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Junior Talks 2014 at NASCAR Media Day in Daytona

Team Chevy Racing News | Transcript Published 2/13/2014
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. met with members of the media at 2014 NASCAR Media Day in Daytona and discussed: the return of the No. 3 car to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition; changes to rules package for 2014; Richard Petty and Danica Patrick; thoughts on new points system and other topics.

QUESTION: Can you believe it has been 10 years since you won the Daytona 500?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but time goes by pretty fast. It seems like these last several years have really flew by. Especially when you enjoy yourself. They seemed to grind out when you’re not running too well, but last couple of year have flew by pretty fast.”

Q: Does the significance of that moment still ring to you as much as it did then? Or does time dilute it?

DEJ: “Well, I think that you never forget exactly what that day is like. We come here every year and you get sort of, it all floods back to you as soon as you come back for Speedweeks each season. It’s very fresh, and you’re constantly reminded I think by just what goes on during Speedweeks how important that victory is and how much you would like to get it again. It’s definitely fresh.”

Q: Do you still keep up with a lot of the guys on that team? A lot of them are at Tony's shop now, aren't they?

DEJ: “Yeah, some of them are. A lot of them are family members. Yeah, I definitely have stayed in contact with a lot of those guys. That’s been pretty easy. Everybody stays pretty close to home.”

Q: Would you wreck the 3 for the win?

DEJ: “Wreck the 3? That’s a hell of a question. I’ve haven’t wrecked anybody to win a race in a long time. But we haven’t won any races either. I definitely wouldn’t want to wreck anybody to win a race, but when it comes down to it, you want to win no matter what and you’re not worried about who’s in the other car. You got to do whatever it takes to win aside from just putting a guy in the fence. That wouldn’t be a difficult situation for me at all. I wouldn’t think twice about it.

Q: Do you think the way NASCAR is promoting do whatever it takes to win these races will perhaps change your driving style?

DEJ: “I think it’s going to change a little bit about everybody’s driving style when it comes down to trying to get wins. When you think about, you could think about a lot of different races last year. I’ll use an example – a random example would be (Matt) Kenseth and Kasey Kahne at Bristol last year. That was a situation where Kasey may have done something different under the current rules package we’re going to have this season. I think you definitely may would have seen a different outcome to that race, maybe a little more aggression in that situation.”

Q: Talk a little bit about how you feel about having the No. 3 car ou there. Talk about how your view may or may not differ from what your dad's fans feel.

DEJ: “I don’t know how everybody else feels. I haven’t been studying up on that. I feel good with it. I think it’s great for Austin (Dillon) and Richard (Childress) – grandson and grandfather being able to come together and doing something like that with a number that’s been in their family for so many years. It has a lot of history inside their family. I’m happy for Austin. I’ve known him a long time. I’ve known Richard forever. I’m happy for them. Once we get out on the racetrack, Austin’s a competitor. He’s a guy you’re gonna want to race and have to race to win races. You won’t even think about the 3 on the side. That will sort of become normal. I’m glad that it’s back. It was going to come back. You always wonder how and when and what the situation will be like. It’s a good situation that I can be comfortable with, and I’m happy for that because it could have just as easily been a difficult situation that I wouldn’t have been comfortable with.”

Q: The number hasn't been raced since 2001, but you still see it in the infield on flags and t-shirts. Does it feel like the number hasn't been around?

DEJ: “I don’t know. It hasn’t been around. It hasn’t been on the race track. I haven’t seen it out there. I don’t really know what you mean by that. It’s a symbol for my father and that stylized number and that flag is a symbol to him. When somebody raises that flag up over their motorhome or wherever they may fly it, it’s a way for them to show their support and their fandom for my father. That may change a little bit because Austin has the same number. That could get watered down just a bit. You might not see it in the infield quite as often. People know what it means to them and that’s all that’s important. I don’t really tend to spend a lot of time thinking about it. I’m quite comfortable with how it’s going down. I’m glad it’s back. It was going to come back eventually. I think everybody knew that.”

Q: What did you learn last year &nash; one big lesson – that will help you this season?

DEJ: “I don’t really know if we had one that really stands out. We ran so well in the Chase. I’m excited about getting back out there. We’ve got some new rules and things like that. We had new rules at the beginning of last season, too, and we seemed to adjust to those pretty well. I’m just looking forward to getting out there and seeing how we can do and how our performance is going to be right off the bat. It’s going to be a fun year, I think. I think we’re going to enjoy ourselves. We did last year. We seem to get better every year and hopefully that trajectory is still be the same going into this season – we’re going to improve on what we did last year and that will be fun. It will be an entertaining season for me.”

Q: Do you think the change in the points system is going to bring back more interest each week per race?

DEJ: “I think certainly it will bring interest to those deciding races where the elimination factor comes into play. The first race of the Chase will be well watched and people will tune in. As we get to those elimination races, there will be a lot of influence and viewership there due to the elimination factor. I think it’s gonna be tuned up a notch. Every time we change something, it brings people’s eyes onto the sport. They want to see how it’s going to change and how things are going to work out. I think it makes people curious. They’ll definitely be checking it out the first of the season. Hopefully, they’ll like what they see.”

