NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having one of his best seasons in years. He won the season opening Daytona 500 and followed that up with a win at Pocono in June. Earnhardt rolls into this weekend’s stop at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway second in the championship standings. His best finish at Indy came in 2012 when he finished fourth. He struggled a bit in qualifying Saturday and starts 23rd on Sunday. Prior to qualifying Earnhardt met with members of the media. Below is the complete transcript of that meeting.
KERRY THARP: Dale Earnhardt Jr. has joined us here in the Chris Economaki press room at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Dale drives the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He’s got two victories on the season. Dale, you were fifth fastest in that final practice. How is your race car this weekend and your outlook for here at Indy as we start the stretch run before we get into the Chase?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I think the car is pretty good, just real easy to over drive the car here. We made a run and it was great, and then the next couple runs I over drove the car and we weren’t that great, so just got to try to be patient with the throttle and try not to push the car into the corner and get the wheels, get the front tires sliding too much.
We practiced yesterday and fought tight entry, and I’ve fought that every time I’ve raced here. I think everybody in the garage is probably fighting the same thing. It’s just whoever can kind of get that the best and get turned into the corners, especially Turn 2. Turn 2 is very, very tight, really easy to miss that corner. This place sort of times out like a road course. If you’re just a little bit tight, you add all that up all the way around the lap, and it’s a lot of time. You make one little mistake on the straightaways, they’re so long here, you can’t recover until you get to the next corner. It’s costly here if you over drive the car. I’m just trying to be patient. Hopefully I can do a good job in qualifying and we can get a good starting position.
Q. Based on the performance level this season, do you feel like this is your best chance to win here at the Brickyard?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, not really. I think I’ve had some pretty good cars here in the past. I’ve had chances to win in the past and didn’t even know it. I think the first time we came here we ran in the top three for the first half of the race. We just didn’t anticipate didn’t realize the potential we had. And this place is you’ve got to kind of pit the car like a road course. The left side tires are very, very hard, so we probably won’t change it that much. We need to sort of plan out our strategy to where we are on pit road the least amount of time on that last stop, so you’ll really try to your strategy may be more geared toward what you do at a road course where you go ahead and get inside the window and get on pit road because the track is so big, get your pit work done and then be done for the rest of the race and try to be that guy that’s out front at the end when everybody else comes on down pit road to get their stuff done.
I guess my point is we’ve had good cars in the past and just didn’t do the strategy just right. Somebody did it better than us or somebody made it on fuel and won the race or what have you, but we’ve had some good cars here.
Q. You have an opportunity to do what only a few other drivers have done, which would be to win Daytona and the Brickyard in the same year. What would that accomplishment mean to you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I’d love to win here. This is such a historic racetrack regardless of whether we won Daytona or not. I really wouldn’t pair the two together as an accomplishment. But I wouldn’t think about it, I guess, like that.
But just winning here alone would be tremendous. I’m excited about our potential in the race today, and to go to victory lane as on owner driver I think would be a great feeling.
This place just has so much history. The story of how this track came about and how it almost ended up being history in itself during the war. It’s just amazing what’s gone on here. I would love to win here and hope to be able to accomplish that at some point in my career.
Q. What made Josh Berry an attractive hire for you, and what are your expectations for him going forward?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I’d love Josh to just do great. Every opportunity we give him, he’s done well, won races. He works really hard. I met him on iRacing.com and became friends with him. I’d raced with him online for probably about six years in several leagues that we put together with friends, me and DJ Majors and other people, and he was racing cars over at Nashville, winning the races over there, and I just kind of followed what he was doing, and then we I told him that I had a late model and I’d give him a race if he wanted to come race. We’d test him first. If he tested well, then we’d race him, and if he raced well then we’d race him again and just one race after another. And then we ended up winning some races and won a championship, and he’s over at Hickory now, won six or eight races there this year, won eight poles. We went to Southern National and won.
He’s the guy working on the car. I mean, he’s working on it, learning himself. That’s part of the deal. If he does the majority of the work on the car and fixes wrecks and stuff like that, then I don’t want him driving it. He’s done a great job. I just think he can do it. I think he’s really smooth. I think he understands what driving a car is all about, and hopefully we’ll see what kind of potential he’s got. We’ll give him this opportunity at Iowa, let him run some Nationwide cars. It took a lot to get that done and cost us a lot of money that we didn’t really want to have to spend. It’s not like the old days where like Denny Hamlin or myself will come out of a late model and get in a Nationwide car. NASCAR has got a system now where you’ve got to go through the K&N, you’ve got to go through the Truck Series, you’ve got to jump through all these hoops, and it costs about 50 grand to do that. It’s kind of unnecessary. But we finally got him cleared and we’re going to Iowa and we’re looking forward to how he can do.
Q. We talked about this, the late model race with Josh Berry a while back, and one of the things you mentioned was that Iowa was kind of on your horizon for Josh. Now that you’ve got him there, talk about why that track was chosen and what are the plans for the late model team after Josh moves on?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I hope he does well and can excite some people and get some business to where we can run him in more races. We’re running him at Iowa because that’s a race we didn’t have a driver for and we didn’t have a sponsor for on the 5 car. There’s a couple open races in that car, I believe, at Phoenix and Homestead and a couple other tracks are open in that car. All the road courses we decided not to run them just due to expense it costs it costs us too much to build cars and have that many road course cars sitting around when we’re not running for the championship as a driver, with a driver in that car.
But there are some races still open, and if we can get some people excited, we’d love to continue if he can run well and not do anything totally disastrous, we can think about running him more. It’s kind of like going back to that late model idea of we’ll run you a race and see how you do, and if we can run you again, we’d love to do it. He’s part of our team and part of our team a long time. We’re going to try to take good care of him and try to give him the best opportunity we can.
