Earnhardt Jr, Hendrick press conference, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: I'm going to play the role of Ed Hinton and ask a three-part question. I assume the 24 and 48 are pretty locked up, those numbers. So when you say the team is not decided, it's basically between the 5 and the 25; ...

Continued from part 2

Q: I'm going to play the role of Ed Hinton and ask a three-part question. I assume the 24 and 48 are pretty locked up, those numbers. So when you say the team is not decided, it's basically between the 5 and the 25; correct?

RICK HENDRICK: Right.

Q: Sponsors, you're all locked up; are you looking for a new sponsor -- ask the third?

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, go ahead?

Q: Kyle, you said you guys decided to just go separate ways, what happened that brought you to that decision?

RICK HENDRICK: On the Kyle situation, again, Kyle is a young guy and a very talented guy. And when you come up on any kind of contract extension or renewal, it's the people around you I guess that work for you, it's their responsibility to test the market to see what your value is. And in testing the market, it was an unbelievable amount of interest in Kyle.

When we started looking at, you know, what he's doing and where he is and extensions, those kind of things came up. And probably our contract talks drug on a little bit longer than they probably should have.

But there are times when you've never been anywhere else and you've got goals and you've got situations that occur that you think that maybe it might be good to go try something different.

Again, I think we have the kind of relationship and respect that I'm going to support him in whatever he does, and you know, that's kind of the answer to that question.

What was the other question -- sponsors. We have several sponsors on our cars that are multi-year deals. And I guess my first responsibility is to those people, and we've got to look at how the teams are going to look at the end of the year going into next year and what spots on those cars are available and where they want to be. We do have some space but we have sponsors in place, so we've got -- we couldn't really talk to them because as soon as we started talking to them and the conversations got out, you folks would have it the next day.

So we had to wait until we got this deal done and then we'll look at what their commitments are and what our commitments are, and we'll make it all mesh and we hopefully will get that done here in the next few months.

Q: I'm only going to ask a two-part question. For a while, you had made your name on the restrictor plate tracks and the last couple of years, Hendrick has surpassed you guys in that. How good is it going to feel to know that you're going to have a real bullet at Daytona and Talladega?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, Rick's teams win a lot of races, but there wasn't ever really a competition issue or question with me at DEI. I've got all of the confidence in the world in those cars and my ability to drive them well.

You know, again, Rick's cars win a lot of races, so I'm just looking forward -- I think there will be a lot of difference in the feel of the cars and how they drive. Just driving his car at Texas, you know, the front end, the geometry settings, a lot of the things that they are doing on their cars, which I couldn't see and really know for sure what they were, but I could tell a big difference in just how the car rolled down in the corner and how the car yawed in the center of the corner, but even though it had been wrecked they fixed it back pretty well.

And so watching Casey and having talked to Casey just for a few minutes, he had spoken a little bit about how it took him a little bit of time to understand how to drive the car and how big a difference the car drove from what he was used to.

You know, if you give five guys the same pieces to build a car and they build all five cars, even though they try to set them up the same, they will drive differently just because guys set the front ends up and things like that. I'm interested in just knowing the angles that Rick's guys take to approach getting the car to turn and things like that. So I'm interested in knowing all those things.

Q: Know you're close to a lot of the guys at DEI. How much does it help to you see the resurgence of Martin Truex over the last couple of weeks that when you leave, there's still people in place there that can keep that team in good hands?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, that's been a really great thing for me. I'm happy for Martin because we're good friends and he appreciates everything that anybody has ever done for him to get him where he is today. He's thanked me and everybody on his team and everybody that ever helped him ever get to race a modified or whatever. He's just so good about that and it makes you feel good to see him have success and you want him to win more and do better.

But as far as DEI is concerned, it is a good feeling. Those guys take a lot of pride in their ability to win races.

I think that you know, it hurts Bono's pride a little bit and those guys' pride when the remarks were made about DEI not being able to continue without me as a driver there. And for them to go out and make a statement like they have over the last couple of weeks, I think it helps them and gives them a lot of confidence and gives the rest of the employees that are not going to the race track a lot of confidence. Those are the people that are at home and on the weekends and they work the 9 to 5 throughout the week.

