Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr Media Day interview

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS, met with the media and discussed his new ESPN Show, "Shifting Gears"; winning the 50th anniversary Daytona 500, history of Daytona 500, expectations for first season with Hendrick ...

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS, met with the media and discussed his new ESPN Show, "Shifting Gears"; winning the 50th anniversary Daytona 500, history of Daytona 500, expectations for first season with Hendrick Motorsports; his Dad's victory in the Daytona 500; his Daytona 500 win in 2004 and more.

ON HIS NEW TV SHOW - "SHIFTING GEARS" ON ESPN: "It has been great. I created my own production company, Hammerhead, Inc. and Hammerhead Productions. We have been gathering all of this stuff. I had Mooney (Kevin, cameraman) follow me all the time, just filming everything, going to different things; appearances, photo shoots, whatever we did, everything we have done. Went to the Sam's Club convention yesterday, just everything we do. It is just good to document it for whatever we might want it for. When we came up with the idea for doing the show cause the fans, and I guess you guys (media) would want a little bit more meat to what happened. A little bit more of a better look so visually, you will be able to get it now. It is pretty much; it is really our view and our opinion of everything that went on. I saw the final of the first show several days ago and I like it a lot. My company got to take a look at it and they really enjoyed it. I am pretty happy."

ON PURPOSE OF SHOW: "Hopefully it will relieve me from having to tell it or talk about it. It is hard talk about it. It is hard to keep talking about it. I don't know why, it just is. It is not fun, if it were fun, I would be doing it. It is just a good way to tell it, to have someone piece it together and get the view out there. It is pretty cool to look back and see everything that happened. So much happened, so much. I can't express just how busy this off-season was, not just for me. For everybody. There were so many people preparing us and everything for this season. The cars, just everything. It has been just a workload for everybody. We are proud of it. We are proud to be in this position here, it is just a great way to tell the story."

ON FEELING OF BEING BACK AT DAYTONA: "I don't know, it depends on how we do in the race really. But, we have a good car; we have a good team and feel good and relaxed. If feel ready, I feel excited about it and I am looking forward to getting some laps on the race car and getting to work."

"I feel like I am in such a better position coming here to media day, I feel like I am in such a better position right now and I don't have to go through what I went through last year. It was a hard day and that wasn't any fun. I am just glad we are coming here where we are. We answer a lot of the same ole questions, but has been a lot easier today and will continue to be easy."

ON NEW PROGRAM WITH ADIDAS: "The merchandise deal is going to happen sooner. The uniform, we would have liked to have the uniform ready for Daytona, but it has to be a done design. I don't want to continue to make alterations to it, if I am not comfortable in it, I don't want to be racing in it. We have gotten really close over the last month and that thing should be ready by Atlanta or so. We are coming up with some great stuff that we helped put together and design, shoes and stuff like that. I am pretty excited about that opportunity to have the chance to do that. It is not necessarily something you expect so that was really a bonus for me. I am looking forward to it."

ON HOW ANXIOUS HE IS TO JUST GET THE SEASON STARTED: "The focus of the media doesn't get to me. The focus gets to the people who read it, I am saying that the information doesn't necessarily get to me directly. I have been riding this out man and it is has been great. It can get here when it gets here. The anticipation is there but it is the same anticipation I have always had as a driver, no more or no less, I am just ready to do a good job. I look forward to being in the car when I am driving the car, when I am working. I feel good whether I am driving the green one or the blue one, those are good days when I get behind the wheel of those two cars. Today isn't the best day, it wasn't too bad, but tomorrow will be even better because I will get to drive a little bit."

ON FINDING OUT ANYTHING HE DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT JIMMIE (JOHNSON) AND JEFF GORDON NOW THAT THEY ARE HIS TEAMMATES: "No, not really. I knew those guys well enough going in to the deal, I didn't think I would find out different or no surprises, it has been pretty much what I expected."

ON CONFIDENCE GOING IN TO DAYTONA 500: "We tested down here and were fast. That is a good gauge for me. I feel like I had a good enough car."

ON CALIFORNIA TEST, THE HENDRICK CARS BEING THE LAST CARS ON THE TRACK AND IN THE GARAGE AS IT WAS GETTING DARK: "I think it says a lot about the desire to really take advantage of the opportunities. We have to run good, we want to run good, our goal is to run good. At this point in the game, we can't afford to take off an hour or two. Maybe we would be able to do that further down the road. I think it shows why and is a credit to why Jimmie and Jeff run so well. It is a credit to the work ethic for sure. Me and Casey (Mears), we can't afford to pack up at lunch and go home so that is why we tried to squeeze every little bit out of a test, like an orange, you know."

