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Transcript: Earnhardt Jr. Hold Q and A

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, May 30 2009
Lance McGrew, interim crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Lance McGrew, interim crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)


Dale Earnhardt Jr. spoke about his team’s situation on Friday in a Q and A with reporters. Here is a transcript of that session:

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HAVING AN INTERIM CREW CHIEF THIS WEEK?:  “We’ve got Lance McGrew coming in as the crew chief of the car starting next weekend.  This weekend Brian Whitesell (Team Manager and Crew Chief, No. 88) and Rex (Stump, Hendrick Motorsports lead chassis engineer) and the rest of the team is banding together to work together this weekend and everything seems to be going pretty good throughout the first practice.  Everybody’s attitudes are real good and the work on the car and everything is going pretty well.  We’re looking forward to seeing how things go this weekend, hoping to have a good weekend and we’ll, I guess Monday we’ll get back to the shop.  We’ll start preparing for Pocono and discussing with Lance (McGrew) on how that preparation is going to go throughout the week.” 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON JEFFREY EARNHARDT’S FIRST NATIONWIDE SERIES START THIS WEEKEND?:  “I haven’t had the chance to really talk to him this week.  I’ve seen him over the last couple months once or twice.  He looks like he’s got a good, solid outlook on his situation and his opportunity.  I’m looking forward to seeing how well he can do.  Stanton Barrett has been a good friend of mine and I’m glad to see that he’ll be driving that car and that’s a good little program for a driver.  Hopefully he can learn a lot this weekend and have a good experience and take care of his car on Saturday.” 

ARE YOU SURPRISED ABOUT KYLE BUSCH’S COMMENTS EARLIER TODAY ABOUT YOUR CREW CHIEF SITUATION?:  “Not really, that doesn’t really surprise me what Kyle (Busch) says.  He’s always had a chip on his shoulder for me.  I expect anytime he gets an opportunity to throw a jab in there he’s going to do it.  That’s just his personality.  We’re working toward trying to figure out how we can make our deal work and that has nothing to do with Kyle (Busch).  We’ll see how this weekend goes and then move forward next week.” 

HAVE THE CREW CHIEFS IMPLEMENTED ANY CHANGES IN THE CAR THIS WEEKEND THAT HELPS YOUR CONFIDENCE OR PERFORMANCE?:  “Not really.  Tony (Eury) Jr. set the cars up and they were loaded in the trailer when we had made all these changes.  We’re real similar to what the 5 (Mark Martin) car is running this weekend.  We’re kind of real close to our teammates so we’ll have the opportunity to be able to lean on them a little bit.” 

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THE CHANGE AND DID YOU TRY TO TALK RICK HENDRICK OUT OF THE DECISION?:  “I didn’t anticipate that it was coming.  We couldn’t work toward fixing our situation over the last couple weeks if we were anticipating a split between me and Tony (Eury) Jr. so we were working with a positive attitude that we could turn it around. I said before that me and Tony (Eury) Jr. had both been honest with Rick (Hendrick) about making changes if that needed to happen and just tell us whatever we needed to do and we would do it.  I’d always enjoyed working with Tony (Eury) Jr. and even really up to the very last minute that had been my preference and my real goal from the start was for me and him to have success together and for me and him to share in success together.  That probably will always be there being that we are family and when we run good we really enjoy it more the fact that we are family.  I didn’t really try to persuade Rick (Hendrick) one way or the other.  I had been in this situation before with Tony (Eury) Jr. and I had been a little bit more of an influence on which way we ended up going.  I didn’t really think that I needed to do that this time.  I really didn’t even want to be in the situation to persuade anybody one way or the other.  Mainly because Rick (Hendrick) and all the people that work at Hendrick — Ken Howes (vice president of competition) and Doug Duchart (vice president of development) and Brian Whitesell and all those guys know more about that team than I do.  They know the history of the team, the history of the employees.  They know what methods have worked in the past and I really wanted them to make any kind of decision that they make on a clear head and I thought that if I were to interject one way or the other it wasn’t going to help.  Me and Tony (Eury) Jr. both just told Rick (Hendrick), ‘You do whatever you want to do, it’s your business, your company and we will definitely support whichever direction you want to go.’”   

WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ABOUT WHY THINGS DIDN’T WORK WITH YOU AND TONY EURY JR.?:  “I would have told you what the bottom line was yesterday when we talked about the whole thing for the first time.  There really isn’t one thing you can put your finger on as to why it didn’t work.  I’m not hiding any blame from anyone.  I take full responsibility for making some mistakes along the way — especially this year, we haven’t been on our game.  I would definitely say that I haven’t been on my game.  I shoulder any amount of responsibility that’s necessary and that everybody feels is fair for the fact that we didn’t make this work.  I don’t feel like or have the urge to point fingers at any one direction and I can’t put my finger on any particular instance or reason that it didn’t work.  We were definitely trying our hardest and we really were.  We had a lot of meetings and we sat down and talked it out and talked it out and tried to get a better approach each weekend, a different approach.  We changed up a lot of things about how we set the cars up and everything and we just kept going backwards.  Rick (Hendrick) and them obviously felt like they had to make something happen so this is the situation we’re in.  I’m really confident in where we are going forward.  I’m really happy that Tony (Eury) Jr. is taking the opportunity to stay with Rick (Hendrick) because Rick cares a lot about Tony (Eury) Jr. and thinks a lot of him.  I really feel like Tony (Eury) Jr. is a great asset to any race team or any organization and he’ll do great things and I’ve always said that about him.  Maybe we just aren’t meant to do them together.  I feel like he’s still got a lot of things that he can accomplish and will accomplish.  Hopefully I can have that same opportunity going forward.” 

DID YOU LOSE CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF WHEN YOU WERE TRYING TO TURN THINGS AROUND?:  “Well, I would be lying if I said I didn’t lose confidence at times.  You definitely lose confidence when you don’t run good.  You’re only human so you’re definitely going to question some of your abilities when you’re not getting it done.  We weren’t particular lighting fast in the All-Star race, but we were competitive and we ran amongst the field until the engine blew on the last lap.  Then we showed up the next weekend and we couldn’t hang on to the tail of the field.  I understand that I can’t carry the race car on my back and that we have to have a good race car in order for us to run good.  I think that really goes for anybody in the garage.  There’s times when you’re racing and you’re not having a good day and for that moment you’re beat down and disgusted or even embarrassed, but once you get away from it and kind of look back on the whole process and how you got there, you kind of start to see some of the directions that you took that were wrong and you understand and feel like if you can get in the right situation and get the car to do what you want it to do then you can be as good as anybody in the field.” 

DO YOU FEEL THIS PUTS ANYMORE PRESSURE ON YOU AND HOW WILL YOU HANDLE IT?:  “I feel like they’ll always be pressure on me I guess.  I’m all right with that — I’ve always had pressure on me and I don’t mind.  You get pressure from every direction.  Media puts a lot of pressure on you because you guys talk about it so much.  That’s really what got me to where I am today.  We have a microscope on us and everybody that has ever worked on that race team understands that.  Sometimes that’s a good things and sometimes it’s a bad thing.  If you don’t run in the top-five and the top-10 every week, you’re not good enough.  Most everybody else in the field doesn’t get that kind of scrutiny and doesn’t get ridden that hard by everybody.  We just have to understand that going in and know that those are the stakes when you show up to the race track, you better be able to live up to everybody’s expectations.” 

IS THERE ANY RELIEF FOR YOU THAT THIS TRANSITION IS COMPLETE?:  “I think it’s a new chapter and a new direction, which gives you hope obviously.  Maybe hope is a good word instead of relief.  I’m not really relieved — I’m really disappointed that we didn’t get things like we wanted them with the original structure of the team.  That disappointment I think will be around for a couple months at least and may linger for a long time.  The change and the support that I’m getting from some new voices in the company is an opportunity and brings you hope and sort of lifts the confidence or the spirits of everybody — not just me, all the road crew and hopefully when the guys show up for race day, the pit crew and all them guys, they feel it too.  It’s definitely been great having the support that I’ve had from all the people at Hendrick.  They’ve done an amazing job showing me how much they believe in this race team and I think Lance (McGrew) has a great attitude and Lance (McGrew) is a pretty tough guy.  He tells you like it is and he doesn’t really pull any punches.  I’m excited really for somebody to come in there like that and be aggressive with the team because you don’t really get anywhere when you have people telling you what you want to hear.  It’s the people that will tell you the truth — that’s the only way you can really understand what the reality of the situation is and be able to change or repair things.  Everybody has been real honest and hopefully we’ll have that going forward and continue to make this team a better race team.” 

