MOORESVILLE, N.C. (June 13, 2007) – The following is a transcript from Wednesdayâ€™s (June 13, 2007) news conference, in which NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his plans to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008:
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I’d like to thank everybody for being here today. It’s a pretty packed crowd we’ve got. It’s been a privilege to invite everyone back here to JR Motorsports for a very special announcement regarding my racing career. First before I get started I’d like to take a moment to thank the fans and the media for their patience and giving me the time I needed to make this important announcement and decision.
I’ve taken this as seriously as anything I’ve ever done before. And I could say this process has opened my eyes to many great people in the sport. I want to thank each of the team owners who brought me in, gave me their time and answered my questions. I want each of them to know that I value their friendships and am extremely appreciative for their honesty. When we announced a month ago that we would seek a new team for 2008 we were immediately asked for a timetable.
I had hoped to have a decision by midsummer but I had no idea how long this would take since I had never been in this position.
I wanted to take as much time possible to find the right team, the team that was right for me as a person and where I could compete for championships. As I sit here today, I can say with complete honesty that I have found and accomplished that goal. We talked with many teams, but one stood out above the rest and it became apparent to me the man I wanted to drive for. I’ve known him since childhood. He competes with integrity, and most importantly, he wins races.
I feel like this decision will give me that opportunity and hopefully I can give my fans what they expect and deserve and have a whole lot of fun along the way. And so today, it is with great honor that I introduce my new boss for 2008, Mr. Rick Hendrick.
THE MODERATOR: Without understating or over stating anything, this is huge. Start off by talking a little about how this evolved and what this means to you personally and to Hendrick Motorsports?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, it is a wow day. It is an awful special day for me, both from a personal standpoint and a professional standpoint. You know, in my whole racing career, this day is going to go down as one that I’m still having a hard time believing that we’ve got it done and it’s happening.
It’s just good to see the rest of the family here, Mrs. Earnhardt, Brenda, good to see all you folks. It’s a day that’s an exciting time for us to be able to bring a talent like Junior into our camp and to be able to take a lot of pleasure in trying to win championships for different people. But this one has got a special place in my heart. Because Ricky told me about four years ago, this was going to happen one day and I said, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. So we are kind of bringing that to life today.
I can’t tell you how special this is to me, how thrilled I am and how much pressure I feel to make sure that (Laughter) that he’s going to win races. And I think he said it, too. We’re going to have some fun along the way, because I’ve known him since he was a puppy, he and Kelley both. It’s just something that’s really special to me.
THE MODERATOR: I know there are a lot of people that are looking down smiling; Dale Sr., Ricky and Papa Joe all come to mind. Something we’ve heard told over the years, and this is a question for both of you, Iâ€™ve heard bits and pieces about a napkin story and a napkin contract perhaps. Can each one of you tell your version of the story?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I had been fortunate enough to be invited on a trip with Kenny Schrader around the Midwest to run some dirt tracks. And it was going to end up at Topeka, Kansas where Rick was racing and my dad was going to race with Schrader. I was running around with Schrader for the whole week and we get to Topeka and that’s the first time I had ever met Rick, and he was introduced to me and he said, “Have you got a contract to drive for anybody.” I wasn’t even racing, you know. (Laughter) I was not even close.
But I thought it was a joke and he wrote down on a napkin, wrote a contract down on a napkin and I signed it. We were joking around. Obviously he’s a pretty smart businessman, and I figured even if it was a joke I’d better sign it because it might come in handy one day. (Laughter).
THE MODERATOR: And that was in 1991. Rick if you still have that napkin, I’ve got a perfect home for it. What’s your recollection of that and what took 17 years to get Dale Jr. to own up to the contract?
RICK HENDRICK: The first thing I was concerned with was how Dale let him go to the Midwest with Schrader. (Laughter) I felt like I kind of needed to protect him a little bit.
You know what was so funny about that, as how old were you then?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: 15.
RICK HENDRICK: So we did that. And it was later I think, I don’t know what year it was, but Ricky ran his first Busch race at Myrtle Beach and I went to the drivers meeting and I ended up standing beside Junior and I said, you remember you signed the contract with me.
He said, “I thought I forgot that.â€
I said, no, I didn’t forget it. I was just scared of your daddy. I wasn’t going to try to enforce it. So we laughed and he said, well, I’ve got to have a Corvette for all of my team members, I said that’s no problem. He remembered it and I remember it and we joke about it. Those kind of things are special memories.
