Earnhardt Jr. has no issue with any of his teammates

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

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, met with members of the media and discussed growing up in the public eye, Brad Keselowski’s comments last week regarding Hendrick Motorsports, a recent visit to a Bristol area high school and other topics.

With three races to go before the chase certainly you would like to notch another victory... “Yeah we would love to get a victory this weekend. I love this style of racing and short track racing in general. I look forward to coming to Bristol every trip especially with the changes looking forward to seeing what kind of race track we’ve got and what kind of things the changes might bring about that you can use to your advantage or that might suit your driving style possibly.

Just kind of ready to get in the car, ready to practice, ready to work a little bit today and see what kind of car we’ve got. I look forward to a tough race tomorrow, that hopefully, we will come out on top.”

Do you think it’s more difficult to grow up in the public eye? Is the process of maturity more difficult? “Yeah definitely, I think in that certain situation you can be slow to mature. I definitely haven’t acted my age yet. I can’t mature as fast as I’m getting old. I think that the lifestyle and just your around the race track, I was around the race track really didn’t have a whole lot of adult supervision.

Once we got here I could kind of scoot out from under Daddy’s wing and do whatever we wanted run around the track and goof off and have fun. I spent years and years doing that. It definitely is different you might not be quite as mature as certain individuals in certain situations growing up around the race track.”

As a team owner would you ever hire a driver who had failed a drug test? Do you think you would ever be able to sell that to a sponsor? “Well I think it would be difficult to convince certain people whether it be sponsors or just any individuals. Some people are always going to be skeptics when you have a failed drug test.

I believe in second chances and if I felt a guy was talented and felt he could help my race team and be competitive I wouldn’t have any problem with hiring him. I would want to understand the rehabilitation process and want to feel good about his current state, but yeah, if I felt like he could help my team I wouldn’t have any problem hiring him.”

You know Brad Keselowski better than most because he drove for you in the nationwide series. Is Brad (Keselowski) a guy who likes to play mind games a little bit with some of the stuff he has had to say about Hendrick and the rear-end/suspensions lately? Is that effective in your mind? “No not really. I do know Brad (Keselowski) pretty well. Brad is a really good guy. He has a pretty good heart. He is a really great race car driver and I wish he would concentrate on that. I think he likes to talk a lot, but I think his true skills shine on the race track not really behind the microphone.”

Tell us about what happened with your high school visit here in Bristol and how you thought that went. Also we talked to Rusty Wallace last night he said between himself and your father some of the drama that they created weather it was for show or just as a result of what happened on the race track was good for the sport. That kind of disagrees with what you said about brad. We don’t have as much of that drama now as we did back in the hay day. “I mean I don’t disagree with Rusty (Wallace). I just…me and Brad are friends I don’t want any drama with Brad. I don’t particularly like the things he says lately about the company I drive for.

I take offense to the claims and accusations. It’s just natural for me to do that, but we’re friends and I don’t want any drama between him. So, that is where I stand with that. I mean certain individuals and personalities, when they clash, it’s great. It makes great TV and there have been a lot of great rivalries in this sport that have moved it along and taken it to certain levels. I don’t dislike that or disagree with it.

As far as the high school visit, it went good. It’s pretty intimidating to get in front of 1400 kids and try to talk. Kids are the toughest critics in this world. It’s a good experience for me. I hope it’s a good experience for them. I enjoy it.

I don’t really know a better opportunity to connect to that demographic than actually getting down there on the gym floor and talking to them myself. I hope that we made some new fans and strengthened some relationship with some old fans. I enjoyed it all the way around though. I look forward to doing more of that in the future.”

Around the shop is it a different vibe? Is it more fun this year with the success you’re having? Can you put your finger on two or three main reasons for the success you are enjoying right now? “Well I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Steve Letarte is the main reason. All the reasons we’ve run good kind of reference to him. He puts a good team around a lot of good guys there working together, working as a group, everybody pulling in the same direction.

That is a result of his doing. He has been able to help me as a driver evolve into a better race car driver, a more productive driver. A driver that can assist him and give him opportunity to help me and get the car fixed. I give him all the credit. I keep saying it all the time, but it’s the only true answer I know to be able to give you a good answer would be able to tell you the truth and that’s it.”

You and Jeff (Gordon) have no issue, but why do you think that it happened first of all and second do you think that the crux of his frustration was more driven, in your conversations with him, by the fact that it was you as a teammate or because he is trying his tail end off to have a shot to win the championship? “I mean it’s a bunch of that stuff I think. It’s hard to say which one is driving it more. I don’t want to pretend that I know what’s going on in anybody’s head, much less Jeff’s.

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

Photo by: Jackie Buys

I’ve raced with teammates for years. There are a lot of guys on the race track, but every once and a while you’re going to have to battle your teammate. I’ve had to do that before. Sometimes you don’t like the way that battle works out or the way they might have raced or whatever. It’s hard at the time to understand that they are out there working for their car, their crew chief, for all the guys on their team on their crew.

I used to have a hard time when me and Michael (Waltrip) would race on restrictor plate (tracks) because we always worked together. Sometimes it would come down to having to make a decision of going for the win or trying to help your teammate win. There were times when I know Michael sacrificed races or wins to help me win. At least it felt that way. I was put in the same situation a couple of times on a late restart weather I needed to push him or try to go for the win.

