Team Chevy Racing News |
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed the test session, his health, off-season testing and other topics.
QUESTION: How was the car out there?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: “It is pretty similar to what we have had here in the past. This place is pretty smooth as far as bumps and handling there are not a lot of characteristics. The car doesn’t get loose or tight or anything like that going around the track. You just kind of hold onto the mat and drive around the bottom. It’s not going to really be a whole lot different as far as the way the car feels than anything I’ve driven here in the last 12 years. Just looking for speed you just go out there and run laps. Put something on the car, put a new piece on the car or change a piece, go out and run laps and hope that you knock a few thousandths off the run before. That is just the routine throughout the whole test really. We will do a little drafting in the afternoon, mainly just out of curiosity. I don’t know what specifically if anything we will learn during that. We will just do it to see how the cars perform and get a good idea what our strengths and weaknesses are. Then move back to our single car runs and do all that tomorrow.”
Q: Is it difficult for you to maintain your focus and attention on what is going on out there through this early morning session?
DEJ: “Yeah, it can be. As a driver and this is specific to the Daytona tests only, you don’t really have to pay attention to what they are putting on the car, what they change. If you don’t ask and if you don’t really get into it, rarely will a crew chief include you in that conversation. They will put whatever they are doing to the car and tell you to go try again. If I do it that way, yeah, I get really bored and have a hard time staying awake. I just have a hard time getting through the day. What I like to do, and it takes pretty little effort, is I just plug into what they are doing. I get out of the car, asked what they changed, why they changed it, why they think that is going to be better, what’s next, why they think that is going to work. I try to really plug into the kind of technical things they are doing to the car. It helps me because we have been doing this a long time and something they are doing might dig up a memory of a test or something we tried on some cars back in the DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) days that worked. So it’s good for me to be involved as much as I can. So that helps me get to clicking, the day goes by fast when you are plugged in like that.”
Q: You spoke at the end of last season about wanting to stay vigilant with Steve (Letarte, crew chief) about doing a lot of off-season testing. Can you just update us on that? Have you had success with that? Has the new car maybe prevented some of the testing you would like to do.
DEJ: “Yeah, being able to build the cars has made our opportunities to test limited at this point. We will obviously be at Charlotte next week with everybody else and then we will have some opportunities probably after that to go to Nashville and Pikes Peak is an option that we like too, just depends on the weather down there you sort of have to get lucky with the weather, but that is a really good place to test. They have a pretty nasty bump in (turns) one and two, but (turns) three and four is a really good corner that you can learn a lot from. We probably won’t go to Walt Disney World just due to the rising costs and being able to acquire the race track. It’s not profitable for them, they are doing a lot of stuff with their sports car stuff down there so, and they make more money doing that than having us come test. We probably won’t go there. We will go to Nashville, I would hope two or three times before we end up going to Las Vegas or Phoenix. We need to learn as much as we can learn. We have got a lot of rule changes in the cars. A lot of things are different so we need to try to find where our package needs to be and get a good comfortable idea of where to start when we go to the different tracks.”
Q: Are you nervous at all about falling back?
DEJ: “Well I think it is the same for everybody so I’m not really worried. I think I’m with a great company that excels at times like this when the whole sport is sort of reset. I think that we have a lot of resources, no reason why we shouldn’t come out as one of the better performing teams, especially right off the bat. Obviously, when you give somebody a new puzzle some guys might figure out something quicker than others just by chance and ingenuity. Over the entire scope of the whole change and the whole new car I think that being with Hendrick (Motorsports) is going to be a real advantage. I’m not really that worried about it. I just like to work. I just like to be at the race track working. I think to believe in momentum means you keep plugging away and you keep working. For us to sit around and just hope that when we show up to Vegas we are going to have plenty of time to figure things out or hope we are better when we get to Phoenix, I think that is just a pipe dream. You have got to go to work. You have to test and put in the time to be better, you’ve got to go to the race track.”
Q: Last night at the Fan Fest there seemed to be a lot of energy out there. Drivers have been talking highly about the new car. Do you just kind of get a good feeling about the direction the sport is going? Can you talk about your new potato chip deal?
DEJ: “Somebody asked me on stage last night, what I would change about the sport. We get asked that question pretty much every year at a time like this. We used to have a lot of answers for that question. It’s hard to come up with something I would change, something I would do differently now a days. I’m pretty happy with how things have been. I feel like that the sport is in a good healthy place. We have a good opportunity to grow. With this car we have a chance to do something great and really make a big impact. It’s on everybody in the sport really as to how that all works out, but, you know, I think all the pieces are there. We have made a lot of changes that were hurdles and speed bumps, but as far as bringing in the double file restarts, and all the things that have happened in the last several years a lot of those changes have really improved the sport. I think the racing is as exciting as it has been in a long time. You look at some of these old races and look back at some of the events that we had in the ‘80’s and the ‘90’s, the racing is different. It always is changing and it always will, but I think we have improved it. The sport is in a really good place. This new car has got everybody really excited about the potential. You have to sort of be careful and reign that in a little bit, but it could be a lot of fun. The cars look great and that is really important.”
