|Earnhardt Jr. battles Jimmie Johnson in the wee hours of the morning|
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE STARS AND STRIPES CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet. Dale, this marks your 25th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory and it's your second this season. It's also your 11th top 10 this year. Talk about holding off the 48 there on that final restart.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I just wanted to get down in front of Denny. I knew Denny is very good at plate racing. It just didn't make any sense to me to take the outside line with two laps to go and give â€'â€' it just felt like to me you were giving somewhat of an opportunity if you did that on the bottom.
So I took the bottom knowing that they had good potential on top, but we had to do our best on the bottom, and if Denny â€'â€' Denny knew what to do. He's really good here, and it just comes down to whether he wanted to do it. He could have chosen to not push us, but he did, and we got shoved clear there. And I didn't want to get out too far, so I moved up the racetrack to lengthen the line that I have to take around the corner in Turn 1 and 2 so that I don't get too far away from them and to keep them close to me, so when we come off Turn 2 they're still close enough to affect my car and push it, and then I can control them a little bit.
I don't want to get too far out in front so they get a big run on me because that would be difficult trying to block that. I don't like to get really too aggressive on blocking, but I just wanted to be in a position where I could move back and forth, back and forth in front of the line that could help me.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I felt pretty good about it, to be honest with you. Normally I'm a nervous wreck on those greenâ€'whiteâ€'checkers but knowing how good our car was I felt like if I could get clear, I should be able to do everything I needed to do. The car was capable of doing everything it needed to do, so I felt pretty comfortable, to be honest with you.
But Denny certainly made it difficult and he was doing some things that had me nervous, and he got pretty close there a couple times to putting together some pretty strong runs. Anytime you see Jimmie back there behind you, you know he's got the same thing you've got, so that's never good. He was tough all night. It was difficult to get by him and make passes on him for sure.
Q: As you pulled into victory lane, how shaken were you by what had just happened right behind you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It was real frightening. I mean, you're just on the verge of tears, to be honest with you, because I think that the first thing that goes through your mind is I saw everything in the mirror pretty clearly, and that car really went up in the air pretty high, and he hit the â€'â€' I could just see that it was a black object that hit that fence, and so I'm assuming I'm looking at the undercarriage of the car. I've never seen â€'â€' I've never really seen a roll cage handle those catch fences very well, and I just was very scared for whoever that was. I didn't even know what car it was, so I was just very scared for that person.
Obviously you think about the car getting that high, what has it done to the catch fence and is there any danger to the spectators. I didn't know exactly where he hit the fence as far as how far down the straightaway, so I didn't know if he was in range of the few seats that we've got here tonight. But it was just real scary.
I didn't care about anything except for just figuring out who was okay, and then we pulled down to pit road there, and Jimmie got out of his car, come around, and that's the first thing we talked about. He was frightened, as well, and we were just so â€'â€' we were just really wanting some information about everybody.
My crew apparently, I saw them on the Jumbotron on the back straightaway, they were at the car helping Dillon, and they said that Dillon was good, and then you just â€'â€' you imagine the news from the grandstands is going to come in a little slower, so you start thinking about that, waiting on that, seeing if everybody is okay there.
I mean, the racing doesn't matter anymore.
Q: To go back to the race, though, you had said prior to the race that this was probably one of the best cars that you ever had. You just really seemed to be in command of the race up until that point. Is that kind of the feeling you had, that this was one of the best pieces you ever had at this track?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah. If you think about our history over the last two years, the 88â€'48 shop has built, in my opinion, two of the best restrictor plate cars in the sport in the last two years. Fortunately, yet unfortunately, we won the Daytona 500 with one of them where we didn't get to use it again the rest of the year and we basically had to use a secondhand car or backup car that wasn't quite as good the rest of the season at the plate tracks. Still a good and competitive car, but the car that I had tonight and the car we won the 500 with is exceptional and extraordinary compared to the rest of the competition, for whatever reason. I don't know how to build them, but they do.
The car that we won Talladega with and won with here tonight is another example or a carbon copy performanceâ€'wise to the Daytona winner. So in the last two years this team has built two of the best cars.
