With a first place finish in the Daytona 500 and two second places the following weeks in Phoenix and Las Vegas, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is off to a phenomenal start this season. We got a chance to hang with Dale at a party he threw on the Las Vegas strip for fans (and to launch Mountain Dew Kickstart‘s two new flavors). Here’s what he told us about determination, hanging with the boys, and whether he’s a backseat driver when his girlfriend’s at the wheel.
How do you think the new playoff format will affect your racing style?
Everybody is gonna go for wins — winning is going to be the most important thing now. I didn’t think they could accomplish that but somehow they did. They made winning the focal point instead of points.
You’re off to a great start — is there anything you attribute the early success to?
There is a lot of homework done in the off season by the engineers at Hendrick. We got a lot of resources because we’re such a big team and we don’t have as steep of learning curve as the other teams.
You’ve been on Twitter for two weeks and already have half a million followers. What took you so long?
Just been wrapping my brain around interacting with that many people.
Any highlights from being on Twitter?
Yeah, earlier today I got a direct message from Jim Gaffigan. He’s funny as hell — I’m a big fan.
We’re out here in Las Vegas. Any advice for guys coming out here to party?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself. The night’s long — you don’t want to blow your motor before the finish.
What’s a typical guys’ night out for you in the off-season?
Me and my buddies will BBQ on the grill all day long. We’re big fans of Myron Mixon and the “BBQ Pitmasters” show. I’ve been learning how to smoke meat, so we do that sh*t all day long. Then at night I got a bar in Charlotte called Whiskey River, or maybe [we] go see a Bobcats game.
Any driving advice for the average guy?
The highway patrol ain’t no joke. Before I was 18 I had four speeding tickets and I was about to lose my license, and you can’t be a race car driver without a license. I was about to end my own damn career.
You have a dream job. What would you say to guys who are pursuing their own dream gig?
You might not find initial success, the results early might be disappointing. When I was trying to get going in the lower ranks I ran 159 races and only won 3. I didn’t think I was gonna make it, but I spent four years with those kind of results before I got a breakthrough. Just hang in there. Something or somebody will present you that opportunity to really shine.
Your girlfriend said your Daytona 500 win was the biggest of your career. Would you agree?
Yeah, it’s perfect for me right now, because I had been struggling for so long. Last year we had a really good season, but didn’t win any races. We had the best season you could have without winning anything. To come out of the gate and win the first race, we thought this year might be something special.
Any predictions for the 2014 season?
I think we’ll win some more races. I haven’t had a multi-win season since 2004, so I think we can do that.
When your girlfriend is driving, do you consider yourself a backseat driver?
Haha, yeah, I’m a smart-ass. My momma gave me the smart-ass gene so I’m pretty active.
How does she take it?
She’s learned to deal with it. We’ve been dating for five years and it wasn’t working out so good the first half — she didn’t know how to take my smart-ass remarks — but over the last year she’s learned how to come back with a few good ones herself.
Photo Credit: Mountain Dew