DALE EARNHARDT, JR., DRIVER OF THE NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway and discussed this weekend's race, the future of his Nationwide team, making changes to the Chase and much ...
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., DRIVER OF THE NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway and discussed this weekend's race, the future of his Nationwide team, making changes to the Chase and much more.
ON JUNIOR GIVING THE SHOTGUN HE RECEIVED FOR WINNING THE POLE AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY IN APRIL TO HIS CREW CHIEF, TONY EURY, JR. "I'm going to let Tony (Eury), Jr. my crew chief look after this one for me. I promised him if we won it that he would get it. So I'm going to let him take it home and hopefully we will make it two-of-a --kind after today."
"He asked me for that shotgun before we came here last time and didn't tell me nothing about it being worth $65,000 (laughter). I've got plenty of 12-gauges. I didn't know nothing about it being $65,000."
ON THIS WEEKEND'S RACE. "I'm just glad to be back to Texas. This is a fun race track to come to. The fans are really excited about us coming out here. They enjoy the facility and we have such a great facility here it's good for the fans. They seem to be repaying us that favor by showing up every time we come back and they get real excited about it. They love seeing the sport come this way. We've had some good success here too so that helps a lot and makes us get excited about coming back. I just kind of like the enthusiasm that the crowd has and the people that are from in and around this area have for when we come here so it gets me excited."
WITH TALLADEGA PRECEEDING THIS RACE NEXT YEAR, DO YOU THINK WE'LL SEE A TIGHTER GROUP THAN WE DID THIS YEAR AMONGST THE GUYS IN THE CHASE? "I don't know. Talladega is just such a wild card. It could have went either way as far as separating or keeping people tighter together for the Chase. I think you just can't take anything away from what Jimmie's (Johnson) been able to do up until this point. In my opinion the Chase does what it's supposed to do. There's no real true formula that anybody in this room could come up with to make the perfect Chase every time. I think you've just go to give Jimmie and those guys credit for what they've been able to accomplish up to this point. They're a dominant team in the sport at this time and you can't handicap an individual for being great. Next year is going to be interesting. The one thing that I'm probably most excited about is I think I heard in there somewhere we were going to get an extra weekend off, so that will be kind of cool."
KELLY (EARNHARDT, GENERAL MANAGER OF JR MOTORSPORTS) SAID EARLIER THIS WEEK THAT THE NO. 5 NATIONWIDE TEAM WILL PROBABLY RUN A LIMITED SCHEDULE NEXT YEAR, DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HOW MANY RACES THAT TEAM WILL DO AND ARE YOU FRUSTRATED OVER THE SPONSORSHIP SEARCH IN THAT SERIES? "To be honest with you, this is really the truth of the matter when we merged the No. 88 and the No. 5 together we were entirely too big for what we were setting out to do but under the current situation we didn't want to merge the teams together and lay off a bunch of people that were dedicated. We made it work this year and we tried to pinch when we could and really kind of came out even on the budget but without the ability to secure another full-time sponsorship for the No. 5 and without that program has not really progressed this season like we wanted to, we just weren't able to put the money together to be able to run that car again. Up until this year, we've lost probably an average of two million dollars a year in our racing program at JR Motorsports and that was just a one-car team. Working in the Nationwide Series, even in the Cup Series is not really a money-making kind of program or a money-making deal for a car owner. You are trying your best to budget yourself to make even and just come out even. We felt like we had a pretty good package for Brad (Keselowski), we had one program that was ready to sign and we couldn't sign it because it was a conflicting sponsor with one we already had at HMS (Hendrick Motorsports), so we ran into a couple of hurdles that were just too tall for us to jump over. It's tough. Not only is there a lack of interest in sponsoring the Nationwide Series which is probably going to be growing unfortunately over the next year or so, but there's those other hurdles you don't think about where you've got a guy that comes in and says I'm ready to do 15 races and you can't because his product conflicts with another product that is already on your car or the No. 5 or my No. 88 Cup car. So you have all kinds of little things that kind of jump up and bite you. It was unfortunate. We had to trim down. Like I said, when we put those two teams together we were really too large in the first place. To be honest with you, Rick (Hendrick) is the kind of guy he wanted to keep everybody on and try to get through this season and we did the best we could. I think we did a really good job as far as our accounting staff and all that. Going into next season without the same package financially, we weren't able to maintain the many employees we had. We had probably 100 or 80 people in the shop. That's too many for two Nationwide teams. I read somewhere that this was kind of like a correction more so than a recession, that we were all kind of living beyond our means. We definitely were. We were employing more people than we necessarily needed to do the job that we were trying to do. I feel like that a lot of us in the sport lived in excess as far as that goes. It seems like it's all kind of coming back down to Earth."
