WHEN YOU COME TO TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY, YOU THINK ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT, JR. AT LEAST I KNOW I DO (LAUGHTER). THAT’S A COOL PAINT SCHEME YOU’VE GOT OUT THERE. TALK ABOUT THAT, AND THEN TALK ABOUT COMING TO A PLACE WHERE YOU’VE WON FIVE TIMES IN THE SPRINT CUP SERIES. THIS HAS GOT TO BE A SPECIAL PLACE FOR YOU.
“Yeah, that’s true. The car looks great. I’m really excited to be paired up with Xbox One. I’ve got to thank Diet Mountain Dew for being innovative on the marketing side. I’m a big fan of Xbox. I’ve got several actually, strewn around the house and in the bus. So it’s a good fit. And hopefully with this promotion that Diet Mountain Dew has they’re going to auction off a lot of these Xbox Ones right here like this one right here on the table. I think that will be pretty successful, obviously; regardless of our participation because Xbox is such a huge brand. And with the release of the new console, pandemonium is going to set in for a little while. But I’ll be on the list somewhere, trying to get one.
“But this race track is really a special race track, just in general, to the sport. I think the history of this place and just how it was conceived and the unique circumstances of that first race and how the drivers, many felt it was unsafe or what have you. And how the track eventually turned into one of the most impressive and unique, concerning speed, and how the style of racing that you have here is so unique, it’s just amazing what this place has been able to deliver year after year. I do enjoy coming here and I remember this was one of my favorites as a kid. When I was young, out of all the tracks that I had the chance to go to, this was definitely one of my favorites to come to. Milling around in the garage during the race and just how big the place was and the cars looked different because of the superspeedway bodies and it was just a really fun experience for me.
“And this was actually the first race track that I drove on aside from Myrtle Beach. I was racing at Myrtle Beach. Actually I wasn’t even racing Myrtle Beach. I was racing street stocks at Concord. And I think they were testing the V-8. They were going from V-6’s to V-8’s in the Nationwide Series. And Dad was down here driving it and Dave Marcus was out here driving Dad’s car. And Dad called me at the dealership. I was changing oil and told me to get my helmet and my suit and be at the airport the next morning and not to ask any questions or tell anybody where I was going. I didn’t know where I was going. I mean, I knew I was going to Talladega, but I didn’t know why. I assumed I was going to drive a race car somewhere. But we got here and he told me to get my stuff on and get in the car and go out and run; and hold it wide-open, that it would be on the stick. And I remember going down the back straightaway in that car and wondering if it was really going to stick when I got in that corner because it just didn’t seem like it was possible.
“But yeah, this is a real special place. My dad won a lot of races here and I’ve had the fortune of being able to get to Victory Lane several times. I think this place will just continue to deliver, year after year, long after I’m gone. It’s just such an impressive track and I really enjoy being here.”
YOU ARE THE SPORT’S MOST POPULAR DRIVER. BUT DO YOU GET THE EXTRA LOVE THAT YOU GET HERE AT TALLADEGA? AND DO YOU STILL GET A KICK OUT OF THAT BECAUSE IT REALLY IS UNLIKE ANYWHERE ELSE?
“Yeah, I think that we were winning so many races there in a short period of time from ’01 to ’04 and when we weren’t winning, we were running second or third and always in the middle of the race for the lead. And I think, I don’t know, maybe our personality is a good match for this area. I have had a lot of friends down in this area and spent a lot of time down here hunting. And for whatever reason, it’s just been a real comfortable area for me to be in. You know, you travel all over the country, racing in all the different parts of the country and some places you feel almost like you’re at home. And this is one of them.
“So, I think that Dad really started all that with the success he had here. Our DEI team came in and just kind of inherited already a pretty loyal fan base. This sport has got the most loyal fans as it is already. We sort of adopted a lot of people and we were able to go out and win. And that endeared them and has for some time now. And yeah, It makes it fun to come here knowing you’ve got a lot of people excited to see you run. And as soon as the race starts, when you starting on the line out there before you even get in the car, the first thing you’re thinking about is how fast you can get to the lead because you know a lot of people want to see you leading the race. And they come here to cheer that specific moment and hopefully see you go to Victory Lane. You just want to produce as soon as you can.”
WHEN YOU ARE GOING AROUND HERE, AND WHEN YOU TAKE THE LEAD, CAN YOU ACTUALLY HEAR THE FANS? THEY GET PRETTY LOUD. DOES THAT GIVE YOU ADRENALINE? DOES IT GIVE YOU A RUSH WHEN THEY ARE CHEERING FOR YOU? OR, DO YOU JUST HAVE TO BLOCK IT OUT AND JUST KNOW YOU HAVE A TASK AT HAND?
“No, you don’t block it out. I think you enjoy it. If you’ve got one fan or you’ve got thousands of fans, you know that when you put the car in first place, that they’re happy. I think you enjoy that as much as the fan enjoys it. You’re happy being first, obviously, but when you see the reaction that other people get from it, yeah, it’s a great feeling. It’s a really good feeling. Sometimes you swear you can hear them, but most of the time you can’t. But you can definitely see it. You can definitely see after lap after lap of going by the grandstand and seeing them sitting down. When you come by and they are standing up, it’s obvious. And you see the arms in the air and all that stuff. So, yeah.”
MATT KENSETH WAS JUST IN HERE TALKING ABOUT HOW YOU HAVE TO EMBRACE THIS PLACE AS AN OPPORTUNITY AND NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN ALL THE STUFF THAT COULD HAPPEN. KNOWING HIM AND KNOWING THIS JOINT IS THAT KIND OF MINDSET ESSENTIAL TO DOING WELL HERE?
