Friday, January 17, 2014

Dale Jr. Meets the Media at Daytona Testing (7)

Interview Part 7 of 8

Dale Earnhardt Jr. met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed the departure of Steve Letarte as crew chief in 2015, his outlook for the 2014 season and other topics.

NASCAR Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Testing at Daytona
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Testing at Daytona

Question: What do you imagine life will be like without Steve as your crew chief beyond this season? And how has your time with him prepared you for the next step?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Yeah, I think that Steve I've grown a lot as a driver working with Steve, and I feel confident that we can continue to see success.

I want to give Steve a lot of credit for how I've changed, and he does have a lot of influence on the performance of the team, but I feel confident the team is going to be just fine no matter who the crew chief is. There's a culture in that shop, and it's a culture of success and winning, and anything else is not acceptable. I feel like that will continue after Steve is gone.

I'm not really worried about whether we'll be able to maintain our consistency and keep getting better. You know, I think like I said, I think the things that I've learned with Steve and what he's taught me and how I've grown as a person and as a driver I'll be able to try to maintain that and carry that into the next relationship I have with the next crew chief.

I really feel like he's helped me become much more professional behind the wheel in handling my responsibilities and communicating and carrying myself as an adult and as a professional.

That was a bit of a problem for me when I was younger. I'd kind of lose it behind the wheel every once in a while and argue and fight. We definitely have moved quite a ways away from that. There's part of me that's kind of ready to accept the challenge and see how the change affects the team and how it's great that we've got a year to figure it out and find out who can come in there and take his place.

It's going to be it's not going to be easy. The easiest thing would be for us to not have to make any changes, but that's not the way life is. We'll face it head on. But yeah, I think I've learned a lot, and it's going to be a challenge and a good challenge, one I'm ready to accept, to try to create a new relationship with a new crew chief. I'm sure that it's nothing to worry about.

Question: So he was like your college experience, since you didn't go to college?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. I suppose, yeah.

Question: Dale, Steve kind of mentioned that this year is going to feel a little bit like this is my last chance to win the Daytona 500 with him and different things like that. If you were to be completely honest, do you feel like maybe it's I don't know if there's going to be a different approach, if that's the right word, but could you talk about how this season is going to be knowing this is kind of the last?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Yeah, we talked about that, and you know, your first reaction is to get really disappointed and go, man, you know, this is the last year and trudge through it and be sad. But after you think about it for a while, it could have easily been a situation where he took a job in broadcasting this year and we would have left Homestead not knowing whether we would even work together again.

Fortunately we get to work together one more year. Our friendship and I think how we enjoy working together excites us that we have that opportunity, and we're enthused that we have the opportunity to go through this process for one more season and that it wasn't cut shorter, and he gets to get it all out of his system, and I get to enjoy working with him for another year.

I feel almost lucky in that regard that I get the opportunity to work with him for one more season. He's not going to work for another driver or another team, so it's kind of his last hurrah, and hopefully he never has to come back to that job again and his broadcasting career takes him on into the rest of his life. And I think it will. I think he's going to be fantastic.

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