An Interview with:
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
MODERATOR: We have got our winning team right here. That's the No. 88 Michael Baker International Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has joined us with crew chief Steve Letarte. And Dale, congratulations on this win. Sweeping Pocono. You talked a little bit about it the other day, got a pretty good crew chief there next to you, too. So congratulations. Talk about this win today. It's a big one.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, this is a big one. I think that I got a lot of faith in Steve and the strategy that he used today gave us the opportunity to get by some guys that we probably weren't going to pass on the racetrack.
We had -- we were determined to go home from the last win and improve the car. Steve and the guys went home and studied and improved the setup to where we would be faster. We got a little luck on the win last time with Keselowski hitting the debris. We wanted to be in the driver's seat this go round with a faster car and they did that. I could tell Saturday we had a great race car. Once we got to running there, about halfway through the race, I realized that the 24 and myself were pretty even, which is great, and it sucks at the same time, because we're teammates, got the same motors, we realize what each other is doing setup wise and can lean on each other. But, I guess that's great for Mr. Hendrick to have his -- to have all his cars up there running up front. But, Jeff was very, very strong and we were going to have a very, very hard time passing him on the racetrack. We could run well, as well or better than him at times, but passing that kind of a car with that kind of speed was going to be a challenge.
What it came down to it -- it was Steve's strategy. He pulled us on to pit road to about four laps short of our window to go ahead and put four tires on and fill it up. With the big wreck on the back straightaway, that eliminated a lot of cars we would have restarted behind, so he had confidence with us restarting just inside the Top-10. That that would give us the ability to do what he wanted. What that was, was once the race re-started, we had come down to pit road four laps later to fill up the car to get inside the fuel window. But, all we would need to put in it to get there was a gallon or two, while the rest of the guys in front of us needed four tires and a full tank. So, we were in pit road for two seconds in the box, and they were in their pit stalls for 12-14 seconds, and we were able to leapfrog those guys on the race track. So, we were technically leading the race when the caution came out, but we were ahead of the guys that had been hard it pass. So, once we re-started, we had a great -- it was great to be able to restart fourth, the outside lane was obviously the best lane to be in on restarts. So, toward the front -- so we were in fourth place, we got by the 11 and I guess the 4 or 15 or whoever was up there, and fell in behind Biffle. We had really great engines, or even better than some of the other Chevy’s. So, that helped me set Biffle up and get by him. He got loose in 1 and 2, and couldn't get to the throttle, so we got a great run off the corner and motored by him down the straightaway.
Then the next restart, we had Kevin Harvick aside us, which was very tough. I knew he was going to be tough to get around, so or to clear going into 1 and we didn't. So, we decided to get on the gas hard and be confident that the car would stick and we were able to do that. I think that was where the race was won. If he passes me there, he probably wins the race, for sure and vice versa.
So, we were able to clear him. But, Steve did a great job, really, with his strategy to get in that position. We're not in that position just on car alone. We had a fast car, and I drove a good race, but Steve's strategy gave us a chance to win.
MODERATOR: Steve, maybe expound on that a little bit, because that certainly was a big big factor in today's win.
STEVE LETARTE: Try expanding on it? I got a little more. Let's see. You get stickers. What's this?
MODERATOR: That's for wins.
STEVE LETARTE: I got nothing.
(Laughter.) That's kind of cold.
MODERATOR: We need to work on that. Go ahead.
(Laughter.) Especially after today.
STEVE LETARTE: Sorry. No, Dale's right. We came here in the first race, we had a really solid weekend, just a good weekend, every practice, everything went right, the race went right and we had an opportunity at the end and it fell our way with some circumstance.
While we were ecstatic to win and we'll take it, it was definitely -- there was room for improvement, room for improvement with the car and some other things, and, so we worked very hard between that race and this race to try to come back.
We thought we made some gains at Indy, and they didn't really show up in the race, which was a little disappointing. So, we stuck to our plan and came here and we once again, had a solid weekend. But, I think it happened that we had some breakthroughs and had some more speed in the car, which allowed us to be aggressive with our pit strategy.
What I love about racing at a track like Pocono is he can't do without the pit crew, pit crew can't do it without me or him. It really takes top to bottom inside and out everyone that puts on this uniform. And there's some tracks you go to that there just is not opportunity for a crew chief to make many decisions other than pit and go back out and hope have you a better car.
