Earnhardt Jr - Daytona Fan Fest interview, part 1

2009 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Saturday news conference transcripts An Interview With: DALE EARNHARDT, JR. ANDREW BOOTH: We're joined by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. You have one of these trophies and talk about the Daytona 500 and...

2009 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Saturday news conference transcripts

An Interview With:
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.

ANDREW BOOTH: We're joined by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. You have one of these trophies and talk about the Daytona 500 and your 2009 season with the No. 88 Chevrolet.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to going into the season. It will get here when it gets here. We've got a few more weeks of off season left, Super Bowls to watch and whatnot. But just being around the racetrack today has been exciting, truly, to drive in and see the banks and the school cars going around, to sit here with the trophy and see some of the press and some of the other drivers really sort of gets your blood boiling a little bit and gets you excited about coming back and getting going.

I'm looking forward to seeing how I feel like the no testing is going to be zero effect on I think you won't even recognize a difference in the season or how the weekend goes for Speedweeks. But I'm looking forward to just getting in the car for the first time and that will be in drafting practice for the Shootout soon, and I'm looking forward to getting two or three laps in and getting excited and seeing how good our stuff is, and hopefully it's really, really good and we're very, very happy.

Q: You kind of partly answered that already. I was just going to say, as long as you've been doing this, is it kind of a switch on, switch off things so you come to Speedweeks and just like that you'll be ready to go?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think so. Especially when you don't have any testing and there's not many opportunities to really get in the car and get behind the wheel and go around the racetrack. That really only takes a couple laps really to get reacclimated with everything going on, the speed and the senses and all the things you're trying to do. But it should just be like an old shoe, you know, your favorite pair of slippers or whatever.

It is an on off switch for me I feel like, and I'm glad to turn it on, and I'm glad to turn it off. Just whatever I need to be doing, whatever the job is at the time.

Q: Have you re-acclimated with Tony, Jr. yet, seen him at all during the off season and talked at all about strategy for the coming year?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We talked a little bit, went hunting together in Missouri. We haven't talked about strategy. We really never talk much about strategy until we're actually there at the race weekend. Depending on the racetrack there's a certain way you do things. I've got to go over there next Tuesday, sit in a few seats and sit in a few cars and shoot the breeze a little bit with the guys. We're having a company luncheon that we always have, a quarterly company luncheon. So that's always fun. They always have good fun and everybody gets excited about that.

Yeah, we haven't really spent a whole lot of time talking. Like I said, we went hunting for four or five days together and took our uncles, Robert and Jimmy Gee. But we just talked about everything else, or nothing at all, really.

Q: With the new car you're racing here, do the same kind of strategies work at the end and getting to the front worked with the old car? How is the new car different here to rate in the draft strategy wise?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: This car is a little bit more difficult to move through the pack. This car punches a bigger hole in there when you get two or three cars when you get three or four lines of cars lined up together, the center lane, which could have been an option in the past, is not an option now. There's no air on the car and you really just lose the front or the back, one or the other trying to go into the middle and make something happen. It's just really hard to get any grip out of the car. The car has a lot less downforce, especially it has a whole lot worse downforce package in the draft or behind other people, it's a lot worse than the old car. It's just a challenge trying to get it run, trying to make a run happen on somebody and trying to get up alongside of them and get by them.

The great thing about the 500, though, is it starts in the daytime and ends at night, so when the sun goes down the temperature goes down, the grip comes up a little bit, so the racing right at the end of the race it's a whole lot better than what you've seen all day long.

Q: I have some oddball questions. Number one, how much do you like Memphis barbecue, and the second part of that is are you aware of their offer to you of a lifetime supply and have you thought at all about taking them up on their offer?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I don't really have that much use for that much barbecue, but the who do you work for?

Q: NASCAR Scene.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Just making sure you don't work for Memphis (laughter). I don't know, those kind of deals kind of get under your skin a little bit because obviously I haven't raced there since 1999, and I probably won't be going back there any time soon, and they just use my name to try to sell tickets and try to start some gimmick. They were saying in their press release that they watched a television show called Cribs where I talked about Memphis barbecue and I specifically pulled out the package of barbecue that I liked, and it's called Rendezvous and I mentioned that on the show. So they knew that Rendezvous, if anybody has ever been to Memphis and ate there, they know it's great barbecue ribs, so they know that that was my favorite. But they mentioned their track sponsored barbecue place so they got a plug for no damn reason, and Rendezvous who has been there forever doesn't get a word in.

Q: Now they will.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Now they will (laughter). Well, if they give me some Rendezvous ribs and up the ante just a little more than just ribs, we might talk about it.

I don't know, it was a little frustrating. I should probably just take it easy because I know they're just trying to do their job. But I would have it would have been cool to get a heads up that they were going to do that; hey, man, we're going to use your name in this instead of getting it sprung on you. Vegas did the same thing. What was the deal a couple years ago, Mike? Some ridiculous deal for them to try to get people to buy tickets.

