Prior to qualifying for Sunday's race at California, Dale Earnhardt Jr. spoke in depth with the media for the first time since Sunday's Daytona 500 where he was heavily criticized for pit road miscues and causing "the big one." Here's the complete transcript ...
IT SEEMS LIKE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YOUR CAREER THAT YOU ARE WEARING THE BAD GUY LABEL, HOW HAS THAT BEEN TO DEAL WITH? “It’s not been too bad. Just been hanging out all week. I did get ripped up quite a bit. I don’t know, it’s kind of different being on that side of it.”
DOES IT BOTHER YOU? “No not really. It was interesting to be on this side of the fence. I’m not on this side too much. So it wasn’t too bad. It will all turn around just as quick as it blew up.”
WHAT ABOUT THE REACTION FROM YOUR FANS, DID YOU NOTICE ANY DIFFERENCE OVER THE PAST FIVE DAYS? “There are some people, fans, friends, family, media – some are real supportive and some aren’t. You’re either on one side or the other of the deal I guess.”
IF YOU HAD IT TO DO ALL OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO? “Well I mean I definitely could have used better judgment coming back up on the race track. It’s hard to tell. There was rain coming. I was a lap down so I had to get my lap back to even have a shot at winning the race and there was rain coming. It was early in the race, but the race was getting ready to be rained out. Everybody knew that. It’s hard to say you know. When you’re running real hard trying to win and you’ve got rain coming and you’re a lap down and you need to get it back you race hard. I hate that it wrecked all them cars and I hate that me and Brian (Vickers) had to get on bad terms with each other. Those things I regret but I’m out there racing. Made mistakes before and probably won’t be the last one that I make.”
HAVE YOU TALKED TO BRIAN? “Yeah I called him this week. You know he said it was intentional on the television and I wanted to make sure he knew it wasn’t intentional and that I didn’t have a problem with him and that I wouldn’t wreck him intentionally. Just trying to clear that up with him. I think we got that cleared up.”
ABOUT THE GETTING IN AND OUT OF THE PIT BOX, WHAT WAS THE DEAL WITH THAT? “I had some problems with the brakes all weekend and we put some more rear brake on the car that seemed to help it because I was sliding through the box in the first part of the week. We got that fixed. I don’t know. I just wasn’t paying attention coming down that second stop when I missed my stall. That was my fault. I just wasn’t paying attention that good enough and didn’t see my stall. The next stop that was unfortunate.
“We weren’t on the line until I turned the tires to the right. I don’t know. It’s just unfortunate. That call could have went either way and that official decided to choose that direction and that’s the way it goes.”
DIDN’T HE GIVE YOU A WARNING? “No, we got a lap penalty.”
BUT THEY TOLD YOU THEY OFFERED YOU THE CHANCE TO BACK UP. “I wanted to back it up but they were already jacking me up so I can’t drive off the jack.”
WHAT COLOR IS YOUR SIGN THIS WEEKEND? “I don’t know. I’ll have to pay hard attention to make sure I see it because they’re all about the same.”
HAVE YOU AND YOUR TEAM TALKED ABOUT GOING FORWARD WITH PIT STOP PROCEDURES, WHAT YOU CAN DO TO COMBAT WHAT IS HAPPENING? “No, that’s just my responsibility. I take full responsibility for everything that happened on pit road. There’s nothing that they can do better to help me and it’s up to me to make sure that I get the job done which I obviously wasn’t getting it done. There’s nothing they did wrong or weren’t doing right or weren’t doing enough. I mean they do their job just fine. I just was having too much fun I guess.”
WITH ALL THE STUFF THAT WAS GOING ON, YOU GOT THE PENALTY, YOU FELL A LAP BEHIND, IT WAS GOING TO RAIN, DO YOU THINK IF THE SITUATION COULD HAVE ALL BEEN DIFFERENT WOULD YOU HAVE REACTED DIFFERENTLY? “Well it is called a race and there always is urgency no matter what your situation is. It’s the Daytona 500 and everybody pretty much knew we weren’t going to get the whole race in so when there’s no determined lap when you know it’s going to be over with you got to take all the risks. It’s a big race and it’s unfortunate that everything that happened, happened. I personally do feel bad for everybody that was swept up in that wreck. At the same time that was a unique situation where nobody really knew when the race was going to end and I was a lap down. One thing that is important to point out is that I knew before that caution that I wasn’t going to get the Lucky Dog so my only option was to race into the front of the leaders and try to get my lap back that way because I can’t get the Lucky Dog after serving a penalty. I knew that from last year in a situation that we got ourselves in one time.”
