DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, welcome, everyone to this special edition of the NASCAR video teleconference, ahead of Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Super Speedway. We're pleased to be joined by Dale Earnhardt Jr. today who is our guest. We'll get...
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, welcome, everyone to this special edition of the NASCAR video teleconference, ahead of Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Super Speedway. We're pleased to be joined by Dale Earnhardt Jr. today who is our guest. We'll get right into it. I know, Dale, you have a special announcement. Because beginning today you and your sponsor, AMP Energy, are sending out a special invite to members of the Junior Nation. Today marks the beginning of the "Ride with Junior" program which will ultimately hit the track at the AMP Energy 500 on October 5th at Talladega.
So it is a perfect kickoff spot for you for this. Do you want to share a little with us about that before we get started?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, it's very easy, actually. AMP Energy is putting codes on the bottom of the AMP cans that you can buy today in supermarkets across the country. And you take that code, go to AMPenergy.com. And type the code in to the Ride with Dale program, and it's really first come first serve. The first 70,000 fans will have their name decaled on the race car for that race.
The remaining people that sign in, there are other areas within and around the track where amp will have signage and what not to put those names. But the first 70,000 will actually get on the race car, and so I think that's pretty cool.
DENISE MALOOF: Sounds good. Sounds like a good way for the fans to interact with you and the No. 88 Chevy. Thanks for sharing with us today. And we'll get right to media questions for you.
Q: Let me ask you a couple questions about Talladega. Do you see this as your best opportunity, the best place you're most likely to break your losing string?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I guess, you know, you could say that. I feel like there are a lot of other good opportunities in the season, a lot of the tracks that I run pretty good at.
We obviously had a lot of success at Talladega, there is no denying that. And I feel like, you know, we're going to have a good chance this weekend, and I'm motivated by that. But I've felt that way all year, really.
Before there were probably four or five years ago I definitely went into these races with a little more confidence than I would carry into the other events. But this season I've felt like we've had a shot every time we show up.
But I definitely like running Talladega. We won a lot of races there. Got a really big fan base there, and that means a lot to me to be able to go there and run good. Just being up front and leading some laps and getting the fans on their feet, that's what I'm looking forward to.
Q: One of the things that's interesting about this year is how well Tony Eury, Jr., has seemed to have integrated himself into the Hendrick Motorsports family. Can you just talk a little about how well that's gone and how he, as I understand it, has really been open to a lot of information sharing with the team?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, he is. It's sort of been a double-edged sword for Tony Jr. this season. He's had a lost praise from within the organization. I think he's done a terrific job getting our program where it needs to be for the start of the season. I think he's done a great job up to this point on getting me cars that are running good, and making good decisions and what not.
But he has just as many critics as he does people that want to praise him. So I feel that it's happening more this year than it ever had before, and I really don't know. I can't put my finger on why he's taken just as much heat as he's taken this season.
But he handles it pretty well. He's pretty tough. It really does motivate him when people question his ability and what not. He really comes up with a good – he rebounds pretty fast from that with a convincing, you know – he has some way to really set the tone and show people what he's worth and how good his ability is.
But to be honest with you, you know, Chad seems to really enjoy working with Tony, Jr. Everybody seems to understand he has something to bring to the table. I think me and Tony, Jr. went into working for Rick. Our main worry was what could we bring to the table if anything? Would we be able to be an asset, you know with our experience and the knowledge we had. So he's definitely been able to do that. And I think that satisfies him a lot to be able to come in there and lay some things out that he knows they try and they like.
Q: Have you ever tried to take stock of why your dad and now you are so immensely popular at Talladega? What kind of a reaction do you expect going back there for the first time now as sort of a more buttoned-up member of Hendrick Motorsports?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I think the reaction will be the same. It's been a little bit more – it's been a little bit moreover whelming this year than I anticipated it to be. So hopefully when we go to Talladega it will follow that path. We'll have just as many people, if not more, excited about what we're doing.
I'm pretty happy about taking the AMP car to Talladega for the first time. The new package, the new team, the new number, everything. I'm looking forward to racing it in front of all those people.
They've been so good to us and so dedicated and so supportive that you go into that race feeling like you owe them to put the car out front. They came there to get on their feet, and they want to cheer and they want to see that car take the lead. And really, that's all you think about, and that's what your main goal is once the green flag drops.
But I think Rick's going to enjoy how the fans are excited about our program and excited about us as a racing team. I think he's going to enjoy that. At Talladega, the team's definitely going to have a lot of fun with it. The fans have really been great to us there.