Q: Were you surprised to learn that you would have won the championship under this system last season?

DEJ: “No, I wasn’t that surprised. We had a good season and a good Chase, a real good Chase. It was the bonus points that hurt us the most. Not winning any races in the regular season and not carrying any bonus points into the Chase. The blown motor at Chicago was a big deal. If we had some bonus points, and some sort of top 15 at Chicago, it might have been a totally different year for us.”

Q: What did you think about Richard Petty's comments on Danica? Did it surprise you?

DEJ: “I thought it was a little rough on Danica (Patrick). You can’t call out The King, because he’s The King. He’s such a patriarch and icon in the sport He has tons of wisdom and insight and a guy that everyone respects. He’s done a lot for this sport, and still does today. But at the same time, when I think about Danica, I just understand she handles, she deals with more criticism than anybody else has ever faced in this sport and that’s unfortunate. She goes by a different set of rules because of her gender, and that’s unfortunate. It seems like she always having to answer to something like that, and that’s a pain in her butt. And frankly, it’s just got to get old.”

Q: She raced for you, so I mean, you witnessed some of it?

DEJ: “It doesn’t bother her. She doesn’t show that it, she doesn’t show it if it bothers her if it does. I’m sure maybe, under the surface, get a little perturbed about it. She’s really strong-willed when it comes to those type of things. I think she has dealt with it from day one. When you hear something like that, you’re kind of taken aback a little bit. Why would someone be so critical? She’s probably dealt with it forever. It’s nothing new for her, maybe she just let’s it roll off her back. Regardless of how she handles it, I think he was being a little rough there.”

Q: He took a shot at you in the same interview.

DEJ: “Me and him work together on that Goody’s deal. I hope he didn’t take too many shots at me because it don’t look too good when it comes to our working relationship. He’s an honest man and he’s got his opinions, and he’s not going to hold back.”

Q: On the Media Tour, he said that some of the 88's fans would go to the 3. Did you even know that he said that?

DEJ: “I don’t know if that’s a slight hack on me. I think fans of mine who were fans of may fathers will definitely want to see the 3 run well, and they will want to pull for Austin. There’s going to be a lot of emotions there, and that’s a good thing that the fans would do that. I’m not over here counting my fans like poker chips. If they want to pull for the 3, by all means, pull for the 3. They can pull for whoever they wish to pull for just as long as we’ve go a lot of them watching and a lot of them tuning in. My main focus is that the sport’s healthy and I think Austin in the 3 and what they are doing is healthy is good for the sport’s health. And I think what Danica does is good for the health of the sport. If my fans want to pull for me and the 3, or just the 3, whatever they want to do, I’m good with that. There’s a lot of emotions coming back with that 3 for them. I can’t imagine being an Earnhardt fan what that’s got to be like.”

Q: That's some stack of poker chips, by the way.

DEJ: “I just don’t, it’s a person’s right and their choice what they want to do and who they want to pull for. I don’t take it for granted that I’m going to have all the fans and the biggest fan base every year. Young guys like Austin are going to come in and they’re going to turn the sport upside down, and one day, there’s going to be a guy who has more fans than anybody else and his name is not going to be Dale Jr.”

Q: The discussion about the 3 definitely has brought more conversation about your father. What does that mean for you?

DEJ: “It’s good I think when people are discussing about my father because he had a great impact on the sport. I get a good feeling about that when his name gets brought up. Under the circumstances, we are talking about it a lot with the number coming back. That’s a positive thing for me because I’m proud of what he did. I’m proud of what he was able to accomplish with the number, and I’m proud to talk about it. Again, I’m happy in the way that it’s coming back. I’m happy how it’s being packaged because it could easily have been a difficult situation. Maybe the number goes to a different owner or a guy that drives it I don’t like or someone that I don’t think respects the heritage or whatever. It could have been totally different, but it’s not. It’s going to be a great situation. We sort of get to celebrate not only the number coming back, we get to celebrate the history of the number and that obviously involves my father.”

Q: Martha (Earnhardt) seems to have a little bit of a hard time with it.

DEJ: “I haven’t seen it. I haven’t heard. We haven’t talked about that. I’m sure that’s got to stir up a lot of emotions for a lot of different people. Some will be stronger than others, and that’s just up to the individual.”

Q: What do you say to people who are hesitant about the number coming back?

DEJ: “It’s coming back. Whether you are hesitant about it or not, a young kid is coming in here trying to pave his way and create a name for himself. He wants that number means a lot to him regardless of my father’s involvement in it, and my father’s connection to it. That number means a lot to Austin because of his grandfather’s history to the number. It’s a number that Austin used forever. I’m sure when Austin was playing t-ball with a 3 on his back, he wasn’t thinking about ‘Man, I wonder how hard it’s going to be when I go to Cup, and I want to use this number.’ He was just having fun. That was his number. When he played JV or varsity, he wanted to bring his number. That was his number. That wasn’t Dale’s number. That was his t-ball number. That was his JV number, his senior number. It means something different to him in a sense and I think you’ve got to appreciate that. You’ve got to appreciate this guy trying to pave his own way. He has every right to do that however he wants and this is the way he chose to do it.”

