NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
OCTOBER 18, 2014
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media today at Talladega Superspeedway. He discussed his standing in the Chase, needing a win Sunday to advance, how to control the race, Talladega preparation and other topics. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
WHAT’S IT GOING TO TAKE FOR YOU TO GET INTO VICTORY LANE TOMORROW AT TALLADEGA?
“If I understand this style of racing that this package creates, we need to be in the front and we need to be controlling the restarts at the end of the race – being able to choose the inside or outside line and who’s going to be pushing you on those particular starts. That guy there is going to be the one controlling the race. With this particular package, the leader is not impossible to pass but he really has the upper hand. With our cars and how capable I know our cars are and have been throughout the season at plate tracks, I know we can fend off pretty much most challenges that we’re presented with. We got the lead here in the race earlier this year and were a little short on fuel. We ended up coming down pit road and not taking the gamble. The gamble worked out for the other guys who were in the same boat as us. We didn’t do it for some reason. But when we were up there leading, I felt like I had control of the race. Guys were making some runs and trying to make passes, but were able to fend them off relatively easy. We need to run the race how we run the repaves or the road courses and run the race backward. We’ll probably have to gamble a little bit on fuel and be a little bit short. But to get that advantage over 42 other cars, you’re going to have to risk more in regards to fuel mileage or what pit strategy you have on pit road. We’re willing to do that. We don’t have anything to lose. If the race plays out that, it would be the best scenario for us.”
OF ALL THE RACES YOU’VE RUN HERE, WITH TRYING TO ADVANCE HAS THERE EVER BEEN MORE ON THE LINE FOR YOU AT THIS PLACE?
“I don’t think so. Well, we were leading the points here – I don’t remember exactly what the situation was when we were in the Chase that one year when we were cussing in Victory Lane. But that was a pretty big race for us. We were having a great season and were in great shape points-wise at that particular race. I probably didn’t realize how big a deal it was then. I definitely have a better sense now with the years of experience and things we’ve learned and mistakes we’ve made in the past. It’s a pretty big deal. I wish we were in a better position to achieve what we want to achieve and be able to move forward. I wish we had to finish ‘X’ or better but we have only one route and that’s to Victory Lane, and that’s the only way we can get forward into the Chase. It’s definitely a tall order but we have nothing to lose. We’re going to go out there and try to accomplish that goal and give it all we’ve got.”
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS ANY MORE INTENSTY THAN WHEN YOU DRIVE THIS PLACE THAN ON SUNDAY BECAUSE OF THE POSITION YOU’RE IN?
“You have to be smart, be risky and always try to move forward. There are certain races here where there is a bide-your-time moment. There is a time where there is part of the race where any move is unnecessary and you’re calculating how necessary each move is every lap you run. But I’m going to have to run a good enough race to win, but at the same time I’ll be out there trying to think about what I need to do to get the next position or what I need to do to get toward the lead – I need to be in the lead or toward the front on every lap so I’m there at the end of the race. We’re not going to just magically pull something out of our hat that no one else has at the end of the race on pit road to get the lead. We have to be there all race long. We can’t just flip the field with the last few pit stops and miraculously use a strategy no one else has. We’ll have to try to get toward the front the entire race. Knowing that I have to win will be in the back of my mind for every lap throughout the race. It’ll be different. I don’t think I’ve been in that situation before; I don’t think any driver has where it’s win or nothing. There are a couple of us like that, too. It’ll be interesting. Hopefully it’s a real exciting race. I hope that everyone walks away satisfied when it comes to the fans and media. We know what we need to do, and we’ll work hard every lap to do it.”
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO TOMORROW, DO YOU THINK MORE ABOUT THE RACES YOU WON AND HOW YOU DID IT, OR THE RACES THAT YOU LOST AND WHY YOU LOST THEM?
“Not really either one. These races are like snowflakes at this place. They all play out differently and the people and players up front are a little different every time. What happens, how you get to the front and who you’re working with is never the same. There are just so many variables. The strategy we talked about on pit road is important. If we can have that as a tool and utilize that properly, that makes the job a lot easier. One thing I may look back on is seeing what strategy other guys did to stay up front – the guys that did end up doing well at these tracks since we changed this package. Typically when you look at the race, the same guys are usually up front the entire race. It’s really difficult to infiltrate the top-five with this package. You take the top five guys, and they’re pretty content for that particular part of the race. Maybe it’s 100 miles in, 50 miles in or 75 miles in. Those five guys are really happy with where they’re at. They get on that bottom lane and that outside lane forms up and tries to get up there and become part of that. They get up to about third place and get sort of hung there. They sit there and fight all day long right there around that third-place car. Every once in awhile that outside line will take the lead. But for the most part, everyone else is sitting there in line wanting to be up there, and there’s no easy answer to get there. You have to do it on pit road; maybe you can steal a bunch of spots on restarts while everybody is trying to get organized. Once they do organize, it’s very, very difficult to move forward if you’re not already there. We have to do some things on pit road and do everything we can as far as making great choices on restarts. A lot of time it’s just luck. You have to be mentally positive about decisions you’re making and typically they work out.”
