DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Pocono Raceway and discussed going for three consecutive wins at the ‘Tricky Triangle’, last week’s driver’s council, his relationship with Greg Ives and many other topics. Full Transcript:
WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO REPEAT A SWEEP AT POCONO?
“Well we won those two races by having some great pit strategy. Steve (Letarte) got real aggressive on his pit calls and I think that is definitely going to be what is going to put you in position to win. You kind of call this race in reverse. The tire is pretty tough here and durable. There is not a whole lot of fall off. You can call the race sort of like a road course in reverse and put yourself up toward the front like we did last year. It makes it pretty difficult to get around you if you have a good car. I mean we were able to pass some guys that tried to get more aggressive than we were. Everything has kind of got to fall in the right place and allow you to make those choices. It worked out great for us last year. We also had a fast car. We ran pretty well. There were about eight of us I think in either one of those races that could have won."
JEFF GORDON SAID THE BUMP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TUNNEL TURN IS GOING TO MAKE THE RACE INTERESTING. JOEY LOGANO IS WORRIED HIS CAR WON’T MAKE IT THROUGH THE RACE. WHAT WERE YOU EXPERIENCING THERE AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT IT?
“They have had a real hard winter and the track really changes throughout the temperature changes throughout the year. It has just really destroyed the tunnel. They did make some cosmetic changes to the tunnel as far as entering and exiting, but we were assured by Brandon (Igdalsky, Pocono Raceway President and CEO) and the guys here that is not what has happened to create the problem on the surface of the racetrack. It just was a really difficult winter. We did have some bumps through there last year and they have just gotten more severe. I think they are going to take some time in between the events here this weekend and in August to fix that. Having talked to them today I feel like that they understand that while we can get through this weekend with what is back there right now, it is probably not in their best interest to leave it as is. Because it will continue to get worse and I don’t think that we can get our racecars through there if it gets much worse than it is. I’m glad they are going to work on it. We can work on our cars and get it a little bit better. It was pretty wild, I went through there the first time this morning and had no idea it was back there. Luckily I didn’t go through there with a whole lot of confidence in the first place or speed because that was wild. We worked on the car and we can do things to make the ride quality better, but there is only so much we can do. It’s just very severe bumps
“Brandon (Igdalsky) and those guys are aware and they are looking forward to improving it and fixing it. I think everything is going to work out. I would be worried had they not been aware of it and not had any interest in fixing it. Brandon does a great job with this place. I’ve gotten to know him really well over the last couple of years. He listens to the drivers, the series officials and really takes what everybody has to say to heart. He just wants to have a good facility people enjoy coming to whether you are a driver or a fan or what have you. I’m happy that they are going to tune on it. Whatever they do anything to improve it. I just think over time another hard winter and it is just going to be a little bit too much."
ARE YOU WORRIED YOUR CAR WON’T MAKE IT THROUGH THE RACE?
“I don’t think we are going to have any failures in the car. It is just really harsh. There is a line between character and just a bad racetrack. This is getting close to that line. I definitely like a bump or two in the corner and I think that bumps and character in a racetrack as far as how the surface is grip wise or whether it eats the tires up or what have you, I love that stuff. You like your tracks to have the character, but that is just a little bit extreme right there."
WHEN THE WHOLE DRIVER’S COUNCIL MEETING WAS GOING DOWN LAST WEEK IT SEEMED NASCAR WAS KIND OF DOWN PLAYING IT. WE ARE HEARING FROM DRIVERS THAT IT WAS GREAT AND VERY PRODUCTIVE. DID YOU GET ANY FEELING THAT NASCAR WAS RELUCTANT TO DO IT? IS THERE ANY REASON TO THINK THAT THIS IS A BAD IDEA?
