Continued from part 1 Q: Talk about going into a team that's so dominant right now, and what input, if any, did the senior Hendrick drivers have; specifically Jimmie and Jeff? DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't feel a whole lot of pressure. I'm ...
Continued from part 1
Q: Talk about going into a team that's so dominant right now, and what input, if any, did the senior Hendrick drivers have; specifically Jimmie and Jeff?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't feel a whole lot of pressure. I'm pretty excited about the opportunity to drive Rick's cars, his equipment, track performance and track record speaks for itself so I'm pretty pumped up about getting in there and getting my feet wet.
I feel some pressure. I hope it ain't that hard to get me to victory lane.
So, we have had a lot of success at DEI and like Rick said, we've got a lot of goals still set for the rest of this season to pursue and give a great effort for and this is probably going to help continue to motivate me for the rest of the season to run well.
But I'm excited just to get in the car. I don't feel really any pressure. I feel pretty comfortable. I think once I get into the testing mode and all of those things during the off-season, there won't really be any questions marks for me or any kind of pressure. I think I'll be anticipating it so much that I don't think that the pressure is going to get to me.
Q: A lot of your fans would follow you to the end of the earth, but some of them have said they didn't know if they would sleep last night because they were trying to figure out, they formed their alliances based on ownership camps and that sort of thing. Can you also add whether Budweiser is in the picture at all? Are you still negotiating with them?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well I think that the fans will make up their own minds and somehow come to terms with whatever decision we would have made. I feel like once we get on the racetrack and have some success we'll be able to give them what they deserve.
Like I said months ago, I feel like over the years I sort of haven't been able to give them what I feel they deserve. I want to get them on their feet more often than I do. I'm trying to make those decisions not only for me, but to make that happen. So I think that they will find a lot of things to get excited about in the future. But you know, as far as sponsorships, we haven't began to work around that and see what the options are and opportunities are for us and that's something we'll work on down the road.
Q: When you made this announcement just a few short weeks, you said your decision was going to encompass you, your life, your career, but also your team here at JR Motorsports. What influence will Hendrick Motorsports have on JR Motorsports and your Busch Series organization?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: He has expressed to me that he wants to make a huge commitment to supporting our programs here, whether it be driver development or Busch races, for the full team we have here and also maybe some races for myself or whatever.
Those are some things we can explore down the road. But he's shown great commitment to helping us here and giving us the best opportunity we can have here to win races as well. I feel like this is a great opportunity to develop drivers, develop crew members, future crew chiefs, things like that and I hope that we can be that kind of an asset to Rick.
Q: Is there a number that you would prefer? Are you going to beating on him to give you one number? And the best analogy we have been able to come up with is like Bear Bryant's son announcing he's going to play football at Auburn. (Laughter) To some fans who have strong allegiances both ways, do you sort of get that, and this is sort of like two old warring camps coming together and signing a peace accord? It's almost like you should be at Malta somewhere. Can you talk about that?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I feel like -- I'd like to be No. 8, but you know, we have to obviously talk to Teresa about that and see what her interest is there. I'll just go ahead and throw that out there.
But other than that -- (Laughter) might as well. It work the pretty good sometimes when you let the media speak for you. (Laughter).
There are other numbers that I have interest in. We'll just have to sit down. I want to have my hands in the design of what the car looks like. Rick's said that I'll have some ability to have some influence on what the car looks like, the numbers, things like that.
We'll just have to sit down and see what looks cool. I never really looked at Hendrick Motorsports as our archrival or nemesis or whatever. We competed against them and they were one of the best competitors over the years obviously. They set the mark for most, if not all the teams, at least the Chevrolet teams.
But I always looked at the Fords and the Roushes and those guys as more of my competitors that I had more interest in out running and beating. But Jeff has always been a real good friend of mine. Him and dad were business partners on several things. Dad helped him a lot coming into the sport so, Jeff has always tried to -- over the last six years, has always tried to express to me that he's sort of repaying that favor back to my father by helping me in a lot of ways. A lot of things behind the scenes people don't know about.
I helped Jimmie get in the sport -- I know he won't give me that credit. (Laughter) When he came to St. Louis to drive the Kingsford car, I was the guy he came to ask how to get around the racetrack and when he wanted to buy his first motorhome, he came to me because he never spent that kind of money before.
We have all been pretty good friends. I'm looking forward to it. We didn't really get to answer that question about the teammates that I'll have in the future but those guys seemed really excited about it and we'll talk about it and we're pretty pumped up about us being teammates next year.
Q: A lot of fans like to pretend that you and Jeff are rivals and you never were. Can you speak to those fans who are now upset that you guys are teammates?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I think that -- I can't really speak for Jeff, but I think if I know him like I think I do, that we'll still enjoy -- we do have a personal competition if you want to call it a rivalry, fine. But I like to out run Jeff. Jeff is one of the best that's ever been in our sport. He's fun to race with, and especially when you beat him, it's a good feeling. It's a good feeling when I out run my father or anyone else of that magnitude, you know what I mean.
So I think that will still be there. I think that I'll still have that in me, just as an Earnhardt, you know, to beat Jeff Gordon. It's always been there in the sport and I think that will continue to be there. I think that we can be -- you can have that kind of rivalry within Rick's program within his business and it would still be healthy. I think we always race each other with respect. I've never driven dirty with Jeff and never spun him out or anything like that. Hit him on accident a couple of times.
But you know I think that's kind of healthy because you each -- I'll be in equal equipment, so he can't make any excuses. But we can each raise each other's game, you know what I'm saying. (Laughter).