And there's not a lot of opportunity for the pit crew, other than just try not to maintain, try to maintain and not lose spots. When you come to a track like Pocono, you have to be very creative with your strategy, the pit crew has to understand the strategy and execute it efficiently. And that's why today was -- it meant a lot to the whole group. They deserved to win races, they're a great group of guys. I feel a lot of pressure to get those guys to victory lane because like I said, they deserved to win. They're a winning group. I feel that's my job is to try to lead them to victories and they are hard to come by in this series. This series is very tough, there's a lot of depth. Kevin Harvick was crashed under the caution that we worked our strategy and here you go 20 laps later you're racing Kevin Harvick.
So, this is a -- you don't ever want to assume anything, and I was very thankful to have my engineer up there today, he saw some things early in the race, and we discussed that strategy earlier in the race, and we didn't take it under one of the cautions, and we saw that as our -- not our only opportunity, but like Dale said the 24 was so strong, we wanted to try to leapfrog them on pit road and not try to leave it up to circumstance on the racetrack. And that only works if everybody executes. He was spectacular on that restart, got us where we needed to be, pit crew was efficient, we got off pit road and then it was just sit back and watch. I turned -- we had some great gentlemen from our sponsor this weekend sitting on top of the pit box, and I turned around on the last three laps to go before I started and I said this is either going to go good or bad and that's really nothing we can do about it. So, just hope it goes good. And he smiled and it went great. He did a great job.
MODERATOR: Take questions now.
Q. Steve, Kyle Petty won the spring race years ago here and he thought he would bring back the same car and didn't have his same turn out as the race. What exactly do your engineers do or between the spring race and now?
STEVE LETARTE: Well, you turn over every stone. I think one thing that everyone under estimates about Hendrick Motor Sports is that we have some of the toughest competitors in the garage as our teammates. And that forces us to like Dale said, you really have to look in the mirror and have a tough enough soul to admit that the people that are beating you, or you're racing against, have the same engines, the same cars, and have the same opportunity. So, you have to decide what kind of metal you have, and if you really have enough to go back to the shop and show up every day before the sun's up and work every day will in the sun goes down and tried to find those hundredths and thousandths and ounces and counts of down force that don't add up by themselves. You have to have them all to make improvements, and I feel we unloaded a better car at the second Pocono than we did at the first Pocono.
And that -- really is a testament to the group. Not just the group here at the track, but the whole group in the 48, 88 shop. I know Jimmy had a little bit of tough luck here, but both buildings really push each other. You saw how fast Jeff was today, and that's what we're chasing, is a guy like him with all that experience coming off a big win at the brickyard, and that's what you have to do. You cannot ever assume a winning car is going to be good enough next week.
Q. I saw you guys took out the broomstick on pit road. This is your first time that you swept races at a track since 2002 at Talladega. How do you guys plan on carrying the momentum on during the Chase?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You're the man, you're the broadcaster, you tell him.
STEVE LETARTE: I'll give it a shot. No, on a serious note, you don't. It's too far from the Chase. There's still weeks to go before the Chase. This is just a win. It's a win at Pocono, it's a great win. We'll unload at Watkins Glen like 42 other guys with a chance to win Watkins Glen.
If you think that this wins gives you an advantage at Pocono, gives you an advantage at Chicago, you're sadly mistaken. That goes back to the first question we had. You have to lead every race you weren't good enough, even if you were. If you have that mindset, you might have an opportunity to continue to improve and try to stay ahead. But, the garage is full of great competitors, and the Chase is going to be different than we have ever seen. No one knows how it's going to be, we all have our predictions, we'll see who is right.
Q. You guys both already spoke quite a bit about how the varied strategies made played a major factor today, and it has most of the season, as well.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: This is my buddy Chris, from Make a Wish. He's from Mississippi. He's a deer hunter. I told him if we won, we would go to Victory Lane, so he was getting the full -- he's getting the full thing today.
STEVE LETARTE: That's right.
Q. So, the question is more for Steve, and then if Dale, you want to chime in, too. In a way, is it ever increasing that strategy trumps speed when it comes to track position at the end of these races, and do you think it will go going forward into the Chase?
