Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88 Axalta Chevrolet SS, met with members of the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway and discussed competing in his final race as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, his emotions going into his final race, the group of people he will have around him and many other topics. Full Transcript:
ON LAST WEEKEND IN FULL-TIME CUP COMPETITION:
EARNHARDT, JR.: "We came down to Key West early this week and worked on that renovation project and had some fun. Sorting things out over there and drove up here last night. Had a goodnight's sleep. I'm looking forward to getting on the track and get our car handling, and see if we can make the thing get around there pretty good so we can have some fun on Sunday. This track really on of the more enjoyable tracks for me. I like running the high side everywhere that we can, and this place begs for it. It is so much fun trying to put the car on the fence-making speed up there. The guys are getting better at it, so it is a lot busier and crowded on the highline. Still, it is a fun thing to try to accomplish and do well. I feel like I've always had a knack for that throughout my career is finding that groove at a lot of different tracks. This is a....
"So, Bob (Pockrass)...where is Bob? I have a question man because I don't even know the rules anymore. So, if I retire and then if I want to run the Homestead Xfinity race next year, that is legal for me to do, right?
BOB POCKRASS: "Yes, technically it is legal-for now."
EARNHARDT, JR.: "So my Cup experience no matter if I am retired or not doesn't keep my out of being able to run that event because I have got two right now, maybe three, and I haven't decided where I am going to run them but Homestead would definitely be on the list if it is a race I can run. I just like the track so much. Obviously, we (he and wife Amy) enjoy the Keys. The Keys had a difficult past several months with (Hurricane) Irma. We have a lot of friends down there that were affected by that. On the drive from Key West all the way up here, oh man, they are still really, really struggling. A lot of people still displaced. A lot of people lost their homes. It is still a very difficult and challenging situation for a lot of people in the middle Keys.
"But one of the things that I saw that was really neat and kind of uplifting was not only Key West Old Town - the town itself, they are ready for people to come. They're ready. It is as if they didn't miss a beat. So, if everybody is wondering if the Keys are open for business, they are. And those people are ready to serve you. On the drive up here, every mile there is a make-shift sign out of plywood with whatever business name is painted on it with big OPEN spray painted on there. Those people are resilient and they need people to go down there and vacation and help the economy in that particular area. It looks like they are working hard to get back on their feet. That is really fun to see.
"I've never owned a vacation home before until we went to Key West in '08. We just love it down there. It was really good to spend a couple of days down there are see how everyone is doing."
COMING INTO THIS WEEKEND, WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO? OR ARE YOU KIND OF DREADING IT?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "No, I'm not dreading any of it. I don't know what to look forward to. Whatever is next. I have an opportunity to do an interview here in a minute with Michael Strahan. I'm really looking forward to having a chance to chat with him for a bit considering his transition from athlete to behind the microphone and in front of the camera. I think that he can give me quite a bit of advice on my next chapter in life. I'm looking forward to taking pictures with Matt (Kenseth) later today with our cars. It is something that he and I have been talking about trying to organize to be able to do sometime. I've known about his paint scheme since Dover, and he's like 'Man we should get a picture together'. So, we are going to try and do that tonight at 7:30. Then Matt is going to have a picture, and I'm going to have a picture with all the people who have worked with us in the sport-I don't know how they organized that. I'm interested in how many people show up and who shows up.
"So that will be fun. I'm really looking forward to those things. I can't wait to get into the hauler to see Greg (Ives, crew chief) and get the car and see all my guys. And I can't wait to go practice with them and work, and do what we've been doing all of these years. I like the track and I'm glad we are ending on one that I like. That enjoyment for racing here will keep me engaged because I want to enjoy this weekend. But, also, we want to end well. We want to be competitive. We want to work today, and we want to work tomorrow. We want to put in a good effort this weekend. That will be fun to try to figure out if we have a competitive car. I look forward to getting to work on it."
