Dale Earnhardt Jr. met with members of the media at Talladega Superspeedway and discussed his thoughts on knock-out qualifying at Talladega, the influence his mom has had on his life and many other topics.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS
BIG NEWS COMING OUT OF YOUR CAMP TODAY REGARDING NATIONWIDE BEING THE SPONSOR ON THAT RACE CAR STARTING NEXT YEAR THAT HAS GOT TO BE A BIG DEAL FOR YOU GUYS. TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT AND SEGWAY INTO JUST RACING HERE AT TALLADEGA: “We are really excited to be able to announce the sponsorship with Nationwide as it continues to grow. We have had a relationship with them for a very long time. It’s been successful on both sides.
I’m really thrilled to be able to go to the next level with them and allow Hendrick Motorsports to be part of that. It’s a great fit. We’ve had a lot of fun together and I’m excited to be able to continue that relationship. It’s a good thing for me. We were obviously looking for a good fit and looking for something that would work out well. I can’t imagine a better scenario and I think Nationwide is very excited to get going and start working together in the Cup series. Our current partners National Guard and Diet Mountain Dew are very excited about it as well to have them in the fold. Just a lot of good things.
“Excited to come here to Talladega, really enjoy racing here, it’s a very laid-back atmosphere and a fun race track. Looking forward to seeing how well we can run with JR Motorsports on Saturday and obviously working on our car throughout the weekend and see what we can do on Sunday. It should be a lot of fun. I enjoy these types of races and have been looking forward to it all week.”
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF QUALIFYING TOMORROW? “Nobody knows. I just don’t know. We will just have to see. The guy that gets the pole is going to have to hit it just right. We built a brand new race car so our willingness to take risks is going to be pretty limited throughout that process. We just you know need to get into the field with the car it doesn’t matter where you start other than just picking on pit road. Not sure exactly what our approach is yet. We’ve still got some conversations to have between Steve (Letarte) and our teammates and just sort of feel out everybody’s opinion about what they want to do and how they want to try to accomplish the best result they can. I don’t think right now anybody has any answers.”
WHERE IS YOUR PLATE RACING CONFIDENCE COMING INTO THIS WEEKEND? “It’s pretty confident. We as a team I think improved our emphasis on our plate cars to be able to improve their performance. I think that started to show in the last 12-16 months.
You show up here sometimes and you have great race cars that do a lot of good things and are very effective when you are moving around in the draft. There are times when you show up and for whatever reason the same car that I ran second with at Daytona a year or two ago wouldn’t hardly run down here for some reason. We just couldn’t get anything accomplished and we would get stuck in the pack and boxed in where we couldn’t go anywhere and the car just wouldn’t react the way we needed it to in order to be able to move forward and be aggressive with the passes that we wanted to make. It just depends on whether you hit everything just right and it all starts with preparation at the shop and I think we have been doing a real good job at that here lately.”
HOW MUCH DOES ALL OF THIS TRANSLATE NOW TO YOUR CONFIDENCE THAT WHEN YOU GET IN THIS RACE AND IF YOU GET DOWN TOWARD THE END, CONFIDENCE, THAT THE MOVE YOU CHOOSE WILL BE THE RIGHT MOVE? “The car gives you the confidence. When you are driving the car and you get a sense of the cars ability the car gives you the confidence. Then when you are thinking more positively you tend to see positive results no matter what you are doing, whether you are driving a car or whatever. If you are thinking ‘hey man I need to make this move right now, but I don’t believe in the car’ then the result is typically not what you are wanting and more of what you expect.
When the car is very good and you appreciate what the car is doing throughout the day you tend to expect it to make the moves you want to make and accomplish what you want to accomplish in the draft late in the race. Realistically those results pretty much come true when you have that kind of confidence in the car and yourself. It’s a process throughout the whole weekend really leading up to the race and throughout the first part of the race that builds that confidence.”
WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THE NATIONWIDE SERIES THAT NATIONWIDE HAS CHOSEN TO LEAVE AS SPONSOR OF THE SERIES TO SPONSOR YOUR NO. 88 CHEVROLET SS IN THE CUP SERIES NEXT SEASON? “I think it says a lot about the direction that Nationwide wanted to go after their involvement in the sport for some time. That they wanted to move forward and do something new with their objectives. I also believe from what I’ve been hearing behind the scenes that the opportunities and search for a title sponsor in the Nationwide Series won’t be a challenging one that there is some good interest there.
Those type of sponsorships although both of them are involved in the sport they kind of accomplish different things. I think this is a direction that Nationwide wanted to go after what they were doing was affective. There will be some opportunity and there is some good interest to fill that void. I think that the Nationwide Series currently is very healthy due to what Nationwide has been able to accomplish in the series.
