Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Impala SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway during his behind the hauler chat interview session. Earnhardt talked about yesterday's announcement that he is leaving Dale Earnhardt...
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Impala SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway during his behind the hauler chat interview session. Earnhardt talked about yesterday's announcement that he is leaving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, on the amount of attention he's received, the reaction from other drivers, the challenges to finding a new team and other topics.
WERE YOU SURPRISED AT THE LEVEL OF ATTENTION YOUR ANNOUNCEMENT RECEIVED YESTERDAY? "Yeah, I am. It's a little bit overwhelming and you know just trying to find the positives in everything. One thing that I wanted to say was that we haven't began legitimately serious discussions about who we're going to work with and who we're thinking about working with. It's unfair for the other teams like RCR and those guys to have to have that going on. They're trying to focus on what they're doing this year and what their drivers are trying to focus on and it's not fair to them to have things on the TV and in the paper about speculations. Years ago speculation wouldn't make it to air and it's unfortunate these days that sometimes it does because what it does is number one, it gives the fans false information and number two, it just rubs those guys.in this case I guess yesterday or this morning at RCR, those guys have got a lot to concentrate on and they're trying to do a job and the last thing I'd want to do as a friend and out of respect to Richard and his team and his guys is to come in between anything they're trying to accomplish this year."
SO CAN YOU DENY THOSE REPORTS FROM YESTERDAY THAT THEY HAD A DONE DEAL? "Yeah, Richard's here with a press conference but he's doing something entirely different to do with his team and it's unfortunate for him or anybody in that position because he's trying to announce something, probably a new sponsor or whatever, that's going to be overshadowed by a situation like that and it's unfortunate."
AFTER SEEING ALL THE ATTENTION, WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET A NEW DEAL DONE SOONER RATHER THAN LATER? "I'll get it done when I'm ready to get it done. I'm in no hurry, no pressure from the media or any direction for that matter is going to persuade me to hurry anything or rush anything. Like I said, this is a real, real important decision for me personally that I have to make sure I'm making correctly."
WAS THERE A POSITIVE REACTION FROM YOUR FELLOW DRIVERS AFTER YOU MADE THE ANNOUNCEMENT? "Well I mean there was a good camaraderie throughout the garage and I know that those guys I can lean on for advice or whatever. I know a lot of them have been in the same situation. I have gotten a lot of great reaction from my fans and I want to thank them for being really, really supportive. That means a lot to me. You have a lot of unknowns going into making a decision like that of who's going to support you and who's going to be by your side and I was really, really surprised by the positive reaction I've gotten from my fans so far. I was surprised by the attendance of grandmother Martha and my dad's sister Kathy at my press conference. That made me feel really good. Everybody's been great even Max Siegel blew me away with his conduct and how he's been positive, that's not a big surprise. Max has always told me he's a genuine guy and I try to believe people when they say that but it's a rough sport. But he's been really supportive and he wants to allow me to do this right and I appreciate that. My guys on my team are excited about the rest of the season and they're behind me and that's all good stuff."
IS IT GOOD OR BAD FOR NASCAR TO HAVE THE MOST MARKETABLE FACE OF NASCAR AS A FREE AGENT? "I can't answer that. NASCAR doesn't like all the publicity it gets but I didn't really have that in my concerns. I mean if it was going to be detrimental for NASCAR I would have definitely been concerned about my decision but my decision wasn't based on that and I'm not sure exactly where NASCAR is and how they feel. They're supporting me as well as DEI. They want to see DEI succeed like we all do and they're going to continue to support DEI and what it does throughout the sport and they'll do that for the drivers as well."
ON HOW THE LAST 24 HOURS HAS BEEN: "I thought I was getting a little more sleep than I did last night. Last night was harder to sleep than it was before the press conference. I'm just concerned with reaction from key people and I'm starting to learn what that is and becoming comfortable with that."
IS IT WEIRD SHOWING UP TO THE TRACK KNOWING YOUR DAYS WITH DEI ARE DWINDLING? "Not necessarily, it's not something new in the sport and you've seen drivers move from team to team before and this has happened before but I was happy to hear my guys say they support me into the rest of the season. They're glad to hear that we're going to race hard and try to have some fun and enjoy what we do. We all race for a living because we love it and we're going to try to continue to keep that attitude at the race track and stay positive. That's important to me. I hope that's the way it continues to stay."
WHAT'S THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF THIS PROCESS OF FINDING A NEW TEAM? "There's a lot of things that are difficult about it, really just the time and effort it's going to take. It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort to really decipher and make the correct decision. There'll be a lot of things I'm sure that will be tough to decide on but I know what I'm looking for and I think I'll be able to find that. Mentally and emotionally it's just tough, you know, because I've never been in this situation before and people say some bad things and people say some great things, people were supportive and people were angry. It's just coming from all angles and that's an interesting part about it, a little bit tough but I think that in the end once it's all said and done everybody will have an understanding of what went on and how we got to where we are today and why we will be where we are in the future."
