Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Thoughts on the new qualifying format

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, met with members of the media at PIR and discussed his whirlwind week following his Daytona 500 victory, his thoughts on the new qualifying format, and many other topics.

GIVE US A FEW HIGHLIGHTS FROM YOUR WEEK THIS WEEK AND ABOUT COMING INTO PHOENIX: “NASCAR did a real good job of structuring out the tour. I don’t really remember much about what we did in 2004, but this was a lot of fun doing (David) Letterman was really exciting. Going to FOX studios and what we did there was a lot of fun and work at ESPN was fun. Every stop was enjoyable and I enjoyed talking about the win and talking about our experiences and sharing that with the fans. It’s been a great week. Got a lot of rest and we are ready to go here in Phoenix. Kind of everything resets and goes back to zero. We will try to run as well as we can this weekend, get a good result and go from there.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

ONE OF THE MOST SURPRISING THINGS THAT WE ALL LEARNED AFTER THE RACE WAS THAT DENNY (HAMLIN) HAD NO SPOTTER FOR ABOUT 150 LAPS ON AND OFF. WHAT WOULD YOU THINK ABOUT HAVING TO RUN THOSE FINAL TWO LAPS WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO HEAR A RADIO? “I mean the last two laps probably would have been easy to do it without a spotter, but just running the whole race there are a lot of challenging situations you get yourself into. There are times when you need to be cleared when you are not sure. For the most part as a race car driver you know where every car is around you, probably 60-70 percent of the time you make moves just on your own instinct and understanding of where cars around you without a spotter.

But there is that 30 percent when you don’t know where the cars are around you and you need to move into another lane, you want to and you need your spotter to help you get there. There are definitely some situations where that was a huge disadvantage for him not to have that spotter helping him when he is trying to march forward and get himself in position and get toward the front in that tight pack. It’s a huge disadvantage, but toward the front in the top five I couldn’t tell you what TJ (Majors, spotter) said in those last two laps. I was just going off of what I was seeing and what I was doing. I was making decisions faster than he could feed me the information at that point in time.”

HOW IS TJ? “TJ is good. He had some issues with his intestines last year that caused him to miss the Atlanta race. Some of those issues cropped back up just a small infection. He is back home now; he is out of the hospital so he is fine. He just hates having to miss it. He is a huge part of our team. We have such great chemistry it’s going to be a difficult situation not having him, but we’ve got Bill Elliott of all people is going to fill in during practice. That is going to be pretty awesome. A lot of most popular driver awards right there, like 27 or something like that. Then during the race the guy we had last year is going to fill in. He did a great job for us last year. I feel good about the race. It will be interesting going through knock-out qualifying me and Bill (Elliott) both for the first time.”

YOU DIDN’T PACK A BAG, YOU DIDN’T HAVE CLOTHES PACKED FOR THIS WHOLE TOUR, AND CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW YOU GOT OUR CLOTHES? “Basically Amy (Reimann, girlfriend) is good friends with this gal Kristin (Heinrich) that works in Charlotte and has helped me a few times. Amy works with her on when we need to go to special events and I need to get a sports coat or something. So, we just by luck, Kristin was in New York working with Lavender which is the shop that Amy works with in Mooresville. Amy has like a bit of a part-time job and so just by fate these people were in New York to help us get some clothes.

So on our flight to New York from Daytona Kristin was scrambling trying to put together some things judging by the schedule that I had. I never had to wear socks twice or wear underwear twice so that was good. Everything was clean. Kristin did a great job. That is one of the perks to having a good, dedicated girlfriend like that. I don’t know what I would have done without Amy and Kristin at that particular moment. I definitely wouldn’t have represented myself as well as I did this week. That was a big help from them.”

COULD YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT WE WILL SEE DURING QUALIFYING TODAY? “I don’t know. I don’t know what we are going to see. Do you guys have any idea? We’ve all been in this sport for a long time and I don’t think any of us can anticipate how that is going to work. I’m just going to go out there and run the best lap we can run. We are going to get our car prepared. Your job is to go out there, find a clean place on the race track and run the best lap you can run.

