Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Richmond–Dale Earnhardt Jr


DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Richmond International Raceway and discussed Nationwide Insurance, strategy for the Chase, a relief fund for drivers, pressure in Chase and other topics. Full transcript:

TALK ABOUT HAVING NATIONWIDE INSURANCE AS SPONSOR: “I’ve been looking forward to getting this car (Nationwide Insurance livery) on the track. I’ve been working with Nationwide for a really long time, and it is a genuine relationship. They’ve been insuring the vehicles I drove since I’ve had my driver’s license. I can take you to the building in Kannapolis where we used to go to get the tags and all that stuff handled. I’m pretty happy to be able to work with companies you can get excited about, and that the relationship feels genuine and real. I feel real fortunate to be honest with you in that regard. We’ve had a working relationship for the last couple of years, and everyone has seen the commercials if you watch the Nationwide races. When I heard that they were a candidate to be a part of our Cup program, I was just surprised and excited about that to be able to continue that relationship and grow it. You work so hard in building these relationships with your partners. When they have the ability to invest more into that relationship, and you can take that partnership, and do better and bigger things with it; it’s a real win and success story. I was glad that they were coming on to our Cup car. More dialogue began to happen with HMS (Hendrick Motorsports) about the possibility of actually getting on the car this year, and so here we are today. I’m excited, and looking forward to working with Nationwide, and continue that relationship, and try to make sure it benefits both parties, and they enjoy the experience at the Cup level. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I know those guys pretty well, and I already have a good working relationship with them, and it should be real comfortable and easy.”

AS THE CHASE APPROACHES, ARE YOU AND STEVE DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENT THAN YOU DID EARLIER THIS YEAR? “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Steve (Letarte, crew chief). I’m not doing anything different really. Last year we ran pretty decent during the season, I was pretty pleased with the way the car was. But once the Chase began, we got better and we ran better than we had all year in the Chase. I know that we learned a lot throughout the year. We learned little about the body of the car, and we learned little things about the chassis and the engine department is always improving things. It seems like we are real good at right when the Chase begins putting all of those components in one car or several cars and making all that work throughout the Chase. It is sort of putting our best foot forward kind of thing. I know all the teams have to be doing the same things. But, for whatever reason last year and the year before when we went into the Chase, I thought our performance really improved. I’m hoping we can do the same thing this year, and hopefully that will be enough to get the job done. As far as particulars, Steve probably has all kinds of things being a crew chief that he may think about differently, or do differently to prepare the team differently for those races.”

TALK ABOUT THE WRECK OF YOUR FAVORITE TRUCK WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER; NATIONWIDE DIDN’T DROP YOU AFTER THAT? “My favorite truck was the (19)88 (Chevrolet) S10 that I had when I was 16. It was black and silver two-door with a Tahoe package and a seek button on the radio. That was the cool part. I had that truck for two years. When I graduated from high school, my Dad thought it was a great idea to get me another truck. It was a full-size extended cab two tone brown with no carpet. I thought it was hideous. I thought it was a bit of hint that life is getting ready to get harder once you get out of school, and this here is your work truck. So I didn’t like that truck too much, and I didn’t treat it very well. But I eventually traded it in once I got what I thought was a good, decent job, I traded it in and got a red extended cab (19)91 (Chevrolet) S10. I financed it for five years for a $100 payment. I had it for about three months, and I flipped it on Christmas morning driving to MeMaws for a family reunion. There was a little snow off the road, but not on the road. But I gotten a Walkman CD player from my sister with a tape adaptor, and I was messing with that, and drove it off the road, and hit a driveway culvert, and flipped over like six or seven times. It totaled the truck. Some people drove by; helped me out. I called Dad on their cell phone. He was at MeMaw’s. I said I flipped my truck and I need you to come get me. I wasn’t but about four miles from the farm on Highway 3 so he drove to the farm, got the rollback, and when he got there, the State patrolman got there as well. Me and Dad loaded the truck up, and the patrolman said if y’all are good, I’m good. So we just took the truck home. And that was that. I got some pretty good insurance (payment) on it, and got myself another truck. I don’t think anything survived the wreck. Luckily I didn’t get hurt, it was a pretty nasty spill.”

WOULD YOU FAVOR A FUND FOR FORMER OR CURRENT DRIVERS WHO HAVE HARD TIMES? “I think that would be a positive thing. There is a little bit of a responsibility I think on everybody’s part, not just the sport as a whole, but like the drivers that are currently having the success they are having myself included, that maybe something like that could be put together if it is run properly and managed properly but the right person, it could be a huge assist to all those guys that are struggling. Especially when you get older and you have the doctor bills and stuff that start piling up on you; the medical bills. I’m sure that it wouldn’t be too tall of a challenge to put something together. You just have to have the right person to manage something like that so that the money isn’t going to waste. I think it would be a great thing.”