MODERATOR: Did you get the Corvette thing written down in the contract?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Nah, that napkin was pretty small but it had the most important stuff on it.
It was a fun time.
MODERATOR: One of the obvious questions is you currently have a stable with four drivers and something has changed, can you talk about how this came together and what the situation is there at Hendrick Motorsports?
RICK HENDRICK: Kyle Busch and I, we had been negotiating an extension on his contract for the last, almost since the end of last year. And those conversations were moving along and it became pretty, you know, obvious to me that other people were talking to Kyle at the time and he was a guy in the garage area that at his age and his ability, which is an unbelievable talent; he had people picking on him just to make sure he was going to have an opening or an opportunity.
In the last discussions, we started talking around the Charlotte race trying to get things finished up and in those conversations; it became pretty obvious to both of us that maybe a fresh start might be good for both of us. He had unbelievable opportunities. You know, I’m trying to negotiate to get things done. I have an unbelievable opportunity and so you know with a tremendous amount of respect and putting a lot of effort into bringing him into the series, he’s got so much opportunity. We decided it would be good for him to pursue those and for me to be able to pursue this opportunity with Junior.
But a commitment from both of us that we’re committed to that 5 car to win the championship if we can finish the race and concentrate on that to the end of the year and that’s what we intend to do.
MODERATOR: We see a Hendrick Motorsports back drop. Have there been decisions made on car number, sponsor, team alignments?
RICK HENDRICK: Well you folks are so good, the media. If we move or make one phone call, you’re on it. We’ve got so much to get squared away, we don’t we haven’t decided on any of that yet. We made the deal. We know that for the next five years that Dale’s going to be with us and a lot of things can change before the end of the year. But the car number, the sponsor, the alignment, all that, we’re going to work on. But none of that’s in place yet.
MODERATOR: Dale Jr., a lot of people may not realize that the relationship with the Earnhardt family goes back a long way. Of course, your grandfather Robert Gee Sr., was a very big part of Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Sr. even drove a few times for Hendrick Motorsports. Talk about how much this means in that history and your recollections of that history growing up.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, my granddaddy worked with Rick and kind of helped Rick get into racing, or he was there along the way the entire time. Rick tells a story about him putting a hood scoop on his Chevelle when he was 16 or 17 and that’s how they met.
But he was one of the best body men in the business, if not the best. And he was really proud of his employment and his involvement at Hendricks, and you know, that was always apparent to me as his grandson when I would go over to his shop, the pride that he took in where he worked and how his job was and everything.
But my dad and Rick were friends throughout his career and his life. Daddy helped Rick when Rick got in the sport, tested his first Cup car, shook down Rick’s first Cup car. I think he won Rick’s first race in stock cars at Charlotte in the Busch Series in 1983, was it?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: So there are a lot of connections there. And me and Rick have been friends since I was little. He’s always treated me with a lot of respect and been genuine about my well being and how I was doing and what he could do to help so that’s always been really cool about Rick.
THE MODERATOR: I was just talking to your mom before we came down here about having the chance to deliver parts down to Robert Gee’s shop years ago and how meticulous the shop was.
Rick, one final question from me and we’ll open it up to the audience. This is quite a snag and Dale Jr. has without a doubt the biggest brand recognition as a driver right now in NASCAR racing. So how does that blend with Hendrick Motorsports from your perspective and for him to be able to maintain his marketability and brand, and from Hendrick Motorsports perspective which certainly has a huge brand recognition in its own right?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think all of our drivers are a little different, and it’s good that, you know, Jeff, Jimmie and Casey are friends of Dale’s. You know, it’s important to me and to Junior to protect his brand and grow it. I work for Kelley now and she’s told me how important that is.
You know, it’s a situation where we want to give him the best equipment we can. I told him that our goal would be to go to Daytona and win the Busch race and the Cup race. I promised Mr. Earnhardt I would take her to New York if we won the championship. So I made a lot of commitments today that I’m going to have to live up to.
But along the way, again, when we first started talking, it was, you know, to try to help them and again, there were conversations with he and Ricky way back. It’s just been neat to see what they have built, and what he’s created. We want to add to that. We want to try to give him the best equipment that we can and there are a lot of other things that we plan on doing together. And I’m just going to enjoy the relationship.