STEVE LETARTE: Well, I think that I'm going to answer that with you can never close Pandora's Box. What I mean by that is, if I could go back 20 years and call a race for any driver at any track we could do better. And 20 years ago we went, we raced, and I go back and think of the races we won with Jeff and with Ray and I was there the day we took two tires with Jeff at New Hampshire and Jack Roush accused us of cheating. We beat him on two tires, and that was just track position, the door getting cracked open, that hey, you have to be quite a bit faster to pass me. Not just a little, quite a bit.
And we just get smarter. And technology, plays a part in it -- this room plays a huge part in it. What the media does to cover these races, I can go back and analyze a race better than I ever could before, because the coverage that you guys put out there. There's not a question mark of well, how did that guy get there? You know.
You know every lap, every time he came down pit road, every bit of information. As the car has evolved, and we have gone to the COT, the rule book and the box has shrunk, and as that shrunk, I just don't go home earlier. That's not plan, you think of how can I affect it.
And we study tapes and I have a great group. I couldn't do what I do on Sunday if it he's wasn't for Kevin and the engineers that do the tremendous amount of work to make the cars fast, which allows me to spend a tremendous amount of time on how the races fall. And then, they wouldn't do what I do and I couldn't do what I do if he didn't drive every lap a hundred percent whether it worked or didn't work. Last weekend in Indianapolis we got caught by a caution, and the whole day got thrown into the garbage, and you would have never known it by the radio. He drove every single lap like we were the leader from that point forward, and we salvaged a Top-10 finish. And days like that make today easier to gamble on an alternate pit strategy. Because if it doesn't work there's not going to be fingers pointed at the end of the day, there's going to be disappointment, which there should be, and then we move forward at Watkins Glen.
Q. You guys left Daytona winning the next couple races, you finished second. I'm sure you were confident that more wins would be right around the corner. Four months or so later, you got two more and they're both at Pocono. Surprising or not?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I'm not, you know, winning is hard to do. These races are so, so hard to win. The cars have come so far, and the competition and speed is it's amazing what you're out there up against. And everybody knows it on those last restarts everybody's sitting there knowing how rare it is to get a win. So I'm a little surprised on that front, but, just and I've said this over and over, but looking at our team and how we have grown and how everybody's continued to improve, this makes sense to me in how we're running makes sense.
So, it just seems a logical -- after last year, I thought well, the only thing we're not doing is winning. We're doing everything else, running second, we're running well every week, so this year we have been winning. And continuing to run consistent. We're understanding, even though the rules are changing, we're understanding what we're seeing, what we're needing, and that's one of the great things about it. As the rules and stuff have changed from year to year, we have been able to adapt really well and we have came out of the gate just individually as our, as the NO.88 team, we have came out of the gate strong each season.
So, I've been so proud of that. There's little things really don't get a lot of attention, are the things that keep your confidence up and get the whole team fired up. So we went -- we, I traded a Q&A this morning with Track to, to go play paint ball yesterday with the team. Those guys really enjoy that. And they came in here today fired up and ready to go. So I think that had something to do with it.
STEVE LETARTE: And sore.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah
STEVE LETARTE: Not just a wee bit sore
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, a lot of funny stuff happened yesterday. But, we enjoy being around each other and just the group, you hear it all the time, and I feel like it's kind of cliche to say, but this group really enjoys each other. We all have a vested personal interest in each other to be better, and we want to help each other, and we want to see each other, we want to see everybody happy. I mean every individual you work with, to try to make their day easier, try to make their job easier, try to help them be better at their job. We all do that for each other and I think the team clicks on all cylinders.
Q. For all three of you. First, Steve, it's better to be lucky than good, you guys have been all of it. You'll be gone as we all know, so with your replacement Greg Ives, is there any kind of a shadowing program, mentoring program, apprenticeship or is this all -- he's got to figure it out on his own, because you'll be gone. For Chris, why Dale, Jr. today. Why did you want to spend your day with him, and for Dale, besides winning at Pocono raceway, what are your simple joys?
CHRIS: Well, I would have to say, he's a really good racer. I just thought that it would be a good thing to come up here and spend the day with him. And I'm glad that he took time out of his busy day to do this. So, thank you.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, buddy.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I forgot my question.
(Laughter.) That was heavy.
Q. What are your simple joys?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: My simple joys? Amy, Redskins, my family, drinking a cold beer.
