AVONDALE, AZ – Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS turned in a dominating performance on Sunday, leading 224 of the 312 laps to win The Profit on CNBC 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR).
Harvick’s victory is the 24th of his career and marks him in the record book as PIR’s all-time leader in Sprint Cup victories with five. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led a 1-2 finish for Chevrolet, which is now two-for-two in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Chevrolet SS drivers took six of the top 10 finishing positions.
Coming off a victory at the Daytona 500 a week ago, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. placed second in his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS to give Team Chevy a sweep of the top two positions for the second consecutive race at PIR. Chevrolet has now won seven of the last 11 races at PIR.
“Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” Harvick said in Victory Lane. “It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys have put in, but what a race car. I’m just really happy and thank everybody at the Hendrick engine shop and all these cars sharing information. Dale [Earnhardt] Junior racing there for second was a lot of fun. Man, this is awesome!”
Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Pepsi MAX Chevrolet SS placed fifth, followed by six-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS in sixth and Ryan Newman in the No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS in seventh. Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-10 in the No. 1 Cessna/Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet SS coming home 10th.
Earnhardt, Jr.’s runner-up finish solidified his early lead in the Sprint Cup championship standings. Gordon moved up to third in points with his top-five finish at Phoenix and Harvick moved from 12th to fourth with the victory.
KEVIN HARVICK,- NO. 4 JIMMY JOHN’S CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER
RODNEY CHILDERS,- NO. 4 JIMMY JOHN’S CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNING CREW CHIEF
GENE HAAS,- CO-OWNER OF STEWART-HAAS RACING, RACE WINNING TEAM OWNER
THE MODERATOR: We’ll start our winning team’s press conference. We are joined by race winner, Kevin Harvick. The win today is Kevin’s 24th victory in 468 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
You got to finish this one today. Talk about your victory.
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, it’s just a huge credit to the team really, the organization and everybody who has been a part of this process as we’ve gone through the winter and over the last couple months of last year. To see the amount of change within StewartHaas Racing with the car, the haulers, the pit boxes, everything that has come with putting all these pieces together is just a huge credit to really these guys and all the guys that work in the shop.
I’m just the lucky guy that gets to drive the car around the racetrack when they’re dialed in like they were today. Luckily we were able to put it all together.
THE MODERATOR: This is your fifth victory at Phoenix. That leads all drivers now. Talk a little bit about that.
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, this has been a great racetrack for us through the years before the repave, after the repave. I feel like when I come here with Trucks, Nationwide, Cup, these are the types of racetracks I was brought up on. We used to come here for the Copper Classic, the Winston West days. This was our Daytona 500.
It’s fun to come here. I feel like the flat track stuff is something that we’ve had a good knack at. Over the years we’ve been able to race a lot of different series and spend a lot of time on this racetrack. You learn and apply that race after race after race and hopefully you can learn something each week.
THE MODERATOR: Also crew chief Rodney Childers is here. We’ve had a couple of drivers in here already. They’re claiming that you two are the new Dynamic Duo; the combination of you two is going to be the team to watch. Talk about the chemistry between you two.
RODNEY CHILDERS: All of it’s been great so far. It was a long deal in the making. He said it best one day. He said that we had to date for a year before I would actually get married to him (smiling).
It’s actually worked out really good. But I’m really fortunate that he believed in me and everybody at StewartHaas Racing with Gene, Smoke and Zippy believed in me. It’s fun to see this all come from basically where we started when Gene and the guys decided that Kurt was going to come over, Zippy called me and said, We’re going to have to start from nothing pretty much. I said, That’s perfect. We can do it all the way I want to do it, we can work hard at it and make it happen.
Just appreciate Gene and everybody there. I haven’t been told ‘no’ to anything yet. Maybe that will end after a few more bills come in or whatever. But it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been rewarding to see all the guys work so hard and build nice racecars.
To come and be fast, able to win this race.
THE MODERATOR: Gene Haas, team owner, talk about how it feels to sit here second race of the season and the success you’ve already seen with these two.
GENE HAAS: Well, it took long enough (laughter).
No, this is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony, what we were up to. Was there a lot of madness to this? Quite frankly, I have to agree with Rodney, that it’s a great team. There’s a lot of synergy at the shop of people working together.
