KERRY THARP: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., what does it feel like to win the Daytona 500?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
Man, it feels incredible. You know, I was looking at winning this race
in 2004. It's the
greatest feeling you can have as a driver in NASCAR at a single event
in a single day. Just trying to explain what that feeling is to people,
I've been trying to tell people for 10 years what that felt like. It's
just hard to put it into words what winning
this race really means you.
As an individual, I felt lucky back then because I was with family,
working with Tony, Sr. and Tony, Jr. That was a great
team. Had my Uncle Danny on it, a lot of the guys that worked with my
dad for years on the Nationwide team in the '90s and even the '80s.
What makes this special is the people you're with when it happens. I
have a great relationship with my crew chief, Steve.
He's put an amazing team around me that we all really enjoy working
together. And Rick's here to make all that possible. It just seems
like it's too good to be true really.
We ended last season on such a strong note. In the garage area at
Homestead after the race, we were standing there tearing
apart racecars, talking about how great the season was. A lot of these
guys, like Jason Burdett has been in this sport for a long time, he's
my car chief, said that's the most fun he's ever had in a season in the
sport ever. That was the biggest compliment.
I took it personally as a compliment. I know he meant he was really
That really summed it up to me that this group is unique and special.
That's what makes winning this race that much more
special. Obviously it's the biggest race and most important race we
run. But the people you do it with is really the icing on the cake.
We really all are best friends, enjoy working with each other. We pull
for each other. Lucky enough to have Amy with
me, my sister Kelley, LW, my staff, Mike Hoag, Laura that helps with
HMS. All those people we grind every week throughout the season.
When you got great people around you, it just makes that whole experience so much more special.
KERRY THARP: Dale, I'd be remiss also not to ask you, as you mentioned earlier, with this win, what do you think
about the Chase?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, we don't have to think about it (smiling). We don't have to think about it. If everybody
is telling the truth, we've won a race, we should be in it, so I'm not going to worry about it (laughter).
Now, if I got to win two of these things, I don't know if we're that
worried 'cause we're going for the jugular this year.
This is a good analogy for Steve I've been using with him. You know,
when you're a kid, especially when you're growing
up around racing, me and all my buddies would go to pay to ride the
go‑kart ride, whatever racetrack we were at. Every racetrack,
Talladega, every place would have them. We'd get a hundred bucks from
daddy and go ride the go‑karts till the wheels fell off,
till we ran out of money.
On that last ride, you let it all hang out. You didn't care if you got
kicked off. If you didn't get kicked off, something
was wrong, on the last ride. This is Steve's last ride. He's going to
let the rough side drag all year. He's got a little racing left in
him, I think he's going to try to get it all out. That's good for me.
I'm fortunate to be on the ride with him.
This is his first Daytona 500 victory. So I was glad to be a part of
that, to be part of the team that helped deliver
that for him.
But, yeah, making the Chase is important. I didn't anticipate having
to put that to bed so quickly. We'll go ahead and
concentrate on winning more races. Like I said, at the end of last
year, we felt like we were right on the cusp of doing just that, winning
races. We're turning the corner right at the right time. I got one
last year with this guy and we're going to make
it something special.
Steve, talk about the significance of tonight's win.
STEVE LETARTE: I don't even know if I know it quite yet.
It's Daytona. It's a place I've been coming my whole life, 20 years in
the sport. I remember before that coming with
my dad, watching him run around here.
It's like when we sat in the drivers meeting today, when they announced
the guys that were in the Hall of Fame, all the
great drivers there, they don't say how many times they won
Martinsville, Bristol, Charlotte. This is the five‑time Sprint Cup
Champion, and a three‑time Daytona 500 champion.
Any race they decide when you win it, you're the champion of the event,
not the winner of the event, it kind of sets it
apart. That's really what this is all about, is to come down here.
I think everyone in this room could be a resident of Florida as much
time as we spent in Daytona over the years. You spend
so much time all winter long working on cars. Everybody brings their
best stuff. These races are hard to win. We've been fortunate to run
second the last two years. I've seen him put our cars in positions they
shouldn't be in. He really makes something
He said it best earlier in Victory Lane. For the last two years, we've
been that car in third, fourth or fifth trying
to figure out how we beat the leader. Coming here today, we decided if
someone was going to win it, they were going to have to pass us. We
wanted to be the leader at the end. That strategy worked. It only
worked because he held it.
