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Allstate 400 Q&A with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR
Thursday, July 09, 2009

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RON GREEN: Good morning. My name is Ron Green. I'm the director of public relations for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I want to welcome everyone here, especially our guests from the National Guard. We are also streaming this press conference live, and it will be seen around the world.
We also want to welcome our special guest today, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale, Welcome.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Thank you.

GREEN: We had another press conference in here yesterday with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. I said it wasn't an ordinary day at the Speedway, for several reasons. Usually the Speedway this time of year is pretty quiet getting ready for the race. Yesterday we had one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in Indiana, the Indiana Open, going on, which is actually going on again today at the Brickyard Crossing. We have hundreds of fans getting behind-the-scenes tours presented by our Hall of Fame Museum, so we had fans all over the grounds getting a behind-the-scenes look of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And then we have a couple hundred kids racing from all over the country at the USAC Quarter Midget Nationals over in what is normally the driver motorcoach lot.

Then we had on top of all that, as I said, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart. We also had a surprise visit by Al Unser Jr. and A.J. Foyt. So we had a lot of activities on the grounds yesterday, and believe it or not, same thing today.

All of those same tournaments, and we also are fortunate to have NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. here. Obviously, we're here to talk about the Allstate 400, but we'll talk about a few other things, as well.

Dale, first of all, I appreciate you stopping on your way up to Chicagoland here and doing this for us. We really appreciate that.

EARNHARDT: Well, I appreciate it. I want to thank all the National Guard people that are here today, and obviously the Guard has had a big influence on me being here today, and I want to thank them and our sponsors, Amp Energy, also. They've been really supportive this year, and it's been great working with them. Met a lot of great servicemen and women through the Guard this year. And look forward to the rest of the season.

We are practicing in Chicago later this afternoon, but we were supposed to come out here and drive, I think it's a 1941 --

GREEN: 1941 IndyCar.

EARNHARDT: That was going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully that offer is still open. (Laughter)

Dan Wheldon was here with his National Guard IndyCar, the two-seater. He was going to give me a lap or four in that thing, and that was going to be pretty exciting. But we'll have to do that another day, as well, I guess.

But I'm sure when we come back for the 400, the weather will be a lot nicer, and obviously we made a lot of changes in the tire that we had a problem with last year. They've had what I've heard up to four or five tests here, and I've heard nothing but good things, so I'm certain that they've got the tire issues cured coming into this next event. I'm looking forward to it, too. Working with a new crew chief over the last couple weeks, and we're seeing some improvement and looking forward to every race that I run the rest of the year, in that regard. Getting more and more time with Lance (McGrew), and the team and improving more and more.

GREEN: July 26 will be the 16th running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Dale has nine starts in the 400 beginning in 2000, best start as third in 2002 and his best finish was sixth in 2006. He's led the race on four occasions. Dale, I have one question for you, and then we'll open it up to the media.

When you look at the list of winners of the 400, Gordon, Stewart, Johnson, Elliott, Rudd, Labonte and, of course, your father, Dale Earnhardt, some of the best of the best that's ever driven in the sport. What would it mean to you to have an Allstate 400 at the Brickyard championship?

EARNHARDT: Well, winning this race is amazing. Any kind of a -- it's really, really hard to put it into words, and I try my best every time I get asked that. Everybody wants to know what winning this race is like because obviously this event competes with just a very small amount of other events to be the most prestigious race in our series throughout the season. And it's arguably, depending on who you ask, obviously, the biggest race of the year.

So it's really hard to put it into words what it would feel like. I think about when somebody asks me what it would feel like to win here, I think about the open-wheel history of this track, and I think about the drivers that were here, drivers like Andretti and Foyt and the guys even before them. I think about the history of this track and how it's survived the war and closed down and opened back up and everything that it's been through. And I remember when we first, when they first brought stock cars here to practice, it was a realization for a lot of people, including myself, being an aspiring driver at the time, that I may have a chance one day to race at Indianapolis that I otherwise didn't think that I would have unless I was to go in the open-wheel series.

