Q. Just talk about how things unfolded for you.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, that was – we really weren’t a top-two car, we were probably the third best car, fourth best car, depending on where Jimmie and Jeff Gordon were. They were pretty good, a little better than us most of the time. But the 4 was the best car I thought. Jeff was pretty good.
We just, you know, got some good restarts at the end. The outside line was real bad about spinning the tires, and Jimmie hadn’t been up there and didn’t really know that, so he chose the outside on them restarts and I knew I had a great shot at getting the lead from him. We got going, he spun his tires real bad, the 4 got to pushing me a little bit and we got the lead, and that felt pretty good leading the race.
But the 4 just had new tires. We had 30-something laps on our left, and it just wasn’t going to get the job done with him right there on us.
I’m going to probably wished I would have run the top in 3 and 4 coming to the white and made him try to pass us on the bottom, but I’m pretty sure he was going to get around us somehow.
Q. Dale, you’ve had such a hate-love relationship with this place, a career best second place finish at what you’ve called one of your toughest tracks. What does that mean to you?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It’s a little disappointing to come that close because I know I don’t really run that well here and the opportunities to win are going to be very few compared to other tracks. It hurts a little bit to come that close because we worked so hard to try to win races. Running second is great but nobody is going to really remember that. But we’re proud of it. We’re proud of it. And Steve, I know he’s very proud. They did a great job giving me a really good car to be able to run that well here. The car was phenomenal. Really proud of those guys’ effort. Even though they know where my shortcomings are, they worked their guts out to try to get us the best.
Sometimes if I admittedly say this isn’t my best track, it’s easy to sort of back off, but those guys really push the pedal and give me everything I can to give me the best chance to finish as best I can. They did that tonight. That was a great example of that.
Q. Somebody just pointed out that the guys who finished 42nd and 43rd last week finished first and second in this race. That’s a good indicator of the highs and lows you talked about this week. Is your team’s performance this week kind of an indicator for you of how good the season is going even though you didn’t get the win?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Oh, sure. If you scratch Texas off the map, that’s how good we are. We were running that good the first two or three races. I think this is as good as this team has ever been. We’ve got areas where we can probably get a little better, but we’re really right there. The 4, I saw – the performance of the 4 car, I saw that coming because I know how good Rodney is and I know how good Kevin is, and pairing them together, that’s one of the best pairings in the garage next to this guy sitting next to me and Chad. That’s going to really be a tough combination to battle all year. They’re going to win more races.
But our team, man, I’m proud and I’m happy where I’m at. These guys are giving me some great stuff. We’ve really learned each other, and they know they’re giving me some really good cars because they know my habits and what I’m looking for.
Q : Jimmie Johnson has joined us, as well. Jimmie was our third-place finisher tonight, and Jimmie drives the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Talk about your run. Certainly right on the cusp of getting that win, and talk about how things went.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, just very happy to finish there in the top three. I thought we had a shot at a win. I think if things stayed green after our last pit stop, we had a good chance at it, good shot at it. I’m happy with Chad’s decision to go with two, and there were enough cars that took two that it gave us a little bit of a cushion, maybe enough of a cushion to make it four or five laps there.
Solid performance, granted we struggled in qualifying. We struggled the first run or two of the race, but we got the car turning for me and came to life and really did it the old-fashioned way and kind of drove up through the field before the last pit stop, so proud of the hard work.
Q. Dale and Jimmie, you guys remember what this place was like before the repave. We see this track get a little grayer every year. Is that old Darlington coming back?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it’s getting closer. It’s not all the way there, but it’s quickly on its way. It’s a lot of fun having a lot of options. I don’t know why we can run so much lower on the racetrack. Back with the old surface, you wouldn’t dare get on the apron area, and heck, I don’t think I ran up in the groove but a handful of laps today. I was down on the flat the majority of the race. The asphalt is aging but it’s driving different, and I assume it’s just the cars and how much more downforce we have now. But it is a lot of fun out there.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, it’s definitely getting slicker. I don’t know about managing tires. I tried to manage tires and it didn’t seem to make no difference. They built a pretty damned good tire.
Q. It seems like we’re having a lot more of these late race cautions and green-white-checkereds this year compared to even recent years. Is there something with this new championship format or the tracks we’ve gone to so far that makes y’all’s driving style more aggressive and kind of precludes the green-white-checkereds?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I don’t know what brought out the caution with 10 to go or nine to go or whatever it was, but once we get the first caution, cautions breed cautions. I assume there’s a lot of pent-up anger out there through 495 miles of racing, and when a guy has got four fires on him, I’m sure it was pretty aggressive in the middle of the pack and that’s what caused the other two cautions.
Q. Dale and Jimmie, you guys didn’t have great qualifying. Was today kind of – how do you go from where you were in qualifying to finishing top three?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I felt like my car was great in race trim. I’m not a great qualifier but I knew we had good speed in race trim, so I wasn’t too worried about it for some reason in qualifying. There’s some guys that can really put some stuff together. The petty cars, man, they qualify out of nowhere, don’t race as well, but they definitely qualify pretty impressively. We just didn’t hit on it yet. We’ll figure it out.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Kind of the same thing. Qualifying is very important, but with a 500-mile race it’s not the end of the world. I think with the 20 car in the years of us making fun of him and poor qualifying efforts and good runs, I’ve been in that category for most of my career, too, with mediocre qualifying runs and good finishes. That’s the good thing with the Cup Series. You get a lot of chances to pit your car and work on it and also make up spots on the track.
Q. Jimmie, how do you view Harvick right now because he’s obviously won two races but he’s been inconsistent even though he’s had fast cars. He hasn’t been able to finish some races through no fault of his own. Even though all that was going on, do you still view him as one of the top threats each week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I definitely think he has been the fastest car all year long. You look at the races that he didn’t finish, Vegas, Texas, some tracks where they’ve been the fastest car and had issues.
I think that Rodney and Kevin both, they’ve really been on it to start the season, and I think we all have been chasing them, honestly.
Q. Jimmie and Dale, we hit the off weekend now coming up. Where do you assess where you guys are at this point, and just what do you have to do moving forward the next few weeks after this break?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I think we’re really got some great performance for our team. We just need to look at our competition, try to understand what we’re seeing and where are some areas where we can improve. There’s some spots where we can improve and get better, but we run second at one of our worst tracks tonight, so our performance is there. We’ve got the cars – we seem to be on the leading edge of trying to learn these new rules and trying to understand what’s going on. A lot of guys middle of the pack are scrambling with their set ups. We seem to be on a path and setting a pattern with what we’re doing, and it seems to be working.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For us it’s just unloading closer. We seem to find a way come race time to get a good finish and honestly have a shot to win some races. But showing up at the track a little bit closer is key for us. We’re really just trying to get a grasp on these rules, and we go home with what we’ve learned from a previous race, bring a new mousetrap, and unfortunately we’ve had to continue to work on it each week. That’s really our goal is to show up closer.
Q. Dale, how might the finish have been different if the last caution had not come out?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don’t know. Everybody was telling me that I had a 15-car-length lead, and I don’t want to hear about that. I’m going to hear about it all day tomorrow, man; you almost won it. They said we had it won with a 15-car-length lead coming into that last white flag when the caution come out on the back straightaway. But I don’t know how good Kevin was. He was pretty fast. I think he was going to drive the shit out of it and try to get there. I was trying not to look in the mirror, just try to run as hard as I could. I didn’t know how much speed the car had, we were on two tires, it was late in the night. You want to drive the car as hard as you can without pushing to drive to the fronts, and we just were running some laps a lot different than we’d been running all night, really. But feels good to be close.