STEVE LETARTE: You got that in the right order, too. For a man that would be 13 years in December, you got that in the right order.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: There's a lot of them right now. I mean everything, everything about life right now has been great. And it just -- I got my professional life good, and the personal life's doing good. So, I've just learned and grown a lot in the last four or five years working with this group, and so, it's been a big thing.
STEVE LETARTE: Ill be quick. I think Greg is a remarkable talent. I think he's going to do a great job. I think he's gonna make me look bad. He's a really smart guy. I'll do whatever, nothing's been discussed.
Mr. Hendrick has a remarkable talent of matching drivers and crew chiefs. I think it goes without saying, if you look at the record books. So, I will embrace Greg and the opportunity that they feel will help him for next year.
But, we all have to remember that Chase Elliott, has a great opportunity to win a Nationwide championship for JR Motorsports. We have a great opportunity to win a championship, or at least compete for a championship in the Chase, with the 88 car. And with the season the way it is now, it's not required to come out at Daytona. You have a lot of opportunity to learn. A win will get you in the Chase, it's not a 36 weeks points season anymore. So, a bad run at California doesn't put you behind. Its just one more race that's checked off. So, the boss is the magician. I'll do whatever the boss tells me to do, and I'll do it happily.
Q. Dale, to expand on what you were talking a few minutes ago about team and togetherness and everything. In other sports, there are moments that teams maybe start feeling like, hey, this is a magical season. Are you, and maybe Steve, you can talk about this, too. Are you starting to feel like this maybe could be a magical season, any kind of a championship season, even though it's still a long way off, before the end of the year?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Man, you know, you just don't want to start thinking too far ahead. We got the tracks, and the cars, and the job we do, is so technical, you really got to approach it one day at a time to be able to do it right, and do it well. And the season's gone great. We typically finish well, finish strong, so, I anticipate us to continue that and when the Chase comes around, I think that the cars we need will be there, the engineers will have their jobs done, and week in and week out, and Steve will have the information in front of him that he needs to be able to call the races.
The crew's done a great job. I mean it's a long ways out, so like I think Steve said it earlier, that you just kind of got to take it one week at a time and we -- there are some areas that we need to get better as a team and as a company and we are working there in those areas and trying to understand where that magic's at for those particular events. So we'll just keep working really hard, but, yeah, you don't -- I think that -- I believe that when you really -- I believe that when you make assumptions, you end up sort of tricking yourself. If you start to count your chickens before they hatch, so to speak, you can kind of get your self, you're not focusing on the task in front of you. So that's all we need to do. We just need to think about what's going on tomorrow, what do we need to do tomorrow and how do we do it as good as we can do it.
STEVE LETARTE: Yeah, I mean, I dream of the Red Sox winning the World Series, I dream of the Patriots winning the Super Bowl, I don't dream of the winning the championship. Hope is not a strategy, it doesn't get you there. Dreaming is not a strategy, it doesn't get you there. So, I don't let anything like that or try not to let anything like that distract us. Hard work is a strategy. And that's what we try to do. Homestead is so far from now, you guys will print a different story after Watkins Glen and that's really, that's real life.
My dad told me the best advice he ever gave me as I was reading the sports page one day and I was reading the front and he told me to flip to the back, because all the small print in the back, that's the facts. That's really what happened. Everything else is just a story and those were the results.
I think that's what we have to do is to continue to focus on the results and the rest will come, but there's just so much water to go under the bridge, we'll worry about Homestead -- we got to worry about Chicago first, so.
Q. Dale, you seemed kind of bummed the last couple weeks because the team or car hasn't been running right and even today you said you didn't have to get lucky this time to win here at Pocono. Is everything going back in the right direction for you guys?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, we did hit a little bit of a slump and some of it was circumstances and some of it was just us not being on top of our game. I think that there are some tracks that have thrown us a curve ball and/or some tracks we have, we haven't quite understood the way we need to, like New Hampshire. But we had some trouble at Daytona, but ended up salvaging a finish there, but the statistics didn't look all that great, but I wasn't getting too worried.
Like I said, I feel like that we, we tend to start very strong and end very strong, so I've had that sort of in the back of my mind and in my back pocket that we typically have everything grouped and prepared and situated for the Chase and that may take away from the weeks leading up to it.