Again, it’s not just professional; it’s personal. But from the professional side, I feel the pressure. I felt it when I drove in here today, and I know I’m going to feel it when we show up in Daytona, and I’m committed to do everything I can to make the entire relationship the best it can be for he and his family.
MODERATOR: I would say you’ve done a pretty good job of living up to and delivering on the pressure you may have felt over the years since 1984 with Hendrick Motorsports.
I know there are a lot of questions from the audience.
Q. You’ve won 10 of 14 races, and you’ve got the all time active wins leader and the defending champion and now you’re added NASCAR’s most popular driver. You’re starting to look like the New York Yankees of NASCAR. Is there any point that stockpiling all of this talent might be bad for the sport?
RICK HENDRICK: I don’t think so. They are going to race each other. I mean, we’ve seen it with our cars this year when you see Jeff and Jimmie at Martinsville and you hold your breath that they don’t wreck each other.
I think when you have multi car teams, you try to get my job is to get the best talent out there. You know, I want to protect the brand. I want to protect Junior’s image and who he is, but I want to give him the best stuff. And he’s going to have to beat those guys anyway. They are going to have to beat him anyway, no matter if he’s with our team or somewhere else. Once again, on the racetrack, it’s kind of everybody for themselves. My job is to give them the best equipment to get that done.
We have been very fortunate this year. I have to check the horseshoe to make sure it hasn’t fallen completely out every morning, because we’ve had some races this year that we could just as easily be sitting here winning five races, and I know that. And you’re going to be asking me probably 10 races from now, hey, what happened, and we’re going to be doing the same thing. You can’t control people running out of gas or flat fires or whatever.
We are on a roll right now and I wish it was the last 10 instead of this 10 but I guess I should be honored that I would be compared to the Yankees, I don’t know. We’re just working hard. Everybody is working together to kind of let each driver earn his own way.
Q. Dale, it’s no secret that your relationship with Teresa was rough, or has been rough. Already today we’ve heard Rick talk about this personal relationship issue. Obviously every team has similar equipment, similar cars, so what kind of a role did the relationship with Rick have in this decision making process, as opposed to picking another team?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: For me personally, it had a huge impact on my decision. You know, a lot of people don’t know a lot of people really don’t know a lot of the inside relationships in the garage, a lot of the friendships that have been around for years.
Obviously we talked about me and Rick becoming friends and knowing each other for a while, but over that period of time, there’s been a lot of decisions that I’ve had to make and a lot of things that I’ve went through where I sought advice from key people in the sport and he was one of those guys. He was just always really genuine to me. And even when I was thinking about my decision to leave DEI, his main concern was just my well being, and he had no other motives or any other intentions other than just trying to help me in any way he could, be as happy as I could at the end of the day.
So that was one of the things that I never forgot and I probably will remember for a long time about Rick, is just that he you know, when it comes down to business, he’s a smart businessman, but really and genuinely cares about the people that are his friends or the people that he employs and he takes care of them. That was a big deciding factor for me.
Q. Talk about going into a team that’s so dominant right now, and what input, if any, did the senior Hendrick drivers have; specifically Jimmie and Jeff?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don’t feel a whole lot of pressure. I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to drive Rick’s cars, his equipment, track performance and track record speaks for itself so I’m pretty pumped up about getting in there and getting my feet wet.
I feel some pressure. I hope it ain’t that hard to get me to victory lane.
So, we have had a lot of success at DEI and like Rick said, we’ve got a lot of goals still set for the rest of this season to pursue and give a great effort for and this is probably going to help continue to motivate me for the rest of the season to run well.
But I’m excited just to get in the car. I don’t feel really any pressure. I feel pretty comfortable. I think once I get into the testing mode and all of those things during the off season, there won’t really be any questions marks for me or any kind of pressure. I think I’ll be anticipating it so much that I don’t think that the pressure is going to get to me.
Q. A lot of your fans would follow you to the end of the earth, but some of them have said they didn’t know if they would sleep last night because they were trying to figure out, they formed their alliances based on ownership camps and that sort of thing. Can you also add whether Budweiser is in the picture at all? Are you still negotiating with them?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well I think that the fans will make up their own minds and somehow come to terms with whatever decision we would have made. I feel like once we get on the racetrack and have some success we’ll be able to give them what they deserve.
Like I said months ago, I feel like over the years I sort of haven’t been able to give them what I feel they deserve. I want to get them on their feet more often than I do. I’m trying to make those decisions not only for me, but to make that happen. So I think that they will find a lot of things to get excited about in the future. But you know, as far as sponsorships, we haven’t began to work around that and see what the options are and opportunities are for us and that’s something we’ll work on down the road.