The way the tires work here you can actually run some pretty good laps on some used tires. You may run several laps then come in and then go out prepare to run your fast lap depending on what the tires need here to come in and be fast. I don’t know exactly what Steve’s (Letarte) plan is, but we have a lot of time in between practice and qualifying to sort that out and get an idea of what the rumblings are in the garage. You know people are talking and all kinds of information is moving around in that garage to try to capture. We will see what makes sense.”

IS THERE ANYTHING THAT TOUCHED YOU OVER THE WEEK? THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS VIDEO, THE FAN VIDEOS? TODAY IN THE PAPER THERE IS A NATIONWIDE FULL PAGE, WHICH WAS WAY COOL: “I thought that was great I saw Jeff’s (Gluck) tweet and I was like ‘man that is pretty awesome’. The fan reaction videos were pretty incredible, that kid crying, when I was doing I think NASCAR Now some ESPN in studio stuff. Just seeing the reaction for the fans that they get that much joy from it means probably the most. Definitely hearing from the Redskins is pretty awesome.

Rendezvous ribs from Memphis is going to send me some ribs so that is awesome. I mean all kinds of things keep happening. Bill Elliott is going to spot for me. I don’t know what is going to happen next. It just keeps going. That is the only bad part about winning at Daytona is you go to Phoenix and somebody else wins the next race. Then they are getting the ribs (laughs). If I can win it I will keep going, but it would be nice if we had an off weekend there where it could keep going because so much great stuff happens to you during this week it’s been great.”

COULD YOU ELABORATE A LITTLE BIT ABOUT GOING FORWARD? WITH THE NEW CHASE RULES AND EVERYTHING. YOU CAN REALLY SWING FOR THE FENCES THE NEXT 25 RACE. ARE WE TALKING ABOUT SET-UPS, OR HOW YOU DRIVE, OR WHETHER YOU STAY OUT, OR PIT STRATEGY? “Definitely set-ups, from what I’ve noticed when a team, especially one of my teammates where I can really see what is going on behind closed doors. When they get comfortable that they are in the Chase they really start to experiment or try to find things outside of their comfort zone that can help them during the Chase. We can start thinking about that earlier than most people and that is definitely one area where we can get aggressive.

Steve can get aggressive to a point on pit strategy, but common sense is going to tell you what the best thing is to do to win the race. It ain’t going to be some kind of wild hair brained idea at the last minute. What wins races is what we have been doing, what everybody has been doing for years. You are not going to go too far out of reality to yank out a win. Or we would have already been doing that for years. You are not going to stay out there on 100 lap tires and ‘man that is crazy, get a win’ you are not going to do that you are going to get run over.

“You might see things in the middle of the race where we might do some strategy where we take two tires more often, instead of four tires to get the track position and see how the car handles up there and see if we can hold it until the next opportunity to put four tires on it. We might do that more often. Maybe things earlier in the race to sort of set us up that we probably wouldn’t do if we are trying to get points. Points aren’t quite as important I guess as wins.

Things might change a little bit. I’m curious myself really if the racing is going to pick up. Like we saw the intensity at Daytona sustained over a longer period of time. Normally people sort of get after it at the end of the race, but we were racing hard for a long time, for the last half of the race. I’m wondering if that is going to be the norm now. If the racing is going to be a whole lot more exciting and it’s going to be evident to the viewer and you guys that we are pushing much harder.”

IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU HAVE DONE IN THE LAST 24 HOURS TO KIND OF GET YOUR MINDSET BACK TO THIS WEEKEND AS OPPOSED TO CELEBRATING THE DAYTONA 500 WIN? “In my mind we haven’t celebrated yet. We have been going around and talking about the win, but it’s been real subdued. We haven’t cut up any. I won’t get the opportunity to do that until after (Las) Vegas. If we win Sunday we might have a little fun after that race Sunday night. Due to the responsibilities to the media and to the media tour things have been very calm really this week. So haven’t really celebrated the way I like to celebrate.

I look forward to doing that when we get a moment to do that when we get back home I guess. I haven’t even seen Steve and the team since we left Victory Lane, since we left the media center. It will be good to get in the garage. We are still going to be talking and thinking and joking about that win even during this weekend. But that is not a bad problem to have that is not a bad distraction to have on a race weekend talking about last week. I feel like I shouldn’t have any problem getting out there on the race track and doing the best I can do. I’ve been doing this a long time and have had the opportunity to win races and get back the next weekend and do well. It should be no problem.”

THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT LEARNED A LOT ABOUT YOU THIS WEEK. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT TWITTER AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO KIND OF DISSEMINATE WHATEVER MESSAGE YOU WANTED TO TELL? “Well I’m still learning. There are still a lot of questions about how to use the software, how to physically use the software. There is quite a difference between the iPhone version and iPad version so trying to work between the two, just simple stuff like that. I mean I never used it before. I got (Mike) Hoag and Laura (Scott) and them helping me so I don’t look like an idiot.

It’s been fun to interact with the fans. Doing that Q&A on the way to Austin or wherever we were headed was fun. That was kind of just a spur of the moment idea and it was enjoyable to be able to plug in like that whenever you feel like it. Hopefully the fans appreciate that. I’ve got a lot to learn. I guess the hard part is there is so much coming at you that you miss a lot of stuff. There is a lot of great information and a lot of great comments, just trying to read them all. It’s kind of like reading your fan mail. Back in ’04, ’03, ’02 Dad’s fan mail room was just piled. I’m like how do you decipher all that? How do you get through all that? It’s just a lot coming at you and you want to take it all in and you don’t want to miss anything.

“Like (Mike) Hoag and them will come up to me and be like ‘man such and such tweeted you’. I’m like ‘what? Where? What the hell? How did I miss that? Why am I missing that?’ (Laughs) I’ve got a lot to learn. But it’s fun, it’s really fun to be able to just say, like we got these new hats today. Or we got them this year and I am real particular about my hats. So we were doing some fittings with this new company and I got them all laid out on the table this morning and I was like ‘man which one do I want to wear, this is so awesome’ because normally they say here is your pit cap and it doesn’t fit, you don’t like it and it’s just not good material.

Me and Steve we are particular about it so we cuss it all year long and finally I’m sitting there like ‘man I’ve got all these options and I can tell everybody how awesome it is.’ A guy from MRO (Motor Racing Outreach) brought me that picture of the verse that Stevie (Waltrip) gave me and I know it would make DW’s (Darrel Waltrip) day if I tweeted how much I appreciate that. Just being able to do that.

“I don’t know what I was thinking why I didn’t get on there earlier because it’s a great way to tell people things you appreciate. It’s instant. So I’m learning, taking all kinds of advice if anybody wants to give me any advice if I get going in the wrong direction. Throw back Thursday is pretty cool. I’ve got a photo stream on my phone that is like 500 old pictures of my Dad and Ralph (Earnhardt) and Jimmy Means. It’s just a photo stream that I just collect photos that I find. There are a ton of people on that, but I got throw back Thursday for years. I’m in good shape there that is going to be fun.”

WHERE DOES THIS RANK AMONGST VICTORIES YOU HAVE HAD? HAS THIS BEEN ONE OF THE BEST WEEKS OF YOUR LIFE? “It’s up there. It’s definitely up there. It’s hard to say if it’s the best week. Winning those two championships in the Nationwide Series was a lot of fun because it lasted longer than a week. You had the whole off season to celebrate and hell we basically turned it into two years of just nothing but having fun and celebrating wins and running good and trophies and stuff. That was a great two years. I was blown away because I had run all those late model races and didn’t really win any.

Here I was Nationwide champion, just like that overnight. That was an extremely enjoyable time in my life. But if you said as far as weeks go, yeah this is probably my funniest week if you pack it all into a week. I wish I could remember everything we did in 2004. I don’t think it was like this for whatever reason. Where we are today in social media and where we are today with our network relationships it seems like we were just everywhere all week long doing something. Everything was interesting and fun. Normally truth be told drivers complain about being run ragged and taken all over the place to do media.

I would have said that before the race, ‘man I hope I win, but I’m not looking forward to that media tour’, but as soon as I crossed the finish line I was thinking, ‘man I’ve got to go on that media tour that is going to be fun. I don’t know what flipped the switch, but I looked forward to it as soon as we crossed the finish line I was looking forward to everything we had to do this week. It was fun. I had a great team with me. (Mike) Hoag and Laura (Scott), Amy helping as much as she could, made it really easy and fun. We enjoyed it.”

Team Chevy

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Article type Interview
Tags chevrolet, dale earnhardt jr., nascar-cup, phoenix