DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 RETRO DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed the new track surface, Kyle Busch’s penalty, Homestead and other topics.

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

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

TALK ABOUT THE NEW SURFACE AT PIR: “I think it is time to do it whenever they want to do it. The sooner they get it done, the sooner we can start aging the track and time can start taking its toll and it can get to where they want it to go. They did a great job.”

ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING OUT THERE? “Yes, I’m ready. The cars are here, everybody’s here ready to go, ready to start practicing when it is time.”

WITH JR MOTORSPORTS, YOU’VE BEEN OUT THERE TRYING TO GAIN SPONSORS, HOW TOUGH IS THAT TO DEAL WITH A POTENTIAL SITUATION THAT M & Ms and JGR HAVE GONE THROUGH AND WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE DOES THAT SEND? “I don’t know what kind of message that sends because nobody really knows what’s going on. Only the people within the organization. Kyle (Busch) himself and the sponsors know what is going on. It is tough to make any comment or have an opinion about it when you don’t know the details.”

TALK ABOUT HOMESTEAD AND GOING THERE NEXT WEEK: “I’m looking forward to Homestead. I haven’t ran as well as I would like to have run there and I’m going to Homestead with Steve Letarte as my crew chief for the first time so I’m a little excited about that. I’m looking forward to driving a car that’s going to feel different to me and hopefully have a lot of good qualities about it. I hope we’ll end the season on a good note.”

AS WE GET INTO THE LAST TWO RACES, IS THERE ANY SORT OF DISAPPOINTMENT THAT YOU AREN’T HIGHER UP IN THE STANDINGS? “I didn’t know where I thought we would be. I think there’s pluses and minuses about the season. We would definitely liked to have won a race and opportunities to do that are running low. As far as the points go I think we made a decent account of ourselves but I do feel like and I think our team understands that we’re better than even where we are now in the points standings. We feel confident that we can improve.”

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO M&M’S DECISION ON KYLE AND CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT IT IS WHEN YOU’RE REPRESENTING A SPONSOR THAT YOU’VE GOT TO KEEP YOUR HEAD NO MATTER WHAT? “I really don’t know what happened or who said what. The only people that know the truth about that situation are the three sides, Kyle, Joe and J.D. (Gibbs) and the sponsor. I don’t know what was said and who said what about anything.”

JUST GENERALLY SPEAKING, THE LINE BETWEEN USING YOUR HEAD AND ALSO REMEMBERING YOU REPRESENT A SPONSOR. “It’s tough. When you’re driving a race car you just think about winning races and what you’ve got to do to win races and sometimes you get ticked off at people and you forget about sponsors relationships, you forget about whether you are going to do something your mom is not going to be proud of, all kinds of things. I did that when I was younger, I think at this age I don’t do those things at all but it took a while. I did a few things early in my career that I regret, that I shouldn’t have done in certain instances with drivers. I did things where I put my relationship with my sponsor at risk but I was fortunate and lucky to come out of those deals unscathed. I did have Budweiser as a sponsor who liked for me to be a little rash and out of the norm. I could cut up a little bit and that was kind of what they wanted. I was friends with Elliott (Sadler) and I did read an article where he had several comments and I was friends with him and I recall when he was with M&M’s him commenting several times how his situation was different than mine being with Budweiser and I agree with that. He had to take extra careful steps to make sure that he was on the up and up and that he didn’t do anything they wouldn’t approve of. I think certain drivers have it differently depending on what sponsor you are showcasing and what your demographic is. I would say the M&M and Mars brand is one of the more difficult ones because you are gearing directly toward kids in a manner where several other sponsors that’s not their demographic and you get a lot more breaks. Not to say what Kyle did was okay, but with that type of sponsor you’re going to be held to a little bit different standard.”

AS FAR AS THE WEATHER GOES, IF IT RAINS HOW DO YOU THINK THAT’S GOING TO AFFECT THE NEW SURFACE? “I don’t think it will bother it too bad. It’s probably got very little rubber on it already so if it rains it’s probably not going to change the track too much.”

FOR NEXT YEAR WHO DO YOU THINK YOU NEED TO KEEP YOUR EYE ON THAT IS IN THE NON-CHASERS? “That’s tough. I don’t know. Anybody in the top 20 has an opportunity to have a good year and rebound and make the Chase. It’s a very competitive field. Juan Montoya I think has a good opportunity next year to run well.”

DO YOU THINK THE FUEL MILEAGE OR THE FUEL INJECTION IS GOING TO BE A BIGGER STORY NEXT YEAR? “Fuel mileage is always going to be a part of racing. People think that’s a big story but that’s just always been a part of racing and always will be. I think the fuel injection will be the biggest story because it’s such an unknown to a lot of teams and nobody really knows where everyone stands individually with their development.”

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO MOST LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE OFF SEASON? “Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas morning and New Year’s Eve. All the good things in the holiday’s.” WHAT ABOUT HUNTING? “I might go once. I’m not a big hunter like Truex, he goes every day but I like to go maybe once or twice. I’d just like to get me a good trophy and call it a season.”

FROM A DRIVER’S PERSPECTIVE WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE FAST AT HOMESTEAD? “It’s really unique because that track is so different. The progressive banking and the way the two corners are different from each other. There’s a million different ways to go through the corners so it’s a real challenge. I haven’t really been happy with how I’ve run there and I’m going to that race track with Steve Letarte as my crew chief for the first time so I’m optimistic I’ll have one of my better runs this year at Homestead and end the season on a really good note.”

THERE HAVE BEEN SEVERAL TRACKS THAT HAVE HAD NEW PAVEMENT PUT ON THEM IN THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS, NEXT YEAR YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE POCONO, MICHIGAN AND ONE OTHER IS GOING TO BE REPAVED, THE FOLLOWING YEAR YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE THE NEW CAR COMING IN, HOW DIFFICULT DOES ALL THOSE CHANGES MAKE IT FOR A TEAM AND A DRIVER TO ADAPT EVERYTHING AND FIND SOMETHING THAT IS COMFORTABLE THAT YOU CAN RUN FAST WITH? “We used to have set ups that would sort of mimic six or eight different race tracks, you could take that and pretty much be right in the ballpark. That is what you were using the rest of the year. You don’t do that quite as much, it’s such a moving target like you said with the new pavement on several tracks. Goodyear is in a position right now where they are developing new technology for the tires so the tires are a little bit of a moving target as well. There are a lot of times you will go to Texas and run a race, come back the next time and the left side tire will be different or the right side tire, that really changes a lot of things and you can’t run the same set up. You see Denny Hamlin win two Texas races in a row and he was very good last time we ran there. It’s just always a moving target. So the same set up or the same terminology and ideas don’t always repeat themselves for some reason as they used to six years ago.”

DO YOU ENJOY THAT ASPECT OF IT, THE CHALLENGE OF HAVING TO FIGURE IT OUT? “I don’t really enjoy that. It’s a little frustrating and it presents a challenge with you and your team but that’s what the sport is about I guess. It’s not something I enjoy but it’s part of the playing field, part of what you’ve got to encounter while you are out there trying to get your car going.”