NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference Kansas Speedway
An Interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It's so hard to pass here. It's awful hard to pass. Worst I've ever seen it.
And so starting where we did, it just wasn't easy. And we finally got to right outside that top 10 and was looking good for the last 100 laps.
And I went to searching for more speed and busted my butt up there on 3 and 4. And tossed us in all the spots we worked for all day.
But it also gave Steve the chance to play the strategy game where you gotta -- when that caution came out that we came and got fuel. We put ourselves in a one-stop scenario where everybody else didn't pit. They can't give up the track position because it's so hard to pass.
So they stayed out there knowing they'd have to come down to pit road twice. And that was the game that we took, and the race could have went, could have had a caution and changed everybody's strategy, but it worked out for us and right to the end.
We had a good car. We just didn't have a second place car not at all, but we had a top 10 car. And it was so hot out there today. I mean I felt fine until I got stopped. And I don't know how everybody felt after that race, but it worked on me really good.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Dale.
Q. Dale, you seemed almost apologetic that you finished second. But when you look back at guys that make the Chase and contend for championships, they're the guys that are able to bounce back from issues like you had today and get those. So you gotta feel good about that aspect of it.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You're right. And when I get home by myself that's how I'll feel about it. But in the grand scheme of things I've got a lot of people that are -- there's a lot of people who will remind you throughout this sport of how fortunate you were and how lucky you were in and all those things.
So I like to beat them to the punch and let them know I realize how fortunate I was today to get second place.
But you're right, I mean, we just keep doing -- we've had some runs where we drove ourselves into the positions where we finished. We finished well by running well and by getting lucky. And that's what championship teams do.
And you always scratch your head when Jimmie and them guys look like they're out of it and next thing you turn around at the end of the race and they're right there in the middle of it. And you're like: How in the world? So now I guess I'm on that side of the fence. I see some of it and I see why it happens.
But it's just rolling the dice, man, that's what it was. You know how the dice is, sometimes it works for you and sometimes it don't.
Q. When you were racing Denny for the position, did you feel like that potentially was for the win?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah.
Q. And how much pleasure do you draw out of the fact that you were able to outrace somebody that has as much at stake in the big picture as you do?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yes, that's a good point. I was told that that was the race for the win. And I genuinely believe what Steve was telling me, because I didn't think the 2 would make it. But he saved a lot of gas. He did a great job.
And I was faster than Denny the last 100 laps of the race. There was a stretch where we were running, I could tell I was running him down. I'm sitting there running behind the 9, the 43, and all those guys pretty much all day long, but through a tire run I'd come off 2 and look in the corner and I'd start seeing guys up in the top 15, top 10 that I was running down.
I would see more and more of them as the run went on. So we had a great car. And it was fun racing Denny. I don't get to race him too much.
Q. Dale, after a race like this, how long does it take you to recover, with the heat and everything else, how long will it take you to recover fully?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Probably till tomorrow. I gotta -- I want to lay by the pool and drink some vodka or whatever. I'll probably chug a lot of water tonight so I'm hydrated for tomorrow. I heard drinking pickle juice is good for you or Pedialyte. I'll give it a shot. I got some of that.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Denny Hamlin. He's our third place winner, drives the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Denny, talk about your run out there this afternoon here at Kansas.
DENNY HAMLIN: It was a good day. Not a fluke run by us. We ran up front during the course of the day. But I think we were running third when we came in and decided to pit on that caution where I think all of us pitted to try to make it with one more stop.
So it was a great run by us. We had something with our front end gave up midway through the race anyway. And so we were struggling for speed from that point forward. But we pretty much made our bed into a fuel mode racing it works for us.
THE MODERATOR: Denny moves up a spot, to 11th. One point out of 10th right now so continue to move up.
I felt fine until I got out.
Q. One point during the race you said I'll be surprised if this don't get me (indiscernible), was the car just so good that it kind of was powered up and also where did you eat yesterday?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I like Oklahoma Joe's because it was on Man Versus Food, which is a show I like. I stood in line. Long line, stood in line longer than it took me to eat. But it was good.