ON MARK MARTIN BEING IN THE NO. 8 CAR, THE HISTORY OF THE NUMBER AND HIS FEELINGS: "Sure, it is definitely part of my life and I will always appreciate the memories I have. All those memories, whether they be on video or film, I look at them all the day. Sometimes you just forget what the emotions were like when you won a race. You go back and look at the footage or the photos of victory lane celebration and stuff, and it is just a great way to remind yourself bring those memories back. Sure, man, it was always a great time for me. I had a lot of fun in that car and won a lot of races in it and really enjoyed it.

"Mark is a great guy and we have a great relationship. He will drive my Nationwide car a couple of times this year. He has been in this sport so long and he is always has been one of the guys that has been respectful. He earns the respect he gets from me or from anyone else and he deserves it to. I am a Mark Martin fan from back when he raced the No. 2 at Nashville and when I was a little kid, he came over to my Dad's house and put a couple of tapes in of him winning some races in Nashville in his No. 2 Dillon ASA car in a Beta VCR. We watched those races and he was trying his hardest to show my Dad how good of a race car driver he was. I think he would have shown anybody at that point to keep himself in to this series. That was when he was trying to get in to the Buck Stove ride and all of that. We talk about history, that is some damn history for you. Mark had a long, long road to get there and I can appreciate that and he has earned it."

ON FEELING A LOT OF PRESSURE NOW THAT HE IS AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TO WIN RACES AND CHAMPIONSHIPS: "I just go out there and do my job. I am a great race car driver; I have won a lot of races. I have won the Daytona 500, won the Winston as a Rookie, I have won at Dover, Richmond, Phoenix, Talladega, several different size and shape race tracks. I have great equipment and I am a good driver and we are going to go at it. I am looking forward to it, I am very fortunate. I want to thank my lucky stars for the opportunity that I have gotten. I want to thank the Lord, my Sister and all the people I was telling you about, that helped us get here from the top to the bottom of both organizations have really worked hard this off season. There was a lot of work that got done, a lot of work. A lot of hard work to try and get things right. It is quite a mess to have to work that hard and handle it all but we have a great group. We are really prepared for this season and I am really looking forward."

ON ADVANTAGES TO TEAMMATES BEING COMPETITIVE WITH ONE ANOTHER: "I agree with that and I think it is great. Jimmie and Jeff bring out the best in each other when they are competing close in races. They share a lot of great information and I expect that Casey and I will try and learn from that and try to figure out how to bring the best out in ourselves. We will see what those two guys are doing to run one-two in the championship that keeps them successful and we will try to add that to what we already know that is good for us and that we like and helps us perform well. I think that being competitive is great. You know, me and Martin (Truex, Jr.) were very competitive toward each other, yet I don't think we could have been closer as friends. We are great great friends, still are, but we allowed ourselves to be competitive because yes it does, it does bring up your standards for success and what you are willing to do to get."

ON HOW IMPORTANT IS THE SHOOTOUT THIS YEAR: "I have run in that race and I have learned some things as a driver and I will have that advantage going in to the qualifying races, but the information we learn will leak through the garage before the qualifying races and we won't have that advantage. The information, how many drivers who are in the Shootout, we gain will be hard to keep from everybody by the time the qualifiers start."

ON IF COMPLEXTION OF QUALIFIERS HAS CHANGED SINCE THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE TOP-35 IN POINTS BEING LOCKED IN TO THE FIELD RULE: "Well, I don't know. The way I am about the history of the sport, I didn't like it when they made them longer. I thought it was cool when they were 125 miles. People still run hard. I got spun out last year trying to win that race. So I don't think it has changed much.

ON IF THERE IS A TENDENCY TO PARK THE CAR IF YOU HAVE A MINOR PROBLEM BECAUSE YOU ARE IN THE RACE: "Well, if you have a minor problem, shouldn't you get out of the way? If you have a problem, what is point? That is the way it should be every week I think. I told them they should make the points the same for 25th on back. If a guy crashes out, then he doesn't have to get out there and ride around and be in the way because it hurts the racing. You get guys going side by side then they pinned behind a lapped car, a guy missing a fender or something and shouldn't be out there. It would be great have something like that to happen where the points were the same for 25th on back so if you had a bad day, you could pack up and go home.

"When you were trying to get in to the race, there was always that sense of urgency and there was always good TV for that transfer spot. There is still tons of pride in trying to win that race and trying to run well in it. There is still a lot of pride. Drivers are just too bullheaded to just let it go. There is too much pride and too much ego out there, it will never be a just go through the emotions type of a deal, you know."

