By Team Chevy
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD HERITAGE/AMP ENERGY CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed two-car draft, going to Kentucky Speedway, winning in July in 2001 and other topics.
TALK ABOUT THE 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF YOUR WIN HERE AT DAYTONA IN JULY: “I didn’t even think about it. I guess that’s cool. I sure wished that was the first year anniversary of when we won here. That would be better.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE TWO-CAR TANDEM DRAFTING HERE AT DAYTONA? “I’d rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self. It’s really weird and kinda wrong on some levels to race that way and to think like you think. You take care of somebody and you feel this obligation to take care of them and then worry about having them take care of you and how that makes them feel. Been growing up all these years racin’ for number one-lookin’ out for number one. Doing my job. This is what I need to do. I need to do this to get up through the pack. This is how my car drives and now you are doing it so different. Your thought process and everything you think about during the race is nothing near that. It is just different and weird. It won’t be like that forever I assume and hopefully I am alive and still racin’ when it goes back to the way it was because I just really enjoy lookin’ out for number one, man. If you had a car that drive up through there and you were smart about drafting and knew what you were doing, you could make some cool things happen and that was pretty fun.”
DO YOU EXPECT IT TO BE ANY DIFFERENT IN JULY THAN IT WAS IN FEBRUARY? “I think that the track pavement is in really, really good shape. Especially the technology they have these days. A lot of these tracks that they are repaving here were paved in the 90s if not early when the technology was similar to your average road construction and repaving job. But now these days, they’ve got a lot better technology. It’s more racing specific, methods and these surfaces will last a lot longer. If you look at Charlotte, it still looks like it was paved last year. Darlington is doing very well. It is taking these tracks a little longer to start to sort of wear away and get slick. I like them really smooth when they pave them, but, I also like how slick the older pavement is as far as the racing goes. It’ll get back the way it used to be. We won’t be able to push each other through the corners just because it will spin each other out once the pavement slickens up a little bit. I think it is going to take a little longer than it usually does with the new technology that they have. The pavement just holds up so well which it needs to. We’ll just have to see.”
WHAT IS GOING TO BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE NEXT WEEK FOR THE FIRST RACE AT KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY? “We have all been there testing so there is no real challenge. Everybody has tested there at least a dozen times in their careers, so, it’s not like opening up a new place. We just haven’t had a full-on race there and everybody will be trying. When you test, you don’t get around cars as much. Everybody will be wantin’ to get on the race track and get around people and see how the aero is and see what you need to work on with your car when you are in traffic.”
HOW MUCH DO NEW TRACKS AGE IN A FEW MONTHS? “None, really, for the first few months. The technology they have now is really, really amazing. They do a great job of getting it smooth and the surface itself holds together really well. That’s the way to do it. You hate to see a track deteriorate to the point where it needs to be repaved. You would like the slickness and race-ability of the old asphalt. But when the time comes to do it, it is best to go on and get it over with and get that new surface on its way to turning out to be a good track. Once the tracks get a couple of years on them, the groove starts moving around and the color of the asphalt starts changing and the track starts to lose a little grip and it gets a lot more fun.”
... we’ve all been around race cars long enough to know what to expect.
WITH THE NEW SURFACE, WE HAD AN UNEXPECTED WINNER IN FEBRUARY, DO YOU FEEL LIKE WE WILL SEE MORE OF THE EXPECTED GUYS IN VICTORY LANE? “No, I think you will still see a lot of the unexpected, especially at the (restrictor) plate tracks, man. These tracks are more about the race car than the driver. Whenever you have a fast car, you really have a lot more potential and possibility and the odds are better for you to win.”
