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February 16, 2019
Daytona Beach, Florida
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our winning crew chief and our winning team owner from today's 38th annual NASCAR racing experience 300, and that's crew chief Travis Mack and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. from the No.1 Pilot Flying J American Heart Association Chevrolet.
Q. Could you talk about your nephew's day today? That was really good for him to be out front leading those laps.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, Jeffrey has worked really hard to get to where he is today. He had an opportunity working with DEI years ago. We had him in a car once at Richmond, and since then it's just kind of been a struggle for him to find some footing, but he's sort of reinvented himself over the past several years and really applied himself. He's got some good people around him that are also helping to market him, and these social media and other things to activate and engage fans and so forth.
It's built into what you see today, and he's done that on his own. I mean, he's got good people around him, like I said, that's helped him build this new version of himself. But it's who he is, and it's authentic, and I'm glad that he's in a great race car to be able to go out there and run well, and I know he'd have wanted to win today, but it'll be exciting to see him at the other racetracks throughout the year.
Q. Dale, I know it was an exciting day today but it was also a sad day with the passing of Sam Bass. Had you gotten to talk to him recently and what were your emotions throughout the day?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, we worked real hard over the last year or so trying to help Sam. It's just difficult. You know, that somebody, they're here one day and they're not here anymore. It's just so hard to understand.
You know, he just had‑‑ everybody knows how Sam was, how great he was, how amazing. There's not many people that you meet in your life that are so happy to see you every time they see you, and he was that way. And so he set such a great example for all of us on how to treat people and how to maintain relationships. He just seemed to grateful for everything that ever happened to him.
I hope that he's celebrated because he meant a lot to this sport.
Q. Dale, does this win for Michael with the way you worked with him remind you at all of when your dad worked with Michael Waltrip getting that Daytona win?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I think there's some similarities. But I represent Kelley, L.W. Miller, and Rick Hendrick and a whole slew of other people that were behind Michael in this whole operation. Michael is not the same person that we hired, the guy that you'll see when he comes into Victory Lane. Obviously he's had a hell of a transition over the last hour, but he's changed a lot in the last several months that we've worked with him.
I imagine that when you drive and you're relegated to running in the back of the field, regardless of your efforts in and out of the car, it's got to be extremely frustrating, and you sort of get programmed to approach your job a certain way, and we've had to try to convince Michael, I think, to change his approach and his mentality toward racing, encourage him to believe in his potential, and reignite his passion and enjoyment for driving and racing.
That was a very challenging thing to do with anyone.
When Travis became available, I thought as soon as I heard the news that he was available that we needed him to crew chief for Michael because I know Travis's mentality, his personality, his fire and his drive is exactly what would ignite Michael's passion and drive and desire.
So I was so thankful that we were able to organize that union between Travis and Michael Annett. I told T‑Mack that if‑‑ he was sort of down about his situation, having been let go from his job as a crew chief of the 95 car, and I told him, think about what that would feel like to go to Victory Lane with Michael Annett and how that might make you feel as a person and as an individual and in your profession. They're realizing that dream, and it's so awesome to watch. So I'm glad that I'm part of it, and this is a great, great day.
Q. Dale, you're a restrictor plate ace, always have been. What are you seeing out of Speedweeks, the two, three Cup races so far, Xfinity today not making it as exciting as we're used to?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't know what's going on with the high line becoming just so clearly dominant. To listen to the drivers and to watch what happened today in the race, it doesn't seem like it's entirely by choice that they all ride up there. It's by necessity.
There's a million people with a lot of smarts and engineering minds that could have a lot of great opinions on what could be done to change the way the cars react to each other. I just encourage those people to get together and see what could be done. We're going to have a completely different package when we go to Talladega, so this is all probably‑‑ it could be a non‑issue, but the Xfinity cars and the Cup cars are not entirely similar, and they both react the same way and did the same thing and raced the same way, right; the drag numbers aren't the same, the power ain't the same, the drivers aren't the same, but they looked the same and ran the same and had the same similar race that we've seen all weekend.
You know, I'm not going to sit up here and take this opportunity to tell you specifically my ideas on what I would do. There's so many opinions that it just would get lost in the noise. But we'll go to Talladega with a completely different package and hope that it's different.
Q. And one of those great minds, Travis, you build these cars. Is there anything in the regulations, the build that could attribute to what we've seen?
