MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
OCTOBER 14, 2017
ALL-CHEVY FRONT ROW AS DALE EARNHARDT JR. TAKES POLE,
CHASE ELLIOTT QUALIFIES SECOND AT TALLADEGA
Five Team Chevy Drivers to Start in Top-12
TALLADEGA, Ala. (Oct. 14, 2017) – Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the pole position Saturday for the Alabama 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) at Talladega Superspeedway with a fast lap of 50.256 seconds, 190.544 mph in his No. 88 Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS. It marks his 15th career pole in 626 MENCS races, his second pole of the 2017 season and his first pole in 35 races at Talladega.
“Really, all the credit for getting a pole at a place like this goes to the team and goes to the car and the guys that work on it, the engine, the body men; we’ve got an amazing staff back at Charlotte that builds some awesome stuff,” said Earnhardt Jr., a six-time winner at the famed Talladega Superspeedway. “This place has meant a lot to me. It’s awesome to hear those fans happy for us, and hopefully we’re going to give them a lot more to cheer about before this weekend is over.”
Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, made it an all-Chevy front row by posting the second fastest speed in his No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet SS in the the final round of today’s qualifying session. It is his 17th top 10 start of the year and fourth in four races at the 2.66-mile track.
Hendrick Motorsports captured four of the top 12 starting positions when two-time Talladega winner, Jimmie Johnson, qualified his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy SS in eighth position, and Kasey Kahne posted an 11th-place speed in his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy SS.
Kyle Larson, piloting the No. 42 First Data Chevrolet SS, was 12th in the final order to give Team Chevy five of the top 12 starting positions in the 188-lap, 500-mile race.
Joey Logano (Ford) qualified third, Kurt Busch (Ford) was fourth, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Ford) was fifth to round out the top-five.
Earnhardt Jr. will lead the Alabama 500 field to the green on Sunday, October 15th at 2 p.m., ET. Live coverage can be found on NBC, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
POST-QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS:
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET SS – Pole-Winner
WALK US THROUGH YOUR QUALIFYING.
“It’s hard to believe we haven’t had a pole here before. We certainly have had some really good driving race cars here over the years. Hopefully this one is just as good tomorrow. To run by yourself out on the track is one thing. It is completely different than having to compete against the rest of the competitors that are out there. The car drives different, so, we have a great car that runs really good by itself. The got the pole at Daytona and have been on the front row of the other two plate races this year. A lot of front row starts for this team over the last several years. We continue that streak today. The concern goes right to the race tomorrow and hoping that the car is going to be handling well in the pack so I can be aggressive with it and do the things I want to do. It is nice to be able to get a pole here, and hear the fans excitement about it and their appreciation for it. As far as the lap, it is real simple and straight forward on what the driver needs to do out there. It comes down to whether the car is going to perform or not, and when it does all the credit goes to the guys who put the body on the car, and the guys that built the motor and the team that brought it down here and go it through inspection and got it out there on the line. So really there is not a lot of difference of what the drivers are doing out there from first to last. It just comes down to the performance in the vehicle. So those guys on the Hendrick squad can take a lot of credit and satisfaction in getting the pole today.”
THIS IS YOUR FINAL RESTRICTOR PLATE RACE SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO GIVE A RIP TOMORROW. IS THAT YOUR MENTALITY? DO YOU THINK YOU CAN CASH IN ANY OF THE FAVORS YOU’VE COLLECTED OVER THE YEARS TO GET GUYS TO HELP YOU OUT?