Q. When you made this announcement just a few short weeks, you said your decision was going to encompass you, your life, your career, but also your team here at JR Motorsports. What influence will Hendrick Motorsports have on JR Motorsports and your Busch Series organization?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: He has expressed to me that he wants to make a huge commitment to supporting our programs here, whether it be driver development or Busch races, for the full team we have here and also maybe some races for myself or whatever.
Those are some things we can explore down the road. But he’s shown great commitment to helping us here and giving us the best opportunity we can have here to win races as well. I feel like this is a great opportunity to develop drivers, develop crew members, future crew chiefs, things like that and I hope that we can be that kind of an asset to Rick.
Q. Is there a number that you would prefer? Are you going to beating on him to give you one number? And the best analogy we have been able to come up with is like Bear Bryant’s son announcing he’s going to play football at Auburn. (Laughter) To some fans who have strong allegiances both ways, do you sort of get that, and this is sort of like two old warring camps coming together and signing a peace accord? It’s almost like you should be at Malta somewhere. Can you talk about that?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I feel like I’d like to be No. 8, but you know, we have to obviously talk to Teresa about that and see what her interest is there. I’ll just go ahead and throw that out there.
But other than that (Laughter) might as well. It work the pretty good sometimes when you let the media speak for you. (Laughter).
There are other numbers that I have interest in. We’ll just have to sit down. I want to have my hands in the design of what the car looks like. Rick’s said that I’ll have some ability to have some influence on what the car looks like, the numbers, things like that.
Weâ€™ll just have to sit down and see what looks cool. I never really looked at Hendrick Motorsports as our archrival or nemesis or whatever. We competed against them and they were one of the best competitors over the years obviously. They set the mark for most, if not all the teams, at least the Chevrolet teams.
But I always looked at the Fords and the Roushes and those guys as more of my competitors that I had more interest in out running and beating. But Jeff has always been a real good friend of mine. Him and dad were business partners on several things. Dad helped him a lot coming into the sport so, Jeff has always tried to over the last six years, has always tried to express to me that he’s sort of repaying that favor back to my father by helping me in a lot of ways. A lot of things behind the scenes people don’t know about.
I helped Jimmie get in the sport I know he won’t give me that credit. (Laughter) When he came to St. Louis to drive the Kingsford car, I was the guy he came to ask how to get around the racetrack and when he wanted to buy his first motorhome, he came to me because he never spent that kind of money before.
We have all been pretty good friends. I’m looking forward to it. We didn’t really get to answer that question about the teammates that I’ll have in the future but those guys seemed really excited about it and we’ll talk about it and we’re pretty pumped up about us being teammates next year.
Q. A lot of fans like to pretend that you and Jeff are rivals and you never were. Can you speak to those fans who are now upset that you guys are teammates?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I think that I can’t really speak for Jeff, but I think if I know him like I think I do, that we’ll still enjoy we do have a personal competition if you want to call it a rivalry, fine. But I like to out run Jeff. Jeff is one of the best that’s ever been in our sport. He’s fun to race with, and especially when you beat him, it’s a good feeling. It’s a good feeling when I out run my father or anyone else of that magnitude, you know what I mean.
So I think that will still be there. I think that I’ll still have that in me, just as an Earnhardt, you know, to beat Jeff Gordon. It’s always been there in the sport and I think that will continue to be there. I think that we can be you can have that kind of rivalry within Rick’s program within his business and it would still be healthy. I think we always race each other with respect. I’ve never driven dirty with Jeff and never spun him out or anything like that. Hit him on accident a couple of times.
But you know I think that’s kind of healthy because you each I’ll be in equal equipment, so he can’t make any excuses. But we can each raise each other’s game, you know what I’m saying. (Laughter).
I think we can both challenge each other to be better race car drivers and improve each other. I think that will be healthy and a lot of fun.
RICK HENDRICK: I’m liking this already. This is good. (Laughter).
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I thought about this a lot. (Laughter).