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY PREPARE YOURSELF OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS OUTSIDE THE CAR?
“Nothing… I’ve been racing here a long time. I got it. Just have to get my suit on and get in the car. (laughs) There isn’t much to do it. You get in there and do it. I just don’t need to eat any bad fish or junk food. Put good stuff in your body you can burn and drink a lot of water to hydrate. Physically, it’s very simple to race here. When you end the race, you don’t feel any physical drain or anything like that. Mentally it’s very tough. But I don’t know if we do mental exercises or anything to prepare ourselves. But I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready to race and ready for some fun. I like the challenge. I feel like I have some fortune and a little bit of luck to still have a shot. After how bad we’ve run the last couple of weeks and the troubles we have, to even have an opportunity is pretty neat on one side of the coin. I’m looking at it in a more positive manner than ‘we’re in panic mode and we’ve got to go crazy here.’ We have a shot and we know what we need to do. Doing it is another thing obviously, but we’re going to put our best foot forward all day long.”
ANOTHER UNIQUE ASPECT OF THIS PLAYOFF SYSTEM IS IF YOU WIN THE RACE, CHANCES ARE YOU WILL KNOCK A TEAM MATE OUT. HAS THAT HAD ANY AFFECT ON THE DYNAMIC WITHIN THE ORGANIZATION?
“No, it never does, really. We all sort of just race our own races and run our own seasons. I would never expect any of my teammates to do anything differently. They’re supposed to go out there and run as good as they possibly can run and finish as well as they possibly can finish every week.
“I’ve been in situations in years past with Michael (Waltrip) in particular, at race tracks where we’re working together and it’s five laps to go and I’m driving the Bud car and the Miller car is behind me. If I pull out, he’s not going to go with me. Do I help my teammate? I’ve been in those situations before and there’s really no other than all you have to do in that situation is to think about the team on pit road, and all the guys that are working in that shop and the fabricators that work on your car, individually, that are at home watching. And they want you to win. And those are the people that matter. So, you’ve got to go and try to do whatever you need to do. That particular night I pulled out and Rusty (Wallace) didn’t go and we sent to sixth. And I think Michael won (laughs). But we tried. I felt so much better having tried than to sit there and run right behind my teammate and not have tried.
“I think that’s the mentality that you have to have and we are one great company that we all try to work for and try to improve and help. But when it comes down to individual races, you’ve got to do everything you can for the guys that are putting your car together. And you want it too. I definitely need to move forward. I need to get into the next round. We want to get into the next round and we can’t worry about anybody else to make that happen.”
AFTER THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, HOW DO YOU HANDLE THINGS LIKE IF YOU HAVE A VIBRATION AND NOT WORRYING ABOUT WHETHER YOUR SHIFTER IS GOING TO BREAK, OR IF YOU FEEL A TIRE LOOSE, THAT YOU’RE NOT GOING TO HAVE A FLAT?
“The car is real smooth; like a bass boat across the lake at 5 a.m. yesterday. It was smooth as glass. So that was nice (laughter). We went to Phoenix and tested and had the same vibrations. So we worked on that for two days and didn’t really find it. But the guys are working really hard trying to figure out what the problem is. We broke that one shifter in the race and we put another shifter in and it broke at Charlotte. So, we’ve got some sort of an issue that we need to resolve. It’s like a ghost. It’s hard to find. But, they’ll figure it out. It’s not a problem here, for whatever reason. We won’t change a lot of tires this weekend, so that really narrows that opportunity for error. The tire that they brought here is super, super durable. We might not need to change tires at all in the race. But, I’m sure we’ll put rights on it at some point or another.”