I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization. I’m very thankful for Rodney and Kevin for being the magic it takes to win these things. We’ll make sure we don’t disturb that.
Very, very happy Jimmy John’s as a sponsor, Budweiser. Without them, we wouldn’t have anything. We’re very proud of that. I tell you, it’s a very good feeling.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions.
Q. Kevin, can you talk about the satisfaction of so soon putting StewartHaas in the Chase?
KEVIN HARVICK: Like Gene said, there’s been a lot of skepticism as we’ve gone through the offseason. For me, I honestly you hear it, I paid attention to it during the offseason obviously, but as we’ve gone through the first few weeks, you try to put yourself in your own little world.
Last three days I’ve sat in my hotel room from about from about 7:30 on and said, How are we going to mess this up, as we trying to go through everything that we could do wrong. Rodney is probably annoyed with me as I’ve come in the hauler and asked about five thousand questions about probably the dumbest things he’s ever heard of.
All in all, Gene has given us every resource that you can imagine. Tony has been just very supportive of whatever we wanted to do. Rodney has put together a group of guys that believes in what we’re doing.
Our dates were really good as we went through time to try to put this whole thing together. I feel like we’ve known each other for 10 years because he’s a relationship guy, taught me a lot about trying to make sure you know who the people are and what they’re doing, support them. We’ve had some hiccups throughout the first week. I felt like we were going to have those. I think everybody anticipated those. Nobody has pointed fingers and said it’s this guy’s fault or that guy’s fault. It’s, What do we need to fix that or this to try to make that better?
I think as you go through time, the sky’s the limit for this team because everybody is still trying to learn each other’s names let alone what’s going on with the racecar.
They all know the parts and pieces of the racecar they’re working on. I guarantee you if you lined them all up, there would not be one person on that team that knew everybody’s name, even him, even if it was the pit crew or the shop guys.
So we’ve been to a lot of dinners. We spent a lot of time with the road guys, tried to spend some time in the shop.
I’ve heard Gene say this as he’s worked through the race shop. The enthusiasm is contagious at SHR. I think that is very important. You’re only as good as the people you have around you. I’m very honored to drive that car into Victory Lane in week two and have all these guys believe in us from top to bottom, whether it’s Gene or Brett or Tony or Eddie, whoever the guys that were all a part of putting all these pieces together and making all this happen. It’s quite an honor to be a part of that.
Q. Kevin, obviously you make a big decision to come over here. You can hope it turns out a certain way but you don’t really know. Even when you were fast in December, fast this weekend, you don’t really know whether it’s going to happen. Now that you’re already in Victory Lane, what kind of validation is it in your mind about your own personal decision to take that leap, make a big move?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I feel like as we’ve gone through time, whether it be selling the race teams, going and shutting everything down, changing teams, changing jobs, doing all the decisions that we’ve done, I feel like you talk to your friends, you talk to your family, you talk to the people around you.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t be a part of the championship before, it’s just that we hadn’t won a championship before. We do this to win. You want to win races. We’ve been fortunate to do that in the past. But in this arena it’s about winning championships and trying to be competitive on a weekly basis.
I felt like I needed that enthusiasm to show up to work. I get to do this with a lot of my friends, with Tony. I feel like we’ve had a great relationship in the past. He’s driven my Nationwide cars. I feel like as we go through situations, I’ve learned that Tony is one of the smartest people that I know.
I sat at a roulette wheel with Tony in Vegas about four weeks ago. I learned he’s just short of Rain Man. He doesn’t say anything. He sits there and listens to everything you say, takes all these things in. I know I’m going to say something and he’s going to remember it four, five, six weeks down the road, Remember back in this meeting when you said this, why do you think this today?
I learned a lot sitting in our first competition meeting last week and I’ve learned just sitting in the competition meetings that we’ve had that he’s a listener. I think there’s a lot to be said for that.
I think as we go through time, I’ve sat there and talked with Tony about what’s expected. He expects me and Rodney to help lead the charge on the competition side as to what needs to be the direction.
When he basically said that, it’s like, right off the bat I felt comfortable speaking my mind, Let’s do this. I think it gives these guys a lot of leeway to do the same thing.
Q. Kevin, when you get to the track on race day, pretty much everybody in the garage is saying the 4 is the car to beat.
KEVIN HARVICK: It’s terrible (smiling).