Q. In the beginning you said it wasn’t about money; it was only about winning championships, and after seeing you this morning and Kelley and your mom, have you finally found the peace of mind that you’ve been looking for?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I have. I do feel like there’s a big weight lifted off my shoulders. There’s still a lot of things to figure out and discuss with a number of the sponsors. There are a lot of things I have going on that Rick has going on and we have to figure out a way to mesh it out together. That’s still going to be a lot of work. There’s a whole lot of work left to be done. I’ve still got to concentrate and focus on driving the red No. 8 car as hard as I can do that throughout the rest of the year. You know, I owe that to my guys.
So thereâ€™s still a lot of pressure. Still typical life. But I do feel a big relief and a lot of excitement. I know that Rick is going to do everything he can do for me and that’s a great feeling to have somebody that’s going to support you like that.
Q. Junior, you just mentioned your guys, is there any thought or discussion at this point about anybody from your team and from DEI and any of your crew members coming over to Hendrick for you? And Rick, is there any discussion with Teresa about bringing No. 8 over to Hendrick?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: That’s probably some of the discussion and things we’ll be working on over the next couple of months, as far as the crew members and whatnot.
That’s basically all got to be worked out yet as far as, you know, Rick’s got a lot of guys working there, great employees and great, talented guys. That’s things we’ll have to discuss down the road.
Q. How close did it come to the rumors of signing with either Childress or Gibbs?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, we had as I said, I wanted to thank all of the other owners that we had talked to and for everybody for giving me that opportunity to discuss things with them. But all of the reports that I saw or heard of had come out of thin air, basically.
Q. The pressure you’re talking about that you feel, is it partially that he wants to win championships, but also knowing that it’s not just Dale Jr. wants to win championships; it’s that the most popular driver in the sport wants to win championships and if he does, it could take NASCAR to unprecedented levels? Jeff Gordon said that if he wins, it’s game over for the rest do you feel it will be huge for NASCAR if you do well with him?
RICK HENDRICK: I’ve been through this before where if Jimmie wins, Jeff’s fans say I don’t give him the good equipment. So I’m sure in this situation, if he’s not winning, it’s going to be my fault. If he’s winning, it’s going to be because of his talent. And if it’s not, it’s because of not giving him good stuff. That’s the way a lot of the fans look at it. So that pressure is there. You know, again, he’s such an icon in the sport and he made a decision to come with us, based on our performance and ability to give him what he needs to reach those goals.
So that’s the competitive side of me that adds pressure that I want to deliver what we said we could deliver and what he’s expecting.
This is because of the magnitude of his space and position in the sport with his fan base and so forth, it’s been an appeal to everyone connected. You know, you just want to work hard to give him what you can.
And as far as the competition inside the camp, there’s already a little bit of a feud not a feud, but a competition between Jeff and Jimmie. They are running for the championship and they can be friends and they can be upset when they lose a race. But they get back and go again. So I feel like that’s going to be the same situation here.
You know, again, the pressure is because I want to deliver, and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen because thereâ€™s going to be a lot of people watching. .
Q. You mention that you thought it was obvious Kyle was talking to other teams. If the opportunity presented itself for him to make a move before the end of the season, is that something you would consider?
RICK HENDRICK: No. And I don’t think Kyle would consider that. We have a responsibility to the sponsors, and he’s sitting in a position to be in the Chase. That’s a very good team.
You know, this decision was not an easy decision. And Kyle has got a tremendous amount of talent and I know in talking to him, he wants to see that car finish this year in first place. I think you’re going to see him very focused and very committed to that effort. The same is true with Junior. It’s hard in the sport to have to make these decisions mid year and finish out the year but we have sponsors to cars both sitting in the Chase, and that’s what it’s all about. So we’ve got to focus each one of us on that goal?
Q. Dale, can you talk a little specific about a championship? Do you think you will win a championship now at Hendrick Motorsports, and if you don’t, despite 17 wins already and everything else you’ve done ultimately, do you think your career will be judged unkindly if you don’t win a championship?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Some people obviously will everyone’s a little different in how they view success.
I’ve always said that I’ve done more in this sport than I’ve ever anticipated. I just wanted to be able to pay my bills and once I got past that, everything else was a bonus.
It seems like to me, three years ago, I was three months behind on my phone bill and living in a trailer with Kerry and his kids would jump over the couch back and forth and I would have to lock myself in my room just to get some peace and quiet. Those days don’t seem like that far or that long ago.
But you know, I want to work really, really hard to give myself and Tony Jr. an opportunity to make the Chase and challenge for the championship this season. I think we are a good enough team to do that. If we can’t accomplish that at DEI this year, my efforts will be obviously, you know, focused full fledged on doing that with Rick, and I think that I’ll have a good opportunity to succeed and win a lot of races.
