Q and A with Earnhardt, Kahne and Harvick
KEVIN HARVICK: That's really the only turnover we've had on our team and it's intact as it was before. The new sponsor with Shell Pennzoil for me is good. You know, it kind of gets you out from underneath that shadow of everything that we had, you know, with Dale. It's hard for me to, you know, kind of beat down somebody else's path when you're used to beating your own path. It's a good start for me with a company that's behind me 100%, and not that Goodwrench wasn't, but it's just so much in the past that everything had to do with.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Kasey Kahne, eighth last year driving the No. 8 Dodge Dealers. Getting ready for the Daytona 500, what's the outlook?
KASEY KAHNE: Just nice to be back in the car. You know, I had a month and a half off from testing and just looking forward to it. Looking forward to getting started. Looking forward to Daytona. We had a good Daytona the last Daytona 500, and just looking forward to running better than we did. We have a new nose and we're doing all we can to go fast.
Q. Inaudible – would you agree if they did that, and is there an optimum number that you feel like they should choose?
KASEY KAHNE: Personally, I think, you know, going into the Chase this year, I was the guy on the edge going into Richmond, going into California. It was as much pressure in those final five races to go into the Chase as much as I've ever had just to be able to make it, and that's a big part of the season to that point was those five races.
There's a lot on the line and, you know, for TV and for being at the track was exciting. I think ten guys was pretty good because you have probably 12 to 13th is really close, and if you put more in, there wasn't be quite as much on the line at Richmond I don't think.
KEVIN HARVICK: Myself personally, you know, I think everybody knows the way it's going to be coming into the year with the points. However they want it to be is fine with me. I think, you know, in the end, the guy who had the best year won the championship last year. So if we'd had the old points system, he would have won the championship. If we had the new points system, he'd win the championship still. To me the best car usually is going to come out on top in the end.
Q. Is there one overriding question mark you have going into this new season? Is it the Car of Tomorrow, is it changes your team has made but from each one of you is there an overriding question mark?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think for me, I think the new engine is obviously a huge question mark for the Chevrolet team just because, you know, we just have to build them and there's a lot of development, trying to develop the new engine. Chevrolet has done a great job getting us to this point. It's going to be up to the teams to keep the progress going forward.
It's something that we've had to develop that, we've had to develop the Car of Tomorrow which Richard has been good to let us develop as the process has developed through NASCAR's evolution of making the Car of Tomorrow.
So, you know, we're still trying to make our current car better, so there's just a lot of things going on and just a lot of work, I know for our guys in particular, the winter was really short this year, just for the fact they didn't get a lot of days off just because he had to build a lot of stuff.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I think it's nice for me to be back with the same team for the second straight year. So that's definitely a good thing that our whole team is the same.
You know, the Car of Tomorrow is going to be something different. The car that we have that we are starting the season with has a new nose which will be a little bit different, too. We'll be doing a lot of testing with both of those. I don't know, I think Evernham Motorsports has done a pretty good job of trying to stay on top of it and trying to be prepared and being ready to race whatever car it is and we'll have to see what happens when we get to some of these tracks.
Q. After all of the hyperbole and all of the talk and preparation, Toyota is here. Can you talk about your feelings about what you think they are going to bring to the game?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think obviously bringing a new manufacturer puts a lot of pressure on the other manufacturers and the teams. I think all of the talk is over. It's time to finally go race and we don't have to hear about Toyota is going to change the sport and how this is going to happen and how that's going to happen. We're going to actually see what's going to happen.
It's something that we get to get out of the racetrack and just kind of see where everybody stands. I don't think adding another manufacturer is going to hurt anything at all. I think it's going to make it as competitive as it's ever been.
KASEY KAHNE: I agree with Kevin on that. I think the first time I saw one was this morning, and to see a Camry sitting there was something different. Other than that, see how things go and I feel like we're going to be pretty good.
Q. Can you address after a phenomenal year, what precautions does Richard Childress Racing take in order not to hit that lull again?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, you don't want to stink again. We didn't stink in the past. We were just mediocre, and I think everybody got a taste of success and everybody wants to keep elevating that to the next level.
