Steve, can you talk about what point you knew that you had a driver that still had the passion and could still win races since you started working with him?
STEVE LETARTE: Probably a year ago February – I mean, never in a moment or a day did I ever question his desire to drive.
We sat down when the whole deal came together. We spent some time that off-season. We went to Vegas for the banquet and a couple other things and I laid out what I thought would be a good plan to approach the season, no different than I would for any of the other years. And he was completely on board, gave his opinion on things which were great. Any time you can get an opinion of a veteran driver, a guy that's won that many races, that only makes your team stronger. We went to New Smyrna to make laps, and from day forward, we have been all steam ahead.
One thing I can say, we have had bad runs, good runs, disagreements, agreements, but from the day we started working together, I hope he's never questioned my desire to improve the team and to run well and I never have questioned his desire and where he stands as far as the team and what our goals are when we came in here.
You know, that's hard. It's a long season. There are weeks you are cranky to come to the racetrack. There are weeks they change the tire on you after you've worked two days, and you know, what else possibly could happen, and I could say, you know, it's not always been peaches and cream. We have had disagreements. That's great. That's healthy disagreements. But I can say really the devotion and desire was never questioned by me at all.
Did you guys both talk a little bit about what this meant in terms of the way you won, kind of validating your season and what it also means in terms of the Chase and everything else, because obviously if you had gone into the Chase with no wins, would you have been behind.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, there's a lot of things. We're in the All-Star Race next year, so we don't have to grind it out in the shootout.
We are back on the Winner's Circle Program, which is a big deal, to the company, as far as income and revenue. So over the last two and a half, three, four years, we have missed out on a lot of that revenue. So that's great. And I've never had bonus points for the Chase (chuckling). So that's neat.
You know, I feel like we want to win some more races before the Chase starts, obviously, and you know, we'll think about where we are points-wise when that all happens after Richmond. But I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. We have to go to Sonoma and figure out how to get around there and how to get my first top-10 at that place. We have a lot to accomplish this year.
But it's a good deal for the team, and it feels good to win in that shop. I got moved into that shop a year and a half ago, and that shop's got all the trophies and got all the wins with Jimmie and Jeff, and they are used to success. So it feels good to be able to bring those guys what they deserve, all the employees will get bonuses or what have you from this win. So the whole company sort of gets to enjoy the effect of this.
So it's a great deal. We have got this victory bell that I get to take around for the first time since we built it. And ring the hell out of it all over the complexity. I'm going to ring that damn thing as hard as I can. (Laughter).
So it's a big deal for me. But I like seeing, you know, I like seeing the smiles on everyone else's face. I'm going to enjoy this and I am enjoying this. It's so awesome to see how many other people it affects and how many people are affected by that kind of what happened today.
STEVE LETARTE: The only thing I would say is what today does is solidifies decisions like last week, makes them a lot easier one way or the other.
It was disappointing last week because we had not won in three years; if we had won three weeks ago, nobody would have cared that we pitted. You had a great car; you pitted bad, well, you ran eighth, you'll get 'em next week.
We had confidence in one another to make that decision because we knew the goal. We had discussed the goal. We know what the goal was. The goal was to get as many points as we could to get out of there, and that's every week to, run as good as we possibly can.
Now this proved to us, you know, you see race teams and I've been a part of them, that you don't race out of desperation, but you start swinging for the fences. When you're down seven or eight runs in the ninth inning, bunts are not going to work. You have to start putting guys on base. This proves to us that our strategy is correct.
If you bring fast-enough racecars, you don't have to get out of your comfort zone too far and you don't have to get super crazy with your pit strategy. We say it all the time, you just need to put in hard work, hard work every Sunday and this helps us understand that we are not crazy; that our goals and what we have been trying to do has been working.
What did Rick Hendrick say? And secondly, Tony Stewart said “it's not a national holiday” when asked about what your win meant. Do you feel like it is?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I do. For me it is! (Laughter) I'm sure his running second for me won't be a holiday, either.
It feels good to win, and I'll enjoy it, and in a day or two, I'll be thirsty for the next one.
Rick, I told him he should have a good excuse for not being there. He better be on a boat somewhere in the Keys or something. But he said he was at home but they were thrilled to death, and you know, so I know that no matter where he was, he enjoyed this. I told him that I had to thank him for sticking with me and getting me back to victory lane and he went through hell and high water to make it happen and he should enjoy, enjoy the win.
You were saying that in a day or two you will be thirsty for more. How late will you let the party go? And for the guy next to you, I know you've talked about how he's changed your mindset; will you celebrate for one day and then Monday it's over?
STEVE LETARTE: Not one day, I can assure you. (Laughter).
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I'll probably lead by example, but I'll probably just see what everybody else does and just kind of jump in the pool if the water is warm. But I just don't want to get carried away. We have a great thing going. We want to be sharp and I want to be sharp when we go to the next race. We have a tough one at Sonoma and we have a got like a chip on our shoulders to go there and run well because of struggles I've had at that place.
We have a conference meeting on Tuesday with all of the drivers and crew chiefs and that will be a thrill since we won, but we have got to start talking about the next race.
Steve, are you more relieved or excited?
STEVE LETARTE: Excited. I think a little bit of both. I think if it would have happened last year it might have been relief, because I don't know if we had the speed last year. We had some good runs and we had some good cars, but we had some consistency, but nothing like this year.
I'm a true believer in statistics, and I don't think it's luck. I think you make your own luck. You get bad breaks along the way, but if you have a strong-enough race team, and strong-enough cars, then even the bad luck can't hold you down forever, and I think this year, we have earned this win. You know, I think it wouldn't feel as special if it would be our first year, 12 races in, and not a top-5 in sight; but to go out and run like we did this year, I think of Las Vegas, we had a spectacular car; Dover, we had a good car, maybe not a winning car; Pocono I feel like we had a winning car.
When you start to have winning cars, and then you finally win, it's excitement. I don't think it's relief. Because now you have winning cars and you know that the hard work is paying off.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I would say the same thing. I thought it would be all relief but it was no relief at all; it was excitement.
To follow up on the excitement question, at what point did you feel the fans? They were all on their feet on the front stretch. At what point did you feel them really getting into it?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I would imagine they were into it, I came off of Turn 4 for the checkered and they were pretty excited all the way down the front straightaway. And I felt good for them because my fans went through a lot to stay dedicated and they stayed loyal, and they they wondered why we weren't competitive.
There were a couple two or three years ago, where we were far from competitive; I was, as a driver. They wanted to know why we weren't competitive and they wondered what was missing, but they never doubted me and they never gave you up. So I know there was a lot of people that were happy today. I could tell – I felt the fan base. I felt the excitement and the emotion from them immediately, almost immediately. As soon as I got out of the car, that was my initial thoughts was about how many people were in their living rooms screaming at the top of their lungs and running out in the yard or whatever they do (Laughter).
I just wish I could see it all at once. That was the one thing I kept thinking about.