“No, I don’t know why anybody would think that was a bad idea for the drivers and NASCAR to get together and communicate. I think that NASCAR and the drivers didn’t think it was as much of a topic. We have met before in various situations and it has just been a little more informal. Things always change, improve, evolve and this is just kind of a more organized way for us to get in a room and have conversation about everything on the table. I think it is awesome because you have all the NASCAR guys in there that you want to talk to that you want five minutes with. You have a lot of great racecar drivers in there with a lot of great ideas and opinions. Everybody is in the room to work together. Everybody wants the same thing. We all want to have a healthy sport. We all want the racing as good as it can be and as safe as it can be. We talk about everything. We talk about the hot button topics and we talk about everything as far as what we think about particular tracks. Just all kinds of stuff gets talked about in there and it’s great because – I guess the thing is before we never really could organize it. You couldn’t get all the drivers in the same place at one time. You couldn’t get everybody to organize to spend an hour or two and sit down and really focus on these topics and really discuss it in a good place. It has got so much opportunity to be something that can really benefit the sport. NASCAR came to the drivers and asked us to put it together. The drivers sort of put it together and now we organize the meetings today and it’s good. It’s going to be good."
HOW DO YOU THINK THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS STREAK WILL CONTINUE HERE AT POCONO THIS WEEKEND?
“Well, we’ve got four fast cars. This is a horsepower race track where engines can make a difference. I feel like over the last several years we’ve had one of the best engine programs in the sport. So, I think we’ve just got really good stuff. Your car really, really shines here; whereas the driver is a little bit of the factor or a lot of the factor, especially on restarts and trying to work that difficult air when you’re behind somebody and make a pass and set it up on a particular part of the race track where it will happen. But the car really shines here and we’ve got some of the best equipment in the garage."
ONLY TWO DRIVERS HAVE EVER WON THREE STRAIGHT RACES HERE. WHAT MAKES THAT SO DIFFICULT TO DO?
“It’s just difficult to win one, you know? It’s difficult to win, period. And there’s so much competition in this series now. And like I say, the way we call the races here with the strategy, sort of calling the races backyards like a road course, that’s just something we don’t do enough of, where I don’t know how the crew chief feels, but I feel like it’s not a strategy you’re used to using every week. So, is it a strategy that we can perform to perfection when called upon to do it, when you come to a place like this? So, you just hope your guy’s up on the pit box and he’s got that vision and sees beyond what’s out there on the race track so he can make that call that’s going to really parlay you into that position you want to be 50 laps from now, right? So, it’s just really difficult to win (laughs) here, or anywhere. There’s a lot of tough competition out there and this place, I won’t say it’s hard to pass here because you can get around guys and race, and I do enjoy racing here. But, when you get a fast guy in front of you, it’s difficult to find a flaw and sort of take advantage of that weakness because you get a guy with good speed in front of you, he’s going to be hard to get to."
YOU WORKED SO WELL WITH STEVE LETARTE. HOW IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GREG IVES AND HOW ARE THEY DIFFERENT?
“He’s not the jokester Steve was. The atmosphere in the lounge is a lot more business and less jokes and less talk about family and what happened last week and what are you going to do Monday and stuff like that. Me and Steve had become best friends and so everything’s on the table as far as conversation. Now, I don’t know Greg well enough, but we’re working on our relationship and definitely we have a lot of trust in each other and the relationship will continue to get better the more we work together. Also, I don’t want to sit there and just shoot the crap with him and I guess, distract him from what he’s trying to do. I want to give him every opportunity to brainstorm on the race car. He’s an engineer. He’s got that engineer mind. And I want him to work it and so I just sort of sit back and make myself available for anything he needs to know from me. But, he’s got a sense of humor. Don’t get me wrong. But, it’s all business. We understand, and I think he takes this super-super serious. This is his dream come true to be able to crew chief in the Cup Series, and I want to give him every opportunity to be successful and us as a team, we’re in a good position winning races, running well; we don’t want to take a step back. So, it’s really all business right now for the time being. We win us some more races, we can be a little more jovial. But ‘til then, we need to win some more races."
THE TOPIC OF RACE SCHEDULES AND TRACKS MIGHT COME UP IN SOME OF THESE DRIVER’S MEETINGS. WHAT’S YOUR VIEW ON THAT? WOULD YOU MAKE CHANGES TO THE SCHEDULE?
“I don’t know that’s the kind of stuff that we’ll talk about. I don’t think that the driver’s opinion weighs-in on the schedule. I think that’s NASCAR’s and the owners of the tracks and the networks. They’re going to dictate the schedule. As much as drivers have opinions on, I have my own; I don’t expect to be in that conversation."