So that seems to be what happens at times is we really focus on getting the cars right and getting everything, every duck in the row for Chicago and for all the tracks after that, so we can finish as strong as possible. We sort of figure out what cars are working and what aren't, and Steve can elaborate on that. There's some road course races at the end of the summer, which aren't really my cup of tea.
So we have reserved ourselves to understand that maybe we might not have had the greatest stretch of races in the summer due to a couple of them road courses and maybe a little rough patch here and there, but I knew coming in this weekend we should be strong, we were strong before, and we had made the car better from the last race, so I anticipated having a good weekend and I was relatively relaxed going into it. So you just take these tracks like you can.
Again, I'll be nervous as hell going into New Hampshire, we were not good there, not good at all. So I'll be on pins and needles going into that race and we'll have to go through Friday and Saturday to sort of build that confidence and understand where our speed is and try to make sure we do a better job than we did there in the past. So, I don't think we're on roller skates from here on out, we got some things to handle.
Q. Steve, you have seen Dale get upset when things aren't going well, but he's also shown some signs of getting upset when things are going well, because he feels they could be going better. Is that just a sign of how well he's progressed?
STEVE LETARTE: I think it's great. It's been our goal for four years to be disappointed with a Top-10. To consistently perform to the point that we have higher expectations than where we started. I think that's continued.
We started in 2011, I remember that Las Vegas race like it was yesterday, the car was two tires, we took four just to be solid, ran like 7th, in our ride to the airport you would have thought we won, for everyone involved, and that was a step in the right direction.
And then we moved to Martinsville and had a chance of winning and were not good enough, got passed at the finish. We went to Charlotte, gambled on some fuel, it didn't work out, and there's some opportunities there that -- it's no just him and I, the group that we have has been very consistent, it's been the same group of guys. We spent four years losing together, and you learn a lot by losses and I think that that's what we have learned. And frustration is the sign of success. To be frustrated when you're not the best is how you have to be, you have to be -- I've learned a lot from Chad and people pick on Chad and he's intense and he might not be the most polite guy, but can no one ever question his determination to win. And I think that's something we have learned from him. I know I have. I shouldn't speak for Dale. I have. That's where we wants to be.
So to be frustrated when we go through that little lull is great, because it's not an ugly frustration, it's not unproductive, we still go about and do our business, it's just honest and that's what you get when you ask the questions and get some honest answers.
Q. Dale, when you have the speed that you have had, and more so than just about anybody else, what does that allow you to do in the car? How does that allow to you do things maybe a little bit differently when you don't have the speed and also what kind of responsibility is that on your shoulders when it's, that you know the car's good enough and it's up to you, you better be able to produce?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, it's not a bad spot to be in. But definitely the pressure's on that last restart, when you got Kevin lining up beside you. I just had to -- I knew how confident Kevin was going to be going into turn one and I had to have that same confidence in my car.
And it was -- earlier in the race on restarts you don't really have to press that issue, all you need to do is be smart and get a great run off of two and catch some guys that didn't. And that was mano-a-mano, guy versus guy, and he's going to be brave and I got to be brave.
So I knew that I couldn't, I didn't want Steve and those guys, they're watching it, and you know everybody else on TV is watching, so you got to drive it in there. And we were able to make it work. I was so happy to hear TJ clear me, and I know I disappointed Steve on those last laps driving into turn one over my head and I knew I was doing it and I told myself the next lap I wasn't, but I kept on doing it.
But it's just hard, I was over, I was on the chip, I knew I had the tunnel turn and turn three figured out though, so that was a good thing.
When you're in the car and it's not working, you just carry a lot of frustration and you just bite your tongue, bite your tongue, trying not to be a fool on the radio. Everybody in the pits and on the box is trying to help you and they're the only ones that really you can complain to, so you really have to choose your words. And it's something I learned over the years is, before, I have done it where you just, you beat on those guys and they don't want to help you any more.
So you got to, you just got to wait and they're going to try to help you when they get the opportunity and you got to be patient and wait for that pit stop or wait for that chance to come on pit road for them to adjust. When they don't -- there's a time today, where we were communicating, but I wasn't really, I wasn't actively seeking an adjustment and actively seeking for huge help on the handle and I told them about the car being a little tighter on the end of a long run and I think Steve loosened the car up and it was way damn loose when I got going again. And I think that ten years ago I would have screamed, what the hell are you doing? You loosened me up too much, why are y'all, don't quit, stop, you know, quit making such big adjustments. But they're just helping. They're just trying to help. They're trying to get the car better.