THE PUBLIC'S PERCEPTION OF JIMMIE JOHNSON IS THAT HE IS POLITICALLY CORRECT, CLEAN CUT AND A COOL GUY. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT JIMMIE THIS YEAR AND IS THAT WHO HE REALLY IS? "It's unfortunate and I talk to Jimmie about this all the time. I'm in a different situation and I tell him man you know if you would just act like you act to me and other people you know really well, if you were just like that all day long at the race track and in front of the camera and to the media and just in general people would really see what type of guy you are. Most of you guys know Jimmie. He's really cool, he's really a good guy and he's got a great attitude. He's never acted like a fool. He's never thrown a tantrum per say and he's never said anything really out of context. He's just always held his head on real straight and he's a great person. He does a lot of things. He'd give his shirt off his back to you if you needed it. He treats me that way anyways. See I've always been able to say whatever I wanted to say and act however I wanted to act. When I tell Jimmie you ought to be more like that, more open and just be yourself, he says I can't do that like you can do it and I don't really understand why as much as they understand why. I really feel like its unfortunate that Jimmie isn't able or hasn't been able to get his personality truly across to the fan to where they knew exactly what type of person he was. I mean there's a lot of drivers like that too. I wish that each and every one of these fans could spend several hours with all the drivers for good and bad reasons (laughter). That's another story. We all are very colorful, even Matt (Kenseth). If you really get to know Matt, Matt's got a great sense of humor and he's really funny. He's got a lot of Wisconsin in him but he's a great guy. I will never go to a Green Bay Packers game with him though in Wisconsin again. We've had a great relationship and he's a real, real good friend of me and I know what kind of guy he is. He's funny. He's got a great sense of humor. He's got a good outlook on the sport. He sees the sport for what it is. He doesn't take it too seriously. He takes what he needs to seriously. Jimmie is sort of the same way. They're very colorful. I don't know, I think they personally choose to limit their access because down the road how much privacy they're going to want when they get older. The older you get I think the more privacy you wish you would maintain and I feel like they are just kind of trying to do their job while they're here and when they're not here anymore they want to have a life of their own. Maybe that's what they're trying to protect. I'm not really sure."
YOU'RE WRAPPING UP YOUR FIRST HENDRICK SEASON, GIVE ME A SENSE OF WHAT YOU'VE REALLY ACCOMPLISHED AND GAINED AND WAS IT WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR WITH THE CHANGE IN TEAMS? "Well I got a lot of things I was looking for. I was looking for peace of mind and some satisfaction and being able to enjoy my job and do my job like I wanted to. I got all those things. We didn't run like we wanted to obviously. I was real happy with the first half of the year. I thought we were really strong. We kind of held our own there and ran really well. There was some high points. We ran fast pretty much every week. We led a lot more races than we normally lead but we didn't get the finishes in the second half of the season that we normally wanted. The second half of the season we were nowhere near what we wanted. Rick (Hendrick) and them have some pretty interesting ways to try to remedy situations which I'm willing to do whatever it takes. Hopefully next year we can try to do a better job the second half of the season. I want to really purposely focus on the summer. The Poconos and those types of tracks and try to do better to just prove to myself that I can get it done at those certain tracks. It's been pretty good. I'm really, really, really happy. I'm really lucky to have what I have and have the opportunity with Rick. I thank him all the time for giving me the chance to drive one of his cars. Every time I get in my car, it's the best race car I've ever seen. I thank my guys for how good of a job they do building the cars. They honestly to me look the best in the garage. I know there's probably no big difference visually to the eye from one car to the next, but to me mine are the best prepared in my mind. I feel real lucky to have that opportunity. I feel like the first half of the year I was out there making a case for myself for getting that opportunity. The second half I didn't. So I want to make sure next year I can put it together the whole season."