ISN’T IT OKAY IF PEOPLE ARGUE ABOUT YOU JUST LIKE THEY WOULD ABOUT ANY OTHER DRIVER? “Well I don’t know. There’s a lot of people that like you and there’s a lot of people that don’t like you. When you give them people that don’t like you an opportunity they’re going to come out of the woods after you and that just the case of what’s happening this weekend.”
WHEN YOU TALKED TO BRIAN WAS HE RECEPTIVE? “Yeah I mean Brian is pretty tough. He’s a pretty tough dude. He’s a good guy though. We’ve known each other for a long time. We’ve been down that road before, wrecking each other and carrying on. It’s a tough call. I tell you when you get in an accident with somebody whatever you believe your fault or not, the hardest thing to do is typically the right thing to do and that’s probably call the guy up and talk about it and see where it goes from there.”
HAVE YOU TALKED TO ANY OF THE OTHER DRIVERS THAT GOT WIPED OUT BY THAT WRECK? “I wasn’t going to call them all up.”
JUST TO PUT ONE THING TO REST, THERE WERE SOME FANS THAT TRIED TO SAY BECAUSE IT WAS BRIAN VICKERS THAT HE HAD WRECKED YOU TWO YEARS AGO AT TALLADEGA AND IT WAS SOME KIND OF PAY BACK. “Well that’s not the case. You don’t forget things like that but I mean after even a couple of weeks you get over it. You’re better off in the long run to concentrate on racing your race car and finishing the best you can. You’re worse off in the long run if you concentrate on the grudges that you keep and somehow find a way to manipulate them every weekend. That’s not going to get you as far obviously because you’re not concentrating on the right thing. Me and Vickers have actually been friends for a while. The deal at Talladega was a hard, bitter pill but he was trying to win his first race. I don’t think it was intentional what he did so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to get over.”
THAT’S ONE OF THE REASONS THESE THINGS HAPPEN, IS THEY HAPPEN SO FAST AND YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO SIT THERE AND THINK ABOUT IT. “It all happened pretty fast and it was unfortunate how it all went down. My statistics at the plate tracks speak for themselves and I don’t have to really defend myself of how good a plate-racer I am and what kind of moves I make out on the race track. I’ve got just as much right to be on that race track and do whatever the hell I want to do on it as anybody else out there. I’ll race just as hard as I choose to race and want to race and I race people how I want to be raced. I’ve always raced with a lot of respect and I’ll continue to do so in the future.”
JEFF BURTON SAID HE HAD A GREAT DISCUSSION WITH YOU, THAT YOU WERE VERY CLASSY AND HE CAME UP AND CHATTED WITH YOU, CAN YPU TALK ABOUT THAT? “It was a situation where I think I was a lap down and I was trying to get back up there toward the front and I come off of (turn) two and had a good run. He was on the inside of somebody and I made it three-wide and we just had a restart so everybody’s tires were pretty good so I thought it was okay. Hell, we had been going three-wide a lot and there was big sense of urgency at that point of the race due to the weather. He was shuffled back and several laps later he wrecked. He was like man you doing what you did put me in that position ten laps later. I’m like what, I can’t be responsible for that. We just talked about it. He was upset when he first got out of the car
when the rain came. I didn’t even really remember what he was talking about. He was like why did you take me three-wide and I’m like I can’t remember everybody that I took three-wide. I walked down pit road and thought about it and then I remembered so I walked back down there and said look man I know what happened. I remember what happened and I can’t be responsible for your wreck five laps later. That’s not my responsibility. How can you pin that on me like that? We sat there and debated my ethics and my values and all those things and ended up agreeing that I’m not a jerk and don’t race like a jerk. He was just kind of hot under the collar a little bit. Bygones are bygones I suppose. He’s a good guy. We’ve got a good friendship too. I’ve always been too nice and that was the Daytona 500 and I felt like I had the car to win. I felt that way 100 percent also. I wanted to go out there and win the race and I felt like if I could get my lap back I could get it done. I was racing everybody as smart as I could but I was racing as hard as I could.”
SO IS THAT THE END OF THE NICE GUY? “Well I’m still a good guy but when I feel like I’ve got a real good opportunity to win and I’ve got to make up a little ground you’ve got to race hard. You’ve got to race hard. We go to places like this where there’s still typical give and take. When guys are faster than you let them go and take it easy and take care of your car. That’s the Daytona 500 and is a little different situation. A lot different.”
