Team Chevy Racing News |
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway and discussed the format for this year’s All-Star Race, the success of JR Motorsports and other topics.
This is the 20th anniversary of your dad winning the All-Star Race and Coke 600 in the same year. As you look back on that and reflect on that accomplishment, does anything stick out in your mind?
“I was really young then and I remember in that year and in that season or maybe that year before or after that….1986 and 1987 were two really, really good years. He started off one of those years winning like eight of the first ten races or something crazy like that. But they just had a really good team and they were having a lot of fun and everybody was really happy and getting along with the success they were having. There were some really good personalities on that team that are still in the garage today. I just walked past Danny Lawrence walking in here. So you think about not only the success but you think about the group of guys like Chocolate Meyers and all those people that were involved in getting that car to the racetrack and they just seemed to be hitting on all cylinders and it was a lot of fun to witness and a lot of fun to see week in and week out.
“It’s definitely rare and you have Jimmie (Johnson) winning five championships and you have things that happen in the series that are phenomenal, but it’s rare. It happens but it’s rare when you see a team that can take control of the entire sport throughout the season. And in ’86 and ’87 they were really about as great as you could be and it was just a lot of fun to watch. I know the 600 was a big race and it’s still a big race, but we didn’t have Indy and places like that to share the spotlight. Yeah, this was a big event and it was similar to Daytona and everybody was at the 600 and everybody was here. We would sit up in those condos and watch everything. All the practices, and every lap that every car ran all weekend long and it was just a lot of fun and certainly a different time and different sport than it is today. But it was a good experience for me in just being young and having the run of the place really.”
Being a native of North Carolina, I know it's got to feel good for you to run at a place like Charlotte.
“Yes. This place is great as far as the history and the connection to the sport. Being local and having a lot of the crew members and mechanics and everybody involved in the sport get to bring out the wives and the girlfriends and the kids and all that stuff. Everybody gets to enjoy the race and gets to come and enjoy the weekend. We are around here all year long and this is home and I drive up to Hendrick Motorsports every week so you are around this place all the time. I am glad it is as successful as it is and the history that it has. I think it’s great that we run the All Star race here, being local and have the opportunity for everybody to have a good time. It is a fun weekend and is a fun event. I just hope that the track can have as much success that it had, and that I have witnessed it have and I hope the track can move forward and continue to have great races and produce great memories and moments that will be in everybody’s memory bank for a very long time. I think it’s been very successful so far and I just wish it the same going forward.”
How did your briskey turn out?
“Everybody loved it and we didn’t have any left. That was fun. I texted Myron Mixon, who I have used his recipe out of a book he wrote. And man, it turned out perfect. So that was fun and I am excited and my mom wants me to do that over the holidays now, so I am excited about that. But we are going to cook two next time so we will have some leftovers, because we could have really used some brisket that next day.”
So you are getting the hang of barbecuing and getting good at it?
“I don’t know if that was pot luck, or I had a good recipe to go by for sure. So I enjoyed that. I never really slow cooked. We started at nine o’clock in the morning and we ate at six. It’s something that when I got home from the Darlington race, I injected the brisket that night and put it in the refrigerator so we had been working on it all night and all the next day. It was good and I am ready to do it again.”
You said this place was special to you as a kid. What did you do during the race last October when you didn't race here?
“I watched on TV. You know, I thought about coming since it was close but I didn’t want to be a distraction and I didn’t want to give………you know I wanted Regan and the guys to concentrate and do the best job they could. Emotionally it was just really hard to watch the car practice. Watching the race was…I knew I wasn’t going to race. But the hard part is to see the car practice because I enjoy the process that we go through in practice when it’s me and the guys and we are trying to figure out how to go faster. Once you are in the race you have set the table and you sit down and you have dinner and whatever happens, happens. The preparation and build up to it is what I enjoy most and I just really didn’t like watching that. They were fast but man, when the car would go fast it was just a lot of emotions like envy, and jealousy, and just wishing to be out here. I was real selfish about it I guess to a fault. But I am competitive and I wanted to be in the car and glad that I am back.”
How have you changed in the car as far as the thinking process? Is it significantly different than a few years ago and if so, how have you kind of evolved to this point?
“I don’t know how much I have changed over the years, but I know that Steve (Letarte) does a really good job of bringing that information that he needs out. We have a good enough relationship that I can talk to him and he can talk to me. It’s not difficult to explain things to him and he is good at sort of catching what I am trying to sell him when I am talking about the car. He is real good picking up and I don’t have to feel like I am beating my head against the wall to get through to everyone what the car is doing and what I am feeling and what I need. I have a lot less of that with him since we have worked together. I think that helps a lot. I think that over the years when you first start driving race cars and moving up in the series that you are just really over-eager in a lot of situations. I think the older you get the smarter you become, and the better you are at making decisions and understanding what battles are the battles you need to fight. And what battles aren’t battles that you need to be in the middle of. I think you get smarter at that and you finish races. You finish more races and you don’t end up on the hook and you don’t end up tearing up your race cars often and you become a smarter driver over the years.”
Racing for 2 million dollars, sometimes people lose their heads anyway and what is it about the format that you like, don't like, what are you anticipating on the qualifying tonight? What are your thoughts on this format?