In that moment you got to stop and say, you know, you just got to drive it, maybe we went a little too far, we can take it back out, be patient. That's because you can do that now, because these cars are so good, even when they're really loose you're still a top 5 car. But in years past I probably was a little bit immature about how I handled the situation. So I've grown up a lot.
When we are running good, all the big, all the little problems are gone and all the big problems are now little problems and we just hope, we just want to be able to keep it going. We got a great team and a great thing going and Steve's done a good job getting us to this point. He sort of runs the whole thing. So we're just going to keep trying to do a good job and win some more races.
Q. Dale, you kind of touched on it before with your personal life, your professional life, so much is made of your highs and lows, so is this one of the, if not the best year, when you bleed together personally and professionally?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I think so. I've never been as close to my team, the relationships that he, me and Steve and Jason and Kevin and all the guys on the team have, Adam, everybody, I've never had the relationships work this well.
I was really close to the guys on the 8 team. Obviously, a lot of those guys are family. I still have great relationships with them. But I think I'm smarter about my friendships now, you know. When I was younger, it was more about, how can this help me or it was a little -- I was not as concerned about helping them and being their friend as I was about them being my friend. So I think I'm better at being a friend these days.
My personal life's great. Me and Amy have got a great relationship and a good home life. My mom and everybody at home's been awesome. So everybody's sitting at home right now waiting us to get there, so when we get there, we'll see them and that's a great thing. So looking forward to it.
Q. For Steve, according to the TV broadcast you looked awfully proud of yourself when the strategy paid off. So where you got ahead of Jeff and then it seemed like the emotion turned, because they showed you again and you had your arms crossed. So what was that roller coaster like going back and forth the last couple of laps?
STEVE LETARTE: I don't think the emotion turned. When you're a crew chief it's difficult. I'm sure it's like being head coach for a football team, you can write all the script you want, but the plays still have to be completed and still have to happen. And as a crew chief, especially with the depth of these teams, and the strength of the engineers, and I feel like my job has become less and less of this decision makes the difference, you know. I try to support the guys on our team and we have such a great team that, man, some weeks I wonder if I even need to be here. They run on their own. They really do. I'm not sure even what I am doing some weeks, they're such an efficient group.
But every once in awhile there's a moment in time that it all kind of became clear. And that pit strategy, Kevin and I argued about it for three or four laps, under caution, of what we needed to do. And we drew it out on a piece of paper, we had the times, the plan, the this, the that, and when we left pit road we had it like to the tenth of a second and that was that moment in time that, man, we might have somewhat of a clue what we're doing. And it was awesome.
And then the rest, you just kind of sit back and I go back into my role of, I'm done. I'm done. My role then is to be a communicator, to make sure he understands. I'm done seeing him. To make sure TJ knows. And it's not to, hey, the pressure's on you, it's just so it's clear we know what the plan is from here. And then I'm really no different than you guys, I'm watching the race.
Q. Dale, on TV I guess you said that your relationship with Rick was life changing. Can you talk about that, expand on that and what you guys talked about over the phone in Victory Lane?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I just told him thanks for believing in me and making my life better. He has that affect on all the people that work for him. He makes everybody's life better. I don't even know how you -- I don't even know how you get through to a guy like that and tell him what he's done for you. But when we went to work together, we envisioned all this, all these great things happening. And we came out of the gate winning races and it looked like we was going to have this awesome career together. Then we went through struggles and he had every right in the world to replace me with another driver and nobody would have said a thing about it. Because we weren't running good enough and it would have made perfect sense to everybody if he would have went that route.
But he stuck with me and said we were going to make it right. We're going to make it right. And he put me with Steve and I think that Steve was in a place where he was looking for something new and I was definitely needing something new, and it worked out. I was, it was a touch and go there for awhile, but we have worked, we have done some good things together and we have continued to get better and we finally are realizing that potential and doing the things on the racetrack that we dreamed about doing when we first started working together.
