Dale Earnhardt Jr. Scores First Win of the Season While Drivers Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick Follow in 2nd and 3rd to Give Monte Carlo SS a Top-Three Sweep of the Crown Royal 400 DENNY HAMLIN , NO. 11 FEDEX CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS - FINISHED...
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Scores First Win of the Season While Drivers Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick Follow in 2nd and 3rd to Give Monte Carlo SS a Top-Three Sweep of the Crown Royal 400
DENNY HAMLIN , NO. 11 FEDEX CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS - FINISHED 2nd
ON HIS RUN:
"It was a great run for us. I definitely would rather run second here than I would the Daytona 500 regardless of money or anything. This race is that special to me, both Richmond races are. There's no other person I would rather be racing for the win there at the end. I'm sure he was thinking the exact same thing I was as far as how I was going to race him. He knew I was going to put the bumper to him if I ever got to him. He asked me even in Victory Lane when I went over there and said 'Man why didn't you lay into me?' I said, 'Man if I had the chance, I would have.' It was definitely going to be a whole lot more physical had I had a little bit better car."
WAS THE INJURY TO YOUR HAND A FACTOR AT ALL TONIGHT?
"No. Last night it might have been a small factor there at the end of the race. I had quite a bit of soreness. I woke up today just feeling really, really good. My hand had a lot more flexibility than what I had yesterday. The whole Joe Gibbs training group helped me out and really wrapped it up good tonight. Man I did not feel anything at all."
ON YOUR EMOTIONS RACING HERE AT RICHMOND:
"It's a huge boost. I feel like this is a race we definitely spend a lot of time focusing on. It doesn't pay anymore, points doesn't pay any more money than the other ones. To have the hometown crowd cheering you on is a big deal. I saw all the cheers when me and Dale Jr. were side-by-side there with a few laps to go. I'm sure most of the cheers were for him but all I could do was imagine in my mind they for me and try that much harder."
WHEN YOU WERE OUT FRONT DID YOU THINK YOU COULD HOLD OFF EVERYONE OR DID YOU KNOW IT WAS GOING TO BE DIFFICULT?
"I felt like had we gone to the end of the race right there that it was our race to lose. The 8 car started running back to me just a little bit. I was in really severe tire saving mode just in case that race went all the way green. My pit crew does any excellent job all the time. We just got out of pit road there third. Track position means so much here. I spent too much trying to get by those cars to try to get back to the 8. Our car was so good on long runs, had we come out leading the race I probably could have fended those guys off and gone ahead and won the race but it's hard to do when your car comes in so late. Those guys get stretched out and all you can is try to pick them off when you can."
WHERE DOES THIS RANK IN YOUR NASCAR CAREER?
"This is by far the biggest race of my career. It's something that's very special and to have so many friends and family here, it's awesome. I can't tell you how I feel. I'll be riding this wave for months to come. I'm so happy for the FedEx employees and everything. Those people didn't have much to cheer for last year and this year I get so many letters and everything and so much support from those people. I'm excited to give them something to cheer about."
FOR A SHORT TRACK RACE, DID THIS RACE SEEM CLEANER WITH LESS BEATING AND BANGING?
"One thing I noticed about this race track is the groove moved up way higher than it ever has in the past so I think the cars were able to get spread out more than what they had before. A lot of times there were just two grooves here so when you went to go try to pass somebody, you almost had to lay into them to get around them and that's what caused a lot of wrecks. I feel like there were a lot of different grooves. I could run the bottom. I was really good on the bottom late in the run and I could run the top middle of the run. I just feel like the cars got more spread out this race than what they had in the past."
ON RUNNING THE BOTTOM. IS THAT MORE YOUR STYLE OR JUST THE WAY IT WORKED OUT?
"I was surprised that nobody else really got their car working on the bottom. At times we were running a lot faster when I moved up to the middle groove. I moved around different lines every single lap. I would just wait on Mike (Ford, crew chief) to tell me 'Hey, that was a good lap right there' and I'd try to repeat it wherever I seemed to run and it always seemed to be the bottom. There with about 50 to go, I think the 5 was racing the 29 for the lead and I caught those two. I think the 5 was running the middle and the 29 was running the third groove up high. It just allowed me to run my bottom groove like I had all night. I think I passed them both within a lap so it was definitely a great handling race car."
WHERE THERE ANY NERVES RUNNING YOUR FIRST NASCAR NEXTEL CUP RACE HERE?
"I'll tell you what. When I took the lead from 29 I literally felt my heart beat in my foot shaking on the gas pedal.
"You know there's a long way to the end and a lot of things could happen but I could just feel myself lifting off the gas pedal down the straightaway because my foot was shaking so hard. It's hard to keep your nerves all together. I'm sure years down the road in my career I won't think so much of it. It'll just be one of those normal races and hopefully it will just be one win of many. Definitely for your first win you're trying that extra hard. You never know maybe if I didn't try as hard I wouldn't have burned myself up and (would have) ended up winning the race."
ON THE LAST 15 LAPS, WAS THERE A SENSE THIS WAS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO GET DALE EARNHARDT JR.?
"I noticed the 8 car on restarts. He would really slide up really bad for the first two laps. I felt like if I could get a really good bite on the bottom then maybe I could get beside him. As he would pull away off the corner maybe I could kind of nudge the side of him and keep him from pulling away from me. I definitely didn't want to risk cutting a tire or messing him up. Last thing I want to do is wreck Dale Jr. I have a decent fan base now. I don't want to kill it. It was really great. I did feel a sense of urgency when I got beside him with about five to go and I really thought I had the race won. I was for sure that he was going to slide up and I was going to be able to clear him. It's just one of those things where it will pay off in the long run to race those guys clean. Hopefully they do it to me in the same situation later."
WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON?
"We feel like we're a Chase car. We feel like we're a top 10 car every week. We've just had a lot of bad luck. Starting the race at Phoenix, which is a track just like this, on seven cylinders we never really got to show our potential but we knew we had a great handling race car. That's why we were so excited to come here. Atlanta (we were) leading a lot of that race and had two cut tires. Then Martinsville getting in the top 10 and (we) cut a tire and wreck. We've had kind of that Greg Biffle luck, not as far as he's taken it, but we've had a lot of good runs too. I don't know where we're at in points but we're definitely steps towards that top 10."
ON YOUR FRIENDSHIP WITH DALE EARNHART JR.:
"Me and him became friends before I even became a NASCAR driver.
"He invited me to come to his motorhome in Daytona the year that he won. I think it was '03, '04 or something like that. It was the first time I really hung around a NASCAR driver. I think he respected me more because we had a friendship level beyond racing. Once I did become a driver for Gibbs he was really trying to get me over there at DEI. I definitely felt like Joe Gibbs Racing were the ones who I needed to look out for. They gave me my very first ride. It's a team I'm going to stick with for years. But to go back to him, we spend a lot of time off the race track hanging out with each other doing a lot of things other than racing. Hopefully this is just a race among friends."
ON VIRGINIA RACE FANS:
"I couldn't tell you how many people I had patting me on the back this week. I never heard one negative thing. You're not going to make everybody happy. Even though you're in your hometown, there's going to be people who you are upset because you couldn't give an autograph to (them) at one place or another. I'm definitely not afraid to come out in my hometown. Every time I do I get mobbed but I don't care. This is what I signed up for. This is something I love to do. I'm going to stay grounded and I'm going to come visit anytime I can because it wasn't too long ago I was one of those race fans."