Teleconference: Dale Earnhardt Jr
April 24, 2007 | 8:09 P.M. EST
Going back a couple weeks, I wanted to ask you about the big thing with Kyle Busch's car. It seemed to me the story was more him getting out of his car and disappearing than you getting in. You may totally disagree and may not want to comment. Were you at all surprised at how much comment it got on your end, or are you just used to every breath you take being scrutinized to that point?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I learned after the fact. I also heard that Kyle had got out of his car and was angry, had left. But I learned after the fact that I was going 40, he hit me going 150, he hurt his wrist and back real bad, so he was at the bus or the infield care center somewhere trying to get some assistance with that pain he was having.
They only had 20 laps left in the race. They only needed to run seven. Had to be pretty quick about my decision to get in there. I did it 'cause it's fun. That was really the only reason I did it. Also, I don't mind saying this, I can deal with the power they got in their motors and go back to my guys and say, This is where we stack up, this is where we're better, this is where they're beating us, I think. I can feel the attitude of their car.
Obviously they run really good with the Hendrick cars. I can feel the attitude and how the car sets, reacts in the corner. I can't obviously look underneath the hood and see the springs and shocks. I can go to Tony, Jr. And say, Hey, this is the way it felt. He's smart enough, he can run back in his head and have some ideas maybe what they're doing that I liked or disliked, just depends.
The car was wrecked. I did it as a little bit of a favor because I got some buddies over there and I got a huge amount of respect for Rick. It's fun. You don't see it that much any more. It's a shame. It's a shame it was such a big deal, number one, because it used to be commonplace. It's a shame that you don't see it that much any more because corporate sponsors are so pitted against each other, so competitive.
Of course, they got to be, but it's taken a lot of that stuff out.
An update on where you're at right now as far as the contract negotiations go.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We're basically where we've been over the past couple weeks. Not much has changed. Unfortunately, I know you guys want to know more than that, and I want to tell you more than that, but there's not more to tell.
Whenever we get the information, when I have what I have, know what I know, believe me, I won't hold it out for long. Really nothing to report at this time.
It's been the main story around you. Has it served as a distraction at all?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, it's not a distraction at all because really there's nothing been going on. I get worried really that it's being run into the ground. When we find out what we want to do and we decide what to do, how it goes down, what the plan is, we will tell the press. We'll be ready to tell the press. We'll be happy to make those announcements.
What I worry about is during this time, see there's a period in the contract negotiations where you'll run into some stalemates, but you'll also run into some waiting periods where you're waiting back on a response here or sent something here, waiting for a response on this, that and the other. You're working out these little instances. It just takes time. There's nothing really to tell the press because there's nothing really changed.
I get worried that the story is just going to become stale, old, it's going to wear people out. They're going to get tired of hearing it. One of my favorite shows is Around the Horn on ESPN. They were talking about it on there. I know it's getting old when Around the Horn is debating whether it's getting old 'cause they were debating whether it was an old story, we were hearing too much about it, whatever.
I just get worried about that because I don't want – I'm not out here saying, Hey – I'm not out there fueling the fire. I'm trying to put it out until we're ready to tell everybody what the deal is. The press just keeps asking. We're honest. We're just telling ain't nothing changed till there's something changed.
Can you talk about the success you've had in the past at Talladega, why you've enjoyed such good results there.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, a lot of reasons. My dad put a lot of emphasis on the restrictor plate program when he built DEI. He brought Richey Gilmore in there who was one of the best at building restrictor plate motors. Going into my rookie season, I had fast motors, fast cars already.
Tony, Jr., just so happens, we had not only the best engine builders for plate motors in Ricci, we had one of the best body men when it came to Tony, Jr.. he knew exactly what that car needed to cut the air just right, what to do to the car to make it draft good, how to get it to pull up good with the body, with the air.
We have a lot of guys in the shop now that have learned from Tony, Jr. and brought a lot of their own knowledge.
We just built a really, really good plate car with all that information, all that expertise laying around there. I feel like can I do a good job driving it. I feel like I know what I need. Watching so many races with my dad, I don't know why, but you always tune into the Daytona 500. I always paid a lot of attention to every move made there.
I went to the Talladega races, enjoyed them immensely. Plate racing was something I really enjoyed, superspeedway racing was something I really enjoyed watching, was really excited about doing that. I look forward to those when we got in the Busch Series. I would always wreck in them. I finally got to where I could finish 'em. When I got in the Cup Series, I started winning.
