DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway and discussed the driver changes at Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports, chemistry with his crew, and racing with spoiler at...
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway and discussed the driver changes at Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports, chemistry with his crew, and racing with spoiler at TMS.
HOW WAS PRACTICE TODAY, DALE? "It went pretty good. We were in qualifying trim the whole time, but we feel pretty good about the car. It's still a little bit tight, but we'll see what happens."
WHEN THE CAR GOES FAST, DOES IT REALLY BUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE? "I don't think we unloaded too fast. We had to work on it. We ran a :49 or something just now, but we unloaded it in around :89-90. So we really weren't too good when we unloaded, but we helped it a lot."
WITH KASEY [KAHNE] SIGNING WITH HENDRICK [MOTORSPORTS] IT RAISES A LOT OF QUESTIONS ABOUT WHO WILL BE RACING WHERE AND THE SPECULATION IS THAT MAYBE JR MOTORSPORTS MAY BE A PLACE FOR HIM. I KNOW YOU'VE BEEN OUTSPOKEN ABOUT KEEPING THAT PROGRAM A NATIONWIDE PROGRAM ESPECIALLY WITH THE SPONSORSHIP STRUGGLES, BUT DOES THIS DEVELOPMENT CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS AT ALL ABOUT BRINGING THAT PROGRAM TO CUP? "Not really because when Kasey leaves there, then we're sitting there with a lot of tangible assets that aren't really worth what they cost to build and we wouldn't have a guaranteed package sponsor/driver to put in there. That hasn't even been anything that I heard was talked about or discussed."
SO YOU'RE STILL AGAINST JR MOTORSPORTS MOVING INTO CUP? "I'm not against it. I'm afraid that if we do that, it could leave me out to dry financially on that deal once Kasey would leave and we'd have to find another deal both with a driver and sponsor. There are no guarantees, so it's just too much of a risk."
YOU COULD PUT MARK MARTIN IN THERE! "Yeah. [laughs] That hasn't been discussed. The Kasey [Kahne] deal was a pleasant surprise to me. I found out about it right about when the rest of the world did. As far as what happens for next year, I haven't heard anything about that. I'm sure whatever Rick [Hendrick] chooses to do will be a smart way to take care of it."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO KASEY REGARDING JOINING THE TEAM? "Kasey is a really, really great guy, and a very talented driver. I think he will be a really fun teammate, and we have a pretty good friendship I think. We've been around each other around the track. I really respect his ability and what he has been able to do so far in his career. I know it's a difficult situation for him having to leave where he's been for so long. Especially with moving away from a guy like Richard Petty has to be difficult because of how special he is to the sport and how much wisdom and experience he has. He's probably pretty excited about where he's headed anyway, and that's got to be neat to him too. I'm really happy for Rick; Rick was really proud of it and I'm really happy that they've gotten to join together. I think Kasey will do a good job for Rick and will make Rick happy."
WHAT HAPPENED WITH KELLY BIRES AND THAT WHOLE DEAL?" "A lot of deals in this garage have people going in with the best expectations, so I don't know how it looks any stranger than anything else that have happened in the past. It just didn't work out. I like Kelly [Bires] a lot as a person and I do believe that with the right package and the right people that he could have success. He's shown that. All four of us made the decision, but we made it based on the opinion of the shop, and what we were doing and what we plan to do in the future. It just wasn't working out. There was no chemistry, and it was on the verge of going horribly wrong. I know that Bires was not really enjoying it. I felt like where we are with our company, it's real delicate financially and you have to make sure that you make the right calls and you have to do them in a timely matter. We were definitely internally going down the wrong path. It was unfortunate because like I said, I like Kelly a lot. Our program and him we just weren't clicking, we weren't getting along. I don't think you can really point any fingers at anybody, but we don't have the luxury of really being patience in this type of situation. I wish we did.