I think we can both challenge each other to be better race car drivers and improve each other. I think that will be healthy and a lot of fun.
RICK HENDRICK: I'm liking this already. This is good. (Laughter).
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I thought about this a lot. (Laughter).
Q: In the beginning you said it wasn't about money; it was only about winning championships, and after seeing you this morning and Kelley and your mom, have you finally found the peace of mind that you've been looking for?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I have. I do feel like there's a big weight lifted off my shoulders. There's still a lot of things to figure out and discuss with a number of the sponsors. There are a lot of things I have going on that Rick has going on and we have to figure out a way to mesh it out together. That's still going to be a lot of work. There's a whole lot of work left to be done. I've still got to concentrate and focus on driving the red No. 8 car as hard as I can do that throughout the rest of the year. You know, I owe that to my guys.
So there's still a lot of pressure. Still typical life. But I do feel a big relief and a lot of excitement. I know that Rick is going to do everything he can do for me and that's a great feeling to have somebody that's going to support you like that.
Q: Junior, you just mentioned your guys, is there any thought or discussion at this point about anybody from your team and from DEI and any of your crew members coming over to Hendrick for you? And Rick, is there any discussion with Teresa about bringing No. 8 over to Hendrick?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: That's probably some of the discussion and things we'll be working on over the next couple of months, as far as the crew members and whatnot.
That's basically all got to be worked out yet as far as, you know, Rick's got a lot of guys working there, great employees and great, talented guys. That's things we'll have to discuss down the road.
Q: How close did it come to the rumors of signing with either Childress or Gibbs?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, we had -- as I said, I wanted to thank all of the other owners that we had talked to and for everybody for giving me that opportunity to discuss things with them. But all of the reports that I saw or heard of had come out of thin air, basically.
Q: The pressure you're talking about that you feel, is it partially that he wants to win championships, but also knowing that it's not just Dale Jr. wants to win championships; it's that the most popular driver in the sport wants to win championships and if he does, it could take NASCAR to unprecedented levels? Jeff Gordon said that if he wins, it's game over for the rest -- do you feel it will be huge for NASCAR if you do well with him?
RICK HENDRICK: I've been through this before where if Jimmie wins, Jeff's fans say I don't give him the good equipment. So I'm sure in this situation, if he's not winning, it's going to be my fault. If he's winning, it's going to be because of his talent. And if it's not, it's because of not giving him good stuff. That's the way a lot of the fans look at it. So that pressure is there. You know, again, he's such an icon in the sport and he made a decision to come with us, based on our performance and ability to give him what he needs to reach those goals.
So that's the competitive side of me that adds pressure that I want to deliver what we said we could deliver and what he's expecting.
This is because of the magnitude of his space and position in the sport with his fan base and so forth, it's been an appeal to everyone connected. You know, you just want to work hard to give him what you can.
And as far as the competition inside the camp, there's already a little bit of a feud -- not a feud, but a competition between Jeff and Jimmie. They are running for the championship and they can be friends and they can be upset when they lose a race. But they get back and go again. So I feel like that's going to be the same situation here.
You know, again, the pressure is because I want to deliver, and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen because there's going to be a lot of people watching. .
Q: You mention that you thought it was obvious Kyle was talking to other teams. If the opportunity presented itself for him to make a move before the end of the season, is that something you would consider?
RICK HENDRICK: No. And I don't think Kyle would consider that. We have a responsibility to the sponsors, and he's sitting in a position to be in the Chase. That's a very good team.
You know, this decision was not an easy decision. And Kyle has got a tremendous amount of talent and I know in talking to him, he wants to see that car finish this year in first place. I think you're going to see him very focused and very committed to that effort. The same is true with Junior. It's hard in the sport to have to make these decisions mid year and finish out the year but we have sponsors to cars both sitting in the Chase, and that's what it's all about. So we've got to focus each one of us on that goal?
Q: Dale, can you talk a little specific about a championship? Do you think you will win a championship now at Hendrick Motorsports, and if you don't, despite 17 wins already and everything else you've done ultimately, do you think your career will be judged unkindly if you don't win a championship?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Some people obviously will -- everyone's a little different in how they view success.
I've always said that I've done more in this sport than I've ever anticipated. I just wanted to be able to pay my bills and once I got past that, everything else was a bonus.
It seems like to me, three years ago, I was three months behind on my phone bill and living in a trailer with Kerry and his kids would jump over the couch back and forth and I would have to lock myself in my room just to get some peace and quiet. Those days don't seem like that far or that long ago.
But you know, I want to work really, really hard to give myself and Tony Jr. an opportunity to make the Chase and challenge for the championship this season. I think we are a good enough team to do that. If we can't accomplish that at DEI this year, my efforts will be obviously, you know, focused full-fledged on doing that with Rick, and I think that I'll have a good opportunity to succeed and win a lot of races.
I think personally I will cherish a championship on my mantle when it's all said and done. I think I can live without it obviously. But I feel like, yeah, I think I'd be you know, 90, 95 percent on my goals that I set for myself personally throughout my career, if I can't get that championship; I really do want it.
Q: Would there be any consideration of trading the No. 5 to DEI for the 8 if Kyle were to look at that as an alternative, and was this in the back of your minds when he jumped in the back of the car at Texas?
RICK HENDRICK: As far as swapping the 5 for the 8 if they wanted to talk about that, sure, we'd be open to that.
And what was the question about Texas? That sure started a lot of rumors. (Laughter)?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was trying to see what kind of horsepower they had, see where we measured up.
The car was wrecked so it didn't really drive that good. (Laughter).
Continued in part 3