So everybody didn't mind working the extra hours and they didn't mind working over the winter to keep going with the Car of Tomorrow. And you know, we tried to just keep everything going as it was, you know, just to kind of stay in the mode and just try to keep everything evolving in the right direction. That's the main focus for us is to make sure we don't become kind of stagnant with what we had. We tried to take the next step with the engines and the next step. We have changed our cars and so hopefully that work pays off down the road.
Q. Are you maybe the one Dodge team that's maybe not happy to see the new nose because you had an advantage over the other Dodge teams last year?
KASEY KAHNE: No, I think we're happy, too. We figured out the charge nose last year and ran really well, but still had certain places where we just didn't feel like things were right with it. Even on the tracks where we weren't good, when we got back in traffic, it was really hard to get back to the front. It was probably the same for a lot of the teams, but we're hoping that the new nose helps that a little bit.
Q. Can you talk about running the Sprint car over in Australia and what was the crowd like over there?
KASEY KAHNE: Running the Sprint car over there was great. I grew up wanting to race there because they race during the wintertime which is their summer. It was great. I finally had the opportunity to go and do it. Enjoyed myself. We ran two nights and had pretty decent finishes, and the crowd wasn't – I expected more people than what was there. There was a good amount of people, but they were calling for rain both nights. It rained during the day and it actually rained at night once and we had to re pack the track halfway through the night.
It was a decent sized crowd but that was about it. The fans were cool but I think they like their Australians. They are a lot more into it here; they get excited and yell.
Q. How did you go do?
KASEY KAHNE: I finished third the first night and fourth the second night.
Q. They said that you didn't particularly like being away from home over the holidays, is that first time you've been out of the country?
KASEY KAHNE: That was the first time I had been out of the country and the first time I had missed Christmas. I thought it would be a good idea, you know, just to go and do something different over the holidays. And once I was there, I realized I was wrong it was not the right thing to do. From now on if I go to Australia or anywhere else, I'll go maybe on the 26th instead of the 20th and stay at home for Christmas.
Q. Real quick, the passing of Bobby Hamilton?
KASEY KAHNE: I was really surprised and sad. That's someone that I've looked up to just because of his work ethic and the way that he got into NASCAR, the way that he's ran his teams. He's just always had to battle and fight to do what he's done and Bobby, Jr., I just – it was just sad. I was surprised. I thought he was doing better than that and I just heard last night. He had a great career, though, when he was in NASCAR for sure.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the driver of the Budweiser Chevrolet. You've won the Daytona 500 before; what's the outlook to win it again this year?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: We're pretty excited already today. Really just the first few hours we've been here have been real productive, and so I'm pretty excited. We've got a great track record here, and it's a great racetrack for me. I really enjoy running here, and I feel like if you've got a good car, you've got a great shot at winning.
Q. Can you give us your reaction to Teresa's comments about TV personality or race car driver?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, my sister said that in this sport they go hand in hand, and I sort of agree with that. I think that everybody is smart enough to understand the position the drivers are in. You guys that are here every weekend, you know what the sport is like because you're here every weekend. You know what it's about. And I think that that, you know, I think that it's probably on advantage to have a decent personality as a race car driver, one that can garner to several sponsors that you might have on any given race team. I think is important to be well liked and be marketable. I think it's any owner's dream to have a driver that's succeeded. I don't know, she might have just been having a bad day or something when she said that. I really don't know where that was coming from.
I tried, and tried not to comment on it. I didn't want to comment to the press on it. I don't want to get in a – because you know, even if I don't and she don't want to be in a pitching war back and forth, you guys can make one out of it if you want. I was trying not to get involved in it. I really didn't appreciate it, whether she was taken out of context or not. I just didn't really appreciate it. But a lot of people went to bat for me, especially a lot of people in the press. It was nice to read those comments and stuff as far as what everybody's opinion on it was.
Q. Junior, the Car of Tomorrow is going to start this year, there's been a lot of work on it. One of the biggest areas is safety. Do you think they have gone far enough? Specifically one of the questions that I have about the Car of Tomorrow is the fire safety. We had a couple – at the Homestead race last year we had some cars that had some pretty horrific fires. Do you think they have gone far enough in that arena and safety overall in the Car of Tomorrow?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I really think the car is very safe, safer than what we drive now and what we drive now is really nice. As a driver, I feel very comfortable. I get in and out of my car with had I melt put and my HANS on. I don't have any difficulties getting in and out of the car with those items on. A lot of drivers find it more difficult and choose to take those things on and off while they are in the car.
Driver’s headrests and location of the seat mounts and stuff like that will determine how quickly a guy can get in and out of the car. Every individual is probably different. Probably the size of the driver has a lot to do with it, too. I'm real happy with the way my car is now.
The Car of Tomorrow gives you a larger window opening, and the larger cockpit as well, so you'll have plenty of room, plenty of ability to get in and out of the car. As long as we're burning, you know, gasoline in the tank, you're going to have the threat of fire. I think that all of the increase in thickness and stuff in the fuel cell area and stuff like that is going to be a big help.
You know, you can't help when a guy gets put into a fence, you can't stop controls being crushed on those situations no matter what. We are very fortunate that Juan, in the little time he was in the sport, was able to get out of that with no issues. I think the cars are very safe and I'm real proud of what I've seen over the last several years. I really had no concern before, but NASCAR showed us a lot of things and opened the driver’s eyes to a lot of different issues and stuff that we could be doing better. It's been a great gain in last couple years.
Q. You're heading into this season with some stability with Tony Eury again, basically the same team. Talk about your frame of mind going no 2007 as opposed to the two previous seasons.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was real worried going into both those seasons, '05 and '06. I was just, you know, when I got with the new team, I was wondering how we were going to run. I know nothing about the cars. I knew nothing much about the team as far as their experience and talent and the crew chief was the big question mark, I was a big question mark, everything about it.
I think going into last year, I was worried whether me and Tony Jr. could be successful again as we were in '05. I was worried whether we could match the pressure of trying to make the Chase, we didn't have any excuses. All of these things were going through my mind last year.
And this year, very comfortable, feel like I proved to myself what I wanted to know last year, and I feel like we're very capable of winning the championship. I feel like I know more each year in and out about what to do to win the championship and how to better position myself to make the Chase and do those type of things. Each year you learn more about that. I have to minimize my mistakes. It's really hard as a human being to do that, but you've just got to really, really try, just to be perfect as a driver, not to make mistakes on the racetrack. Even in those – and it's tough in those situations. Sometimes you just forget about the big picture and you're going for the little one.
But, you know, just got to try harder as a driver really to minimize those mistakes and give those guys every opportunity they can. They put together great race cars, they drive great, we brought it car down we've been running mostly today. It's just so nice to see it running well and performing and reacting to the changes we're making as far as what we've done today. As a driver, you just try to put it on the racetrack, you go out there for him.
Q. Along those lines, everybody keeps asking about the contract being done, at what point does it become a distraction from the goal which is winning a championship? Obviously everybody wants to know, as you sit here today, is there one chance in a billion or what are the chances that that's not going to happen, because that's the question that fans have.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't really have a percentage for you. You know I like driving the red Bud car with the number 8 on it, and to drive that car, basically I don't really know what to tell you other than that.
We're working to get through the contract and finish up a new deal. Whereas individuals, as a team, me and my sister are pursuing that, you know, the right way. We are doing, we are asking and trying to get – do things, like the way we feel they need to be. We've hit a few roadblocks and whatnot with things that they are willing to do and not willing to do. It's, you know, truly just whoever is involved, it's truly their business and not necessarily the publics.
It’s just tough. To get a new deal done it's going to be very difficult but I feel like we can get it done. It's just there's some things involved that, you know, I think you guys maybe can guess what they are, but there's just some things involved that I want out of the future involving the company, and it's very difficult for everybody to see eye to eye there.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: That would be obvious. If I'm in the position I'm in, that would be obvious. But I want to be very involved in the company, but you know, I've got to do what I've got to do, and I want to win championships. Aside from that, I have no interest from ownership. The Jarrett Motorsports program is hopefully going to be very successful in the Busch Series. I don't know whether Cup series is something I want to involve that company in or not. That's really a totally different deal.
But you know, ownership is – only way I see myself being a Cup either in any way is at DEI. Other than that, I could care less about owning Cup cars, I just want to drive races and win championships and hang it up one day and not have to worry about whether I have enough money in my retirement fund. That's what is really important to me is just give me a good race car. Don't give me any – just give me a good race car and make it run fast and give me guys I can enjoy working with, and I'll go to the racetrack and I'll do whatever you need me to do with the sponsors and everything else. Just don't make everything a hassle and don't make everything a pain and you'll have my dedication and everything else you need as far as a driver goes.
Q. You just went through this whole thing about how everything is all good, but I asked Kevin and Kasey the same thing: Is the one question you have going into the new season the Car of Tomorrow? Kevin mentioned the new Chevy engines; is there one question you've got really on the top of your mind that you would like to see answered?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Could you ask me again? I really didn't understand what you meant.
Q. Going into the season, is there one overriding question that's kind of in the back of your mind that you would really like to have the answer: Is it the Car of Tomorrow; Kevin Harvick said it was the engines, the new Chevy engines; you have questions about your contract. Is there one thing that's really foremost on your mind right now that is bothering you that you would kind of like to get the answer to?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I think the thing that's bothering me the most is probably the contract. I think, you know, you guys – there's really nothing being hidden or pushed under the rug here. I don't have the answers no more than I can give them to y'all. That's probably bothering me the most. It's what I put most of my – you know if I'm sitting at home on weekends, I don't want to spend time worrying about it, thinking about it figuring it out.
And my sister and I spend quite a bit of time talking about it and trying to figure out, you know, because really, the last – you know, when you're dealing with contracts, you sign the deal, and I think I've had two now with DEI, two , three year deals; I might be wrong. But I signed the first one, I was really happy to do it. I've never had a contract and so it was nice. Actually, come to find out after six years, it's kind of nicer for that one because I never got all of these questions and never got badgered about what about this, what about that; I just drove. I just drove; it was way simpler back then.
You know, once we starred dealing with the contracts, it got a little more difficult. Me and my sister, we learned over the last couple of years, the last couple of contracts that we have to do a better job on our end to make a contract as favorable as possible. That had nothing to do with money. It just has a lot to do with the future. Money's fine. I don't need any more money. I make good money.
It's just about trying to make life as simple as you can make it and trying to make everything as successful as you can make it. I don't want to come here if I can't compete well and run well and I just get by. I want the best, I want the best cars, I want the best people. As individuals, me, Richie, everybody at the company, we want that and we see other companies doing it and you see other teams doing what it takes and making the right moves, and I just want it to be – I want to be in the same situation as I see other drivers in. I know I'm a good enough race car driver and I deserve it. We're just trying to, you know, get it all settled and make it right.
Q. As a car owner, how would you describe what Michael Waltrip is trying to do to go from a Busch team to three Cup teams? What are the challenges, pitfalls that he could face, and can he really succeed at this?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I believe he can. You know, it's sort of – if you were here if the garage and see his car rolling around the garage, it's a reality. Throughout the summer, knowing Michael, I thought about it quite a bit, and my concern as a friend. But throughout the off season, you wondered, you know, wow, how is he going to put all of that together. That's quite a bit to get done in such a short time even though they have been working on it for a little while. It's such a tremendous amount of people and equipment and parts, and everything you need – not just the stuff you see here. You've got fancy machines, all kind of stuff that you have to get to be able to have functionable race team back at home.