Q: I know you're in Indianapolis testing. What is the track like today and how much of an advantage will this be for you come Brickyard time? And how much would you like to win that race there that your dad won?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, it would be awesome to win at Indy. It is a big race. Definitely in the top four biggest races of the season, that's why I really felt lucky to have the opportunity to test Goodyear here this week. It will be a good advantage. I don't know how big of an advantage.
I'm not sure that it's as big of an advantage as one might think, you know, with the new car and what not. We're not necessarily discovering gold out here. We're just sort of running into the same old problems that we have with this car, the same scenarios.
And, obviously, at the tire tests we aren't able to dial the car in and work specifically on the set-up to improve the issues the car may have. It's more about trying to give Goodyear everything they can, everything they need data-wise. So basically we can't change the car.
At a certain point today they're basically going to tell us to stop adjusting. Run the car the rest of the test like this so we can get the proper data, and back-to-back the tires on the same set-up. If we're changing the set-up, their data's changing and they can't get what they need. But it's just good to be here to get some laps.
We have a lot of testing coming up over the next three or four weeks. I think I've had about seven tests scheduled for the next month, so that's new. That's definitely something that's new for me, and I'm excited about it. If it gets me to Victory Lane, it will be worth it.
Q: I'm just leaving a news conference at Lowe's Motor Speedway where they announced they're going to have a burnout competition at the All-Star race, and they'll select a handful of drivers and have them do burnouts and give $10,000 to charity, similar to a slam dunk in the NBA or something. What are your thoughts on that, and might you be a candidate for that? Would you be interested in doing it?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't know if I'll do it this year. I'm sure there are some guys that will be excited to be a part of that. Working with an opportunity to give to their charities, that's a pretty cool idea.
Any time they come up with those type of programs, any kind of, I guess, interesting thing they can add to the All-Star weekend is always worked out pretty good.
I particularly would rather see the old timers race again. I always enjoyed and admired those guys, and it was fun to watch those guys race. I think the fans might enjoy the burnout deal, but I don't really know what the plan is. I don't particularly expect to participate. I'd like to kind of concentrate on what I'm trying to do.
But I think they need to definitely think about bringing the old timers race back, that was pretty cool when those guys were out there beating around on each other.
Q: What is the general reaction you've received from your legion of fans just about how you're running this year? And the second part is it's almost you're coming up on almost two years without a win, and what does that pressure and that burden been like for you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, coming up on two years without a win, you know, it's definitely something you recognize. It's definitely a stat that you are aware of and reminded of. It's not a whole lot of pressure. I still drive for a good team, I still have a great opportunity to win every time I show up.
I guess if I was – if this losing streak or whatever you want to call it, if while that was going on I was suddenly finding myself trickling down the list of good race cars and good owners and finding myself in equipment that I felt was under par not on par with what wins races, I would be worried, and the pressure would be a lot.
But I feel like a win is around the corner. I feel like we've been in position to do that just about every week we've had a good enough car to contend. We've obviously failed to capitalize on some races where we led a lot and ended up finishing sixth or seventh. That's just, you know, you've just got to be able to make the right decisions at the end of the race, and we haven't been able to do that as far as on where we need the car to be and what not. Other guys have capitalized and made their cars win at the end of the race or whatever.
I feel like the fans want to win. They're ready for a win. Their voice is pretty much right now I suppose from what I can tell they're pretty happy that we're running well and we're up front and stuff. And they have to keep reminding themselves to be patient for that win to come, because they've wanted the opportunity for their driver to be running well each week, and they have that now.
They have to remind themselves to be patient for that win, but they want it just as bad as we do. So that's the deal. You just have to wait. When it happens, it will happen. There's really not much you can do other than just be as prepared as possible each weekend.
Q: You mentioned earlier that with the new car here at Indianapolis, you're kind of having the same old problems as in years past. Is there anything – I know you haven't had a lot of time on the track yet – but is there anything that you've found so far that seems different at all? Anything you think might make the racing better here in this car than in the old one?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, not so far. I think that, you know, it's not a test where we're able to, you know – it's not a test where our main focus was to come in here and try to, you know get around the track as fast as we possibly can, and make the cars handle as good as we possibly can.
We're trying to learn what we can learn when given the time to adjust on the car. And we're trying to get as much data as we can. But the ultimate goal for the test isn't – it's different. It's a test for Goodyear. You want to do what they ask you to do so they'll bring you back for more tire tests. If I'm more interested in how my car's handling and how to fix it, I don't think Goodyear's going to appreciate that effort, that sort of effort. They want somebody working in the direction of what kind of tire is going to be the best tire. Because I want to tire test as much as possible under the circumstances that we have this season. I want to be the guy they call first.