Q. Does that put more pressure on you?
KEVIN HARVICK: I called him last night and I said, I don’t know what we need to do, but we need to be sure that our road guys don’t devastate our pit crew guys. We need to make sure everybody is a cohesive bunch. Like I said, nobody has pointed the fingers at anybody. Even if something would have happened today, nobody, in my opinion, would have pointed the fingers and said anything.
Everybody has just been so supportive of each other, but it’s a lot of pressure when you have a fast car, especially so early into the situation that we’re in with a new team, new people and everything that’s involved.
It’s our responsibility as driver and crew chief to control everybody’s emotions and expectations. Really for me it’s made me look at things a lot differently than I have in the past just because everybody’s looking at you, waiting for you to say something or do something. They look at him the same way, to do something or say something.
We could have flipped this track upside down and I don’t know that Rodney would have gotten excited about anything. That’s good for me because I’m very excitable in the right situation.
Q. Kevin, you said earlier that you thought about 15 ways to lose the race last night or things that could happen. It seemed like you had 15 restarts in the last part of the race. Was there any concern that something might happen, you might slip?
KEVIN HARVICK: Always concern just for the fact that the restarts can be crazy and you’re very vulnerable as the leader, especially to the thirdplace car to anticipate what you’re doing.
Joey had been knocking on the bumper all day. For me going into the last restart, you see all that Speedy Dry down there, they just blew everything into the bottom lane. They blew everything onto the apron in turn three and four. You guys couldn’t see that. I’m like, Man, that’s my line. It’s full of Speedy Dry and crumbs going into turn three.
You try to block all that out. Really for me it was all about not spinning the tires. I spun the tires a little bit early in the four or five restarts from the end. The 22 was able to get going.
I asked him for the restart ratios about, what, two months ago. They all sent me an email back saying, Are you sure? I’m like, Yes, I’m sure. This is what we need to do. They have had confidence to build those ratios, those things. I feel like today we had good restarts and were able to make it happen.
Q. As great as it is to win, could you talk about your feelings to have A.J. Foyt present the trophy to you.
KEVIN HARVICK: I asked him, Have you seen George Snider? George was part of driving A.J.’s stuff. A.J. is a legend whether it’s stock cars or IndyCars. To see him in Victory Lane is like expecting Smoke to shave every week, cut his hair, show up on time. I haven’t been to anything that he’s showed up on time.
Seeing A.J. in Victory Lane shaking hands, handing out hats. It was like, All right, I don’t know what they paid you, but you’re happy.
A.J. is just a legend in the racing world. To be able to stand there next to him was pretty awesome.
Q. Rodney, how much did you pick Kevin Harvick’s brain to put this car together in a way that you felt he could win this race?
RODNEY CHILDERS: In all honesty, we’ve been to three tests and two races now. I don’t think I’ve asked him one time how he wanted to set a car up yet.
It’s our job. He doesn’t need to be worried about that. He needs to get in the car and drive as fast as he can, not have to worry about it.
But on the other hand we’ve had good communication through all of it. With the rules changing tremendously, all the stuff going on, it’s really, really hard to understand right now for a lot of people. It’s going to take some time for outsiders to understand it. It’s just a lot going on.
But we’ve just been really fortunate. Like I said, they’ve let me kind of build the team that I felt it needed to be built. The guys at the shop have done a great job. We’ve just built fast racecars. We’ve been fortunate everywhere we’ve been.
Everybody else is really, really good in this garage. It’s hard to stay on top and really hard to keep your cars in a competitive mode. So we’ll just have to keep working hard and hopefully keep that advantage.
Q. What are the benefits specifically with StewartHaas Racing, with the atmosphere you’re in now, compared to Michael Waltrip Racing and RCR?
KEVIN HARVICK: For me you have a threetime champion in Tony Stewart. You have Kurt Busch who has won a ton of races and a championship. You have Danica, who wants to get better understanding is like a sponge.
Our owner is going to come into play and make sure that everybody is doing what they need to do to drive each other in a healthy way to be successful. This is a hard sport. It’s hard to win. You need to celebrate every win like it’s your last one because you never know when it might be your last one.
I just enjoy racing the cars and being around the people and seeing the enthusiasm that comes with everything. It doesn’t seem like a job to everybody. It seems like everybody wants to be here and is having fun doing it.