A LOT OF YOUR GUYS PLAYED COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND HAD TO MOVE ON TO SOMETHING ELSE. HAVE YOU LEANED ON THOSE GUYS A LITTLE BIT?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "It is relationships that last for a long time, so anytime I need to get their ear, they are all in a group chat. I can just reach out and we all communicate quite often. The road team-we've had the same guys for a while. You see some turnover in other teams, I really can't speak on that because I don't know, but our guys, we've had the same group for a while. (Nick) Covey has been with me for I don't know how many years as my jackman and so forth. I've liked the fact that we've had the same because we build these friendships that are more important than pit stops. They've been great as far as how they performed and we've had some really good days. Everybody has their bad days-I do too. But they have been reliable, fun, good guys, good attitude, good personalities...so those friendships will last a long time, and we will lean on each other for everything, like we have."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO SEE MARTIN TRUEX FINALLY TAKE THIS NEXT STEP?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "I am Team Martin for this weekend, for sure. He's the guy. Me and Brad (Keselowski) are great friends. I love to see Brad do well. But, with what Martin...just as a driver...with what he's been through, it would just be awesome to see him put his name on that trophy. We know about what Sherry (Pollex) has dealt with and how difficult that's been on her and Martin; and how dedicated he has been to her. Martin is just a great guy. He has zero ego. I love spending time with him. We go hunting together, although we haven't had much of a chance to do that because he's been so busy winning races and being a championship contender. We just have a lot of great memories together. He slept on the couch when he first came down here. I let him stay in one of the bedrooms of the house for several months and then he moved into the house about 100 yards away inside the gate and lived with a buddy of mine. Then him and Sherry got close and they moved in together. We've just always been friends and as drivers, I think I've said this...it seems like I've said it every week, drivers have such big egos, all of us do. But Martin is not on that list. He just doesn't abuse the opportunity and what the sport has provided him.
"I just think that says so much about his character as a person and a man. It is just really cool to know people like that and have people like that in your life. He is a great example to follow. He has impacted my life in a positive way with his character. I don't know how you put into words what it would mean for him to win. I don't know how you describe what that means. It is bigger than words. It would be popular amongst his peers and around the garage and the industry for sure because everybody knows what kind of person he is. I think that whole team has that reputation. Cole (Pearn, crew chief for Truex) sort of go hand-in-hand. They just get to work. There is no BS and they don't talk loud. They just win races. Very easy to pull for them."
BEYOND WANTING TO WIN, WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU WANT TO DO EITHER INSIDE THE CAR OR OUTSIDE THE CAR ON SUNDAY?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "Well, in the car I just want to run all the laps. I want to finish the race in one piece. I don't have anything outside the car that's on a 'to do' list. As far as I'm concerned, I'm good with coming in here and doing the things we always do every race weekend. I want to get it documented, I guess. That would be good to have so we have someone here taking pictures. We've been gathering a lot of footage over the last several months for a possible documentary. It depends on how good all that is. So, we're sort of documenting it, which is going to be fun. I might run that visor cam again. I just have to see how I feel the vision is when I'm out there practicing with it. So, I'll have that footage to pocket and have forever.
"I'd like to finish the race in one piece, whatever that is. Obviously, you want to do as well as you can. But no matter where we finish, (I'd just like) to be able to pull down pit road, stop the car, and get out. And then, see my guys and do all that. It would be a bit of a heartbreaker if we have any kind of issue that would take us out of the event and not be able to finish."
SINCE YOU MADE THE DECISION TO WALK AWAY, HAVE THERE BEEN NO REGRETS OR HAS THERE BEEN A TOUCH OF OOPS, MAYBE I NEED TO RECONSIDER?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "No, I don't need to reconsider. This is great timing for me. It's time for somebody else to get in that car and get out of it what they can. And with Alex (Bowman) coming in behind, it's just a great opportunity for him. It's his time. It's now is moment going into next season to take his career wherever he can go. And mine, in my heart, has ran its course. I've felt very good about that decision before the race in Daytona started in February, that this was it. And I was more thankful to be able to compete this year than I was to ever question whether I should go farther. With everything we've been through, with the concussion and trying to come back, the emotion was man, I'm so glad I get to run this last year. It was always this is the last year. And I'm glad I get to run it. And, when I started in Daytona, I didn't know whether I would finish, you know, feeling delicate and feeling compromised and knowing how easily that could happen again. I confided in my friends and family and my wife that I was worried that I could get another concussion and how disappointing that would be. So, I'm sitting here healthy. And I'm going to run this last race. And I got all the way through the year, so I feel blessed. I feel really good with it."
WITH ALL THE ATTENTION YOU'VE BEEN GETTING FROM YOUR SPONSORS AND VIDEOS, DID ANY OF THAT REALLY TOUCH YOU? HOW DID YOU WATCH THAT? DID THE BUDWEISER ONE GET YOU?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "Oh, yeah. All of them do. You just don't expect stuff like that. You don't ever assume. They were all very emotional. Amy is the one that's obviously the most emotional, with being pregnant and everything, so they've really been hitting her (laughter). The Budweiser one was great. I mean there are so many fond memories of those years and they did such a great job of shaping that. But it's been really neat. I know that a lot of people went to great efforts to capture those videos and to make those videos and that is probably what I appreciate the most is not only the people that are in front of the camera, but the effort that it takes to capture that content probably means the most. A lot of people were doing a lot of things and I've seen stuff day in and day out, and it's just crazy. It's just really overwhelming. It makes your heart full. I'm having a hard time trying to put my emotions and thoughts into words. Usually I'm pretty decent at it. But that part of it you'll never forget. When somebody tells you how much they appreciate you, that means the world to you to hear that. It's good."
YOU MENTIONED THE INJURY EARLIER. WAS THERE A POINT THIS SEASON WHEN YOU WEREN'T CONCERNED ABOUT THAT AND DIDN'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "There are days when you don't think about it. There are days when you're not reminded of it. And so yeah, there are chunks of time when you go through a race weekend and you don't even think about it; but there are tracks where you've had concussions before and you can't not think about it then. Any kind of memory you have at a race track at some point in the weekend, whether it's a win that you had or a crash or a near miss, so you think about every memory when you go to all these places. Like here this weekend, I've already thought about everything that I've ever done at this race track by the time I've been here just 24 hours. So, that's going to be there at every race weekend. Sometimes it was in the way and sometimes it wasn't."
WITH EVERYTHING THAT YOU'VE HAD TO DO ADDITIONALLY THIS YEAR WITH THE APPRECI88TION TOUR, HAD THAT BEEN A DRAIN ON YOU? HAS THAT AFFECTED YOU COMPETITIVELY AT ALL?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "No, nothing has affected me competitively from the Appreci88tion Tour. It hasn't taken time away or focus away from what we do. With Tyler (Overstreet) and Tiff (Daniels) and our team, I've got the best people to navigate all this and it's been seamless. It's been real simple and really easy. Also, going into a lot of these things knowing about the conversation you're going to have every week, it's been great. This has been a good experience. The performance for me has been.... We've just had a down year as a group. We've struggled as a manufacturer. There's a light at the end of the tunnel next year with that Camaro. I wish I could have gotten the Camaro a couple of years ago. I think there are better days ahead for Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports, for sure. It's just been a difficult year across the board for all of us. In the last several weeks we've improved, but those aren't the standards that we hold ourselves to. Those sevenths and 10ths and stuff like that, that's just enough to get you by and we expected more out of ourselves this year. And we started the year pretty good, but definitely had some odd things happening with our cars and myself. But yeah, I think the tour has been very positive."
WHAT'S YOUR MESSAGE FOR FUTURE DRIVERS AND OWNERS ABOUT CONCUSSION PREVENTION AND AWARENESS?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "Prevention is difficult. Awareness is something that I can speak on. If you're going to drive race cars for a living, it's a dangerous sport and injury and all that is always a possibility. The only thing that I can say is that it's not really cut and dried. Let me try to explain this. So, when I was in my 20's and I'd get a concussion, I didn't know I had one. But as you get older, for whatever reason, it's easier for you to understand. And when you have injury in your 30's or 40's, you know your body so well at that point that it's obvious there's an issue. When you're in your 20's, you don't know exactly the feeling that you have and how that works. It's not as obvious to you. So, the only thing that I can say is if you do have a sensation that something's not right, then you need to put yourself in front of somebody that can help you. The biggest mistake you can make is to ignore it and push through because those things can add up and create serious issues for you down the road if you're not taking care of them individually. So, I mean the attitude for a lot of years and even today for a lot of people, I think, is to try and push through it. I think that's what's got to change. People need to start taking it a little more seriously and try to take better care of themselves for the long term. The mistake that I made I think are that I didn't flag those issues and say I need to get myself in front of a doctor. And it caught up with me. I think that's something I can share with other people and other drivers about not making those mistakes."
AS YOU LOOK BACK ON YOUR SUCCESSFUL CAREER IS THERE ANYTHING THAT STANDS OUT THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "Well, I don't know. If you change something it's like a domino effect and there's no telling what else it might alter. I've said this before. I think that I wish I'd have known from probably 2000, or maybe even 1998, all the way up until the time when I went to Rick's (Hendrick) to work. I learned so much at Rick's about being an asset to your team and being accountable and being available for your crew chief and being more than just holding the steering wheel and driving the car. When I was racing for my family, I took advantage and didn't take it seriously. There were days when I would come into the garage to practice and everybody was in their cars pulling out of their stalls and I'm just walking in. And, nothing was wrong with that, you know, in my mind. That's crazy. I mean, you'd be fired in this day and time if a driver was that carefree about it. It didn't seem to matter. As soon as practice was over, I'd go sit in the truck and if Tony (Eury) Jr. and Tony (Eury) Sr. hadn't asked me a question in five or ten minutes, I was in the bus playing video games for as long as I could. I was up until 2 in the morning playing video games on Friday and Saturday nights. I just had no idea how to take advantage of the opportunity that I was given. I'm sure I could have accomplished so much more if I had been plugged-in.
"But I didn't learn how to do that until I came to work at Rick's. Steve Letarte said man, you're going to be in the hauler an hour or 30 minutes before practice. I was like whoa (laughter). There were a lot of these like, rules. And I learned right then that I needed to be held accountable, and that when I was, I performed and there were better results. I was a different time back then when I was racing that Bud car. But if I had taken it as serious as I did these last several years of my career, I'm sure there would have been some better results. We had a lot of fun and as far as I know, it didn't drive under Tony Jr. or Tony Sr. skin too bad about the way I was. But it's really two completely different extremes from the person I was then to the person I became racing at Rick's. Being around Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) and sort of emulating their work ethic... I had to work like Jimmie and Jeff. They would call you out, you know, if you weren't as focused. And that was how a driver at Hendrick Motorsports was supposed to be. You were volunteering to go test. Now I never volunteered to go test anywhere. But you wanted to be the company guy. You wanted to do whatever it was that would help the company. And man, I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to go work there and learn that. But had I been able to apply that to the first half of my career, I would like to have seen what difference that might have made."
WITH EVERYTHING ELSE YOU'VE GOT GOING ON YOU'VE GOT THREE DRIVER'S RUNNING FOR THE XFINITY CHAMPIONSHIP TOMORROW ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE TIME TO ENJOY THAT?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "Oh yeah, yeah, I'm looking forward to it. We have a debrief with the drivers and the crew chiefs after our final practice and I want to be in there for that. Traditionally, that starts right around the same time the Xfinity race starts so I will miss the first several laps of the Xfinity race due to that debrief, but since it's my last race, I think I want to be in the debrief. I will get a headset and come out to pit road and sit on the pit wall and watch the Xfinity race unfold. It's really a proud moment for all of us, my sister and everybody at JR Motorsports to have the opportunity to be here at the final race racing for a championship whether it's one car or three or four. There is a lot of pride in that. We came close last year and even when the checkered flag fell the pride in my heart was the same as it was on the first lap. I just thought it was so special to be there. I remember when we came here and ran our first Xfinity race for JR Motorsports with Mark McFarland and we were kind of a patchwork of a ragtag crew and we ran 20th all night and we thought it was so awesome just to be there. We were so proud to be in the race and just be competing 'there goes our car' it was awesome. So, I don't take that for granted and I know how hard it is to be good and be competitive so there is a lot of pride that we are even in the position to win a championship. (Daniel) Hemric is a worthy opponent. I know RCR will put everything they have to give him the best opportunity. So, looking forward to it."
WHO DO YOU HAVE COMING IN FOR YOUR FINAL RACE?
EARNHARDT, JR.: "My sister and her husband, L.W. (Miller), my mom and her husband Willie, Mike Davis and my best friend and property manager Sonny and his wife, my cousin Stacey ... am I forgetting anybody? Is that it Tony? That's it. Yeah, I mean I figured it was a very difficult to know what was the right thing to do there. I've got 100 friends that I wish I could charter a giant plane to bring them all down here, but I assumed if they wanted to be here they would get here. I would be happy to help them get a ticket and get into the race, but once you kind of start that action of helping one person you feel like 'gosh I got to get this...' and the list just goes and goes and goes. Yeah, so whoever wants to be here wants to come, come on down, but I just made sure that my family is here and my Mom. I want my Mom to be here and my sister will be here because of the Xfinity opportunity that we have tomorrow. So, we just had a few seats on our plane. See my plane brought us to Key West and then went home. We drove up here so the plane can fly down Sunday with a few people on it. It's got nine seats and it will bring a handful of people and then we will go home."
--- Team Chevy ---