No one can blame Dale Earnhardt Jr. for some of the thoughts that went through his head during Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400. The NASCAR driver admits he was looking in his rear-view mirror, assuming somebody else was going to make a run at him. But then he realized he had the best car on the track.
Earnhardt Jr. won at Michigan International Speedway to snap a 143-race winless streak that has long had his critics on edge about why he continues to be one of the sport’s most popular drivers. Now Earnhardt Jr. says he believes his team is poised to be a contender to win the Sprint Cup series.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined The Dan Patrick Show to discuss what was different about Sunday’s race, when he realized he was going to win, his decision to become a race car driver when he was younger, why he expects to contend for the Cup and winning on Father’s Day.
What was different about Sunday as opposed to previous races during your spell where you didn’t win?:
“They had some problems with the tires. This was a brand new surface and it was really fast. We were running about 200 miles an hour an average, probably 218 into the corner on this new track, this new surface at Michigan. And the tires were blistering real bad so they changed the left-side tires Saturday night and gave us an hour practice and we had to figure this tire out. It was really, really hard and slowed the cars way down, so when the race started, everybody was driving very cautiously. … This was all kind of weird; this doesn’t happen every week. And we came down pit road, made a couple changes on the car and it just took off. And it was really fast and I felt like I had different tires than anybody else.”
At what point did you say, ‘I’m going to win this thing?:’”
“I started thinking about that specifically with about 60 laps to go. I was sitting there looking in the mirror thinking, ‘Man, somebody’s going to start to come up here and challenge us or steal it away or somebody’s going to get faster and take over the race.’ But it just never happened. So with about 60 laps to go, I started thinking, ‘Well, maybe I’m the guy with the dominant car.’”
What would you have done if you didn’t become a race car driver?:
“I was going to be a mechanic in a dealership changing your oil when you brought your car to me.”
Did you have to be a race car driver?:
“I didn’t think it was a choice really. It was kind of a dream to be honest with you, and not so much a choice. I really didn’t know that it was going to work out. I had my mindframe set to where, all right, I’m the son of a seven-time champion, this great figure in the sport, and if I just become just some old guy working at the dealership down the road, that’s just going to be the way it is.”
But couldn’t that have also been an easier path because you then wouldn’t have been compared to your dad all the time?:
“I don’t know. Nothing against working at the dealership, because that was some of the funner, more simpler times in my life, but I would’ve felt like I fell pretty short of my goals in life if that’s all that happened to me.”
Do you expect to win the Cup this year?:
“I think we can be part of the storyline. You’ve got to look at Kurt, defending champion Tony Stewart, Jimmie with all his trophies and there’s a couple other guys that are going to be in that fight. But I think we can put ourselves in the storyline and be a part of the mix, where last year we finished well, but we weren’t part of the battle for the title. I think we can do that this year.”
Had you thought about the fact that you won on Father’s Day?:
“I hadn’t even thought about it all weekend until after the race, somebody mentioned it. I kept forgetting it was Father’s Day. Usually I’m pretty good about that because I like to be able to wish all the fathers a Happy Father’s Day and I kept forgetting it all weekend. … I felt a bit bad about that. … I had a lot of people tell me it was a great Father’s Day gift.”
Listen to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on The Dan Patrick Show here (Interview begins at 22:05)