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO GET IN THE CAR TODAY WITHOUT TONY EURY JR. ON THE RADIO AND WHAT KIND OF PRESSURE DO YOU THINK LANCE MCGREW WILL BE UNDER?:  “I really was kind of prepared to come in this weekend and not work with Tony (Eury) Jr.  We’d been down this road before — I’ve not worked with him before and it’s been okay.  I kind of was ready coming in this weekend to work with Brian (Whitesell) and Rex (Stump) and all those guys.  We just kind of buckled down when practice started and worked methodically and we made the car a little bit better and it was a good practice and the feedback was good.  I feel pretty good going forward.  Lance (McGrew) will be under an immense amount of scrutiny and criticism.  Like Kyle (Busch) said, most of the people have always been on Tony (Eury) Jr.’s case and never really pointed the finger at me throughout the season and eventually the only person that will have to answer to my success is me.  Whether that’s today and from here on forward, I don’t know.  Eventually I’m going to have to be the one that has to answer to the fact of how much did I live up to my father’s name and how much did I live up to his wins and everything that he accomplished and how much did I live up to everyone else’s expectations and all my fans and all the media’s expectations.  Obviously when you put yourself at Hendrick Motorsports, you’re in the best equipment and you should win races and if you don’t that really sort of makes for a hard argument that you had any business being there in the first place.  We’ve got to work hard over the next six months to try to give ourselves that argument and move forward and I think we can do that.  I’m really confident in myself as a driver and I think we obviously have great race cars and amazing engines.  Lance (McGrew) is a really talented guy that can bring a lot to the table and I think me and him get along really good.  We’ve got a great support system around us, not only with Brian (Whitesell) and everybody, but other teams as well.  We really have everything we need.  Hopefully with a new attitude and a different type of communication and a different approach entirely to going to the race track obviously with someone else leading the team its going to all be different.  Hopefully that will work and hopefully that will get us what we want.” 

DO YOU THINK YOUR CAREER BEFORE MOVING TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS BEEN DOWN-PLAYED?:  “It’s fair game, absolutely.  You can’t do those types of things under the radar and not expect people to have certain expectations.  We have expectations too.  My expectations are basically the same as everybody else’s — you want to show up and win and win championships.  That’s why I wanted to go work with Rick (Hendrick) and that’s why I wanted to put myself in that type of situation.  I understand all the heat and everything that comes with the situation and that’s totally understandable.  I never really have felt short-changed at all at any point in my career.  I never felt really that I was an inferior driver, I never felt that way about my equipment, I never felt that way about any of the crew chiefs that I worked with.  Even Pete Rondo, I thought the guy was a great crew chief and there’s a lot more to it then just me and someone else deciding to go to the race track.  There’s a whole lot more people involved in that type of decision and what goes on there.  I always felt like I have been able to drive great stuff and I felt like I’ve accomplished a lot in my career and I want to accomplish that much more and then some.  I’m pretty happy with how things have went aside from this year.  We definitely didn’t want to come out of the box and run like we’ve been running and we showed last year that we could compete and that we have the ability to take the things that Rick (Hendrick) gives us and run well with them.  That’s all you can try to do every time you show up.  When you go home, you just can’t wait for the next weekend to start — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are just a waste of time and you just want to get to the race track and get in a race car and get back to practicing and get back to running and learning more and trying to progress the team.  We’ll be trying to do as much as we can as long as we’ve got the opportunity on the race track over the next several months to give ourselves the opportunity to make the ‘Chase’ and try to get this team to where we can start next year with better results early so we don’t put ourselves in this situation again.” 

HOW DO YOU PUT THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF NOT HAVING TONY EURY JR. AS YOUR CREW CHIEF BEHIND YOU AND NOT LET IT BE A DISTRACTION?:  “You just have to focus on what you’re doing and what your job is, whatever is happening at the moment and focus on it.  That disappointment, you’ll be reminded of the fact that it didn’t work out — you want to work with Tony (Eury) Jr. and you want it to happen.  There will be things that happen over the next several years that remind you about that situation and not working, but it won’t be a distraction to you.  You have to be able to focus on your job and you can’t let things hang on your mind all the time that are going to bring you down.  I’ve always been real good at shutting all that stuff out, obviously.” 

