NASCAR Media Conference
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
April 28, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference as we look ahead to this weekend's events at Richmond International Raceway, including Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. Very special guest today, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Drive the Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet.
Dale, thanks. I know your car is going to have a different look in Richmond with Drive the Guard on the hood and I also understand your team has changed up the Mountain Dew paint scheme a little bit this year for Darlington compared to last year's Old School Dew paint scheme. Can you talk a little bit about those two things.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah. The National Guard has a new program being launched at the race on May 2nd. It's called Drive the Guard. It's a new enlistment option offered by the Guard. Basically what they did was partnered with the Commercial Driving Training Foundation to provide a program that offers military and civilian truck drivers training at an approved school. Once they graduate the program, they will receive a CDL license and be guaranteed employment at a reputable trucking company. It's a pretty good deal. If you want more information, just call 1-800-goguard or visit NationalGuard.com.
The Mountain Dew look at Darlington last spring kind of reflected the history of the brand. There's a new Mountain Dew logo, as you noticed, on the car this year. We're pretty excited about it. I like the way the logo looks on the car and everything. I think it pops pretty good. There's a lot of heritage in Mountain Dew and in NASCAR with Darrel, all those races he won in that car. It was awesome to be able to do what we did last year with the old school scheme. I was pretty happy to see the new logo this year.
HERB BRANHAM: Excellent. Talking about Richmond, from a competition standpoint, you won there in the spring of '07. You had three Sprint Cup wins there overall. Obviously a pretty good place for you. You probably enjoy going back there.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I like Richmond a lot. We always thought we run good there 'cause it's a lot like Myrtle Beach, where I ran a lot in the late models. There's a lot of similarities. But I just like short-track racing. We seem to do really good on the short tracks. It's got a lot of different grooves that you can run. You can move around. I think it puts on one of the more exciting races in the season. It ranks right up there as some of the best.
HERB BRANHAM: We have a big audience today, so we'll go right to the media now for questions.
Q. When you look at the video and think back over it, was there anything you or you and Ryan could have done to counteract that run that the 09 had on you? Also going from a second-place strong finish at one of your really strong tracks to another of your really strong tracks, which way do you think, Hey, this is looking pretty good, or do you think, Oh, man, I already missed one opportunity? Which way do you think about that?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I don't know what I could have done to help Ryan any more than what we might have been able to do to keep them from passing us. I mean, we kind of showed our hand a little early, but we were forced to. I was hoping some more caution laps would be ran off and it would be a little bit shorter of a distance once we got the green flag.
You know, we had to do what we had to do. I thought we had a good plan. Me and Ryan worked together in the Nationwide race the day before. We kind of didn't do that exactly how we wanted or how we thought we should have to help either me or him win the race.
I mean, it's not that me and Ryan were willing or wanting to deal with each other, it's just who was in that position. He was leading the race both days. I said, I'll push you out in front and break away from the back and we'll race it out between the two of us. That will at least guarantee us a first- or second-place finish.
We almost did it. You know, they kind of saw what we were doing, knew that was the only way they were going to catch back up to us. Brad is pretty smart. I guess he was the first one out of anybody in the field to figure out that was what you was going to have to do to get back up to us. They got it done.
Q. Dale, I know that Brad, you were talking about him on pit road after the race, you were very proud of him. Did you have a chance to have a conversation with him about that win?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I haven't talked to Brad yet. We sat around and talked some when cars were going through tech. I think I'll probably see him Wednesday so we'll have a chance to talk a little bit then. He's been pretty busy I'm sure doing a lot of media, answering a lot of questions. There's a part of me that's real happy for him, proud for him, and I feel like that I've helped him get to this point in some way. But the other side of you wants to let him experience it solely on his own and let him answer all the questions for himself because he earned all the credit he's getting for that win and for his ability to run well.
Yeah, you know, I don't want me or Rick or anybody to get in there and try to steal any of his thunder or take any of the attention away from where it belongs right now.
Q. Last year's race at Richmond, you and Kyle Busch had a little incident, got a lot of fans riled up about the rivalry between you two. Do you think what happened in that race changed the way people think of Kyle Busch and maybe y'all's relationship?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I don't think it's just that race 'cause I think people forge their opinions of you obviously on first impressions, but how you act over the long haul.
It was pretty wild. You know, that was pretty disappointing how the first race finished. The second race was a little rough, too. Neither one of us won that one.
