Continued from part 1 DALE EARNHARDT JR. TONY STEWART SUGGESTED SOFTENING UP THE FRONT NOSE PIECES. WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF THAT BY SUNDAY? "No, not really. There ain't no way you can do that. What are they going to cut everybody's nose off...
Continued from part 1
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
TONY STEWART SUGGESTED SOFTENING UP THE FRONT NOSE PIECES. WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF THAT BY SUNDAY? "No, not really. There ain't no way you can do that. What are they going to cut everybody's nose off and make sure they're mounting everything right? They'll find a way around it. The Chad Knaus's and the Tony Eury Jr's will find a way around it. We'll find something else to run into each other with if it isn't the front bumper. At the 500 last year, it was pretty spread out. It came down to a late caution. I wasn't really packed with a lot of three-wide stuff. At the end, it was. When I won it, It looked like a race from 1985 -- before they had plates because it was a two-car race at the end. I don't like the package but they haven't found an alternative. But we're about out of changes as far as trying to find a happy medium between being able to get away from each other without running over the top of each other to put on a good race. I think the race track is in poor condition, in my opinion. We run around the middle of the corner because the bottom is so dang rough. There's a lot of bad bumps and it moves the cars around when you're side-by-side; three-wide and you've got cars running through bumps and holes, you're going to have a hard time hanging on to them.
"The drivers are the biggest part of it. But how do you calm down some of these guys? You can show them tapes of crashes and that's not going to do nothing. They're not going to calm down. I've done it. I've made mistakes. If you just give the guy a little bit of room, it's fine. But in the Shootout, you can't afford to do that. The bodies don't have a lot of downforce. When you go through a bump and the car is bouncing around and you don't have the ability to move up the race track, that's just the way it is. That's restrictor plate racing. The Shootout is always going to be a battle and I think that's the only time Tony will get upset or have an opinion on it. Otherwise, I think it's smooth sailing at Talladega and the 500 here."
ON DENNY HAMLIN BEING DALE JUNIOR'S GUEST A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO AT THE DAYTONA 500. "We're good friends. I think Denny is a lot better race car driver than a lot of people realize. I tried to get Joe Gibbs to give him up, if you will, so we could get him over to DEI. But they hung onto him and that's probably the smartest move they've made, because he's going to make them a lot of money."
ON DENNY HAMLIN'S BURNOUT: "Well, I would allow it because it was his first win, but his motor man won't like him doing that too many times. Aside from racing with Tony, me and Tony haven't really had any battles except for the 500 that I won, but that was really fun racing him and then seeing Denny celebrate. That was probably such a big stage compared to what he's been involved in and what he's been through and it's happening really fast for him. He's really talented. I believe he'll make some smart decisions on the track. He'll do well behind the wheel."
ON THE SHOOTOUT BEING SO WILD AND ON THE MOVE THAT DENNY HAMLIN MADE TO TAKE THE LOW LINE AND WIN THE RACE: "The Shootout is 70 laps long. A lot can happen. We went from 7th to second or whatever, and that was a lot of work. You know it's a quick race. Even in the first 20 laps, you know you're going to stop for 10 minutes. But there was some stuff that happened in that second segment toward the end, but that was hard racing in the top five around the veteran guys. But when you're back there in the middle and no matter how much of a veteran you are, you're three-wide and you've got some guys who haven't done this that often, you get a little nervous. There were some times when it was really crazy. But you don't have much of a choice. I wanted to be up toward the front and each time I had to walk through that mess to get up there."
DO YOU THINK DENNY HAMLIN GAINED SOME RESPECT IN THIS RACE? "Yeah, this is 20 of some of the best drivers in the series and to me, that's more of a challenge to me than winning against 43 guys. When you stack them up, for a rookie that's tougher. Absolutely. When you go out there and win, he ought to have plenty of drafting help when it comes to the 500. He's got a great car. He's smooth on the wheel. He'll run across a couple of situations that will compromise people, but he'll figure that out."
DO YOU THINK YOUR CAR HAS ENOUGH SPEED FOR THE 500? "My 500 car is good enough. We tried a carburetor in this Shootout that didn't work out for us. The fuel mileage was way off. I had some thoughts that the car was missing at some point. So there must be a distribution problem. We'll probably run with what we traditionally do with the carburetor situation."
TALK ABOUT YOUR RUN TODAY "I wasn't the most optimistic person before the race started. J.D. (Gibbs, president, Joe Gibbs Racing) came by the car and he and Mike (Ford, crew chief) and I were talking and we know we aren't going to have any help out there, so lets just take this race and make the best of it. Try to learn about the car for next weekend and try and make some friends out there for next weekend. It seemed like about 15 laps into the race, I told them over the radio, that we were out handling these guys right then so we just kept working our way up and put ourselves in position the last part of the race and my pit crew got me out in front. There isn't enough I can say about those guys. I think I was third when I came in and came out first. It is just one of those deals where I relied on my crew and they came through for me.
TALK ABOUT DENNY'S RUN TODAY - "It was phenomenal. I have been part of some race teams that have had some success but coming down to what impressed me the most was the last restart. We got a good restart with Tony (Stewart) below us and we knew that was our only shot to win. Denny stayed tough and the 48 came up and gave us a push and we got to the front. He worked the guys behind him really well. Trying to keep them side-by-side, it was a very impressive run. I am glad to be a part of this team and look forward to next week with Denny.