“The one thing I do like is the 10 lap finish. I don’t think we need any more than that to settle the winner. A better idea might be that last segment to have three green-white-checkers. The sprint and the urgency that 10 laps or something that short or compact brings is what the ending needs. The fans seem to really love when a race has a green-white-checkered. The drivers aren’t very fond of it, but if the fans love it. If I’m watching a race and I’m not in it I like watching that too. That might be something that they could bring in down the road. The 20 lap segments it’s all irrelevant to me how many segments we have before the finish and the qualifying is zany, with the coming down pit road with no speed limit and all that. I think it would be fun. They got rid of the thing downtown with the pit crews and I really used to enjoy the pit crew competition they had a Rockingham back in the day. I think that was fun. That was kind of a big deal for the crews back then. There was a lot of pride in that. Maybe that could be something to do with qualifying, maybe we don’t run any laps we just pull into a stall, cross a beacon, have a pit stop and exit the stall. I know the pit crews are a part of the process in qualifying, but maybe make it more focal about the pit crews themselves, solely just for qualifying that would really put them on a pedestal. Those guys deserve it. I used to not like that the format changed. I used to love the ’87 format was the only format we needed. That’s the way I always thought. I thought that was the most exciting one. Why change it? I kind of think it’s fun to tinker on it every once in a while.”
Compare and contrast the performance of your JR Motorsports team from this year compared to this point last year.
“It’s been really good. We have turned things around somewhat. We still got a ways to go. I think we are still a little bit off speed wise from some of the other teams. We are doing really good in the points. Regan (Smith) has driven some great races. He makes me nervous because he drives so hard. Sometimes I feel like there was a couple of laps at Richmond where I thought he was going to spin out on the inside of the No. 31 car there are just instances like that where I’m like man, you know, I wish I could talk to him or be like you sure you know what you are doing? Or do you really need to be driving this hard right now? But he doesn’t spin out, he doesn’t wreck and he finishes races. That is all I can ask of him. I told him that we are going to put him in position with cars and people to have a shot at winning the championship. I really felt comfortable about that. I think if he makes good decisions and we don’t have any odd failures or anything like that we can really make a run for the championship. Obviously, we are in good position right now to do that. Real happy with everything going on, especially the people. We changed a lot of people, we changed some crew chiefs and really we kept a lot of people that had been there for a long time. It’s real easy to move people around under the surface, but when you keep that all the same and you bring in top tier management type people it’s hit or miss whether the group is going to listen to this guy or listen to that guy or follow this guy’s ideas or the way he wants to do things. We were real fortunate that everybody is really on the same page and excited about each week.”
When Regan (Smith) took the points lead two races ago it was the first time that your organization had led the points. Do you feel with all the changes that you just talked about that you are on track to be a legitimate contender?
“Yeah, I think we are a contender. Again, we are just off a little bit on speed, but we have made gains this year already to get there. I think we are contending well. The fact that I’m getting asked about it is reason enough to believe we are doing well. Used to have to bring up how JR Motorsports was doing, used to not get too many questions about it, and really had to promote it myself. The fact that we are relevant in the series and we are considered competitive and considered one of the teams that is going to be up there racing each week I think that says a lot. It is fun to work with Regan (Smith) and the chances of how that all worked out really had a whole lot to do with us getting together last year when I was going through the concussion deal. He just happened to get fired at that time and I felt like he needed to be in a race car. We just happened to need a driver and all that kind of worked out. We built a friendship. That turned into this relationship now at JR Motorsports. I consider all that kind of fate. I think that what is happening is happening for a reason. Hopefully, propels Regan back into the Cup Series at some point and gives us the success we were experiencing when we had Brad (Keselowski) in the car. Get us back into a more competitive place.”
From here watching, it looked like that 15 minutes of practice for the pit road competition was pretty chaotic. What did it feel like from the driver's seat and were you able to get a clean run?
“Yeah, it was just really a lot of guys trying to learn what to do there. A lot of us hadn’t ever gone down pit road under those circumstances without any pit road speed. I think a lot of people, the crew chiefs especially were nervous about their equipment. Trying to get the car back in one piece was the most important thing. In that 15 minute period, I tried to get everything I could out of it, but I think I definitely need more time experimenting with that kind of thing to really perfect it. I think you are going to see a lot of people kind of all over the place as far as how they approach coming onto pit road and leaving pit road, but we will try to do the best we can. It was pretty chaotic though, it was borderline humorous at times what you were seeing out there, but everybody was really giving each other plenty of room and letting everybody get a shot at it. It was pretty orderly to be honest with you. We didn’t know what to expect. I don’t know if anybody knew what to expect pulling off pit road what was going to happen.”
With no points or anything on the line, is this a good race to kind of get back at a driver if you need to kind of retaliate against somebody?
“(Laughs) I mean what’s wrong with the other races? (Laughs) Those are good races too. I think if you really want to get after somebody you don’t have opportunities coming up too often. You take them whenever you can get them. I try to race how people race me. I know everybody say that, but it is the truth. You treat people the way you get treated, no matter if you are driving a car or not. I don’t think this race broadens opportunity any more than any other lap. To be honest with you, when you get a chance and you want to stick it to somebody you can definitely make it hell for them.”