are going to run great. I think that Mark is going to give that team what they need to get to where they want to be and be competitive like they want to be. I don't doubt that at all.

But I don't know. I never doubted myself. I know what I've accomplished in the past. I know what I've been able to do. I know what I can do. Things changed. Something about how I'm working with the COT and how I'm working as a driver hasn't been productive, and we got to figure out what that means, why that's the case.

Q. They're going to talk about the tributes that are going to inevitably come up. We'll all look back, you're going to look back. What are you going to think about?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: During a situation like that, there's a million images. Mainly I just think about races, specific races, cars. It makes me think about other drivers that he raced against, his relationship with them, his relationship with Mike Helton, Mr. France. It's a million different images that sort of cycle through.

Q. Do you think about that day?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Not really. That type of situation wouldn't really kind of spark that memory.

Q. You've always spoke so longingly about Daytona. Does it feel any different coming back here this year?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's Media Day, so, I mean...

You know, the surface really sort of gives the place a new look obviously. That gives it a different feel. When we pulled in, I saw the jet dryers running around there trying to dry the track for the ARCA guys. It makes me nervous having the jet dryers on that new surface.

I have a lot of pride in this place, have a lot of great memories here, feel protective of it, prideful about it. But it doesn't feel a whole lot different, I think. I think maybe once we get to working, the sounds of a new crew chief, new guys in the garage, everything kind of working, happening, that will really kind of bring it in.

Everything is new. I got a new team, new PR guy, new bus driver. Sort of wipe the slate clean, so I'm a little nervous. But I think we'll be able to carry it.

Q. Steve said your schedule will be set by the crew chief Explain that. a little bit to us .

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: He has a certain way that he wants things done and he requires a driver to be involved in a lot of things that I typically haven't been involved in in the past, which is good I think. Basically he has meetings before and after practice. So it will require me to be at the car 30 minutes earlier normally than I would get there. If it gets me out of an interview or any kind of photo shoot or whatever you may have, it's more fun being around the car, for sure.

He just has his drivers show up early for practice and then he needs them to stick around later. It will be fun seeing how Jeff and Mike sort of work with that.

Q. From that standpoint, do you feel like you let Lance down a little bit that you weren't there for as much? He may have wanted the same thing.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Like I said, I take full responsibility for how I ran working with Lance. I feel like at the time I was doing what I needed to do. But I think I'm about to enter a whole new world. I'm willing to do whatever they ask me to do. Hopefully that has a direct effect on my performance.

Q. Dale, back at DEI when you were winning, I don't know if it's coincidence or not, you had family, friends, people you've known for a long time. You go to Hendrick, you didn't have the group that was around you all the time. Has that played into things at all over the last three years? If so, do you believe things are more on the right path with Steve?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't want to believe that that has an effect on it. I think that me and Steve are going to get along really good, and that's important, too. Obviously we need to get along. It's important to me, too, to have a friendship and a trust built up 'cause you need to be able to lean on people and trust what you're hearing from them and trust what they're doing. I think that's important, more so than just the professional working relationship.

You know, I was able to build a great friendship with Lance in the short time we were together. I never really had a problem doing that. I had a real good friendship with a lot of guys on the team. I mean, we were a team, you know. I felt part of that group. I felt like I fit in there. I felt like we had a good package.

So I don't want to believe that that needs to happen for me to be successful. That was a unique group. We all kind of did work together from the Nationwide Series up, most of them. If they came in, I trusted them immediately because it was Pops bringing them in. I never questioned him. But I don't want to believe that that has to be the equation for me to have success.

Q. Is there a certain degree of calmness and serenity you're going to feel when you get in the racecar? Media Day will be over. You can get to the reason why you're here in the first place, not have to answer a lot of the questions that you probably are dreading hearing.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't really dread this. I've dreaded the Media Day on certain occasions. But normally it's the story that I'm dreading talking about.

But this week's not too big a deal. This has been a pretty easy day so far. The hat dance is the worst part. Every time you have to do the hats, it's terrible.

Q. Not so bad in Victory Lane.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Been a while. I won't mind doing it in Victory Lane.

Q. Danica talks about she likes her association with Hendrick and all that. Next year she has to make a decision what happens with her. Are you in a position, you want to make a decision here soon whether to keep association with her and move on up to Cup?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I feel like we're in a position to make that decision at all times. We know, okay, this is our best position. As a company, we were hustling last year at this point, just like everybody else, trying to work with the environment economically. This year we're in a much better situation, just like everybody else seems to be. It's resetting itself.

But, you know, that's definitely something that, if we're given that opportunity to consider it, we'll definitely consider that. I mean, it's way too soon and I don't really want to be hypothetical about it. But we always look at all our options. That's how we started this JR Motorsports in the first place. But sort of going into a situation like that, we'll just have to see how it works out.

I mean, she's a lot of fun to be around. She brings a new energy to our company. I enjoyed last year a lot and enjoy and look forward to working with her this year, see how much she learns. I think she came a really long way for the races she ran and how spotty the season was. She did pretty good. Especially near the end, she really picked it up in a lot of places, became competitive in a few races.

That's all we want to see, is her to keep getting better. If we can keep working with her, it would be great. But our company right now as we sit, Joey is giving the opportunity to people like her, Brad Keselowski and Eric, seeing what they do with it. They eventually move on to do bigger things on the Cup side. That's where we are as a company right now. If we give them the opportunity with the right deal, we'd have to consider.

Q. Can you talk about the Budweiser Shootout, if it will be at all different, if you're looking at how you race it?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's really hard to tell how you race. You got to run it like a short Daytona 500. Everybody is in the field. They got everybody out there except Martin Truex, Jr.

Q. Or Keselowski.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Keselowski and Truex will be watching, but everybody else will be racing.

You know, I think it's going to be like a quick -- well, it was 20 laps, but now what is it 75, 100?

Q. 25, 50, 75.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: 25, 50, then 75?

Q. No. They're not going to make you work that much.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I mean, you just run hard. Get the lead, stay in the lead. It's all lead, lead, lead. Get the lead, get the lead, get the lead, that's all you're thinking all the way around the track.

Maybe in the Shootout you're thinking getting the lead all the way around the track. In the 500, you know, you got 390 to kill.

-source: team chevy

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Martin Truex Jr. , Mike Helton , Brad Keselowski , Mark Martin