I think personally I will cherish a championship on my mantle when it’s all said and done. I think I can live without it obviously. But I feel like, yeah, I think I’d be you know, 90, 95 percent on my goals that I set for myself personally throughout my career, if I can’t get that championship; I really do want it.
Q. Would there be any consideration of trading the No. 5 to DEI for the 8 if Kyle were to look at that as an alternative, and was this in the back of your minds when he jumped in the back of the car at Texas?
RICK HENDRICK: As far as swapping the 5 for the 8 if they wanted to talk about that, sure, we’d be open to that.
And what was the question about Texas? That sure started a lot of rumors. (Laughter)?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was trying to see what kind of horsepower they had, see where we measured up.
The car was wrecked so it didn’t really drive that good. (Laughter).
Q. I’m going to play the role of Ed Hinton and ask a three part question. I assume the 24 and 48 are pretty locked up, those numbers. So when you say the team is not decided, it’s basically between the 5 and the 25; correct?
RICK HENDRICK: Right.
Q. Sponsors, you’re all locked up; are you looking for a new sponsor ask the third?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, go ahead?
Q. Kyle, you said you guys decided to just go separate ways, what happened that brought you to that decision?
RICK HENDRICK: On the Kyle situation, again, Kyle is a young guy and a very talented guy. And when you come up on any kind of contract extension or renewal, it’s the people around you I guess that work for you, it’s their responsibility to test the market to see what your value is. And in testing the market, it was an unbelievable amount of interest in Kyle.
When we started looking at, you know, what he’s doing and where he is and extensions, those kind of things came up. And probably our contract talks drug on a little bit longer than they probably should have.
But there are times when you’ve never been anywhere else and you’ve got goals and you’ve got situations that occur that you think that maybe it might be good to go try something different.
Again, I think we have the kind of relationship and respect that I’m going to support him in whatever he does, and you know, that’s kind of the answer to that question.
What was the other question sponsors. We have several sponsors on our cars that are multi year deals. And I guess my first responsibility is to those people, and we’ve got to look at how the teams are going to look at the end of the year going into next year and what spots on those cars are available and where they want to be. We do have some space but we have sponsors in place, so we’ve got we couldn’t really talk to them because as soon as we started talking to them and the conversations got out, you folks would have it the next day.
So we had to wait until we got this deal done and then we’ll look at what their commitments are and what our commitments are, and we’ll make it all mesh and we hopefully will get that done here in the next few months.
Q. I’m only going to ask a two part question. For a while, you had made your name on the restrictor plate tracks and the last couple of years, Hendrick has surpassed you guys in that. How good is it going to feel to know that you’re going to have a real bullet at Daytona and Talladega?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, Rick’s teams win a lot of races, but there wasn’t ever really a competition issue or question with me at DEI. Iâ€™ve got all of the confidence in the world in those cars and my ability to drive them well.
You know, again, Rick’s cars win a lot of races, so I’m just looking forward I think there will be a lot of difference in the feel of the cars and how they drive. Just driving his car at Texas, you know, the front end, the geometry settings, a lot of the things that they are doing on their cars, which I couldn’t see and really know for sure what they were, but I could tell a big difference in just how the car rolled down in the corner and how the car yawed in the center of the corner, but even though it had been wrecked they fixed it back pretty well.
And so watching Casey and having talked to Casey just for a few minutes, he had spoken a little bit about how it took him a little bit of time to understand how to drive the car and how big a difference the car drove from what he was used to.
You know, if you give five guys the same pieces to build a car and they build all five cars, even though they try to set them up the same, they will drive differently just because guys set the front ends up and things like that. Iâ€™m interested in just knowing the angles that Rick’s guys take to approach getting the car to turn and things like that. So I’m interested in knowing all those things.
Q. Know you’re close to a lot of the guys at DEI. How much does it help to you see the resurgence of Martin Truex over the last couple of weeks that when you leave, there’s still people in place there that can keep that team in good hands?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, that’s been a really great thing for me. I’m happy for Martin because we’re good friends and he appreciates everything that anybody has ever done for him to get him where he is today. He’s thanked me and everybody on his team and everybody that ever helped him ever get to race a modified or whatever. He’s just so good about that and it makes you feel good to see him have success and you want him to win more and do better.
