Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes tandem racing is gone with the new Gen-6 car
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS met with media and discussed the new race car, his anticipations for the Daytona 500 race, tandem racing, his view of the season, concussion impact testing, and more.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2013 is here. You ready? Yup, ready to go.
How is the new car? We'll get to see how the car is once we get on the racetrack, run a few laps. Feel pretty confident that we're going to have strong Speedweeks. Just ready to buckle down and get to it.
Are you more optimistic about this 500 than you have been in the past few years? We'll see. We'll have to get a couple races under your belt. Everybody's got to learn the car, figure out what makes it go fast. Hopefully we can do that before anybody else.
The car is going to want certain things. It's up to us to get the time on the racetrack. When we get to Vegas, spend that extra day, hopefully we'll learn more there.
You wouldn't be totally upset if tandem is gone? I hope it's gone. I hope we don't do that anymore. I don't enjoy doing that. I like taking care of myself, having to worry about what I have to do in a car instead of having to worry about me and somebody else.
Do you think they could have given you a little bit more practice with this new car? Plenty of practice. The cars are really all the same as last year as far as the chassis goes, splitter's in the same place. Everything is still the way it was before. We don't really need tons of practice.
You can go to Nashville anytime you want and run as many laps as you want to run. It's the guys like that that will put in the work, the guys that are going to succeed.
(No microphone.) No, we don't tear up too many four-wheelers. We just kind of hang out, have some good time to be with the family, enjoy the families.
(No microphone.) Yeah, I think the format is going to be long enough to start to understand what kind of racing we should expect for the qualifying racing and for the 500.
Is this a championship-caliber team? I think it is. I think we were in the conversation last year. Really excited about how consistent we were last year. We've been able to improve as we've worked together. Me and Steve's worked together. We've been able to improve steadily over the last couple years. I hope that's able to continue.
I hope we haven't realized our true potential. Maybe this year, if we can step it up another notch, we'd be right there where we've been striving to be the last couple years. It isn't going to take much to improve over last year and be one of the top teams. We were pretty close last year and feel pretty good about that.
What was missing last year? It's hard to put your finger on what a team needs. No matter how close it is or far off it is, it's hard to really put your finger on exactly what you're missing, especially when you work with a company like I do that's got all the parts, pieces, all the personnel, does such a good job delivering the physical racecar to you.
It really comes down to the minds that are in control of everything, me and Steve making the right calls and decisions on the racetrack.
(No microphone.) We had such good success with the 360, seemed to be quite popular with our fans. Brought a lot of traffic to our Nationwide site to help bring recognition to our partners there. We thought it would be a new, fun avenue that we could bridge our relationships with ourselves, our partners and our fans at the Dale Jr. site. Just sort of try something new.
I think Mike is really excited about it, Mike Davis. He's been working really, really hard on it. This is sort of his little baby.
I'm excited about it, too. I think there's good potential there to do some pretty fun stuff, try to give our fans some information, give them some substance, give them something new. They're always striving for information, want to learn something new, want to understand what's going on. This will give us an opportunity to really give them that feedback, what's going on in the company, what we're dealing with.
(No microphone.) I'll be in and out, physically in and out, of the broadcast. For the most part it's going to be not just about me, per se, but what we're doing with our company, what our goals and plans are. We'll talk about races, how we ran, what happened in the races, my races, the Nationwide races. We'll talk about what we're doing out on the property, anything fun that might be popping up that we want to share with our fans, anything we might be doing downtown.
Who knows. We can talk about literally everything. It's similar to what we did with our old XM radio show, but a little more professional than that. We were pretty rag-tag back then, really didn't know what the hell we were doing.
I mean, it was fun, but we didn't work hard enough to try to be relevant and stick around. So this will be a great place for us to provide content for our fans but also give our partners more bang for their buck.
Is this your Twitter, so to speak? I suppose. It's something that I'm comfortable doing. I think Mike Davis has been a great employee for our company, but he's also been a really, really good friend of mine. He's just so excited about this.
It's something that we talked about doing for a couple years. So this is something that he's super excited about. He's put a lot into. I'm happy to see how successful we can make it.
NASCAR said today it's going to make concussion impact testing mandatory in 2014. Do you think that is a good idea? Yeah, it makes perfect sense to make it mandatory. I think it was nice of them to look into ways they could protect us from ourselves really. The test is really simple and it's pretty straightforward. You sit at a computer for about 30 minutes answering a series of questions. It tests short-term and long-term memory, a lot of different variables, a lot of different things of the mechanics of the brain, what the brain does.
It sort of tests how competent you are through a series of different things. It's really, really hard, a hard test. Even if you don't have a concussion, taking the test can be difficult.
But you take the test to get a baseline because everybody is different. It's really a bit of a personality test at the same time. Everybody is going to score different. There's not like a maximum score you need to strive for. Basically everybody just sort of has a different outcome and result after taking the test.
When you get into an accident, you may have, may not have had a concussion, you can take this test again and find out exactly what is happening to your brain, if things don't feel right, you feel like you're having some trouble. This test can pinpoint where in the brain you're struggling, what kind of injury you have, what kind of things you can do to rehab and to recover.
It helped me a lot. There was a lot of good information I learned throughout that whole process. That impact test was a good standard for measuring. There's no way to diagnose concussion, but this is a good standard for being able to measure one.
(Question regarding sponsorships.) We're still working on it. We got a lot of people we're talking to, a lot of good things happening. We're trying to find the right fit, the right partner. But there's some things in the works.
(No microphone.) Well, we've gotten some great sponsors onboard. We have a number physically that we need to reach in order to fund the racecar. You can't sell yourself short. It wouldn't be fair to our partners.