TRAVIS MACK: It's really hard to say. It takes such an orchestration of fast cars to have to take over those cars running up top. So it's very difficult for them to get in line. It's like they need the communication with each other like they used to so they can talk to each other and they can all go at the same time. But if they don't have that same time, moment that they all go at the same time, they're not going to overpass the 10 cars running the high line wide up.
It helps having a fast car out front like we did. That was pretty awesome.
MICHAEL ANNETT: I loved the package.
TRAVIS MACK: Yeah, I hope they stick with this one. This is the package that I worked with my whole time at Hendrick Motorsports with Dale, and we always prided ourselves on building fast speedway cars. I kind of learned under Steve Berg at Hendrick Motorsports, and ever since I started I've always prided myself on speedway racing and building fast cars here.
Q. Michael, just the redemption that this is, sort of innocuously last year, Travis, because you weren't on a front running team, that job changed, and then obviously, Michael, you've had the drought there. This seems to be a weekend about redemption with Austin Hill's win yesterday, too. Can you talk about getting the monkey off your back and how that will probably change the impression of you going forward?
MICHAEL ANNETT: Yeah, definitely. Not only taking a lot of criticism for if I belong in this car the past couple years and the results that‑‑ I learned that criticism and put a lot on myself.
This off‑season I just put everything I had into this team, into this car, into this upcoming season just to make sure there was no variables that we can control and didn't. Just didn't want to‑‑ it's Daytona but didn't want to pull out of the tunnel and think, man, if I would have done this maybe leading up to this weekend we would have had a better result, and I feel like we did everything we possibly could. I know what Travis and the guys did at the shop, I've never seen so much work go into a speedway car, and I don't think it has a scratch on it, to be honest with you, so that's pretty exciting going to Talladega.
It was just a lot of fun. A lot of homework went into this. I didn't think it was‑‑ our sport is not easy, but I didn't think it was going to be that easy, but it's just a testament to how good that car was, that Hendrick power, and honestly, someone said something out there that last pit stop, I think we got out by an inch and beat our teammate out, and that was the difference. Just the little things here, and we were able to control that, and the guys were spot on and we got out with him drawing the No.1 pit stall on Thursday. It started there. So just had a really good feeling about the weekend.
Q. I've got a question for Michael, and first, Michael, six years ago at Daytona, your career and also your life drastically changed with that incident that side lined you for a couple of months. Now you come back here to win Daytona and prove the critics that you do belong at this racetrack. Has that come through your mind in recent memory when you've come down here to just move on from what happened that day to now you're a winner in the Xfinity Series?
MICHAEL ANNETT: Yeah, I mean, that wreck, it really doesn't affect me at all other than I look back on it, we had a really good season the year before in that 43 car, fifth in points and just really had some big momentum going and was going for a championship that following year, and then everything changed and sat out for three months.
I put it on myself. I didn't bounce back the way I should have, and just never really got back to where I was the year before that happened. Don't know why, honestly. Nothing inside me changed or how I felt about our sport or anything.
To come back this weekend after the year we had and to start it the way we did, there's just been a really good aura around this 1 team. Now it's the 1 team. That was awesome. Just everything is going in the right direction. Had a really good feeling sitting in the drivers' meeting today staring at the trophy, like man, that's going home with us. I really felt that way. It's awesome, and I keep going back to not only Dale and Kelley and L.W. sticking with me through these past couple years, and then T‑Mack coming on board and jumping right in and turning this program around has been awesome to see.
Q. Travis, you came in last summer to call the shots for Michael. What do you see from Michael that people just don't understand or don't get when people are saying that he doesn't belong in this ride, this and that?
TRAVIS MACK: Oh, you know, he wants to run good so bad. He just needs the people around him to believe in him, like we have. Just coming in with that mentality that we're not going to accept running fifth or tenth or 15th. That's not acceptable to me.
So us pushing each other to get better is‑‑ we're pushing the team to get better. They can feel the sense of urgency and the improvements that we're making. You know, it's a feeling in the shop. Everybody is looking at us. I told them in the garage, I want all the teams to look at our team and look at us and say that that's the best team out here.
We're working towards that goal.
