NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
January 7, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
STEPHANIE ACKERMAN: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us on what is a busy day in the now 2014 NASCAR season. Our guests today are Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, General Manager of JR Motorsports. Chase Elliott will compete full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with NAPA Auto Parts as the full?season primary sponsor.
The Dawsonville, Georgia, native scored his first NASCAR K & N Pro Series win at Iowa Speedway in 2012 and at the time of his 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, he became the youngest winner in series history. Chase, congratulations on your new role at JR Motorsports.
CHASE ELLIOTT: I appreciate it. Obviously it means the world to me. I'm really looking forward to this year. I feel like it's the opportunity of an lifetime. As I've told a lot of people now, it's my chance to do what I love to do. For me I just want to try to make the most of it, and I feel like everything is where it needs to be for us to have success if everybody goes about their jobs to the best of their ability, and I think everybody is ready to get going.
STEPHANIE ACKERMAN: Kelley, congratulations on today's announcement. After experiencing many much success in 2013 can you start off by talking a little bit about what the addition of Chase and the No.9 team means for JR Motorsports in 2014?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Well, for us we're really excited to be partnered with Chase. You know, it adds another opportunity for us to contend for the Nationwide title as we see it. We have Regan Smith in the 7 car battling, and Chase, as well, in a full?time effort. Just really makes the lineup for JR Motorsports the strongest we've probably been in our?? the strongest lineup we've had in the Nationwide Series so we can compete for wins each week.
Q. Kelley, curious if you can say how long the deal is for, and how much did the relationship with Hendrick Motorsports play into this all coming together?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Well, obviously Chase has been driving for Hendrick Motorsports, so it's only a natural progression that as they looked for opportunities for him in the Nationwide Series and given our relationship of Mr.Hendrick owning part of JR Motorsports, it's a natural scenario for Chase to land here as a driver in the Nationwide Series.
That kind of speaks to the evolution of Hendrick and Chase and JR Motorsports now.
What was the other part of the question?
Q. Can you say is it a multiyear commitment from NAPA to you guys or is it just a 2014 deal?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: We have a multiyear commitment from both Chase and NAPA in the Nationwide Series, and then based on his progression in the series, we'll further the opportunity for us to continue the relationships on both sides.
Q. And for Chase, were you getting worried that you wouldn't have much for 2014, or did you kind of have a feeling that something like this was going to come together?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, to be honest with you, I wasn't?? I definitely didn't think something as good as this opportunity would come together. I really felt like it was getting towards the end of the year, and things weren't really?? we weren't real sure what we were going to be doing. So at that point for a driver and your confidence level moving into the next year isn't very good as far as what you're going to be doing.
For me obviously I was a little worried about what I was going to be doing but at the same time make the most of whatever it was. But this is by far the best?case scenario, and fortunately it worked out for us.
Q. First for Chase, if you can talk about obviously this is a great opportunity for you, no doubt, but I think some people are going to start looking ahead and thinking, hey, in two to three years here's a guy who's going to come to Hendrick Motorsports and potentially replace Jeff Gordon once he retires. What do you say to people who might think along those lines?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, I'd say this is 2014. There's really no need jumping that far ahead at this point right now. I have a lot of growing to do in my career as a driver and as a person to compete at a level like that, and I feel like the Nationwide Series is a good step for me to go do, I feel like personally as a driver and on and off the racetrack, I feel like I'm capable of going and getting the job done if I can do things to the best of my ability, and I feel like moving forward. I'm not sure what the future is going to hold as far as an opportunity like that, but I do know if I can get the job done at this level, I feel like that's going to open up better opportunities for the future.
We're going to focus on right now and hopefully figure the future out.
Q. Kelley, can you talk about how you were able to get NAPA? Obviously the way things went in Cup last year and NAPA's public reaction, they certainly were not happy with what happened, and certainly there appeared to be a sour taste in their mouths about things. Can you talk about getting them, and also, is this going to be the sponsorship for every race or do you still have to find some races a sponsorship for Chase?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Well, first off, this is a full 33?race schedule for Chase with NAPA as the sponsor. If you know much about NAPA, they really wouldn't have it any other way. They enjoy the full?time primary position as a sponsor for now 19 years in NASCAR.
