In the debut of a new post-“Wednesdays with Dale” podcast, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte had extended discussions about topics on Wednesday’s show.
You can hear the podcast by clicking on the audio embed below, but here are some snippets from what the former crew chief-driver tandem said during the freewheeling conversation:
On the postrace dash to the airport that began with Earnhardt’s late father and others from that generation …
Earnhardt on the trend’s origins: “There was a bit of a hurry just to be home quicker, but there also was a huge element at play with their egos, with Rusty (Wallace) and Dad particularly. Dad and Rusty competed on everything. They literally were like racing home in their planes the same way they ran the race all day. It was always who could get in the air first.”
Letarte: “My man Jeff Burton can get out of a sportcoat like Superman. In the phone booth, out of the phone booth, he’s gone.”
Earnhardt: “I remember going to races with (his father) before I started driving and seeing him start to drive home in his driver’s suit. It’s like that first 15 miles within the circumference of the racetrack, if you can break out of that traffic bubble sooner than anyone else … once you’re beyond that bubble, you’re good to go.”
Letarte: “If you’re first out of the bubble, you’re first to the airport, and once you’re the leader, you’re the leader all day.”
On an Xfinity race they ran together at Texas Motor Speedway (probably in 2014) in which they started off horrendously slow …
Earnhardt on Letarte being his crew chief in two series the same weekend: “That says a lot about me as a driver that you were not so tired of me on the Cup side that you were like, ‘You know what? I don’t think I’ll do that. I’m really getting enough of you on the Cup side.’ You said, ‘Yes! Yes, Dale! More racing with Dale? Of course!’”
Letarte: “We were getting our teeth kicked in in practice.”
Earnhardt: “We realized it quickly in the first 15 minutes. I’m like, ‘Hey, driving OK! Feels pretty good!’ He’s like, ‘Well I got some bad news. You’re half a second slow! Not a little bit! We’re in trouble!’ … We were starting to panic. I made this uncharacteristically low entry into Turn 3, and it chopped a half-second off the lap.”
Letarte: “And instantly, I was like, ‘Hey, that’s way better.’ And the response was, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re pretty good, I’ve been driving it all wrong.’ We went from throwing up slow to one good lap to let’s go back to the Cup garage, we’ll be fine.”
On Brad Keselowski’s comments about the need for drivers to be outspoken …
Letarte on whether a crew chief would prefer a driver toe the line: “I’ve only had two (drivers). I had Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. Both spoke their mind, both were very transparent, they endorsed products that endorsed them and matched their brands and personalities. It all worked. I enjoyed it because both also would have a conversation where it’s more than just the fans. I guess the short answer is yes. I enjoy a driver who is speaking their mind because if you’re always you, all the time, even though it’s sometimes rockier, you’re going to get in less major issues because you are who you are. People don’t think you’re two-faced or saying something behind your back. I will qualify that by saying both drivers I worked with who were that way, I could call on the phone and say hey, I know you think this, but I just want to paint the picture of what could be perceived of internally in our family while we try to go race, and both of them would say oh man, I never thought of that. They were both very supportive.”
Earnhardt on whether sponsorship can hinder drivers speaking freely compared with other sports: “NBA players do have to consider the partnerships that they have, but when you’re LeBron James, you have so much strength. Your brand is so freaking strong, it doesn’t affect him as much.
“I think that with drivers, I think they’re a little more concerned not so much with how the fans may react, but they probably do think more about, ‘Oh man, my sponsor may not like this, how much job security do I have? Am I willing to risk my career on making a statement?’
“Brad doesn’t seem to care. I might be wrong. This might not be true every driver. But I think if you adopt that approach, a lot of people buy in, a lot of people buy in to who Brad is, that’s Brad. Nobody’s shocked. His sponsors aren’t going to wake up and say, ‘Wait a minute!’ They know who they’re getting. That’s who Brad is. Him being that way has gotten to become what we expect from Brad, so it’s not so shocking to see his owner or corporate partners see him get into those situations.”
Click on the embed above to hear the podcast.