We had a pit stop there with more than 50 to go. So he held them off
for a long time and we got help from our teammates.
The whole thing is kind of surreal. I don't think I'm quite eloquent
enough in my words to describe it all. It will probably sink in well
maybe never. We'll see. It's a big day.
KERRY THARP: Rick, congratulations. Certainly you've won many big races, this one several times. Talk about the
significance of this win by the No. 88 team.
RICK HENDRICK: I like to listen to these two guys talk.
But, you know, this is really special. I mean, after last year with
Dale and Stevie running so good, five second‑place
finishes, this year locking in Chase, I saw him put the sticker on the
car, to win the Super Bowl here, he drove his butt off tonight. He made
some phenomenal moves. Stevie called a great race. T.J. did a heck of
a job spotting. I mean, it was flawless
But this race is so big and it is our Super Bowl, so it will carry us,
this team. I'm excited to watch them. Now you're
in the Chase, just go race hard and have fun. I think it makes a
statement how good they were last year and carrying it forward this
KERRY THARP: Questions now, please.
Q. Dale, it seemed like no matter who was behind you, who was pushing
you or who you were trying to block, you didn't have any trouble
maintaining your lead. Was there anybody who gave
you a particular problem tonight?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
Biffle was rather competitive. He was the guy I saw quite often. My
teammate Jimmie knows
what to do when he's up there. He's my teammate. When he is leading
the race and I'm running second, in this particular moment, it's in my
best interest to protect both of us. So that presents a unique
We just had such a great racecar, I'll tell you. You guys know this
place. You got to have a lot of car. The guy that
wins this race has to make some smart moves and do some things either
by luck or on a whim or experience or what have you, but the car really
does the majority of the work. Just the car has to be excellent and
My car tonight, I knew it was something special. I didn't know it was
as good as it was tonight. But in practice, a couple
times throughout the weekend, I noticed it was something unique. When
we got the opportunities to sort of work our way into the lead, hold it,
I was able to fight guys off, like you were saying, hold the lead, hold
the lead, keep moving line to line.
I learned a little bit about what I needed to do to hold the position.
The outside line worked best on the straightaways.
When they're all side‑by‑side behind you, the outside line gets the run
on the straightaway and the inside line gets to run on the corner. You
get in front of each line, depending where you're at on the racetrack.
Just keep watching guys, watching how they're
tight together, whether they're pushing each other.
You can sort of anticipate a run coming. You just sort of jump in front of it and they shove you away.
But the car has to be something special. Typically if the car isn't
anything special, you get diced around and guys can
make a fool of you and send you on back outside the top five kind of
But our car was able to battle and fend off guys left and right it seemed at times.
Q. Dale, you were talking to Steve on the radio before the final laps
about how nervous you were, how you couldn't enjoy it at all. Have you
had that same feeling when you've fallen
short or was there something about tonight that made it any different?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
No, you always have that feeling when you're sitting in position. When
you're close enough
to the front to win races, there's a lot on the line, it's a big race,
and you want to win it so badly, your team wants to win it so badly.
You realize at that moment, especially inside of 20 laps to go, you're
in the top five, you realize at that moment
there's countless people watching on television, there's countless
sitting in the grandstands with your shirts and hats on, your team over
on pit wall, your crew chief, your family back home watching. There's
so many people pulling for you that want to see
you win, it's a heavy weight.
You get so caught up in trying to do what you can to make that happen.
When you finish second or you fall short, it's
really disappointing. You're proud of that effort inside somewhere,
but outwardly you're disappointed because winning's all that matters
when it comes to Daytona. They won't really remember you for running
second a lot.
It's such a great feeling. It's such a great feeling. You want to do
it again. I'm grateful to have one it twice now.
I was grateful to have won it once. In about six months, I'll be as
urgent to try to do it a third times as I was after the first.
Q. Dale, was that tape deal much ado about nothing or was that a concern?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
I had no thought about it. He said the grill was half covered. We had
two laps to go. We
were cycling the engine, trying to save fuel. That was bringing the
temperature down quite a bit. I knew that the motor was going to be
If anything, it would help us. Anytime you add tape to the grill, you
speed the car up. If anything, it was going to
help my car. They could have taped it solid for all I cared those last
two laps. Would have been fine.