So the guys that go to the racetrack know everything, know the whole story, know all the gossip. So that was really good for them and that makes me -- I'm just proud of them and it's good to see the team have success.

Q: Do you already have designs for expanding your gift shop? And secondly, you now have three of the four or five superstars in the sport; if we're at Daytona and you have a lap to go with Junior first, Jeff second and Jimmie third, what's going to happen?

RICK HENDRICK: I'm going to ask them to be nice and don't wreck each other -- no, that would be a good problem to have. I hope that works out that way. You know, I do plan to expand the gift shop. It's going to be an exciting time for our company and I think it's really no different than racing Tony or, you know, Denny or Matt Kenseth when they are all out there racing. Those guys driving those cars, they are so competitive, they want to beat each other.

We have a good program going right now where they share information, crew chief drivers, engineers, and they help each other in driving styles and it's okay to beat on each other. Just don't wreck each other. They understand that and I watched Dale drive and he's not going to -- I think most of the guys in the garage area today have kind of adopted that philosophy that if you do that, you're going to get paid back and it's just going to make life difficult and NASCAR is going to watch and they are going to take action and all of the above.

So hopefully we have that problem at Daytona that they are running like that. That would be great. That would be a good problem to have.

Q: Dale, you made the announcement a month ago that you were leaving the company that your father built, and it seemed at the time to be a surreal experience, but now that you have a landing spot and you know where you're going next season, has the reality of leaving the company that your father built really kind of hit home and have you been kind of struggling with that since you made the announcement back in May?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I never struggled with that. I felt solid about that decision. Obviously I made the decision and I felt pretty firm about it. I think if I struggled at all, that was before I made it.

But once I had come to terms with it, wrapped my brain around it, I was pretty confident that I was making the right choice. I told Rick that the hard part for me was being in limbo, not having a home, not knowing what your future was.

Being that I was a son of the guy that built the place, not only, you know, I had a job driving race cars and when dad was around and even after, I never had to worry about my job. I basically could act and do and say and go along as I pleased because of the family connection. And so it is really uncharted territory for me. I think it was a huge risk and it took a lot of nerve for me to make that first decision and to get out there into the real world and work for someone who I had to straighten up a little bit for, you know what I mean.

Rick said he's not going to ask me to change too much. I may not be able to wear jeans and t-shirts quite as often. But it's going to be a great experience for me and I think my fans are going to still have the same Dale Jr. that they have always had and the one they like to cheer for.

Rick's going to give me great equipment and I can't wait -- I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. I love driving race cars and as much as I would like to go ahead and get started to work toward our future with Rick, I love driving race cars enough and the team I'm working with now, I appreciate those guys enough that I look forward to the rest of this year and working hard for them.

Q: You were saying that you were working -- trying to work through Kyle's situation at Charlotte, so it seems this came together pretty quickly. When did you decide that you were actually going to be a player in this thing and really go after it and to Junior, when did you make the decision that that's where you were going to go?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I get all the questions.

You know, that was -- when I went around and looked at all of the other shops, basically I saw the same thing everywhere. Everyone has the ability to build the same cars. Everyone has the ability to hire good people. Everyone has the ability to have all of those secret things behind the door on the right, the door on the left.

Rick's got a great building and a great operation that's available, and attainable by everyone in the sport owner-wise. I think Rick and I's relationship was what made the difference for me, and I notice obviously, he's committed to winning and committed that winning is what it's all about for him.

I know that he'll commit whatever it takes for us to be successful, but the personal relationship was really important. But I had a lot of fun talking to everyone that we talked to; that was a real surreal experience, and some of the things that I heard and saw and was told were amazing and the relationships that I -- you know, I'm sitting there, you know, Job Gibbs, coach of the Redskins, he's a hero of mine since I was a little kid. And to be actually in the same room with the man was kind of hard to get over.

Some of the relationships that I even made over the last two months, or forged over the last two months are really important to me. I think a lot of people understood that there are a lot more good personalities in the sport than I gave the sport credit for.