“Man, that would be nice. It is hard to say exactly how that race is going to play out tomorrow. Back in the early 2000s and mid 2000s everybody… it wasn’t quite as much teamwork as what we see today. You’ll see the Toyotas work together, and the Penske guys work together. You’ve seen that over the last couple of years. That’s become more prominent in the races at these plate tracks for sure. The stages also through some new strategy in to the mix. I like to help my teammates, and want to when I can and will considering there are a couple of them that are racing for some important positions for them in the playoffs. But, at the same time it would be our first priority to win the race, and we will work hard to try to put ourselves in position to do that. I feel like I’m in one of the top-four positions coming down to 50 to go, we have a real good shot at it. So I don’t think I will race with anymore risk or so forth going into tomorrow’s race. I think I go in with confidence knowing that I can do it and have done it in the past, and as I am seeing the race happen in front of me and around me, I’m hoping I’m making the right decisions that are helping move me forward and put me in position to make passes and move myself toward the front as much as possible. That’s what I am going to do. I definitely want to do anything foolish or reckless that would cost anybody an opportunity to move forward in the playoffs, that is a tough situation to be in, but that’s the situation that all the guys that aren’t in the playoffs are in. It’s not a good feeling to ruin someone’s opportunity to move forward. But at the same time you really aren’t thinking about that on the race track when you are out there competing. You are just trying to do everything you can to win.”
HOW MUCH FUN JUST IN GENERAL HAVE YOU HAD RACING HERE AT TALLADEGA OVER THE YEARS?
“We got pretty cocky there at some points in the mid-2000s with our performance and ability. I had some pretty cocky teammates working on my car with Tony Eury Sr., and Tony Jr. I don’t know anybody I’ve ever worked with that have been more confident than those two in themselves and their cars. Tony. Sr. was the kind of guy that was red faced mad if we weren’t on top of the sheet in practice much less qualifying and how we finished in the race. He did not like to be slow. And he felt like the car he worked on and prepared should be the fastest car every week and every day. We got pretty full of ourselves when we were having so much success here in the early 2000s and it was a great time. They were a lot of fun; those two guys and that whole team. It was a lot of fun. We just had a good time with it. It is much more competitive today. The field is much more competitive. There is not much difference between the guy who sits on the pole versus the guy who qualifies 20th or 25th, once you get in the draft the cars are so equalized and it’s much harder to win these races than it used to be. Our cars, we had such an advantage on most of the competition. We didn’t have too many people that could just outrun us. There were a few teams, but now it’s just anybody’s race, really. Whoever makes the right decisions later in the event, gets in the right line or gets the right push, that’s the guy who’s going to win the race. I don’t run around running my mouth as much as I used to because you can get put in your place pretty quick with the competition we have today.”
AT A LOT OF PLACES THIS YEAR THERE HAS BEEN A BUILD-UP TO YOUR RACE BECAUSE IT’S THE LAST AT THAT TRACK. CHARLOTTE WAS IMPORTANT. HOW MUCH CAN THAT WEAR YOU OUT ON ANY GIVEN WEEKEND? OR, DOES IT GET YOU PUMPED UP AND YOU HAVE TO FIGHT THAT A LITTLE BIT? “Yeah, I don’t feel like that’s added onto my plate or made the weekend heavier or harder to deal with in any way. This weekend, Talladega, in particular, it almost like a weekend off. As a driver, you don’t have to grind so hard with the team about the car set-up. It’s not really as critical. Your car’s speed is what it is off the truck. You’re not going to find speed. You’re not in there finding speed, changing springs, like you do every week. So, these weekends have been relatively easy going. And, especially today. We get in the car and we run two laps and we get out and we’re done. So, this weekend has been really nice. They always are here at Talladega. I always look forward to these weekends because it’s a bit of a moment to take a breath, in what is typically a long grinding season. I’m enjoying the happenings and the opportunity to speak in the press each week and the opportunity to talk with the tracks and interact with them. I’m enjoying these moments.