I don't know how Steve feels about that.
I think he's right. Once we saw the white, we knew it wouldn't be an
issue. We knew at most we
were going to run two laps at a time maybe a couple times. We figured
we could maintain good enough temperatures to do it. It closed half the
grill off, so I think we'll take it.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It's like fate.
Q. Rick, obviously this is a huge deal for your team, but talk about
what it means for NASCAR to have Dale Jr. in this position this early,
just the bigger picture for the season.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think you see the fans' reaction. We were in primetime. It's going to be exciting to see
what the ratings were tonight.
But Dale's got a bunch of loyal fans. It's good for the sport. It was
good TV. It was a great race. It doesn't hurt
to have him, the most popular driver, win the biggest race, the Super
Bowl of our sport.
I think it will be good for NASCAR. It's good for all of us. It's
definitely good for our organization. It takes a little
heat off of me with his fans.
STEVE LETARTE: I know what you mean.
RICK HENDRICK: Stevie and I know about that (laughter).
Q. Dale, a lot of drivers have been asked about what this means for
the sport. Do you have a sense of that? What is your feeling about
people talking about how big this is for the sport?
How much of a weight does that put on you and the relief you feel
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
It's not a weight when you're able to deliver. It's a weight when
you're not able to deliver.
When people say you're the face of the sport, you're running fifth or
10th every week, it's very challenging because you want to deliver and
you're not delivering.
This brings me a lot of joy. I look forward to going and doing all the
media all week long and representing the sport.
I don't know that I realize how big a deal it is, but I know I got a
lot of fans that are really happy, really enjoyed
what we did tonight. Can't wait to go to work tomorrow to brag to all
their buddies around the water cooler. Monday is going to be a fun day
for a lot of people in Junior Nation.
Q. Can you do that with the champion's breakfast, too?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I won't complain much tomorrow. I'll be slow. I'll be there nonetheless.
I'm looking forward to the entire week. You just don't get to do this
every week. I'm going to really embrace this whole
experience. I won't be home for a while, but it will be well worth
it. I think I'll have some fun even throughout the process.
Q. Did you really think it would take 10 years to get back to this particular Victory Lane?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
Yeah, I did, because the competition's changed so much. I was talking
earlier about how when
we was winning all these plate races at DEI, there was a bigger
tolerance in the field. Our cars were so superior to other
organizations. About the only organization that could run with us was
Rick's. Otherwise, we was out there running by ourselves.
The competition, the way the rules are, the way NASCAR has transformed
over the years, there's no room between the competition.
There's just no tolerance. Everybody's basically got the same car out
there, and it just comes down to who can make the right moves.
Granted, our car was definitely extremely unique tonight and special,
one of the best cars that I think Steve's ever put
on a plate track in his career. But I knew it was going to be
challenging. As soon as I set down in the drivers meeting, seeing all
the talent in that room, I knew it was going to be a difficult day for
anybody to win this race.
It's only going to get tougher. This sport is just growing
tremendously, getting so much more competitive every year.
Q. Steve, from a practical standpoint, now that you're locked in the
Chase, what does this allow you to do differently that you wouldn't be
if you had to be fighting for a spot?
I think without a doubt all the crew chiefs on pit road understand the
risk versus reward. There's
a line there. It's hard to explain. It's like a return on
investment. There's a number there that everybody knows how many
positions you're willing to give up versus how much of a chance you have
to win. I think that opens our window tremendously.
Now it's easy to say you can run 20th and go for a win, where if you're
racing for the points, you can't afford to give
up 20 points.
When they come out with this points system, we talked about it a lot,
especially at Media Day. I don't think it changes
much before you win. I don't think anybody can take any bigger chances
we already take to try to win. I think once you have won one, it gives
you an opportunity to really take borderline ridiculous chances. It
really does. If there is a slim chance, that's
really all the chance you need.
We've been very fortunate to have good runs and there's been a lot of
seconds, close calls, run out of gas in the 600,
a lot of stuff over the years. I think those opportunities are going
to come around more often now.
Q. Dale, do you think you could have won this race three to four years
ago, given what you were facing given the talent running up behind you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I tried, you know. I'll be honest. There's something about the car that you sort of connect
with the car. That car that I drove tonight, we got along. You know, we worked as a unit. It just happens.