Q. Do you foresee a relative stepping in?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Like who? Well, that’s a long, long ways down the road. That’s wishful thinking. It’s a difficult sport to succeed in, and she loves to race. I tried to drag her over to the GoPro Plex or whatever it’s called over there behind the house. I can’t get her to get on those things. She don’t want to drive nothing without a seatbelt and a roll cage.
I’ve got a street stock car. We’ve still got the street stock car that T.J. built in my garage, and we ran it in the Jimmy Kimmel Series a couple of times with a buddy of mine. I’ve still got that car and I was going to put a stock motor in it and send her to Hickory so she could run in the street stock class a little bit, but she’s still scared of it. She’s just so young. She’s got to grow into it, I guess. She drives those little mini sprints, and those things are wild as hell. I don’t know why a little street stock car would scare her, but she thinks those little mini sprints are pretty easy, I guess. She runs with the big boys and she does real good. I’m real proud of her and hopefully she continues to race. I’ve got all my money saved up. We’ll spend it all.
Q. Your teammate Jeff Gordon won this race 20 years ago and few people would be surprised if he won it this weekend. What do you think about that sustained performance over that long of a time? Is it impressive?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Oh, yeah. I mean, Jeff is just a great race car driver. He’s always been one of the top talents in the series, and he’s been with the same team, so that’s really been a big deal to be around one of the best organizations his whole career. He’s pretty sharp about what he needs as far as a crew chief and engineers and people, and I think he’s done a good job of sustaining the integrity of his team and the success of his team. Really his success depends on his team obviously like every driver, and he knows that very well and sort of understands what he needs from that standpoint, and I think that that’s what’s helped him remain so competitive throughout the years.
He’s run he’s been so fast. He’s been really good. They’ve shown some good speed over the last couple weeks, and I was thinking that yesterday he was the fastest guy in race trim from what I could tell, so he’s got a great opportunity this weekend.
Q. Talk about how special winning your last Brickyard with Steve on the box would be. And are there any names being thrown around for next year?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: We’re always everybody is talking a little bit. We haven’t really sat down in a room and got down to a real serious discussion about it. But I think that the people involved in the decision making have some great ideas, and the conversations are starting to happen, so we’ll see how that sort of works itself out.
Yeah, I mean, any race I win with Steve this year is very special because of his last year. So yeah, we’ll take anywhere. We’ll take a win anywhere. This weekend would be he’s one of the guys that’s one of the best on the box when it comes to strategy, and this style of race and the way the tires are going to play into that. This is right in his wheelhouse. I think he’s going to give us a great opportunity.
Q. Chase Elliott won last weekend in Chicagoland making him eligible for $100,000 today. Are you going to stay on top of the box for the race? Have you given him any advice?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I haven’t really sat on Chase’s box much, but I’ve been trying to sit on Regan’s box and sort of help Regan out as much as I can or help that team as much as I can. And I think that Ryan Pemberton appreciates me being on that box, sort of leaned on me a little bit. I gave him some bad advice at New Hampshire about a certain pit stop.
I did move back and forth at Daytona a little bit, but the NAPA box is full of people. It’s always got a lot of NAPA folks and certain people up there, so I try to let the people have their opportunity to sit on the pit box. They’ve got a pretty grand pit box. It’s got stadium seating. So I like the people enjoy that.
Q. Cup holders?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don’t know, I went up there at Daytona and I had to stand in the corner. Regan’s box is pretty empty, so I got up there.
Chase has done a great job. Every time we get asked about Chase we seem to say the same thing, keep repeating ourselves, but he’s doing an awesome job. This is a new experience, I think, for him, and he looked like he’s sort of getting the hang of it in practice, starting a little bit off of the 5 and the 7 and has sort of gradually improved and seemed like he was gathering up what he was understanding about the racetrack and making his car work. So I expect him to be very competitive, so looking forward to hopefully one of us getting up there and maybe winning today. That would just be a thrill.
Q. Considering how well Kurt did in the double, would you like to try that, Indy Charlotte?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don’t think I would. I know it’s a lot of preparation, and I think that it takes a certain mentality, certain style of person. I think that Kurt has that mentality, has that ability to really get down and want to take on something like that. He’s sort of in a situation in his career where he can sort of juggle all those things. We’ve got so much going on, and I really never aspired to drive open wheel cars. I do follow the series and have some drivers I pull for, but I was always a stock car guy and just always wanted to race short tracks and bang on fenders.
But I do have a lot of respect for what he did, and it was a great joy to cheer him on and support him. We all, everyone in the garage, wanted him to do well and to see him do well and accomplish what he did was a great thing I think for both series. So definitely it drew a lot of attention to both series.
I enjoyed that, and I like seeing drivers do that, but I’m going to turn 40 next year, or this year actually, so I think I’ve got so much going on that I’d rather not pile that on to my plate.
Q. This is a preview question: Next race you guys head to Pocono. You won there in June. What are you and your team doing to prepare for that race and are you excited to go there as you have an opportunity to win back to back at a pretty difficult track?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, seems like guys that run well there can sort of sustain it. I’ve seen guys sweep there, or at least have opportunities to sweep and come close. And I like the track, and we have ran well there since the repave, and I anticipate us being competitive again.
Brad Keselowski and his team has really stepped it up over the last month. They’ve become much more competitive over the last four to six weeks than they were at the start of the year, so I assume he’ll be trying to win that race, and he’ll be very strong because he was really good there last time. There’s one of the guys we’ll be keeping an eye on, and Logano will be good, all our teammates will be strong. It’ll be a very challenging race with a lot of competition, but I hope we can go back there and do well.