But as far as DEI is concerned, it is a good feeling. Those guys take a lot of pride in their ability to win races.
I think that you know, it hurts Bono’s pride a little bit and those guys’ pride when the remarks were made about DEI not being able to continue without me as a driver there. And for them to go out and make a statement like they have over the last couple of weeks, I think it helps them and gives them a lot of confidence and gives the rest of the employees that are not going to the race track a lot of confidence. Those are the people that are at home and on the weekends and they work the 9 to 5 throughout the week.
So the guys that go to the racetrack know everything, know the whole story, know all the gossip. So that was really good for them and that makes me I’m just proud of them and it’s good to see the team have success.
Q. Do you already have designs for expanding your gift shop? And secondly, you now have three of the four or five superstars in the sport; if we’re at Daytona and you have a lap to go with Junior first, Jeff second and Jimmie third, what’s going to happen?
RICK HENDRICK: I’m going to ask them to be nice and don’t wreck each other no, that would be a good problem to have. I hope that works out that way. You know, I do plan to expand the gift shop. It’s going to be an exciting time for our company and I think it’s really no different than racing Tony or, you know, Denny or Matt Kenseth when they are all out there racing. Those guys driving those cars, they are so competitive, they want to beat each other.
We have a good program going right now where they share information, crew chief drivers, engineers, and they help each other in driving styles and it’s okay to beat on each other. Just don’t wreck each other. They understand that and I watched Dale drive and he’s not going to I think most of the guys in the garage area today have kind of adopted that philosophy that if you do that, you’re going to get paid back and it’s just going to make life difficult and NASCAR is going to watch and they are going to take action and all of the above.
So hopefully we have that problem at Daytona that they are running like that. That would be great. That would be a good problem to have.
Q. Dale, you made the announcement a month ago that you were leaving the company that your father built, and it seemed at the time to be a surreal experience, but now that you have a landing spot and you know where you’re going next season, has the reality of leaving the company that your father built really kind of hit home and have you been kind of struggling with that since you made the announcement back in May?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I never struggled with that. I felt solid about that decision. Obviously I made the decision and I felt pretty firm about it. I think if I struggled at all, that was before I made it.
But once I had come to terms with it, wrapped my brain around it, I was pretty confident that I was making the right choice. I told Rick that the hard part for me was being in limbo, not having a home, not knowing what your future was.
Being that I was a son of the guy that built the place, not only, you know, I had a job driving race cars and when dad was around and even after, I never had to worry about my job. I basically could act and do and say and go along as I pleased because of the family connection. And so it is really uncharted territory for me. I think it was a huge risk and it took a lot of nerve for me to make that first decision and to get out there into the real world and work for someone who I had to straighten up a little bit for, you know what I mean.
Rick said he’s not going to ask me to change too much. I may not be able to wear jeans and t-shirts quite as often. But it’s going to be a great experience for me and I think my fans are going to still have the same Dale Jr. that they have always had and the one they like to cheer for.
Rick’s going to give me great equipment and I can’t wait I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. I love driving race cars and as much as I would like to go ahead and get started to work toward our future with Rick, I love driving race cars enough and the team I’m working with now, I appreciate those guys enough that I look forward to the rest of this year and working hard for them.
Q. You were saying that you were working trying to work through Kyle’s situation at Charlotte, so it seems this came together pretty quickly. When did you decide that you were actually going to be a player in this thing and really go after it and to Junior, when did you make the decision that that’s where you were going to go?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I get all the questions.
You know, that was when I went around and looked at all of the other shops, basically I saw the same thing everywhere. Everyone has the ability to build the same cars. Everyone has the ability to hire good people. Everyone has the ability to have all of those secret things behind the door on the right, the door on the left.
Rick’s got a great building and a great operation that’s available, and attainable by everyone in the sport owner wise. I think Rick and I’s relationship was what made the difference for me, and I notice obviously, he’s committed to winning and committed that winning is what it’s all about for him.
I know that he’ll commit whatever it takes for us to be successful, but the personal relationship was really important. But I had a lot of fun talking to everyone that we talked to; that was a real surreal experience, and some of the things that I heard and saw and was told were amazing and the relationships that I you know, I’m sitting there, you know, Job Gibbs, coach of the Redskins, he’s a hero of mine since I was a little kid. And to be actually in the same room with the man was kind of hard to get over.