There's a lot of drivers with the same skill level that know what to do. I know what to do, they know what to do, but will our cars do it, and my car can do the things I want it to do, and when I can start â€'â€' when we can move from seventh to first in a matter of a lap or two, that's because the car can sustain the run. You know, I side draft a guy, get away him, then side draft the next guy, get away from him, jump in front of this guy to get the push. You've got to do all these things that's sort of like playing Frogger and you've got to time everything in order to get across. That's what it's like when you're passing out there. You've got to do everything just right, but the car has got to be able to help you, and the car is probably 80 percent of it.
Denny, Jimmie and all those guys, they know how to do all these things, I just feel like we have the car that's better than all of them.
Q: It seems that the accident has sort of muted your victory, and you said in a previous statement that the racing sort of doesn't even matter at that point. This happens quite a few times at Talladega and Daytona. Do you have any suggestions?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, I don't. You know, I don't. I wish I â€'â€' if I had an opinion about it, I certainly would view my opinion. But it's just a product of going 200 miles an hour. These cars are going fast, and when you put them in odd, rare circumstances like that, they're going to go up in the air. We do everything we can and have made a lot of changes and incorporated a lot of things into these cars to try to keep them on the ground, but you never can â€'â€' in those imperfect situations, there's not much you can do about it.
It looked like that car just caught someone in the right position to get air under it, and it just lifted it right up in the air. I haven't even seen the wreck, and I don't even know if I want to see it.
But I'm just glad that â€'â€' it's very dangerous. Racing has always been very dangerous. Fortunately for us we've gotten better and safer in the last 100 years. It's changed tremendously.
Hopefully we can continue to learn and continue to get better, get safer, but there's always going to be that danger, and you just â€'â€' they did a good job putting that catch fence up because that catch fence took a hell of a shot, you know. I mean, I don't know what else you could throw at it besides what it saw tonight. So we're just getting better at not only keeping the drivers safe but keeping the fans safe to where they can come and trust everyone to be able to enjoy an event and not be in danger.
I don't know. You know, I just think it's always been dangerous, and I think that's part of the appeal in a way that makes it exciting, but you hate to see it get to that extreme, but the potential is always there when we're going to go â€'â€' they have a liftâ€'off speed. These cars have a â€'â€' NASCAR knows a lot about this information. I myself don't know exactly all I would like to know about it, but there's a speed that NASCAR would kind of like to stay under, and that's why they incorporate all this safety into these cars like the roof slats and everything, so that when a car does get turned around, it can get under that speed and not become a flying object. But in rare occurrences where there's an oddity how those cars collided tonight that Dillon didn't get that chance for his car to slow down. So it just gets air under it, and it's just going to go up in the air.
Q: To hear your voice, it almost sounded chilling over the radio â€'â€'
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It scared the shit out of me.
Q: Well, that was clear.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was near tears. I don't even know who it is, but you just don't want to see nobody get hurt. It's awful. It's an awful feeling. I mean, we sit in those bus lots together; we all have become more friends â€'â€' closer friends, I think, because of the environment. We're all in that bus lot together. It ain't like the old days where everybody is at different hotels and you never saw each other and you come to the track and run over each other and fight and not like each other. We all sort of live in this community, and you may not like everybody, but you damn sure grow to respect them and don't want to see anybody get hurt.
Q: But Jimmie came in here and said he was just kind of shocked that Austin got out and walked away. Do you ever question your mortality doing this kind of stuff?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I questioned it when I got my concussions, and I also â€'â€' I'm sure I went through something when Daddy died. I think when I got injured a couple years ago, I realized how fragile â€'â€' you know, and how close I came to not racing anymore and how quickly this can be taken away from you. I think turning 40 also helped me learn to appreciate this a lot more and try to really enjoy the opportunity I have because I've got such an amazing opportunity, I hate to go on about it, but to be in these cars that I've got, to be with the team I've got, I feel so lucky and so blessed.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Yeah, when you get older, you definitely start to realize how fragile things are and how lucky you are to be able to be a part of it.
Q: I understand what you're saying, that the catch fence did its job, but this is the second time here in two and a half years during a NASCAR race that it's gotten torn apart with an airborne car. Do you keep trusting it'll do its job or is there anything that you can do to address â€'â€' I know cars getting airborne in this type of racing is somewhat inevitable, but do you think maybe the sport needs to focus on something different with the catch fencing that would allow a new technology or something to protect them better?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I think that's a good â€'â€' that's probably somewhere that they should and will focus. I'm sure that they learn from the past experience with the catch fence on the front straightaway here with Larson, and they'll learn from this. You know, from what I've seen, especially Daytona, if they can make it better, no matter what it costs and if they can make it safer, they'll do it. They've went the extra mile to try and improve the catch fence, to try and improve the walls after Kyle Busch's accident.
