Weekly series teleconference: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series press release

An interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Dale is coming off of two consecutive top-10 finishes and he has two wins at Phoenix International Raceway.

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

Photo by: Ashley Dickerson, ASP Inc.

Our Twitter question today is: How do you feel about Kasey Kahne being your new teammate next season?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm looking forward to Kasey becoming a driver over at Hendrick Motorsports. He's been a pretty good friend of mine for a long time. I think he's a good talent.

Even more importantly than that, I'm excited about Kenny Francis coming as his crew chief. Anytime you can sort of infuse new ideas of thinking, new ways of putting cars together, bring those ideas in, let them sort of play themselves out, that's a lot of fun for a driver.

So looking forward to seeing what Kenny can bring into the fold. Kasey is going to be a lot of fun to hang out with.

THE MODERATOR: We'll go to the media for questions for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Q. How do you feel about being comfortable at Hendrick Motorsports, understanding how things work and the progress you've made this year?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think it could always come along a little faster. We could always be winning races, running up front a little more often. I'm pretty happy with seeing some improvement. It does give me confidence that we'll be better next year.

Just look forward to continue working with Steve Letarte and the whole team and trying to improve. Just keep working away at it and seeing how much better we can get.

We definitely have shown some signs that we can get it done. We just need to keep working and trying to become better.

Q. Have you ever seen video of the Kyle Busch/Ron Hornaday incident from Friday and what you thought of NASCAR's reaction to it?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Like everybody else, I was kind of shocked that it happened. I know as a racecar driver you forget really how many people are watching and what's going on. I've made similar mistakes, done things that I regret.

I know Kyle probably wishes to move past it. I'm sure he's going to learn a lesson from it one way or another. He'll be a better driver and a better person for it in the end.

I thought that the punishment fit the crime. NASCAR has done similar things in the past when the same situation has happened. I like the mentality that they've had over the last year or two with letting us sort of settle things on the racetrack, but there's a line you can't cross. NASCAR knows where that is. I'm glad that that's there. I'm glad there's some things that just aren't going to be put up with.

So it was good to see some good reaction from NASCAR.

Q. There's been a question of what is the line. When you saw that, did you feel that was over the line?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I thought it was the wrong thing to do, definitely. I don't really care where the line is. I don't need a firm understanding of what's right, what's wrong, where everything lies. I just want NASCAR to be a sanctioning body that's fair. I want them to punish wrongdoing and award people for doing things the right way and just continue to go down that path.

Q. To what degree is your confidence better this year as opposed to the last two seasons? Was it a big boost in your psyche to have the year like you had?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was struggling pretty bad to be competitive, to feel competitive in the last couple years. I felt like I was in good enough equipment. I felt like that the crew chiefs I was working with, the team that was around me, was good enough. It was very frustrating to not know why I wasn't able to do what I thought my potential was.

I was worried when I was paired with Steve, whether I would continue along those same lines. Would I eventually have to sort of look within myself for the problem.

Having seen some improvement, having seen how close we came to winning a few races this year, how consistently we're running, overall the statistics, my position in points, just being relevant and visible has been a big deal to me.

Q. You have had success at Phoenix. Totally different track now. Do you suspect you might have a good race this weekend or too many unknowns?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: There are a lot of unknowns. But I expect to have a good race every time we go to the racetrack. This weekend will be no different.

Q. Are you going to be here in Daytona for the test next week?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yes, sir.

Q. What is the biggest goal that you have in terms of your team and that racecar at Daytona?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: My big goal is to help NASCAR accomplish what their goals are in the test. Apparently they put this test together last minute for a reason. We'll go down there and they'll let us know exactly what they're wanting to do, what they're trying to accomplish, what they're trying to try.

I want to be able to give them the best feedback I can to give them the solutions they're looking for so that we can, with confidence, go into Daytona in February and expect to put together a great show for the fans that will be there and that will be watching on TV.

It's a little bit different than what your typical goals are when you go testing. Most of the time they're a little more personal, like you're trying to do whatever you can to make your car fast, work with your team, learn, put together notes. This test here will be a little different where you're working with NASCAR and the goals will be a little different. You'll have to open your mind up a little bit to try new things and try to give the best feedback you can. It's really important.

Q. Are you waiting to see what they bring to the table or do you have some definite ideas of what you'd like to see them try?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think that the ideas that I have that I hope that we'll try are very similar to theirs. I'm sure they're going to bring every feasible option and we'll try to get that out on the racetrack.

The difficult part is going to be simulating race conditions. Say they bring out a small spoiler, this, that and the other, we got to go out there and try to push each other around the racetrack with it, hope that that doesn't work. It could be potentially a dangerous situation. You got to be careful and you hope to have a safe test.