ON KEVIN HARVICK WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 FOR RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING LAST YEAR: "I was as happy as I could be for Richard Childress and Kevin (Harvick) and in no way was I upset that he won the race. If Kevin had been in the same spot and I was driving Kevin's car and Kevin was sitting in the bus like I was watching it, he would have wanted Mark to win it too. We were all pulling for Mark. That would have been a great win for him and that team, but especially for Mark. When you win that race, you better consider yourself fortunate because there are tons of drivers with a lot talent that have come through this series and this sport that haven't won it, great race car drivers. Mark is one of them, but he is still trying. He has a great opportunity in the equipment he is in, I know he has a great car."

ON NASCAR LOOSENING SOME OF THE RULES OF CONDUCT AND LANGUAGE TAKING SOME ANXIETY OUT OF INTERVIEWS: "No, because I don't believe them. I don't think anybody does. What does that mean. Tell me? Are we supposed to walk the line and see where we step over it? Are we going to get fines when we go to far? What is it that they are saying? I think honestly they are playing to you guys, they are not talking to the drivers, they are playing y'all. I think it is basically they are trying to appear to be looser, when the message has not been relayed to the drivers as to what has been changed, it is just a press release went out to the press that said 'Hey, we are going to do this, how about that. You guys like that, right?' Really, what have they told us? I don't know what that means? What does that mean? That was just a little card game between you two; it has really nothing to do with the drivers. I don't feel like I have been holding back. There are words that I don't use, that I shouldn't use on national television. For me, I get to be the same because I don't feel like I have had to reserve myself too much."

ON WINNING DAYTONA 500 IN 2004 SEEMING LIKE IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO: "It was a while back. A couple of years have gone by. It is recent enough that I am not in pain with hunger for another 500 victory. I have a lot of pride in the one I have won and I know how to win and I feel like I have a good competitive edge when I go out there and try to win it this week coming up. I have a great car. I don't think I am going to make the mistake of trying to overdo it because I can recall that win and how it happened and how worried I was it wasn't going to happen. And how easy that seemed to come. We had such a great car and I just need to go out there and be confident and take it smooth and take good car of my car because I have an opportunity with the car I am driving."

ON HISTORY OF DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY: "I want to win this race any year, but winning the 50th anniversary I guess, one thing I enjoy about it is being able to recall some of the history. Buddy Baker finally winning it. He was sort of the same kind of story as my Father when he won it in 1980, that was really cool in a great looking race car. That old black and silver No. 28, it was just a beautiful car every time it showed up, it was always fast. There is just so much history and it is so fun to find that footage. I have been looking at a lot of it, I have seen a lot of it here lately on U-Tube and stuff like that. The history is really really intriguing to me and it is a lot of fun. There were a lot of great looking race cars, knowing that it is the 50th anniversary, really embraces the past and what it means to where we are today and how much it helped us get here. Each little year took a step in this direction. We didn't all do this today; we didn't all just show up and make this happen on our own. We have to really appreciate the drivers and the people that paid that price before us."

ON HIS MEMORIES OF WHEN HIS DAD WON THE DAYTONA 500: "I was at home with a concussion and I wanted to be there to see the look on his face. Television can only do you so much justice. That just had to be an awesome feeling for him; it had to be an amazing feeling for him because he tried so hard. He had to know that the times and the opportunities were running out and getting slim, the urgency had to be peaked. It had to be crazy emotionally for him. I didn't get a chance to be there and I was pretty upset about that, but such is life.

"When everybody lined up on pit road. That will probably happen again, but it takes a special person to have that type of respect from not only the fans and certain individuals but also his competitors you know. You just never knew that so many people felt that way. I will tell you, there are days where everyone of those guys hated my Dad because he wrecked their guy or did something that caused them to work harder or make their day tougher some how or another in the heat of competition. But somehow or another, he, it just made me become amazed at the character that he had to have people come out there and show that respect. It was something to witness. It says a whole lot about what kind of man he was and anybody who can get that sort of reaction from their competitors has got to be a pretty cool guy. That really characterized him throughout his career and his life, that really sort of answered the long question how much respect they had for him and how much people appreciated him in this sport."

ON WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT, THE DRIVER OR THE CARS: "Well, I hope the drivers are because we depend on having a job. If the cars are ever more important, then they will just put anybody in there. I feel like right that I have a lot to do with how we perform on the race track. I don't know what it would be like to feel differently of the opposite of that. That would feel pretty strange to go out on the track and really not be adding to the experience and adding to the success. That would be pretty unfortunate for the sport."

