Earnhardt Jr. talks with media about racing at Darlington

Team Chevy Racing

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and discussed Hendrick Motorsports, racing at Darlington and other topics.

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

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

WHAT IS IT LIKE RACING AT DARLINGTON? “It’s a tough track. It’s got a lot of history and a well-deserved reputation for being difficult, challenging. We’ve got some awesome weather here this weekend. The track seems to be in good shape. I’ve been watching the Nationwide cars and their speeds. It looks like the paving job they did on this place is going to hold up for quite a while. The track is starting to fade a little bit, but the speed’s still there so the tire must be really good that Goodyear’s got here. Things are really looking good for this place and really enjoy running here.”

IS THE LACK OF WINNING RECENTLY AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS STARTING TO WEIGH ON THE ORGANIZATION? “There’s nothing wrong. I think we’re looking at our performance over the same period and seeing an improvement. I think all four of our teams are faster than they were last year and running with a better competitive spirit than what we had last year. We’re running better, Kasey’s (Kahne) come in and been really fast -- super-fast at several tracks. Jeff’s (Gordon) had terrible luck. He’s been probably as fast as Kasey if not one of the fastest of the four and Jimmie’s (Johnson) always right there. He’s just one decision away from a win. We’re getting pretty close ourselves so I think attitudes are good and everybody feels like we’re just right around the corner.”

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT WINNING THE ALL-STAR RACE? “I was kind of so green that I don’t think I really understood what all was going on. To win early in the season like we did was so unexpected and such a shock to me. To be able to be one of the drivers to be locked into the Winston at the time was a heck of a thing to consider. We were in the race, just happy to be there. We just thought it was the funnest thing and the neatest thing for us as a young team to be a part of that race. Winning the race never crossed my mind for whatever reason. As a race car driver, it’s hard to go to a race and not think about winning or thinking about your options, but we were so blind-sided by being there that we -- and enjoying the experience of going through the qualifying and all the things that go along with that. We never really considered our chances of winning. We just were kind of there. Then in the first couple segments of the race, we really didn’t have the best car and we were doing okay running top-five, but in that last segment we really turned it on and got some tires and did some things to make the car great and we were able to race. It was just an incredible weekend. I know that was a big deal for our whole team and everybody there was so happy. It was just amazing to see everybody so excited -- all those guys that I had been working with in the Nationwide Series for all those years.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW UNPREDICTABLE DARLINGTON IS AND DO YOU REALLY LIKE RUNNING HERE? “I do like running here, especially since they repaved the track and fixed some of the issues. It’s always been a fun track to race on. It’s just a frustrating track at the same time. The challenge is really what’s interesting and fun about it. You don’t really race your competitors as much as you are really in a battle with the track itself all night long. You just have to work every lap. You can’t take any time off. You’re right against the fence all around the race track so you’re always having to concentrate 100 percent about what you’re doing, where the car is and what you’re doing with your car and the speed of your car to keep it out of the fence. You have to run as hard as you can to be competitive. It’s just a very challenging place. It’s one of the more physical race tracks that we go to.”

WERE YOU NOT COMFORTABLE IN YOUR CAR LAST WEEK AND WILL YOU WORK ON THAT BEFORE YOU RETURN TO THAT STYLE OF RACE TRACK? “We felt we really hadn’t ran -- the car at Daytona did what I expected out of the race and I was really happy with that car. That car could have been better and I think we are as a team capable of getting the car better and make it more competitive comparable to Matt (Kenseth) and the 16 (Greg Biffle) and those guys that you see that are very strong. We went to Talladega and for whatever reason, we weren’t as good as we were at Daytona by quite a bit. I struggled with getting the car to do things and the car wasn’t doing what I was asking it to do as far as speed, just pure speed and being able to use the air around me. I wasn’t getting the gains and being able to make some of the moves that I was anticipating on making. I think we know inside the particulars of what we need to do and change. What was different from Daytona to Talladega that hurt us and what we can do to go to Daytona. I feel confident that we can go to Daytona and we’ll be better and be able to compete like we want. Hopefully, down the road when we go back to Talladega toward the end of the season, we’ll be as strong as -- we’ll be one of the stronger teams in the field. That’s definitely what you need when you go to them places. You have to be able to get up there and make a move to be able to run with guys and put yourself in position to win. You have to be able to beat Matt -- he’s been the guy at the plate races this year. Their program is doing a great job. Him and the 16 are always up front. That’s the kind of team you have to have to have a shot at a win there. We need to gain a little bit and we think we know where we need to do that at.”

DO YOU THINK IF YOU WIN IT WILL BRING MORE FANS TO THE RACE TRACK? “I don’t really think viewership and attendance is directly tied to the success of our team. We do have a great fan base and a loyal fan base that I think watches the races regardless of how we’re running. I just think it’s challenging financially for the demographic to afford to come out to a race. I think hotel prices are really high and gas is really high and just trying to get here and enjoy yourself has become quite expensive. A lot of people are not willing to make that sacrifice. They can sit at home and either watch it on TV or mow the lawn -- I don’t know. I think that it will cycle around and things like this always do kind of have a cycle. It will improve over time. When the confidence is gained in the consumer to come back out and spend that kind of money.”

