|Dale Earnhardt Jr is 10/1 to win his third Daytona 500 on Sunday|
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE QUALIFYING CHANGES?
“I’m happy that NASCAR is looking to improve and tweak and learn and to change from single-car to group qualifying. It works really well at all the other race tracks to try to find the right mix of excitement and professionalism and all those good things that you want to have in a show and in a qualifying segment. It’s going to take a pretty unique set of circumstances and guidelines and rules for group qualifying at the plate tracks. And I’m glad that they’re open to making moves and making changes and trying to learn from those changes.
“The last segment of qualifying (last Sunday) I thought was really exciting. There were only about 12 cars in that particular segment and we didn’t know if everybody was going to make it back to the line; sitting there and trying to go at the right time. I thought it was pretty exciting, to be honest with you. And I’m sitting there coming to the flag stand for the green. TJ (Majors, spotter) is counting down the seconds in my ear. I’m wondering whether the rest of the pack is going to make it across. It was touch and go there. I enjoyed that. When we first started that qualifying session with guy driving through the grass and it looked like some guys were going to wreck on pit road before we ever got on the race track. Those kinds of things are a little worrisome and don’t look very well. And I think that it’s good to sort of seek how to improve on that to where it comes across better.
“So, I’m real happy that NASCAR is making some changes and seeing if these changes work. If they don’t work, if it’s not the answer, then it’s not the answer. But it’s good to be able to search and find and we definitely want to have something exciting. We went away from single car runs for several different reasons and it wasn’t just choice by NASCAR itself. Owners had some influence and several different factors had influence on moving away from that and I understand that more than likely we’ll never go back to single car runs. So, if that’s the case we’ll be proactive in trying to find the solution that works for everybody and that’s exciting and professional on TV and from the cockpit of the car it looks good. So, I’m looking forward to how this works.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT IT WHEN YOU SEE 2:30-MINUTE RUNS? HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE?
“Well, the waiting on pit road feels kind of clunky and unnatural. So, we’re all kind of waiting. Everybody wants to be last so you can get the best draft. We all understand that. So, obviously it’s almost pointless to have the extra time if you’re going to wait until the end anyway. So, cutting down the segments may work well and just alleviate some of that waiting and anticipation. Guys are still going to wait until the very last minute. We’re really trying to do exact math to understand exactly when we need to leave pit road to be able to cross the finish line and get the green in time to make a lap. So, you want to wait until the last possible minute. Hopefully some guys, like myself, jump a little too early like we did in that last segment. We went when we thought we needed to go, but it was still too quick. It’s a bit of a new audience and I’m told it’s a new time and a new place and a new era. And so thing have got to change and things can’t always stay the same. I definitely had hoped that the changes we’re making improve the situation and make it better for everybody.”
ON THE TWEET THAT YOU POSTED TODAY ABOUT YOUR LATE FATHER, DALE EARNHARDT, IS TODAY A PRETTY EMOTIONAL DAY FOR YOU?
“No, not really. That was sort of pulling some ideas from George Patton’s quote that I liked. And when Dad passed away, that’s kind of the way that I felt about it like you feel kind of selfish mourning that loss because you’re just like what am I doing to do or how am I going to go forward or how does this make me feel? That’s real selfish. His loss affected a lot of people, not just myself. At the same time, you’re fortunate to have known him and fortunate to have learned and have the experiences that you had with him. So you think about those and be glad that was an opportunity you got to experience. So, I’ve just seen a lot of people tweeting and talking and I just felt like pitching in and let people know where my mind was at. Instead of being sad about it, I think about all the awesome times we had and good things we did and stuff that I think he’s be proud of today.”
YOU’VE BEEN ON TWITTER A YEAR NOW. WHAT SORT OF ROLE HAS THAT PLAYED FOR YOU AND WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S SO IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE LIKE YOURSELF TO BE ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
“Oh, well. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I’m too active. But, when we get to racing and we get to working and you start to follow (Twitter). During the off-season, I really didn’t follow Twitter that much and I really wasn’t that active compared to where we were in the middle of the year. When you get back to work and you start following what’s going on and keep up with what you guys (the media) are putting out and the stories that are happening and just kind of keep your ear to the ground, you get excited and get pumped-up about what’s happening with yourself and your team and you want to talk about it and you want to share your excitement with your excitement; whether it be with our new partners or what fans are talking about. You always feel like you want to weigh-in and agree or disagree. And it’s just a good platform to be able to do that. I’ve enjoyed it. And it seems like once the season gets started, we all get excited and everybody wants to chatter and carry on. It’s a good environment.”
