Earnhardt Jr. discusses All-Star event with Charlotte media

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Team Chevy Racing

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 DALE JR. FOUNDATION/NATIONAL GUARD/DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway and discussed his All-Star win back in 2000, Military sponsorships in the sport, Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th win and more.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

YOU’VE WON THIS EVENT BEFORE, I’M SURE YOU WOULD LIKE TO GET BACK TO VICTORY LANE AGAIN. “Yeah, this is a great weekend. A lot of fun. It’s just an awesome race. It’s got a lot of great stories and a lot of history. We’d like to be a part of that this weekend and win the race, so we’re going to work really hard. I’m looking forward to getting in the car and seeing what kind of speed we’ve got and what kind of race car we’ve got. We’re going to work on trying to win our little races tomorrow afternoon to try to make it in without the fan vote. We’d like to get in and allow someone else to have the fan vote. So, we’re just going to work hard and see what happens. But, it is a fun race. It’s a fun weekend that is really kind of relaxing and exciting for everybody involved, the drivers and the fans. Hopefully it’s a successful weekend for the sport.”

I THINK EVERYBODY IS ASSUMING YOU ARE GOING TO BE IN THE RACE ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW FORMAT AND WHAT KIND OF STRATEGY OR PLANNING CAN YOU DO WITH THE WAY THINGS ARE SET UP NOW? “The format is always changing every year. This year there is a half dozen or so 20-lap segments leading up to the 10-lap segment, the one that really matters. I don’t really think it seems to matter how you stack it up, the race really comes down to the last segment. Who is competitive and who is ready to win the race then and who has the car and the drive to do it. There’s a lot of different things and variables in play throughout the several 20-lap segments there are, as far as whether you will take tires or not take tires, stuff like that. Trying to win one of those segments so you can be able to have a better starting position for the last 10-lap segment. The most popular question in the grandstands will be, which 20-lap segment is this? Is this the third, the fourth? It should be fun. I like the shorter segments definitely, but I think that definitely lends itself to more action. The fans like to see the car together, like to see them close, and they tend to get spread out. When the segments are short, you know you don’t have to wait long before they will be close again. So, I think that’s a good way to go.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR WIN HERE IN 2000 IN THIS RACE? WAS IT THE BIGGEST SURPRISE WIN THAT YEAR AND WHAT DID IT MEAN TO YOU? “We just were excited to be in the race. I remember when we won in Texas, that’s what we talked about in victory lane probably more than anything that we were in the All-Star event. We hadn’t even considered ourselves that fortunate as a team, and we were sort of rising up through the ranks so quickly. So, when we got to the All-Star race itself, we were just enjoying the whole experience. Being able to compete against the upper teams, the qualifying, and just being out on the track with that group, that puts you in another tier and gained us a lot of confidence and respect. We were just happy to be a part of that. I know Tony (Eury) Sr. and Tony (Eury) Jr. were thinking about winning the race as soon as the gates opened but I really didn’t imagine that being a reality until that last segment. I think we started off a couple of laps and the car wasn’t going to get it done and we made a choice to come and get tires and it took off. It was a wild evening and just storybook for me. One of the great memories for me.”

DARRELL WALLACE, JR. IS GOING TO MAKE HIS DEBUT IN IOWA, AS A NATIONWIDE OWNER ARE THOSE DIVERSITY GUYS ON YOUR RADAR, AND WHAT’S THE ROAD BLOCK TO THOSE GUYS GETTING A SHOT? “The road block for anyone getting a shot is just being able to showcase their talent. Being able to show they are fast and able to win races. I don’t think it matters who you are and where you are from. If you are fast and can win races and have any kind of hint of that ability, you are going to get interest. You are going to have people tuning in to you. I don’t get the opportunity to see really a lot of the K&N races. I don’t even know if they are televised to be honest with you. I assume they might be. I just don’t get a lot of opportunities to see a lot of those races. I see a handful of Truck races, see a lot of Nationwide race, beyond that I don’t get a chance to as a owner to get my eyes on these guys and see what kind of talent they have. I think they come to Dover with us and we get an opportunity to see them there, and at Richmond if you are there early enough in the week. It would be great if they could bring them to a few more races with us, and we could actually get a chance to see them in person. Any guy in that field that comes out and does great, you’re going to want to keep your eye on them. (Dave) Blaney’s kid would be an example of how he’s done well in that series. I don’t get a chance to see him run in the K&N (Series), but you hear about him doing well then he comes in and does what he did at Richmond. He’s got some interest. I think Darrell has done the same thing just by the success he’s had and his name being mentioned in the circles. But, it would be great to see him race more often, to be able to personally see him race.”