“And, it is starting to ramp up in a sense that I think emotions are starting to ramp-up for me. I’ve got a lot of things going on in my personal life that are very exciting and a lot of things to look forward to next year. And the end of the season is coming really fast, so I didn’t really feel much emotion about that and the finality of it until maybe this weekend. It’s starting to kick-in I guess, as we go to some of these tracks knowing the season is going to be over really soon. These few weeks will go by so fast, and that’s it. There’s no reliving it. So, I think I’m starting to take it in just a little bit in letting myself feeling some emotion about it. Plus, like I said, at all the other race tracks we’ve been to up until this weekend, we have been working our guts out trying to find a little speed, just like every other car in the garage. This weekend it ain’t like that. You get a chance to sit back and just think about things.
“Maybe that’s part of it, too. We’ll go back to Kansas next week and be right back in that competitive grind of trying to find a couple tenths or get the car to turn or all the things you worry about each weekend. You can’t be emotional about the end of the season at those moments. You’re just wanting to go fast and wanting to work on your car and your team is there to do a job and you all want to finish strong and all those things. Maybe it’s just Talladega. Maybe it’s just the emotion of being here and how much success we’ve had here.”
WITH GETTING THE GIFT OF THE CAR… THAT WAS SOMETHING YOUR DAD WAS A PART OF. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN WHEN YOU CALLED YOUR MOM, CALLED YOUR SISTER. I’M SURE THIS IS PRETTY PERSONAL.
“Everybody has reached out about. So this is the story on this car… Dad raced this car several times but I know for a fact that he ran it at the Ontario race in 1980 at the last race of the season where he locked up the championship. That car came over to where (his grandmother) Martha lives on V-8 Street and Sedan Street (in Kannapolis, North Carolina). It sat in her backyard on jackstands without the suspension, seat or anything. It was stripped down just to the chassis and the body… just how he raced it in that last race. It had Wrangler decals on the quarter panel. I remember he right-sided the car at some point in the race, and you could go over and pick the bondo out of the whole side of the car… all busted the cracked up. So that car sat there for about three or four years in the backyard at Mamaw’s house. That’s where Dad’s Xfinity team was. He had Rick Boss and Tony Eury Sr., working there, and those were his two employees. When Dad wasn’t at the race weekends, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday he was at that shop. He drove there every morning and drove home every day. That’s where he went every day. So I’d go over there and climb in and around that car at some point every single time I went there. You couldn’t not go near it. He got a loaner car – and I couldn’t remember whose it was – but it was an orange 30-something… it was a backmarker but he got this loaner car to use to restore his car as far as suspension parts and all that stuff. He sent it to a guy around 1984 or 1985 – Marv Acton who worked at Osterlund when Dad drove for this team in ’79 and ’80. Dad sent it over there to get it restored with the intent for it to come down here to Talladega and go in the museum. So it got rebuilt, restored, sent down to Talladega, and it sat in that museum ever since I’ve been coming here as a kid. That was one of the must-do things is to go in the museum and play around.
“To back all this up, I talked to Tony Sr., today, and I asked him if my story was correct. And he said that’s exactly where the car came from. So that’s the real car. A lot of these cars you see may not be ‘the car’ – it’s just painted up like it – but that’s is THE CAR. I can’t believe they’re going to allow me to take it and have it. I know it’s still property of the state of Alabama, which it says on a little plate on the dash, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. For them to loan it to me is awesome. We’ll take good care of it. It’s very neat that this is the original history.
“Everyone is texting me about the quote-unquote gift. Everybody is just blown away by it and can’t believe it. Even my friends. (Dave) Blaney and everybody in the garage is asking me if they’re really giving it to me. And I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ I enjoyed driving it a couple laps, and before I came down pitlane to park it I drove it through the garage so my team could see me cause I thought they’d get a kick out of it. What a trip…
“There’s a little bit more to the story. We came out here for the Winner’s Circle program at the end of the year last year. I wanted to drive the car then but wasn’t allowed to drive it because I was not allowed to drive anything. So Donnie Allison got to drive it that day. So I finally got to drive it, so that’s pretty cool.”