I told everybody to go buy tickets to Talladega. It's a hell of a better race (laughter).

I don't want to sound like a jerk about it because I know that it's tough times right now, and we're they're definitely in between a rock and a hard place trying to get people to come out there and watch races, but I was really more upset for the guys at Rendezvous that have been around for years, and everybody knows that's the best place in Memphis, hands down. Everybody can read right through that article.

Who here has been to Memphis?  And you guys never ate Rendezvous ribs?  All
right, then you can attest.  They are consistent.

Q: Brad Keselowski was in here just now and he seems like a new guy. He seems like he's so much more confident, and he said it's because he feels ready for the first time for this move. He also said that you really groomed him well, that he is his best racing around you, that he races harder when you're around him, when he looks in the rear view mirror he sees you race harder against him. He wants to win the championship in the Nationwide series, but he really does seem like a different guy, like he's more letting himself out and more confident. Can you talk to that?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, if Brad is anything like me, I guess you get something like a season he had a great season last year, and you get something like that under your belt, then you can kind of take an off season and begin to admire it and appreciate it for what it was. He did a great job for us last year. He's probably thought a lot about where he was prior to that. He's just been at this for a very short period of time. He's just starting to become appreciative, I guess, and understand truly what he's been able to accomplish. He's starting to feel comfortable with the opportunity that he might be able to do this for the rest of his life.

When I first came in and I started even after I won that first championship in '98, there was no guarantees, you know, and you damn sure didn't want to be doing anything else, especially after getting a taste of it. He's just starting to really get that confidence and feeling like, yeah, man, I feel like I'm starting to all he wants to do is just to do this for the rest of his life, and he's starting to feel like he's getting to be able to start to accomplish that. Obviously being able to have some conversations with Rick will certainly give you a lot of confidence and calm a lot of the nerves. He's obviously got a lot of questions about his future with the Cup Series and what opportunities Rick can provide for him. With Mark coming in, what does that mean for Brad. So he's had a lot of conversations with Rick that are private, and I know really nothing about those, but apparently those give him a lot of assurance, and Brad is feeling really confident right now. He's in a great spot, he's looking forward to next year. He knows what he did last year to try and win the championship and finished third, and I think he feels like he can put together a better season this year and maybe give us a shot to win the championship.

Q: Here's a shot in the dark. Have you ever named any of your race cars?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, just for fun. We used to name them all the time. I built some street stocks. My granddaddy Robert G. used to name his race cars all the time. I had the Mach 5 and the car I raced at Myrtle Beach and the late models I built from the ground up, we called it Wild Eyed Crazy Mary.

Q: Where did that come from?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: That was a Pearl Jam song. It was actually a cover that Pearl Jam did. I had a car we took to a lot of different places like Florence and a few other joints that we called East Coast Drifter and the car that I burned down to the ground at Nashville in late models was called the General Lee because it was built in Richmond, Virginia. We had some Busch cars called Red Headed Stepchild because the chassis was red. We had a lot of different names for some of our cars.

I mean, you have to name your race car. It has a personality already, so you've got to give it a name. That's only fair. Only fun, too. It's better than some number, you know? Everybody has got numbers stamped all over them.

Q: How do you size up your first year with Hendrick? Did it fall short of expectations? I guess I'll ask the obligatory question about the Ganassi Earnhardt merger thing.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't know what obligatory means, but I'll try to do my best. As far as last year, I mean, I was real happy how we started the season. The first half of the year was great. We were second in points, we ran great right out of the box. We were actually one of the better teams in our stable for the first couple, two, three months. Then the last half of the season was a steady stream of disappointments, especially in the Chase. I was very disappointed with how we ran, but the whole team was. I was not disappointed in any one individual or anything, we just we just didn't get it done. We damn sure didn't get it done.

You know, that was frustrating not to be able to compete like we did at the start of the year, because we always work hard, and I always try to drive really hard, because I can't if there's one guy out there that would be easy to take a pop shot at for not being focused and not driving hard, it's me. So I've got to go out there and drive hard every lap.

You know, as far as the merger, I'm pretty happy, I think, for them. You can't get a word out of Martin. He's like talking to a rock. I see him on the internet all the time, try to talk to him, just get I have no idea what's going on over there. The only thing I know about what's going on over there is what you guys are printing, and I don't know whether to believe half of that because you just don't know. Hell, y'all might not be getting the truth.

I don't know what they're doing, but I hope that it's good. Merging has always been pretty decent for everybody that I've seen it happen to. Chip has some real strong views, and he's a tough, tough, tough competitor. He's got a reputation, and I think that will be good for them because he's certainly visible at the racetrack, and that's good as an owner for them, and Teresa didn't really like coming to the track and didn't want to be around the racetrack. So now they've got one of the owners that will be at the racetrack. A driver has questions and he needs to talk to an owner sometimes on a Friday night or a Saturday, so that will be good.