Q: Talk about the chips deal.
DEJ: “We have been working on this deal for a while. I didn’t expect it to get that much attention yesterday, but everybody kept texting me, all my friends, wanting bags of chips now. My girlfriend read me Jeff (Gluck’s) article. I will bring some in here for you guys as soon as we can get a truck load of them. I only got one bag each so far.”
Q: Which flavor do you like best?
DEJ: “The jalapeno I like the best. I was surprised. I thought I would like the barbeque the best, but the jalapeno is pretty good.”
Q: Are you doing well health wise as far as the concussions and everything? As an athlete, but also as a fan of the Redskins, what did you think of R.G. III (Robert Griffin III) and everything that went down last weekend?
DEJ: “As far as everything we went through at the end of the season last year with injuries and all that I feel really good. It was good to get in the car at the end of the year and be able to run a couple of races and get that out of the way. Get any kind of doubts or questions that you personally had about yourself or your recovery out of the way. I felt like all that went really good the last several weeks. As far as how I felt in the car was great. I feel really good down here. The off time has been great, but I feel good, ready to go. Glad I did it the way I did. I think it gave me a good opportunity to get better faster and come back right and come back sharp.
“Yeah, that was very disappointing what happened in the game against the Seahawks with R.G. III. He seems like a really amazing, solid individual and just a good person. He is great for the community and the team. So that was really unfortunate to see him go down with an injury. Hopefully, now that he has his surgery behind him all the recovery and everything will go as planned and he can come back better and stronger. It was an awesome season. I think as a ‘skins (Redskins) fan you kind of want to look back on everything as a whole and it was a pretty awesome season. We haven’t had a lot of wins like that in a long time. It was fun to watch throughout the year.”
“He is in a much different situation as young as he is. You make different choices as a 22 year-old versus a 38 year-old a much different situation.”
Q: What happened last year, is it kind of ancient history for you moving forward or did you really reflect on what could have been?
DEJ: “I really don’t look back that much. I only look back on the positives when I think about last year. With the new car and everything all the question marks about who is going to perform well, who is going to come out of the gate strong. To find motivation and excitement I look back on how well we performed throughout the year. How we were leading the points and how things were going mid-point in the season. How strong we were in the summer, which had been, traditionally for me was a terrible time for me historically. For some reason last year we were really strong in the summer time. Just as a team we have improved ever since Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and I started working together. I’m excited about the car. I’m excited about the opportunities to discover what makes it work and what makes it go fast. I think that if we apply ourselves and stay focused we can have a real solid year. It was a disappointment not to finish as well as we had hoped in the Chase and really go for the championship. We felt like we were a strong enough team at certain parts of the year to definitely do that. We definitely have some unfinished business and feel like we can put forth the same effort and the same results this year.”
Q: Do you have an indication on how you think these cars will line up in the draft and how much will you make of what we see in the draft today at a test versus what we might see in the Daytona 500?
DEJ: “It’s hard to say. I don’t really know what the cars will do in the draft. I expect them to be really similar to the old cars at Daytona. They have a splitter; they have relatively the same package in the back. There is a lot less downforce, so I don’t know what that is going to do, how the cars may handle. We might be able to get cars moving around and guys getting loose having to work on getting the cars tied into the race track which would be good. That is what made Daytona a lot of fun was when the surface was really slick and you actually had to work on the handle of the car. I’m excited to be able to do that again whenever we are able to have that happen. For the most part the cars are still pretty locked into the race track. The track surface is aging, but it’s still relatively in good shape as far as grip level goes. The tires are really bullet proof. They don’t really fall off or wear out that much. I expect the cars to look similar to what we saw in drafting here in the past. Then in the races last year, I think it will be pretty similar. Even today though after we test and draft and all that it’s not going to be a 43 car pack. The more cars you get out there it really changes the dynamic of the way things work. It can change the whole look of what the draft pack looks like when you get that many cars out there. You only see about five or nine or 10 or 12 cars today drafting. Or however many get out there. I don’t think it’s a good example of what we will see in the race.”
Q: Is your unfinished business primarily winning a championship? Is that your number one goal?
DEJ: “Absolutely. With the way we ran last year, getting a real sense that we were starting to compete at that level as a team that had the opportunity to win the championship that felt really good. It got really exciting. I think we have an opportunity. Our time is now. We have a chance if we can just find some more pieces and keep improving we have steadily gotten better over the last couple of years. If we can continue to do that and keep applying ourselves and keep working and not get complacent about certain things, then we can be one of those teams that are sitting there in Homestead with a shot at it. I really believe that.”