DEI Press Conference Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Richie Gilmore and Steve Hmiel Note: DEI announced that Steve Hmiel would be the new interim crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and the ...
DEI Press Conference
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Richie Gilmore and Steve Hmiel
Note: DEI announced that Steve Hmiel would be the new interim crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and the #8 Budweiser Chevrolet beginning this weekend.
Hmiel had been Earnhardt, Jr.'s spotter. Jimmy Kitchens will now take over as Earnhardt, Jr.'s spotter.
OPENING STATEMENT FROM RICHIE GILMORE:
Yeah, we just wanted to get everybody together and talk about the change we made this week. And so we could focus on the rest of the weekend. You know, we made a change on the #8, with the crew chief, moving Steve Hmiel up to crew chief for Dale Jr. We just felt like it was something we needed to do. Early in the season, usually you let a little bit more time go by but we just felt that there wasn't enough chemistry there and we could see some early signs. Right now Pete's staying with the organization and Pete's been a big asset for four years, brought a lot to the company. We are a big company and have a lot of things going on in the future and we hope that it will work out for him and we hope we can get him back in a position where he'll be successful. Our sport is very important to have the chemistry you need to be successful. And the communication back and forth with the driver and it felt like Pete and Junior got along good, but on the race track on Sunday we needed to make that communication better. You know, Steve's got a lot of experience as a crew chief and as a leader. Junior's been used to his voice as a spotter and kind of as an offensive coordinator up in the spotter's stand. We felt that it would be the right choice for us going forward. You know, when I take the time and look and see what our options are, there's really no time table. We just want to find the right person and if it takes the rest of the year, it takes the rest of the year. We might even be able to talk Steve into doing it forever, we don't know. We're just going to play it by ear and see how it goes. Try to get the Budweiser team back in victory lane.
WHO MADE THIS DECISION AND DID JUNIOR HAVE INPUT ON THE CHANGE?
Gilmore: It was my decision. You know, I've been sitting on the pit box of the #8 team for the last four years and just listening and watching, I felt like it wasn't there. And that we had to make a decision. Junior always has input in that and Teresa (Earnhardt) has a big decision-making part in that. So, it was kind of a group decision but at the end of the day, it was mine.
DID JUNIOR HAVE INPUT IN THIS?
Earnhardt, Jr: Yeah, lots.
IS THERE A POSSIBILITY THAT TONY EURY COULD BE BACK AS YOUR CREW CHIEF NEXT YEAR?
Earnhardt, Jr: We haven't really thought about that. We expect to have somebody, if it's Steve or somebody else. We wanted to, you know, give ourselves an opportunity and we'll use the rest of this year as that opportunity to find the right match. And, between, you know, all the upper management at DEI, have that team where it needs to be going into next season. Hopefully we'll be able to have a good finish to this year and get both teams into the top 10. But, we haven't even considered that as an option-as far as swapping them back. What I'd like to do, personally, is find somebody that I work with really well at the race track. Me and Pete were real, real good friends, still are great friends. I thought a lot of him and we got along really well, but we didn't really click on the radio on Sunday. During practice we struggled a little bit and so, I want to find somebody who is a good match for me as far as my terminology or whatever it takes where we can get our cars where we're running fast. And you know, I think Tony Jr. and Michael are working really well together now and you know, they're having pretty good success and they're running good at a lot of race track this year. To not allow him to focus on that head on, would be a hindrance to him. So, he's got to understand that that's his deal, that's what he's doing, that's their plan. And we can't have any kind of, 'Well, if this don't work out, y'all know we can just do this' because everybody would be looking in two, three different directions. We need everybody looking in one direction.
SHOULD WE EXPECT NOW TO SEE SOME CHANGES TO THE #15 TEAM AS WELL?
Gilmore: I think that program is doing real well. They started off the season with two engine failures that we've addressed. And if you take those two failures out, that team's in the top 5. So, really it is that they're on course as far as Michael and the team and the communication and working well and hitting the setup every week. We feel that they hit the target of where we wanted them to be.
IS 11 RACES ENOUGH TIME TO KNOW THE CHEMISTRY YOU NEED?
Earnhardt, Jr: Maybe ten years ago it's not, but in this day and age, it is. As much as you do at the race track, as much as you test, as much as you work together throughout the week. Like I said, my relationship with Pete personally, friend to friend, at the shop and everything, was great. We got the race track and we were always optimistic. The morale on that team from top to bottom was always really good. One thing that me and him struggled with together was improving the cars throughout practice, trying to improve the car throughout the race. Having a formidable game plan for each of those circumstances. We found ourselves, I guess a lot of times, just kind of out of touch in the middle part of the race. There was a lot of things. I didn't feel like personally I was getting a lot of information about what changes were being done on the car and I'm sure that I wasn't giving him enough information about what those changes were doing. I've driven Cup cars for a couple of years now and he's been a crew chief for a year, and if we'd have came in as rookies together, or with that type of experience together, it might have worked out. I just felt like we needed to make a change to give it a good shot and give it an opportunity. I trust Richie Gilmour with his position to make the change when he feels like it needs to be made and we took several people's opinions within the company of what was best to do to move forward and improve things. That's definitely enough time to understand if it was going to work out or not. And it was situation where I guess we want results now, we were looking for results now. We understand how the change that the swap within the teams, the change within the teams, would take a little bit of time to gel, but we still expected more success from our teams. As a whole, with the people we have within the company, we have the best people. With the race cars that we're building right now with the engine program turning itself around, all the things that are happening within the company, we expect our cars should be able to go to the race track and be a lot stronger than they are. So, we're doing what we can and how we can to get them that way.