As far as working with NAPA and trying to put this deal together, I'm sure that we were one of probably 30 teams that sent a note to them after what they experienced in September, and as they were looking at what they were going to do in the sport, we would be ignorant if we didn't put something together.
Our role was to try to find sponsorship, and we knew at that point that we had the opportunity to put Chase in a car if we could come up with the right sponsorship scenario in working with Hendrick Motorsports.
Of course we sent them a note, a proposal, and as many of you know, Dale and I worked with NAPA at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated for many years, and had many of those same relationships that are at NAPA.
It was an easy note to send from the standpoint of Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports.
Now, I won't say that they definitely didn't respond right away. They were going through a lot of different scenarios themselves as to where they stood within the sport. So this situation really kind of came together for us in the last 30 days full force, and to really get serious about it, we had to stand up to a lot of different things for NAPA as they have very high standards. We had to prove to them that we are going to go out and do what we said we could do and be a great representative for them.
That's kind of how it took place.
Q. Hi, Kelley. You've kind of mentioned a couple times about how you feel this is the strongest position JR Motorsports has ever been in. What do you feel like you're going to have in 2014 that maybe you haven't had or feel like you've been missing in past years?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Well, for one we've got just in our driver lineup, you've got Kevin Harvick who is unprecedented in the Nationwide Series as a driver, and to compete for wins, he is going to be a great mentor for Chase in the series and be a great person that Chase can look up to to get a quick lesson and move that learning curve even faster.
We've got a veteran in Regan Smith who's been with us for a year and has a lot of knowledge under his belt about the way our company works and is looking to go out and improve his third?place position in the points to contend for the championship. We've got the addition of Ernie Cope, and that's kind of self?explanatory with the wins and the success that he's had with Kevin Harvick Incorporated and RCR, and we've just really perfected over the last year as we've transitioned with Ryan Pemberton and Greg Ives as crew chief and Mike Bumgarner, we're just continuing to perfect people's roles and the relationships that we have with Hendrick Motorsports and our chassis and engines and the engineering support that we receive from them. We've had 15 months under our belt to continue to perfect that, and to I feel like this year will be a real strong year for us because we've been able to kind of work out, kind of iron out some of the different pieces of that.
Q. I know Kevin is doing 12 races in the 5 car. Do you plan to fill that out for the remainder of the year?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Yeah, I believe right now the 5 car, and I'm going to try to quote from memory, sits at 16 races. That's a combination of Kevin as well as Dale Jr., and we'd love to fill out that car and run that car full time. But we're not sure where that stands at the present moment. But we're working diligently on that.
Q. Chase, you're going to carry the No.9, the same number your dad carried for much of his career. Talk about what that means to you, and then also, you're so talented but so young. How much do you think that you feel like there will be a lot of pressure on you at this young age as you move into this ride?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Thank you, I appreciate it. It's easy to look at everybody and listen to what everybody says and get caught up in that, but for me I try to look past it. I don't really foresee any more pressure on me than there's ever been. I try to, like I said, try to look past that and just focus on the task at hand and try to get the job done.
For me I don't plan on getting caught up in that and just go out there and try to do my job and do it the best I can.
As far as that goes, that's kind of where I'm at as far as that, but as far as the number goes, of course that's a very meaningful number, really myself and my family, too. I've been the No.9 car in pretty much anything I've ever driven except for the couple times it's been taken and I ran 94 in the Truck Series, which 94 is also a very memorable, meaningful number for the Elliott family, as well.
The No.9 for me, that kind of all started, obviously the '80s, the late '80s for my dad was a little before my time, but the 2001, 2002 Evernham days is kind of where I gained my liking for the No.9, and that's kind of why I've always stuck with it.
Q. Kelley, in 2014, the season is going to bring back some numbers and names that are famous from NASCAR's past, of course. Your father's number is coming back with Austin Dillon in the Cup Series and in this case with the Elliott name being sort of reunited with the No.9, what kind of impact do you think that has on NASCAR to have those impacts from the past reawakened and do you think it's a cyclical thing?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Yeah, I do think it is a cyclical thing, and I think it's fantastic. I think it gives the opportunity for the newer generations of the sport to learn more about the history of our sport, and just like the question was asked for Chase of what the 9 means to him, he'll be able to tell that story probably time and time again over the course of his career, and with Austin in the 3, I've been a big supporter of that for the same reason, because it will continue those stories about my dad and his success in the sport and just will continue to educate future generations about the sport.