WHEN YOU RETURNED TO THE INFIELD THIS YEAR, WAS THERE A DIFFERENT FEELING IN COMING IN AS THE DEFENDING DAYTONA 500 WINNER? OR, DO YOU JUST BASICALLY HIT THE RESET BUTTON?
“Well, you get asked questions about it and get reminded about the win, which is good and makes you feel good. But, it doesn’t improve your odds of winning. Being the winner from last year doesn’t really help you out there in the heat of the battle. We’ve got a great car. We need to do everything right. We need to get that car all the way through the week and on to the starting grid on Sunday. We don’t need to have any problems to where we have to pull any race cars out of the trailer. I’ve had to do that before. We sat on the pole down here I think one year, a couple of years ago, with Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and wrecked in practice and it just was a difficult week after losing that primary car because that was so much better than the next thing we’ve got.
“So you definitely want to race hard and do everything you can and learn everything you can during the week, but you want to be able to put that car on the starting grid in one piece. I think we’ve got one of the best cars down here. We only practiced one day so far. But looking at the speeds of my car compared to others, I was real happy with that. So, we’ve got a long week. Guys can find speed. We haven’t drafted with the car so I don’t know exactly how it is going to draft and pull up and pass and compete in the draft. That’s two different things than running by yourself. I’ve had some real slow cars by themselves that draft really good. So, you just have to hope that the car has the speed in the draft once we get out there in practice today and the next few days to come.
“Yeah, I’m glad we won. It feels good to come back to any race where you’ve won. You’ve got a little confidence as a driver but once you get in the race and get started, it really doesn’t matter.”
I READ AN ARTICLE THAT SAID DURING YOUR NEW YORK CITY MEDIA TOUR THAT YOU STOPPED AND BOUGHT A POWERBALL TICKET. WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE WITH THE MONEY IF YOU HAD WON?
“Amy (Reimann) got mad at me. She’s like, ‘What the hell are you buying a Powerball ticket for? You don’t need to be winning it’ (laughter). And I promised her right then I would split half with a charity. So, she made me feel pretty bad. I don’t know. Everybody else was buying them, and I want to play. I want to have fun. I have a bunch of friends of mine that some of the guys; Brad Burrows, he’s done some commercials. You guys might remember Brad from the Sunoco commercial waving the flag in the city of Charlotte there. He’s done a couple others. He’s been an extra in a bunch of race commercials. But he works on my property. Well, he buys one every day. We’ve got a group text with all the guys that work on the farm. We text pictures back and forth of our Powerball tickets to each other. So, we have a little fun with that.”
DO YOU PICK YOUR OWN NUMBERS OR ARE YOU A QUICKPICK GUY?
“Quickpick. Just gimme the ticket. We were talking out of the elevator and there was this little kiosk of all kinds of different stuff and somebody was buying one when we walked by and I said hey, I’m going to get me one. I don’t even know what I’m doing. Just give me the ticket. When the numbers came, they popped up on my phone and that was pretty convenient. But we didn’t win. Actually, I won $12 bucks. I hit the Powerball number. So that gives you something like 12 bucks.”
SO DID YOU PUT IT BACK AGAIN, AND TRY AGAIN?
“No, I didn’t.”
DID YOU KNOW PEYTON MANNING AND THOMAS DAVIS WERE INVOLVED IN THE NATIONWIDE INSURANCE COMMERCIAL? WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN THOSE COMMERCIALS STARTED AIRING?
“I was really glad to be a partner with Nationwide, to be honest with you. I didn’t know they were doing that and that always makes you feel really good because they’re going out of their way to show you their support and appreciation. We’ve had a really easy and fun partnership before we ever started putting them on the side of race cars. When you work with certain sponsors, you sometimes get real fortunate with the partnership and it’s and easy one. This is one of those. I’m really excited about how genuine the relationship is and how easy it is for me to help support them. So that was good to sort of get some of that back and feel that appreciation from them. It made me feel good.”
DOES GREG IVES GIVE YOU INSPIRATIONAL NOTES LIKE STEVE LETARTE DID, OR IS HE TOO MUCH OF AN ENGINEER?