YOU SEEMED PATIENT IN THE PAST IN DEALING WITH TONY EURY, JR., BUT THIS MOVE SEEMS ALMOST IMPATIENT, POSSIBLY?
Earnhardt, Jr: Me and Tony Jr. and Tony Sr. are family. And they've been there from the very beginning and they're still there at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. As Richie said, if Pete stays within the organization and I hope that that's something that works out. With Tony, Jr., you know, we was like brothers. We fought harder than I could ever fight with Pete. I'm telling you right now, me and Pete, we got along pretty good compared with me and Tony, Jr. It's just hard to leave those guys because my Dad put me with them. And Tony, Sr. told me on several occasions that him and Dad had conversations about us winning championships together and all those things. So, it was a totally different situation for me, personally, than it is now.
DO YOU FEEL MAKING MANY CHANGES IN TEAM MANAGEMENT WILL HURT YOU MORE THAN HELP?
Earnhardt, Jr: When we talked about making the swap with the teams, we didn't have a set person as far as the crew chief, for the No. 15 car. Pete was the crew chief until the end of the season last year. Richie and I talked and I thought that we should go ahead and work with Pete because he was in the company. I did like how we got along. I did like his persona, you know, his laid-back personality, and I felt like that would be a good change. We could have sat on it for a while to see what other options were out there and see what the interest level was for it, but we wanted to try to keep things internal as best we could. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. So we're going to have to use the next several months to again see what the interest level is out there. I feel real confident in Steve Hmeil's abilty to maintain how competitive we are now and improve the team with help from all the communication that will be going on amongst everybody within the company to keep this team strong and get us into the chase. And then if we see a homerun or if we find ourselves at the end of the season, we'll make some decisions then about what we need to do next with this team.
COULD THIS BE MORE OF A CAR PROBLEM THAN A CREW CHIEF PROBLEM
Earnhardt, Jr: Yeah, at the same time you've got to face a lot of things head-on. There are some decisions, personally, that are hard for me to be involved in. I'm sure Richie would rather me have a desk right next to him all day long at DEI helping to make decisions and things like that. But this decision I knew was going to be a high profile change for the press and the media and I felt like I needed to be a bigger part of if than say, the (team) swap that we made. Plus, it was not all Richie's opinion. We were just kind of flat-lined there a little bit with the team and we felt like we could be a lot better race team. And who's to say what we do next? But I think if Steve Hmiel can get in there and see a few things and see what the temperature of the team is and give us an idea of what would be good. With his experience, he knows already a lot about what I like and don't like in a race car. With him and Richie and all those guys, now that the door is open, we're willing to look outside the company for crew chiefs and whatnot. I think that with those two guys and their experience and my input, we'll be able to find somebody that'll make a great match and we can move forward.
REGARDING THE CAR
Earnhardt, Jr: We've tested them. I haven't actually driven the new car yet, but we've tested them. Tony Sr. has been working on a lot of that stuff. We went to Kentucky and I love the car they've been working with at Kentucky. It's not a true DEI clip, but it's got a lot of things done to it that we implement in the DEI chassis. But the car Pops has been working with and testing with and improving drives tremendously. It was a back-up car for Martin (Truex Jr.) last week. And I was pretty excited that Martin might have had an opportunity to race it since unfortunately he wrecked his primary car last week, but I think they built a new car instead so we'll have to wait. Hopefully I'll get to drive it. It really drives good. But we'll have to see.
FOR STEVE HMIEL: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR ROLE?
Hmiel: Well, it's kind of a different methodology the way I would do things. Ritchie and myself and Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. and all the other crew chiefs have talked a lot this week and we're going to a strictly open-book policy where we'll use engineering unilaterally. We'll bounce aerodynamic things off each other. Our tire guys will work together. It'll be more similar to what the teams that are winning all the races are doing. That's talking amongst themselves and using all the assets that are available to them to become a better race team. Pete wasn't against that. We just weren't at that point in our company's history. The thing that needs to be said about all this is that if it failed, it's because I didn't use the people that are there. And if it succeeds, it's because all the people that were there did it - not because it had anything to do with me. It's just a matter of taking the personal face off the crew chief and making DEI an entity that can win races regardless of who's sitting on top of the pit box.
FOR DALE JR: CAN YOU STILL WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR?
Earnhardt, Jr: I don't rule out any success. When you sit around and have conversations and discussions with Ritchie and Steve and Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. and some of the engineers and a lot of the new people we've brought in, you feel like this company is just on the brink of being a true success. We've never had a full grasp on being a dominant team within any part of the season. We've put together strings of top fives and wins last year and stuff like that, but I think we're just around the corner from going to the race track and having good driving cars every week right off the trailer. NASCAR and Goodyear and with the changes that happen year after year after year, you really have to be on top of what's going on. It comes down to the engineers during the off season as to who can figure out where you need to be before you ever get on the race track. Unfortunately this year, I think we didn't guess enough or didn't guess right for a while. So it's taking us a while to get to where we can go to the race track and feel like we're coming off the trailer in the ball park.
It doesn't really matter where you are in the Chase. With what Kurt (Busch) did last year, he kind of came from the back burner to win the thing. So, I think we've got a good enough team to make it and once we get there, hopefully by that part of the season -- with all the summer to learn and gain more knowledge and get faster and get more competitive - hopefully by that point, we'll be a strong enough team to put up a fight for it.