Q. Dale, it was a strong debut for the No.8 car today. Chase Elliott said to me on Wednesday on media day that he was only scheduled for today's race in the car. Originally it was going to be Spencer Gallagher slated for the No.8 car. Is that still the plan for the next two superspeedway races?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I can't answer that. I don't have that information. I wish Kelley was here because she knows‑‑ I remember her telling me the answer to this a couple days ago, and I can't remember what she said. I don't think Spencer is doing a run. I think it's going to be a couple‑‑ I don't know if Chase is going to run in it, but I don't think Spencer is going to run any races this year. I'm not sure.
Q. Wondering what this win means not only for you and your team but also your main sponsor Pilot Flying J and of course Jimmy Haslam?
MICHAEL ANNETT: Yeah, starting off with Pilot Flying J, they had a sticker on our late models about the size of the embroidery on my collar here, and they've been there from the very beginning, honestly. They were on the hood of the car for my first win in ARCA here, and to have them stay on board and to have American Heart Association on there, which is very important to them, we're going to have it on in Atlanta, as well, to put that in Victory Lane with Pilot Flying J on the quarters, it's huge.
We've been telling them for years, just stick with us, we're going to put the combination together. It's coming, it's coming. Stick with us, and they just keep believing and keep believing, and here we are, and this is what they deserve. They deserve a lot more of these, and it's going to happen.
This is just the start. I can't wait to get to Atlanta because I was nervous about Daytona and excited, but there's just so much out of your control. Atlanta, all the hard work we've done, we're really going to be able to show off there.
Q. Dale, Justin was saying on pit road that he knows what Michael has been through, having to dig back and then to get a big victory. You've watched him start to dig out of that hole, and now to come back to this point, how do you view this milestone for him today from where he joined your organization a couple years ago?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't know how to measure it. I've never been a part of anything quite like it. I don't know that I can think of an instance even in the history of NASCAR that resembles it.
But the‑‑ Michael just said a second ago that he was sitting in the drivers' meeting and looking at the trophy thinking, that's coming home with me. We're going to win it. And I'm just thinking to myself, like that's a different Michael than the guy that came to work for us. I think it's just been awesome to see that transition and him get more and more confidence, and it's been great to watch Travis join that team and sort of gain more and more confidence from the guys around him and just really impressive for those guys to sort of transform that whole group.
I mean, it'll be important to sustain that success. They believe in themselves, but it'll take a lot of applying themselves throughout the year. I mean, I don't mind sitting here saying that this will work if Michael applies himself physically and mentally. This will work if the team does the same thing. I've been with teams where I didn't feel like they believed in me, and it's not a good feeling, and a year can feel like a lifetime.
And so it's just‑‑ and Michael kind of went through that, and it takes so much to sort of change that mentality, to get to where you believe in yourself and you believe‑‑ and you feel that the people around you believe in you, as well. It really takes a lot of personal experiences, and it's just a very difficult process and path to go through.
But I'm so happy for Michael and Travis both. They both deserve this in their life, and I hope that they continue to raise the bar for themselves and challenge themselves to achieve more.
Q. Michael, Dale talked about that change in you, even referenced it a couple times. Two parts here: What was that spark for you? Was it something specific? And then obviously how big is this to rebound from what really was such a down and out year last year?
MICHAEL ANNETT: Yeah, it was just a bunch of little things. I think I kept waiting, I guess, for a magic wand to wave over me and say, hey, you're going to wake up and feel like you're the best race car driver out there today. And that wasn't going to happen, and it was just taking strides and taking little goals one at a time and seeing the results, seeing‑‑ and feeling good about it and saying, man, I want more of that, and I think I know how to‑‑ I think I know the path to go there and go get some more because I enjoy this.
Travis and Dale have talked about the guys believing in you, and to‑‑ words are just words, it's actions, and when you start to see the actions and really feel it, that helps tremendously, and you want to reciprocate and give them the results that they deserve.
So that was the biggest thing, and just checking off every box I could to make sure that when I showed up down here, there was no doubt in everybody's mind that everybody on this team‑‑ it's corny, but kind of our hashtag was one team, one dream, one goal, and I honestly believe everybody on this team believes in that. It's not just a saying, and we went out and proved it. It's like what Dale said, though; it's time to go show it wasn't a fluke, and I'm not worried about that. I'm excited to move forward and put a bunch more win stickers above that roof.