I don't know. I like racing Kyle. He's a real tough competitor. But hopefully we don't have any of that going on this weekend. Hopefully we can all try to win a race and not be bouncing off each other.
Q. I don't know if you spent any time with the TV on on Monday, but lots of the cable stations were replaying footage of Carl Edwards' race at every break, with kind of a teaser, Stay tuned for the latest wreck. My question is, do you have any thoughts about the message that that kind of coverage sends to average people about what's in store when you attend a NASCAR race? Is there anything the sport could or ought to be doing to convey it's not a weekly high-risk proposition to sit in the stands?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, that's obviously not a good message. We don't want to send that message, you know, that there's danger for you if you haven't bought a seat in the 50th row.
But, you know, I don't know, there's a responsibility for NASCAR and for the media to understand the messages they send. They just have to know what the repercussions are to however it's conveyed. For years and years they've been telling everybody, Turn the TV on and watch the Talladega race, see when the big one happens, see who's in the big one, see who can miss the big one, see who can win the race and not get caught up in the big one. It's just been on and on and on and on for years. Now everybody associates that type of action with Daytona and Talladega, which is fine if you're going to celebrate it. But now you can't sit here and turn around and change your opinion because everybody knew this was the possibility of the style of racing.
We unfortunately had a terrible accident that some people were injured in. But that has been a possibility for years, you know. So it's almost amusing to me for everyone -- I mean, it's amusing for me that everyone's interest is all of a sudden perked by what happened when that possibility was there all along.
It's just frustrating a little bit to be in the business and see a little bit of the carelessness. If you really want to know what the situation is, that last lap of the race was the fastest lap ran, I do believe, by anybody. And Brad ran a lap average of 199 miles an hour pushing the 99 car. We had just ran - me and the 39 - only a quarter to half a mile an hour slower. NASCAR is really wanting to see cars run around 190 mile-per-hour range. We are doing 10 more miles an hour being able to tag up and bumper to bumper like we are. That's where the threshold is for cars getting airborne, is about the 195 mile-an-hour range. We have to think what we can do to get back under that threshold a little bit and not create this situation in the future.
It's always been there. We just have been lucky.
Q. NASCAR seemed to indicate yesterday that they're going to try to do a better job policing aggressive driving and blocking and possibly issue in-race penalties. Is that possible for them to do? Are those anything more than judgment calls? Can the drivers handle it themselves? On the status of Brad, he said he doesn't have a contract for next year, nothing lined up. I'm wondering if you had any plans for him.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I'd like Brad to drive my Nationwide car again if he wants to. But as far as like what he does in his Cup stuff, that's with Rick. It's my understanding that that's particularly not any of my business up until they're ready to share that information. Whatever Rick wants to do with Brad, it's up to him on the Cup side. I'm in the business of trying to help guys win races in the Nationwide Series and trying to help them become better racecar drivers.
I feel like we've really achieved that goal with Brad, and he's sort of done what we set out to do with our program. You know, it's really up to him if he wants to keep driving the car. We'll work that out. We're not really in no big hurry. He's got a bright future, so... I don't really know what our plans are for finding him opportunities past the level of the Nationwide Series. I can't really say much about it.
Q. Dale, you're sitting 15th in points right now, trying to get up there in the top 12. You have Richmond on the way. Your pits seemed pretty darn good on Sunday in Talladega. What have you and your team, Tony Eury, discussed on what you have to do to get yourself in the top 12 and stay in the top 12 to make it to the Chase for the rest of the season?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We just have to finish like we did Sunday, and not have any problems. I think we're doing a better job on pit road. I think we changed some things around with individuals. We got a little bit faster pit crew. We did a real good job this weekend. I think they were the best team on pit road this weekend in NASCAR's little (indiscernible) for pit road. I think they were the best. Other than that, we got a couple good racetracks coming up. We do pretty good at Darlington. I always love running at Charlotte. I can't wait to get there.
We sort of started out last year running so good at the start of the year, we never were too worried about losing our position to make the Chase, and we struggled through the summer like I've done in the past, and we were able to get through it without really losing a whole lot of ground or putting ourselves in any jeopardy.
This year we started out so slow and terrible, we're in a hole now. We're going to be fighting our way to try to get in the Chase all year, I'm pretty sure. So we're gonna have to step our performance up in the summer way beyond what we were capable of doing last year. That's gonna be what decides whether we make the Chase or not.