My team would always tell me to go for the win, but I felt conflicted because of what I felt Michael had done for me in the past. I know that through those experiences first off my team wants me to race hard. I’ve got all those guys putting those cars together, traveling, being away from families and all that stuff to see me go as hard as I can go.

You try to take care of people. I try not to put people in tough situations or compromising situations. I try not to wreck the field or cause accidents, but you’ve got to go hard. You’ve got a whole team wanting you to go hard. We wanted to try to win the race and I was doing everything I could every lap, every restart to try and put myself in position to do that.

Sometimes you are going to be racing teammates in those situations and sometimes you’re not going to feel good about being on either end of it. I respect the hell out of Jeff (Gordon), I know exactly what he’s done for this sport and I know what that means for this sport and I know what it means to the company I drive for. He’s got seniority, and I totally get all that. I try to be an asset to his program as much as I can.

I know it doesn’t look like it at times, but when we are out on the race track we’ve got to run hard. I try not to do anything foolish, but you’ve got to go. I felt like I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing. I know it was frustrating for him and I can understand that I’ve been on the end of that. I don’t fault him for being upset if he was if he thought I did something wrong or didn’t like the way I raced him. I don’t fault him for that at all because I’ve been in that situation too and I know what that feels like.”

Whether it’s on or off the track what is something that has rubbed off from Steve Letarte to you and what do you feel like is something that has rubbed off from you to Steve? “Well Steve’s personality and being positive all the time has rubbed off on me. I tend not to worry as much about my car and how it is going to do in practice or how it’s going to do in qualifying. I used to really let that stuff kind of eat at me at times when things just weren’t looking right, or feeling right, or feeling comfortable.

He has helped me be more positive which lends itself to confidence. Confidence has been a big struggle for me trying to rebuild over the years and he’s helped me get more confident and feel better about myself as a driver. Probably just his personality being positive all the time I think it’s made me similar. I really don’t know I think maybe he’s learned to relax a little bit.

When I first started working with him he was pretty up tight and I think that I tend to tone it down and maybe, I don’t know I’m just guessing, maybe he has learned to relax a little bit and not be kind of so strung out and on the chip all the time. He tends to not get so revved up.

I’m just speaking when we are in the hauler working together and stuff we tend to cruise through the process of working on the car and talking about the car. When we are deciding on what we are going to do Saturday night before the race if we are going to make any changes that process has gotten a lot more calm and constructive.”

Specifically on this track what do you think you have learned about this track and what do you think you still have to work on? “One of the toughest things for me this place is real similar to Homestead in the way that the banking, some progressive banking is in steps. Where for example at certain tracks they will pave some asphalt and it will be X amount wide and then the next paving seam or strip of pavement will be banked more. It progresses in steps; well this place is dished like a bowl.

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

Photo by: Adriano Manocchia

It doesn’t progress in chunks it kind of just dishes. The way you enter the corner and the way the car loads the right-front spring and the driver controls how the car can roll the center of the corner, it’s a bit of a challenge for me in the way the track dishes. This place is real similar to Homestead in that manner. That is one of the things I still feel like I haven’t got quite a good grip on.

I’m still kind of working on finding the right feel for the car to be able to roll the center better and make good speed, have a good competitive car. I’ve been able to find a way to get a car that I can run fifth with, but I haven’t really, ever since we reconfigured this place I’ve sort of missing that next step that we used to be able to find here.

We used to really have some good speed here with the old configuration. Just rolling into the corner and as the banking sort of dishes up and the load increases real steady into that right front I tend to maybe drive the car too straight and have trouble rolling the center as well as I need to.”

In light of this rear-end/suspension situation how common or uncommon is it that one team finds something that leaves everybody else sort of suspicious until they get kind of an okay that it’s alright to adapt it? Is it rare or not? “No, it happens teams find speed whether it be when guys brought in the bump stops I remember going to New Hampshire and Geoff Bodine running in the top five with that No. 60 car that Joe Bessie owned and how people were learning how to use the bump stops and certain teams picked that up quicker than others.

Then when we started skewing the rear-end housings and you saw the Penske cars going down the straightaway sideways. I remember watching the No. 77 at the Open during All-Star weekend looking like it had a half inch of tow in the rear tires. It was just incredible seeing that. That we would all go to these lengths to find speed.

When cars started first coil binding springs, some teams had that figured out and understood what that meant and how to get it to working; how to change the buckets in the lower A-frames and get the coil bind to work evenly all the way around the spring. The real big innovation such as like bump stops and coil binding springs and rear tow and things that happens once every, I don’t know, four years or something.

Where something real big comes in that changes the sport quite a bit and everybody sort of eventually gets on the wagon. Then everybody has to find another area to work in. There is all kinds of little things that happen all year long, little tiny thing that are just small pieces of speed that teams do and it could be even in the engines and all kinds of things. That happens all year long. Every week somebody has got an idea. That is what’s supposed to happen anyways.

You’ve got all these guys you pay to be innovative, engineers and stuff, so hopefully every week somebody has got an idea that needs to be tried somewhere. I think it’s good. It’s good for the sport we can’t be crushed into this box where all 43 cars run the exact same lap time because we will just be single file running around the race track. The bigger teams seem to have the bigger engineering departments and have more success and ability to study and science out stuff like this.”

Source: Chevy Team Racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Rusty Wallace , Brad Keselowski
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Article type Interview
Tags bristol, chevy, earnhardt, hendrick, keselowski, letarte, nascar-cup, nscs, wallace