TRAVIS MACK: You talk about what driver this resembles, and I really feel like I was part of the 24 team when we got Dale, and you came over, and we could see the confidence in you, and as soon as they announced we were getting the 88 with Dale Jr., we were all ecstatic. We were 100 percent in. We were so confident with you coming in. That's what this feels like to me, that team transition we had at Hendrick.
Q. What was Victory Lane like for you? It had been since ARCA here in 2008 and a lot has changed obviously, but what was that whole celebration, seeing the trophy, seeing all the people?
MICHAEL ANNETT: I cut the crap out of my hand getting out. About busted my ass getting out of the car. I was like, I can't do that so I sacrificed my hand. No, it was awesome. I keep going back, it was seeing the guys there and seeing how happy they were because I wanted this so bad for them. I had seen the guys in our shop come back with race wins and the hats and ringing the bell, getting their toasts in the shop, and I just‑‑ I couldn't even look at anybody's smiling, I just looked at my guys and looked at their faces and just wanted to bring this to them, and we finally got to do it. Hopefully get to do it a bunch more times, but just getting out of the car and seeing those guys, and a few of them have been there from the very beginning and stuck with me, and yeah, just finally get to be able to go to sleep tonight and say, man, I finally did it for them and they did it for me.
Q. Are your parties tonight going to be fun?
MICHAEL ANNETT: I don't know, they're getting on the plane. I drove down here. I wanted to bring my dog down, so I drove, so yeah, they might be partied out by the time I get home eight hours from now.
Q. Travis, in Victory Lane, Greg Ives and Jason Burdett both came up to you and congratulated you. How big is it to join them as winners in the Xfinity Series?
MICHAEL ANNETT: It's really cool, those guys coming to congratulate me. I've looked up to those guys since I got to JR Motorsports trying to learn from them, and they're two different mentalities, and I've worked with a lot of different crew chiefs with different aspects on how to do things. I try to just do things my way, but I take a little bit from all the crew chiefs I've ever worked with, and I've definitely taken a lot from those two guys. They've helped me a lot along the way.
Q. Michael, we ended the season last year with Brett Moffitt delivering Iowa its first national series championship. How big is it for a Des Moines native to go to Victory Lane here at Daytona?
MICHAEL ANNETT: I mean, it's huge. I saw the response after 11 years ago when I won that ARCA race. You know, it's huge just because Des Moines‑‑ Knoxville is 45 minutes down the road, but Des Moines really isn't a big auto racing city, but it's on the TV everywhere, and they flash that Des Moines, Iowa, underneath my name, it's huge, and people realize that, and Brett had an amazing year last year, and I hope to be right up there with what he did, and this is the best way to start.
I can't wait to get back and check my cell phone. There's people I haven't heard of since high school that I'm sure are going to be texting me on there.
Q. Travis, the 95 car was a train wreck for both you and Kasey. Let's be real here, right?
TRAVIS MACK: I'm glad you said it.
Q. To go over to JRM and to have somebody like Junior believe in you, to kind of give you that second chance to redeem yourself, it's got to be a rewarding feeling to be sitting here right now.
TRAVIS MACK: Yeah, I felt like that teenager that kind of ran away from home for a little bit and realized it wasn't better out there. So I come back to the Hendrick family and JR Motorsports and when Dale called me and had me come in, I was super excited. I've been on board ever since, and just the welcoming open arms back at JR Motorsports, it's like a family. They brought me right in and they respected what I had to say and the things I was doing to work with them. I'm working side by side with those guys. I'm not standing above them dictating telling them what to do. I'm down there digging with them. It's a lot of fun.
Q. Michael, you've been knocked around a lot in your career, so what would you say was rock bottom?
MICHAEL ANNETT: I don't know if there was a rock bottom. There was a bunch of really close ones. But I think last year missing the playoffs and being with this team, this organization, knowing the equipment I was in and missing the playoffs was just unacceptable. You know, that's why I think‑‑ I got asked earlier what the spark was. I think it was that checkered flag dropped at Vegas and the playoffs started, and we weren't in them. I think that's what the spark probably was, to make sure something like that never happened again, and that's what started it.
Never want to be in that position again with having the best opportunity I've ever had with the people that I'm with, the organization I'm with. I've told Dale it's not a team, it really is a family over there, and it's a fun thing to be a part of, and now I'm just glad I'm doing my part.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on the win. We'll see you next week in Atlanta.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports