DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, being a leader in the sport, the issues with tires at Atlanta, being with ...
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, being a leader in the sport, the issues with tires at Atlanta, being with Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Jarrett's retirement and other topics:
ON HIS MINDSET COMING IN TO BRISTOL: "I always look forward to coming here. It is one of the more exciting stops through the season. It is a great race track. It has come such a long way in the several years that it has existed. I have seen a lot of neat races here, been involved in a few of them. Really looking forward to seeing how we are going to do with our Hendrick equipment and try to keep the momentum we have going. Try to keep that on the upswing."
ON HOW HARD IT IS TO BE A LEADER NOW IN THE SPORT: "Yea. If you are going to speak out in any form about anything, expect to have two sides to every argument. I thought what Tony did was respectable, not respectful. He has his own style and everyone knows that and you either don't like him for it or you like him for it. Me and him have stayed pretty good friends throughout our time in the sport. He did feel strongly about it and the thing that was great about that was he backed it up throughout the week. He never changed his tone. He even had Mike Helton on his radio show. He was very serious about it. It wasn't just him sounding off after an event. He had conviction in his stance throughout. So that was good for Tony and the best way he could have played that. For him to quit talking and not said anything the rest of the week, it would have lost all the energy in his argument.
"There can be leaders in this sport. The drivers have a certain amount of respect for different guys. Obviously we are losing one this weekend with Dale Jarrett retiring. I thought the best thing that happened with Tony's deal was the support he got from Dale. Dale rarely gets in the middle of those types of things. He felt strongly about the racing back to the caution thing when that deal happened to him in New Hampshire. I think he was a big reason why those rules were put in to place because of how strongly he spoke up and he went to the right people and said the right thing with conviction.
"Tony is definitely a guy, whether they will admit it or not, people do listen to. Dale Jarrett is another one. Bobby Labonte is one. He goes to most of the Goodyear tests because of his reputation as a leader and as a guy who knows what he is doing and a guy who can get it figured out. There has been a lot of trust built up in that over the years.
"You have to have a certain mentality and a certain personality to garner that type of respect like my Father had, for people to observe you in that manner. They way the sport is these days; it is tougher to find those kinds of guys. It tends to be the veterans.
"It tends to be the Dale Jarretts, Bill Elliott - a lot of people would have listened to his opinion if he had cared to speak about. You have to decide to do that, too. He was one that just wanted to bow out gracefully and go do his thing. He always went and did his thing his own way. He had a lot of opinions, but he wasn't wanting to share them.
"A lot of times you pick the battle before you think about it. I felt as bad as Tony did about the tires, but I just couldn't bring myself to be as vocal as he was about it. Maybe because I know what the backlash is going to be. There was a deal back in '02 or '03, maybe before that, where I was complaining quite a bit about the tires, maybe not to the press, but over the radio and whatnot. It got back to some of the Goodyear people and they were upset about it. What I was told, an whether is any truth to it or not I don't know, but what I was told is that I couldn't be more politically correct about it, I would have to pay for my tires. So, that was something that DEI wasn't willing to do so they asked me if I would clean it up a little bit. We had a run early in my career where the tires were real inconsistent and couldn't keep my mouth shut about it; I was so upset about it.
"They are way more consistent now and I sincerely mean that. It is what it is. What happened last week it is what Tony said it was, it is what it is. We all say it happen and we all know exactly what happened. There is no question as to what we need and that is, we need, if it costs a little bit more money a tire that is as durable but yet has a little more grip, then we need to try and do that. We really need to try and do that. We need to try find a way, if we are Goodyear, we need to try and find a way in our minds to convince ourselves it is the right thing to do. Because there aren't a lot of tires to use. I am sure it seemed like a good idea at the time to take that certain tire, but we see now that maybe we should explore other options."
ON DIFFERENCES IN RACE PREPARATION NOW THAT HE IS WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS: "There isn't much to it that is different. Physically the car and everything is the same. Tony, Jr. (Eury) hasn't really changed his approach to how he prepares his cars every weekend, which is good because I felt like we were a good team and I feel like his approach has always been good. There is more depth in the engineering department, a lot more knowledge there, a lot more assistance that is given to Tony, Jr. because of that. A lot more ideas and more of a thought process to everything because of the depth in the engineering corp. That helps Tony, Jr. out tremendously to be able to understand, not so much setting the car up initially, but finding changes that are definitely going to affect the car and should do exactly what his brain is telling him it should do. That is pretty good. There are a lot of other areas that are better or different. But as far as just preparation of the car, it is really can't be varied too much throughout the garage. There really can't be a whole lot going on that would really surprise anybody."
ON HIS RELIEF OF HOW WELL HE HAS STARTED THE SEASON: "It is nice relief. You do tend to let yourself feel good about it but you can't too much. You really can't think about it. You have to really concentrate on what is ahead of you and focus on that. It is just like winning the semi-final game, you can enjoy it just a little bit, it is a good mood, but you can just as well be going home next week and be miserable. You have highs and lows in this sport. The lows are low, low low and the highs are real real high. You just have to be able to handle that swing. It seems that I have the opportunity now with the equipment and the team that is around me to enjoy more success over an average this year and throughout. We just have to keep our heads on straight. Be smart. Not let our egos swell up and not let anything get the best of us and just try and do our job."
ON HIS VIEW OF HAVING A FORMAL DRIVERS ASSOCIATION IN NASCAR: "(LAUGHS) I love that. There is a million different ways that could be done. It is obviously not likely, but, I think the main situation is that you as a driver, you have a hard time listening and believing someone that has never been behind the wheel trying to tell you what needs to happen out on the race track or how things need to be, or should be or this is the way to go. Who has never drove a car; doesn't...you know. If it is something small like how the soft walls blend on to the race track on entrance of the corners and on exit, For example, that soft wall jumps out there and if you are a foot off the wall you are going to run head-on into it because it juts out there about a foot and a half. Drivers have hit it going in to that corner; it just sticks out there like a sore thumb. As a driver, those are the things you want fixed. The wall at Vegas is a great example. We don't sit around and search these things out just to pester. These are things that we actually run in to as we go back to these venues over and over and over, we continue to get frustrated with it and eventually you might run in to Mike (Helton) somewhere or someone and say "Hey you know what, this is what I think and take it for what it is worth." And that is that. I would like to think that NASCAR does talk to the drivers-the Jeff Burtons and those types. Jeff always errs on the side of safety and always has great points and great ideas in my opinion. I would like to believe that NASCAR does have conversations with those guys. Somewhere, where ever it be. I would like to think those things went on and there is a driver influence in a lot of their decisions. I would hope that is the way it is. It is just some sort of secret society thing that nobody else knows about, not even me. That needs to be the case if it isn't. Atlanta is just a reminder of that really, that the driver's opinions matter. We are paid a lot of money to do what we do and we all do sound off and go push buttons a little too hard sometimes, but for the most part, we don't want to ruin the racing for the sport. We don't want to make it worse for the fans. We want to make it as big as we can make it. Just like the rest of those guys in that trailer down there do. We have the same thing at stake, when we go home; we have the same deals at stake. It is just as important to us that the racing is great."
ON HIS RELATING TO PEOPLE DRAWING CONCLUSIONS EARLY IN THE SEASON ON HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS: "Sorta, I can kind of relate to that, but not so much for Rick (Hendrick). The success that they have known, I have never known and so I can't begin to understand what that must feel like for them to hear that only three or four races in to the season. It is a bit ridiculous, aside from Carl (Edwards); we had an awesome weekend in California. We were fast the whole time, we wrecked and all that, but the No. 48 and the No. 24 ran great and we have been pretty good. Jimmie (Johnson) has struggled a little bit, but that happens. I am sure it irks those guys to assume or wonder what is wrong or whatever. They are scrambling trying to figure out how to right again. That is their main focus right now. We have been fortunate and we are just trying to make sure that number one we can keep running as good as we have been and number two we can figure out how maybe something we are doing, or whatever, we can do to help the other teams. That is the only thing we are really worried about. There is always going to be expectations. Rick and his program and the success that they have had, they have put themselves in that position and I think that they understand that. Jeff (Gordon) has been in that situation before. Winning some 13 races one year, how do you come back and what do you do the next season. I am sure it isn't new territory for him. Hopefully in a month, a couple of us have a win or two and it won't be no more big deal."
ON GRADE OF NEW GENERATION NASCAR IMPALA SS: "I would give it about a C or so. There is a lot of things about it that are nice and are good. There are a lot of things about it that still need some work and hopefully the window is still cracked open for some slow change, maybe some slow, methodical evolution for this car over the next two to three years because it is obviously here to stay. I would hate to think that this is exactly how this car is going to be three years from now. I am sure there will be some things that will happen and we will learn and encounter as we did at Atlanta being an example, we will encounter things that will show us a new and better way.
"Hopefully we aren't too bullheaded to not want to build them the right way. It has great and amazing potential and it is here to stay so we all might as well learn how to live in harmony with it.
ON DALE JARRETT: "I am sad that he is going to stop because he is just such a great guy. He has always been a good friend to me. My favorite story, I am sure you have heard it, but we had just won the 2001 400 at Daytona and it was the race at Daytona right after my Dad has been killed there.
"I had won and we were standing down in the motor home lot, it was one or two in the morning. We had a circle of us all drinking beer, about 20 of use. I looked around and I knew everybody, it was mostly team members and some friends of mine in town and I looked to my right and standing next to me was Dale Jarrett. I asked him what he was still doing there, why aren't you on your way home. He said "I wouldn't miss this. That was the coolest thing I have ever seen you do.' That was just, I don't know, it showed me a lot about his character right there. At that time in my life, it meant a lot to me for somebody to care and want to experience that with you. Obviously there was a void there for me and it meant a lot to me that he understood that and that was just a great moment for me. He has just been there for not only me, but other drivers too for a while. He is always lending a hand. I wrecked him at Watkins Glen, just flat run over him and put him in the foam, I felt bad about it and I came over when we had a test here and went up in his hauler and sat down and talked to him about it. Not only did I talk to him about what I could do to fix what I did to him the day before, but we sat discussed driver etiquette in any situation like that in the future and how you would handle this and how would you handle that. He is the kind of guy where you can say, "hey man, if this ever happens to me, what do I do.' He is going to tell you exactly the right way to go about it. He has just been a great friend and I like to think of him and know him a race car driver and that is going to be difficult. He has a great future in the booth and I think that he going in his Father's footsteps, as crazy as that sounds at his age. But I think he will be great at it, I really do. I think he is really going to be good at that and I wish him the best. Especially with his future in the broadcasting because I really feel like he has a knack for it and he will be good."
-credit: gm racing