On his first win in this race: 'I was driving for Daddy back then. He got all that money.'
Here's a transcript of the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. press conference:
DALE, YOU WON THIS RACE IN YOUR ROOKIE SEASON AND YOU LIKE COMING BACK AND RUNNING THIS RACE AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY, TALK ABOUT YOUR MINDSET FOR THE ALL STAR RACE AND COKE 600 OVER THE NEXT COUPLE WEEKS
“Well, we will just use this weekend to see if we can find speed in the car and try and prepare ourselves for the 600. It’s a great opportunity to really be at the race track and get some laps in race condition to try and give yourself the best opportunity to win the 600-miler. There is a lot of money on the line this weekend, which is basically all we are going to be racing for, but there is a lot to be learned too. So you try and pay attention to what you are doing and what you are feeling in your car so you can use those notes next week. You try to look at what your teammates are doing, learning and what they are doing that you might not be able to try that you might want to do next week when you are going through next weekend. There is a lot to be learned and hopefully we will get our car going pretty quick.”
REGARDING CHASE ELLIOTT, DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO SPEED UP HIS PREP BASED ON WHAT HE HAS BEEN DOING, OR DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN HIS PREP?
“I don’t think you do either one. I think you just set a plan from the start, and you stick with it. We have like a two-year plan I suppose, that he runs in the Nationwide Series and I think you just stick with the plan regardless of the success he is having. You have the commitments in line with sponsors and what have you, so I think it will suit him well to relax and not have to worry about that and just follow the plan that he has had in front of him from the start. He is really young too, so he has a lot of time on his hands and time to get to Cup level to realize that potential, one day. But yes, I think he can just sit there and relax knowing what we tried to set out to do from the start and not really adjust.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK GUYS ARE WILLING TO DO THESE DAYS TO WIN A MILLION DOLLARS? DO YOU THINK THE FINISH OF THIS RACE WILL BE LIKE ANY RACE OR WILL GUYS REALLY CROSS SOME LINES AT THE END HERE?
“I think it’s really going to depend how close and how much within reach the million dollars really is. If you can reach out and grab somebody you will get pretty aggressive for a million dollars. It just depends on if someone is in reach. If a guy jumps out in that last 10 laps and gets a good lead, what can you do and what are you going to be able to do? If you can run a guy down, it’s going to get interesting. If anybody gets within reach of someone at any time within those final 10 laps then it’s going to get pretty aggressive between both drivers I believe. I hope that it will be close, unless I am leading, and if we are leading I hope we are leading by a straightaway. Hope it real boring.”
IS THE MEMORIAL DAY RACE A LITTLE MORE SPECIAL TO YOU SINCE YOU HAVE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL GUARD AND DONE SO MANY THINGS WITH THEM OVER THE YEARS?
“That is a good question. I think working with the Guard is, and I hate to keep saying it over and over, but it’s so different than working with a corporate sponsor. It’s such a heavy responsibility and it’s just a big deal. I learned working with the Navy years ago, that working with the military in a primary sponsor role is a big deal, and a little heavier than the things I had done in the past. The Guard is a lot of fun and they are very creative with what we do together. We have gotten to shoot some big guns, drive tanks, and get to do a lot of things people don’t get to do.
“I have met some great people that have heard some great stories. Whether it was their experience in the Guard, or why they joined. I always find it really fascinating to ask someone what encouraged them to make that decision because it’s such a life choice. It’s really interesting to hear what makes somebody choose to make that choice to join the military. Obviously hearing their experiences is really interesting but just about the choice and why they make that choice.
“Everybody has a different reason but I have had a great experience and really appreciate it. I really cherish it, and think it’s affected me to just be that close to it and see the things that go on behind the scenes.”
CAN YOU GIVE US ANY INSIGHT INTO YOUR MATCH RACE WITH CHARLES BARKLEY TODAY?
“I am not supposed to tell you how it went because they want to leave it for the episode. I guess it’s going to run on TNT with their pre-race coverage, somewhere like Pocono. I will tell you this. I was really surprised about how nice he was. I expected him to be a competitor, a little more aggressive in just his personality in knowing what kind of basketball player he was and the kind of guy he was on the court. He was fiery, and aggressive, and getting in tussles. But he was super nice. He just came in and was just really gracious and has an appreciation for our sport and was just a real nice guy to be around. We will just have to save the results for later, but you can imagine how it went.”
WHAT IS THE ART FOR RACING THE ALL-STAR, A RACE THAT IS SO INTENSE AND SO SHORT?