Some of the relationships that I even made over the last two months, or forged over the last two months are really important to me. I think a lot of people understood that there are a lot more good personalities in the sport than I gave the sport credit for.
Q. Talk about that day when Ricky mentioned to you that some day this day would come and why you didn’t think at that time it wouldn’t happen. And Dale, Waltrip said all along he thought you would end up with Hendrick because Rick would treat you like a son; talk about how ironic that it’s going to happen here apparently but maybe didn’t happen at DEI.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I don’t remember. I guess it was Joel Suggs. Heâ€™s here, somewhere. Joel and Dale and Ricky were together. And Ricky called me and he said, you know, when my dad had the 25 team since it started, and Ricky, the plan was for him to take over. And when he got out of the car, he called me one day, I don’t know where they were, and he said, “I’m going to sign Dale Jr.”
I said, “Okay, right, that’s good. I believe that.” And then I talked to Dale and it was just something that he had in the back of his mind, and I didn’t think it would ever come to pass. But I think he always planned, because of their friendship, and the respect he had for Dale, that that was his goal in life.
For me now, to see that really happen, is surely special to me. I think the next part was yours.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: What was the other part of that question?
I don’t know that I can talk about him with him sitting next to me he does a lot for his employees. One of the things I keep hearing about time after time, and he did it for my sister when she was sick. Rick had his health issues several years ago, and he learned I guess through that experience the importance of confident and talented medical crews and that kind of service and how important it is that they are as good as they can be.
I’ve heard half a dozen stories about him when someone is ill or whatever, whether it be Parsons or somebody at his business, or a family member of an employee or whatever, he’s flying people all across the country trying to get the best crews and doctors to that person or however they can get the best kind of treatment they can get. He does those kind of things in that fashion all the time.
I find that kind of fascinating that he has the ability to take time out of what he has going on and his busy life to do those type of things for other people. You know, you want to be around people like that. You want to surround yourself with people like that; not to take advantage of that kind of behavior, but to try to improve yourself. They make you a better person. They teach you how to treat other people.
So that’s important to me that that’s the kind of guy that Rick is. I feel like we’ve had a great relationship and we’ve had a lot of respect for each other over the years. And I think that we’ll be able to grow that over the next several years as we work together and as I work for him, and hopefully I can do a good job. I think that I’ve got enough talent and if you’re a race car driver, you’ve to think you’re the best out there, and I don’t have any problem doing that. So I feel like he’s got great cars and I feel like we’ll have success on the racetrack. I want to have success off the racetrack, as well. I want to do a good job for him as far as far as pleasing his sponsors, pleasing his employees, all of the people we’ll be working with racing cars and everything we do.
It’s a new chapter for me and I couldn’t be anticipating it anymore. I don’t think I could be working for a better guy when it comes to just as a person.
Q. People will be debating this for the next three days, 24 hours a day, and they are going to talk about what you said and how you said it. One of the things they will say is, well, I know what Dale’s dad would have said. Can you clarify what would injure dad have said about this and how would he have reacted and also people think that you’re very tight with the 5 team because you climbed in the race car and those guys were your friend enough to ask you and they also talk if that was part of it, too, that you’re tight with the team?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I’ve got some friends throughout the garage. One of the things I’ll say, what surprised me is when we talked about being a free agent, which I never proclaimed to be, the crew members that came up to me in the garage saying things to me about, â€œMan, we’d love to have you.â€ That was it felt like I had won every week because every time I was going back to the track, I had somebody patting me on the back. So that was a great feeling.
But I know my dad would trust Rick. They had a great amount of respect for each other and knew each other for a long time. And I know Dad would appreciate what Rick is trying to do and what he’s done for me up to this point and what he will do for me in the future and his approach and respect for my sister and my family. I know Dad would appreciate that, and he’d probably be a little jealous to be honest with you. (Laughter).
Q. You said you only wanted to go through this one time as far as this process and your career. Are you happy with the length of the contract, five year deal; is it kind of open ended after that?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, we haven’t really talked about that as far as, you know, after five. Iâ€™ve always liked doing three year deals, but knowing what kind of guy Rick is and I know I’m going to be comfortable there and I know the employees and I will get along great. You know, I just really anticipate the deal I think that five years, it’s a great amount of time. That seems like the right amount of time for me. But you know, we’ll talk I don’t even think that we’ve even talked about how we’re going to leave the end of the deal open or whatever. But there are a lot of options for us to explore there and a lot of exciting options I’m sure.