Chevy Racing–NASCAR Media Day–Dale Earnhardt Jr.

FEBRUARY 16, 2016
An interview with:
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: — yeah, I mean, I didn’t get to steal anything, but I wanted to carry all the tapes out of there, all the video, and go catalog it myself. I got room if they would like to store it where I’m at.
So that would be pretty cool to be in charge of the archives, all the video. There’s some cool photo stuff in there, too. There was a lot of interesting stuff that I saw from way back on the beach days. All that stuff’s kind of got to be in a certain environment and so forth. It’s pretty neat.

Q. Seems like the last couple years that the people that are out in front know what they’re doing. Is it really not a crapshoot anymore?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, the style of plate racing, it’s always changing. In my opinion I think it’s gotten a little bit closer to how it used to be back in 2001 to 2005 when we were very successful, the style of the draft and how the draft works. It’s really more similar to that kind of racing, which I think suits me much better.
The tandem stuff was nothing I never liked and never enjoyed. I didn’t feel like that was racing, to really have to commit yourself to another guy and know you’re going to run second just made no sense to me.
That was a challenging time to be involved in the sport, to be honest with you, when we were tandem drafting in the plate races. It was hard to have any kind of not really confidence, yet it’s hard to get excited about it and want to go do it. Kind of just dreaded those events.
Now that the package is as it is, I think we’re racing again where you’re just out for yourself, being very selfish. You can be very aggressive. I think it suits my style, suits some other guys’ styles as well. The people that I see up there, the guys that I tend to expect to see up there.
Q. What is Chase Elliott facing coming in with a famous dad?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, I don’t really think he’s going to face any difficult challenges as far as being in the shadow of his father and whatever that entails. It could be different for him.
But that’s not really a challenge. I mean, there’s some advantages to that, as well. You sort of take the good with the bad as that goes. The only thing that I think I struggled with was just the amount of work you’re doing. That significantly ramps up when you go from the XFINITY Series to the Sprint Cup Series. He’s going to be asked to be in all these places not related to driving racecars. You’re like, Man, you know, I don’t want to do this, I want to drive the car. I came to drive. I’m here to race.
He’s going to find that he’s going to be busy these Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. There’s going to be weeks that will be running in a blur. You’re going to be flying here, flying there. It’s going to be a lot of inconvenience. You’re going to be in situations where you’re talking in front of people that you don’t know, you don’t know why you’re there, what you’re supposed to be talking about.
Yeah, I mean, they just kind of put you out there in these situations where you’re very uncomfortable, and it’s very stressful. Your wheelhouse is racing and driving cars. When you’re up in front of these certain crowds, certain individuals, you don’t even know why you’re there or why they’re there, you know, it can be very nerve-wracking. None of us are born as public speakers and ready for the crowds and so forth.
That part I think is something that will be more challenging than anything else, trying to juggle all the things that you’re going to do during the week. That first year especially, as that goes on, have that energy at the end of the year, not be worn down, worn out.
You know, my first year we came in, we won some races. We had an awful season after the Winston when we won the All-Star Race. We had a terrible year from that point on. With 10 races to go, I was ready for it to end. That’s not good. For a racecar driver, you want the racing season to keep continuing because you’re enjoying it so much.
But that first year, you just run so hard coming in. You’re exciting, you’re pumped up, you’re exerting all this energy for nothing early. You kind of can wear yourself down. You don’t realize you need to pace yourself emotionally and mentally for all the things you’re doing away from the track.
That’s probably the biggest hurdle. You learn throughout the years to do that better and enjoy it. I was looking forward to today. I was looking forward to yesterday going and doing the car wash. I remember when I was first told I had to do the car wash. It sounded like the worst thing ever, to go do seven, eight hours of media.
But you learn to enjoy it. He’ll do the same.
Q. He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying it at all. He didn’t celebrate.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I think the one thing that he’s probably worried about is perception. I think when I see a driver make those style of comments, he’s just trying to say the right thing. He doesn’t want to step on anybody’s toes or give anybody the wrong idea.
He’s very focused. He wants people to know he’s very focused. We’ve seen his interviews. When he doesn’t do well in the XFINITY Series, he puts it on his shoulders. He’s really, really way too hard on himself.
But he just wants people to understand that he’s committed, he’s a hard worker, and he’s here to accomplish his dreams and goals and win races and championships. He doesn’t want people to lose sight of that or make assumptions that he’s taking things for granted, I guess.
And he’s young. He doesn’t know how to celebrate yet in terms of, you know, going out and hanging out and partying with his friends. I mean, hell, maybe he’ll be a late-bloomer as far as that goes. I was, too. I didn’t really start ripping and tearing until I was about 25 or 26. I didn’t know how to celebrate either at that age.
Q. Who has the most firepower?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Five, 10 years, any of these guys could be running the headlines of the sport, driving the sport as far as that goes, the spotlight and so forth. Any of these guys have that potential.
We’ll get to learn their personalities. The young guys are really fun because just watching on social media, Bubba Wallace and Blaney, those guys, they really just put themselves out there. They make fun of themselves. That’s very refreshing.
I think the sport has a great future from that aspect of personalities, the drivers being themselves, having some color and energy with them.
I think Chase understates it because of who he is, having that last name. Maybe he doesn’t want as much attention just yet because he wants to kind of maybe just focus on his driving and doesn’t want all that pressure that comes with it.
I think he understates it on purpose, intentionally. He’s a very modest individual. I think his father raised him to be modest, not boisterous and things like that, so…
I think he just wants to tone down the level of excitement. I saw something on Twitter yesterday from I think it was NBC, NASCAR on NBC. Will Chase live up to the hype in the Daytona 500? I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I’d read, that day at least.
