Dale Earnhardt Jr. met with the media Thursday in a parking lot across the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he unveiled the new No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet paint scheme for this Saturday night's All-Star Race (pre-race coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET on FS1).
As usual, he had plenty to say on a variety of topics. Here are some of the highlights:
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How much of a help was your wife Amy last year while he were recovering from a concussion?
Earnhardt: “If you go home from work and you’ve had a bad day or you’re in a bad mood, how many seconds does it last before your wife or husband says, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Once you walk in the house, it doesn’t take no time at all – and that’s the way Amy was. Anytime I got hurt, she could tell right away just by the look in my eyes.
“My doctors were great about keeping me honest. But you’ve got to get in front of your doctors first. She was the one saying, ‘You’ve got to do the smart thing here and this ain’t nothin’ to play with.’ … It’s good to have someone like that to tell you who to talk to next and who you need to get in front of. She was extremely helpful in that moment.”
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What do you think of the All-Star Race rule change that will give teams the option of using a soft tire or a hard tire?
Earnhardt: “I don’t know what it’s gonna do. I think it’s a great opportunity to see. You know, it’s a race that doesn’t really have any ramifications toward the points championship. It’s a great opportunity to try out anything you want to try.
“We’ve talked about wanting to get a softer tire in this series for a long time. We’ve seen that in other forms of motorsports. I think the hard-core fans like that piece of strategy, and like to contemplate on how that could be used and developed. It’s something I think maybe NASCAR and Goodyear are looking at doing down the road long term, so this is a great opportunity to see what we’re capable of.”
But how do you think it will work out specifically on Charlotte Motor Speedway?
Earnhardt: “It’s not probably the best scenario because this track is pretty fast at night with still a lot of grip. The surface, they did such a great job paving it that it hasn’t really aged that well. It still has a ton of grip, so I think the hard tire is still going to be competitive compared to the soft tire late at night. If we went out there during the day, there would be a big difference between the two. But as it gets later at night, the difference narrows up quite a bit.”
Why is that?
Earnhardt: “This is a day racetrack. We were at Kansas last week and they just repaved that not long ago, after they repaved this track. And that track is gray. It’s aged really, really well, and we use a lot of the racetrack.
“At night here, it’s still got so much grip … that it’s still very dark in color, and it has a ton of grip as if it was just recently repaved. It doesn’t race well at night. As far as providing multiple grooves and passing opportunities, it doesn’t really provide that as much in the late evening – and I know we’re going to be running real late here in these next two races.”
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What was the deal with your tire issue at Kansas?
Earnhardt: “I just know from our notes that in the last four races at Kansas, we have tires that shake there. Why that is, I don’t know. I just know that every third set or so, we have tires that shake – some worse than others.
“It’s just something I need to remember before the race, so that when that happened, I didn’t freak out. We’ve had so many loose wheels that it’s in the back of my mind – and any time I feel a vibration, I’m like, ‘Ohhh, it’s happening again! We’ve got a whole tire about to come off!’ “
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What would it mean to you to win your first Coca-Cola 600 in your last start in NASCAR's longest race?
Earnhardt: “I would love that, to win the 600. It’s an iconic event because it’s 600 miles. My first race was at Charlotte in the Cup Series. And I grew up around here, very close to this place. Robert Gee lived right over there within a couple hundred yards of the track, and all my buddies used to live in Campus Connection (apartments).
“When I used to race in the XFINITY Series, I used to come home from the XFINITY races and go over there and drink beer at the apartments. Then we’d sneak over to the track and bust into the track and hotwire the golf carts and play with the school cars and all that stuff – until we’d see headlights, and then we’d take off. You’d be surprised.”
Barbecue pitmaster Myron Mixon will soon be doing an event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Do you aspire to be a pitmaster after you retire as a driver?
Earnhardt: “My hope is to always be aspiring, not to ever really be a pitmaster champion. The quest of it is actually probably more fun than the accomplishment itself. I’m a novice, always learning, and he’s a great guy to learn from. I’ve got several of his books, on his approach and how he lays it out there. That’s great for rookies like me. It’s in plain English, this is how you do it, and you can do it right off a charcoal grill. I like that about him. Through his books, I’ve been able to make my family and friends happy on occasion.”
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Currently sitting 25th in the points standings, do you think you have to win a race to make the Cup Series playoffs?
Earnhardt: “I haven’t had to have that conversation yet. I’m hoping not to have to read any tweets or mathematical equations that you guys (in the media) come up with about my situation, because I know it’s not going to be a lot of fun to look at.”
Told team owner Rick already said he believes Earnhardt may have to win to get in, Earnhardt laughed and added: “Well, that makes it a lot easier when the boss man tells you what you need to do. I guess I have to win. That clears it right up.”
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What do you think of the camaraderie current Cup drivers seem to have?
Earnhardt: “There is a lot more of it these days. Maybe it’s because we’re all so much closer. We spend a lot of time around each other in the bus lots. We hang out and the kids and everybody are friends, and the wives talk. We all have common interests, whether it’s cycling or whatever. A lot of the drivers spend a lot of time away from the track than they used to, so the relationships are a little tighter.”
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Would your father have agreed with that?
Earnhardt: “Dad had his friends. Dad hung out with Neil (Bonnett). Hell, he actually was friends with Rusty – and then they would fight on the racetrack. Him and Rudd would run around on the lake and then fight, or run over each other. Then the next week he’d have his arm around ‘em, saying, ‘Well, you aren’t mad at me!’ “
Earnhardt: “Everything’s a little more out in the open these days because of social media and so forth, so everybody knows everything you’re doing all the time. Had social media and cell phones and all that been around back then, you’d probably have seen more of it than we saw."
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So again ... what would your dad think?
"They (drivers from the elder Earnhardt's era) hardly hung out at all at the track, whereas we still hang out at the track and BS before the race. So I don’t know how they’d feel about it. I think it would be a little too chummy for Dad, for sure.”