It's hard to explain with this guy sitting next to me. The cars we've
had in the past, I drove 'em all week down here
at Speedweeks. I just didn't have that 100% confidence in either the
car or myself or us as a unit to be able to drive it with the confidence
that you need to win.
Yeah, that car tonight, man, it was just doing so many great things. I
could depend on it. When I would ask it and put
it in certain situations and expect it to do what I wanted it to do, it
The car's everything at Daytona and Talladega. I think I do a good job
of drafting and understanding the draft, knowing
what to do, when to do it, but you can't without the right car. The
difference between the right car and what I've been driving is this
much, that's how close it is out there. You know it when you've got
that much more. It's an obvious gut feeling you feel
from the seat of your pants.
That car was just ready to go, man. It was just asking for everything
that I was giving it. I mean, I felt like I was
just out there just beating 'em off one at a time. Man, it was
awesome. Just an amazing car.
Q. (No microphone.)
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I put one in there before. It's a good feeling. Fans come down and take pictures of it.
I signed autographs with it sitting there all year long. Memories will come back to you from tonight. It's a great thing.
Q. Dale, do you expect Mooresville to burn to the ground tonight?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: As soon as I said that, that was probably not the perfect choice of words. I was exploding
inside. As soon as my mouth opened, everything just came on out (laughter).
Yeah, you know, that's how you feel. You know, that's the emotion you feel when something like that happens to you.
Imagine in your profession the greatest thing that could happen to
you. That's what happened to me tonight. I just couldn't
Q. You talked about the car earlier. Did you know before the delay
that the car was going to be that good? How tough was it to wait?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
Made it easier actually to wait knowing we had such a good racecar.
Typically when you and
the car aren't on the same page, like I said, it's just that little
bit, you grow concerned about what you need to do to win the race. The
slope got steeper, gets steeper with every lap.
Tonight, you know, as we drove, even as we waited it out, I knew we had
enough racecar. I was a little bit nervous because
the pressure was on me because there was plenty of car to do it.
Q. Dale, is there anything special about the confluence with Austin?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
I thought about holding the three fingers running down the front
straightaway. I didn't want
to bring too much attention to that. I just want Steve and Rick and
the team, everybody, to enjoy this experience as it should.
But, you know, it felt so comfortable all week for that number to be
back. I'm happy with that situation. I'm happy for
Austin. You guys have gotten to know him over the last couple years.
He's got a great head on his shoulders. He appreciates the history of
the number. He appreciates not only what it meant as an Earnhardt fan,
but what it meant for his family. It means
something entirely unique to him separate of my father.
I appreciate that and I'm happy for him and Richard. They're really
enjoying that experience together. That's got to
be something special, grandfather and grandson, to be able to do that
I'm very comfortable. I had not thought about it once all week 'cause it just seems right.
Q. Dale, you said when you crossed the finish line, This one's better
than the first. Then you said in Victory Lane, This one's not better
than the first. Which one is it?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was thinking about that. When I crossed the finish line, I was relieved that I've done it
again and I've done it with the people I'm with. Initially the reaction was, This is better because I'm back in Victory Lane.
It's different because it's the people, you know. I was talking about
that earlier. It's better because you had a taste
of it before. To win it the first time, you are blown away and sort of
overwhelmed. The experience is a blur. It doesn't sink in. You don't
absorb much of the whole thing. I can't even remember half of it even
after the fact, what we did that week. I
don't even remember going over and putting the car in there. It was
just all so much of a flash.
So now I realize that. I'm surrounded by so many great people. We got
a great team. So many people are able to enjoy
this. I'm reminded to let it sink in, reminded to enjoy it. I really
enjoyed driving down in front of the fans there. I was having the time
of my life inside that car going down the front straightaway.
When I got to Victory Lane, I couldn't wait to hug everybody, just
enjoy it. Didn't do that the first time 'cause you're
just blown away.
So this one's funner (laughter).
Q. Rick, I imagine fielding cars for NASCAR's most popular driver is
quite a responsibility. It must feel frustrating that you don't have
more success, you always give your best stuff
to Jimmie, let Jimmie win all the time, according to the fans.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I'm glad I'm sitting here. I want to hear this (laughter).
Q. I don't say it. The fans do.
RICK HENDRICK: They've never said it to me. You're the only one that said it.
