Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "We haven’t performed as well as our other three teammates throughout 2009 and 2010 and 2011 we started getting a little bit better."
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 MOUNTAIN DEW KICKSTART CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and discussed his confidence level, testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ‘Throw Back Thursday’ and many other topics.
HOW HAS YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVEL HELPED WITH THE START TO YOUR SEASON? “Your confidence brings a positive attitude with it. We’ve been building that confidence obviously for several years resulting in a really solid season last year, especially throughout the Chase. Starting off this year with a win and a second place finish just continues to make us feel like what we’re doing is working and what we’re doing is heading in the right direction.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO GAIN FROM TODAY’S TEST AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO EVERYONE? “I think everybody obviously wants to learn what they can about the rules and the changes in the ride height. They’re allowing some different things with bump stops as well and there are just a lot of different variables that we have yet to be able to get on the race track. I know a lot of other teams have tested a lot at Nashville and some places, but there are some teams like ourselves who haven’t really put a lot of time into testing in the off-season due to the lack of reasonable facilities to test at.
I think a lot of teams just really want to get out there and try everything they can and learn as much as they can at a race track that we actually compete. This stuff with translate to Charlotte, Texas and a lot of other places where we see similar loads on the left-front corner of the car. Even just to be able to see, you’ll be able to get an idea of where you are against the competition at the mile-and-a-half tracks which are prevalent throughout the series. Everybody is really anxious to see where they are after all the off-season work and study against the competition.
We got an idea at Phoenix, but that’s a unique race track, not really comparable to a lot of other tracks on the circuit. This will be a real good idea of exactly where each company is performance-wise. I know it’s just four hours and it’s one day of testing, but if you can come out of here feeling really confident then you just continue to roll in that momentum and that confidence right on through the rest of the weekend then you can turn it into a really good result.”
HOW FAST CAN YOU TURN WHAT YOU LEARN IN TESTING AROUND FOR THE RACE WEEKEND? “It will help this weekend. We’re definitely going out today to test what can make our car fast for Sunday. Whatever we use here will traditionally translate to a lot of race tracks throughout the year. We may be able to see trends. We have a lot more spoiler on the car with the new package on the ride height that changes the downforce quite a bit so you’re going to start to see trends whether it be rear-spring split, different things that will be a little bit different from last year that will help you shortcut understanding how to take it to another race track.
If you think that the spring splits closing up a little bit because of certain things or opening up because of certain things that they changed in the off-season as far as the rules, that will translate to the rest of the race tracks and that’s something you don’t really have to go through when we go to these other mile-and-a-halves. We’ll be able to understand that what worked at Vegas should plug right in at these other places.”
WHERE DID YOU FEEL YOU WERE PREVIOUSLY AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS COMPARED TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY? “Before, we sort of been all over the board really. I think in the last 10 races we’ve ran, we’ve been on par with Jimmie (Johnson). He’s obviously been the lead horse in the organization for a long time in performance. I feel like in the last 10 races or so we’ve been on par with him if not a little bit better in certain cases, obviously in the last few races we’ve been better, but just in results.
You can’t sleep on Jimmie, he’ll get it going and won’t be a problem. I think in the last seven years we’ve been at the bottom, we’ve been the third, second, first, we’ve been all over. More often we’ve been in the back half of the four cars. We haven’t performed as well as our other three teammates throughout 2009 and 2010 and 2011 we started getting a little bit better.
It’s a very, very competitive group. Kasey’s (Kahne) as fast as anybody. Jeff’s (Gordon) got four championships and tons of experience and wins races. They raise your game, it’s good to have people pushing you and they definitely push me to be better as a driver and I learn a lot from all three of them.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT COMING TO VEGAS THAT MAKES IT UNIQUE? “The town itself, the mystique of Vegas and the history of this town and how it was built. How it survives. I think the track certainly adopted that personality and the way the garage is built, the way the fans have access to us throughout practice and they can really get on top of the car and see what we’re doing, victory lane and how they do the driver’s meeting here is unlike any other place where we all walk out on the red carpet into a sea of fans and sit there throughout the driver’s meeting amongst all the fans.