"Several years ago we did have the luxury. We were operating in quite a different scene and it a different situation--you just don't have the luxury today. We went through a lot of drivers, but we'll produce some good ones hopefully in the future. We're proud of what we've been able to do so far as a company. We're looking for the next Brad [Keselowski], the next Jeff Gordon, whatever you want to call it--we're looking for that next guy. You've got to get him in a good race car. We've got Jamie [McMurray] in the car and he's going to help us with the remaining races with Hellman's. We have that No. 7 car to alternate whoever we want in and out of that deal because we're racing that car out of our pocket. That's the only good thing about that whole deal with running it out of your own pocket because you can put whoever you want in there."
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW SPOILER, DID YOU NOTICE ANY DIFFERENCE? "I don't really know that it makes no difference. I'm sorry, but I really don't have much to say about it. Our car was driving fine, and I won't really know much until we get around people. We were in qualifying trim all day, so we ran by ourselves."
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY DIFFERENCE WITH THE TWO TYPES OF RUBBER COMPOUNDS BEING PUT DOWN? "This tire feels really good to me so far. Like I said, I still haven't run the car in race trim, but I know it's tight. It was a tight car. I was paying attention to the Nationwide practice and they were very tight. Everyone was working on getting their cars to turn, so I think that will be the case tomorrow if we get the opportunity to practice. We will probably find out that we need to do more work on the car and get it rotating, but the grip in the car felt much better than what I've felt here in the past."
ON THE NATIONWIDE SIDE, ARE THE DAYS OF COMING IN, GETTING SEAT TIME AND HAVING THE CHANCE TO LEARN OVER WITH ALL OF THE SPONSOR PRESSURES? "Not really. I mean with Kelly [Bires] he's been in the series for awhile; it's not really like he needed to learn. We expected him to plug him in right away and take off, but that just wasn't happening. We just didn't want to keep going down that same road. We wanted to give him the opportunity to look elsewhere because it wasn't working out for either one of us. He's been in the series for awhile, and he's not like some of these other drivers coming in without any experience whatsoever in the series. I told our company too, we always have to have the opinion that we need to work on our race cars. We can't always sit here and say that our cars are winning race cars because we won some races, but we always have to feel that we can make our cars better. We can't just put all the responsibility on the driver. Knowing what we knew, and Tony Sr., Tony Jr., and all those guys getting to work with Kelly very, very closely over the last several weeks, and having him in and out of the shop over the last several months--we got to know what we needed to know to make the decision we made."
ARE THERE ANY YOUNG DRIVERS THAT YOU'RE LOOKING AT RIGHT NOW TO FILL THE SEATS AT YOUR TEAM, AND WHERE ARE YOU LOOKING AT FOR THEM? "Well, I'm really hoping that Landon [Cassill] shows Tony Jr. what he needs to see to get more opportunity. Landon's such a great guy; he's a real, real easy sale to the sponsors because he does such a great job. If he can show us that we can get something goes chemistry-wise, which I think they're doing pretty good here this weekend. Again there are just those times when I sit here and I know that Landon's probably a better driver, like at Phoenix, I felt like we didn't take the best equipment to the racetrack for Landon. He's run better there before and they weren't very good there all weekend. I really hope Landon works out. Steve Arpin [from the ARCA Series] I think might be an opportunity waiting to happen for anybody, and there are drivers popping up there all the time. You have to look in the ARCA series, at Mike Kile and a couple of those other guys that you need to keep your eye on and hope that you get the opportunity to run them. It's not just as easy as calling the guy up anymore and saying, "Hey, come drive my car." It used to be when you had $18 dollars in your pocket, you could be a part of the team. There are a lot of new variables in this environment, and they dictate really who gets in and out of the car. We're still trying to give those guys an opportunity and trying to convince who we need to that these guys need to get a chance to get in the car. Hopefully we'll see that happen with the No. 7 car. The perfect story for us would be to find somebody for the No. 7 car and have him in the No. 88 before the year is over, and have a plan to run him full-time in the series next year."
IT'S MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THAT THE CHASE FIELD IS SET AFTER THIS RACE. "That's set after the Richmond race, I believe, yes."
WELL WE KNOW WHO IS GOING TO BE IN THE CHASE AFTER THIS RACE. "Really? I don't think that's how it works. [If it does,] I'm in the Chase if I can finish this race!"