YOU HAVE ALWAYS SAID THAT YOU LIKE TO CONTROL THE RACE LIKE A PRIZE FIGHTER CONTROLS THE FIGHTS. WITH HAVING TO GET THE WIN, TALK ABOUT BEING IN CONTROL OF THE RACE WHEN THERE ARE ALSO OTHERS WHO HAVE TO BE IN CONTROL? WILL SOMEBODY TRY TO SNATCH CONTROL AWAY?
“Yeah, it’s basically the guy who gets the lead, and they know it. Once you take the lead of the race, you really have a lot more control over what’s going on than all the other competitors. Basically, everybody from about fourth on back has got to follow the guy in front of him.
“If you get a run, and pull out, and nobody goes with you, you’re going to lose ten or 20 spots. You sort of want to sit there and kind of follow that guy in front of you until he does that and you take his spot. And you just want to sit there and wait on these guys to get greedy and just fill that whole. And just one over another, over a period of 80 laps or so, you sort of watch these guys get greedy and you end up around the top 10 and top 5 and soon enough, you may get a big enough run at some point to make a move of your own that can get you up in the lead or get you toward the front of one of those lines.
“You’ve got to be patient to make that happen. The guy that’s leading the race really is the guy controlling everything. He can block and he can do whatever he needs to do as far as getting in front of the line that’s coming to be able to get the push to maintain his speed. He can do so much more than everyone else in the field. And that’s just the best place to be.
“And if you’ve got a good car with good speed, like I know we do, we can fend off any kind of challenge (like when) a guy gets on your quarter panel or something if that outside line comes and you don’t defend it well enough or have a strong enough car that it’s going to be real hard to push all the way by. The side draft here with these new bodies on these cars, is really strong; so you can just really sit there and kind of hold a guy at bay; and they can do that, vice-versa, as well, when they’re beside you. That’s something I don’t really like about this package. But everybody deals with it. For these new bodies, for some reason, I don’t know what exactly is causing it. But the side draft, you sort of get stuck to each other and can’t really get away until somebody decides to push somebody through.
“But you can get these monster runs and man, somebody can just grab you and stop you right at your quarter panel. But you’ve kind of got to know what you’re doing and understand that’s a possibility and try to make those passes.”
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR DAD’S RELATIONSHIP WITH NED YOST (KANSAS CITY ROYALS MANAGER) AND HOW CLOSE THEY WERE?
“I can’t tell you anything because I don’t remember much. I know that Dad and Jody Davis (former major league catcher) were buddies, and they (Dale Sr. and Ned Yost) met through Jody. Dad loved going hunting with those guys. I think Jeff Blauser (former major league infielder) was in that group. I probably met Ned but I was so young that I don’t even really remember. It’s great to hear about their relationship. Dad and Jody were extremely close, and Dad and Ned ended up becoming as good as friends as Dad and Jody were. He just really enjoyed that little circle. Those guys all had the same common interests. They spent a lot of time around each other, especially during hunting season. Jody and Ned would come to a lot of races, and we all spent lot of time up in the condos in Turn One at Charlotte every year. That was definitely a part of Dad’s life he really enjoyed and he enjoyed those relationships. Those were his guys.”
WITH WHAT’S ON THE LINE THIS WEEKEND, WHAT SORT OF RACE DO YOU EXPECT FOR TOMORROW? HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE AGGRESSION LEVEL TO BUILD? DO YOU SUSPECT IT WILL BUILD EARLIER THAN IN PAST RACES?
“That’s a good question. I think that due to a few of us needing to win, and win only, that yeah, you’re going to see a handful of guys who are eager to be doing something and active and proactive toward moving to the front the entire race. And that just might be enough to pull along another handful of guys to get in the middle of that and move forward as well.
“So yeah, I think that judging by what we saw at Charlotte at the end of the race, there was a lot of emotion that we saw there. You’re definitely going to have that inside of all these race cars, or at least several of them. Several of these race cars are going to have guys inside there, driving and thinking about the situation and understanding how dire and critical things are. And probably that’s going to trigger guys to be making moves and trigger guys to be doing things with more urgency than you typically would at one of these races.
“Where we’ve seen the field sort of line up and run the top and knock off 150 miles just to get it out of the way, you might not see that so much.”
DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE FIREWORKS ON THE RACE TRACK?
“I hope there’s fireworks on the race track and that it’s good fireworks (laughs). I thought that everything that happened last week built great storylines and drew a lot of awareness to the sport. This Chase-thing really seems to be working as far as drawing a lot of interest. What we would love to see is an exciting race with an awesome finish. We want people; I want people talking about how awesome and great the racing was out there on Sunday, regardless of what happens.”