YOUR TEAMMATE JEFF GORDON MAY BE GOING THROUGH HIS FIRST WINLESS SEASON SINCE HE WAS A ROOKIE, YOU DID IT ONLY ONCE IN YOUR CAREER AND THAT WAS LAST YEAR, WHAT DOES THAT FEEL LIKE TO GO THROUGH A WHOLE SEASON AND NOT WIN A RACE AND HE SAID IF HE DIDN'T WIN IT WOULD BE OKAY BECAUSE HE WOULD BE THINKING TOWARD NEXT YEAR, CAN YOU REALLY THINK THAT WAY? "Well you are. When I didn't win last year I didn't want the season to end. That's the way I felt. I got to Homestead and I was still winless and I was like I wish we were running 10 more races because you don't want to go out like that. That was the first and only time I've not wanted the season to end at Homestead. When you're left with that option and that option only, you do as maybe a self-defense mechanism to keep from crying, you start laughing to try to look forward to the next season and look forward to what the opportunities are in the future. I feel very confident that Jeff's still got great opportunities to win before the end of the season. He always has a way of getting it done when it comes time to get it done. He's such a competitor and they're such a great team. It's tough. Yeah you don't want the season to end and when you realize the reality of the situation you just want Daytona to start the next week because you don't want to be winless. You want to win a race or two if not more."
WITH THREE RACES TO GO IS IT STILL A MAJOR PLUS TO BE IN THE CHASE AT THIS POINT OR DOES IT MATTER AS MUCH BECAUSE YOU HAVEN'T HAD A GOOD CHASE? "I think when you go to New York you get a lot of confidence because you're in that group and you're part of that group that is getting ready to start the Chase. So you get a lot of confidence at that point. At this point you're just sort of watching the battle like everybody else. You're still a participant but you're clued in to whose going to win it, what's happening up front. It's really an honor when you go to New York at the first of the Chase and you're honored by being there and being a part of that but if you're not a part of the actual battle for the championship coming down to the last two or three races, you're on the sidelines like everybody else. You're still out there trying to win races. It's tough. Last week I was trying to run really good. I had a car that was good at certain points of the race and bad at others and I was behind Jimmie at one point and trying to race past him and I felt like wow, what am I supposed to do here? Am I supposed to be racing him this hard because I had to run him hard for like five laps to get by him? You try to take care of the guys that are in the battle for the championship, especially your teammates. But you're out there trying to race and do your job and make a case for your season as well."
IS THE CHAMPIONSHIP TOO BIG OF A DEAL? HAVE WE GOTTEN TO THE POINT WHERE THE BALANCE BETWEEN TALKING ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP 36 WEEKS OUT OF THE YEAR HAS TAKEN AWAY FROM EACH WEEK'S RACE? "Not really. What's happened is we have saturated the market with race after race after race. The NFL, they do such a great job. I hate to keep comparing to them and using them as examples but they do the best job. They give you just enough to keep you wanting more. The season ends before you want it to. You just get just enough to get excited and then it's all over and there's such a long wait. The model works. We have basically a very similar reaction that baseball, hockey, a lot of other sports do that have long enduring seasons. There's lulls and inactivity between the fan and the sport itself at times. There's no way to fix that. We're driven by the ability to go make another dollar and make more money and there's no way we would ever trim it down. But when we were a 28-race schedule, some of you here were around at that time; the sport was giving you just enough to get really get excited about the next season. When we were racing at 12:00 people were racing home from church to get to see the start of the race. We've just made it too easy and too much. We sort of lost a lot of the substance that we really had before and the character the sport I think has waned a little bit but its part of the times too. I don't think it's all our fault, I think it has a lot to do with a lot of other things going on. The temperature of the world out there and the economy. I think the model that the NFL has is the perfect one and I feel like that's really our best bet for the most amount of success and to maintain it I think also that's the best way. We've already passed the point of no return. No way we would ever trim the schedule back. There's no way we would change what we really already have here."
