NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Transcript
An Interview With:
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by our race winning crew chief and car owner in tonight's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500. Greg, we'll start with you. Very interesting race, obviously delayed for rain and then shortened by rain. Kind of talk about your strategy throughout the race and as the rain was approaching here in the closing laps.
GREG IVES: Well, you know, kind of based off of Martinsville or any type of rain delayed situation, NASCAR's main thing is to try to get the race in, and when the weather cleared, they did a good job of making sure that happened. You know, usually you'll see the first half of the race or at least halfway will go pretty clean, not a lot of debris, not a lot of incidents with the drivers and everybody kind of minds their P's and Q's. We kind of knew that once past halfway we'd see a couple more cautions. So that rain started to pop up again and we're on two long green flag runs there, and we just saw it coming. We didn't know if it was going to happen before we pitted or after, but we knew at some point it was going to happen, and we elected to kind of pit, be one of the first few to pit. I think somebody got us one lap early, and our pit selection at pit stall 33 there allowed us to, when the caution came out, finish our pit stop and cross the start-finish line and allowed us to be scored the leader.
You know, the weekend always starts on Friday. We always talk about that, and we've been trying to improve it all year, and this weekend kind of proved that we were able to do it, qualified third, and get a good pit selection that allowed us to get an advantage that maybe somebody else needed, and we got it. That's how it happened.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, you swept The Eliminator 8 round with Jeff in Martinsville, Jimmie, and now this weekend with Dale. Kind of talk about first the win tonight and then looking ahead to Homestead-Miami Speedway with Jeff.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, we felt like we were behind in the middle of the summer, and everybody got together and worked pretty hard, real hard, and it's been paying off for us these last four or five races. You know, the win tonight for Dale and Greg is a great one. Harvick looked like he was going to have it, but we've lost some that way. All the cars qualified good, ran good, and Dale was right there all night. We were really good at the mile-and-a-half. Jimmie won that race, and then Martinsville. Maybe now with six inches now Dale would be going to Homestead.
We're really excited about Jeff. He always is good at Homestead, and I think whenever he can see the end of the race or the finish line, he's going to put a lot of effort in, and we put a lot of effort into that team going to Homestead. A lot of momentum following our guys, so we're looking forward to Homestead.
Q. Real big turnaround for Hendrick Motorsports over the last month. Junior was fast all week, Jimmie looked like he could have been the class of the field tonight before the penalty. Just all the cars are right there. You have to have a lot of confidence going into Homestead that you can win your next championship.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, you know, it seems like in a lot of years we're really strong all year long, and other teams peaked at the end. This year we started out really strong and then we kind of hit a lull there, and I think the guys really buckled down.
All the momentum, seeing all the cars up front run really well. Jimmie was so fast tonight and he was speeding. But you just have to be able to run in the top 5, top 10 in a consistent way. Homestead has been a really good track for Jeff, really good track for us. I'm looking forward to it. Again, it's hard to believe this will be Jeff Gordon's last race. I mean, he just --
Q. Has it sunk in yet?
RICK HENDRICK: No, not yet. I'm excited for him because he worked hard and he wants to spend some time with his kids. I talked him into one more year a couple of times so he deserves to be able to take the break. But it's going to be kind of strange going to Daytona and seeing the 24 car without his name on the roof. It's going to be an exciting and a very emotional race at Homestead.
GREG IVES: To add to what Mr. Hendrick said, we look back at 2013, and I was watching a couple races from back then, and during our summer months, Hendrick Motorsports did have a little lull there. They talked about the Gibbs cars at Dover and then Jimmie went on and won there and continued on to have his successes at a couple other race tracks and go on to win the championship. You know, it's part of sometimes a cycle that happens, but in the end great teams always come back together. When we have a little bit of lull, no matter if it's the summer months of 2013 or the summer months of 2015, we find a way to come back together as a group and as a race team, and that's because we have a great leader in Mr. Hendrick.
Q. Greg, I've got to ask you, after Talladega where it looked like you guys were going to win and kind of got it stolen a little bit away from you, does this make up for that because Harvick had the dominant car and you guys came in at the right time and got it?