TALK ABOUT BEING A TEAM OWNER IN THE SERIES AND WATCHING THE TITLE SPONSOR GOING TO A TEAM AND CAR: “When a sponsor gets involved with NASCAR to sponsor a series, or a race track, or be the official whatever – they are definitely trying to accomplish a unique set of goals that are different than the partnerships you have with owners and the race cars themselves. I don’t think one is better than the other. I think you just have a different agenda and you sort of go with what fits that agenda. I believe Nationwide has had a lot of success being in partnership with NASCAR in the series, and I think XFINITY is going to have a good time over the next 10 years.

“I’m excited that the Series seems to be in great hands, and being an owner in that Series, I was very pleased to have that announcement come out. We want to continue being owners in that Series. We want that Series to be healthy and successful. I would love to race in that Series for the next several years, and enjoy being a part of it. All of that was great, and I just think that Nationwide saw an opportunity to accomplish new goals and different agendas. On the Cup side it is our responsibility to help them do that. I think that the relationship was very successful for them. I’m excited. I think XFINITY is going to enjoy the next several years, and what NASCAR and them can do together.”

TELL ME HOW ALBA COLON’S ROLE AS CHEVROLET ENGINEER IS VITAL TO YOUR SUCCESS: “She’s been around this sport a long time. Her and my Father (Dale Earnhardt, Sr.), her and the whole team that my Dad drover for at Richard’s (Richard Childress Racing) were great friends, and everyone had the highest respect for her. She was the one person out of the Chevy group I could see in their interaction with her that they respected a lot, and really appreciated what she did for the race teams. I would be making it up if I would tell you what all that is. But, she is a great person, and she has been around for a very long time. She is well-respected in the garage among a lot of the people who have been here for a very long time. I appreciate her.”

HOW HAVE YOU BEEN KEEPING MENTALLY SHARP HAVING BEEN LOCKED IN THE CHASE FOR SO LONG? “I’ve been going to the race track for a long time so you just get into a repetition of doing it week after week after week. It has definitely been fun this year because of being locked in. We won that Daytona 500 and that whole experience was a great time. But having that comfort of knowing we were locked in made the rest of the season so enjoyable. It took a lot of pressure off, and really allowed us to just go race and have fun. So it is about to get serious. It is about to get real again where you are going to have to buckle down and make every lap, every corner count whether it is practice, or whatever. Not that you haven’t been doing that. We haven’t been riding around with a backpack full of pressure and the tension like you typically do in the old format. That pressure and tension is about to climb back on the back of this team, and all the other teams when that Chase starts. Some guys carry it very well, and some guys may struggle. Yes, we’ve sort of been on a bit of a holiday since the Daytona 500, and I’ve enjoyed that. It’s been a fun year. The cars have been great. The cars have been fast. The team has been a great experience. We have a lot of good things to look forward to obviously. Hopefully everything goes good. We keep hearing from all of our fans how this is the year, this is the year. We are going to do it this year. We’re going to win that Championship. That is what we want, and we’d love to be able to be the Champion at the end of the year. We are about to find out.”

WHAT DOES THE CHASE MATTER TO DRIVERS AND TEAMS OTHER THAN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? WHAT ARE THE OTHER REASONS? “Outside of being the champion, the sponsors want to be on a car in the Chase. The things I think about when you ask that question are the sponsors want to be in the Chase. They want that exposure. That is super important. I wouldn’t know how to measure it myself, but I imagine its very, very important and it’s frustrating to miss the cut. For the teams there is a lot of pride. There is a sense of pride in all the teams and the crew guys; the road guys. When you are not in that small fraternity, you feel like a lesser of a team. You feel like you don’t add up. Or what is wrong with us. It makes you really look inside yourself, and inside the group and say what are we missing. Why didn’t we make it? I thought this was it. I thought this was good enough. When you start the year, you assume that this team is going to do it, and when you don’t you kind of have to look inside yourself and face some facts, and look in the mirror and answer some questions. But, you all don’t want to have to do all that. You want to be in that group. That is definitely a sinking feeling when you aren’t in that group. Those eliminations are going to be nerve wracking, and you are going to try not to be one of those guys that gets cut. It is kind of the same feeling as being the last one picked. You don’t want that feeling. You want to be in the cool group with the cool kids.”

WILL THE PRESSURE BE LOWER AT CHICAGO? WILL WINNING BE THE MOST CRITICAL IN THE THIRD SEGEMENT? “I don’t know. I would be guessing if I knew when cars get eliminated; how many get eliminated. So we’re just going to hold the gas down and go out there and try to run as good as you can run. Be smart, and try to put together solid finishes, solid races. It has definitely made a differenc in the regular season, and certainly if you can win one of those races, you get a pass. You get immunity, and stay on the island for another week.”