WITH NASCAR’S NEW MARKETIN PROGRAM BEING PUT IN PLACE AND RATINGS UP, IS THIS NASCAR TURNING THE CORNER? “I feel really good about the sport this year. I’ve been running better so I am definitely obviously going to feel better about it just from my standpoint. I think we do a great job. I think the product is pretty decent. I think we can always improve on the competition side of it. Things need to evolve. This sport has always evolved. Look at cars in the 70s, the 80s and the 90s. That always needs to change and be changing. We need to flow with the technology. But, I think we need to stay concerned and focused on the competition side – what happens on the race track. That is what we sell. We don’t sell personalities. It is cool to have personalities and it is great when drivers have good personalities but the fans show up to be a race. We need to make sure we put on a race. So, we need to focus on that and anything else we can do to improve their experience which I think NASCAR is focusing on as far as the pre-race. What they buy when they buy the ticket. What they get; what they see and what they experience is real important too. But, what it all comes down to, if the race itself is not as good as it should be, that’s what we need to stay focused on. I think this year it’s been great. I think this year we have been having good success. Some races will be boring. Some races will be great. Some things you just can’t control. You just have to appreciate what the drivers are trying to do out there and what kind of technology we have got on the race track. You can’t manufacture the perfect race every weekend. You just kind of have to let it play out and some will be great and some won’t”
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS LIKE FOR TREVOR BAYNE COMING BACK HERE THIS TIME? “I believe it probably brings up a lot of memories about that weekend. He is probably just thinking about all the things that happened and how special that was to him. I think it brings it all back, all the memory of that win. Probably just being in here and getting ready to race here again. Obviously he comes in with some confidence having won here, which will help him and hopefully, give him the opportunity to be successful.”
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER THINKING WHEN YOU SAW AND HEAR HE WON THE RACE? “He is just a really good kid. He is well rounded and seems very grounded. He is very young but he seems like he appreciates what is happening to him. He appreciates the people that he works with; that has helped him get to where he is today. He does a ton of things away from the race track that are really impressive. His faith and the way he helps people and wants to help people. He wants to be more than just a guy behind the wheel. You would like seeing people like that influence so much do well. You like to see them become part of the foundation of this sport.”
DO YOU THINK THE DRIVERS WHO HAVE RUN IN RACE CONDITIONS AT KENTUCKY WILL HAVE AN ADVANTAGE? “Not really. If I had never drove a race car in my whole life, maybe. But, I’ve run a race car enough and the guys that haven’t raced in Kentucky in those conditions, we’ve all been around race cars long enough to know what to expect.”
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO GET COMFORTABLE IN THE CAR WHEN YOU GO TO A NEW TRACK? “20 minutes, probably.
THIS MORNING SOMEONE ASKED KEVIN HARVICK HOW THE TWO-CAR DRAFT GOT STARTED AND HE SAID WHEN YOU WERE PUSHING JEFF GORDON AROUND TALLADEGA A FEW YEARS AGO THROUGH THE CORNERS, THAT WAS WHEN EVERYONE FIRST REALIZED IT WORKED: “I’ll buy that. I don’t think he is blaming me for what we have today. Maybe he is (LAUGHS) I don’t know. I know Kevin pretty good and I know what he means. But, when you are out there on the race track, you have to do what you have to do even though I don’t prefer this style of racing and believe that it is…I believe in how we used to race before. I believe in how they raced here in the 70s and the 80s even more. When it came down to car and it was a lot more handling. Guys going around here fast enough. Sliding the cars around the corners and stuff. I’m too damn nostalgic for my own good sometimes. I just want to embrace what’s happening and I want to embrace all the changes and the things that are happening throughout the sport but sometimes, you get so happy and used to one way. When you are out there on the race track you are going to do everything you can to win and you are looking for every possible advantage as a driver. If I am the one that found it, I’m sure there are about a dozen drivers in this garage that are going to claim that they’re the ones who did it first. And who knows who it was. But, everybody’s out there is going to try and find any advantage. And those are the types of things that are going to crop up and when repaved those tracks, it made it so much easier. Now with the noses and stuff that these cars have versus the older style car, they match up so well, it was just a matter of time before we got to where we could do it all the time.”