They definitely went the extra mile and did what they needed to do to try to improve. They'll certainly look at this, and I never really got a good view of what the damage was, but they'll look at it and they'll say, man, this didn't work the way we thought it would or this didn't hold up the way we thought it would, and they'll understand that maybe this needs to be tougher or built differently.
You know, I just â€'â€' there's a lot of luck involved, but also there's â€'â€' you've got to give the catch fence and NASCAR's innovation some of the credit for the fact that we don't have any real serious injuries.
Q: Considering how everything transpired tonight, were you happy that your car was able to stay out front rather than getting shoved back in the pack where it got kind of squirrelly back there?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, if I got shoved out of the lead, I knew my car was capable of getting back there, but you had to sort of be patient and wait on that opportunity. The car didn't have â€'â€' the car wouldn't create a run every other lap or every lap that could get back to the lead and just overtake the lead pretty easily.
It was pretty easy to get to second, but trying to pass that leader was real hard, which is why I wanted to be first coming down to the end there on them restarts.
But we got shuffled back a couple times when â€'â€' we sit there and just ran hard and didn't give anybody any opportunity to shuffle us back further until something presented itself, until somebody didn't guard the center or left a hole open or made a mistake that would give us an opportunity to get a run and make something happen.
The car is outstanding, and once it starts to get a run, if we don't get a good block thrown on us, it's going to keep that run going and keep passing cars up until we get to the leader. So it's a pretty phenomenal race car. But you definitely wanted to be in the top two all night. You wanted to be in that front row on them restarts and you didn't want to get shuffled back too far because it was side by side from the leader on back, and you're kind of boxed in, and you can't really go anywhere until somebody gets lazy or leaves an opportunity, maybe goes a little too high or leaves the middle open where you can kind of shuffle them out or something.
There's a couple opportunities that you can get runs and maybe go to the top and go three wide, but you've got to trust the guy behind you to go with you, he might go to the middle and then you're going to the back. It was tough. You had to know who was behind you and guess what they might do and you did what you wanted to do, and see how it went.
GREG IVES, CREW CHIEF, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE STARS AND STRIPES CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winning crew chief Greg Ives with the No. 88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet. This is your second win this season in your inaugural season with the 88 team; having a little bit of success here. You guys dominated with 98 laps led. Talk a little bit about the race.
GREG IVES: Well, it all kind of started out when we got down here Friday. I've been kind of preaching that to our guys, to myself and to the media throughout the year of if we start qualifying better, we'll end up having more success and be able to dictate some of our pit strategy off of that.
We were able to do that by setting a fast lap in practice, one, expecting it to rain out Saturday, and plans don't always come together, and they did, so we were able to get that No. 1 pit stall and we were able to win from the pole.
It's definitely something that we need to drive home through our guys, through myself, through Dale, to make sure we do our jobs on Friday so it makes the Sunday win even better.
Q: Greg, this package that they have here with the plates and the tight racing combined with the 200 miles an hour seems to be a recipe for disaster that we came very close to again tonight. Do you agree with that, and what would you do to try and make things a little more sane here?
GREG IVES: Well, I mean, it's the racing that we have to abide by. I mean, I'm not here to dictate rules. I'm not here to point NASCAR in the right direction. I'm here to take what they give me and try to win races with it.
You know, it's an unfortunate situation that we get into at the end. I believe in 2013 I was part of something with Regan Smith on the XFINITY side and having something similar, as well. It's not a good feeling. You definitely don't celebrate the victory at the end like you should just because the fans potentially could be hurt. I did not know the condition they were in at the time, and Austin definitely took a wild ride.
You know, you want exciting racing. Fans want to see a good race. It's what it is.
If there was no passing, if there wasn't close racing, then there would be another problem. I commend NASCAR for trying to work on things, as they are going to in Kentucky and maybe throughout the year. So we've just got to take their rules. They have a lot of people that are giving them advice, and I just take their rules and I try to expose where we can to win races. That's all I can do.