ON HOW FIRST PRACTICE WENT: "I've been longing for a normal conversation over the last couple of days (laughs). It's been rough (and normal conversation) has been few and far between. I had my car going really good in race trim, I thought. We had some pretty good lap times there near the end. I can't really find my speed in qualifying. The car's not as difficult, not as big a shot in the dark as I thought it would be here. I was really expecting just about anything. This track is so slick I think that really the track's going to prevail over the car as far as how the race is dictated and what happens in the race. This thing has more control than we do when we're going around old Darlington."
HOW MANY TEAMS DO YOU PLAN TO HAVE DISCUSSIONS WITH ABOUT YOUR FUTURE? "I really don't know. I can't answer that. We just got through really the first part of this deal and we'll just sit down and answer the phone and just see. I'm excited about what my opportunities, possibilities may be. You know you daydream about what a good situation is to you personally and hopefully I can find that."
HAVE TEAMS ALREADY CONTACTED YOU? "No, not that I know of yet."
ON HOW HE LOOKED YESTERDAY AT THE ANNOUNCEMENT: "I really didn't know what to wear. I was like 'Should I wear a suit?' But I don't wear suits, so I want to look like y'all know me and y'all know me the way I dressed. I was in an uncomfortable position trying to be as comfortable as I could."
DO YOU FEE LIKE YOU HAVE A WEIGHT LIFTED OFF YOU? "Not yet, there really isn't a real feeling of relief. I didn't expect to be like 'Wow, (that's) a big weight lifted off my shoulders.' I'm glad that we're making decisions and moving forward, that is good but I'm having to work and talk with people now on a daily basis that are unsure about their future and unsure about our future together and that's difficult and emotional. I was glad to see my team today and they were supportive in me. I didn't get to talk to those guys yesterday, they were on the road when I went to DEI. They were really supportive of me and they all sat me down me and said 'Look man, we're behind you. We're going to have fun this year.' I'm really excited that they're having that attitude and I'm going to try as hard as I can to keep them around. I owe it to them, they've done a lot for me, so that was really good this morning. Max's has been pleasant and he's still interested in doing some projects away from the competition side which I think is a good idea. So those things were good but I still haven't gotten to where I'm sleeping good yet."
RICHARD CHILDRESS SAID HE IS INTERESTED IN RECRUITING YOU BUT SAID HE WILL GIVE YOU YOUR SPACE RIGHT NOW. "Yeah, that's why I feel like we won't really have contact with owners and getting to setting up those discussions for another week or two. I need to just relax, man, and take a little time to clear my head and get in that mode. That's just the way I'm gonna do it. I was sort of hurt or upset or disappointed that Richard was put in a position that he was this morning. Speculation wouldn't make it to TV a couple of years ago and these days it seems to make it there pretty easily. It's unfortunate because he's my. I guess he was having a press conference here today? Is that correct? What was it about?"
IT WAS JUST A CHAT REGARDING THE INCORRECT TV REPORT. "I thought he might be announcing a sponsor or some new deal. That was a good idea. That was nice of him. I just thought that TV jumped the gun because he's got drivers and crew members over there trying to win races and trying to do the best they can this year. The last thing I want to do is get in the middle and confuse their minds and starting rumors over at his shop. You know how rumors move around in the shop and I don't want to create that over at Richard and give him a headache at this time."
WHAT'S IT LIKE TRYING TO GET THE NEW CAR TO WORK HERE ON TOP OF ALL OF THIS? "Fun as hell. (laughs). It is. It's a blast. I'm glad to be back in a race car today. Absolutely. That's where I hide from a lot of things."
CAN YOU GET THE CAR TO TURN? "I was worried. I didn't know what to expect when we got here and near the end of the practice on race trim I got my car driving to my satisfaction. Our lap times were really good, I thought. Compared to guys on 15-lap tires I was in the 31.30s, .40s and low .50s. A lot of guys are in the 32s already so I was really happy with that. Can't find any speed in qualifying trim, though."
SO HAS THIS CONTRACT DEAL MADE YOU THE HAPPIEST TO BE IN THE NEW CAR? "I suppose that's a good way to put it but I'm just glad to be in the car. I'm glad to be driving. I love race car driving and that's all I want to do. After the last couple of days this is the best medicine."
WOULD YOU SEEK OWNERSHIP WITH ANY OTHER TEAM? "That really has to be discussed, I would imagine. That's not really a deal-breaker, I can tell you that. That's not necessary but if that's some sort of a package and I feel like it's a good idea then there may be some interest. They can make it interesting, I'm sure. That's not necessarily something I'm seeking outside of Dale Earnhardt, Inc."