GREG IVES: When you look back at the record book, it never says next to the name "stolen, the race win." Joey Logano won that fair and square, as Dale put it nice and clean, he said we played by the rules and lost by the rules. Tonight we played by the rules and won by the rules. You know, that's how it works. I can never -- you've got to put yourself in position to win, and when it happens, it's never going to say why we won or how we won, it just says we're first.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by our race winner, driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet. Talk about the race today. Obviously very interesting circumstances with the rain. Take us through the race today.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah. You know, we had a really good qualifying effort. We struggled all year in qualifying, and that was really the difference maker for us today. It gave us this awesome pit stall that was just right next to the start-finish line. When the caution came out, the 4 and the 22 slowed down like everyone else. If the caution doesn't come out they would have beat us all around the racetrack. But the caution come out so they slowed down and when we come out of our pit stall and cross the finish line and it scored us ahead of them, and then when everyone cycles it put us in the lead. So it's just a quirky set of circumstances, but the qualifying effort really is what put us there, gave us that pit selection and gave us the track position all night.
The 4 was the best car most of the race, but we were working on our car trying to improve, and we definitely had speed to hang with him at times, but his long run speed was pretty amazing.
We're working on our car, and pretty happy with the speed we had and the speed we've been able to develop over the last several months. Rick set us all down in the summer and told us to get to work, and I didn't know if we could work any harder, but when Rick tells you to get to work, you find something else to do every minute of the day. Everybody is working harder, and the guys in the engine shop found some power. They done a lot of work trying to improve there. All the teams in the fab shop started working harder to build better cars, newer cars, different cars, trying things, and we found some speed. So obviously with the wins we've had over the last couple weeks, it starting to show that we've been able to go work and develop some things to give us the competitive edge that we need.
So real happy. The car has been fast, and if you're fast -- we've been fast all year, just haven't qualified well enough to give ourselves the track position and give us the pit selection that we need and give us the advantage we need like tonight. Real happy that we could put a full week in together.
Q. Rick, we talked with Jeff Gordon a few days ago about how the Chase hasn't necessarily treated him with kindness and how a lot of people would think that he'd have more championships if it weren't for the Chase. Would it be kind of poetic justice if he wins the championship in his final year, in a year where he maybe hasn't had the greatest of seasons and uses the Chase system to his advantage?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, it really would because I think last year he had such a good year, and if you look at the last stretch, he ran second to Dale at Martinsville, he was leading Texas and a half a lap away it would have been a white flag and been over, and then he was leading Homestead.
I think it would be a storybook ending and really amazing for Jeff Gordon's career if he could retire winning a championship. I don't think it could get any better than that.
Q. Dale, the last two races have been won by non-Chasers and we're going to Homestead next week and the field is strong as ever. Do you feel like next weekend could be won by a none Chase driver?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah. If my car drives like it did at Texas, I'm going to win. I told Greg to just make it drive just like that, I won't hit the wall with it and we'll win the race. We should have won Texas. But that track is really similar to Texas, so I feel confident that we can go there and run well, and we've ran better there in the past. It's been a really difficult track for me for a really, really long time but we had an awesome run there a couple years ago, and I think that that track suits me, how we have to run the high line there, really love racing that track up against the wall. There's a track that -- I hate testing. Testing is really boring, but when I get nominated to test at Homestead it's not such a bad thing because it's pretty fun. So that says how much I really like that place if I don't mind going there to test at it.
I think Jeff has got to feel confident with the way the Hendricks performed the last three weeks. Jeff has got to feel good about his chances, and the 4 will be fast. He's fast everywhere. You know, the 78 is going to be pretty quick. All those guys, everybody is going to be running good. It's a strong field, man, you're right. It's hard to pick a favorite and hard to -- last year Harvick was sort of definitely above everyone else with speed consistently week in and week out. The 22 seemed to be that guy this particular Chase, but the circumstances didn't work out to where he gets to the final four, so it's a pretty even field, I think, going into that last race and should present a pretty exciting result.
Q. Martin is one of your best friends, and he's had a really up-and-down career, but he's finally found a home, having the best year he's ever had. What do you think this means to him, particularly after the year he had last year with Sherry and everything that's gone on with him life?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, he don't talk much, so it's hard to pry that out of him. I've spent the last two weeks with him. We've been together every day for two weeks deer hunting together. You know, he's just a real quiet guy and doesn't really talk about his -- I don't know what he's thinking and what he's feeling that much. I was so happy for him when he won at Pocono, and when I went to victory lane and saw how he felt and how she felt, it was so great to see them happy and enjoying such an awesome thing. I know that he's gone further than he probably even imagined he would this year with the Chase. I know he's got a lot of confidence, and every week you start to realize, man, we've really got a shot here. But I'll bet you if you asked him at Daytona in February, he wouldn't have dreamed he'd have been in the final four. He's got an amazing crew chief, a guy that's on his car is doing a good job and has motivated his crew, got a lot of good guys around him. So unique because that team is a satellite team. It's way up there in Colorado, and you just wouldn't think that that would work, that that formula should work. Everybody has to be in Charlotte. Everybody has to be in North Carolina. But it's working for them, and they've got a dedicated owner that's been in the sport. I think a lot of credit has to be given to the owner of the team for how he's put enough into that team year in and year out to get it to where it is today.