About 60 laps in the race, the caution came out. I was real hot. I said I was just -- I'll be surprised if this heat don't really bother me by the end of this race. But they do a couple of things back there and that helped out a ton plus we had something at stake at the end of the race which will get anybody up on their seat. I felt fine until I got out.
Q. Oklahoma Joe's, the one in the gas station?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: The one in the gas station. 20 minutes from here.
Q. Denny, on one of the restarts, when you were up front, Kurt made a move inside to make it three-wide with you in the middle and Tony on the outside. And a little bit later after that, a couple of laps, Tony got into the back of you looked like going into one of the turns. Is that when the front end of your car was giving up or what was going on there?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it was. That's why we decided to pit is because we had to make an adjustment anyway. But, yeah, I mean, I think Tony was upset with us. But the 22 actually knocked me into the 14 on the restart, so I was kind of a ping-pong ball there. So it's kind of a victim of my own self getting in the way.
Q. You guys have raced a lot here in October in the last several years. Just assess the track today. And did you like having this extra weekend out here at Kansas Speedway?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I liked it. I like coming here. It don't like the heat, the track don't like the heat too much. You had to run dead against the apron. If you was off the apron by two or three inches you're in trouble, there's no grip. But I kind of like that because a lot of guys aren't smart enough to do it every lap, I ain't either but I think I'm more consistent than some.
And it makes for a pretty good race. Some guys running around the top and there's a lot of room. But it's real slick. But that's fine with me.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, the same thing. As long as they continue to fill the seats here, it's a relevant race day. We go where the fans come, and obviously they deemed this was an important market for us to come back.
So I think it was an overall successful weekend.
Q. Dale, I apologize if you've been asked this already, but what was your reaction when you were told that you need to watch your fuel towards the end there?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "Not again." (Chuckling). Man, he was telling me that whole run: We're good. Let Mike be short, we're good, we're fine. Then we got within 10 to go and he said: Back it down, back it down. I can catch the 2, he's real slow. And he's like: Back it down, back it down, back it up to the 11. What? I thought we was good.
He said, no, we're going to run out right at the flag stand. And it did. The gauge was red. It ran out the back of the straightaway. I was backing it down, doing what he said.
I don't know, if I could have caught Brad he probably would have stepped it up. Who knows much gas he had left. We did what we had to do. I'm happy.
Q. Seemed like fuel was an issue, it was an issue last week, it was an issue last night in Chicago, what's the deal with that?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It's just the way the cautions fall, if the cautions fall at a certain time it changes the fuel window for everybody. This place is real hard to pass on. The guys up front didn't want to give up the track position to get the fuel. They figured that there surely would be another caution. I mean the odds were great to have another caution. And they still had to make two stops and we came and got the fuel. We only had to make one and we got lucky and it went to green.
Q. Dale, you said at one point you didn't want your day to end on a fuel mileage race. You came so close today. Has your opinion changed? Would you have been okay, if today would have been --
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, I can wait. I might.
Q. What do you feel like your teams did well today to continue this, build on some progress, build some momentum into the summer stretch and what more do you feel like you need to do from this point forward?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I think we just -- we really did a good job finding some speed in the practice.
We had a good car today. We had some good speed. We need to work on qualifying to not make the day so long and so hard on us. We need to start in the top 10 so we ain't gotta work the first three-quarters of the race trying to get within sight of it. That's about it.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think qualifying is helping us. We're getting better at qualifying. When we qualify 15th, that's better for us. So that's an improvement. I think my pit crew's gotten better over these last two to three weeks. That's been a huge improvement. We didn't lose any spots today. We gained spots. And our cars are getting faster.
So that's pretty much all you can ask for right now. So we can't be happy with where we're at. We know we're a little bit behind those Fords right now. So we have to keep working.
Q. Knowing how difficult it is to save fuel how much credit do you give Brad for what he was able to do to win this race?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I give him a lot. I don't know what his situation was. I don't know if it was the same as ours, but he obviously had to save a little more than we did, I think. Because me and him were the only ones in that shape, I think, at the end of the race.