REGARDING GREG IVES, AND HIM HAVING WORKED FOR YOU AND AT JUNIOR MOTORSPORTS, HE’S USED TO EVERYTHING YOU DO. ONE THIRD OF THE WAY THROUGH THE SEASON, HOW DO YOU THINK HE HAS DEALT WITH THE ENORMOUS EXPECTATIONS OF YOUR FANS AND THE CRITIQUE OF EVERY MOVE AND STRATEGY DECISION THAT’S MADE DURING THE SEASON?
“Yeah, I try to tell him about it, but I think he’s been insulated somehow so far, whether it’s staying off social media because (Steve) Letarte was very active on Twitter and Greg isn’t. Greg sort of keeps himself in his little world and protects what’s important to him. I don’t think that he has seen it just yet. I’ve tried to tell him. What were we doing last week? Oh, speeding on pit road. I was like man, I can’t be that aggressive coming onto pit road because they were telling me during the week, man last time you run here you could have been a little bit better. And they were sending me Dartfish and all this stuff so I could look at what other guys were doing. It ended up pushing the envelope and getting bit. And I said I can’t do that because I get tore up on social media, and just by everyone in general, when I make a mistake. Man, when I missed my pit stall at the Daytona 500 that year, it took two years for people to quit talk about that (laughter). It did. I still hear about it like, are you going to miss your pit stall? That was four years ago. So, I joke with him about it. And he seems to just like stare right through me like he has no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t think that he has been affected by it at all yet. Certainly, I want him focused on the car and what’s important to him. He’s definitely got his mind on the right things."
LOOKING AHEAD TO MICHIGAN, WHAT DO YOU ANTICIPATE WITH THE NEW RULES PACKAGE AND THE RECENT REPAVE THAT’S THREE YEARS OLD?
“Hopefully it’s aging and widening out a little bit. The rules package, I don’t know that the racing is going to be a whole lot different. We’ll be in the gas maybe just a little bit more. We’re in the gas pretty hard there already and running some pretty fast laps. But, it’s a great track. I just look forward to it aging and widening out. As that happens and as the track sort of loses grip; like this particular track here, we’re on the same tire that we’ve been running since they paved this place. And the speed is now a second slower than when it was repaved. So, when you start seeing that kind of speed loss in the surface alone, you can start looking at options of tires. Get a little softer tire, bring the speed back up maybe for the first lap, but the tenth lap you’re going to have some falloff. You’re going to have some guys cars start handling better or worse. So hopefully we’ll start seeing some of that age in the surface at Michigan and then they can start thinking about things and where they can improve the tire; which in turn, change how the race is seen. I love the race track. Before they paved it, man, we were running down next to the apron and against the wall. That is all you can ask for when you’re talking race tracks and what drivers like about them. We want to have the options in the corners and run different grooves and that place hasn’t really had a lot options. The groove hasn’t been very wide since they repaved it, but it’s starting to show that. When we went there and tire-tested, I think a year or two ago, I was using a bunch of different lanes in Turn 3, so the potential is coming and that place is just going to continue to get better."
DO YOU COMPARE POCONO TO A ROAD COURSE?
“Not really because the speeds are so high in the corners here. I compare road courses to like low speed corners and ninety degrees; stop, turn, go. We’re going through the corners very fast here. You do handle differently in all three corners and you want to handle the best in Turn 3 because the next straightaway is so long. So if you can get out of that corner really well, or better than the next guy, you’ve got a great passing opportunity on that straightaway. So, you’ve got to give a little bit up down here to do that. It’s never going to be perfect in all three corners. One is going to be great and then the others; you’ve got to sort of deal with some problems or some little small issues. So that’s every similar to road course racing. You’ll get the car really great in the rights and be bad in the lefts. And you’ve sort of got to have a compromise somewhere. Maybe the slow Turn 11 in Sonoma is not good and there’s no forward bite and you’ve got to work on that, but that hurts some of the faster corners. So, it’s very similar in that respect, for sure, but as a driver, I’m not much of a road racer so I’m probably the worst guy to ask in that regard. We got kind of lucky. We had a great car. If we run third at Sonoma, you know it’s a winning car right there."