Earnhardt Jr. on Talladega: It’s a no-holds-barred, lay it out there thing

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW PAINT THE 88/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET met with media and discussed his position in the Chase, his approach to Talladega, the importance of not losing more points, chances for the championship and more.

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

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH THIS WEEKEND AT TALLADEGA? “I feel pretty good; I guess because I have nothing to lose. And that fits right into how you sort of race this race track. It’s kind of a no-holds-barred, lay it out there kind of thing. Anytime you’re cautious, you tend to get yourself in trouble and the guys that are a lot more aggressive seem to find themselves toward the front of the mess when it all goes down and end up being the ones that for some reason will finish. But we’re just going to throw it all out there, man. I love running here and have learned a lot over the last few races that we’ve had this kind of package and as its evolved, we’ve learned a lot. So, I feel like we can be more aggressive.”

YOU ARE 39 POINTS BEHIND THE POINT LEADER. CAN THIS PLACE BE A DECIDING MOMENT FOR YOU TO MAKE UP GROUND? “Oh, definitely. They’ll definitely be some guys that come out of here feeling really luck and really fortunate; and some guys on the opposite end of that. And it’s a race track where circumstances can lead to good fortune or just terrible luck. So, I’m sure it’s going to shake things up.”

HOW CRITICAL IS IT THAT YOU MAKE SURE YOU DON’T LOSE POINTS AND FALL FURTHER BACK THAN YOU ALREADY ARE? “We’re in a position where it really doesn’t matter. We can’t be conservative at all. We’ve really got to take a lot of risks. With just a few races left and as good as everybody is running, like Brad (Keselowski) and Jimmie (Johnson) and the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin), we really have to get pretty aggressive and that should play right into this race track’s hands. It’s a place that really kind of asks for that and you’ve got to really take some risks and be pretty daring out there to make some things happen.”

YOU SAID IT BOTHERED YOU TO RUN IN THE BACK “Yeah, because it felt unnatural to not want to try to go for the lead and try to run up front. It felt like I was almost setting yourself up for failure because the idea of a race is to go up and drive toward the front and try to lead and try to run well. It seemed completely the opposite of what you grew-up doing and what your mentality should be like.”

HOW CAN YOU PREDICT THE UNPREDICTABLE HERE? “You really don’t know what things are going to go down or what’s going to happen. Sometimes it happens with the usual suspects and sometimes it’s a surprise of even who would be involved in it. I’ve been on the receiving end of some wrecks here and I’ve started a few myself. So you just go out there and try to run as hard as you can and try to put yourself around people you like to work with and benefit from having people around you that you trust and that usually pays off.”

IF RACING IN GENERAL IS CONTROLLED CHAOS, WHAT IS RACING AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY? “Just uncontrolled really. It’s a lottery, I like to say, because the guys who wins has done something right and earned it in a way, for sure; but you just really don’t have quite as much control over your own destiny as you do at other race tracks. And I think that will always be the case here. But it’s even more so in this day and age with the package that we have and the restrictor plate. It really kind of boxes everybody up into one little lump and we all kind of ride around the race track on top of each other and it really makes for a real challenge. But when you’re sitting there in about 20th place and the whole track is three-wide and there’s really no where to go, the race cars aren’t able to pull out and pass and you just have to find somebody to draft with and wait for enough guys in front of you to pull out and make the wrong move and leave them hanging out. It’s just really strange racing. But some guys are making it work. Somebody’s going to win this race and I want to be that guy, so I’ve got to make the best of it.”

WHEN DID THE LOTTERY START? WHEN DID IT GO FROM BEING ABLE TO CONTROL YOUR DESTINY SOMEWHAT, TO BEING JUST ANOTHER CAR OUT THERE? “I think when the COT came in, the closing rate of the cars and the way the cars pushed and drafted and worked together changed dramatically. With the old car I had a real understanding of what to expect when I moved around the race track and when I was around other people and what was going to happen. But with the COT, it’s all limited and you’re just really limited. You feel like you don’t have quite as much freedom with the car and the car’s ability.”