THERE’S A BILL THAT JUST PASSED THE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE IN THE HOUSE THAT INCLUDES AN AMENDMENT TO BAN MILITARY SPENDING FOR SPORTS SPONSORSHIPS. AS SOMEBODY THAT REPRESENTS A MILITARY BRAND, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THOSE IN CONGRESS THEY SHOULD BE LOOKING AT OR THINKING ABOUT AS OPPOSED TO BOTTOM-LINE ISSUES? “I think the Republican from Georgia that is heading the bill hasn’t even been to a NASCAR race. At least it states that in the article today. I would encourage them to do more homework, get more facts, understand the situation a little more. I know just talking to the (National) Guard, and we went through this before, and talking to them, they can’t express to me enough about how much this program helps their recruiting. They are committed to the belief it has a profound effect on their recruiting and their ability to recruit. It’s important for them to be visible and to push their brand, and work on their brand giving people an opportunity to learn more about how to get involved in the military. I think their NASCAR sponsorship is a great way to reach a lot of people. We are one of the biggest sports. We’ve got more people attending races and attending our sport than a lot of other avenues they could be going. I think it’s good and healthy for them to be here. I think it works for them or they wouldn’t be a part of it.”

WOULD YOU INVITE THAT REPUBLICAN FROM GEORGIA TO A RACE? “Yeah, just because he’s a Republican from Georgia he should have seen a NASCAR race by now (laughter).”

WHAT WOULD YOU WANT HIM TO SEE? “He could come along and visit with the Guard and talk with the Guard. Talk to the people that are at the particular races and see what the experience is like for them. See how the guard utilizes their program and they’re marketing within the sport. If he hasn’t been to a race, he’s not seen it firsthand. Then he can make his decision.”

GIVEN THE FORMAT OF THE RACE, NO POINTS, A MILLION BUCKS ON THE LINE, HOW FAR ARE YOU WILLING TO PUSH IT TO WIN THE THING? “As far as you can push it. Anything pretty much goes in this race. If you can get to a guys bumper on the last lap, he’s going to be in trouble. I think with the amount of money on the line, how big this race is, if you get turned around on the last lap for the win, I don’t think you can hold too much of a grudge. There is a bit of a code when it comes to particular races such as this, that no matter how dirty it gets at the end, you’ve got to kind of let it go. There’s just too much at stake. It’s just a lot of money. You’ve seen things happen before and it’s tough to take I’m sure. I’ve never been on that end of it, such as Darrel (Waltrip) getting spun out by Rusty (Wallace), or what went on between my old man (Dale Earnhardt, Sr.) roughing up Bill (Elliott) and all them guys in the 1987 race. That kind of stuff is going to be a part of it. If you’re close enough to the guy at the end of the race, that’s what is going to happen. In another event where there are points on the line, and the money thing is not as big, and you’ve got to go to the next race where points are on the line and the guys can retaliate or get you back .. I think this race gets a bye when it comes to your feelings and getting your feelings hurt.”