TALK ABOUT DENNY'S RUN TODAY - "Obviously just a huge win for us. We started this team year and we were struggling, we were awful. We were having a tough time with this 11 car, the 18 car was struggling, the 20 car was just ok early but wasn't great. So to wind up where are now was exciting to go through that process with all the guys that we built this team with who kind of went through the hard times and now seeing them there for the good times is pretty neat deal. So for Denny to be driving late models two years ago and now to win a Cup event is very impressive. We keep telling him it isn't always going to be this easy and he keeps impressing everybody. I am proud of the whole FedEx crew.
DID THE RACING OUT THERE SEEM THAT SCARY TO YOU TODAY FROM WHERE YOU WERE SITTING? "Big time" I don't know what is left of the back of my car but it was beat in. I have heard a lot of drivers talk about it will benefit you to run up on another driver and kind of push them,not hit them. But there was major hitting going on out there today. I am not complaining because when I was getting it, I was up front, but a few times there were a lot of close calls. It is the nature of the race. I don't think you will see it in the 500, guys aren't going to want to tear their cars up like that. It is the nature of the beast as far as the race is concerned, I was lucky enough to not have to use my front bumper, only the rear."
ON THE RESTART, DID YOU THINK YOU HAD SOMETHING FOR TONY WHEN HE WENT AROUND YOU ON THE OUTSIDE? "No, I thought the race was over. I had forgotten about the double file restart. All I could try to do is stay right on his side to not let the air pull him away from me. So I did that. A couple of times he was clear me, I would get closer to his car and get that side draft which was just enough to bog him down to wait on my help which was Jimmie Johnson to come give me a push. I saw Jimmie coming in the rearview mirror at what seemed like 100 mph faster than I was running. I was just hoping he wasn't going to make it three wide. Instead he decided to push me on and clear me and there toward the end, I think a couple other guys got beside me but I just held my line on the low line and Dale Jr. gave me a push there with just one lap to go.
WHEN DALE JR MADE THE MOVE TO GO AROUND YOU ON THE OUTSIDE YOU MOVED OVER A LITTLE TO BREAK HIM MOMENTUM AND THEN PULLED DOWN TO THE LOW LINE, IF YOU HADN'T DONE THAT, DO YOU THINK HE HAD A CHANCE THEN TO WIN THE RACE? " You have to that because you are not necessarily slowing him down as much as you are helping yourself. I think our biggest problem there toward the end of the race was that I was pulling away from those guys too much. I think I had a three or four car length there at one time and you can just feel it that the farther you pull away, the slower you go. When I saw him coming, I more used it for my benefit to get the air off my rear spoiler more so than to do something to him. That is just the way you have to drive these races, 80% out of your rearview mirror to use it to my advantage. It is something I have watched him do many times.
AT THE END YOU TOLD MIKE YOU THOUGHT YOU RAN OVER SOMETHING ON THE TRACK? "I thought it was over with. I pulled beside Tony just to mess with him a little bit and was about 10 feet in front of it. It looked like a front or rear bumper actual bumper bar. It was a heavy duty piece of metal. I told Mike I just ran over something and I just waiting for it to ride on the rim. I got Junior to check it out and it was fine. We definitely weren't going to pit. I would have probably run on four flat tires before I would have come in to pit.
WERE YOU NOT AS GOOD IN ONE AND TWO AS YOU WERE IN THREE AND FOUR? "We were a little bit tighter in one and two than we were in three and four. That seems like just a characteristic of the race track. Seems like it is a little bit tighter in one and two rather than three and four. It is just one of those things where the air means so much you have got to put yourself in the right position and you can't get out there too far. I found myself a couple of times where I would try to time it when I got such a big lead, they caught me, it was in the corners, not on the straightaways. That way they had to make a decision, either they had to go high and risk it to get shuffled out or they were going to stick with me. You have to put them in that position in order to help yourself.
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING THE LAST LAP OF THE RACE? "I was thinking that those guys were going to gang up on us. I knew Tony was back there and we had support from him and when he got shuffled out there with about 10 to go, I thought it was over, we lost our help and we were going to get shuffled out at some point. Even in practice when our car was out front, no one could really could really come up and make a challenge. We felt pretty good about that.
We would rather be leading than anywhere at the end. As aggressive as some of those guys were getting, I thought we were going to get shoved out of the way and freight trained at some point but we were in the lead, so I kept reminding Denny to keep an eye on his mirror. Where we were, they would have had to wreck us to win. I think Denny drove with that mentality as well. Then we got the restart and were fortunate enough to get a run off turn two and get a push. Once we got out front, I knew it was over.
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING THE LAST LAP OF THE RACE? "I like the fact that it was Tony and Junior up there with him, guys he knows in the sport. At this point, I know enough to know you can't get too excited at that point until it is over.I was nervous for him and kind of curious what he was thinking. Denny, what were you thinking?
"I was fine, but the spotter and the crew chief voices got a little louder every lap. He can say what he wants to about the nervousness, he was saying 20 to go, 15 to go, 10 to go and the pitch was getting higher. I am excited for the guys on the FedEx team more than myself. Yes, I was getting nervous there toward the end. You know you think at about 10 laps to go what if I actually win this race. Then when Tony got by me, I thought ok, back to reality. I am not sure when we actually cleared for the lead but I knew if we could get those guys side-by-side behind us so I could switch lanes and help whoever was behind us, we were going to be ok."
CAN YOU REMEMBER SITTING HOME WATCHING THE SHOOTOUT AND IMAGINING YOURSELF IN THE RACE? "It is just one of those deals where it is happening so fast, it still hasn't caught up to me yet. I know I was way more emotional for my pole than I was this race, probably because I had a whole lot more time to think about it. We went out fairly early at Phoenix to qualify, so we had to sit through the rest of the cars and had time to think and think and think about it and imagine the what ifs. This race went by so fast I still can't believe it. I will probably believe it when I log on to NASCAR.com and see my face up there."