It's just been something I've tutored myself on for a long time. I feel like I've got a good appreciation for what it takes to win. I think carrying in that sort of confidence helps as well. When you feel confident about what you're doing, guys see that body language, see that language in your driving style on the racetrack, they like to draft with a guy like that, that's confident.
You've talked about obviously your respect and trust with Kelly before. You obviously have a lot of respect for her business sense, to put her in the roles you've put her in. How is she as a negotiator? Is she tough, diligent, quiet?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: She's pretty good. I like challenging my sister with those type of responsibilities. As she learns more about the sport, her position. In her position, she's able to learn quite a bit, be around quite a bit, experience a lot. I like challenging her with those responsibilities as she gets more under her belt.
This is a pretty big – pretty full plate she's got right now. She was dealing with a lot of things in the past, a lot of small circumstantial stuff, business deals here and there. It was a real full plate for her then. But she never really tackled the big monster, the real deal like a contract negotiation until now.
But she knows Teresa. She knows the company really well. She knows the people working with them, working through the deals of Wrangler deals, Chevrolet deals. She knows all that. I think that's going to help her in working with everybody. We're all getting to know Max, who is a really cool guy. He's got a lot of passion. Just working with Max has been an experience and been pretty enjoyable.
Don't have any worry whatsoever of my sister being able to get the job done or not being able to get the job done. I feel total confidence in her. We both learned a lot over the last several years and learned it together. But I wouldn't have her in that position if I didn't trust her, and she wouldn't want to be in it if she didn't feel confident. She wouldn't want to put herself or me in that position if she didn't feel like she could get it done.
NASCAR talked so much about diversity. Do you think maybe you've made the biggest move in years in making your sister a very important person in this sport?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I never even really thought about it like that. I suppose. It's not – I guess it's something that should come natural whenever it comes to diversity. If that's the way somebody will make a story out of that, I guess they could. Just always been a part of my life. She raised me quite a bit when I was young. There was a lot of gaps that she filled and voids she filled when it come to having some parental guidance, whatnot, what's right and wrong.
She helped me a lot. I'm just trying to show her a lot of appreciation, number one. She's obviously very talented. I'm lucky to have her, a caliber of person like her, in my camp. I feel very comfortable.
Dale, considering that Talladega just might be the rock-solid Earnhardt home court there is, and considering last time you and Jeff had a real duel there, the caution flag messed things up, they rained beer cans at him, are you prepared if he should actually surpass your father's mark at Talladega Sunday? Would you go ahead and do sort of another go over to the car and take Jeff Gordon's part in this tight thing? What would you say to fans who don't seem to want Jeff to surpass your father's mark?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, if Jeff does something involving my father, some kind of recognition to him, I think it's a responsibility of somebody from this side, my side of the family, to tell Jeff we appreciate it either in Victory Lane, the next week or something. I think it's important to tell him that's cool and we appreciate it.
I think if we don't say anything, Jeff is going to wonder whether we liked it or disliked it. I do what I think I would want done to me in that situation. That's how I react to everything basically 90% of the time. I would like to be told it was appreciated, so I would do that for Jeff.
He did that last week. I think if he wins this next race, it will be a typical celebration just like all the others. I wouldn't expect anything more or less from that circumstance. He tied him. He recognized that. That was appreciated. I think he closed the door on that. He can go on and move on with his career and enjoy it. He can't feel obligated to continue to relate everything back to my father. So I feel like he's done – he paid his due in that last week. That's all great.
For the fans who don't want to see that, it's going to happen regardless, whether they like it or not, whether I like it or who likes it. I'm proud to be able to be in this sport. It's a privilege to race in the NEXTEL Cup Series. It's a privilege to be a driver in that sport. There's only 43 of us in the entire country that get to do it.
I get to get out there and compete and race and have fun. I can appreciate a guy winning 76 races. It's a heck of a feat. Congratulations to however many more he wins. If he gets up there and ties Bobby, pulls into third place, who knows what he can do. I definitely see him getting more wins. That's just a product of his success and his ability.