So it's an honor to run here, it's an honor to be here at this place. And to win at this racetrack, regardless of the series, I think is great for any driver's résumé. Not only in, you know, in North America but the world. This place is second to none when it comes to history; and when you think about motorsports, you think about Indy.

GREEN: We're going to open it up for questions. Just three notes here first. One, this is being streamed live, and we're also doing a transcript of this, so we need to ask your question in a microphone. I'll work this side of the room, we have Jana on that side of the room with a microphone, so just raise your hand when you're ready to ask a question.

If you already haven't heard, all the on-track activity, as Dale mentioned, is canceled unfortunately. But we'll take you up on that offer and get you back up here to drive that 1941 car.

Also, Dale was actually running early today, so we knew he was a history buff and we were able to get him in the basement of the Hall of Fame Museum for about 20 minutes, and I think you're wanting to come back and see a little bit more, aren't you?

EARNHARDT: Yeah, I filled up my phone with all kinds of video. (Laughter) 

GREEN: Over here, Steve.

Q: Dale, you seemed to take quite an interest when Dan showed you the two-seater. Any thoughts you would like to drive IndyCars?

EARNHARDT: I'm intrigued how the IndyCar drives, what driving an IndyCar feels like. I would love to drive one, to go to a track and put some laps in. Any time you get around, you know -- today we did go to the Museum and did go down in the basement. I stood next to a Formula One car for the first time. I had never been in the same room with a Formula One car, and if you're a race car driver, that's kind of like being in the same room with a national swimsuit model or something. (Laughter)

So I was pretty much in awe just to be next to a vehicle like that. And all the other cars that were in there, Smokey Yunick's little sidepod car, all kinds of neat little things that have happened at this racetrack and have been brought to this racetrack. There's a -- what year model were those limousines or the Iraqi king's car? It was like a '38 or something?

GREEN: Late '30s.

EARNHARDT: Some wild stuff in there that you would never see. You can look at a picture of it on the Internet, but standing next to something like that is so impressive. It's really hard to understand how to appreciate -- how not to appreciate something like that.

But anyways, where I was going with this? But when I was standing out there with Dan, you know, anytime you're around a race car and there's a driver that has drove that car, you've got to ask him what it drives like, what it feels like, what it does, how it works. And, you know, in the first seconds we had out there, I picked his brain as hard as I could. That's all me and Dan would probably do if we had our choice today, was just sit around and talk about it. But, you know, it definitely interests me. Obviously, I wouldn't want to run the race in the same day as a 600 like some guys had in the past, but should the schedules work out one day, I think you'd find a lot of guys that were interested in coming out here and running the Indy 500, for sure.

GREEN: Next question. Dick.

Q: Dale, you said you have a new mechanic you're working with. How long does it take a driver and a mechanic to kind of meld together and get a feel? You seem to have a real good feel already with the new guy.

EARNHARDT: Well, I mean, it just depends. I think it can happen all kinds of ways. It just depends on the personalities, whether the driver or the mechanic is open-minded and willing to work with new people. Some people, it takes a long time to earn their trust, and some people are ready and willing to work together right away.

Lance came in, he was really, for the lack of a better word, kind, easy to talk to. From the first -- we had worked together before but not -- I drove a car that he fixed up and set up at Lowe's last year in the Nationwide Series and we ran the whole race together, and I can't remember saying two words to him all weekend, even during the race. So we really didn't know -- we knew each other but not a lot about each other. So I don't know, he was just real easygoing, and he's confident. In all the races that I've worked with him up to this point, he has made my car better during the race with adjustments at some point if not continuously throughout the race. And he makes good calls during practice to make the car better. I feel like I have a shorter gap between the information that my teammates have to what I have. You know, it just seems like I'm in no way -- I would no way categorize my attitude as satisfied, but it seems like that we're going in the right direction and we're making gains. But it takes some people two days; it takes other people a year to sort that relationship out. It has a lot to do with really how dynamic the personalities are.

GREEN: Next question.