It’s just a different atmosphere for me. The enthusiasm is just through the roof.
Q. Kevin, was there any part of this day or the car or the race that you felt was similar to your win here in November? Because it’s a different team, somewhat different car, is it totally different?
KEVIN HARVICK: It’s like Rodney was talking earlier, you have to have a very open mind to not being set in your ways. You look at the springs, ride heights, shocks, pieces and parts. One is in Arizona and one is in North Carolina. They’re so far different, you wouldn’t even recognize the two setups to be in the same spot in Victory Lane.
It’s just a different vibe and different feeling. Nothing is really the same compared to what it was in the fall.
Q. Obviously last restart of any race, if you’re the leader, you’re going to expect to get run up by the thirdplace guy. In this new format, win is what it’s all about, Joey made a bold move. Is that what you expected? Was it bolder than what it might have been? He said on pit lane, What’s the point of finishing second or third?
KEVIN HARVICK: That’s what we’re all here for, is to try to win races. I knew it was coming. He was able to anticipate a couple of those restarts before, knock the back bumper in, do the things he needed to do to try to have a chance to win. So I knew the later that it got, the more aggressive it was going to get.
You try to go into that corner and prepare yourself to get hit. You hope it doesn’t sacrifice the guy on the outside of you, but you have to put yourself in a position to defend yourself, to get hit.
I didn’t crowd him. I felt like I gave him a lane. I felt like if I could just get myself into the first corner and hit the throttle, I was going to come out ahead of him just because of the fact that we were able to turn sooner all day and get on the throttle sooner on the restarts.
I knew going down in the back corner I just didn’t need to get spun out. So I let him have his lane. I felt like that was going to put the 88 in a bad spot, so I gave him a lane to do what he needed to do, take his chance. I felt like if we could just keep rolling, we were going to be okay.
Q. Rodney, this new format of winning and getting into the Chase, what kind of additional tool in the toolbox for you? The 88, until those cautions, looked to be stretching its fuel more than most people. They had room to do so. How might it help you for the next 20 some races?
RODNEY CHILDERS: I mean, as far as the tools, all of our stuff worked really well and all that stuff. But our thought process isn’t going to change at all. We have a team that we want to build the nicest cars and have the nicest equipment. We want to win every practice, sit on the pole and win every race. That’s never going to change.
We’ve got a lot of learning and growing still to do, just like Kevin said. I feel like we just got to get to know each other better, everybody on the team, keep making our stuff better, and we’ll be even more competitive when we can do that.
Q. Rodney, everybody has been eyeing you guys since the test in December. When we hear how tight the box is getting, how do you find areas to build a car that’s ahead of the field as you were today?
RODNEY CHILDERS: When we went to the Charlotte test, we actually took a car that was raced last year and changed some parts and pieces around on it. I have to admit, I was on top of the truck ready to puke before Kevin made the first lap at Charlotte thinking, This is either going to be really good or really, really bad.
We talked before that session at Charlotte. He asked me, What do you think somebody is going to run? I said, Probably a 2780 or something like that. He said, I think a 2018. Then he run like a 2770 his second lap. I was like, Holy cow!
For me it’s been adrenaline and confidence that we can do this, that we will. Really just feeds off of that every day. Working 17, 18 hours on some days, I go home, I don’t even feel tired. The adrenaline will wear off at some point but hopefully we can keep it going.
Q. Now that you have won and virtually locked yourself into the Chase, does this change the way you prepare for Vegas or any of the races before September?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don’t think so. The car is already in the trailer, right? We’ll load that one on the truck and hope for the best as we get to Las Vegas.
For him I think it allows him to stretch fuel windows and do a few things. For the guys in the shop, it allows them to really broaden their horizon on thought processes and things like that. You can really get aggressive on really everything.
RODNEY CHILDERS: Yeah, I mean, our thought process going into Vegas really isn’t going to change. We feel like the cars we’re building right now are really good. Thankfully we have a little bit of a test session on Thursday to be able to see what we’ve got. If it’s not good, we’ve got time to work on it.
We’ve got to keep making ourselves better. We made too many mistakes this weekend. Thankfully we were able to overcome that. We’ve got probably a day of celebration in Vegas, but we’ve got a few other days where we need to concentrate on what we’re doing, making ourselves better, going out there and trying to win the race.
