NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Transcript
An Interview With:
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet. Dale, this marks your 25th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory and it's your second this season. It's also your 11th top 10 this year. Talk about holding off the 48 there on that final restart.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I just wanted to get down in front of Denny. I knew Denny is very good at plate racing. It just didn't make any sense to me to take the outside line with two laps to go and give -- it just felt like to me you were giving somewhat of an opportunity if you did that on the bottom.
So I took the bottom knowing that they had good potential on top, but we had to do our best on the bottom, and if Denny -- Denny knew what to do. He's really good here, and it just come down to whether he wanted to do it. He could have chose to not push us, but he did, and we got shoved clear there. And I didn't want to get out too far, so I moved up the racetrack to lengthen the line that I have to take around the corner in Turn 1 and 2 so that I don't get too far away from them and to keep them close to me, so when we come off Turn 2 they're still close enough to affect my car and push it, and then I can control them a little bit.
I don't want to get too far out in front so they get a big run on me because that would be difficult trying to block that. I don't like to get really too aggressive on blocking, but I just wanted to be in a position where I could move back and forth, back and forth in front of the line that could help me.
I felt pretty good about it, to be honest with you. Normally I'm a nervous wreck on those green-white-checkers but knowing how good our car was I felt like if I could get clear, I should be able to do everything I needed to do. The car was capable of doing everything it needed to do, so I felt pretty comfortable, to be honest with you.
But Denny certainly made it difficult and he was doing some things that had me nervous, and he got pretty close there a couple times to putting together some pretty strong runs. Anytime you see Jimmie back there behind you, you know he's got the same thing you've got, so that's never good. He was tough all night. It was difficult to get by him and make passes on him for sure.
Q. As you pulled into victory lane, how shaken were you by what had just happened right behind you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It was real frightening. I mean, you're just on the verge of tears, to be honest with you, because I think that the first thing that goes through your mind is I saw everything in the mirror pretty clearly, and that car really went up in the air pretty high, and he hit the -- I could just see that it was a black object that hit that fence, and so I'm assuming I'm looking at the undercarriage of the car. I've never seen -- I've never really seen a roll cage handle those catch fences very well, and I just was very scared for whoever that was. I didn't even know what car it was, so I was just very scared for that person.
Obviously you think about the car getting that high, what has it done to the catch fence and is there any danger to the spectators. I didn't know exactly where he hit the fence as far as how far down the straightaway, so I didn't know if he was in range of the few seats that we've got here tonight. But it was just real scary.
I didn't care about anything except for just figuring out who was okay, and then we pulled down to pit road there, and Jimmie got out of his car, come around, and that's the first thing we talked about. He was frightened, as well, and we were just so -- we were just really wanting some information about everybody.
My crew apparently, I saw them on the Jumbotron on the back straightaway, they were at the car helping Dillon, and they said that Dillon was good, and then you just -- you imagine the news from the grandstands is going to come in a little slower, so you start thinking about that, waiting on that, seeing if everybody is okay there.
I mean, the racing doesn't matter anymore.
Q. To go back to the race, though, you had said prior to the race that this was probably one of the best cars that you ever had. You just really seemed to be in command of the race up until that point. Is that kind of the feeling you had, that this was one of the best pieces you ever had at this track?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah. If you think about our history over the last two years, the 88-48 shop has built, in my opinion, two of the best restrictor plate cars in the sport in the last two years. Fortunately, yet unfortunately, we won the Daytona 500 with one of them where we didn't get to use it again the rest of the year and we basically had to use a secondhand car or backup car that wasn't quite as good the rest of the season at the plate tracks. Still a good and competitive car, but the car that I had tonight and the car we won the 500 with is exceptional and extraordinary compared to the rest of the competition, for whatever reason. I don't know how to build them, but they do.
The car that we won Talladega with and won with here tonight is another example or a carbon copy performance-wise to the Daytona winner. So in the last two years this team has built two of the best cars.
There's a lot of drivers with the same skill level that know what to do. I know what to do, they know what to do, but will our cars do it, and my car can do the things I want it to do, and when I can start -- when we can move from seventh to first in a matter of a lap or two, that's because the car can sustain the run. You know, I side draft a guy, get away him, then side draft the next guy, get away from him, jump in front of this guy to get the push. You've got to do all these things that's sort of like playing Frogger and you've got to time everything in order to get across. That's what it's like when you're passing out there. You've got to do everything just right, but the car has got to be able to help you, and the car is probably 80 percent of it.
Denny, Jimmie and all those guys, they know how to do all these things, I just feel like we have the car that's better than all of them.
Q. It seems that the accident has sort of muted your victory, and you said in a previous statement that the racing sort of doesn't even matter at that point. This happens quite a few times at Talladega and Daytona. Do you have any suggestions?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, I don't. You know, I don't. I wish I -- if I had an opinion about it, I certainly would view my opinion. But it's just a product of going 200 miles an hour. These cars are going fast, and when you put them in odd, rare circumstances like that, they're going to go up in the air. We do everything we can and have made a lot of changes and incorporated a lot of things into these cars to try to keep them on the ground, but you never can -- in those imperfect situations, there's not much you can do about it.
It looked like that car just caught someone in the right position to get air under it, and it just lifted it right up in the air. I haven't even seen the wreck, and I don't even know if I want to see it.