Q: Talk about that day when Ricky mentioned to you that some day this day would come and why you didn't think at that time it wouldn't happen. And Dale, Waltrip said all along he thought you would end up with Hendrick because Rick would treat you like a son; talk about how ironic that it's going to happen here apparently but maybe didn't happen at DEI.

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I don't remember. I guess it was Joel Suggs. He's here, somewhere. Joel and Dale and Ricky were together. And Ricky called me and he said, you know, when my dad had the 25 team since it started, and Ricky, the plan was for him to take over. And when he got out of the car, he called me one day, I don't know where they were, and he said, "I'm going to sign Dale Jr."

I said, "Okay, right, that's good. I believe that." And then I talked to Dale and it was just something that he had in the back of his mind, and I didn't think it would ever come to pass. But I think he always planned, because of their friendship, and the respect he had for Dale, that that was his goal in life.

For me now, to see that really happen, is surely special to me. I think the next part was yours.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: What was the other part of that question?

I don't know that I can talk about him with him sitting next to me -- he does a lot for his employees. One of the things I keep hearing about time after time, and he did it for my sister when she was sick. Rick had his health issues several years ago, and he learned I guess through that experience the importance of confident and talented medical crews and that kind of service and how important it is that they are as good as they can be.

I've heard half a dozen stories about him when someone is ill or whatever, whether it be Parsons or somebody at his business, or a family member of an employee or whatever, he's flying people all across the country trying to get the best crews and doctors to that person or however they can get the best kind of treatment they can get. He does those kind of things in that fashion all the time.

I find that kind of fascinating that he has the ability to take time out of what he has going on and his busy life to do those type of things for other people. You know, you want to be around people like that. You want to surround yourself with people like that; not to take advantage of that kind of behavior, but to try to improve yourself. They make you a better person. They teach you how to treat other people.

So that's important to me that that's the kind of guy that Rick is. I feel like we've had a great relationship and we've had a lot of respect for each other over the years. And I think that we'll be able to grow that over the next several years as we work together and as I work for him, and hopefully I can do a good job. I think that I've got enough talent and if you're a race car driver, you've to think you're the best out there, and I don't have any problem doing that. So I feel like he's got great cars and I feel like we'll have success on the racetrack. I want to have success off the racetrack, as well. I want to do a good job for him as far as far as pleasing his sponsors, pleasing his employees, all of the people we'll be working with racing cars and everything we do.

It's a new chapter for me and I couldn't be anticipating it anymore. I don't think I could be working for a better guy when it comes to just as a person.

Q: People will be debating this for the next three days, 24 hours a day, and they are going to talk about what you said and how you said it. One of the things they will say is, well, I know what Dale's dad would have said. Can you clarify what would injure dad have said about this and how would he have reacted and also people think that you're very tight with the 5 team because you climbed in the race car and those guys were your friend enough to ask you and they also talk if that was part of it, too, that you're tight with the team?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I've got some friends throughout the garage. One of the things I'll say, what surprised me is when we talked about being a free agent, which I never proclaimed to be, the crew members that came up to me in the garage saying things to me about, "Man, we'd love to have you." That was -- it felt like I had won every week because every time I was going back to the track, I had somebody patting me on the back. So that was a great feeling.

But I know my dad would trust Rick. They had a great amount of respect for each other and knew each other for a long time. And I know Dad would appreciate what Rick is trying to do and what he's done for me up to this point and what he will do for me in the future and his approach and respect for my sister and my family. I know Dad would appreciate that, and he'd probably be a little jealous to be honest with you. (Laughter).

Q: You said you only wanted to go through this one time as far as this process and your career. Are you happy with the length of the contract, five-year deal; is it kind of open-ended after that?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, we haven't really talked about that as far as, you know, after five. I've always liked doing three-year deals, but knowing what kind of guy Rick is and I know I'm going to be comfortable there and I know the employees and I will get along great. You know, I just really anticipate the deal -- I think that five years, it's a great amount of time. That seems like the right amount of time for me. But you know, we'll talk -- I don't even think that we've even talked about how we're going to leave the end of the deal open or whatever. But there are a lot of options for us to explore there and a lot of exciting options I'm sure.

-credit: jr motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Martin Truex Jr.