Q. Dale told Michael Waltrip if he wins the Daytona 500 he's going to get on Twitter.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You're paying attention. I got to get my password (laughter).
Q. Do you feel any relief or satisfaction in getting this win with
him? Can you talk a little bit about the burden that you do feel in
needing to have success with Dale Jr.?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I think Dale had a lot of options when he was going to make a change. We talked. He
wanted to come with us. I wanted him to come with us.
It was a lot of pressure, an awful lot of pressure, an awful lot of
high expectations. We didn't have the success that
we thought we'd have.
I remember a lot of you said, He'll win six races and a championship.
We came down here and we won the Shootout and qualifier
right out of the gate. We didn't go where we needed to go.
But we never gave up. I was as determined as ever. I told him that we
would get it right and we would do what we set
out to do, and we were not going to stop.
But it's a lot of pressure. It was an awful lot of pressure. I felt
like I let him down. He felt like he let me down.
But we locked arms and said, We're going to figure it out.
Last year was a great year. I wish the success had come earlier. But
this is a tough sport. I mean, it is a tough, tough
sport. There's so much talent out there.
Just like he said, it's that little magic with the car, it's also that
magic with the guys here, with the team. When you
hit it, it's amazing. When Jimmie Johnson goes two years and doesn't
win a championship, something's wrong. Well, there's nothing wrong;
it's just everybody else is that good.
They've got that magic, and these guys have that magic. I think this could be the year.
Q. Dale, Brad Keselowski was here earlier and he said that he thought
this may have been one of the hardest‑run Daytona 500s from start to
finish. You've obviously been in a lot more
than he has. I wondered if you felt something similar. If so, was it
just being the Daytona 500, points don't matter, or sitting around for
six and a half hours?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
I think it was the package, the way you were having to race to stand
your ground. I hated
to do some of the things I had to do tonight to race. There were a
couple laps where I had to run Jeff Gordon right on the fence, down the
turns, the straightaway, right on his door, to keep him from drafting by
me. I hate to do that to my teammate. I hate
to do that to anybody. But that's what it took. That's what you had
I knew, like we had talked about before, I talked to Steve about how we
were not in the right place at the end of these
other races. We'd make a move and finish second. We knew we didn't
have a shot at winning, knew we didn't have a shot at the leader at the
end. Why? What do we need to do?
Tonight it was all about not giving an inch, not running fifth, not
sitting there in fifth place all night and being okay
with it. We wanted to be in the lead every lap, be in first every
lap. That's what my motive was.
It was a unique race. I feel uncomfortable sitting here bragging that I
drove my ass off or ran the best race of my life,
but it was a unique race. We all were pushing the envelope out there,
asking a lot of each other. I remember running real, real tight on the
door of the 16 car for the lead. He had the 20 behind him. I just kept
thinking, All it's going to take is for
Matt to make one move a little wide into the corner or something like
that, catch my quarter panel, turn me into the 16, we're going to be up
in the wall.
Every lap you're asking every driver around you to be able to hold
their line and be smart and see what's happening and
understand how close quarters were. Everybody was shoving all over
each other, climbing over the top of each other. So you were asking a
lot of everybody around you to be able to do that all night long.
We all really put each other in a lot of difficult situations, but it
was really fun even under the circumstances. I felt
like that for the first time in a long time you were able to see just
how talented everybody out there was. Biffle and all those guys,
everybody was really bringing the best out of themselves tonight.
Q. Steve, I've had many veteran drivers say over the years how much
they have spent time trying to win the Daytona 500. Even Dale Jarrett
who was in here earlier. Once they accomplish
that goal, the first thing they think of is how they win the next one.
You decided to take another career path. Is this the optimal way to go
out or do you think you might have some second thoughts?
I mean, it's better than losing. Yeah, I mean, I was telling my wife
last night, we were riding
to dinner. We were just talking about stuff. I said, It's a little
sad. I never really put two and two together. When you think about
making that decision, you know, so many things that are so important in
my life that drove that decision. Going to dinner
last night, I'm a little sad, this will be my last 500.
I think I'm going to have a lot of those moments this year. I've done
this since I was a 16‑year‑old kid. I don't know
anything else. The joke with my team when you go anywhere, if you want
to know where to eat, I've grown up at all these tracks. Everyone has a
bucket list, and you don't work in racing without having the Daytona
500 on your bucket list.