I ain't real sure. But anytime you win a fuel mileage race you've done something as a driver. We don't know what we're doing really trying to save gas or how much we're saving. But he had a hand in it.
DENNY HAMLIN: Usually it takes a really slow car to save gas to be honest with you. It helps. I mean, when your car is -- when you're running back in traffic and stuff like that it helps you save gas.
Your car's not handling as well. You know you're out of the gas more, and you're not getting back in it as soon. So typically you see when guys win on fuel mileage, it's guys knowing huge factors during racing unless the cautions work out just right for them. I think those guys had extremely good fuel mileage anyway. They obviously worked on it. He did a great job to save.
So I thought that me and him were the only ones on that fuel strategy. When he passed me I thought that was for the win. So the 22 evidently saved a ton of fuel.
Q. The last few wins today, but he came in outside the top 20, he (indiscernible). Do you think he's going to be a factor eventually getting into the top 20, and he's not a factor for the Chase, and for Junior, looked like Brad was trying to hand you the American flag what was going on there?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was trying to steal it. (Laughter) yeah, I was just joking around with him. He won his first race I had to raz him a little bit. And I think Brad's good enough to get in the top 20 for points for sure, absolutely. Without a doubt. It's a good team over there. It's the Penske team. They have the opportunity to get in the top 20 easily.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think that five, six weeks ago I would have said no. But I think since Darlington, those guys actually, you know, they've stepped it up. So plenty capable.
... ask the 20 guys that ran out of fuel ...
Q. For people who have no idea what it's like to be in a car on a track this hot for you guys can you describe the physical effects of the heat over that time?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's hot. What's the typical -- how hot is it inside of a sauna?
Q. 140 to 180.
DENNY HAMLIN: Just sit in there for four hours. It's really, really hot. These cars, the Car of Tomorrow, the Car of Today, whatever it is, they are hotter than the cars we used to run. The exhaust is closer to the floorboard. So I mean we're sitting right on our exhaust that's a thousand degrees. All these cars are completely sealed off. We've got our window nets now to where they pretty much seal the left side of the car so there's no air getting in or out of the car. So it's just extremely hot. Your feet are just boiling throughout the day.
I mean, it's just, you know, sitting in a sauna for four hours and it's pretty much what you got.
Q. Good run for both of you guys. Junior, I want to talk about your relationship with Steve. You've worked with a lot of great crew chiefs over the years, but it seems like that you and Steve have some kind of chemistry. Is it because he's kind of a, I don't know, a rah rah type guy? I don't know what way to put it. But it seems like he knows how to pick you up and make you better. Is he any different than the other guys you've worked with and just talk about that relationship a little bit?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Everybody's different. But me and him get along great. And he's a good crew chief. He's real smart with the cars. He's not afraid to try what he sees other people doing. And he's just sharp. I mean, we all could do better and be better at our job. But right now it's working out. We're getting along great. We're running good. Hopefully we can keep it up. It's going along good. I'm not going to do anything to mess it up. I'm going to try hard to stay on the positive side and work hard right along with him, give him everything he needs.
Q. For both of you, you had over a thousand corn growers and ethanol producers here today. American Ethanol was in the spotlight. I want to know, how is that 15 percent ethanol blend working out for you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I had plenty today. I could have used a little extra last week, but today we had plenty. And it runs good. If you can make it, find a way to give me a little more torque, I'd appreciate it. But that's probably something I need to work on on my end.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it was great. But ask the 20 guys that ran out of fuel, though.
Q. Dale, you mentioned you guys, you felt like you need to be better at qualifying. Do you personally need to be better, or do you feel like you guys need a better qualifying setup when you get to these tracks?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't know, man. Every time I always thought I could do better or the problem was me. We'll go down the road somewhere flip the switch on the car, do something to the car that gives you what you need, and you're like damn, it wasn't me. But I qualified good last year some, which we've been terrible this year.
Our best qualifying effort was 20th at Martinsville outside of Daytona and Talladega. And everything else has been worse than 22nd. That's terrible. Terrible. But everything's out of control when I go drive it. When I race, I'm fine. We just gotta figure out what we need to do. It can't be that hard.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.