It's so difficult to come into this series as an owner and even survive and be around, so pretty amazing that he's still here, not only here, but he's going to the final four. But I'm happy for Martin, man. It's a tough situation for me. I want my teammate to win. We're competitive as teammates. We're competitive. But in the long run him winning the championship helps the company, and if it helps the company, it helps me. It helps our team, and I know it would make Rick happy. I love seeing him happy. A lot of me wants to see Jeff get it done because I know what that would do for the sport, what it would do for him. It would be an amazing story that we would talk about for years, and he's going into this broadcasting career that he's going to continue to give back to the sport as a broadcaster in the booth. I mean, he can have an amazing career there that might rival his driving career.
That's pretty amazing to think about and imagine, but yeah, I'm pretty happy for Martin, and I want him to win, too. If he ends up winning the thing, I don't know how he'd survive it emotionally because it would be such an amazing feeling. I couldn't imagine what he would -- how he would be in victory lane should that happen.
I'm pulling for one of them two, man. I got a good chance of one of them getting in there and getting it done.
Q. Your first victory here at Phoenix since 2004, and in four of the last five races you've had an excellent chance of winning, and in three of those Kevin Harvick won. Does the feeling that you just beat Kevin Harvick, does it feel as good as beating him over the course of 312 laps?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, it doesn't. I was talking about it during the caution when it was raining. My real concern was that they were going to push to hard to get us back under green and the track wasn't ready. They needed to put us on pit road and put the jet dryers out there and the track had a little sheen on it, and it was wet. When it rains, stuff gets wet. They were asking us what we thought of the track. I'm like, well, it's been raining for 10 minutes; it's wet. I just wanted them to be patient, and we had plenty of time this evening if it were to stop raining in the next few minutes to get it dried up pretty quickly with the heat that the track had in it from the cars running on it. So I was just really wanting them to make sure the track was in good shape. We've had a few instances -- there was the Winston one year when we all went down into Turn 1 and crashed out on a wet track just trying too hard to get the show in. We could be patient and make sure the track was good. But I was telling them that I didn't care really to win the race this way, that I wasn't complaining about the track being wet because I wanted to get them to call the race, but I just wanted them to get the track where it was safe.
They finally brought us down pit road, and it was a good move because if it had stopped raining they were going to get the track dry pretty quickly. I know there's a lot of guys, too, that wanted to race this through, the 19, the 41, a lot of guys wanted to get an opportunity, the 22, he had an opportunity to win the race tonight. There were a lot of guys that would have liked the opportunity to finish this out, and I can totally understand. Maybe the frustration is that it didn't. We were sitting here in victory lane tonight and thinking about what four to six inches would've mattered at Talladega. We'd been going to Homestead with a chance to race for the championship under the circumstances. It works out for some people, and some people it doesn't. This is a quirky little sport with weird days, and this is one of them.
Q. How long would you have been willing to kind of wait to see if it got started if you weren't leading? And this type of race with such the importance, should they have a different rule as far as how far the race should go before it's official?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't know. You know, I'm sure we could come up with a series of ideas that would be fun, unique. I kind of like the way we do it. I kind of like the way we do it with a lot of things, the way we used to do a lot of things, we don't do them that way anymore. I'm all right with how it is. We get to halfway and it rains and they think it's going to continue to rain. They have all this technology to understand the situation with the weather and how long it's going to take to dry it and so forth and what their parameters are. You know, it was raining earlier today and the word on the street was they couldn't start this race until -- they couldn't start it after 8:00 or something if it rained beyond 8:00 or get the race started by 8:00 they'd have to -- they've got all these things that they know and nobody else really knows or understands, so I'm just going to agree with whatever they want to do. You know, it's difficult in the Chase to have a rain-shortened race. It is. Especially for a guy like Carl Edwards, who had good enough speed to put up a challenge tonight to get himself in there and race Martin for that final spot.