You want to help NASCAR. I want to help NASCAR. I want to be an ambassador for the sport, do my part, make the sport better. That's what that day will be about.

Q. Dale, for all the years you've raced with and against Tony, can you discuss a little bit what makes him so tough and what attribute of his you still aspire to match, that you feel you might be short on? What makes him so tough?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I think Tony has a lot of ingredients that makes up the talent he is. Just trying to pull something up, he has his background, his experience, where he raced, where he learned to race, how much he raced when he was younger I think molded him to the type of driver he is today.

He's very hot-tempered at times. That I think adds to his personality, adds to what his fans appreciate about him, make him the driver and the talent that he is.

I don't really know what particular attribute he might have that I wish I had. Everybody's different. Everybody's personality is different. I can appreciate Tony for who he is, how he is. He's been a pretty good friend to me. He's been great for the sport, been great for the sport. I like the fact he loses his cool every once in a while and puts his foot down. You like to hear honesty from people. You always know where you stand with him. I think that's a great attribute of his, is he's very forward and up front. That's how you want people to be.

Q. Now that Danica has finally made the announcement she's going with Tony Stewart Racing, can you talk about what her greatest challenges will be when she makes her debut at NASCAR's top level?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I haven't drove a lot of Nationwide races in the last couple of years. But the ones that I have drove, I find that that car is a lot easier to drive than the COT at the Cup level, a great amount easier. I feel like that her biggest challenge will be the frustrations with how the COT drives and how you're trying to get it to handle and do different things. There's just some things this car is not going to do. There's some things that no matter what your crew chief tries to change, there's gains you cannot make. It's going to do some things you don't like and you're going to just have to put up with it and learn how to drive it that way. That's one of the things that I think probably will be difficult.

But I think she can achieve anything she wants. I think she'll be able to get where she wants at the Cup level. The difference between how the two cars drive is definitely going to be the biggest hurdle.

Q. You know what it's like to have an iconic brand. She does, as well. Is she going to be more of a (indiscernible) in the early stages, having a female racing at that level?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think there will be a lot of attention. There will be a lot of attention and pressure. But she knows all about that. She's been aware of that her entire career and dealt with it her entire career. I don't see how that could be a problem.

Q. Did you talk to Rick Hendrick recently, and if so how he's doing?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't know when he'll come to the racetrack. If I was him, I'd probably take the rest of the year off. He got out of the hospital today. He texted me. I texted him about this weekend, how the race went, how I thought Steve did a good job to get the car running good on the last run. He texted me back that he was happy. He wants to see continued improvement.

I talked to him on the phone a couple days ago before I went to Texas. He's in good spirits. He's very sore. He will have a little bit of recovery on his injuries, but for the most part he feels very fortunate.

Q. Dale, a lot of people don't understand, we've tried to explain this with other drivers, you have two races to go, you're in the Chase, but all those other 43 cars out there on the track, they're going for the big purse also. It makes it kind of different, doesn't it, when a guy is not in the Chase and he's going for the flag to win?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, but that's what you expect from everybody. Everybody shows up to the race to win. Everybody shows up to the race to run hard. Everybody's style is pretty much the same, even though there is a Chase, there are 10 drivers racing for a championship. Getting further into the season, there's two guys legitimately going after the title. You realize that when you're on the racetrack in the car, but you don't change what you're doing, do things differently. You're out there driving your car the best you can do, as fast as you can go, working on your car, thinking about your car. You're so consumed with that that you quickly forget about other things like the championship battle.

The only thing that really matters is that next corner, what the car's going to do, what you think it should do, how you can help your crew chief get to that point. That's all you're worried about.

Q. Earlier we had Brad Keselowski on. I asked him about him starting his Truck team. He basically said he was following in your footsteps by paying it forward. He's trying to build a team to give a young guy a chance. What do you think about that?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think that's a great way to look at it. I appreciate him giving any kind of credit toward us for molding who he is today in the decisions and the choices he's making now.

It's not an easy task being an owner. I don't implore every driver with an opportunity to start a race team. It's good to see someone successful, like Brad, to turn around and begin building a program like that, and that program has potential not only to be a Cup team but maybe into the Nationwide Series one day, eventually into the Cup Series one day. I'm sure more drivers down the line in history going forward will do a lot of similar things, as well.

It's fun knowing that - for me - I feel like I gave to the sport as a driver. But it's great to have an avenue to give more and to do more and to leave your fingerprint or your mark on the sport in other ways other than just statistically as a driver. I think Brad's enjoying that.