Q: Dale, as someone who owns a team on the Nationwide Series, you're a car owner as well as a driver, how concerning is it when you see the problems that are going on with the American auto industry right now, particularly with the recent bankruptcy filing with GM?

EARNHARDT: I'm very concerned about the automotive industry. You know, it's a -- it's got to be a daunting task to try to recover from where they are. So we have to understand that things will probably not likely be like they were in our lifetime. And even if we get back to good, good still won't be like it was. Hopefully, you know, nothing is really ever like that again, be a little smarter next trip.

But I think that as -- you know, the only thing that we can do in our best position -- the best position for us is to try to -- I mean, everyone who's successful, in my opinion, is successful because they have a vision. They have foresight; they have understanding of how things are going to change and go. And so what you have to do is try to determine -- you have to determine what the budget is going to be in five years. You have to determine how much, you know, how much payroll you're going to be able to have in five years. And you have to work in that direction. These things aren't shut on and off each year. You don't go from -- I will spend 8 million to 10 million next year; you don't just move these things around. You have to have a plan, and they sort of progress, you know. The people that don't do this correctly are the ones that struggle or fail.

So it seems like the entire sport is going through a massive resetting of itself, from the salaries, to everyone in the sport, drivers, all the way down to the lowliest fabricator or whatever. So everything in the sport is sort of going to have to change with the economy. Obviously, with the manufacturer support changing, how I do business in the Nationwide Series will change. How everybody does business in the series will change. So you just have to be willing and ready to accept it, mold with it, take the lumps and make the best of the situation. Some people will find ways to do that. I keep going back to looking at other teams. There are teams in the sport now that have been in the sport for five, 10 years that have raced under these situations for years, you know. There's guys that have never had factory support, never probably even met a suit from any of these manufacturers, you know, that are there every week, and some of them doing pretty good.

So, you know, it doesn't sound very good when anybody from a mega-team or a good team complains at all about, man, I'm short on the dollar or, well, I can't run fast as I did because I don't have manufacturer support. I mean, there's guys around you that have been doing it for years. You just have to buck up, try to do the best you can.

GREEN: Dale, earlier you referenced the early tire test I think around 1992 when they had the test here. What are your memories of the 1994 race, the first race? Were you here? Do you have any memories of that?

EARNHARDT: Well, I wasn't here, unfortunately, but I remember a lot about the test, I don't remember much about the first race. I remember bits and pieces of all them races, probably about as good as everybody else in here remembers it.

But, yeah -- the very first start, was Rick Mast on the pole?

GREEN: Yes.

EARNHARDT: I remember that. I have like a, you know, image of that in my mind. I can't imagine, you know, what all them drivers in that field were thinking at that moment. They've been here practicing, obviously, but still, they were starting the very first race at Indianapolis in a stock car. So it must have been pretty neat at that race on the grid prior to the guys getting in their cars. I can imagine what everybody, you know, must have felt like that day. You know, I know when I come here, and we have the cars out on the racetrack and that's where the grid is, which is unique, and I like. The fans are really close. It's totally different atmosphere than -- it's a totally different atmosphere for me than it is for any other race due to that fact, just having the grid out on the racetrack. It is Indy; it's just there's a lot of people down there and walking in and around those cars. You can hardly see the race cars for all the people. So it's a big deal, you know. Typically pretty warm and, you know, it's a tough, grueling race and it should be, has that right to be. But it means a lot. It's pretty neat.

I think it's served our sport well, it's served NASCAR well, and hopefully the Speedway feels the same way.

GREEN: Next question? Steve.

Q: Dale, because of your huge fan base, some people are attributing the decline in TV ratings this year to some of the problems you're having on the track this year. Is there any validity to that at all? If there is, is that an unfair burden to put on you?

EARNHARDT: Well, I think that -- I'm not sure if that can be possible or not. But I mean, if it is, it shouldn't be. That shouldn't be why - you know, the sport shouldn't rest on one man's shoulders. You know, I say that, but at times it has, you know, in years past. I don't think, I don't feel like personally it rests on my shoulders. I'm sorry I haven't run better this year. I want to run better. We're trying to run better. If it's hurting the sport, you know, that's not what I want to do, not my intent.