BEING WHERE YOU ARE IN POINTS, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE THIS WEEKEND? “Yeah. Yeah. We’re in a spot where we can just kind of let it all hang out and must kind of go for broke. We’re running as hard as we can and we’ve not really performed as well as we have for the majority of the season. There’s just something not quite there. We’ve been consistent but not running well enough to challenge these guys up front for the championship. So, we’re far enough behind really where we could start throwing some things out there and seeing what sticks.”

SO ARE YOU AT A POINT WHERE YOU FEEL LIKE THIS COULD GET YOU BACK INTO THE CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT? OR, ARE YOU NOT EVEN THINKING CHAMPIONSHIP? “No, I’m still thinking championship. I feel like anything can happen. Stranger things have happened to get guys back into the title chase. So, this is definitely an opportunity to shake things up to our advantage.”

YOU SAID YOU DON’T LIKE TO HANG IN THE BACK OR RUN IN THE BACK. BUT DO YOU THINK WE’LL SEE THAT STRATEGY OF SOME GUYS GOING TO THE FRONT AND SOME HANGING IN THE BACK? “I really don’t know what people are going to do. I haven’t really talked to many of the drivers or heard much about anybody’s opinion on that. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of different strategies in the race. It will work out. It really comes down to luck. Some guys can make all the strategies work in their favor. There’s not really a right or wrong in this situation. But for me, I feel a lot more comfortable just being aggressive all day.”

ARE YOU SURPRISED ABOUT THE MOVE THAT BRAD KESELOWSKI MADE IN BREAKING OFF FROM KYLE BUSCH IN THE SPRING? ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT WORKED? “Yeah, I guess so. I haven’t really seen a replay. But you wouldn’t think that would be; you would think somebody would get there and run him back down, but it just didn’t happen. Nothing behind Brad materialized and he was smart to get away and not allow anybody to be there to make a move in the tri oval at the finish. Brad is a great race car driver and I would say it was instincts and intuition that helped him make those decisions and he often makes the right call when it comes down to that.”

HOW DIFFERENT IS YOUR MENTALITY AT TALLADEGA COMPARED TO MOST OTHER RACES? “Well, it’s not the hardest stuff in the world. You just hold it wide-open. The car really doesn’t handle or anything, so there is not a lot of physical work to do this weekend. It’s really all just mental. You try to make the right choices mentally and try to be in the right frame of mind prior to the race so that you go in there and you’re out there making the right decisions. It’s really just all-mental. It’s a big chess match.”

WHAT’S THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND? “I think just going aggressive and trying to be up front. I think the guys that win these races or tend to do well at them are the guys that strive to be toward the front all day. They have good cars and are smart enough to know what to do with them.”

WHAT IS AGGRESSIVE IN YOUR MIND? “It’s really a long race so a lot of times when you see guys getting three-wide and really impatient, you tend to relax. You tend to sort of dial it back and you get passive and there could be too much of that. Some guys are really smart. Every strategy is going to work in the race. There will be a guy in the top five that probably laid back all day. There’ll be a guy in the top-five finish who was aggressive all day. There is no right or wrong. It’s what you feel comfortable doing. I can’t really shift gears from thing to anther during the race and seem to make it work. I haven’t had success laying back and then charging at the end or what have you. I’ve never really been able to do that. So, for me, it’s just a matter of staying on one even pass all day long and be consistent with my approach and the way that I drive and the decisions I make.”

WAS THAT AS MUCH OF A CHALLENGE WHEN YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON HUNG IN THE BACK FOR MOST OF THE RACE AND THEN COULDN’T GET UP TO THE FRONT? OR WAS THAT MORE JUST CIRCUMSTANCE? “I think for me, it was trying to dial it back up to that level of aggression to know exactly how urgent to be or when it was time to start panicking, or what have you. We would be all right; it’s time to go! And we wouldn’t go anywhere (laughs). We wouldn’t catch anybody and nothing would happen. And we don’t know why. Sometimes it just wouldn’t work. And I don’t want to be in that situation again and I’m sure Jimmie doesn’t either. We’ve talked about that and I think we’ve kind of changed our approach over the last couple of plate races to avoid doing that again and being in that situation again.”

Source: Team Chevy Racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Denny Hamlin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Article type Interview
Tags chevrolet, earnhardt, hendrick, talladega