Q: Doesn't part of you just want to respect that and move on to racing with your own team?

DEJ: “We will. We’re here for media day, and we can talk about anything you all want to talk about today. We’ll get to racing soon enough. I’m excited to be here, and to be back on the race track tomorrow and have some fun. I think we’ve got some great cars that we’ve built. We feel like we’ve brought a great car for the 500. It’s gonna be competitive. We’ve come close to winning it the last four years. And we think we’re going to give it another shot.”

Q: How relieved will you be if you win that race and you can just kind of test between now and the start of the Chase?

DEJ: “Yeah, that would be awesome to put a win behind you early and not have to worry about the stress of making the chase and doing the math on the new format. Winning a race early would give you the opportunity to go for another win and go for multiple wins and try to build up those bonus points that I think are everso important to win any championship.”

Q: Do any of those close calls bother you more than any others?

DEJ: “From last year?”

Q: From the last four years.

DEJ: “You know, I really felt like when we ran second in most of those races. You know, Dover, I came so close to be able to get by Jimmie (Johnson). I don’t know whether I would have been able to hold him off. He was flying at the end of that race. Dover is a race that I thought about a little bit longer than most. But Homestead, we had such a fast car. I beat myself, I mean I just beat myself up so bad over that, wondering why I didn’t win because that car should have won that race. You know, it’s hard to get by guys at the end whenever we are all trying to use the high line and that’s really the only way you can pass. We did make a couple of adjustments to the car that changed the balance a little bit. I had such a good car throughout the majority of that race, and felt like if I’m going to win one, this is almost meant to be because Jimmie’s going to win the championship and I can knock out the last win of the season and get hyped up for next year. It just seemed like it was storybook for me to win that race and felt like it was all lining up, and I didn’t take advantage of it.”

Q: How about your last four Daytona 500s?

DEJ: “You know, they’ve all been close, too. But I’m not – I never in none of those races did I have a situation where I went ‘I let it slip by slip by. I messed up right there.’ Most of the time, we run our guts out and come to the finish line and we just never had a chance to make a move on the guy leading the race. When you make that move or have a chance and you don’t do the right thing and you lose that’s difficult to swallow. Haven’t been in that situation even though we’ve run second, we still haven’t had that opportunity to pass the leader or make a move on the leader.”

Q: With the rules the way they are, it will have to be balls out at Homestead because whoever crosses the finish line first will win the champiionship.

DEJ: “I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t know if we can run any harder than we were last time we were there. I was running my guts out – I know Matt was too. I know the 11 was. That was fun. We had a lot of fun that day. I remember going into turn two passing the 11 and 2 on the outside when they were getting together. We were all running our guts out. That was exciting for me. That race was exciting for me. I don’t know what it was like as far as a fan or a viewer but I felt like that was a good end result for our sport. If we can come down to Homestead with a four-car battle and have that type of stuff going on that would be great.”

Q: Haven't seen very many four car battles at Homestead. Will a four car battle force the others not in it to drive easier?

DEJ: “I don’t know. I think you treat people how they treat you. If I’m racing, and I’m coming up on a buddy of mine and I’m one of the four cars and he’s not, I’m going to be like ‘Hey, come on, cut me a break here.’ But they don’t have to, and sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they do. Yeah, I think that’s kind of always been the case in the Chase when you have the drivers who are in and the drivers who are out. When you’re out, you definitely tend to not give the guys too much of a hard time that are in the Chase when it’s not necessary. You just try to go out there and win races though.”

Q: With the new Chase format, would you want to test Homestead multiple times?

DEJ: “I don’t think so. That would be unconventional, and maybe that’s where we are headed – saving all your tests for Homestead. But you definitely probably, it depends on how your season goes the first 20 races obviously. If you barely squeak into that Chase, we’ve got four teammates amongst us, I don’t know that we could convince all four that we have to have one objective. All of them have different agenda. They’ve got to get better where ever they think they need to get better. We’ve got to spread the wealth a little bit and be understanding of the other teams needs when it comes to testing.”

Standings
After Bojangles Southern 500
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 -- Jeff Gordon 297 0
2 -- Matt Kenseth 296 -1
3 -- Carl Edwards 278 -19
4 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 271 -26
5 +2 Jimmie Johnson 270 -27
6 -1 Kyle Busch 269 -28
7 +1 Brad Keselowski 246 -51
8 -4 Joey Logano 245 -52
9 +2 Ryan Newman 236 -61
10 +2 Austin Dillon # 235 -62
11 +5 Greg Biffle 227 -70
12 +2 Tony Stewart 224 -73
Full Standings