WITH HAVING TO RACE YOUR WAY IN THROUGH THE SHOWDOWN THIS YEAR, HOW DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR APPROACH TO THE WEEKEND? WITH THE EXTRA LAPS ON THE CAR, DOES IT CHANGE ANYTHING WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE CAR? “This is from Steve Letarte, not me personally. He told me we didn’t bring a good car here last year. We didn’t’ emphasize the importance of the race, and we brought a car we feel like will be more competitive this year. That’s his call on the equipment that we take to the race track, and how much emphasis we put on individual events. I’ve had years where we’ve built a specific car only for this race that we would never use again. Then I’ve had years where we brought the worse car we had in the shop. It just depends on how things are going for you at that time, and whether you’ve got worse problems to worry about or if things are going great and your guys aren’t working themselves to death, you can really put that kind of effort into building a unique piece for this event.”

IN YOUR DEALINGS WITH THE NATIONAL GUARD, HAVE YOU SEEN THE EFFECT NASCAR CAN HAVE WHETHER IT BE A GUARDMAN WHO IS A NEW FAN OR YOUR DEALINGS BACK WITH THE NAVY, HAVE YOU SEEN THAT EFFECT? “Yeah, I have. Obviously I don’t know the particular numbers and stuff but we do get a lot of recruits that come in. When we worked with the Navy we had a lot of people we actually recruited at the race track. We met a lot of people that just signed up because of the NASCAR exposure. My experience with the (National) Guard has been incredible. Just being able to feel like you are a part of it and being able to meet all the people that serve and the people that have recently enlisted, is an incredible experience for me. It’s something I’m really proud of because of the exposure just for me personally as a citizen and to learn and know as much as I do, and have been able to learn about the military and our involvement, especially with what we’ve been through over the last 10 or 15 years. It’s really been important to me and opened my eyes to what’s going on and how important that is to the country. It’s been awesome for me. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I have been able to see how the marketing works and how that’s beneficial to recruiting in certain ways.”

DO YOU THINK A WIN THIS WEEKEND WOULD HELP REVIVE SOME OF THAT RESPECT YOU SAID YOU EARNED BACK IN 2000 WITH YOUR ALL-STAR WIN, OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU STILL NEED TO DO THAT IN A POINTS RACE? “I do think it would get people excited and definitely get our team excited. I’m sure if would have a good effect on us and built our confidence especially for next weekend. I remember when we won here in 2000, how much confidence it gave me going into the (Coca-Cola) 600, and we actually ran really well in that race the next week. We were right there working for the win most of the night. It definitely helps you going into the next race at Charlotte. Winning this kind of event this weekend would do wonders for our team.”

WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT MILLBRIDGE SPEEDWAY KENNEDY (ELLEDGE) WON HER VERY FIRST MINI BOX STOCK RACE, KARSYN (ELLEDGE) HAS BEEN DOING THAT FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS, WHEN THE TIME COMES THAT THEY ARE OLD ENOUGH IF THE OPPORTUNITY PRESENTS ITSELF, WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO PUT THEM IN A CAR? “Absolutely, Karsyn, she’s really taking to it pretty heavily. She really enjoys it. Kennedy, like you said, just ran her first race, but she’s not really old enough to know what’s going on. She just wants to do whatever her sister is doing. So, we’ll see how that works. Karsyn is dead serious about it and quite productive. She is really kind of smart about it. I’m really enjoying seeing her do that. If that’s what she wants to do, I have been smart with my money and would love to help her as long as she wants to do it.”

THOUGHTS ON HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS’ 200TH WIN LAST WEEK AT DARLINGTON. “Well it was disappointing because I wasn’t the one to get it but I was happy for Jimmie (Johnson), and especially happy for Rick (Hendrick) because he’s worked really hard and put a lot into this sport. It’s great to see him reach milestones and be a small part of that program when that happened. It was a great experience just to be there and see their excitement. It just drives me and motivates me to win some races for him. To put my name up on that list as they go to 250 and 300 (wins). I want to have a few more wins on that list there. That’s how it makes me feel.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, earnhardt, hendrick