Give the kid a break. I think that would be a reason why I think he makes the comments he does. He wants to temper expectations. Like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s be realistic about this. We got a lot of work to do, ta-da, ta-da, ta-da. He toes the company line. That’s the thing, he’ll eventually get more comfortable. When he wins, he certainly comes out of his shell. We’ve seen that.
Q. Do you remember that your rookie season, expectations?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I mean, you’re almost embarrassed by the attention because you don’t feel like it’s really deserved because you haven’t done anything yet, in your mind. You haven’t accomplished these things.
You see the level of attention that drivers get when you’re growing up and you’re around the sport as a young kid. You see what they do to get that attention. Then you come in and it just seems like it’s more than you deserve.
I think that’s why you kind of shy away from it or try to talk the media off the shelf a little bit and talk things down. You want to back up and reel it in a little bit because you just don’t feel like you deserve it. You don’t want people to put these expectations up there that are unreasonable ’cause it makes the pressure a lot more difficult to understand and handle.
Q. How long did you work in the dealership?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: My goodness. I think I was there for a couple years maybe, yeah.
Q. Have you ever run into anybody, now that you’ve become popular and successful, that say, You changed the oil in my ’79 Nova or anything like that?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No. I don’t think they would have let me change the oil in a ’79 Nova (laughter). I changed a lot of oil, I know that. I had a lot of fun doing that. I think I was there for two and a half years. It was a fun time.
No, I haven’t really run across anybody that has said, You used to change oil in my car back then.
I didn’t run the alignment machine. I was a quick lube guy. I got moved to a couple different positions for a couple months at a time, but always kind of ended up back at the quick lube machine. That was strictly my job. They had that 29 minutes or less deal. It was fun.
I got put on commission for a week, I made too much money, they took me off commission because I was doing them in eight minutes.
Q. What was your record?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was doing ’em pretty fast when I learned I could make money doing it. I was going through ’em pretty quick.
One time I drove out of the lot without the filter on my car, ran all the oil out of it right through the parking lot. It was hilarious.
Q. One of the spotters, after the Unlimited, said there used to be a day you could kind of move around the track, but everybody wasn’t as good at restrictor plate racing. Now maybe people are getting better at it. Today Joey Logano, somebody compared him to your talent. He said, I’m not as good as Dale, but you can’t luck into it anymore. Are the drivers getting better at restrictor plate racing?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I see different drivers that are successful at plate tracks. Denny, and McMurray’s a guy that’s always up there. There’s a long list. Joey is very good at it. He’s always up there. Each one of them has a different style. Some are aggressive, some maybe not so much. They find a way to be there and have opportunities to win those races.
I don’t know if it’s exactly one style that actually works and no other style works. Me and Denny I think are really similar: real aggressive, moving left to right. A lot of times we make moves to get a run or something without even contemplating whether there’s a car around us that we may crash into.
Sometimes I make moves and I go, Man, I didn’t even really look both ways before I crossed the street, so to speak.
You can’t think about it like that. You just got to go on instinct and hope that you don’t, you know, make a mistake.
Q. Are you on the drivers council still? What do you hope to get accomplished?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, there’s a few guys that are on it from last year. There are some new guys that are on it from this year. Kyle Busch and Brad are new. But they’re already doing some great things.
Everybody works really well together. We all communicate almost daily as a group. We all participate in the discussions. We have bullet points about things we are discussing currently from last year, a lot of things that bled over that we haven’t got solutions to or haven’t kind of hit a solution, finalized that discussion.
We started out last year butting heads, so to speak, the two groups, the drivers and NASCAR. By the end of the year we were doing some awesome stuff. The last meeting we had at the end of last season was awesome. We came out of there with a lot of confidence. The relationship between the drivers and NASCAR, the communication, was awesome, both sides really giving and taking and working together.
We’ve already had our first meeting this year. You know, the council is going to do great things. It’s starting to show its potential. I think trying to get all the other drivers to understand that it is important is crucial. The council that we have, they’re not the nine smartest guys, they’re just the guys that drivers voted for to represent them, because we need a small group so that the voice is clear instead of having 43 drivers in there or whatever. That would be pretty noisy and messy.
These are just the nine guys that they said, Here, you go, handle these issues. It will be even more credible and have more potential as soon as all the drivers start to get in the discussions and add ideas.
The green-white-checkered rule was a collaboration between NASCAR and the drivers. As O’Donnell said, Is that the final decision? Is that the end point? Is that the perfect way to do it? We don’t know. But the fact that we came to that solution together was a great thing, I thought.
If another driver who’s not on the council has an even better idea that we need to communicate, get the drivers to understand that, Man, this council can do some great things. Let me get in there, throw my ideas on the table, let them try to take that to NASCAR.
I’m really excited about it. I love being a part of it. My hope is that the council is still around 15 or 20 years from now and it’s very effective.
Q. Is there anything you or your team have to do different this year to get yourself in position so when you go to Homestead, there is something on the line?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I think we can get better at the mile-and-a-half’s for sure. We got a new rule package. That could go in our favor at that particular style of track. We’ll just have to see. We haven’t had a chance to test. Jimmie thinks our stuff was pretty good at Vegas. Excited about his comments from that.
As a team, I mean, I think we do great on the short tracks and the plate tracks. The mile-and-a-half’s are a big part of the series. We can improve there.
Q. Does it boggle your mind that after all the races you’ve won that the points championship you haven’t won?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No. It’s hard to win. It’s hard to win. Some guys come in this sport and have great careers without winning the championship. I think I got some good years left to have the opportunity at it. We’re working really hard to try to make that happen.
I know that’s pretty much assumed. We just got to keep showing up and see if it works.