YOU REALLY HAVEN’T BEEN IN THE MIX OF A FULL PLATE CUP RACE IN A COUPLE OF YEARS. DO YOU HAVE ANY DOUBT OF WHAT TO DO AT THE END IF YOU’RE IN THE POSITION TO WIN?
“Not really. When it comes down to it, you rely on instinct and those instincts haven’t failed me too often when I’ve been in that position. But it has been hard for us to even get there in the last couple of years. We’ve had a real challenge with how our cars have driven in the draft. They’ve been quite uncomfortable, to be honest. But this year they have improved. We had a pretty good car in both Daytona races. We got into an accident late in the July race but had worked our way to the front several times fighting through adversity. But you have to be aggressive. You can’t be afraid to make that move that you need to make no matter how early or in the middle of the race. You can’t wait around and hope that it’s going to play out… you can’t try to be smart and safe all day and assume you’ll be up front when it matters. Somebody else is going to work all day to be there, and they’ll be there; not you. I know at the drop of the green you have to be aggressive, work hard and take every opportunity given to you. You have to hang on to that track position all day. You can’t be casual about that.”
HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY INDICATION ABOUT HOW THIS CAR MIGHT HANDLE IN TRAFFIC. AND AFTER YOUR FIRST-ROUND RUN, DID YOU FEEL SORT OF CONFIDENT YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO WIN THE POLE?
“Yeah, I felt good confidence even before we ran our first lap in the first round. We sat on the front row both times at Daytona and Talladega this year. So I thought we’d be up front and would have a shot at the pole, but I wasn’t sure. The first couple of laps yesterday in practice, the car was nice. It got a little light in the back in some situations. It really depends on where cars are around you. In certain situations, I didn’t like some things so we went to work on it and made some adjustments. We got to run again but not quite in the same scenario. The car drives great by itself running 51-second laps. But when you run a 49 or 48 when guys are around your doors, that moves the car and pulls and tugs on it. You try to get it comfortable to where you can be aggressive with the wheel and drive it like you need to and side-draft real hard. If it’s wandering around on the straights, you can’t get up and side-draft guys; you’re afraid you’re going to hit them or they’ll hit you. But if you can get it driving real sharp and the steering real sharp, you can be aggressive with it and that’s what we’re trying to achieve. We’ve been struggling with that since we got rid of our car that we had in 2015 that was so strong. We just had a hard time with our cars. My main complaint is when we’re in some situation, the right-front gets real positive and the car tries to spin out. I spun out off of Turn Two by myself at this race in 2016. I spun out of the Daytona 500 off of Turn Four the same year. Alex Bowman spun out here last year in the tri-oval. Our car has been super-loose in the pack, and we’ve been fighting that. When they’re handling like that and it’s on the verge of spinning out all the time, it’s hard to be aggressive and do the things you need to do to move forward. You’re trying not to crash or get yourself in a bad position. So we’re trying to get rid of that. I didn’t have that at Daytona in July so I’m hoping we’ve made some gains.”
WHAT DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU HEAR THAT ROAR FROM THE CROWD?
“I got chills just standing there at the car when they put us on the big screens, and the fans reacted to seeing that gives me chills. I don’t win a lot of poles. Any time you hear that kind of support and you know you have got that many people happy to see what you’ve done or what you’ve been part of, it just gives you chills. It is hard to explain, but it is a really good feeling. Very motivating. I don’t know that you need reminders, but it is good to hear that support. It sticks with you when you go into the race the next day and you know that is what they are here for. They are here to cheer and they want to see you take the lead. They want to have something to cheer for. They want more, and more, and more. It is very motivating.”
DO YOU THINK YOU WILL CONVINCE AMY TO GIVE YOU ANOTHER SHOT TO RUN THE CLASH OR IS THAT DEAD IN THE WATER?
“That is dead in the water right now. We are talking to a new partner about a second Xfinity race. And I am definitely open to running as many as I allowed. I guess not being a full-time driver… I don’t’ know what the rules are now that I’m not full-time racing in Cup any more. I don’t know how long that leash is and we will just see. But I’m pretty good with whatever she wants to be honest with you.”