But I'm just glad that -- it's very dangerous. Racing has always been very dangerous. Fortunately for us we've gotten better and safer in the last 100 years. It's changed tremendously.
Hopefully we can continue to learn and continue to get better, get safer, but there's always going to be that danger, and you just -- they did a good job putting that catch fence up because that catch fence took a hell of a shot, you know. I mean, I don't know what else you could throw at it besides what it saw tonight. So we're just getting better at not only keeping the drivers safe but keeping the fans safe to where they can come and trust everyone to be able to enjoy an event and not be in danger.
I don't know. You know, I just think it's always been dangerous, and I think that's part of the appeal in a way that makes it exciting, but you hate to see it get to that extreme, but the potential is always there when we're going to go -- they have a lift-off speed. These cars have a -- NASCAR knows a lot about this information. I myself don't know exactly all I would like to know about it, but there's a speed that NASCAR would kind of like to stay under, and that's why they incorporate all this safety into these cars like the roof slats and everything, so that when a car does get turned around, it can get under that speed and not become a flying object. But in rare occurrences where there's an oddity how those cars collided tonight that Dillon didn't get that chance for his car to slow down. So it just gets air under it, and it's just going to go up in the air.
Q. To hear your voice, it almost sounded chilling over the radio --
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It scared the shit out of me.
Q. Well, that was clear.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was near tears. I don't even know who it is, but you just don't want to see nobody get hurt. It's awful. It's an awful feeling. I mean, we sit in those bus lots together, we all have become more friends -- closer friends, I think, because of the environment. We're all in that bus lot together. It ain't like the old days where everybody is at different hotels and you never saw each other and you come to the track and run over each other and fight and not like each other. We all sort of live in this community, and you may not like everybody, but you damn sure grow to respect them and don't want to see anybody get hurt.
Q. But Jimmie came in here and said he was just kind of shocked that Austin got out and walked away. Do you ever question your mortality doing this kind of stuff?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I questioned it when I got my concussions, and I also -- I'm sure I went through something when Daddy died. I think when I got injured a couple years ago, I realized how fragile -- you know, and how close I came to not racing anymore and how quickly this can be taken away from you. I think turning 40 also helped me learn to appreciate this a lot more and try to really enjoy the opportunity I have because I've got such an amazing opportunity, I hate to go on about it, but to be in these cars that I've got, to be with the team I've got, I feel so lucky and so blessed.
Yeah, when you get older, you definitely start to realize how fragile things are and how lucky you are to be able to be a part of it.
Q. I understand what you're saying, that the catch fence did its job, but this is the second time here in two and a half years during a NASCAR race that it's gotten torn apart with an airborne car. Do you keep trusting it'll do its job or is there anything that you can do to address -- I know cars getting airborne in this type of racing is somewhat inevitable, but do you think maybe the sport needs to focus on something different with the catch fencing that would allow a new technology or something to protect them better?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I think that's a good -- that's probably somewhere that they should and will focus. I'm sure that they learn from the past experience with the catch fence on the front straightaway here with Larson, and they'll learn from this. You know, from what I've seen, especially Daytona, if they can make it better, no matter what it costs and if they can make it safer, they'll do it. They've went the extra mile to try and improve the catch fence, to try and improve the walls after Kyle Busch's accident.
They definitely went the extra mile and did what they needed to do to try to improve. They'll certainly look at this, and I never really got a good view of what the damage was, but they'll look at it and they'll say, man, this didn't work the way we thought it would or this didn't hold up the way we thought it would, and they'll understand that maybe this needs to be tougher or built differently.
You know, I just -- there's a lot of luck involved, but also there's -- you've got to give the catch fence and NASCAR's innovation some of the credit for the fact that we don't have any real serious injuries.
Q. Considering how everything transpired tonight, were you happy that your car was able to stay out front rather than getting shoved back in the pack where it got kind of squirrelly back there?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, if I got shoved out of the lead, I knew my car was capable of getting back there, but you had to sort of be patient and wait on that opportunity. The car didn't have -- the car wouldn't create a run every other lap or every lap that could get back to the lead and just overtake the lead pretty easily.
It was pretty easy to get to second, but trying to pass that leader was real hard, which is why I wanted to be first coming down to the end there on them restarts.
But we got shuffled back a couple times when -- we sit there and just ran hard and didn't give anybody any opportunity to shuffle us back further until something presented itself, until somebody didn't guard the center or left a hole open or made a mistake that would give us an opportunity to get a run and make something happen.
The car is outstanding, and once it starts to get a run, if we don't get a good block thrown on us, it's going to keep that run going and keep passing cars up until we get to the leader. So it's a pretty phenomenal race car. But you definitely wanted to be in the top two all night. You wanted to be in that front row on them restarts and you didn't want to get shuffled back too far because it was side by side from the leader on back, and you're kind of boxed in, and you can't really go anywhere until somebody gets lazy or leaves an opportunity, maybe goes a little too high or leaves the middle open where you can kind of shuffle them out or something.
There's a couple opportunities that you can get runs and maybe go to the top and go three wide, but you've got to trust the guy behind you to go with you, he might go to the middle and then you're going to the back. It was tough. You had to know who was behind you and guess what they might do and you did what you wanted to do, and see how it went.