NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference Chicagoland Speedway
An interview with: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kevin Harvick
THE MODERATOR: Joining us is third place finisher in today's race, Dale Earnhardt. He drives the No. 88 Amp Energy National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Great run out there, Dale. You gained a lot of positions in the points. You're only 13 points now out of first place. Certainly talk about your performance out there today, the No. 88 car.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Obviously we gained a lot of spots there at the end with guys that were short of fuel. But we were running really well at the end. The car struggled off and on throughout the day. And we didn't have great track position either. But at the end the car was really good. And I think we were up in the top ten there.
So real happy with being able to adjust the car, improve it. That's all you can ask for as a driver, that the car gets better all day long.
We also had been struggling on pit road all year. And we worked really hard. The guys worked really hard to improve and they had an excellent day on pit road.
The car drove -- like I said, off and on it was pretty decent all weekend. We tried to be really smart and utilize every minute in practice and try to really focus in practice and get everything we could out of it. And tried to just be really smart about our adjustments and what we were trying to learn from the car throughout the weekend so we could put a good car out on the starting grid today, and I think we did a good job of that. I hated how we struggled in the middle part of the race but it was a really competitive field.
And it was important to try to restart on the inside at least for most guys. Couple times we had to start on the outside and we'd lose a few spots there and they're so hard to get back. But real happy how it turned out.
We were never worried about our fuel mileage. Steve said we're about three tenths of a lap short before we ever took the green flag for that last run. We were going a little faster. We were worrying maybe this was probably the worst fuel mileage we was going to have all day long. So we started backing off and saving gas with about 20 to go. And so it's just enough. It started running out at four but ran to the finish line but it wouldn't have made it another lap.
Q. Dale, it's your best finish in 14 races. Is this the shot in the arm that you need? And I don't know it seems that you flipped a switch all of a sudden. Not you were able to but you made the end of race adjustments you needed to. Have you kicked it into another gear?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: You know what, I felt like we would do well in The Chase. These are good tracks for me. And the tracks where I ran poorly just aren't -- if you look at my track record I don't run good at those tracks. And I was hoping Steve would give me a little magic to fix that but we'll have to wait until next year to see.
I felt we would rebound and kind of return to the form we started at the beginning of the year. Again a lot of guys ran out of gas. But we did adjust and improve the car and got faster at the end and drove by a bunch of guys that really weren't saving.
So that felt pretty good how the car was running at the end.
Q. Dale, does this feel a little bit like the beginning of the season where you were turning 11th and 12th in the 6th and 7th that maybe you've stolen a little bit and got the early season strategy back and what was it like the closing laps where you're just whizzing by guys as they're running out of fuel?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Basically everybody ran out. The last lap I was counting them when I went by. I don't know what place I was in to be honest with you so I didn't know where I would finish until after Steve told me.
But I just knew we were going to get a good finish if we didn't run out of fuel. I was happy where we were. I thought we had really improved throughout the day. And, yeah, it felt a lot similar to how we ran earlier in the year where we would -- we would use strategy to improve our finishing position.
THE MODERATOR: We'll hear now from Kevin Harvick, our race runner up. And he's also our points leader. He's got a seven-point lead now over Tony Stewart. Lot of excitement towards the end. Talk about your run.
KEVIN HARVICK: It was a solid day for us. Obviously the last three weeks have been really good for our Budweiser team. We've just got to keep going.
I felt like we had saved a fair amount of gas under caution in the first 15, 18 laps, and never really had to push my car very hard and just kind of maintained the pace that I was running. And as we got a couple of gaps we were able to shut it off five or six times. And when Gil said go, I guessed it about right, came out off pit road there after we took a checker flagged. Good calculation by the guys and good solid day.
Q. Kevin, how nerve-racking was that over those final 15 or so laps? It seemed like Ken said I've got to save gas but you never seemed to let up?
KEVIN HARVICK: We just went about it different. We tried to do it a different way in the run, and when he turned me loose, I was still a little bit gun shy. I should have just listened to him. Because I was probably that one lap that I shut the engine off twice was probably the lap that I needed to catch the 14.
But either way, I mean, it was still a good day and there was no way we needed to run out of gas. So that's the -- you can put yourself in such a big hole right off the bat if you're not careful here.