IS THAT A BADGE OF HONOR IF YOU ARE THE ONE WHO GOT IT STARTED? “No, not so much. No, not really and I don’t know if I was. (Denny) Hamlin and a couple other guys were doing it too. Hopefully the asphalt on both these tracks, Talladega and Daytona, will start to slicken up a little bit over the next couple of years and this will kind of go away to where we can get back to in control of our own destiny and be able to control. I mean, I show up with three teammates, but I am one team; one driver; one group of guys showing up here to control our car. Drive our car around the race track and through the pack and up into the lead on our own. When you have to work with somebody all day long, it just doesn’t feel natural. It feels totally un-natural. I appreciate the partnership that I have formed with Jimmie (Johnson) at ‘Dega and we are going to try to work the same magic this weekend if we are fortunate and both can be competitive all day long. Only because we have to. That is the only way you can do it so you are kind of forced into that situation to work with somebody. We would both rather be in control of our own selves.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SENTIMENTAL ASPECTS OF YOUR WIN IN THE JULY RACE AT DAYTONA AND HOW SPECIAL IT RANKS IN YOUR CAREER? “It was one of my favorite wins. Of course it was at that moment, I was in a really good place emotionally and personally. It had been a tough year and had been tough on a lot of people around me, a lot of my family and a lot of my close friends. A lot of my Father’s close friends. It was a very difficult time and I didn’t daydream early. I didn’t daydream about coming in a winning that race. I just wanted to come here and race. I just wanted to race; do my job and go to the next race. I didn’t ever see what happened coming. I used to love how the schedule was where they had the off weekend here because this is such a fun town and we would come in on the off weekend before the race and man, we would have a blast partying up and down the strip and hanging out in the bars and stuff all day long next to the beach. It was just so much fun and that’s not the way it is anymore (LAUGHS), but that is a whole different story. I couldn’t believe it, man. I thought that off weekend was there because someone in the France family thought it ought to be, but apparently that’s not the case. We came down here with some friends and just hung out and had some fun and did what we always did down here and showed up to the race track and the car was fast. I just jumped into the car for the race and went around there. I was running about half way through the race and I remember thinking that we’d led a lot and we were really fast. I said man. That was when it dawned on me that I might win; that I could win the race. Then I started getting nervous and anxiety about it. Anytime I get a glimpse of hope that something is going to go right, I start to freakout. But, it all worked out.”
Michael had a big part in helping me win that race being my drafting partner ...
WHAT WAS THE IMPACT NOT JUST FOR YOU BUT FOR THE FANS, THE PEOPLE AT DEI AND RCR? “You’ll have to ask them how that made them feel. I think (Kevin) Harvick’s win at Atlanta did a lot of great things for RCR around that time. It made me happy to see that happen for that whole team. A lot of things happened, not just my win, I don’t want to put my win on a pedestal among all the great things that a lot of people did that would have brought a little closure to the situation. If my win was a part of it, it definitely helped me. I think it helped some people in my family. My Dad’s sisters and brothers had mentioned that it was a really neat moment for them. It is what it is. We had an awesome car and you couldn’t write a better story.”
THE MOMENT YOU AND MICHAEL (WALTRIP) EMBRACED, WHAT DID YOU THINK? “That was more fun for me than emotional because I was pulling down into the grass there and the team came running and I saw Michael’s car and it was fun to do it with a friend. It is just fun to be with friend. It is just fun to be celebrating with people and the more the merrier. Bring Michael on, bring his team on, the RCR guys-everybody. Michael had a big part in helping me win that race being my drafting partner and he wanted to be part of the celebration which he had every right to come on down in there. It was a big moment for the whole company, Anytime we were successful that year, we all sort of silently, consciously appreciated whoever in the company made that possible to keep carrying us through the rest of that year. When (Steve) Park was winning and Michael was having success that year, everybody was so appreciative of each other for just trying to keep it going. At that time and that year, we were all, everybody was ‘Let’s just keep this going, we’re going to do whatever it take’. Richie Gilmore and everybody was like ‘we’re just going to make this company something he’d (Dale Earnhardt, Sr.) would be proud of’. It was a good time.”
IT WAS SAID WHEN THE CHASE WAS CREATED THAT THE RETIREMENT AGE FOR DRIVERS WOULD MOVE UP TO BE 38 TO 40, THAT PEOPLE WOULD RETIRE SOONER? “Oh no man. This sport is pretty tough on you regardless of how they stack them up. But, I see myself going quite a ways, you know. Probably farther than I should.”