EVERYBODY WANTS TO KEEP TALKING ABOUT TWEAKING THIS AND TWEAKING THAT WOULDN'T YOU RATHER JUST KIND OF LIKE TO SEE IT STAY THE SAME FOR A FIVE, SIX, SEVEN-YEAR PERIOD TO JUST KIND OF SEE HOW IT PLAYS OUT? "I think it's fair to throw discussion out there about changing the qualifying format and all the different things, but I think it's not a good idea to go making a bunch of changes especially with the Chase. How do we understand what to change and how to make it better if we can't watch it and look at it for seven years or eight years and see how it's working and really get a good look at how it is working and not working? How can we really know what to change and make the right change? We shouldn't keep changing and changing until we stumble on the right spot and the right options and the right ways to have things. The qualifying order is kind of the same way. It's been done the same way for a long, long time. We had some poor luck with weather and now we have an argument on our hands that's really not got an answer. I think they should really remain the same for a while so we can get a good, especially with the turbulence with the economy right now we all need to be really kind of watching and looking in different areas to make sure things are working right. We've got to make sure we're doing all the right things to keep the sport healthy and get through the tough times that we're going to have in the next year. I think we leave the things as they are. Jimmie (Johnson) just had a great season. They've just been that good. It is kind of foolish to want to make changes. This is kind of how we got in this spot in the first place. It's just going to snow ball into more and more corruption and disagreement if we continue to change and change and change just because a guy has such a great year. Matt (Kenseth) was really consistent when he won his championship that really started the argument to make this happen and get the Chase. But I think the playoff atmosphere is better and I do enjoy it. We need to really kind of watch it happen for a while before we know what kind of change to make."
DOES IT BOTHER YOU WHEN JIMMIE (JOHNSON) GOES OUT AND KILLS EVERYBODY THE WAY HE HAS THESE LAST SEVEN RACES THAT SOME COMPETITORS WANT TO TALK ABOUT WAYS THEY CAN CHANGE THINGS RATHER THAN MAYBE JUST CELEBRATE THE FACT THAT THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THIS HAS BEEN DONE IN OVER 30 YEARS AND THEY SHOULD TALK ABOUT THAT RATHER THAN TALK ABOUT HOW TO CHANGE IT? "That's a great point. Everybody has a responsibility especially in this room to try to help keep this sport on a pedestal and try to bring some of the greater topics to view for the public. What Jimmie's been able to accomplish is truly amazing and it's really incredible how dominant they've been in this day and age where competition is so tough. What Cale (Yarborough) and them did is really great but they were battling half of the competition that we're battling today. To take nothing away from them but for Jimmie it's truly amazing. They've been so, so consistent. I mean they'll get their credit and you guys will be the one to give it to them but otherwise to keep it interesting until the last lap at Homestead we'll discuss this and that idea about how to change things to make them better. I really think they are just fine how they are. It's tough to take away a big points lead after 26 races from a guy. If you're 12th or 10th or 11th in points you've got to feel a little sympathy for the guy that's in the points lead and see the points lead be nearly lost and you're back in it. You're 400 or 500 points out of the race and now you're back in it. Now you got a chance and it really makes no sense to me. I'll take it, shoot. I don't want to get in an argument but it's important that we do realize what Jimmie's done and how big of a deal that is. He is a good guy and he deserves that kind of credibility and that kind of accolade. I'm sure he'll get it too if he wins the championship."
-credit: gm racing