HOW TOUGH WILL THIS WEEKEND BE FOR DANICA PATRICK? “I think it’s one of the toughest tracks that we run on. I think it’s great for her to come here and get that experience early for a full season next year. She seems to be doing a decent job of it over on the Nationwide side so that’s going to help her quite a bit having that practice she did this morning in the Nationwide car -- that’s really going to speed up the learning curve for her quite a bit. I don’t know, only a very few drivers come in here for their first time and really walk away with a successful weekend. Most drivers that come here for the first time do struggle so I wouldn’t be too concerned if I was her if she didn’t get the results that she was expecting. This is a place that you have to learn the ropes and pay your dues or it will jump out and get you when you least expect it. She may have none of those problems, but if she does have a stumble here or there throughout the weekend, I would just keep on pushing because it’s one of those tracks.”

DO YOU TRAIN WITH YOUR PIT CREW? “I don’t train with my guys. I don’t think I could keep up with them. I don’t really work out a lot. I play sports in the spring, summer and fall. This probably the past 12 months, I’ve changed my diet quite a bit. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight. I think it gets harder and harder the older you get just to maintain your weight. I’m trying to get a hold on that and knowing what I need to do as far as my calorie intake to manage my weight a bit better. I try to eat more healthy kind of things and it makes you feel better and gives you better fuel. It’s something that I take pretty seriously, but I’ve been learning a lot the last four or five years just being around Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) and those guys. Jimmie, he’s like an expert at everything. He understands everything that’s happening to his body at all times as far as what he’s eating and what he needs to be doing. He’s a good guy to be around when you’re concerned about those things.”

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT TONY STEWART’S COMMENTS FOLLOWING THE RACE AT TALLADEGA? “I think his interview was a parody for the media and probably the fans as well. I know it was just kind of his sense of humor and a way for him to vent his frustration with the style of racing that he had and he saw that day without doing it in a derogatory way or some way that might come back on him. He wears his thoughts and feelings on his sleeve and he tells you exactly what he thinks and I think that’s great about Tony (Stewart) and I enjoy being around him for that fact. What he said isn’t really how he feels, it was kind of a parody on the day. He feels strongly that it’s not good and he thinks it should be better and could be better and thinks things should be changed and we should do the things differently as far as the plate package is concerned and the style of racing that we have there. I was disappointed in how the racing went myself as far as how difficult it was to get the outside lane to move. There was just not as much passing as I anticipated. The cars didn’t -- I like the pack racing, but we weren’t really able to challenge and make moves on each other like I anticipated happening. I sort of side with Tony and the fact that I was disappointed in the style of racing, but I also didn’t have that great of a race car so I was holding back a little of my judgment due to the fact that my car just wasn’t competitive enough to do the things I wanted it to do. Had it been more competitive, maybe I would have enjoyed the racing better. I wasn’t vocal at all about the racing because I didn’t have the car to take out of the equation and say it was just the racing. I felt that my car was part of my problem. I thought it was great, to be honest with you, what Tony did. It was funny. Got a lot of play and it was funny to hear. Everybody was emailing it and texting it back and forth. I think it was more of a parody. I don’t think anything in there he was technically being serious with and should be taken seriously. To read between the lines, I would say he wasn’t too happy with that style of racing and thinks things could be better and different as far as the package we had.”

HOW DOES IT WORK AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TO PUMP UP THE FOURTH TEAM WHEN THEY AREN’T PERFORMING AS WELL AS THE OTHERS? “I will tell you that when I was struggling that Jeff (Gordon), Jimmie (Johnson), all the crew chiefs, Steve (Letarte) and particularly Jeff’s crew chief would come up and tell you what you needed to hear about, ‘We’re going to help turn this around. We’re going to give you all the resources we can. We’re working to figure out how to make you faster.’ Alan (Gustafson) was really vocal. More so because I was in his shop at the time. Obviously, Lance (McGrew) was trying to do everything he could, but Alan was really a team player and a company guy when the chips were down for the 88 team. Chad (Knaus) was the same way whenever I would see him or cross paths with him, he would stop me and say, ‘Man, we’re thinking about what we can do to help your team. Don’t think we’re not trying to help your team or not concerned because we are.’ That was pretty much everywhere you turned. All the way through management and all the way up to the boss man. He would call you and tell you just about every week that he was frustrated and wanted to get it right, he believed in you and all that stuff. I don’t really feel like Kasey’s (Kahne) having that issue anymore. I think he’s had a couple runs where he feels like they are finishing and competing where they need to. He saw early in the season from the get-go how much speed they have. They just have some incredible speed and when they can put that together, they are going to win plenty of races. I don’t think he’s had a real issue with his confidence at all because they have been fast. They have the speed to win races. They just had some weird luck and some odd things happen to them that kind of the same thing Jeff has been fighting. They have just been really quick. I anticipate when they get it together, they are going to be hard to beat.”

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Greg Biffle
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Tags chevrolet, eanhardt, hendrick