“I don’t know that there’s an art to it. You need to be up front at the last re-start. Obviously you’re not going to drive through a handful of guys. As late as it gets in the night, at this track, the groove narrows-up. It gets faster and faster on the bottom and there’s no time to be gained in trying to step-up the race track or run the high line like you might during the afternoon. So, it’s a really fascinating race track in the middle of the day. But as it gets darker and darker and cooler and cooler, the groove really shortens up. So you need to be in that top 3 I think, to have a shot at it. Unless those guys kind of get bottled up banging on each other and somebody scoots around on the top on the restart real quick, I don’t know that you’re going to have much of a chance at winning the race.
“That doesn’t sound all that great. But what that does do is it makes everything in the first several segments count. And it makes you really have to hustle in all those segments to get everything you can to give yourself that opportunity to start as high as you can in the last segment. So, the way it’s laid out actually, it really pushes you to work every lap, every single restart, and every opportunity you can seize a position, you want to do it.”
YOUR TEAMMATE JIMMIE JOHNSON HASN’T WON ALL YEAR AND HE HASN’T WON FOR 14 RACES. DOES THAT MEAN THAT HE’S A ‘NORMAL’ DRIVER NOW?
“That’s like a 72 race slump, almost, for him (laughs). Somebody gets that one (laughter). I don’t think it’s a big deal, man. They are obviously still kind of searching for what they’re looking for. They’re still searching for some speed. They had bad luck with the clutch last week. I saw the speed and potential in his car when he got the lead last week and I’m thinking he could win the race if he stays up there. But, they had the clutch (problem) and changed their strategy. But you know, I think it says a lot about the competition in the rest of the teams, the changes in drivers and crew chief; for example in the No. 4 car (Kevin Harvick), you’ve got new players and guys up there mixing it up. We’ve gotten better. Jeff’s (Gordon) team has gotten better. I think there’s just a little bit tougher competition.
“That’s just a little bit of it. But I think they’re just kind of searching with the new rules and where to get Jimmie comfortable and fast and find the speed. I’ve seen them have speed and then sometimes they just don’t, for whatever reason. And when they get in traffic or something they’ve had a little trouble in traffic. It seems like that was the case last week when he’d get back there in the pack he couldn’t really do much. But if he was out front, he was perfectly fine. But they’ll figure it out. It will happen at some damn race race track like this. He’ll go out and just wax everybody and then everything is fine for the rest of the year. They’ll just hit on it and keep going.”
WHEN YOU WON THE WINSTON BACK IN 2000, THE WINNER’S SHARE WAS HALF A MILLION DOLLARS. IS THAT LIKE THE BIGGEST CHECK YOU HAD EVER SEEN? DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU DID WITH THE MONEY?
“I don’t think I ever saw it (laughter). I was driving for Daddy back then (more laughter). He got all that money (laughs). But yeah, I really didn’t care about it you know? I mean it was a big deal, money-wise, but just him being there in Victory Lane and him being in the race and passing him in the last 10 laps like we did. And just winning it blew us away. And we were thinking bigger than a half-million dollars with how we were a rookie and we come in and won a few races and then we win the All-Star race and man, we were thinking far further ahead than that check we had. It was a very cool deal. And really one of the most fun Victory Lanes I can remember aside from the Daytona race this year. It was really just a lot of raw emotion and it just felt great.”
GIVEN THE NATURE OF THIS RACE AND THE SEGMENTS THAT ARE RUN; AND YOU MENTIONED YOU HOPE IT’S BORING IF YOU’RE A STRAIGHTAWAY AHEAD IN THE LAST TEN. WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF LEAVING THE ALL-STAR RACE HERE OR WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF MOVING IT TO A TRACK WHERE THINGS COULD BE A LITTLE BIT MORE AGGRESSIVE DOWN THE STRETCH IN THAT LAST SEGMENT?
“I think that I wouldn’t be opposed to changing it up a little bit. I kind of thought it wasn’t broke in ’87. I thought that was a pretty good All-Star race. And you’re not going to have that every year. And the track has changed. Obviously we’ve got the repave and the surface. The surface here is indestructible. I mean we can’t wear it out for some reason. But I think that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take it to Bristol or somewhere like that and mix it up a little bit. But I’m really in favor of the older format where it was like 50/25/10 or whatever it was back in the late 80’s. The 10-lap segment at the end has got to be that way. You’ve got to really make a fourth-in-one kind of deal. But the track itself, I think you could take it to several tracks and have different results. You could run it at Bristol ten years in a row and some are going to be awesome and some aren’t. It’s just the same way you’re going to have it here. I think that the venue can make a little bit of a difference, but we just have to hope that everything works out in our favor and we get an exciting finish however it needs to happen. And sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t.”