AS PART OF YOUR GIVING BACK TO THE FANS, MOUNTAIN DEW HAS A RIDE WITH JUNIOR PROMOTION THIS WEEKEND. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
“There are 54,000 names on the whole car. They are all around the side, the back bumper – they are all over it. We’ve had this program. Apparently we didn’t advertise it too well. But we’ve had this program all year long promoting fans to sign up to ride on the car. It is pretty cool. There are names all over it and I’ve been getting… I see on my timeline that they’ve either signed up to be on the car, and they can go to the website to see where their name is actually located. So I’ve been seeing that every day. It is really cool. They are jazzed. That is good energy man. It has made the weekend a lot more enjoyable.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SAVOR THAT POLE MOMENT IN VICTORY LANE WITH YOUR NO. 88 TEAM?
“I think they really understand how precious those opportunities are. They are all a little bit younger than I am. Ever since around 2000 and really ever since I got my second chance, and started winning again, I made the most out of those opportunities when we go to Victory Lane and so forth to celebrate it and enjoy it and wear it on my sleeve kind of thing. But they are a little younger and they don’t realize how rare those moments are, and how more rare they will have those opportunities as they get older. You also never know when it is your last opportunity to celebrate that. I hope there are more poles and opportunities to win races and so forth, but you just don’t assume that. Certainly when we went through our struggles 2009, 2010, 2011 it certainly helped me… once we started winning again, I can’t express how much I appreciate this to be able to be in victory lane and celebrate wins and things like that. So we never let any of them slip by without celebrating them pretty hard. But I watched those guys in Victory Lane today and they are sort of reserved and they don’t like a lot of credit and they don’t like the spot light on them. At a place like Talladega, they are the ones that make it happen, so I made sure to tell them in Victory Lane to get up front and get your picture made and have fun.”
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 24 NAPA CHEVROLET SS – Qualified 2nd
TAKE US THROUGH YOUR QUALIFYING RUN.
“Luckily the qualifying stuff for these plate tracks have been good… really ever since I got here. It’s been nice and hopefully our car drives good tomorrow. That’s the main thing.”
WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY TOMORROW, IF YOU HAVE ONE? DO YOU HAVE A PLAN TO KEEP THE TOYOTAS AT BAY?
“There are other manufacturers other than them to race. We’ll do our thing and they’ll do theirs. We’ll see what happens.”
IS THERE A STRATEGY AMONG YOUR TEAMMATES TO WORK TOGETHER TOMORROW AND CONCENTRATE YOUR EFFORTS TO ADVANCE IN THE PLAYOFFS SINCE YOU HAVE TWO TEAMMATES THAT AREN’T IN?
“It’s hard to help each other at these places. A lot of times when you put too much emphasis on trying to help one another, you end up hurting all of you. The big thing is that we don’t want to hurt each other. If there’s something you can do to try to help or a subtle help here or there is nice. But you can’t put yourself in a bad position to help somebody else… teammate or not. At the end of the day it can put you in a bad spot. That’s how we’ve always gone about it is to try and not hurt each other. But we won’t be overly consumed with trying to help each other all day.”
DO YOU WANT TO LEAD EARLY WITH THE ANTICIPATION THAT DALE (EARNHART JR.) IS GOING TO WANT TO DICTATE THINGS AND IS OFTEN VERY GOOD AT CONTROLLING BOTH LANES?
“Who knows. We’ll start the race and see what happens. The best place to be is out front. If you can get out front and get a line up around the top, that’s great if you’re the leader. But the way stages are, people are going to want to race and the guys who didn’t qualify well are going to want to make their way forward. I think you’ll see them jump out of line and want to do things early. We want to keep as much of our track position all day long. You’re never in a safe spot but if you’re closer to the front then your chances of finishing better are higher than if you’re mid-pack.”