We're just looking for the right corporations that are a good fit for us, that are long-term, they want to be in the sport for a while, that we can build on, Hendrick can build on. You don't just take the first guy that comes along. You have to find the right fit.
Are you still locked in with the National Guard guys? Do you mingle with those folks and the troops? Yeah, we got our National Guard sponsorships in good shape. They're going to be on the car the majority of this year compared to our other partners.
We get to spend a lot of time with those folks. We do a lot of fun things throughout the year as far as going out to the bases, having a lot of fun with those guys.
It's a process that lasts the entire season. We get a lot of interaction throughout the year.
What does it mean to you to be the most popular driver 10 years in a row now? Yeah, I mean, I don't know if there's a way to explain it or understand. It's kind of overwhelming. I don't know that I really realize exactly what that means until it's way, way down the road. I'll look back on it finally, tell my grandkids, nephews, nieces about it, see if they really dig it or not.
It's pretty cool just to win it the first time. That really, you know, took me aback, surprised me when that happened. To keep going back and keep winning it, it just means we got a lot of loyal fans and got a great fan base that's been supportive through these years and they're still sticking behind us and excited about what we're doing.
What is this about Mike Davis being your moderator? Yeah, he's done so good with the 360 that you almost have to have him. He's quite a personality. He's got a good flair.
(No microphone.) Not really (laughter). It's witty, he's funny. He's a good guy.
(No microphone.) Well, yeah, I mean, the hardest part has been trying to get the body panels from the manufacturers. The manufacturers, I don't know that they're quite used to pushing out that kind of production toward motorsports programs. They haven't done that in years really. Seems like 20 years since we were getting panels from manufacturers to strictly use on the car.
So that process has really held everything up. Getting the deck lids and stuff is okay. The deck lids, we were actually using homemade or pieced-together deck lids to get through the test, to be able to go to Nashville and practice the car. They aren't the deck lids we're going to race.
All of that really was running behind considerably more than people wanted it to. Just sort of understanding exactly what kind of material we're dealing with, we're having a lot of brace failures on the quarter panels and stuff because we're trying to weld a piece of this metal from Chevrolet and the materials don't like each other. The quarter panel from Chevy is real thin. There's all kinds of bugs like that to be worked out, worked out over time. All that stuff is just a process, something you come to expect, especially with a brand-new car.
I think we'll have the stuff we need when we show up for the racetrack when it's time to race, but, yeah, it's been tight.
Do you have a couple cars here, a backup car? Yeah, of course.
Does everybody at Hendrick have at least two cars? Absolutely. Yeah, of course.
Jimmie Johnson said in crashes these react differently because the parts fly off the car. When you repair the car in the garage, it may take longer than in the past. Did you notice that? I didn't have any trouble. I didn't have any damage. But, yeah, I imagine with the fiberglass and things like that, it's going to react differently in an impact. You're going to have to understand as a team, the mechanics on your crew are going to have to understand what they're potentially going to be working against as far as repairing the car.
It's not really that big a deal. When you tear your car up, get in a crash, you have more serious problems than worrying about getting it back together. You have to make sure the tires are all going the right direction, everything else.
But the body itself, as far as what you carry on the crash cart, the things you bring to the racetrack, nosepieces, that may change a little bit.
How about race-ability? I don't know yet. We haven't had a chance to get around people. Aside from the little bit of drafting we did in the test, we didn't get a chance to do much racing. The testing we've done in Nashville, we've done single-car runs.
There's been talk about how much you love this car. Is there danger in overplaying it? I think it got overplayed a little bit. It's a great car. It's a step in the right direction. There's so much to learn. We'll make it a better car. Over the year, we'll learn what the car likes and doesn't like.
I think it's starting off on the right foot. I say positive things about it because that's the way I feel. But I think everybody needs to just be patient, let the car kind of come to us, let us sort of improve the car over time.
I think it's a great direction we're going in. The potential for us to really enjoy this car, it to give us and provide us with good racing is good.
(Question regarding the radio show.) I didn't know there was a limit on them. I mean, I imagine they don't want us to have too many. What is the limit now?
(No microphone.) Well, they did that last year.
You like that? Oh, yeah. I got used to it. Once they made the change, made the decision to do that, I was fine. We weren't really talking to each other before until we were tandem-ing. We just did that out of safety. It wasn't a strategical advantage to using it other than to be able to tell each other to look out.
Do you expect to tandem? I don't know. We haven't had a chance to get on track.
(No microphone.) No, not really. They gave me a lot of exercises during my recovery to help me, help my brain sort of recover faster. I don't really know whether that's true or not. But they gave me stuff to do, and I did it.
Over time I talked to a lot of people that have been through it, a lot of drivers that had them in the past, what to expect. I had them before. I got a lot of information and it really helped me remain calm. You got to remain calm because when your body isn't doing what you want to do, not acting right, you sort of freak out a little bit. When you're out of control, you're not too happy about that.
When you haven't been racing during the off-season, it's time to go racing again, is it more natural to be in a car? Do you feel like that's your normal mode and you haven't done it for a while? We test a lot in the off-season. We were testing in the middle of December at Charlotte. We weren't out of the car that long, maybe two or three weeks. That was unique to this year.
In the past, you definitely feel like you got rust or something when you get back in the car. You want to get re-acclimated with what you're seeing, the speed or anything.
Any chance you'll run outdoor with (indiscernible) charity racing? Never say never. But I don't have plans for it this year. I don't think he's having it this year.
With the top 35 rule gone, has your approach to qualifying here changed at all or is it business as usual? For qualifying we're just going to go out there and run the fastest lap we can. That's really all you can do. You just hold it on the mat, run around the bottom and what you get is what you got.
Cool. All right. Thank you.
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