But, you know, the car is tight. It's been tight since we got here. We've worked on trying to unhook the back end of the car a little bit. We've got some ideas and things like that. But like I said, we don't have all day to go through it and to work through all these scenarios and different ways of setting the car up. We only have a come more runs after lunch to get comfortable to where Goodyear can go to work.
Q: Do you know why you're good on the big tracks where your best results have come from?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I mean I've been great, you know, I've been in some great race cars. I've had some race cars that did everything I asked them to do. Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. Were really great at putting the right people together to do the air induction and the bodies on the cars and maximize those areas that really mean the most at those racetracks.
But really, I've been in some plate races where we looked you know, average, and we weren't strong. We never could flex our muscle in certain races.
So that reminded me and showed me, really, I guess, when we did win and we were strong and we did dominate, it was because I had cars. I knew what I wanted the cars to do, and that's important to be able to make the next move and take advantage of this and that and the other. And you've got to be a smart driver to be able to do that. But those cars were able to accommodate me. And those cars were able to accomplish what I was seeing in my mind happening. And what I was trying to make happen.
That's real important, you know. If your car ain't strong enough, you're just going to get overpowered eventually on the plate tracks. So that was really an important part of the deal when we were running races.
Q: I wonder if you could give your impression of Landon Cassill, Hendrick developmental drivers. He's raced four races and with JR Motorsports car on the Nationwide Series. What do you think of him and his prospects as he develops?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, he's really, really young. So he's got a long ways to go. He needs to have you just want a guy like that to have as much patience as possible to really grow his career at the beginning and for him to understand as much and learn as much as he possibly can, he has to be a sponge right now. Just kind of sit back, relax and observe and understand.
You know, he just wants to get after it and get to racing, and his patience would reward him right now. It was tough at the beginning of the season because we couldn't get him approved for a lot of the races we wanted him to run, and so he's only seen limited competition this year.
It's hard for us and the team to get a good gauge on exactly where Landon is in his development as a race car driver in the Nationwide Series. But we've got all season to find that out and to work with Landon. He's a great kid, a lot of fun to work with. He's a good guy and good to have around.
He just has to have patience when he's not in the race car. When he's in the car, you've got to be smart, but you also need to be fast. He's working on that. He's really improved quite a bit on being able to take care of his race car.
Q: Couple time this is week you mentioned you want to be out front as much as you can for your fans. Last year your teammate Jeff Gordon only led the last lap to win at Talladega, does that make you think about your strategy coming into this coming week?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, not really. I think Talladega, you've got a lot of fans in the stands. You do what you've got to do to get up front. They would definitely want to see you win the race and maybe they'd trade just you leading that last lap for that win. Maybe they'd trade that for leading a lot of laps in the middle part of the race, I'm sure. But if you're going to do both, do both.
I want to be up toward the front anyways to stay out of any accident that might be happening or could happen behind me. The further you are toward the front, the safer you are as far as that goes. So it's just easier being able to pit being on pit road. If you're in the Top 5 and leading the race, it's a whole lot easier to get out of the pit box and do what you need to do.
Q: Getting back to testing, we've heard that you checked out the new pavement at Darlington. Given Jeff Gordon's success and Jimmie's success there recently, how's that going to help you getting into the race?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Actually, I didn't get to run any laps on the racetrack. I just rode out there and looked at the racetrack itself while they were tire testing for Goodyear. I just wanted to see how much different it was, I guess, than it had been. The new paving job looks great. Looks like they worked very hard to make sure it was done as well as possible. From what I can tell it's very fast. From what I've heard about times and speeds, it's very quick.
It should be interesting. It should be an interesting weekend, interesting to see how the pavement deals with the cars and the heat of the day and the practices. We're going to be running on it Thursday and most of the day Friday. It's a Saturday night race, so the cooler temperatures should help the track itself maintain and stay together. Won't have any problems with the track coming apart.
But how fast will the speeds get later in the evening? That should be interesting to see. How good will the racing be? Typically you don't have too much side-by-side, but you do have a lot of guys passing, because you have guys with tires falling off and what not. But will that be the case this weekend or that weekend for the race, I'm not sure with the new pavement.
But it will be, you know, the same old Darlington in a lot of ways. The way you drive the line and what not. I'm pretty interested and excited about it. We've got a pretty cool paint scheme and retro scheme we're going back with to Darlington. And I'm excited to have that out on the racetrack. Hopefully we'll have a good weekend with it.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you for your time today. Best of luck this weekend, and we'll see you on FOX this weekend.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Thank you, I appreciate it.