ON WHAT HE FEELS LIKE HE HAS TO PROVE AND WHO HE FEELS LIKE HE HAS TO PROVE IT TO: "What I have to prove is I want to go out and run in the top-five regularly. I have to prove that to myself. Once that is cool, I am fine. If I am running up front, that is all I wanted. If it is not working out for someone else, what is happening, it will be just to bad. For me all I really wanted was to run up front every week and to go to the race track knowing that my car is good, my team is good. Knowing that I don't have to worry about any of those problems or worry about any inferiority with the car, the equipment, whatever. If I can make that happen, I am in good shape, I am fine. I will feel like I don't have to prove anything to anybody or myself.

"I don't think it should be too challenging. We did that I would say, 75% at DEI. If we can the tools and the new stuff that we are learning and seeing that as an opportunity and an advantage for us at Hendrick and apply, that should boost that percentage up a little bit. The support we are getting from our teammates, the knowledge that is going back and forth, we should be in much better shape with more consistency. And having that opportunity to run more consistent each week."

ON FEELING LIKE HE IS IN A BETTER PLACE: "I do feel like I am in a better place. I feel like I have a better opportunity. I feel fortunate and thankful; I definitely have to be in a better place if that is the feeling and emotion I get. The emotion I get, the way I describe it is, being thankful and fortunate. So personally, to myself, that must mean I am in a better place and will have a better opportunity to enjoy being as successful and more successful and really enjoy it. I try really to not add too much pressure to myself, or any additional pressure. I don't make claims or predictions and guarantees, really. I left DEI for personal reasons. I feel like I have a good opportunity or a better opportunity to win championship. The odds are better for me to win championships at Hendrick. That is obvious between what they have been able to do already and the track record at DEI. So I am putting myself in that situation. I still had great racecars and a lot of fun and a lot of success at DEI, but statistically, the odds are better at Hendrick. You can't deny that."

ON HIS BEING AWARE THAT HE HAS MARKED SEVERAL WINS IN THE PAST ON WHAT HAVE BEEN HISTORIC RACES FOR NASCAR AS WELL AS HIM PERSONALLY: "We have always come up to deliver in unique situations. They weren't high-pressure situations; they were just unique situations in circumstance. I don't know really how those things really happened. At Dover after 9/11 we just had a good car. I do think about that and I do remember those days and I do know we did those things several times and recall that. There would be no better way to send ourselves in to the season on a winning note here at Daytona with our new sponsors and new team. Our guys are young, they are green, but they are ready and they hungry. They are willing to gel and learn and come together as a unit. We have several years to build on this. Coming out of the gate with a win here would be unbelievable for our team. I am going to try hard. I know they are, we great opportunity, like I said with our car. I have a good race car, a good piece down here. My team is hungry, you know. I haven't had a pit stop, so how good is my pit team? You know. I do want to know that. Hopefully those guys are geared up and practiced all off-season and going to have some fast stops and get on and off pit road great. There are a couple of other variables that I probably haven't thought about yet, I hope they are lined up and prepared for but, like I said, when we started this off season, we had a lot of things to get ready from suits, cars, to hiring people for certain positions, there are so many things that had to be done and we have all tried to work really hard. Me, Mike Davis and everybody, we tried to work really hard to get in this direction. We are pretty fortunate to have a great support team and I feel like we are pretty prepared right now going in to this race. I feel like our preparation is really good for what we had to do.

ON HOW HIS FANS HAVE REACTED TO THE CHANGE: "The show coming on tomorrow night on ESPN is sort of a gift for them for their loyalty and support. It will give them a little more inside look what happened over the change and what is going to happen in the future. A lot of behind the scenes stuff. I am looking forward to actually to seeing the response to the show, because you guys will get to come in behind the curtain as to what we were doing, what I was thinking. Hopefully you know more. Hopefully you don't walk away with no more knowledge to the situation, no comment, hopefully you walk out of there with a better understanding and appreciation for it. It was a huge story, sometimes bigger than it should have been. It was a long trip. Sometimes, it seemed to take forever. Fortunate or not, it was necessary and we are here now with the season getting ready to start, where we want to be. Prepared like we want to be with a good attitude, good confidence. The fans have been loyal and we are going to try to deliver. We are going to try to give them great opportunities to cheer for us at race tracks and stomp a hole in the living room floor at home in celebration and not anger.

"It is a three-part show. Friday night is the first one; the next one is the 14th and the last on the 15th. Then we are going to take a break and do two more episodes in July to sort of wrap it up."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Buddy Baker , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports