SPEED Quotes - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on Wind Tunnel Dale Earnhardt, Jr., following a 23rd-place finish at Martinsville, appeared on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain Sunday evening. Following are Earnhardt's quotes from the interview:
Despain: Frustrating race today at Martinsville for you. A 23rd-place finish with what I guess was a seven-cylinder car all day. When did things start to go wrong with your car today?
Earnhardt: “The car was doing what I call ‘blooping’ down the straightaway and ‘blooping’ out the pipes. That’s sort of the noise it makes. It was doing that in practice. We changed the intake and a couple of other things trying to find more power off the corner. About 10 laps into the race, we probably broke the inner valve spring first. Not necessarily, technically, 7 cylinders but definitely down on power the rest of the race. It was intermediate, at times worse than others, at times not at all, as far as having a miss in the engine. There at the end we had so many cautions and restarts, I think it wore the engine down and it broke. When we had that green-white-checkered flag and were riding around waiting on the green-white-checkered, the motor broke. It wouldn’t go when they dropped the green with two to go. I was kind of disappointed – we had a really fast car and I think we had one of the top-three cars all day long. It was really frustrating and has happened to us all year long. Had a top-five car and had some sort of gremlin come in there and take us out of an opportunity for that finish. I’m alright. I’m getting ready for next week and staying motivated but I’m just sad and disappointed for my guys. Tony Gibson, my crew chief, and the team can’t seem to get the credit for the kind of cars they’ve been building this year and they’re not going to get that credit and it’s unfortunate.”
Despain: Heard from a lady … ‘there’s something wrong here … DEI is not giving Jr. the right stuff’ … what do you say to the people who think there’s something underhanded?
Earnhardt: “I don’t think there’s a conspiracy or any plan to ensure failure every weekend. I would expect that I might not get the best motor out of the group. Obviously, all the RCR drivers are in the Chase and have a great opportunity to win the championship. You’ve got Martin Truex, Jr., in The Chase, also. I would expect that those guys would probably get the best product and that’s what you’d expect. For years and years, other drivers I’ve raced with normally got those motors to help them qualify or help them race. We’re only talking about a couple of horsepower here – nothing to really complain about. I’m sure that’s probably still the case. I think since we’ve merged with RCR, we’ve struggled a bit with the motor’s power and as recently as two months ago, I talked to DEI about having a motor that’s fast down the straightaway at places like Michigan and California. I’d never had that kind of power before and it was really awesome. But since the merger, I think the teams have struggled and had a lot more failures and it’s spread across the board even to the RCR camp. Hopefully, for DEI’s future, they’ll figure this stuff out and not have these kinds of issues. I’m not even in the Chase and it’s frustrating for me. Knowing Martin like I do and Clint and those other guys at RCR, I know they don’t enjoy that. They’re working really hard to figure out how to fix these problems. But there’s no conspiracy or anything like that. Just racing hard and putting those motors in a lot of stressful situations. Maybe they’re putting things in my motors that they’re sort of R&Ding. Maybe they’re R&Ding some valve trains and things like that to see if they can run that stuff next year. We’re also a little behind on the RO7 motors compared to Hendrick and some of the other organizations. So, we’re going through a lot of the bugs that these other teams have already figured out.”
Despain: A good day for your team next year. Do you spend more time looking back and feeling nostalgic or looking ahead to getting over there and getting started on the challenges?
Earnhardt: “Split down the middle. I think I’ve got a great relationship with the guys on my team and we’ve been running together for a long time. It’s going to be hard at Homestead to run that last race, get out and say my good-byes. At the same time, I’m looking forward to next year and Tony Eury, Jr., is over there now. I’ve been over there a couple of times. We’re going to get to test a Hendrick car at Atlanta after the Atlanta race Monday and Tuesday in the COT test there. So, I am looking forward to those things and starting to work with that organization more everyday. I feel really committed to finishing the job I have now and running those races and running hard and giving those guys a great effort. I don’t want them to feel like I’m just going through the motions.
Despain: I remember a quote from you that at Mooresville High School, it wasn’t a cool thing to be the son of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Why wouldn’t it be? I’d think it would be just the opposite.