“Also as the sport has sort of reset and rebounded from the economical struggles that we had several years ago the teams are getting healthier and we are seeing a lot more interest on teams wanting to get on the quarter panels and the hoods of these race cars. Whereas for a long time there was a lot more interest to be an official sponsor of the sport and more tied to the sport as a whole. Now we are seeing a lot more interest in guys wanting to get back on the quarter panels and hoods of these cars. I think that is really important to the health of the sport overall.”
IS THE BUSINESS OF SPONSORSHIP EVOLVING ENOUGH TO WHERE IT IS GOING TO BE TRULY A RARITY FOR ANY ONE ENTITY TO SPONSOR ONE CAR FOR AN ENTIRE SEASON? “Yeah, I think that is true. I don’t know that is a sign of anything positive or negative. I just think it’s an evolution of how sponsorships have changed. Much like we used to think it was a wild thing when a guy would have two race cars out there. Instead of now a days there are owners that have four race cars and three race cars and that is the norm. It’s just the way things kind of evolve over time.
I think that it’s really a lot busier when you have multiple partners and it’s a lot more entertaining and interesting as a driver for sure to have so many partners to work with. And have so many people across so many different – that can reach such an audience. I’m really enjoying having multiple people to work with each year. We all sort of learn from each other and how to market and how to reach as many people as we can. It’s been very effective and we have had a lot of success with it.”
FROM EVERYTHING I UNDERSTAND YOU ARE A PRETTY FRUGAL GUY SO COULD YOU EVER IMAGINE IF YOU WERE EVER TO GET MARRIED THAT YOU WOULD SPEND TWO MILLION DOLLARS LIKE THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER SAYS THAT YOU ARE GOING TO BE DOING LATER THIS YEAR? “I definitely would have a hard time writing that check (laughter).”
WOULD YOU DO IT AT DAYTONA? “No of course not. I would not force everybody to go down to Daytona for my wedding. I probably would just have it right there in the back yard, but whatever is easiest. That was funny. I read that and it was a roller coaster of an article. Pretty good.”
DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE GETTING MARRIED? “I didn’t. So we just skipped the engagement I guess, went right to the wedding.”
NEXT WEEKEND IS MOTHER’S DAY WEEKEND. WHAT DOES YOUR MOM MEAN TO YOU? HOW DID SHE HELP YOU ALONG DURING YOUR CHILDHOOD AND RISE ALL THE WAY TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?“I don’t have enough time to answer that to give it justice. She was from a racing family. Obviously I loved the sport when I was a little kid so I was so lucky to have it on both sides of my family. My parents split up when I was really young, but no matter where I was I was around a race car. Which I really appreciated because the Gee’s, my mother was a Gee, Robert Gee and Robert Gee, Jr. and all them, they raced and did things differently and approached racing differently so it was fun to sort of learn from both sides.
She had a huge influence on me becoming a Washington Redskins fan which I really appreciate to this day. She just worked really hard and she had a hard time giving up custody of me and Kelly to my father in 1981. She just knew we would have better opportunities and a better life in that situation. That was very difficult and she fought with that internally for many, many years. It was a real joy to be able to have her husband Willie (Jackson) retire from his job as a fireman and them be able to move to North Carolina and be close and be able to really become more a part of her life again.
She has a great sense of humor and very sarcastic and I really appreciate that. Just a ton of fun to be around, if you want an honest opinion and you want the truth even if you don’t want to hear it your mom is the best person to go to, to get it. She doesn’t have a filter and she will steer you down the right path every time. It’s great to have a relationship with her that I have today. She is a huge influence on my life and has been for some time.”
YOU GOT FIRST QUARTER DRIVER OF THE YEAR THIS YEAR. YOU HAD NEVER WON THAT BEFORE? “I have no idea.”
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT WINNING THAT? “I just think obviously we would really be happy to win the award out right. To get it quarterly is sort of a nod to how we have performed. It’s good that the media sees the performance because as much as we love to do a lot of things for ourselves we really get a kick out of when the media and our fans see the performance and acknowledge it. That kind of nod was a great feeling. We have worked so hard to be able to be this competitive and we show up every week and we are quick and the car is there.
It’s been so long or I’ve never really had that to be honest. I can’t even imagine ’04 was even that good. This is awesome that things are going as good. I couldn’t be happier with what is going on in my professional life. It’s good to get that nod. It’s just a good feeling. I consider the media peers of mine. We all work in this together and it’s just like another driver coming up and saying ‘man you drove a hell of a race last week’. It’s a good feeling.”