Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed his success at Martinsville Speedway, his season thus far and other topics. Full Transcript:
QUESTION: Dale, you are third in points and about had a win here last year; you have to feel good about coming to Martinsville Speedway.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: “Yeah, I feel pretty good. Always like running here and just been having some pretty good runs the last several trips and it’s a fun little race track and I like short track racing and enjoy the short track racing and it’s not too far from home. It’s kind of in your backyard almost.”
Q: Headlines keep saying your confidence is at an all-time high. Can you talk about your confidence?
DEJ: “I don’t really know how to measure confidence but we feel pretty good about what is going on and what is happening to us and how the thing is going down. The cars…except for Phoenix….and we didn’t run that well last year at Phoenix and we will keep working there. Some tracks you just don’t hit it on and we have a handful of those tracks but we are starting to run more consistently up front at more race tracks. And hopefully this year we have solved a few cases and we will just have to find out when we get to them. But yes, confidence is good and confidence is up real high. And there are still some things we want to improve on and the races can’t come fast enough for our team right now because we are ready. We are really liking being at the track and being on the track, making laps and working.”
Q: When you ride in the back of a truck before the race with another competitor, what are you talking about? And what is it like when you are in the back of a pickup truck with someone you have had a run-in with?
DEJ: “They are all opportunities. Normally if it’s someone you don’t like, you wouldn’t go out of your way to talk to them so it’s an opportunity to get some dialogue going between the two of you. Last week I think I was paired up with Kenseth and we are really good friends so it was a chance to just catch up. You know? We don’t all really spend much time talking to each other in the garage. Matt and I kind of talk back and forth on the phone a bit but for the most part you don’t really hear much from most of the guys so it’s just kind of a chance to see what they are doing and what they have been up to. You know, it’s a really monotonous part to the morning and you just hope that you get paired with somebody that has something worth talking about.
“One time I wrecked Jimmy Spencer when I ran out of brakes at Richmond and wrecked him in ’99 and then I was riding with him in the back of a pickup truck in a Nationwide race later that year and so I talked to him about running into him and we had that discussion and I don’t really remember having that kind of discussion with anybody else. But it gives you a chance to talk to guys who don’t do a lot of talking. Sometimes if you are lucky enough to get in the back of a truck with someone like Bobby Labonte then you have a chance to get in their ear a little bit and get some advice from them. You know, guys that are good at that but don’t talk too much.”
Q: (Kevin) Harvick has run really well here the last few years. Any idea what makes him so good here?
DEJ: “Well, he came from short track racing out West so I just have to think that he has a really good short track background and has a good knowledge of how to drive the track and he is with a good team. He elevates that team and that team is really good around him but he also demands them to perform at a certain level and it really seems to benefit him at times and they have a good package here and he is a really good short track driver.”
Q: Discuss the Q&A session you are having here at the track on Sunday.
DEJ: “This is how that works I think. One of my sponsors…..it’s either the National Guard or Diet Mountain Dew/AMP this weekend sells that appearance to the race track or either I would be meeting with a handful of folks directly related to the sponsorship. So at certain race tracks throughout the year, they will sell the appearance to the race track to use however they want. It happens to be the Q&A thing this Sunday and we will go out there and its part of your morning. It’s always been a part of your Sunday morning…..the hospitalities and they range in various sizes and styles. You do different things. It might be autographs, it could be Q&A. It might be in a big tent, or it might be four people in front of your motor home. But you just do it, it’s part of the job. My brain is kind of locked up on Sundays and I am not very productive when it comes to conversation and stuff but you go out there and do it.”
Q: Hendrick has a great record here with 18 wins and this weekend could be No. 200. Just wondering what it would mean to you to get that 200th win? And who do you pick to win the Final Four?
“I don’t even know who is in it. Carolina isn’t in it, so I am not paying any attention.
“It would be a good win for us. I mean we would love to win anywhere but we would like to be the team and I think all four teams would like to be the team that would win the 200th win for Rick. He does so much for everybody and rarely do you get an opportunity to give something back to him of this kind of magnitude so I think that’s why we would all love to win it but we are just going to try and work hard, be smart, run a good race and hopefully that is going to put us in position to fight for the win at the end.”
Q: Talking about how many drivers over the past decade or two coming from various backgrounds. If you had it to do over again, what would you plan out to get where you are now?
DEJ: “I think I would have gone the same route. Just because of the area I came from and where I want to be and I wouldn’t want to be too far from my family. And midget racing and that kind of stuff is not very popular in North Carolina so I would have probably done the same thing. There are some advantages to running USAC and stuff like that.
“As far as learning great car control and driving on dirt and things like that too…..helps you a lot. I didn’t have any dirt experience at all and to this day still really don’t have any. But I think that helps a lot as far as developing car control. But there are advantages to driving a late model stock car too as far as the size of the car, and the weight of the car, and how similar it is chassis-wise and whatnot. So you get a great feel for a stock car early on that you can’t really get from a USAC or an indoor sprint or anything like that. There are a lot of great advantages to either route, and I don’t think you can go wrong with either one.”
Q: Do you think it’s necessary for Bruton (Smith) to tear his track (Bristol Motor Speedway) up to get attendance back up to where it used to be?
DEJ: “I don’t really know what he needs to do. I think it would be like Matt (Kenseth) said, I think it would be incredible if they paved the track asphalt. I am not sure if that would work out but it would be awesome to try it and I don’t know if they go really all the way to reconfiguring the track to the old style. I am not sure it will work perfectly and there were a lot of different things about the track and the tire was different so I don’t know how that is going to work out but I am afraid that the odds of them getting it right aren’t in their favor but we are all pulling for them and we all want the best for the racetrack and that was a bragging point for us before and it was a great ticket to have. It’s just such a monumental place to have and anytime someone comes up and says ‘where should I watch my first NASCAR race?’, and (the answer) always is – Daytona 500 or Bristol. If they go to Daytona you still have to tell them to go to Bristol…..because you haven’t seen anything like that and never will. But we want the best for the race track but it’s going to be really tough to sort of get it back to the way it was. I am not sure that they need to do really anything at all either. They could work a little bit on the tire and see if that made a difference. The tires are the number one component connecting the cars to the race track. They have to have a major play in how cars race, drive, and compete against each other on the race track. So I think the tires being the number one variable to me of what could affect what the race looks like and what the race appears to be to the fan. I think that is sort of an under-appreciated part of the puzzle….is how much part the tires play in that.”
Q: Talk about going back to Kansas in a few weeks and racing there.
DEJ: “Kansas is a lot of fun. If we are going back on the old surface, it’s really slick and a lot of fun and very wide. The track kind of widens up pretty good and guys are running the bottom, guys are running the top, and there are a lot of different ways to get around the track. It’s a whole lot of fun for a race car driver when you get a lot of options like a track like that provides you with. It’s really, really slick and for whatever reason, it just aged really, really fast. There are some seams and a lot of filler in a bunch of cracks that are not a whole lot of fun but that is something that you kind of have to deal with and move around and do the best you can not to run over them. But the racing there, I think, has been pretty good. Finishes have been interesting one way or another and I am sure it will be the same way this time.”