But I think, you know, I feel pretty confident, and I feel like we can definitely do better than we did last year in the summer races, you know, with Pocono, the road courses, all those things.
Q. Your father had a philosophy, I believe we were at Daytona and he said, Get the hell out of the racecar if you got feathers on your legs or butts, put a kerosine rag around your ankle so the ants won't climb up there and eat that candy ass. Do you share that philosophy of Talladega or do you take a more cautious approach?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, it's hard to be down the middle. We all have to get out there and race no matter what the circumstances are. And people have raced in this sport under far, far more dangerous situations. I mean, we're in pretty good shape right now with how safe the cars are, what NASCAR's done to try to keep things within reason. I mean, it's hard to tell whether the wreck Sunday was an oddity or whether that's something that could easily happen again, because we haven't seen it since Bobby's wreck at the same track at the same spot. We haven't seen it in years. But how easily could that happen again? I think that's the question you got to ask yourself.
Again, I mean, we changed some things around in the COT, and we have it running respectable, comfortable speeds. When I say 'comfortable,' I mean speeds that shouldn't get your car off the ground until we all get locked together like we did at the end of that race. Then we can pick it up 10 miles an hour or something like that and run the ridiculous laps that we haven't been able to run in years.
NASCAR needs to kind of think about what they can do to keep us from being able to obtain those speeds. Whatever that is, I'm sure they'll make the right choice, whether it's no change at all. I feel pretty confident in NASCAR as a sanctioning body to do what's right. People have talked about changing the track. That's impossible to do. There's no way you can justify it under the current economic state of the sport, of the track itself, of the company that owns the track.
So the track is not going to change. They just need to look in some other areas. It's probably nothing really major that they need to do to keep us from having an accident again. But I really enjoyed the race other than that. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I enjoy racing at Talladega. I kind of like running in the big packs. There's a part of you that wishes there was some sort of a handle that would come into play. The cars don't go fast enough to have a handling issue. There's literally no push or loose at any point during any lap of the race. They're just sitting there stuck to the track and not running quite fast enough to challenge the corner at all. So I wish that was there. I wish that was happening, 'cause I think that would spread us out a little bit, not allow us to drive into the side of each other, go down in the corner four- or five-wide. If cars had to handle better or if handling wasn't a challenge, I think that would change the way we race each other a little bit.
Q. When you get a good, strong number two at Talladega but still miss the opportunity for a win you want and need so badly, going to another strong place for you, do you look at it like things are looking pretty good right now at this stretch of the season or do you look at it like, Oh, man, I missed an opportunity there?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, if Brad hadn't have won the race, maybe if somebody else had won it, you definitely feel like you missed an opportunity until the sun sets on that day. On Monday you get up and you go, All right, where are we in points? What's the situation looking like? We kind of made some gains and we got to try to keep the momentum going or we got a good track coming, let's go in there with what's worked in the past. You start thinking about it like that.
As soon as the race is over with, you're definitely, you know, wishing you were in Victory Lane for sure. But, yeah, after about 24 hours or so you're starting to think about how that helped you, what you need to do next, everything is so geared toward making the Chase, that's what on your mind.
Q. Do you start to allow yourself to thinking about a possible Victory Lane at Richmond?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I wouldn't go that far. We're definitely going to go in there to try to win the race. But we are in so dire need of getting some top-five finishes. I mean, and don't let that fool you. I'm not saying that we're gonna take a second-place car and finish fourth with it. I'm just saying that, just like this past weekend, every lap I'll be concentrating on not putting myself in any precarious situation that might not allow me to finish in the top five, if I've got a car that can.
If we got a real good car, we're gonna try to take care of it so we can make sure if we cannot win the race, are not allowed to win the race in some way, we can at least get the points we need to sort of dig ourselves out of this hole we're in.
Q. NASCAR said yesterday they want to do a better job policing aggressive driving and blocking and possibly start issuing in-race penalties. Do you think that's necessary? Do you think that's dangerous territory? They start making judgment calls. Do the drivers even need it? Can they police it themselves?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, yeah, I think that's a real delicate situation. I would advise against doing anything extra or being stricter. You run the risk of taking the race out of the drivers' hands. I think we do a good job of policing it pretty much on our own now. I mean, it is a race. First and foremost, we're out there racing, you know. Blocking, weaving, carrying on is part of the game. You know, I really haven't seen a real true replay of the finish, but I seen some shots of it. I don't know, I mean, there's two arguments there. You could say that Carl's block wasn't quite as aggressive as some you've seen in the past, and you could say that Brad had plenty of room, he still had another foot and a half to the yellow line to give Carl, or you could say that Brad held his ground, did the right thing, did what it took to win.
I mean, I don't think there's a clear -- nothing from that wreck really stands out to me as, Wow, we got to make a change here or something needs to be done, other than the car getting off the ground and people getting hurt, you know, as far as the wreck itself, trying to avoid it from happening, I don't see how you can.
Guys are going to race hard and they're gonna be aggressive and try to win. I didn't see anything in the race up until that point that made me feel like somebody needed to step in or NASCAR needed to do something different. I never felt at any point in the race that NASCAR wasn't doing enough or somebody needed to be reprimanded or anything.
I think they do a great job the way it is. Part of me gets sort of a little bit angry because it's like it's almost as if they're putting the responsibility, shoving the responsibility for what happened Sunday, totally on the drivers' shoulders, as if all our crazy blocking and weaving has just ruined the day, which isn't the case, you know. I mean, as a driver, I share responsibility, but I don't feel like it's entirely ours for anything that happens.
A lot of it's a product of how the car races and drafts and how the plates work. There's a lot of different things that put us in those situations. I think it's fine the way it is. If they get involved any more than they are currently, you run the risk of, you know, causing a lot of trouble, 'cause judgment calls are highly arguable. I'd hate to be in the middle of one that didn't go my way.
Q. Since you already made it clear there's some responsibility that belongs to NASCAR and some that belongs to the media. I was wondering how much of the responsibility you thought belonged to the drivers. I think you spelled that out pretty well. But there is some responsibility you think that the drivers have?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yes, sir. We are driving the cars. You know, it's everybody's role, the media, NASCAR as the sanctioning body, the drivers, we all have a role in steering this ship in making sure we're doing the right thing, saying the right thing, portraying the right thing. It has to be real and it has to be authentic. I think it's all an even responsibility, I'd say.
You know, the drivers, we just aren't -- NASCAR does a good job of making us understand the rules as they are now. They do a good job of penalizing us when we are doing wrong. They do a good job of keeping a certain amount of fear in every one of us with the repercussions that come along with breaking the rules, whether it's cheating up your racecar, whether it's crossing the yellow line or whatever. I think they do a good job of keeping us in line.
I think we do a pretty good job of racing the way we're supposed to, representing the sport the way we're supposed to. I don't think that anyone's any more responsible than the other. I wouldn't say that, Man, you know, you guys bear -- if something goes wrong, the media bears the responsibility the most. That's not really my message. It's just that we all can't turn our back on having some input in and having some play in the result, you know.
Q. Every time we go to Talladega, every single driver discusses what a crapshoot it is. A lot of people out there are saying, Brad who? Who is this guy? How surprised should we be, given the dynamics of the racing there, the car he was driving, the equipment he was physically driving, how surprised should people be that that kid pulled this off?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was not surprised at all. That car was at one time a backup to the 5 car, so it was a Hendrick chassis, Hendrick powerplant under the hood that James Finch had rented for the race. So, I mean, you got a real good crew chief. He's got a lot of decent mechanics, workerbees on his team. Mark Reno, he's got tons of experience as a crew chief. So I'm not surprised at all because I know how good Brad is and I know how hungry he is. You have to imagine how amazingly driven he was to be sitting there in that position at the end of that race. If you know Brad at all personally, you know that's all he does, is think about racing 24/7, what he can do. So he's almost overanalyzing himself at times. I have to kind of tell him to stop thinking so much about it.
But I'm not at all surprised. And it is a crapshoot. I mean, you see us all running around on the top. Everybody is in line up there. We're all kind of waiting till the end. Everybody knows that you got to be around at the end to win the race. So we see guys wreck out on the seventh lap, everybody goes, All right, let's get to the top here and get these laps over with. You know, everybody just kind of tries to sit there and act like they're just waiting out till the end of the race, then people start making moves about 20 to go or so 'cause you know you need to be up in the top three, four or five to have a shot at winning, so everybody is trying to work theirselves into that position.
All the cars handle the same. Everybody pretty much has the same power. It's anybody's game, it really is. Any car in the field is capable of winning that race.
HERB BRANHAM: First of all, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., thanks very much for joining us. Best of luck this week at Richmond.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Thank you, man. I appreciate it.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media. Had a great turnout today. As always, we truly appreciate the coverage.
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