THE FANS WANT TO SEE YOU AT RCR - HOW MUCH CAN THEY INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION? "It's nice to know what the fans think but I'm going to try to make the best decision I can make. Influence is never a good word, most of the time. I'm going to just try to make the best decision I can make and hopefully everybody is happy with it and hopefully everybody is excited about it."
JEFF GORDON HAS SAID THAT HE THOUGHT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU AND DEI HAD SOURED AND THERE WAS NO GOING BACK. DID THAT AND OTHER PUBLIC COMMENTS HELP YOU IN YOUR DECISION? "Public support is great. Public support is a huge factor. It doesn't weigh in any decision that I make, really, but it's just really good to have. Any time, it's just an 'atta boy' or anytime someone tells you you did a really good job on something. Wrote a great article or you get awarded for something, that's just a good feeling. It's really good to be told that for the most part they feel like you're making the right decision, that you're doing it the right way and you're acting accordingly and professionally. Hopefully those same people would tell me when I wasn't and not just you guys (laughs). I tune in to that. I have to admit, I tune into what the public opinion is about a lot of things."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO DO WHAT IT TAKES TO BE HAPPY? "I really want to be happy with what I do. I'm not going to have any doubts, whatever I decide."
J.J. YELEY SAID THAT HIS FAVORITE STORY ABOUT DRIVERS AT DARLINGTON IS THAT YOU WERE HERE TESTING, TONY EURY SR. WOULDN'T GIVE YOU TIRES SO YOU STARTED DOING DONUTS. "I was a rookie, maybe it was in 2001 but I'd ran about 30 laps and I wanted new tires. I was terrible. I didn't know how to get around here. We were slow. I just wanted some new tires just to give me some confidence because I was losing it fast and he said, 'naw, you ain't getting no tires' so I actually pulled over there at the end of the garage and just done about five donuts till I felt like they were ruined and came in and got me some tires. We had a similar deal like that at Watkins Glen when I was driving in the Busch car. We tested all day and our lap times were good. We had another test the next morning and I asked Tony (Eury), Jr. 'how many sets of tires we got left?' and he said seven so I went off in the gravel seven times. And we were home by lunch."
SHANE HUFFMAN IS GOING TO BE DRIVING IN THE BUSCH RACE TONIGHT - HE TRIED OUT THE TRACK ON A SIMULATOR. "Yeah, he went to Armarillo's house. I call him Armadillo."
HOW DO YOU THINK HE WILL DO? "I haven't even seen the practice times. When Shane goes to a track like this I leave it really wide open and I can understand whatever the outcome is. This is a tough place to get around for a rookie. When I came here I could test, and we did, and he never had so I'm just allowing him to make the mistakes he's going to make and hopefully he'll have a good night."
DID YOU HAVE OPTIONS TO GO TO COURT TO GET CONTROL OF DEI? "That was never even of any interest in mind to take it to any kind of litigation or anything like that. I don't want to get into that kind of a situation."
DO YOU THINK IT'S EASY FOR PEOPLE THAT AREN'T IN THE SPORT TO UNDERSTAND THAT WINNING IS YOUR PRIORTY? "I would hope so. I could live without winning a championship but I would have to. That would be the situation. But I don't want to. I want to win a championship and I want to win more races. I want to win on a regular basis. That has nothing to do with DEI. That's just me. That's my opinion. That's what I want. I feel like I need to make a change and put myself in that situation and I think people can grasp that. That's pretty easy to grasp. It's nice to live the lifestyle you want and make a lot of money but money doesn't make you happy like the other things do. When you've got peace of mind and you're enjoying every day, not miserable half the time."
IS THE PHONE RINGING ALREADY? "I've got someone answering it if it is. I would like to take a week or two just to clear my mind a little bit. Drink a couple beers, have some fun and get normal. I've felt about as un-normal as one could feel the last couple of days and lost a lot of sleep. I want to just relax and clear my head, just sort of get a good football stance to go after this new deal that we're seeking."
DO YOU HAVE PLANS FOR MOTHER'S DAY? "Bringing mom to Darlington. I can't remember much Mother's Days. Probably more important to her to remember than me but I like bringing her here. She's coming tomorrow. That's really cool that they do that here. The moms really appreciate it and it makes them feel special and appreciate it. My mom certainly digs it. She won't come, though, until I tell her. I ask Kelley, when's mom getting there and is she coming early or what. She said, 'she ain't coming till you ask her'. I said she knows she's got to go to Darlington, it's Mother's Day. They do the ride-around. I told her some fans might be upset and to maybe be prepared for anything in the back of that truck riding around but hopefully they'll be supportive and respectful of my mother."
DO YOU THINK THE FANS ARE REALLY UPSET WITH YOU? "You know me, I can take it."
-credit: gm racing