So I'd just like to tell him thanks for believing in me, sticking with me, and he has made my life better. He's helped me become a better person, put me around people that influence me to be a better person, so just want him to know that I appreciate it
Q. Did you think Rick was going to fire you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: That was never a day where I thought he was going to fire me, but he had every right. I don't think anybody in this room or in the garage would have thought much of it or been surprised: We just weren't running good. And I know that you guys -- it's funny how short the memory is in this garage and in this building, because things were bad. As good as they are now, it wasn't a good time.
So I would have, me being an owner, me understanding that situation, we understanding how it being on the driver's goes, I know, I knew I was in a precarious situation. But I'm not trying to bring that to light, I'm just, I just felt like at any moment that that could have happened.
But I'm glad he saw it through. He's that kind of guy. I've seen him do it with other people, not just -- I've seen him do it with drivers, seen him do it with other employees and help them get to where they want to go, potential-wise. When he believes in somebody, he sees something special and he usually is right and they end up accomplishing their goals.
Q. Steve, you could answer this question, you could probably go five ten minutes on this, but how has Rick change changed your life as well?
STEVE LETARTE: Well, I don't think I could answer that question when you go to work for a guy at 16 and now you're 35 and you're not going to work for him at the end of the year. He's the guy that -- Rick didn't hire me. Rick doesn't hire floor sweepers. I'm not even sure Ray hired me, I think Ray probably told somebody in the 24 shop to hire me.
But over the time I've got to know Rick and the boss is the guy that, I don't talk to a lot, I don't need to, we have always had a very mutual understanding of what my position is, what my responsibility is. I pride myself on a guy that doesn't need direction on a daily or weekly basis. It's pretty clear to me what my job is.
But he's the kind of guy that through the low times in your life you can lean on and you don't worry about talking to him about it, you don't worry that you're talking to really your boss and owner and kind of opening yourself up for a lot of ridicule or judgment or question that maybe you can't do your job. He's given me a tremendous amount of advice without probably ever even knowing it.
He's just that kind of guy. People don't work at Hendrick Motorsports because we win races, people work at Hendrick Motorsports because they want to work for Rick Hendrick and that's a big difference.
Q. Dale, the other day when we were talking about your getting your mojo back and you were saying that the only thing that matters in your life is how you perform on a Sunday. At Pocono Raceway for 14 years there have been some pretty bleak Sundays. Were there times that you left here saying, man, I don't care if I ever go back to that place again? How has that changed and just that little deal?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I probably said that at a lot of racetracks. But I'll be honest with you, this was a very tough, tough track when we first started coming here. Just in the last, since the repave since Brandon's grabbed the reins. I was telling him earlier in Victory Lane that I was grateful for his passion, for his, for what he's doing, how he's taken control of the racetrack and the things, improvements that he's made. Just his passion for the speedway, and he's raised this place up.
It was one of the tougher places to come to on the schedule, for lack of a better way to explain it. But he's made this place -- and I know it's easy to say that after winning two races here this year -- but he's made this a fun stop. And he doubled that by sending us out to the paint ball course this weekend. But he's made this a really enjoyable place to come race at.
I think it's because of the hospitality, it's because of the updates to the track itself, and it just is his family's passion, but his personal passion for what goes on here, you can see that it matters. And he's very personable. He talks to everybody. That means a lot. So, yeah, I've really enjoyed coming here now.
I did not like coming here when we first, I didn't care whether we run good or bad, it just wasn't one of my favorite stops. In the last four years, it's kind of changed a lot for me, and I think that's the case for a lot of people. But it's a fun racetrack, because of the odd corners and obviously it's got some long straightaways and we have some great engines, we got a great motor program at Hendrick and we get to flex our muscle here at places like this.
But it's -- it can be tough and we have had some hard days here, but in the last, I think somebody told me today in victory lane that in the first 20-some events, I don't know, in the first 20 races I came here, we had six top-10s and in the last eight that me and Steve have come here, we have had seven.
So I think the repave had a lot to do with it. Me and Steve really adapted to that. I've got some, I think I had some great cars here and when a driver gets a great car, he knows from there on what he's looking for. So it's been easy for me to communicate with Steve at this particular place to help him understand what he needs to do with the car and we usually can really improve the car throughout the weekend. There's some tracks that it's hard to do that.