Q. Chase drivers were eight of the top ten finishers today. It seemed like you guys set the tone all day long. This track has a history of being flukey with a Reutiman win last year. You guys know what I mean. Did it feel like today was the championship contenders came out and made a statement, maybe this is what you guys were expecting the rest of the way like you guys said it's going to take top 5s top 10s to win this thing?
KEVIN HARVICK: I looked up. I said we've done pretty good, we're seventh. And I was running behind six guys running in The Chase. There's a reason that those 12 guys are running where they had all year and are in The Chase and it always seems like everybody steps up this time of year, and those guys just have a little more to go after.
So, yeah, I don't think that's going to be abnormal.
Q. 17 was running well, 18 was running well, 48 was in the top 5. They run out of gas, how big of a hole are they in now?
KEVIN HARVICK: Last year we lost the championship by 41 points. And we missed second by two points and we came behind into The Chase last year, so every point matters at this point because somebody's going to put ten weeks together and make it happen. And if they don't then I'll be surprised. But every point matters right now. You can lose by one point and give up right off the bat you put yourself into a hole. I don't know about the 48. He's put himself in a hole a number of times and figured out how to win it. So who knows about those guys.
Q. Were you surprised that 18 wasn't as much as a factor as people maybe would have expected here today?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I really thought he ran pretty well. The one guy I thought was a surprise was 00. He was good in practice and ran well here last year. You never know who is going to show up each week, and this was a unique deal with the rain delay and everything else. And kind of maybe threw a few teams the curveball they didn't expect.
Like Kevin said, everybody in the top 12, man it was so hard to pass. Everybody was so competitive and really similar. So you know if you wanted to hold a guy up you could just real easily take his line away and make it hell for him to get by you. And that's what a lot of guys do. So he just -- I thought the 18 ran pretty well. He might have had some struggles on pit road or something, lost some spots. Once you lose a few, it's tough.
KEVIN HARVICK: I was running six or seven and he was right in there. I don't know what happened on the pit stop but he just disappeared. They must have had a bad stop on pit road or something.
Q. Tony said on Thursday when we got together with you guys that five drivers didn't have a chance to win this thing and he was one of them. Do you think he was just sandbagging a little bit?
KEVIN HARVICK: Counting Tony Stewart out, that's pretty funny that he counts himself out. He's won a ton of races to start off The Chase like they did today, have the notes and teammates and things to lean on at Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan and all the stuff they have to lean on, there's no way they're going to be totally out to lunch. So I think that's yet to be seen. So he ran strong all day and drove from the back to the front and led the race and won the race.
So he shouldn't count himself out. That's pretty funny.
Q. What was going on pit road, looked like they picked up horsepower. Can you talk about those engines in general, please, thank you?
KEVIN HARVICK: I didn't see any added strength on engines but pit road was it was just a bad scenario. 22 was running up front most of the day and the 9 was running behind me, and I was pitted in between them. And it was bad for all three of us.
So there's really no way to get around it other than to try to do the best you can. And nobody ran into anybody or anybody's guys or anything like that.
So you just -- I'm sure the other two guys were as frustrated as I was. But just a bad qualifying result in a bad pit selection there.
Q. At the end of the day, what do you take away from this? I think this is now, I think, four of the last five years, a driver who hadn't won during the regular season wins the opening race in The Chase, a couple guys able to finish third, but the champion hasn't won the first race. What do you take out of it?
KEVIN HARVICK: For me, I'm just happy that we finished second, to be honest with you. There's still a lot of question marks for us coming into The Chase on the mile-and-a-half stuff. But the call was solid all weekend. Stats are stats. And for us it's one week at a time, one lap, one practice.
It's just one minute at a time literally going through the motions. So you just -- if you can come out of here with a second, during the year it was all about trying to win races. Now it's about accumulating points.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Happy to run third, happy to maximize our potential today, start thinking and working on the next one.
Q. Kevin, you and the 31 and the 33 have some personnel changes on pit crews this weekend?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think there were changes, pit crews changes to make teams better. I don't know exactly how it shook out.
Q. Did it feel okay to you?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, the last pit spot gained three spots, so it went pretty good.
Q. What did the rainout do? Did it take any rubber off the track, or did you see the track staying pretty tight? We saw the color didn't really change that much. How did it affect your driving?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Made my back hurt from laying on the couch too much. I know that for sure. But really I was surprised when the race started as black as the groove was and my car didn't really change much .
Q. Dale, any comment on the track change from yesterday, the other day?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I didn't really notice much, I thought the track was in good shape when this race started and all day long it was good.