Q. Kevin, did you feel in all those restarts at the end if you got a length on Junior, you had the car to hold him off?
KEVIN HARVICK: I felt like Junior had the second best car. But I was more worried about the 22 because I felt like he was able to anticipate the restart better than the secondplace car. On the last restart, he was able to get inside of us and be able to make a charge going into turn one.
Like I said earlier, my biggest thing was to make sure we didn’t get spun out. I felt like even in the middle of the racetrack, I just wanted to be pointed in the right direction to getting the throttle up off the corner.
Q. Rodney, as far as your crew goes, have all of them won races before? Was there anybody in Victory Lane who had never been there before?
RODNEY CHILDERS: I couldn’t even tell you. I have no idea. We’ve all been working so hard, we haven’t really sat down and had conversations like that.
There is a couple guys that have been with me for a while, then there’s other guys that were new to the team, a couple guys off the 39 last year, just different circumstances.
I don’t really know. It will be interesting to find that out here in about 30 minutes. No matter what, I’m sure they’re happy and excited.
Q. Gene, could you give us an update on the Formula One application?
GENE HAAS: Yeah, sure. After Daytona we went over to Geneva, Switzerland. We met with the FIA. It was an actual formal sitdown meeting with six or seven various people involved in the Formula International Association of Automobiles in there.
They have a very I want to call it formal way of processing applications in the sense that there is no application.
But they wanted to meet with us. It was about an hour and a half meeting where they asked us a lot of questions about how we intend to do this, how do we intend to pay for it, what are the logistics of how you’re going to do this.
We answered those questions as best we could. I was there. Joe Custer was there. Gunther Steiner was there. They’re pretty intense. They had a lot of good questions.
I think what they do is they take that information, evaluate it, make their recommendations to I think it’s the Formula One’s owners association or next group of people, and the process goes on.
They said they were going to have a decision by Friday. They notified us on Friday that, no, they were just one part of that decisionmaking process, that the decision making process would come later. They didn’t give us an exact date, but hopefully it will be in another week or two, maybe even longer.
From what I’ve learned talking to other people, this is fairly normal. There’s lots of dates they have. They don’t really make a decision until they’re sure what they want the decision to be.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on your win today. Good luck next week in Vegas. Thank you for your time.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED SECOND
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who finished second in today’s race. Currently our points leader. Great way to start the season, a first at Daytona, a second here. Talk about your run out there today.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than anybody all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal. To be able to run with them as we did all day was a big confidence builder for us. Even at the end of the race I thought our laps we put together coming up to the checkered were faster than him.
I would have loved to have won the race, am a little disappointed to have come that close. But our team is performing so well. Got a lot of great chemistry and good communication going back and forth. Everybody’s confidence is very high. Everybody’s mood and morale is really high.
Hopefully we can maintain that and not have any bad luck or make any mistakes and continue to keep working towards winning more races.
If we run second enough, we’re bound to at least trip into one or two (smiling). We ran second quite a few races in the last 10 or so races we run. I feel really good. I feel like we’re coming around the corner, peaking at the right time this season to try to run for the championship.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with questions for Dale.
Q. Dale, right before the spin, you ran your fastest lap of the day. If it had gone green from that point, do you think you would have had something for him?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don’t know. For whatever reason, on that particular run, we were running about the same times I guess, maybe he was just a tick quicker. I was going to need some traffic to back him up to me.
Then the last run, which I cleared the other cars around me, I was much quicker than him the last four laps or so.
It’s weird because you won’t change anything, won’t even pit for tires. The caution will come out, your car will drive different, the caution will come out, it will drive a completely different way again. You just hope that that rule comes in your favor every time the caution comes out. On some restarts I had a loose car for 10 laps, then I would have a car that wouldn’t turn for 10 laps on another restart.
I don’t know how that happens or why that happens. Everybody sort of battles a different balance every time we this a restart and get going again, cycle the tire, have a caution, cool the tire off, get going again. Makes the balance of the car a little different.
For whatever reason, that last run was the best compared to Kevin. Before that I don’t think we had anything for him.
Q. Obviously Daytona is one thing, but when you get here, the real season starts. Did this run that you had today answer even more questions in your mind than maybe Daytona did because of the way this applies to some of the other places?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was wondering if we was going to carry on the momentum from last year, running so good in the Chase. Also with the rules, I was wondering where we were going to fall in performance with the competition, what did people learn during the offseason, who was going to stand out like the 4 car did today and all weekend.