The track itself is an impressive facility when you compare it to other tracks on the circuit. Driving in here and when you’re inside and looking around just the facility here for the media, it’s a really nice place and very representative of Las Vegas itself. I think it’s very fitting and the track itself is fun. It has some good character with the bumps going into turn one and it’s got a lot of banking and fast speeds. The groove has widened out quite a bit and makes it really appealing for drivers. It’s a fun track and it was fun even before they reconfigured it. Obviously, a lot flatter and a lot less speed, but still just as enjoyable to race on.”
RODNEY CHILDERS SEEMS TO HAVE A LOT OF RESPECT FROM EVERYONE IN THE GARAGE. WHAT IS IT ABOUT HIM THAT PEOPLE LIKE OR THAT HAS EARNED HIM RESPECT FROM THE NASCAR COMMUNITY? “I went to high school with Rodney’s brother and I was at Rodney’s house one time when he was a little kid. He used to race little quarter midgets and go-karts and stuff like that. He is a very good driver. He would come down here to Daytona run Municipal Stadium when they had the nationals here.
He must have been 12, 14 years old showing me all these VHS tapes of his races when I was over at his house that day. We became friends after that. I have followed him as he started racing late models. He was working with Clay Rogers in a shop together with those guys. He raced every weekend at Tri-County (Motor Speedway) and he won every single race he ever drove down there it seemed like.
I thought he was going to be a race car driver myself. And he worked on his own stuff so I knew that he was really sharp with the car. It turns out he might of made as good a driver as he is a crew chief, but fate landed him on top of the pit box. We have just known each other for a very long time.
“I think that people perceive him as maybe the next Chad Knaus. He has got a lot of respect from his peers because people really realize his potential and his talent. He has got a great opportunity to showcase that. I think that obviously Jimmie (Johnson) is going to be one of the guys as a favorite early in the championship. But I think that (Kevin) Harvick has been consistently in the top five in points year after year. I believe that he is really in a program where he can shine with the opportunity with Rodney to excel even more.
They will be extremely challenging. I think that the Phoenix race was just a sign of more to come. When we went to test at Charlotte his car was by far superior to everyone else there. I was like ‘man everybody better watch out, everybody better wake up because this is going to be a strong team.’ They are going to be tough and deservingly so. I think Rodney has already had some good success, but this is a great opportunity for him to really showcase his talent. I think he’s got a ton of it.”
YOU HAVE BEEN THE MOST POPULAR DRIVER IN THE SPORT FOR MANY YEARS. CAN DALE EARNHARDT, JR. GET ANY MORE POPULAR AND DOES THAT PUT ANY MORE DEMANDS ON YOU THAN YOU THOUGHT POSSIBLE? “No I don’t really think about it that much. I don’t worry about the demands or worry about the popularity or any of that stuff. You take it as it comes whichever way the tide goes. I am enjoying our success and enjoying the crew I’m with, enjoying working with Steve (Letarte), enjoying everything going on around me. Everything seems to be in a positive direction right now so just trying to have fun with that.
The fans are really enjoying it. I interact with them on social media a lot more lately is given me a great perspective of how they feel and what their energy is. We have always had a good connection with our fan base and it’s even stronger now I think. They are just really enjoying what we are doing. I think that drives us and motivates us when people are happy with how you are doing and want to see you do well and want to continue to see you do well. Having that interaction daily is a motivating factor instead of being more pressure. I’m not working to get more popularity I’m just trying to go win races and trying to have fun doing it.”
TODAY IS ‘THROW BACK THURSDAY’. YOU ARE AN OLD SCHOOL GUY ARE YOU ENJOYING HAVING THIS VENUE (TWITTER) TO SHARE WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN PASSIONATE ABOUT YOUR WHOLE LIFE? “Yeah, it’s great. You want to throw them all out there at once. I got a lot of pictures on my phone for ‘throw back Thursday’. It’s pretty neat. It makes Twitter fun seeing all the other photos and just being able to be reminded of history and individuals and certain events. So yeah that is definitely a lot of fun. I put up a picture this morning in the motorcoach that I had.
Something else happened… oh yeah, Jimmy Means group was asking me, his Twitter handle from his race team was asking me if I had any pictures of him and me. I had one of me and Brad that Brad gave me. Brad Means is his son. Me and Brad are really good friends. Brad sent me a picture about two months ago. I posted that on there and some guy says ‘how do you have that? You have that on your phone just sitting there?’ I’m like ‘yeah’ (laughs). Yeah I’ve got all those pictures on my phone. My phone is just like everybody else’s phone.”