If he were to win Sunday and get sort of a hail of beer cans, would you consider that a funny thing, a rowdy NASCAR time, or a little bit nasty?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'd consider it nasty. I think I just don't feel comfortable with beer cans flying onto the racetrack. I'm out there in my race car. I don't feel comfortable with beer cans flying on the racetrack at any point in time, to be honest with you. You see a lot of them are full, half full, hitting people 'cause they're not making it over the fence, knocking people in the back of the head. I've seen that happen on occasion. It's a dangerous business. I don't think it's cool. It ain't cool at all.
Go out in the parking lot and wail a couple beers at your car. Don't throw them at my car or anybody else's, for that matter. Take a couple shots at your own. I think it's ridiculous, to be honest with you. The first time it happened between me and Jeff, it was funny. Then I heard later that people got hit in the head. You could see it on TV, beer cans, full beer cans, were being thrown onto the track.
If a full beer can doesn't make it on the track, hits somebody in the head sitting down in row four or five, maybe an innocent fan, maybe a first-time fan, maybe it's a female or a child, that's ridiculous. Once I found that out I realized the seriousness of that situation.
Maybe get some toilet paper. If you're unhappy with it, throw some toilet paper. It's hell to clean up, but it won't hurt anybody.
I know you don't want to talk about the contract. I'm not asking you to belie any confidences. Would you say it's fair to say now or all along that this has been, how we can get a deal done, not whether we can get a deal done? Has it progressed at all in that direction or has it ever been anything different than that?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's not been "if" at all. We've both worked together and it's all been positive. We've just made an agreement between ourselves to try not to talk about it in the media or insinuate anything until we're ready to release the details. Both sides have made that agreement. We had to make it a little bit firmer obviously after this weekend.
We're just trying to work on it without any press, which is kind of difficult. Maybe typically it ain't fair to you or the public, but we like to do this on our own terms here.
You have fans that care about you and your sister, your team, that really sort of have a personal connection. There are fans out there worried about you, what you're going to do. Doesn't seem to me in this whole thing that you've been worried at all. Seems like business.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think the fans should not be worried. I mean, I've always looked at everything in life, not to be philosophical or anything, but I always look at everything, whatever happens happens. You do the best you can. At the end of the day, if you give it a hundred percent, at the end of the day there's no reason, even if you run last or wreck or blow up, whatever happens, with the contract or anything, you just did your best. That's how you go to sleep at night being comfortable. That's how you can sleep at night. You tried your hardest.
Everything else didn't fall into place for you but you did what you could do. I wouldn't be happy with myself if I was only giving 90%. I know when I went to bed, if you tried that 10, what position would you be in, give that 10%, get that hundred. What position would you be in right now? Would you be happier? I don't give myself that opportunity to worry about it. I go hundred percent every day, do my best. The good Lord's going to take me wherever I go in life. I'll be fine. I'm going to be fine. I'm going to win races. My sister's going to be happy. My mom's going to be happy. My family will be took care of. My friends could care less. Hopefully my fans are real happy. We get down the road, get the job done.
There was a time where you were just totally dominant on the restrictor plate tracks. Now you've gone nine races without winning. What happened in that time? The fact you were in place to win at Talladega last fall, does that mean you got it figured out again?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No. I mean, we had just put ourselves in position to win. I'll tell you, I'll be honest with you. When we were winning earlier, won the four in a row, whatnot, Talladega, we had such a dominant car. That car would go to the lead whenever I wanted to lead. Nobody could pass me. If I wanted to be arrogant about it, I could of held the light the entire time. For some reason, we just had a package that was dynamite.
The cars have changed, aerodynamic package has changed, plate has changed, our engine package has changed, torque range, power ranges. A lot of things have changed. When that happens, you don't take the same thing back and you don't run the same. Other people have learned more.
I don't even know exactly what the number is of multi-car teams in the sport, six, seven or eight. If there's eight multi-car teams in the sport, we were probably sixth or fifth at best for a while at the plate tracks. Me and Martin or anybody, when Michael was driving for us, we had to draft really, really hard just to get up and see the lead much less take it.
Just recently we got fed up enough, and Tony, Jr. really went to work hard. We brought that car last year. We really had a pretty good car. We could get up there, race with the leaders. If we were smart and made the right moves, we could accomplish leading the race. We happened to be there at the end when it counted. Unfortunately, didn't work out for us. But I was happy that we were at least in position.