Q. Tony Stewart basically drives a car that's prepared at Hendrick. He uses Hendrick bodies and motors, gets technical assistance. When they bring it over to his shop, are they just sprinkling pixie dust on it or what?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Actually, it's not prepared at Hendrick. They get the chassis and the motors and everything completely separate and they prepare the car themselves. I'm sure that they have different theories and ideas on geometry, rayon links, what ball joints to use, how to bump steer the car, lower A-frame mounts, things like that.

I'm sure that they are not identical and all six of us, counting the Haas team, are not putting identical cars on the racetrack. There's different variables throughout the entire car even within Hendrick between the teams. Every crew chief has an opinion on what's best, and not everyone is handcuffed to one ideology about building cars, setting up cars.

You have to give Darian Grubb a lot of credit. You have to give Tony Stewart a lot of credit. He's not only a great driver, but he puts a lot great people around in the right places to be able to manage and be a solid owner in the sport. Darian Grubb has done a great job of managing the team, putting the right setup in it, making Tony happy as a driver.

It comes down to individuals and also how those individuals interact with the vehicle. They definitely have a big role in preparing their own car and developing their own success.

Q. Do you think the Skins' defense is going to handle Miami this weekend?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Miami is not one of the tougher teams in the NFL. I hope that they can get a win. They need a win. They need some good quarterback play. That's all I'm worried about right now.

Q. If you had to start a guy, would you start Fred Davis or Tony Gonzalez?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm not allowed to talk about Fantasy Football anymore. Jimmy Spencer jumped on my ass for even mentioning it.

Q. You're saying I should call him up?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, call him up (laughter).

Q. Dale, in the wake of all that's going on with the Kyle Busch situation, fans are trying to draw lines between his driving style and your dad's driving style. Is there any similarity there?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I mean, I think you'll find a lot of similarities in my father with a lot of drivers in the sport. Everybody sort of takes different things and different attributes from different drivers as they're growing up, maybe appreciate certain parts and certain ways people handle things and try to emulate them.

My father was quite aggressiveness, especially in the '80s. I don't know why, but when he went to the black car, which we thought he would be more aggressive, he just became intimidating and not quite as aggressive. He wasn't running over people quite as much.

I think you appreciate things about people and you try to make that part of you, part of what you want to convey, who you want to be.

I think that changes, too. As you grow up, get older, you sort of let go of certain things and pick up new things, change as a person.

Q. You and Steve Letarte have a great chemistry this year. Is there one thing that you have worked on together or is it just a combined kind of meeting of the minds that you have to hit on a great stride this year?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I was thinking about it after the Texas race. Me and Steve haven't had one argument the entire year. I've had some choice words for the racecar, but we've never had a disagreement. I can't think of one year in my entire career where I went an entire season without some sort of disagreement at some point with my crew chief.

I'm happy to give him all the credit. I'm not sure exactly where the credit lies, but I'm happy to give it to him because he has such responsibility and he has a heck of a workload and he works very hard at what he's done. He's very observant and thinks really hard about what he's doing, how he's doing it, how it's going to affect everything around him. I can really appreciate him.

I think that in turn, the way he operates, makes me and everyone else on the team sort of jump on the wagon with him and want to help, want to push it along and help. So he's good at that. He's good at his position.

I was telling him after Texas, I really hated the car in the middle part of the race. He made some changes. They worked hard. We ended up with a good finish. I thought the car was quite competitive at the end. I told him, That's why you're a Cup-level crew chief because of what you did today. I thought he should be really proud of himself and what he's been able to do with this team.

Q. Is he a calming force when you're complaining at the car, does he help to calm you down and refocus you?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think I open the door a lot of times for things to go negatively in our communication. I've been working really hard at that, to try to change that. But I do open the door a lot of times to sort of invite him into disagreement. He's pretty good at avoiding it. He's really good at it.

Q. During the Kurt Busch-Jimmie Johnson conflict this summer, Kurt talked about getting into Jimmie's head. Do you think that type of mental interference on focus, mind game type thing, is that common in NASCAR? If so, what's the best way for a driver like you and others to handle that?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think it's common all the time in everything, not just NASCAR. Something gets in your head, something ticks you off, bothers you. People always say, Don't take it out on me. Well, you sort of get mad about one thing, maybe somebody did something to you, maybe something didn't go the way you wanted, the next person you have communication with sort of takes the brunt of that blow. So something got in your head and in turn disrupted a totally separate part of your day or something else going on in your life. That happens all the time, in sports, too. I don't think drivers are any better or worse at it.

But some guys are easily intimidated and some guys are not. It just depends on the character.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for your participation. Dale, best of luck this weekend in Phoenix.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Thank you, appreciate it.

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, earnhardt, hendrick