It seems a little bit surreal or awkward, but it appears that a
career‑defining moment came in my last chance at it. Like
I said earlier, it's one of the those things that they might say I won X
amount of races as a crew chief, but Daytona 500 champion will always
be set out of that list. This one was special. I'm going to enjoy this
one, for sure.
Q. Dale, you talked about trying to remember more of this experience.
You mentioned driving in the car with the fans. What stood out about
that? That's your moment by yourself. Also,
obviously great moment, you're excited. When is the last time you felt
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: The last time I won the Daytona 500. You win other races. Other good things happen to you
in life. But this is a unique feeling. It only comes with this particular win.
You know, the fans are so supportive. They stick with you. We put
them through so much. We ask so much of them to plug
into this sport, to be a part of it. You think about that.
Then you think on a smaller scale of your personal fans, the fans that
pull for your team, what I've went through as a
driver. You know, the lows you go through, they're with you. They're
with you in the highs, obviously.
We went through some pretty bad lows. They're still there. I know
when I drove down that front straightaway, I know it
wasn't, but it seems like everybody that was here was cheering. I know
we don't have every fan out there, but it was certainly a happy crowd.
I really feed off of that. That is as key to the moment, enjoying the
moment as anything. That's as key to the
moment as going to Victory Lane, seeing your crew, seeing Rick, seeing
All those moments where you see joy in someone else's face during this
evening, seeing all that in all those fans, you
feed off of that so much. You'll never forget that, just looking up
into the grandstands, seeing all those people cheering, so happy.
Especially when you get the flag, you get right up on 'em. Like
they're coming through the fence, you know. It's just
incredible, the energy from that side of the racetrack.
Q. How much fun can the next 25 races be, being able to swing for the
fences? How can you use that to build momentum in trying to win a
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
Well, I expect that we're going to have some great racecars and some
great opportunities to
win. I know that we run our guts out every week. Steve and the guys
give it all they got. I give it all I got. We did that last year and
didn't win any races. We weren't trying to be consistent. We weren't
trying to just gather up points. We want to
win so bad because we know how important that is for our fans, how
important that is to the sport, how big it would be for all the effort
Rick has put into it.
So we try every week to win. We'll continue to do that. I don't think
we'll do it any different than we've always done
it. Steve may be able to get in certain situations at certain tracks
and make a different call that he would typically make. I anticipate
that, look forward to that.
For the most part, the tracks and the tire wear and things like that
will really dictate the strategy he uses regardless
of the format, the points, the Chase, all that.
You want to do whatever you can to win the race, and that's dictated by
the track, the tires, fuel mileage, what have you.
I don't think our approach is going to change a lot.
But we have a lot of confidence coming off such a strong year,
obviously winning this race. Our confidence couldn't be
higher. Confidence is a great thing. It's half of the battle, you
know, being confident in what you're doing. When you have the most,
you're in perfect situations to have some good things happen, so
hopefully we can seize the moment.
Q. Rick, when you rode Jimmie's car into Victory Lane, you said you
never would do it again. What possessed you to do it again tonight?
When I got to the car, he said, Get in. I was so excited, I got in.
When we got to that corner
at the gate, I couldn't hold on inside. The roll bar was slick or
something. I almost fell out. I was hollering, Stop. I almost didn't
come in here tonight. Probably would have been over to Halifax.
I won't do it anymore. I better not say that. But I think the emotion just got me as soon as I got to the window.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Need to learn how to get those side windows out, that way you can ride in the passenger seat.
As soon as I got over there, he said, Climb in. I didn't even think
about it. I'll think about
it again because I almost fell out. I was wedged in with Jimmie. My
legs were wedged up under the steering wheel. Riding like I was riding a
bull. This time I almost did fall out.
Q. Steve, what do you think it will be like a year from now when you're not going to be able to defend this?
STEVE LETARTE: Oh, I have no idea. I think I'm going to come back and get my car back. Maybe I'll come back and
get it when they give it to us next year.
I don't know. There's a lot of water to pass under the bridge between
now and then. There's still 35 other trophies to
get. There's a big one at the end of the year. I'm going to really,
really enjoy this victory.
But it's kind of like Dale said, winning reminds you how great this
sport is, why we all did it, why we're all here. It's
really as simple as that. It seems odd, but that's really what it
comes down to.