Seems like we aren’t behind. We aren’t where the 4 car is, but we’re definitely close. Hopefully we can learn what we need to learn rapidly in the next several weeks so we can get up to par and win some races.
There’s a couple teams out there that are behind, not onto the new package and new rules. I’m glad that we’re doing pretty well. The performance is there for us.
Hopefully we can maintain it. We go to a completely different track at Vegas, but we have a whole day Thursday to figure it out. It will be good to have that track time.
Q. You talked the other day about how hypothetically having won a race under this new scoring system could give you some latitude to try some things. What sort of things were going on in the course of the race that might have been a little different if you had not won Daytona?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We probably would have went with the same strategy as we had today as far as stretching our fuel mileage. We were stretching it thin. We would have went with the same strategy regardless of the situation. But it wouldn’t have been as nervewracking. It wasn’t as nervewracking today.
Normally you’re just biting your fingernails when he says, We’re two laps short, we have to find two laps. The yellows are coming out, you think you’re saving, but you don’t know how much. Today, If we run out, we run out, no big deal. We can gamble with a better conscience.
Q. During the final caution, did you even think at all about the battle that you ended up with Keselowski? Is that what took away any opportunity for you to win?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No. Kevin’s going to jump out there and get away from us. We just didn’t have enough laps. For one, we didn’t have enough racecar all day long. He’d just been faster. For whatever reason, that last run, we reeled him in a little bit. Cut it probably in half. We needed another 10 laps, but we didn’t have 10 laps.
Q. Brad was talking about when you guys were close, he saw the fans standing up when you were going to maybe take a lead. Do you pick that up during the race as well ever?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, I’m concentrating as hard as I can to make sure I get the left front tire where I want it to be on the entrance to the corner, and make sure I got the rolling speed I need so I don’t drive through the fronts in the middle of the corner. You’re thinking about everything going on in the car. You can’t really think about that.
This place really requires your attention throughout the whole lap. There are some tracks that are bigger where you can see that, like the front straightaway at Michigan or something like that, where you can get a good idea as to what the fans’ reaction is to what’s happening on the track, but it’s usually much larger racetracks.
Q. On the restarts, was it strictly Kevin had the horsepower to jump out or was he getting a push?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: He gets to go first (laughter). I mean, I can’t go when he goes. I’d be cheating.
I tried to go in sync with him. I think the last few restarts, I matched it up. He got a push from the 22. I’m on the outside line, which ain’t the preferred line on that corner. The leader really has a great opportunity to maintain the lead here if he doesn’t make any mistakes on the restart.
But the first several restarts, he was just kicking my butt at the line, then I started seeing what his pattern was, what he had been doing, was able to time it a little better so I didn’t look so foolish.
It was going to be hard. I tried really hard to get down on the corner to stay on his quarter panel off of two because then I would have a great shot, maybe racing him some. But his car was so good, he had me cleared pretty easily.
Q. Were you surprised, with all those restarts, that there wasn’t one where he slipped up a little bit?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Not really. He’s not a rookie. Guy’s been around a long time, knows what he’s doing. He’s won some races here. He feels good and confident about what he’s doing here. He won last year here. When you’re winning at a place with regularity in recent months, you got a lot of confidence.
He wasn’t going to be rattled by anything. I would have had to get to his bumper under green to try to get him loose or do something like that, which I might have been able to do. We just ran out of laps.
He was going to be very, very, very hard to pass. I knew that.
Q. I’ve been watching you race for a long time, and I know you have the ability. The biggest change I’ve seen this year is you seem may more comfortable in your car. Is that so?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think we just got a lot of momentum carried over from last year. We were running well in the Chase. I think the Chase performance we had got us pretty excited, real happy to look forward to this season.
It’s hard to take away a lot from two races. Such a long season, so many things can happen. So many teams can learn and progress and the competition gets tougher and tougher throughout the year as everybody starts seeing what is happening in the garage. Secrets don’t last long.
We just got to work hard, harder than everybody else. We got a lot of tests lined up. We didn’t test much in the offseason, didn’t want to burn ourselves out before the season started. That’s going to help us, I think, really learn a lot more. We’re already relatively competitive now. The testing should help us even more.
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