THE MODERATOR: Greg, thanks a lot. Congratulations on the win.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S PATRIOTIC CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED SECOND
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our second place finisher Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Patriotic Chevrolet. You led 35 laps today but just didn't have enough for the 88 at the end there. Take us through that last restart, please.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, restartâ€'wise, I was excited to have a frontâ€'row opportunity and just hopeful that the scenario behind me would play out right. Man, I don't know what went on. We just couldn't get â€'â€' I had two or three shots at it and we just couldn't get our lane to go. And the last restart I think the 6 car was more focused on setting up a run down the back straightaway and was backing up to the car behind him and I got a great start with Junior and was door to door with him, but didn't have any help getting through 1 and 2. Lost control of my lane, and Junior was so strong all night, and you give him control of the race, he's not going to give that up.
Great performance, happy to be 1â€'2, but clearly thinking about the accident that happened and the people in the stands. It sounds like things are well out there, which is shocking. I'm shocked that Austin Dillon is even alive, what he went through. Just a frightening moment. I saw it in the mirror, and man, I expected the worst when I came back around.
Q: Talk about the dynamics of racing so late. Does your body clock, everything get out of whack, and getting back to what you said about Austin, is that as bad an accident as you've seen?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'd say maybe the only one that really would rival that would be â€'â€' well, I guess we've had two. We've had Kyle Larson here in a Nationwide Series car, and then Jeff Bodine in the truck down the front stretch, looked a lot like this one.
But yeah, the fence and the cables, it's like a great cheese grater to a race car and just tears it apart, and unfortunately all the energy with the turn on the front stretch as the car comes apart, the energy is carrying the debris out into the grandstands, and that's a scary thing. I'm happy to hear that it seems to be only a few minor injuries in the stands right now is what I heard on the way in.
Q: Talk about the dynamics of racing so late.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, for sure when you're under caution, you can feel the weight of the day kind of on you, on your eyes. And then just sitting around waiting for it, there was a whole feeling, I think, throughout the industry that about 8:00, 8:30 the deal was over, so mentally I started shutting down and thinking, okay, I'm staying the night, what am I doing, trying to coordinate family things, and then all of a sudden it's drying and the dryers are on the track.
Being in the sport as long as I have, you learn how to turn it off and turn it on. I did overeat, so I haven't figured that part out. It's hard to sit out there for so many hours and not eat too much, but everything else went pretty well.
Q: Is there anything that can be done to lessen the likelihood that something like that happens?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I watched a few replays before I did my TV interviews, and I assumed that the 3 was backwards and it lifted off from that, but it was actually the 11 was backwards and the 3 bumped him and got some air under the nose of the car and then it just peeled the car up off the ground. I don't know how you help the cars in that scenario. Slow us down, certainly. Slow us down, we get further below the liftâ€'off point, and that could be something to look at. But what I thought happened didn't happen. I was shocked to see the car get off the ground as it did from that type of contact.
Q: That's two times in two years a NASCAR race car that the catch fence has been ripped apart and exposed the fans to potential danger. Knowing that it sounds like there's nothing you can really do in this type of racing to keep the cars on the ground, is that something that should be looked at?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I know they have, and it's been a topic of discussion for a lot of years through NASCAR and also IndyCar. If I remember, back to post Dan Wheldon's tragedy there was discussion about the Texas track and the way the fence laid against the posts and a lot of conversation. It's been a topic online and I know people have spent time looking at it. I just don't know if there's a good solution or one that's going to be better than what we have.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I don't know, I'm definitely openâ€'minded to it and hope that we can engineer something, but I don't know how you keep a 3,500â€'pound car at 200 miles an hour staying in the racetrack like that. The fence held up. It did function well, but the debris going off into the stands is something I don't know how you can control. Keep the cars on the ground, slow us down would be the only way to do it, I would say, and even then there's no guarantees. It would help, but no guarantees.
Q: You said your eyes were getting heavy. Is this too late to be racing? Is it safe to be racing this late after such a long day?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, it's plenty safe. We're good on that front. I like the challenge. I've been here for the Rolex 24 and love the graveyard shift and would always ask for it. There's something cool being in a race car watching the sun come up, so from my standpoint it was all good. Not sure there's many people watching, but…
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thanks for joining us this morning.