I'm super impressed that they were able to put it together. Michael, everybody in this sport knows Michael pretty well. He's kind of a volatile guy. He can be in a really great mood one day and a really bad mood the next. I think he'll be successful as an owner, and you know, he's got pretty good guys working over there. Knowing Todd, I think Todd will do a good job. I think they will be fine. I don't think, you know – I don't think their manufacturer is going to let them fail no matter what.
Q. When you're doing your contract deliberations, have you thought about how long you want to drive and what else you might want to do in life besides race cars?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, the Jarrett Motorsport program is a lot of fun, and it necessarily isn't – it's not making money, probably won't make money. It doesn't hopefully lose too much money. It's pretty fun to have and I enjoy it. There's a lot of passion there. You've got to be serious if you're going to do something like that. I'm talking, when I hired my uncles, Jimmy and Robert on my mother's side of the family, that was sort of the – that was sort of the decision where, all right, we're going to do this and we're taking it – we're taking it as far as we can.
I had to really answer a question that I asked myself at that moment because I was taking the responsibility of their lives in my hands and I was basically saying to them that, you know, they are going to dedicate themselves to me. These are my uncles. I think they are the greatest guys on earth. And for them to come work for me meant that I really had to make it work so I was really worried and scared.
Navy has been great and given us what we need as far as funding and a lot of programs have come on board to help that deal. And it's fun, I don't know how far I want to take it. It could go really, really far, and it could do a lot of great things. If all of the signs are good, when it's time to make decisions like that, we might do something like that as far as Cup or whatever.
But that's quite a responsibility. I personally don't want to put up with it. That's not in my makeup. That's not in my chemistry to be that type of guy to run a three car team in the Cup series. I don't think I want to put up with that. If I can make a living without doing that, I would probably try to do that.
I would like to drive as long as I can; I really enjoy it. When I'm out of the car in the off season, I miss it. I'm ready to go back to the track right the day after Christmas, I'm ready to get back on the track. I love racing, I love racing against people in this sport. The drivers that we have, the drivers that have been an inspiration to people like me to keep going, and I would like to do it for a very long time.
I know that there's been a lot of articles in the past several months about the way the sport is now is kind of cutting careers short and there is a prediction of careers being shorter and things being more hectic in the sport. When you have the kind of leverage that I've got, you can basically dictate your schedule. Guys like me and Jimmie and some of the top tier drivers can dictate your – you can kind of control your – keep from running you out of the sport. I've been careful about doing that, making sure it doesn't get to where it isn't any fun anymore. So I feel like I can do it for a long time.
Q. Have you talked with Teresa about her comments directly, and what's your relationship factor in your decision to stay in DEI?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Absolutely. Any relationship – my relationship with the car owner is definitely going to factor into my decision to drive. I haven't talked to Teresa about what she said in the paper. I figured if anything needed to be said, she'd call me up and say it. But you know, my and her relationship definitely factor into my decision to drive there.
Q. Richie Gilmore said today that Teresa had sort of handed off the negotiations on your contract to someone else so that she could take the personal side out of it and that Kelly was doing that for you. I guess with you saying you haven't talked to Teresa, there's a perception out there that this relationship between you two is not good. Can you just clarify for us what the relationship is?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I don't want to really get too personal, but Teresa is my stepmother, and I have a mother at home that I have a very good relationship with. Mine and Teresa's relationship has always been very black and white, very strict and in your face. It is what it is, not necessarily it ain't a bed of roses, but there's really, you know, it's not – I don't know how to explain it honestly.
The relationship that we have today is the same relationship we had when I was six years old when I moved into that house with Dad and her. It's always been the same. It hasn’t gotten worse over the last couple years or last couple months. It's always been the same, the way I felt about her then is the way I feel about her now.
Like I said, Kelly is a big part of my contract negotiations and in no, way, shape or form will she not be a part of that and not be a big part of that. So I don't know if what Richie said is exactly the case. Teresa, didn't come to the last – we did have a meeting probably several months ago and then we had one with everybody present. And then we had one a couple of months ago that Teresa decided that it best that she wasn't part of that meeting and that these other two guys do the negotiating. You know, my sister and me, we're a team when it comes to those type of things.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.