When asked about coming up short in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600, it became apparent quickly that the race from six years ago wasn’t weighing on him.
“I couldn’t have told you what year it was,” Earnhardt said. “It doesn’t really weigh on me that much. It was tough to get over for a few weeks, but I believe Steve Letarte might still talk about it today, but a lot of things, a lot of water under the bridge since then. I grew up here and went to all the races here when I was a little kid. Some of the first memories of being at a 1.5-mile race track that is here at Charlotte.
“So, been coming here a long time and have never won a point race here. I thought, considering we’ve had some decent success in the sport, I would have guessed I’d have got a win here in a point race at some point, but it just hasn’t happened. We’ve had some close ones, but the way we ran out of the gate as a rookie, we ran pretty good. We led a lot of laps that night and came up short on the victory, but I thought that this would be a good track for us, but since the repave, for whatever reason it’s really been tough for me. We just really haven’t been able to hit on how to get around here. Either how to set the car up or what I’m looking for or what I need to be doing with the car driving it. But, we will keep digging this weekend and see what we can make out of this weekend.”
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Dale Jr. talked about his relationship with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Lionel Racing and how they raised $60,000 last week.
He mentioned Lionel giving him the first diecast of his 2014 Daytona 500 win but took a moment to think about the year.
“(Lionel) gave me the number one serial number for I guess it’s the bestselling diecast of all time, our race win version of the 2015 Daytona 500… wait, 2014,” Earnhardt said after thinking about it for a second. “I guess they’ve never given a number one serial number to a diecast before. They keep them all in this room. But for whatever reason, they wanted to give me that. So, I’ll hang onto it forever. That’s pretty cool.”
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The one place that Earnhardt does keep an eye on the numbers is when it comes to how he ranks among the all-time greats. Earnhardt’s spent his entire life around the sport and has a great appreciation for the history, but he’s also interested in his place in it.
“I have a habit of looking at the drivers,” Earnhardt said when answering a question about his thoughts on the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018. “I’ll admit that I look through the list of all-time winners and look at the ones that are in the Hall of Fame and look where my name is and see how many guys are in front of me and how many are probably going to get in, will I ever get in and all that stuff. You know it must be a tremendous emotional piece of relief and satisfaction to get that kind of reward. I watched really closely when Mark (Martin) got going in there last year and it just seemed to really validate all the work.”
Along with his several number related statements, Earnhardt had some poignant comments about Charlotte Motor Speedway moving to the “roval” for the 2018 Bank of America 500.
“I’m not a big fan of the roval,” Earnhardt said. “But you’ve got to be open-minded to it because what if it does do really well? I anticipate it will be more spread out than what we see at Sonoma and The Glen. Once these cars come out of the road course and go onto the track, they’re just going to distance from each other and so I don’t know, really, what a race like that is going to look like for stock cars. But, they’re going to try it. We’ve got a lot of other race tracks that are rovals as well, and if it happens to work, there are opportunities for them other tracks to do the same. As far as how they move these races around and stuff, that seemed to be all decent ideas there. And it’s a little unfortunate for the New Hampshire folks because there are tons of race fans up there and a lot of die-heart short track modified racers and families up there that like to come to the Cup race and it’s unfortunate that they lose an event. But, Vegas is certainly a great market for us; and one of the West Coast markets that works really well. And I like the Vegas race track. It’s a fun 1.5-mile.”
The strong comments by Earnhardt didn’t stop at his dislike of the “roval” as he took a bit of a comical jab at Charlotte Motor Speedway when asked about the application of the sticky VHT compound in the upper groove on the track’s surface.
“Well, they’re going to run that road course next year, so that tells you how desperate they are. I got in it by accident,” Earnhardt said. “I got loose into (Turn) 3 and ended up there. They say it takes some heat to activate and for it to really get grippy. You don’t really sense it when you’re up there today in it. But, I’m sure in the race some guys will get up there and start running through there, it’s going to improve the speed in those grooves. Hopefully, it does. If you look at Kansas and if you look at this track and Kansas was repaved afterward, Kansas has really aged well. It’s very gray. We move all over the place looking for speed and grip. It’s a lot of fun. This was the first track they’ve paved with the new polymers, that new technology of using rubber polymers in the race show; and boy, they much have really poured the coal to it because it’s like tire on tire.”
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Earnhardt on the importance of the Truck and XFINITY Series to bring drivers up to Cup and how to balance the finances of it all.
“Yeah, we moved our Truck team up to the Xfinity Series to make another team there,” Earnhardt said. “When I was in the series we went to South Boston and places like that and I miss watching those races. They were great races. I don’t know if the business model works to be able to go back and undo everything we’ve done, but I’d rather tune-in and watch them run the beach or the fairgrounds. Man! I’d love to go run a Xfinity race at the fairgrounds, in our cars. That would be at the top of my list if it was on the schedule. I run Richmond and Bristol. That’s the only ones I’m running this year because that’s the only short track action you can find. But, the 1.5-miles just aren’t that fun. We run too many of them for it to be fun. We rarely run the short tracks. So, you try to get as much of that as you can. Not everybody is the same. This is just me talking. I don’t know if all the drivers like short tracks that much. But, I would certainly tune-in. I’d tune-in and watch them trucks run at South Boston or the beach or the fairgrounds. I’d rather tune-in and watch them do that than a lot of these other tracks they run on.”