But I have my opinions about why we struggle when we struggle. Not me as a team, but the sport. The sport struggles, the sport doesn't make -- every decision is not made as the greatest decision. Nobody is perfect. You know, I have my opinions on where we could do better. But, you know, there's a time and a place, so... (Laughter)

GREEN: Next question. Because I don't think this is the place and time. (Laughter)

Q: Dale, watching the finish of that race last Saturday night, do you foresee a change in the restrictor plate, is there a push for that or anything or are we going to continue to have those wrecks all the time?

EARNHARDT: Well, I think you'll continue to have the wrecks. Restrictor plates, obviously, everybody here understands that restrictor plates put us in big packs. They make the gap between the best car in the field and the worst car in the field much smaller. And now the COT has even done more of that. The COT has really got everybody in a box. And so we're all basically out there competing in the same thing.

I can't do anything or I can't be any more creative than the next guy. We basically are all going to run the same lap time. So we're going to race on top of each other, you know. We're going to race on top. When we're on top of each other, we're going to run into each other more often; and you're going to see a lot more wrecks like that. I don't like wrecking. I had a pretty good car in the (Daytona) 500, I had a pretty good car in the (Coke Zero) 400 this year, I had good cars at Talladega the last couple years, but I've wrecked them, just about all of them. You know, it's frustrating, you know.

So I wish there was a way to make it, make the racing to where if I have a really, really good car, I can get away from this guy in this car that's not so good. If my car is driving good, I can go ahead of the guy who's car ain't driving good. I'm not stuck behind him or watching him cause a crash in front of me. So, you know, the racing is exciting. Crashes are exciting. Crashes are intriguing, whether anybody wants to admit it or not. You know, 50 lead changes and all those things are great. I don't see it changing. I don't see NASCAR changing anything. They will build the fence higher and stronger before they do anything to keep us from running into each other.

So I think that they made the cars safer because they knew we were going to keep crashing. So I don't think they'll change it. I mean, that's just -- not a lot of people -- not the right people ain't complaining about the racing, and that's the fans. You know, they think the racing is good, and however they want it is however we need to give it to them.

Q: Could you talk about the double-file restart last week was the first time on a superspeedway?

EARNHARDT: Yeah, I liked it. I've had no problem with the double-file restarts. The only problem I had with it is the outside seems to be the way to go everywhere. If you're on the inside you're going to lose two or three spots every time unless you drive like a complete jerk. So that's going to become a constant habit of everybody being on the inside is you're going to start roughing people up, and maybe that's not all bad. But I like the double-file restarts.

I'm all for -- that brings a lot of excitement into the races. Otherwise, it wouldn't be there. I'm all for that kind of stuff. I'm all for making the races exciting and fun to watch in that way, in that aspect. So I like it. I think it's good. When you're a lap down, you don't want to be up there in the way. You've got to be because you've got to race these other guys that are a lap down, but you would much prefer not to be messing with anybody on the lead lap, and vice versa. When you're on the lead lap, the lapped cars are a nuisance, and no matter how hard they try to get out of the way, they're never out of the way enough. So I think it's good, it's good for everybody.

GREEN: We have time for about three more questions. Next question? Over here in the middle.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about the Alabama Motorsports Park project?

EARNHARDT: Sure. What do you want to know about it? (Laughter)

Q: Where that is at?

EARNHARDT: Well, it's still on paper yet. I don't think they've hit earth yet. I guess they're still trying to pull together investments and investors, and that has obviously slowed down for everybody. So it's still on a rail, just taking a little longer to get there, I guess.

GREEN: Next question. Anyone?

I appreciate that. Dale, any more closing comments before you come back in a couple weeks to race?

EARNHARDT: I'm looking forward to coming back. Thanks for today, and thanks to the guys who brought the two-seater and all you guys from the Guard. It's fun doing the Winner Circle appearances and getting to talk to some new press. We see the same guys at the racetrack every week, so it's cool to get out and meet some new people and see some old people, too. Appreciate it.

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