Earnhardt: “When I was in high school, Mooresville wasn’t the town that it is now. It wasn’t Race City USA with 90-percent of the drivers and teams here. Half of the people living in this town now are racing-related or race-oriented with their jobs and families. It wasn’t like that back in the ‘80s and on into the ’90s. I had my buddies and we rode dirt bikes and we didn’t hang out with the preps. Most of Mooresville - the class I graduated with - was more of the jocks, football players, preps, cheerleaders and we didn’t associate with them too much.”
Despain: Darrell Waltrip, who has been close to this situation from the get-go, predicts you’ll win six races next year. That doesn’t leave you much time for settling in and all that stuff we hear about when a driver changes rides. Is all that stuff a lot of bull and it’s really not a big deal to go to a new team or is Darrell being a little optimistic?
Earnhardt: “It’s a great excuse to fall back on if things aren’t going the way they’re supposed to. I feel like having Tony Jr. going over there was really important. Having him get in there and work and understand what they have, learn to do things they do that he hasn’t done before. He says there’s a lot of things he’s learning to do that he’s never done before. But everyday I see him, he looks at me and says, ‘we’re going to be good next year.’ He knows what kind of driver I am and what kind of equipment we’ve been running and he knows what we’re going to have next year and he’s really excited about it. I really trust his judgment and his feel. I feel like I can go over there and run good and having him in the fold is huge for me. There’s a lot of people who like and dislike me and the same is with Tony Jr. There’s a lot of people who think he is a great crew chief and a lot of people who think I should get a new crew chief. I feel like he’s one of the best in the business and will go down in history as one of the best to have ever worked on race cars and I’m really lucky to have him. He feels strongly about how we’re going to do next year and that makes me feel very good.”
Despain: I have been told that you have a copy of the movie “Get Back to Dirt” (that airs next Saturday night at 8pm ET on SPEED) and think it’s pretty cool. Is that accurate?
Earnhardt: “Yes, it is. I saw a promo in Circle Track Magazine and I ordered a copy and watched it and ordered 14 more copies so I could give it to Tony Jr. and all my buddies. It makes me want to quit everything I do and start a dirt track and just promote street stock racing. It looks like it’s so much fun and I can relate to so much of the footage because it reminds me of racing at I-95 in Myrtle Beach. But more it makes me think of was it like that when my Dad was running dirt in the ‘70s. It’s really awesome and I suggest that the fans check that out.”
Despain: Let’s dig into the popularity issue. I’m sure every Junior in the world goes through this. Everyone named after their Dad gets compared to their dad. We’ve got an email from a viewer here … ‘Junior, please don’t turn into another Jimmie Johnson and suck up to Jeff Gordon. Race like an Earnhardt should.’
Earnhardt: “I saw Jeff (Gordon) at driver intros today and he apologized for making me mad but I told him I wasn’t mad but if I could have gotten back to him, I was going to get him back. Anytime anyone bumps me, I’m going to give it back to them. I didn’t have the opportunity today because my car wasn’t all that good. I wanted to make it hard on Jeff. Anytime anybody gives me any grief on the race track, I want to give it back to them and either get them to stop or make the rest of their race a lot of trouble. If I could have, I would have. We got them all back today – not Jeff – but everybody else.”
Despain: You got most of them today. You had that thing with Tony Stewart under caution and gave him a whack.
Earnhardt: “I don’t know what that was about. I’d run over a couple of guys and I think he was just the angry witness to it.”
Despain: You’re the most popular driver in NASCAR but you don’t have the best record. When you talk about going to Hendrick to win races and win championships, is there any pressure to do that to live up to all the hype of being Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Earnhardt: “I don’t think it’s as much pressure as it is opportunity to do that. If someone says, ‘here’s your chance to win championships and races for people who are known for winning and being the best,’ do you shy away from that or do you jump on it? I really enjoy driving race cars and I’m pretty satisfied with some of the things I’ve done. I’ve achieved more than I ever thought I would as a driver. I’ve learned in the last two years than I thought I’m a lot better race car driver than even I thought and I’ve got more talent than I give myself credit for. Here’s my window, my shot to do it and I’m going after it. When it’s all done, we’ll either have the championships or we won’t, but we’ll know for sure what kind of driver I was, what kind of talented driver I was. Now we’ve still got question marks. We’ve had a top-five car in 95-percent of the races and we don’t have the finishes and there’s your question mark. So, we’re going to go figure that out. I’ll answer that for everybody and I’m willing to do that.”