DO THE EXPECTATIONS ON YOU THAT ARE TOO HIGH COME FROM THE FANS OR FROM PEOPLE WITHIN THE SPORT?:  “I don’t know.  The fans are pretty realistic.  They are the ones watching the races.  They kind of know what the situation is.  I think some of the expectations probably come from within the sport itself and a lot of the people that are traveling to the track every week that are actually working at the race track.  Sometimes you hear about the expectations and you think, ‘Man, that’s ludicrous, how can they not see really how things are going?’  I don’t know.  I can’t really pay attention to the expectations and I have to sort of sit there and look at what my deal looks like, look at what we did last time we ran at that track, look at what’s changed in the set-up and how we’re going different and what our ideas are to the car that are going to improve it.  You sort of immerse yourself in the mechanics of preparing for the weekend and you don’t really get wrapped up in the soap opera of everything going on because it can get carried away if you will.  The way for me to not be spun-out by anything is to just really dig in to what’s going on within my team and really kind of sink my claws into the mechanics of preparing for the weekend and what’s going on with the car and try to really do the best job I can.  The more I know about the car, the better we can dissect it during practice and make adjustments to improve the car and then I have a good weekend and then I’ve met some people’s expectations.  You win half the battle.” 

HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT IT WAS NOT FUN COMING TO THE RACE TRACK?:  “It’s never gotten to that point and I don’t think it ever will.  This is about as rough as its been performance-wise for me.  That makes it really tough to have to answer those questions, but that’s your responsibility and that’s part of the job.  I never really even got close to having any problems really getting motivated to come to the track and believe it or not, if anything the motivation is more because like I said, when you run like you did at Charlotte you go home Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and you just want the next weekend to hurry up and get there because you know you’re better than that and you want to get in the car and prove it.  If anything you’re looking forward to getting back in the car and try to accomplish what you feel like you should be able to do.  I think the more you struggle, the more motivated I became anyways.” 

DO YOU THINK TONY EURY JR. IS RELIEVED?:  “I haven’t had the chance to really reach out to Tony (Eury) Jr.  We’re trying to get in touch with each other I guess.  I’ve gotten word from other people that have been around him that he’s in good spirits and he’s looking forward to his opportunity in his new role.  They are already making some plans for him to be a part of some things that are happening over the next couple weeks.  There are situations to where he’s going to fill in for some people here and there.  I don’t really want to tell, but they’re already kind of moving forward in that direction and he, from what I heard, is in good spirits and really latching on to this new direction for him, which I think is great.  I really, really wanted him to want to stay and in some indirect way help continue to further my career as a driver.  I hope that that’s the way he feels.  We’re really almost like brothers and I think that we will, if our relationship in that way has gotten fractured somehow that we will be able to repair that, but I would also like to maintain the working relationship in some manner because I believe as much as anyone in his talent and how much he can bring to the table.  I think that I will have that opportunity having him as excited as he is to be there.  I think he’s going to enjoy what he’s going to be doing over the next several months.” 

ARE YOU MORE ON THE PROFESSIONAL SIDE WITHOUT TONY EURY JR. AT THE RACE TRACK?:  “I think the fun side went out the window a couple months ago.  My focus right now is strictly on being just ridiculously professional in every approach toward the car, toward the people that I’m working with.  I’ve taken every serious bone I’ve got and put it together to try to repair this situation and be a part of the solution to the problem.  It definitely is going to require all the focus I have and all my motivation and determination is what its going to take to get it going in the right direction.  I guess back then that attitude was a sort of defense mechanism for how much we were struggling and it was my way of trying to find some enjoyment in still being at the track even though the car wouldn’t turn and I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to or should.  I still had to figure out a way to make it enjoyable.  This is a serious issue with the team and we’re going through a phase now where everyone really has to be buckled down and working their guts out.  That’s definitely going to be my mentality.” 


– Courtesy General Motors

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, May 30 2009
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