I think it's real important that those historical elements are tied into the sport. I think you've got Ryan Blaney and the Burton kids and people like that, that are certainly coming into the sport that will continue to carry that heritage for the sport.
Q. Being that you have a unique perspective as the steward of such a famous surname in NASCAR history, how do you capitalize on that when you're out sponsor hunting? Do you use that last name as a major selling point? Did you do that with Chase when you go out there looking for sponsors, or is there a balancing act between emphasizing the performance and the results versus the history and the namesakes that you can have?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: I think one of the things that comes along with having a namesake like Earnhardt or Elliott or Allison or Blaney or Burton is just that you already have a reputation to uphold from your family, and Chase has that with his dad and the success that they experienced. But people can?? there's already the integrity built into that name that we all stand for, our last name, your surname. And people can look back at that and know?? they can kind of already tell who we are and what we've come from because of that last name, because we were raised by those folks.
You know, I think that's really cool, and that's kind of what I always think of in being an Earnhardt is that there was our Papa Ralph before my dad and my dad, and we all have that name to uphold and the standards that go along with that and that we have people looking up to us from generation to generation to carry on more of the character traits for what our families believe in, not really so much the on?track performance, although that's great, but every person is going to be different as it relates to that.
So I don't think that Chase or Ryan Blaney or Jeb Burton or anybody else has to live up to their what fathers accomplished on track. The most important thing to me is to stand up for the character and integrity that they had as people, because I think that's what will be most remembered long time.
But the success is always great, to kind of have that in your pocket, as well.
Q. This is for Chase: Claire touched on it a bit about carrying the No.9. I was curious, have you had a chance to talk with your dad about this big move, and if so, what was his response?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, I mean, he obviously realizes just as much as I do, this is, as I've said before, this is really the opportunity of a lifetime for me. This is my chance to do what I love to do and to make a career out of this. All the racing and all the learning and all the driving up and down the road, going short?track racing these past few years, this is all what this is about, and all it's all been for. It's always been a goal to just try to prepare me and learn how to race and race as much as possible.
Having said that, it's definitely a big step. Both my dad and myself, we both realize that, and I feel like I'm definitely ready for it, and I feel like he's excited about it, too.
Q. Does he still coach you?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yes and no. He's always had a very unique kind of way of looking at that. The way he goes about things, he'll just say, for your information, he'll give me some insight on something. He's not going to sit there and pound me and tell me that I have to do it this way because I don't feel like ?? and I don't think he feels like that's the way things need to be done. He's always kind of let me figure things out on my own and I feel like to grow as a racer and as a person and to know what you want in these race cars you're going to have to figure out a lot of things on your own, and I think he knows that, as well. He can help me get in that direction, but when it's all said and done I have to go and learn a lot of things myself and get the job done.
Q. Chase, obviously you've learned a lot from your father on the way up, just growing up, but now as you're coming into this, any young driver like you, should you try to adopt the traits and skills of the other experienced and successful drivers that you race with?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Say that again one more time?
Q. Do you try to adapt the traits and skills, should a young person like you coming into this, into NASCAR, try to adapt the traits and skills of other experienced and successful drivers?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, well, I definitely think there's a fine line there. Every person that races at any level is obviously there for a reason, and I feel like it's great to look up to people. I have a lot of people I look up to, whether it may be in the Sprint Cup Series, or for example, like Kelley mentioned it earlier, being able to work with Kevin and Regan this year, those are two guys I'm going to look up to and ask for a lot of advice from.
But at the same time there's going to be situations where they can help me and help me do certain things better. But at the end of the day I feel like every driver is different and everybody is going to go about things differently. My idea of doing something right might not be Kevin's or Regan's, but you might all figure out a way to make it work. I feel like that's part of racing, whether you're racing or a quarterback in football, everybody is going to do it a little bit differently, and hopefully you have success doing it your way and trying to incorporate some other ideas with that.
But at the end of the day, everybody is a little bit different, I think.
Q. Kelley, you touched on this, talking about the iconic names of Earnhardt and Elliott. When you were putting this together, another big name in the sport is NAPA. Could you kind of talk about how that process went for you?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Rephrase that.