WELL GREG BIFFLE THOUGHT THAT WHOEVER IS IN AT THE END OF THIS RACE WILL BE IN. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT? "It's a long summer. I don't buy it at all. I ain't going to be relaxing after this week at all. I can tell you that."
T.J. MAJORS--YOU GUYS HAVE A GREAT RELATIONSHIP. CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU DEVELOP AND FOSTER RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR OVER-THE-WALL CREW GUYS AND NOT ABUSE THEM LIKE SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS IN THIS SERIES? "I get them over to the house and drink beers when we have time to. We play pool, and tailgate horseshows, and we just hang out. We really didn't do that much at all last year, we did it a little bit in the off-season this year, and I think it helps us a lot. You have to get around each other to let the positive attitudes kind of rub-off and go around the room, and then everybody's like, "Hell yeah man! Let's do this! We're a good group, we can get it done." As oppose to not seeing each other until Daytona and then just saying, "Alright, everybody ready to go?" I enjoy it. I love the guys that I'm working with on the No. 88 car and we all enjoy getting around each other. We definitely want to win races and we're good on the race track. I just think being around the guys as much as you can, get them over to the house, go see what they do away from the shop, visit them--I think that's what helps."
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE THIS WEEKEND SINCE IT'S THE FIRST TRUE TEST OF THE SPOILER? WHAT FEEL ARE YOU LOOKING FOR AND WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU HOPE TO HAVE ANSWERED OR AT LEAST PARTIALLY ANSWER BY SUNDAY? "Well I guess mainly how the cars work through the corner side-by-side when they're close together. What's the projection of down force from the back of the car, and how will the car really react? We want to gear back toward what we felt in the older cars, and I think this is a good step. The car feels like, to me, that it likes a little bit of side force in the last 75% of the corner. So the car is a little bit freer mainly, once you're landed the car is a little bit freer for the rest of the corner, which I think is a good thing and it will help us get back to being able to race each other a little bit. Mainly, with the old car, if a guy took the line you had to really give it up just because of the lack of grip. The car didn't have a lot of down force in a straight line, but when it went into yaw it got a bunch from the fins and the stuff on the spoiler. Hopefully this helps move us back in the old direction of being able to work off the side of each other, and the guy on the bottom getting loose. It was things like that that we never really saw with the wing."
YOU WERE OUTSPOKEN ABOUT THE OTHER CAR, DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS IS THE FIX-IT FOR YOU? I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE LOOK AT IT AS IF YOU DON'T DO IT NOW; IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. "I do like the winged car and the way it's been driving for me, but that has a lot more to do with Lance and the chemistry of our team. Our cars have been better. We've been building brand new cars, and this is a brand new car. Driving a new car every week is just awesome because they always feel better. This is a step in the right direction. I wish we were able to have a little bit more downforce in the headlight area of the car, but I think this is a good step in the right direction. NASCAR is doing some great things I think. I was really frustrated with the car; it still frustrates you, but if I think back, the old one did too at times. We just liked those bodies and how much downforce you had. It was just so nice to have all that downforce; that's really the only thing I think that is kind of lacking now but I think the balance is getting better with the spoiler versus the wing."
LATE IN THE RACE WHEN A CAUTION COMES OUT BEFORE A GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED, DO YOU KNOW IMMEDIATELY IF YOU WANT TWO TIRES OR FOUR, AND HOW MUCH DISCUSSION DO YOU HAVE WITH LANCE OVER THAT? "I tell him what I want and he tells me what we're going to do; that's basically how it goes. That's fine with me. He makes the call and he's the crew chief so I want him to make the call and shoulder the burden. If he asks my opinion, he's going to get it whether or not he asks for it I think. What he doesn't like is for somebody to tell him, 'I told you so' afterwards if it doesn't work out. I just tell him what I think, and he does what he thinks we need to do and he can see that race a little differently than I can from where he's at, so I just trust what he says. I felt like we needed to get four last week; we got two and finished 12th. If the caution hadn't come out, we weren't going to finish 12th, we probably would've ended up 14th or 15th. I felt like it was the right call once it was all said and done."
-source: gm racing