“I think so. As much as I feel like a lot of things are out of your control so you start the race thinking ‘I’ve got no control over what is going to happen. I’m just going to do this or I’m just going to do that.’ I’m either going to lay back you make up your mind probably hours before the race. I’m going to run hard every lap or I’m going to take it easy, this is what I’m going to do. You still even after you’ve got this plan that you’ve talked about and thought about and maybe you spent time with your crew chief and your team. Maybe you spent a week on it who knows you still feel as helpless as a guy with no plan at all. Just because so many things are out of your hand, but I think you can psych yourself out and you can definitely anticipate negative results and negative things happening so much that you almost guarantee that as your fate. I think if you think positively ‘man this is going to work, I’m going to make the right choices when things are quite working right. I’m going to keep striving and pushing and I’m going to make this a good results. I’m going to get something out of this today’. Typically it works out. Typically that attitude is going to prevail over ‘man this isn’t going to work, every time I come here I’m going to wreck, every time I come here I’m going to have trouble, I can’t figure it out why even try’. That attitude never works. But not that I think drivers are that extreme about it, but you definitely when you have so little in control.
“When you are driving at other race tracks man you are driving the car you are in control of getting the car better and you are in control of a lot more. Where here you are at the mercy of the draft and what line you are in. A choice to change lines a couple of laps ago might have you just going backwards with no option to get out you are trapped in that box. Trapped by the cars around just sort of ride that decision out for a few more laps. That is kind of frustrating, but you have to stay positive I think to not end up in that crash or not end up having a terrible result because you make all these terrible choices you have to stay positive and keep pushing. And try to stay positive I mean you will make five bad decisions but that one right decision you made might be the one that gets you where David Ragan ended up. Just like that he wins the race. You just got to keep plugging away and you are going to make a lot of bad decisions you just got to get ready for that.”
HAVE YOU GOTTEN BETTER AND THEN WORSE AND THEN BETTER AND THEN WORSE? WHERE ARE YOU AT NOW IN THE BACK AND FORTH OF IT ALL?
“Yeah definitely feel like I’m waiting on something good to happen. I don’t think that I’ve made too many bad decisions I suppose. I really don’t look back over each race and go ‘man you know this is exactly where I went wrong’ so I don’t take a record of everything. I feel like we haven’t got the job done and this is a place where I feel like I should know what I’m doing and should be able to go out there and get a great result every time. Every time you show up here thinking that this might be the weekend that you get it kind of turned around and put things back in the right direction. It hasn’t been going great here, as great as I want it to go here lately. We have torn up a lot of cars and been frustrated most times when we leave here. I still come back as confident and excited about the opportunities as ever. That is the way we feel this weekend.”
DO YOU KNOW WHY?
“The package changes a lot and you’ve got to adapt. Maybe I haven’t adapted as well to some of the packages or maybe I’m just not making the right decisions. You’ve got to make all the right decisions in the draft to put yourself in position to win. And I haven’t been doing that to win these races here, but my confidence and my determination has not changed a bit. I think you’ve got to adapt and I don’t think I’ve adapted as well as I’ve needed to, to the way this package needs to be ran. But I’m going to stay open minded to that and try to do a good job this weekend of putting the car where it needs to be and making better decisions that put me in position to have a shot at it. I just want to have a shot at it. You know we haven’t really even done that. Every time we have had these late restarts we have been in the back or outside the top 10 or just things haven’t gone the way we need them to go at the end of these races to have a shot and be up close to the front to make a move at the last few laps. That is the goal this weekend.”
YOU MORE THAN ANYBODY ELSE CAN RELATE TO THE WHOLE POPULARITY THING WITH DANICA (PATRICK). DOES NASCAR NEED HER TO BE SUCCESSFUL EVENTUALLY AT SOME POINT IN TERMS OF HER RESULTS?
“I think that she needs it more than NASCAR needs it. I think that for her she wants it. She wants to be successful and strives to be successful and that is on her. That comes down to whether she can get it done or not and time will tell. I don’t think that the sport wins or loses either way. Obviously I mean if she is successful it is a plus, but no matter what happens to any of us the sport goes on. The health of the needle doesn’t move a whole lot depending on individuals. It’s really a sport of so many people and so many different drivers and so many different personalities you move one out and put another one in I don’t think the needle moves a whole lot no matter who we are, me or anybody.”
WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN IN JEFF GORDON THAT HAS ALLOWED HIM TO SORT OF TURN IT AROUND THIS YEAR? DOES HE HAVE THAT PASSION AND STYLE BACK THAT MAYBE HE HAD A FEW YEARS AGO MORE IN HIS SO CALLED PRIME?
“I think Jeff (Gordon) will tell you that he is not has been as successful this year as he’d hoped. He is as determined as I’ve ever seen him. I’ve only spent a few years actually as a teammate, but I’ve known him for a long time. His determination and how he goes through the process of working a race weekend being tenacious and trying to figure the car out and working with his crew and utilizing practice. I mean he puts in the effort and the desire is definitely as strong as it’s always been as far as I can tell. I think that he’s just a real talent and they are just trying to find the right combination of things to sort of get their team where it’s successful every week. I think they show the potential of that off and on and you see them win a race here and there and have struggles from time to time. They are just trying to find that consistency, but yeah, I mean he has got the confidence that he is the best guy out there and wants to go out there and prove that every week. I see that in him in his demeanor and his body language every week. I like having him as a teammate because of that, because of his determination.”