Q. When the announcement was made about Greg Ives being the new crew chief, was to put everybody at ease. You guys obviously just won, so you're loose, you're comfortable, but it does seem like, on Friday, there was a little bit of a different vibe from you. Was the mood different from the team this weekend at all, knowing that like 2015 and beyond is set?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, Steve can probably tell you better than I can. I can't get a real gauge on everybody. Those guys are not the easiest bunch to read. But that will kind of be understood over time. I think that -- I hate to speak for them, because I don't really know their thoughts, but I would assume that they all love how we are and they don't want anything to change. That's the way I feel. And I'm pretty sure I can convince Greg that that's the way it needs to be. I don't think that he would want to come in here and change everything or anything, because it's going so well. Who wouldn't want to, to just jump on top of this thing and keep on digging, just as it is. Because it's working.
But I think that's probably the concern of any team when there comes a new crew chief is, what is he going to come in here and change. Because he's not going to want to do it like the other guy did it, he's going to want to put his stamp on it. And what's that mean to me and my job and my position.
So I think that those -- I hope those guys can rest easy and know that they're all valued.
Q. Steve, do you want to comment on that?
STEVE LETARTE: Well, I think that the timing was spectacular. I think it really helps ease the guys because in the end the way Hendrick Motorsports works and I can't speak to other race teams, I never worked anywhere else, the crew chief's responsible. He's responsible for his car, responsible for his team.
So while it's great to say we're running well and winning races and this and that, this is how they all make a living. And they all have wives and children and responsibility and when there's a change with the guy who does the hiring, there has to be some question mark on what else is going to change. And as much as we love working with Dale, he works for Rick, too. It's not really his team, it's not my team, it's Rick's team. And then Rick hires the crew chief to make decisions.
I love this group of guys, I've hired all of them, some years and years and years ago, and I think that no matter how many times you reassure them and I can't, you can't reassure them, you can't be the guy leaving and then stand there, sit this guy across the desk and tell them it's going to be okay, because you don't know. So you really don't say anything.
I think what this does is it brings in an in-house Hendrick guy who knows the rest of the Hendrick team. And I'm with Dale, it allows a guy like Greg and Dale and myself to have conversations and let him know where the strengths and weaknesses and if I was staying when I would work on and I think that's exactly right. I think that this allows a really strong tight knit group to stay together and get a new leader and support him, because he's going to have -- the frying pan's hot with Dale, Jr., so he's going to have a lot to kind of understand, but I don't doubt it at all his ability to build race cars and call races, he's going to be great.
Q. For Dale, looking forward next week to Watkins Glen, you finished third at Sonoma back in June, what has this done to your, if it has, to your confidence level going into the next series road course race?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, I'm hoping that I think, I think that what we did was sit back and let everybody else do the heavy lifting. Go do all the testing and then we get the notes and information and sort of cherry pick what we think we can use. We ended up putting a pretty good car on the track. Steve did some great strategy to give me newer tires to be on the offense at the end of that race in Sonoma. And he's the best guy on the box when it comes to strategy and I'm sure if we can cook something up at a place like a road course, we can do it anywhere.
But there's, it's pretty standard what you do there, you run the race backwards, everybody's going to pit about the same time and not really many people going to get off sequence at a road course. But we were able to do that and get successful at Sonoma.
I hope we can take what we learned from everybody that tested and what we learned at Sonoma and put a good car on the track that's competitive at Watkins Glen and I think I can do a better job at Watkins Glen, because it's not as technical as Sonoma. So I think I'll be more confident in myself and what I'm doing in the car to be able to request what I think the car needs and how it can improve. So when we were at Sonoma it's really just, change something, I don't know what we need to do, but just change something and we'll see how is it works.
But at the Glen I can give Steve a little more help and if we do, if I do a good job on the racetrack and don't drive off the blacktop and we have a good pit top stop and everything we should have a good finish.
Q. With the strong Sonoma showing, has it changed your view at all about road courses?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Not really. I never inspired to be one, a road course racer. So I love ovals, I love fenders and love racing on ovals and banging fenders. So I'm not much -- I don't -- road course racing is all right and I'm glad we don't have too many of them, and just honest, I just don't really enjoy it that much.
But it's on the schedule and we got to go to it and I need, I go in there positive and ready to work and ready to work hard and if we work hard, we can get a great finish. So that's what we'll try to do.
MODERATOR: Congratulations, thanks for joining us.
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