DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/AMP ENERGY CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway and discussed racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, testing at Daytona and the tandem drafting, Austin Dillon in the No. 3 and the history of the number and other topics.
TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS COMING INTO THIS WEEKEND, YOU HAD A GREAT FIRST PRACTICE SESSION: “The car was pretty cool. Right on the track. Real fast. We worked on race trim for about 45 minutes in the first practice then all of the second practice and the car was still pretty fast in the second practice. We weren’t the fastest when we made our qualifying runs. A couple guys were quicker, but we were still pretty heavy with the speed. Going late (in qualifying) will definitely help us. Hopefully the track will be in the shade and be a little quicker.”
EARLIER YOU SAID YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE END OF THE SEASON, NOT FOR RACING TO END, BUT TO COME HERE (MIAMI-HOMESTEAD SPEEDWAY); WHY THIS TRACK AND WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO ABOUT IT? “Well, I haven’t run good here or as well as I would like in a good, long while. Definitely since they reconfigured the track, I haven’t really been happy with the way my cars have drove and the way I have been getting around here. We’ve led some races, but specifically since the COT, we haven’t run good. So, I was coming here for the first time with Steve (Letarte, crew chief); so it will the first time I drive one of his cars here. Looking forward to what changes that might bring about. The difference in how the car might drive. Every time a different guy puts it together, it is going to drive differently. That was all pleasant to find out today the car seems to be pretty good; so it was a good day today.”
YESTERDAY BRIAN FRANCE MADE A VERY STRONG STATEMENT ABOUT NASCAR’S COMMITMENT TO BREAKING UP THE TANDEM DRAFT AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA AND TURNING BACK THE CLOCK AT THOSE RACE TRACKS. WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO THAT? “What was his comment? I have got to have a comment before I can react to it.”
BASICALLY HE SAID “WE DON’T LIKE THE TANDEM DRAFTING AND WE ARE GOING TO DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO MAKE SURE WE BREAK THAT UP AND TURN BACK THE CLOCK: “Gotcha. I’m glad to hear that and I’m all for helping to make that happen. I think it is going to be as hard as we think it will and as hard as we imagine it will after testing a little bit at Daytona there. It sort of reiterated everybody’s fears that it would be a little bit more difficult to do than just flipping a few switches. There are a lot of variables. These race cars have a bunch of pieces on them and the race track is part of the deal and the tire is part of the deal. There are just so many variables to get it different or make changes. The more you test and work with stuff, the most you find out where you might be wrong on some ideas and right on some ideas. This is just going to take a lot of work. I would like to hope we can get to go racing the way Brian wants it. I hope we can get closer to that. But, its going to be harder. I anticipated it being hard, but I was hoping it might not be. But the surface on these race tracks that they are repaving these tracks; they are doing an amazing job. The technology in paving from say the mid-90s when these tracks were last paved to know, it is just incredibly different and much better. Look at Charlotte. It looks brand new, still, after several years. It should be aging and changing colors and getting slicker. But we were all forced to the bottom of that track the last time we raced there and if was a very difficult race. Hopefully, being down in the Daytona area and the sand area, it will really beat that track up; beat the surface up and blast it pretty good. It just depends. There is a lot of variables. But, I’m glad to hear what he said. “
COULD YOU MAKE A COMMENT ON HOMESTEAD AND HOW IT HAS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? “It turned into a really good race track. This is about, I think the surface itself, is in about its peak condition. We are moving all over the race track and looking for speed in different places. The cars seem to respond to that. They did a great job. It was a pretty fun track when it was flat. But, they did a good job when they remodeled it. It is very unique even though it looks quite simple. It is really a challenge. Both corners are terribly different than each other and require the cars to handle different in each corner. And then you have other things like the wind. The wind is very very strong today going down the front straightaway so the cars push off into (turn) one real bad. They really really get tight getting into the top of the corner there and you can get in the fence real easy. Then you have the opposite effect on the other end of the race track. All those things are kind of happening. But it is a fun place to race. Good market. The track has held up well. The surface is in great shape even though it is weathered and worn and slick. It is fun to race on. It has held up well. It’s not cracking. There are not having to put all that stuff that they put in the cracks. The cars and the tires don’t really like that stuff. But this place as held up really well.”
RICHARD CHILDRESS TELLS US THAT HE ASKED YOU AND (SISTER) KELLEY IF IT WOULD BE ALL RIGHT IF HIS GRANDSON RAN THE NO. 3 IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES NEXT YEAR. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF IN THREE OR FOUR YEARS HE SAID HE WANTED TO MOVE AUSTIN DILLON UP TO SPRINT CUP RACING AND HE’D LIKE TO TAKE THAT NO.3. WOULD YOU BE COOL WITH THAT? “Yeah, I would. Austin has ran that number and I’m not real sure; I just look at it differently. I don’t look at the numbers tied to drivers as much as just the history of the number. The number is more of a bank, you know, that you just deposit history into. It doesn’t really belong to any individual. Austin’s ran that number and you can’t really deny him the opportunity to continue to run it. It just wouldn’t be fair. Dad (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) did great things. He was a great ambassador for the sport and we’re still as a whole, reaping the benefits of all he accomplished and what he did that put us in front of a lot of people. But even before that, the number was Richard’s. Richard drove it. And someone else drove it before then. There’s a lot of guys in the fifties and sixties that ran that number with success. So the number is really kind of like a bank and you deposit history into and they don’t really belong to the individuals. It’s iconic when you put the colors and the style with it; it’s a little bit iconic to the sport. Austin is a good kid, He seems to have a great appreciation for what’s happening to him and what’s going on around him. And I would be happy if he wanted to keep doing that. He kind of had to know when he first started to run that number if he got this far into the deal, he would have to cross a few bridges like that and that was a tough decision I guess at first to start running the number for him; knowing what kind of pressures he might face down the road. But I think it would be fine by me for him to do that. I think that it’s got to get back on the race track one of these days. It just can’t be gone forever you know?”
WE ALWAYS ASK THE CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS IF THEY ARE NERVOUS OR NOT BECAUSE OF ALL THE PRESSURE DURING THIS WEEKEND. FOR THE NON-CONTENDERS, MAYBE IT’S MORE OF A RELAXING WEEKEND. HOW DO YOU VIEW IT? HOW ARE THINGS DIFFERENT FOR YOU AT THIS POINT THAN THEY WERE LAST YEAR AT THIS POINT? “Yeah, they’re really different. This weekend I just want to finish as high in the points as I possibly can. And that’s my goal. I want to run well at this track to leave here and think that we can come back and be competitive more so than we have. And I’ve talked about that a little bit. But it’s a different weekend for sure because it’s the last one and you’re excited about the holidays and things you’re going to do with your family and to have a weekend off is going to feel weird. But you like to race so you’re going to miss racing. You’re going to miss driving. You’re going to miss working with your team and your guys and so it’s a lot of different emotions. But I think that I’m not that nervous and I don’t think being in the position Tony (Stewart) and Carl (Edwards) are, they have to have a little bit of nerves about it because there’s so much on the line; compared to last year, we didn’t have nothing really motivating us other than just coming doing here and just competing. It’s a lot more difficult situation and had been a tough year and a lot of uncertainties going into the off-season about our team and stuff and so we were all just trying to go through the process under good terms and just try to finish the year off as best as we could at that point.”