We don't play in stick and ball sports. A .500 year doesn't exist with
a race team. You go and you compete against 42
other people. Every Sunday you line up. Nobody cares what you did
last week. It's all about what you're going to do this week. You have
that same sort of feeling. You want to go and win every single week.
That's my biggest concern about next year is what is going to fill the
competitive void because it's all I've known since
I was a kid. We'll see if my kid's go‑kart will fill the void or not.
I think he's going to be a tougher boss than this one. I'm going to
have to sharpen up a little bit before then.
Q. Dale, I wanted to talk about your teammates a little bit. With
around 10 to go, even when the lanes forced a separation, you had a
clear commitment to work with each other. How much
of a difference do you think they made down the stretch? How much did
they keep your confidence up, especially Jimmie being in the same shop
after all these second‑place finishes?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
Jeff pushing us on the last restart was key to us winning the race, a
key moment for us to
pull away, not get stuck side‑by‑side with the outside lane. We timed
that perfectly. He did a great job. That was definitely a very big
moment for the victory there.
You know, our teammates, they're all great guys to begin with. The
reason why we all get along so well and tend to want
to work with each other and even seek each other out at times on the
track at Talladega and Daytona is because of the culture in the company.
There's no favorite. No one's singled out. No pressure on one guy
more than the other. Everybody has the same commitment,
whether it be the fabricators or the engine room. Every team sort of
gets the same commitment.
It's a very well‑run machine. Just the culture in there, how everybody
enjoys working together, we feed off of that.
We see each other quite a bit. Rick has us over there often for
luncheons, what have you, in the shop. We actually spend
time with each other. I've known Jimmie since he first started racing
in the Nationwide Series, St. Louis since he ran his first race. I've
known Jeff forever, back when him and daddy were partners in several
business ventures together.
Dad introduced me to Jeff on the first straightaway at north Wilkesboro
one time, told me he was going to be great. Me
and Kasey have been friends since when I started. You know all these
people because you've been around them for so long. We're all in great
stuff. Rick keeps everybody happy. We enjoy seeing each other doing
well and enjoy working together.
The package tonight made you have to depend on people. You couldn't do
things by yourself. You definitely needed people
to help pass other people. You know you could count on your teammates
to give that to you if you could get in a lane with them.
As far as Jimmie being a good teammate, when we won when I was working
with Tony, Jr., we won at Michigan. It was my first
win with Rick. When Jimmie came into Victory Lane, the first thing I
could think of to say to him is, I'm a winner. He said, I know you are.
Jimmie has always been one of my biggest fans. Even before we were in
the same shop, you know. Like I said, I've known
him for a very long time, before he was a champion, when he was just
getting starting, he was wondering what kind of motorhome to buy.
It's been a long road for both of us. He enjoys seeing me do well and I
feel the same way about him. So we got a great
relationship. It's really great to be in the same shot together. We
feed off of their success. I think they do the same with us. Hopefully
we can continue that.
Q. Dale, go back to the final lap. The appearance was that no matter
what Denny Hamlin did, you seemed to know what he was going to do before
he did it. Can you talk a little bit about
that last lap. And, Rick, did you hold your breath for a minute or did
you just feel confident the whole time the checkered flag was coming?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
I think I knew what had to happen for us to be passed, and I knew what I
needed to do to combat
that. I needed to be in front of the cars that were moving to get a
draft push from them, keep some separation, not allow them to get a run
on me, whether it was the 2 car or Denny, whoever was going to come with
a run. I needed to be in front of them when
they got there, limit their opportunities around me.
Denny came pretty close. He got very close coming off of turn four. I
didn't know if he had enough to get to the quarter
panel. If he even sniffed on the quarter panel, he was going to get a
hell of a run to the flag stand. It was going to be tight.
He's obviously very good. They ran well this week. Won a couple
races. Showed their speed, his talent. I knew when
he come up through there, that's what I was expecting, somebody to get
up there and make a move. He's been able to show all week that he's had
a great racecar and knows what to do with it.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, this race you're never confident. I thought we were in good shape. Those cautions kept falling.
We had to have those restarts. You worry about that.
I thought when he got that good push from Jeff that we were going to be
in good shape. But you just don't count this race
until you see the car come off the fourth corner, and the car running
second on the outside can't get to him.