To go, like you say, so many races and not be in position to win, that was very frustrating, knowing what we accomplished before, knowing how we ran, how frustrating that was. I don't want to go back. It's a cycle. You see it with Yates. You see it with a lot of teams, that plate stuff, the success rate, whatnot, it cycles around. It comes and goes.
Dale, with all due respect to what you already said about your contract this morning, can you at least say whether you're hopeful or confident of staying with DEI?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I am. I'm pretty excited that things are going to be fine, things are going to work out with our negotiations.
I know you just said earlier that things at Talladega and plate racing seem to cycle around, but lately they only cycle around to Chevrolet drivers. Are you surprised that Fords, Dodges, even Toyotas haven't caught up there?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, you got to look at how many teams Chevrolet has, the caliber of ownership, equipment. I think the odds are just in Chevrolet's favor for winning pretty much every week.
You know, from the Ford camp, Roush has really been the only real strong threat to win. Last couple years Yates has sort of went back into a rebuilding stage. Hopefully in the next several years, they'll get back to where they want to be. I know they want to. You know, if you just look at the teams, Chevrolet, if you take Hendrick out of the bunch, we're all pretty much even. Hendrick has put a lot of wins on the table. That helps Chevrolet quite a bit.
You know, I like driving Chevrolets. Over the years, NASCAR has done things that I didn't agree with to help certain manufacturers, maintain a level playing field. But, you know, my Chevrolet, I don't know, I've always been a Chevrolet guy. My daddy drove a Ford once, drove a couple Oldsmobiles. He liked Chevrolets, stuck with them. He had a good rapport and relationship with them. I've been able to pick that up with those guys as well. I enjoy it.
There seems to be a split in your fan base where the smaller number of fans who might have gotten upset with Jeff Gordon, thinking he's the Intimidator, not understanding the move last week, is being kind of overwritten about as compared to the fan base that doesn't feel that way. You have a certain aspect of your fan base that wouldn't throw a beer can, that understands this whole thing. Do you hear from them, too?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I mean, not all my fans are going to throw a beer can at Jeff Gordon every time they see him. I don't really know. I didn't really see a replay as far as the amount of trash that got thrown on the track last week. I was pretty surprised to hear that it even happened.
I was blown away that anybody would even take what Jeff did wrong and be offended. Hello, I mean, he was waving a 3 flag. Just seems like to me he was trying to do the right thing and trying to say this guy was really good and I'm honored to have met one of his accomplishments. Every time I meet one, I'm pretty dang happy about it.
I was pretty happy that Jeff – I like to beat Jeff. I don't like seeing Jeff win. I like to win. But when he honored my father, that was really cool. That was a lot of class. I wanted to make that known.
You know, I can't speak for everybody. I can't speak for all my fans. My fans are their own – just like me, I'm my own guy, they're their own people. They do what they want to do. We each can relate to each other in the fact that they like what they see on Sunday and they like what I'm about. You know, as far as their actions, you know, that's their actions. They're responsible for 'em.
Knowing what you know about the car, taking it to Talladega, can you beat Jeff Gordon at Talladega?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Sure, can I beat anybody at Talladega. Are you kidding (laughter)? You give me a decent car, I can take it up there, run up front.
A question about the All-Star race coming up. Just wanted to get your ideas on how you like the winner-take-all kind of format. Bruton Smith said there should be more emphasis on winning at NASCAR.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, there should be more emphasis. That sort of ticks me off when I hear that. I don't know a guy out there that's going to run 10th or 5th. Is it so bad that it makes you happy when you do run in the top 10 or top five? Are we all supposed to be ticked off from second on back?
But we are there to win. We're not settling for 5th, you know. You go out there, run a 500-mile race, finish 5th, tell me if you wouldn't be a little satisfied about that. But you still wanted to win. 500 miles is a dang long race. To be in the top five in any of 'em's pretty cool.
I just get upset when people make a deal out like we're some kind of – all the drivers are some kind of spoiled group that has forgotten that winning is No. 1. That's ridiculous.
Anyway, I don't know. The All-Star race is really exciting. I've always held it up pretty high as far as importance. A lot of people might look at it and go, Well, it's sort of an off week, no big deal, no points, no real reason to get too excited. Well, that's wrong. That's opposite. There's no points so you can let it all hang out. You bring your A game 'cause it's a million dollars. Pays a lot of money.