“Greg and I haven’t got further enough along for me to know the comparison between the two. Communication seems to be real easy, whether we’re talking face-to-face or through text of whatever. It’s coming along really easy. He’s got a genuine interest in what I’ve got going on and vice-versa. He’s a real easy-going guy. I know he’s not Steve and I don’t expect him to be like Steve exactly. And we’ll get a little further along in the season and we’ll see the difference a little more clearly. But it’s a little early to be able to tell. He’s definitely not the cheerleader that Steve is, but at the same time, we got all the guys on the whole team on a group text we’ve had for a while. We did that with Steve, just so everybody stays in tough with everybody and knows what’s going on. We had a little trouble in qualifying and he was a little disappointed in himself. So we had a little rah-rah text session for about 30 minutes with all the guys pitching in and getting everybody fired-up and he’s good at that. He’s very vocal and believes in the team and speaks his mind. So, he has a little bit of cheerleading qualities in him. That’s going to be good and positive. You’ve got to rally the guys and he knows he is part of the leadership of this team and knows he has to be vocal and let those guys know where he’s at. So I think that’s important that he knows that and that’ll help us a lot.”
WHAT IS THE BIGGER GOAL IN THE DUELS? IS IT TO SEE IF YOU CAN GET THE CAR UP FRONT OR TO KEEP YOUR CAR IN ONE PIECE?
“I think the goal is to win the race. I’ve have that sort of discussion going on in my head every since we got through qualifying. You don’t want to tear the car up but the goal is to go out there and win the race. It just feels wrong to worry more about keeping the car in one piece than winning an event. You’re in that event to compete and to win. If we were locked in the front row, we might have a different opinion about that. But we’re not. Even though the car that’s in the trailer is probably not as good, it’s still competitive and can win the raceon Sunday if we need to run it. Again, it just feels unnatural to worry more about that. I think you get yourself in trouble mentally when you’re out there not making the right choices to try to be competitive and move toward the front. I think if you want to do well in the race and not find yourself in trouble, you do what your instincts tell you: to try to win. If you’re worried about tearing your car up, it’s like the law of attraction. You end up tearing your car up somehow. Trying to stay out of trouble, you find yourself in trouble most of the time.”
DOES GREG IVES HAVE MORE PRESSURE THAN OTHER CREW CHIEFS BECAUSE THE STANDARDS ARE SO HIGH AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?
‘I think so. It takes a unique individual to work there and it takes a certain mindset and culture to be successful there. He’s well aware of that with his past history working there, which I think it going to make this a lot easier for him. So, he knows what the expectations are. And he’s prepared for that. I think he far exceeds them as far as his ability to go in there and lead the team and do his job, he’s overqualified, so I think he’s going to do just fine.”
DID YOU HAVE A SPECIAL FEELING OF CONFIDENCE DURING SPEEDWEEKS LAST YEAR THAT YOU WERE GOING TO WIN THIS RACE? BY COMPARISON, DO YOU FEEL THAT NOW?
“No, I didn’t have any special feeling. I told everybody I’d join Twitter if I won the race, so I definitely feel like I had pretty tall odds (laughs). I didn’t have any intentions of joining Twitter. But I had to keep my word. And I’m glad that worked out. But, the Daytona 500 to me is so different from any other race. What I mean is that in itself, it’s kind of like a season from start to finish. You go through so many highs and lows throughout the event. For whatever reason, it feels like it’s many times longer than any other race, mentally; not in length or time, but just the things that you go through emotionally and mentally in that race just make it feel like it’s such a bigger challenge than any other event.
“I go in there with confidence. My car is competitive, but I know that any one in the field can pull this off with the right moves and the right decisions and the best pit strategy. Any car in the field, almost, is competitive enough to win the race. It’s not like that at all race tracks. The plates are an equalizer and the rules and boxes that the cars are in as far as the rules are concerned with rear springs and shocks and so forth, equalize the cars quite a bit. So, the guy the makes the right move and the crew chief that makes the right choices can get anybody to Victory Lane in this race. So it makes it a real challenge. That makes me feel very fortunate to have won it twice.”
GIVE US YOUR POWERBALL NUMBER IF YOU WERE GOING TO PLAY. JUST ONE NUMBER
“One number? Three. Three today. Why not? I think that’s a good way to wrap-up.”
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