I'm excited for Max and his future. I guess he's moving on, and he's got he's got some great opportunities to work with the Diversity Program. He is a really good guy in my opinion, and he may be pulling the wool over my eyes, but I like him. I hope that he's involved in the sport for quite some time because he's got a pretty good head on his shoulders.

I don't know, I mean, it's just so tough to stay alive right now in this sport, in this economy, for anybody, so tough, so challenging, and it's not over. We're not out of the woods yet. It's going to be a hard year for these teams. Even these teams that think they have sponsorships and have what they need, it's going to be very challenging to get through the season, much less put together a program for next year.

Q: As a team owner you've been involved with driver development programs for the last few years. Can you tell me what qualities that you see in a driver besides one that wins races obviously, what qualities you look for in a driver? And second question, and I apologize because this is three months ahead, but why is Taladega Superspeedway such a magical place for the Earnhardt family?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, when you're looking for drivers I used to think I had an eye for talent, but now I don't think so anymore. I think that you have to just I mean, there's no real such thing as having a true eye for talent. I mean, there's a lot of guys that like I can put Mark McFarland and Brad and Shane Huffman in cars, and they can all go fast. What you need to do is they can all run quick, you know, but they've got to be able to take the next step, and that's be able to finish races running that fast, be able to finish races consistently running that good and running that quick.

You know, I didn't really see that in Brad. I saw the first half of it I saw the second half of it. I saw him finishing races and taking care of stuff and being smart with his equipment. He'd take his car that was not very good and run probably better than he should. Apparently maybe that's the guy you need to give a shot to, because I give him a shot and he's run great and he's not tore up my stuff. I've had other guys that were fast, knew we were fast, put them in a car because they were fast and they wrecked a lot, and I couldn't convince them that that was going to get them fired. Just couldn't convince them. They'd go out there and back it into a wall the next week, and I'd go, I just told you that that is not going to work. Let's stop doing that. Two weeks down the road we're in the fence again, and it's like, how do you I don't know what else to do.

So I can only do what I know how to do, and that's look down the road to find somebody that has that pre programmed in their mind. Some guys do start off Jeff Gordon wrecked a lot of race cars his rookie year in the Busch Series, but he changed. But that's rare. I can't sit here and go, yeah, I've got my eye on three or four guys watching them come up through the late model ranks, I'm going to see which one is going to work out. Because if I tried to pick one out of the three right now, I'd probably be wrong every time. You just have to hope you're lucky like I was with Brad. I was real fortunate with Brad and it just worked out. It happened to work out. I had good equipment, I was looking for a driver, and he just happened to be in the right place at the right time in his career.

It's just a chance deal in my opinion. I used to think, yeah, you can look around and pick guys, and man, I can make a driver out of him no problem, and he's fast and if he'll listen to me, I'm sure he will, but that does not work. You just kind of have to be lucky. And circumstances. Like rod Osterlund and my dad getting together. Who would have thought in 1979 that that he was going to win a rookie title and a championship in 1980. Everybody else would have put their money on Cale and Jr. because they had won three in a row. Daddy was a big surprise when he came down here. It was just circumstances and chances and opportunities.

Talladega being special, I don't know, it's always been fun for me, always liked going there when I was a little kid, loved going to that racetrack, and daddy always run good there. When he ran good at racetracks, I was paying more attention to the race than goofing off. Obviously I'm not a great road course racer because daddy wasn't waxing too many road courses, so I was probably goofing off in the garage somewhere during those races. He always run good there, so you always paid attention and watched and had fun watching those races. They had a great little garage area where we had our drivers' meeting. That was a fun place to hang out. I had a lot of great memories from going there when I was too young to drive.

And believe it or not, I'd never raced anywhere at Myrtle Beach, and it was 1994. I had only run 20 late model races, I drove a street stock car, a legend car and then 20 late model races. My daddy called me at the dealership and he said, we're testing the V8 for the Busch Series and we want you to come down here and drive it. He said, don't tell nobody, just come, be at the plane at this hour. So I told the guys at work I was changing over to the other shift, I said, I ain't coming back until tomorrow, don't ask. I went to Talladega and got in a car and drove around Talladega. That was the greatest thing in the world at that time, and I couldn't tell a soul. It sucked (laughter). That was amazing.

I don't know, I just love the place. It's got a lot of history. Obviously with the Alabama Gang and everything that happened there with that, they made it a great racetrack and a popular racetrack, the Red Farmers and Bobby and all them guys. We came in and won some races and made it a pretty exciting place, too.

Continued from part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Brad Keselowski , Shane Huffman , Red Farmer