And there were some guys that could have maybe raced their way in and won the race, the 22 and a couple other guys. But NASCAR thought it was going to be too late, so they made the decision to call it.
Q. Can you talk about the emotions of coming so close? I know you touched on it a little bit earlier, but coming so close at Talladega and then things just falling right for you to win tonight?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, it's just weird. If we'd have won Talladega, the way we -- I don't know, we ran good enough over the last couple races, we didn't have to win tonight I guess to get into Homestead if we would have won Talladega. It is what it is. You know, I was thinking about it earlier today, I was like, I don't want everyone to watch that race again because they were replaying it on TV. All the fans were on Twitter going, watch it, it's on TV. I don't watch that stuff. It's just going to piss me off. But everybody was talking about how awesome it was and the moves we were making and the things we were doing out on the track, and we did have a hell of a day that day. At the end of the day I was really proud of what we did at Talladega and how we ran and some of the stuff the car was doing and I was doing. It was pretty awesome.
It's a shame that we didn't win that race because it was pretty damned badass how we drove that race. The whole lead-up into Talladega was about dad's 15th anniversary and how he came from 20th or whatever with 10 laps to go and won. Well, I just about rivaled that race with that run we had at Talladega, but we didn't win, so nobody is ever going to remember that one.
But that was what I was kind of disappointed about that more than just the win itself. But that's the way it works, you know. This is a numbers and inches -- it didn't add up for us. But I will tell you that I'm happier at this particular point in this Chase because in the Chases beforehand we really just didn't live up to our potential. We just struggled and flat-out didn't run good enough. But in this particular Chase, we've been close. We're close, man, and this is my first year with Greg, and I really think that we've got a lot to improve on, and we will, and we'll get even better and he'll get better. He's still got a lot of confidence to build up in how he's doing his job and what he thinks about the decisions he's making. I can see he's -- I can see some apprehension still. Once he's clear of all that and me and him really start to communicate better and understand what we want from each other, there's a lot more there for us, a lot more speed and performance there for us.
I'm proud of this Chase because we've sort of lived up to that potential that we've always said we've had, and we always showed in those first 26 races.
Q. Six-hour delay, yet the stands were still packed and the fans went crazy when you won. Can you talk about their involvement and the dedication of being here all day?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I guess the history of this racetrack, this place has been around for so long and this area has always sort of supported this racetrack and this facility. So it's not really a surprise to me that they get a good crowd here, and it's no surprise that those folks want to stick around and watch a race, no matter what the weather is. They knew that being out here in the desert, man, it wasn't going to rain all day, right? It kind of did, but it wasn't supposed to anyhow. So everyone was pretty confident we were going to race tonight. All the drivers were. We communicate that on social media and so forth to try to keep the fans upbeat about the potential to get the race in and so forth.
I just think they anticipated it going and getting the show in, and they saw a good little run there.
Q. I want to know what kind of bullet you dodged this weekend by not finding a snake in your seat, and who put it there?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: The 22 team put it there. They got Brad Keselowski, I hear, pretty good. The story was my interior guy is Adam Jordan. He's the best interior guy in the garage, not only because he pulled the snake out of the seat, but even before that he was the best in the garage. He used to do the interior on Carl's car, and when Carl and Tony Stewart went to Homestead for the final race of the year to win the championship, they had that close battle that was decided by one point. Tony was trying to play some mind games with Carl and put something in his car, in his seat as a joke, and Adam was going to take it out and Tony was like, come on, leave it in there, it's funny. Adam was like, whatever, okay. Carl got very upset, and when Carl got upset the crew chief got upset, and then the crew chief went and chewed Adam's butt and got in trouble. So when Adam saw that snake in there he yanked it out of there because of the history he had had with issues before. But hey, it would have scared the hell out of me, and I'm glad that I didn't get punked.
It reminded me of the old stories about dad and Rusty and the sardines under the seat and all that stuff. We could get carried away here. I mean, there is another week of racing, and it could have got pretty ugly in Homestead.
Q. Do you owe somebody now?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, I feel like I got off free without any problems. I even got to tweet about it, how close we came. It was a real-looking snake. It was a pretty good little picture on Twitter that we put out there. But I'm glad I didn't get any of that.
I mean, I don't really mind snakes, but you don't want to see one sitting in the seat of your car.
THE MODERATOR: Dale, thank you, and congratulations.