DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS – met with media and discussed last week’s race at Martinsville, his expectations of on-track testing at Texas, classic cars, team reactions to disappointment, and more.
WHAT MAKES TEXAS SO SPECIAL FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM?
“It’s just the fact that you got a win here; won your first race here. That’s what makes it so special.”
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE LAS VEGAS TRACK AND THE TEXAS TRACK?
“Well, the asphalt is a little bit newer in Vegas. There are a lot of different bumps. Vegas has got a lot of bad bumps going into Turn 1 and this place has got a pretty bad bump in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2; and 3 and 4 as well, where the tunnels are.”
HOW IS THIS TRACK GOING TO BE FOR THE NEW RACE CARS?
“I think it’ll be just fine. It’s not a whole lot different than what we’ve brought here in the past. There are a couple of things different on the aero and the chassis is pretty much the same as last year. So, we’re not going to have to really go scratching our heads trying to figure anything out.”
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH YOUR RACE CAR LAST WEEK AT MARTINSVILLE? WAS IT THE TRACK BAR?
“Yeah, the track bar came loose on the left side and was moving all over the place. We just had, what (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) labeled as ‘improper installation’. There’s a key in the back that holds the sway bar in place on the mount and that key came out and got turned. And so when they tightened the sway bar up in the morning, the key wasn’t in place to hold the sway bar tight and the bowl was able to back-out rather easily with just the general forces that it sees in the corner and laterally and on the load.
“So, it came loose and it dropped down and when you move the track bar down, that really tightens the car up. The left side seems to tighten the center of the corner up at the majority of the race tracks. It moved an inch, which is a big major change and it really affected the handling of the car. The car just wasn’t driving very well, especially at the end of the race.”
UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES, ARE YOU SURPRISED YOU RAN AS WELL AS YOU DID?
“No. I’m surprised I didn’t get run over sooner.”
THERE WAS A LOT OF TALK ABOUT JIMMIE JOHNSON LAPPING YOU WHILE THE CAUTION WAS OUT; AND THAT MAYBE HE SHOULD HAVE LET YOU STAY IN FRONT OF HIM. IS THERE ANY SORT OF PROTOCOL IN THAT SITUATION? WERE YOU UPSET AT ALL ABOUT IT?
“No, Jimmie couldn’t slow down. If you slow down, the guy behind you has the rights to take your position. I lost a position to Hamlin under caution at Phoenix, so I know all about that too well. Jimmie, leading the race, couldn’t take the chance.
“He did actually try to slow down and I think that he saw that I had two left-side flat tires and it was pretty pointless for him to wait. If he stopped at all, the guys behind him would have been able to pass him for that position. He couldn’t give up that opportunity or take that chance or that risk. I would have done the same thing Jimmie did. I’m leading the race. I’ve got to think about my team and my car and what I’m trying to do. I don’t think he did it out of spite or anything like that. He just was driving is race.
“We shouldn’t have been back there in the first place and been in that position to be run over. But unfortunately it was just a bad day for us and it just seemed to get worse. But he wasn’t doing anything that he wasn’t supposed to be doing. The guy is leading the race, you know? He’s got to take care of what he’s doing. He’s got a race to win.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT RICK HENDRICK BEING NOMINATED AS ONE OF THE FINALISTS? DO YOU THINK THIS MIGHT BE THE YEAR THAT HE GETS IN?
“Yeah, I think Rick gets in. He’s accomplished a lot. The other thing that might keep him out is that he is technically still an active owner. There are a lot of guys that aren’t with us anymore that started this sport back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, that maybe should go in before him because of that reason. But I think he’s got a great chance.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF BRUTON SMITH FINALLY MAKING THE TOP 25? HE’S BEEN LEFT OFF THE LIST THE WHOLE TIME?
“Yeah, I think he deserves to be in there. I think that he probably has a real good shot, too. He’s going to get a lot of exposure, probably more exposure than some of the other names on the list, through the press and through the media, building up to the voting for the five. So, I think he’s got a good shot.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NRA AND THEIR SPONSORSHIP OF THIS RACE?
“I think it’s a good fit for Texas. I think it’s obviously a decision the track made; they partnered with them. I think that our opinion is if we get an opportunity to win the race, we’re going to treat Victory Lane just like any other race and we’ll be happy to celebrate just like everybody else has celebrated here in the past.”
DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE FOR YOUR FANS REGARDING THE NRA SPONSORSHIP?“I own guns. I like to hunt. When I’m not hunting I keep my guns in a safe, (where they are) out of reach from my younger family members and my nieces and nephews. I like to hunt and I believe in ownership, but I also believe in responsibility. You can’t ever be safe enough in regards to that, especially with gun ownership.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR AGENDA ON THE TRACK TODAY VERSUS TOMORROW?“It’s kind of the same. I’m going to treat this like it’s part of the race weekend. I’m not really looking at this like a test. I’m looking at this like this is us preparing for the race.
“It’s not going to but it could rain tomorrow so you’ve got to anticipate anything happening that might not get you on the race track tomorrow. We are just going to work toward getting our car ready to race and getting our car fast enough to try to win the race on Saturday night.”
DO YOU LIKE THE HANDS OFF APPROACH NASCAR IS USING THE PUSHING AND SHOVING AND SO FORTH?“I think there is a way to manage it. I think being able to get out there and show raw emotion and race hard is real important. The fans need to see that, the fans want to see that. I think you’ve got to also carry yourself with respect and treat people the way you want to be treated.”
YOU TALKED LAST WEEK ABOUT SOME OF THE FAVORITE CARS YOU OWN AS A KID WHAT WAS THE FIRST CAR YOU REALLY REVERED WHAT CAUGHT THE APPLE OF YOUR EYE?
“I don’t really know. I didn’t really have a favorite car growing up when I was a kid. My favorite car was the one I drove. It was a 1986 single cab short bed (Chevrolet) S10 pickup truck 4×4. I got that when I was 16 (years old). I wish I still had it.”
HOW MANY CLASSIC CARS DO YOU HAVE?“I don’t own a lot of cars.”
IT SEEMED LIKE SOME OF THE STORIES YOU HAD KIND OF HAVE A MEMORY WITH EACH ONE?“No, not really I don’t own a lot of cars, but I have a few that I appreciate. I like the 70’s era cars the way that I perceive how the world was back then. So the cars the Camaro’s and stuff like that from ’73 and theOldsmobile 442 from ’77 stuff like that is pretty cool to me.”
IT’S EASY TO TEST A RACE TEAM WHEN THINGS ARE GOING GREAT, BUT WHEN YOU HAVE A ROUGH WEEKEND HOW IS YOUR TEAM HANDLING THAT?
“Everybody handles that kind of stuff differently. I really didn’t get over that run last week until we touched down today in Texas. I wanted to get to the race track as soon as I could just to get that behind me and put a good result on the board and just forget about that run. You can’t really do that until you can get to the race track.
“Steve’s (Letarte, crew chief) got kids. Kids seem to get you over thing like that a little faster. You get home and you see what they are doing and get involved in their lives and you kind of forget about all the bad things happening in your life. I did spend some time with my nephew this week that helped out a little bit. It’s just everybody handles it differently. It’s hard for me to get over stuff like that. It takes me until I can get to the race track and redeem myself really to be able to get over it.”
DENNY HAMLIN LAST WEEK SAID THE HARDEST PART FOR HIM AT THAT RACE AND HE DIDN’T THINK IT WOULD BE THAT WAY WAS THE START. DID YOU FIND THAT? WAS THAT THE SAME FOR YOU OR DID YOU FIND SOMETHING ELSE TOUGHER ABOUT HAVING TO SIT OUT?“I can definitely understand where Denny (Hamlin) is coming from. I think that was the way I felt when I first started watching them practice. Practice was televised on television it was tough to watch; just sitting at home being so far away and not being able to be in there working and grinding. You get so used to working with those guys, working with the group you are with and then you are not there and they are moving on they are doing what they are supposed to do and you are not a part of it. It’s a really tough, odd feeling.”
CAN HE (DENNY HAMLIN) MAKE THE CHASE?
“Absolutely, they have a good enough team to win races and get into a wild card spot.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT GOING TO KANSAS NEXT WEEKEND?“I haven’t raced there, missed the race last year with the reconfigure so I’m really anxious to get out there and see what kind of speed we have. See how I can get ahold of the race track really quick and those guys that I’m going to be racing against have a race on me there. I feel a little bit behind the eight ball with that deal, but looking forward to getting there and seeing what kind of speed we have. I think we tested really well before we had the crash. I thought we had good speed. I was enjoying the race.”
Source: Team Chevy