It's an unbelievable feeling. I bet if you had a heart monitor, you'd
be amazed at what your pulse was that last couple
laps. I know your knees get weak when it's over.
I've been there so many times down here leading coming off the four,
and wade 'em up. So it was good to see that thing
out front by itself. I was very nervous.
Q. Where is the party tonight?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I'm going to try to keep myself under control some, good shape tomorrow. I'm going to have
a few beers, spend time with my girlfriend Amy and whoever else wants to sit around. See where the night goes.
Probably won't be able to party till we get to Vegas after Phoenix.
I'm going to Vegas straight from Phoenix on Sunday.
That might be our time to celebrate.
RICK HENDRICK: It's five hours past my bedtime.
Q. You said you put yourself in some situations that you had to in
order to win. Is that kind of the mindset you're going into this whole
year with knowing it's Steve's last year and
knowing you're starting to get closer to the end of your career than
the beginning? Are you at that point where, in order to fulfill your
dreams of winning a championship, you're going to have to be more
aggressive than you normally like to be?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:
We were running second every week, running in the top 10 throughout the
Chase pretty much.
We were getting cars that were completely superior to what you had at
the beginning of the season. Hell, what I had at the beginning of the
season was pretty good.
Just when you think things are as good as they can get, they get
better. That's been the situation with this team since
me and Steve got together. We've gotten better every year. We said we
were going to get better and we have. We get closer and closer and
closer to reaching our goals without any kind of setbacks or pauses.
So, you know, if things just keep going like they've
been going, we should win some more races this year and the cars should
be there and the confidence should be there.
I'm perfectly comfortable forcing my way in any situation when I know
the car's capable of carrying its load and doing
its job. Steve knows that. I think that gives him motivation to try
to give me those cars.
We were starting to see that happen last year. Looking forward to this year.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations on this win tonight.
AUSTIN DILLON, NO. 3 DOW CHEVROLET SS – TOP ROOKIE FINISHER EARNING A NINTH-PLACE FINISH
KERRY THARP: Also joining us right now is our top‑finishing
Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Austin Dillon. Solid run for you here today. Maybe talk about your race.
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I think the yellow stripes on the
bumper showed a little bit tonight. But we made it through it.
was fun. I had a blast. The car was fast. After we got in the wreck,
I don't know how we didn't hit the wall. Had a little damage,
but was just a lot freer after that. Car was still fast, just a little
All in all, it was a great start for our season, and hopefully we can carry it.
KERRY THARP: We'll continue with questions.
Q. Austin, are the stars kind of aligned? You had the No. 3 on the track, and Dale Jr. wins the race. Talk about that.
Yeah, it's very awesome. Junior has been
so supportive of me bringing back the 3. I've gone to him for a lot of
advice lately. I can't thank him enough. He's been awesome to me. It
made this whole transition a lot easier. If we didn't have him
onboard, it would have definitely been tough to
I want to thank him and congratulate him. That was an awesome race. He led a ton of laps.
For me, he's been a little bit of a bigger brother right now. It's been pretty cool.
Q. Austin, did you have contact with Larson and Newman on those accidents? What happened?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I had contact with both of them.
The 31, I had a run and everything was good. I don't know. I haven't seen a replay of either one of them really.
rear bumper cover was off, I barely touched him. It turned him to the
left quick. Definitely didn't want to do that, he's my
teammate. I think I touched the 1, it backed him up. It happened
quick. Like I said, getting aggressive, 10 to go, just trying to make
something happen. It was hard once you got back up there to get back up
front if you weren't making moves to side draft.
Hopefully I can take this, go to Talladega and do a little better.
Austin, does this 10th‑place finish take some of the pressure off of
you as a rookie or do you have just as much pressure facing you in
Phoenix and Las Vegas?
AUSTIN DILLON: I don't think so, man. It's such a long
year. We got to keep the pressure on as far as our team. We want to do well. We got a lot of goals we need to accomplish.
racing is so much different than the mile‑and‑a‑half's and the short
tracks. We have a lot to learn. That's what this
year is about: experience, trying to finish races and getting better
have a long year ahead of us. I'd like to use some of this momentum
going forward. I know it's going to be a long, tough year
and hopefully we'll be there to the end of these races and try to learn