Q. Could you talk about the process of working with, the fact that you had the iconic names of the Earnhardt name, you've got the Elliott name, and you're working with NAPA. A lot of teams would relish the opportunity to be able to have all that going into one package.
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Yeah. Well, I think that that just kind of?? all of us were in the right place at the right time is the way I look at that. Us as owners at JR Motorsports and Chase having been a development driver with Hendrick, and NAPA being in our past, to me it's just?? it wasn't really a process that we had to go through to line us up. The stars kind of lined them up for us. I can't really take credit for any kind of process and bringing it all together.
Q. I wanted to follow up with one thing: Kelley, you talked about the different drivers on the 5. You didn't mention Kasey. Is Kasey coming back, or what's kind of the schedule with Kasey with your organization? Is he also going to be sharing a ride with Brad Sweet? Can you talk about that?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Well, as you guys know, Great Clips moved up to the Cup side with Kasey, so the opportunity to race with Kasey and Brad Sweet in the Nationwide Series isn't there anymore, although Great Clips may continue with us as an associate with JR Motorsports.
As far as Kasey goes, he'd still love to drive in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports and we'd still love to have him. We've been working hard with some various partners of his and some new opportunities to put things together so hopefully he can fill out some of the balance of the 5 car with Kevin and Dale.
Q. I'm guessing you'll have Regan and Chase testing this week at Daytona, just be those two? Will you have anybody else? And can you also explain a little bit about the crew chief shuffle that you're doing with the organization this year?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Yeah, so we will have Regan and Chase both testing their cars this weekend. I'm fairly certain, and I think Chase just confirmed with a head shake, that his dad is going to be testing a car for us, as well, and be testing a car for Kevin and?? actually for Dale because Kevin is not going to be running the February race, Dale will be, for Tax Slayer.
So that'll be cool.
And what was the other part of your question?
Q. Your crew chief shuffle, kind of moving some people around, putting Greg Ives with Chase. Kind of talk about that.
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: Yeah, well, I think that just looking at our resources within JR Motorsports, the lineup that we have with Ernie, having worked with Kevin in the past and the ability to work with Dale Jr. and the limited amount of races that he'll run, pairing Greg and Chase up, you know, Greg came to us from Jimmie Johnson, being an engineer there for eight years. He has the desire and goals to move up within the various series, and so it's kind of a natural scenario for Greg and Chase to be paired together as they can progress through the Nationwide Series and hopefully for both of them into the Cup Series if that's what's in their future.
And Ryan is a veteran crew chief, has done a great job for us in his role as general manager, and is excited to partner with Regan. They've both worked together. I feel like Ryan's experience and knowledge and Regan's year in the series and what he has under his belt will definitely produce a team to be reckoned with for the championship. We're excited about all of that and moving the various folks around in the organization to accomplish what we want to accomplish.
Q. Kelley, how did Bill testing for you guys happen?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: I'm pretty sure we just asked him. In all seriousness, you know racers, they don't ever lose the desire to get out of a race car. With the Cup guys testing down there this week and Dale's schedule, you know, Dale?? I don't think the actual driver has to be in the car and the drivers can speak to that more. I think it's just a matter of going and shaking down the cars and working on a few things here and there. Chase probably knows more about how it happened than I did because I wasn't involved.
CHASE ELLIOTT: I think like Kelley said, I think Dale's schedule kind of conflicted a little bit this weekend. It was going to be a little bit of a hassle for him to be there, and my dad's name came up and asked him if he would do it, and he thought that would be kind of cool. It's going to be a lot of fun. I know it's just a test, but I think it's going to be a pretty cool experience for both of us.
Q. Is this a one?time?only deal, or do you think Bill might do more of this kind of stuff for you as we go forward?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER: It's probably a one time. The Nationwide Series actually don't do a lot of testing, so we don't have the opportunity to ask a lot of people to test. Just being that this is restrictor?plate testing, Bill is a great choice to do that for us. We'll definitely call him again if we need him, but I don't see any major plans or whatnot just based on our limited testing resources there.
THE MODERATOR: Chase and Kelley, thank you so much, again, for joining us today. Congratulations, and best of luck to you and the team in 2014. And thank you to the media for joining us, as well.