DURING SPEEDWEEKS FROM MEDIA DAY ON YOU JUST SEEMED LIKE YOU WERE A LITTLE OFF AND BOTHERED. “I actually feel like I was in pretty good shape mentally. I know what you mean and I guess if you looked at everything as a whole you would probably take that kind of idea away from there. I really felt good going into even media day. Media day was really the easiest media day we’ve ever had. I usually hate that and that was actually pretty bearable. I was a little upset by a couple of questions. I get a little annoyed sometimes when the media takes a couple of angles that are odd and unfortunate and uncomfortable for me. I always try to be good with you guys and answer your questions and try to think about the answers and give you the right answer and give you a good, honest answer and then sometimes the way you ask them I don’t get paid the same type of respect sometimes. There’s nobody here in particular but those type of things just kind of upset you a little bit. For the most part it went really good and I was upset with myself a lot for the pit road stuff. The way the Nationwide race went down. I don’t know I felt like I was on my game, I felt like my cars were fast and I was driving them fast. I was making good moves on the track but I couldn’t put it together in the pits real good and I was making a lot of mistakes. That was very frustrating. I make mistakes you know. I probably am making them just as much as anybody else if not more than most these guys in the garage. I was really piling them up this past weekend.”
DID YOU STILL THINK YOU HAD ENOUGH TIME TO GET BACK ON THE LEAD LAP TO WIN THE RACE EVEN WITH THE RAIN COMING? “I felt like I could. I had
drove from the back of the pack to the front in around 30 laps and I wasn’t even as urgent when I did that. I felt like if we got on the lead lap we probably would be in 28<sup>th</sup> place, so I felt like I could get up there and put up a fight for it. I definitely had a good enough car to win the race. I had the best car I’ve had at Daytona in a couple of years.”
HOW’S YOUR CAR HERE AND ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT COUPLE OF WEEKS? “Yeah I’m looking forward to it. Seeing how we’re doing and seeing how what we did over the off season is paying off. We’re alright today. We need to do a little bit better in qualifying trim but in race trim I was pretty happy with my lap. That’s about it. It’s been pretty interesting though. I’ve had a lot of support from my teammates and all that stuff. It’s not been too bad a week. I got ripped really bad in the press. Maybe I deserve part of it. Everybody has got a job to do.”
WHAT DID RICK (HENDRICK) SAY? YOU SAID HE WAS ALWAYS ON TOP OF WHAT GOES ON, DOES HE CALL YOU UP AND GIVE YOU SOME GOOD ADVICE? “We had a couple of conversations on the phone and we really didn’t even talk about last weekend. We’ve got a couple of other things going on that we were talking about, getting ready for this weekend. He was just wanting to make sure that my head was on straight for this weekend and that all that crap didn’t get you into too bad or whatever. I really didn’t even get on the internet any because I just knew it would be a bad deal if I did.”
ON THE EFFECTS OF HAVING HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS COME IN AND PROVIDING THE DIFFERENT RESOURCES TO JR MOTORSPORTS. “That really boosted the No. 88 last year and gave them a good season. That really pushed them into the opportunity they had last year where they finished third in points. They were a top-10 team. That made them a top-five team for sure.”
HAS HAVING THE SAME DRIVER EACH WEEK HELPED WITH THAT CONSISTENCY? “Yeah, he does everything that I want as far as taking care of the race cars and that’s my main number one focus aside from you’ve got to have a little bit of talent and be able to run well.
“We’ll give you a really good race car, you just can’t tear it up and run wreckless especially now with the economy the way it is. We don’t budget in the fact that we we’re going to kill a couple of race cars. He did a good job last week. We actually made a little bit of money in the Nationwide Series last week. That mostly goes to Gus (Larkin) and Tony (Eury) Sr. and Brad (Keselowski), those three guys.”
YOU’LL BE IN THAT CAR IN TEXAS, ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THAT? “I look forward to it. I enjoy racing in the Nationwide Series. I enjoy racing in there. Going to Texas is always fun. With the cars that we’ve got this year and the way our design stuff, it’s pretty neat stuff. Pretty fun to bring out new designs and stuff every other week.
The history is good there. It would be good for (Eddie) Gossage and those guys to help promote the Nationwide race on Saturday too.”