Q. Dale, you’re right on the verge of getting your second win of the season, and you were talking out on pit road how the new championship format system allows you to go for broke pretty much like you guys did today.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Sure does. And that’s a great point. I think everybody has seen that over the last couple of weeks, that this format has definitely allowed teams to gamble like we have.
You know, it did pay off. Not the ultimate prize, but we did run second. We weren’t going to – as much as you want to win, and believe me, we were out there trying to win, you do take pride in a good performance, a good finish, and we weren’t going to run in the top 5 if we hadn’t have used that particular strategy, if we’d have run the same strategy as our competitors we would have probably run just inside the top 10 where we were all day.
At least it felt like I was around eighth all day. I just couldn’t get any ground, and we fought the car all day. Just the air is so dirty behind everybody, the further back you get you’ve got less and less grip. Once we got the lead, it was like driving a Cadillac.
I was lifting real early trying to save even more. We figured we were a lap short, and I was lifting early and let Brad get there, and I felt like if we were good enough to hold him off, then we’d win the race. If we weren’t, we would have saved enough fuel to have finished the race, at least get to the end. I can run out of gas on the back stretch and be okay, but if I run out off of 4 coming to the white it would’ve been big trouble, so I had to save a little bit. So I let him catch us and once he got there, I ran as hard as I could and could pull back away from him.
So I felt good about the car and proud of Steve and the strategy that he used to give us a chance to win. We’re going to dearly miss that next year, and hopefully we are learning what we need to learn in these last couple of years to continue calling races as well as he does.
It’s disappointing, but at the same time the good Lord has blessed me with a good team and good fortune and great opportunity, so I don’t want to get too down and think about the positives and be productive so we can go to Bristol and try to win there.
Q. Just to be clear, do you think your team would have attempted that strategy at all three races into the season if not for the current Chase format?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Absolutely not. I can say that without a doubt.
Q. And as a driver, even though you didn’t win, did you find it – did you find it entertaining? Did you find it interesting?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Interesting, oh, yeah. Damn right, leading the race the last 50 laps is a hell of a lot better than running eighth the last 50 laps. (Expletive), I was interested. (Laughter.)
Q : So was about 100,000 people.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, it was very exciting. I think the way the new format is, nothing is perfect, right, but it definitely is showing it has tons of positives, and it’s better as far as entertainment for our sport. Yeah, it gives us freedom, and it’s nice to have that freedom to do the things that we did today, even though we knew our odds weren’t good. We really shouldn’t have made it, and we didn’t, but we got to try because of the new system. So yeah, I think it’s pretty cool.
Q. Aside from the Chase, this has been your hottest start since I can remember, but what does that do for your confidence and the team’s confidence?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, we ran pretty good out of the gate last year. Yeah, this is a good start for sure. Yeah, the confidence is up there. When we first got together we’d run our guts out to run in the top 15. Then the next year we’d run our guts out to run in the top 10, and you wondered when you’d get up to fifth and start running in the top 5 regularly. We started doing that finally last year, and so our team just keeps stepping up this ladder. It just makes total sense to me how that process has went, having lived it and having seen the progression. So the sky’s the limit for us, and if we are smart and keep our composure and don’t get foolish and don’t get too proud of ourselves, just keep it in perspective, we’ve got a great opportunity this year to be this competitive every week.
We were really strong at the end of the year last year. It just thrilled me to death. So this is great. Yeah, you definitely don’t want to take it for granted, get used to it, but this is what we envisioned, and starting to bear some fruit.
Q. Dale, you’re obviously pretty good friends with Brad. How much do you think it bothered him last year to miss the Chase, especially the year after he won the championship and people would say that maybe it was kind of a fluke thing for him? Do you think that ate at him?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I mean, he’s competitive, loves to win, driven, very driven to – he studies his team, studies the sport, studies the cars and him and his crew chief work really hard. He overthinks everything, and he comes up with 20 ideas and 18 of them are crazy but two of them are great. You know, that’s the way he always was with us. Pops has had to run him out of the shop because he’s just nitpicking everything on the car, why is that like that, why don’t we turn this this way and do it like this. A lot of the stuff, Pops would have to explain it to him, but hell, a couple ideas would be pretty good. Brad does that with everything, and that’s why he’s successful.
He’s obviously a very talented driver, just raw talent. You don’t learn that, you’re kind of born with some of those things, some of those traits. But his work ethic, I think his dedication to his craft, and he thinks about it every day, I think that’s the kind of – that’s why he’s so successful. He’s plugged in, real plugged into what he’s doing.
Q. Dale, at what point late in the race did you have to give up saving fuel with Brad coming and go full for it?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: When they told me – well, really I ran two real hard laps right after that restart, and we got about a 20-car length lead and I started lifting real early into both corners and seeing whether they were going to catch me, and I was probably better off lifting anyways because I was badly over driving the car, so we probably weren’t even losing any lap times, maybe running even better lap times. So I was being pretty cautious and lifting pretty early, and when I saw Brad pass the 99, I knew Brad in clean air would be quicker than us, potentially, he had been all day, and I just continued to save and hope that once he got behind me and got into dirty air I could keep him there, and he drove – I continued to save until he got within about eight car lengths, and then I started running hard, and we were fast enough to keep him behind us. As soon as I got to the top of 1 and 2 the last several laps, I was real comfortable that he wasn’t going to get to me, felt fine about if we had enough gas we weren’t going to have a problem. But we didn’t have enough gas.
Q. Forgive me if this was already asked, but I can remember when you ran out at Pocono, and it took a while for you to get that confidence back, but with Stevie, with this being his last year, is this a go for broke kind of year, and I mean, if it wasn’t already with the win in the pocket, is it kind of what do we have to lose?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, sure. I ran out of gas at Pocono with Tony Jr. crew chiefing in ’08 when we was driving for Rick, and we were supposed to be fine until the end of the race and then we ran out with like two laps to go and I can in, took my helmet off and bashed a fender on the car and just made a real ass of myself and learned a lot from that experience. It took a lot – my team was disappointed in my actions, and my cousin was disappointed in my actions and the way I was, so when we ran out – when we run out of gas now, you know, you’ve got to try to be positive, because those kind of things, when you crash, wreck, blow up, those kind of things, there’s an opportunity there for it to be worse, and you make it worse than it is, or for you to try to clean up the mess and carry on. Throwing a tantrum and getting upset and mad about it don’t do any good for your team. They don’t feed off of that. If anything it brings your team down.
But we were able to – the gamble didn’t pay off ultimately, but we were able to run in the top 5. We weren’t going to do that, and with the strategy we were on and everybody else was on, it was a good strategy and gave us a chance to win. We definitely wouldn’t have took that gamble had we not had the new points system, so we were able to really take advantage of that. Steve is already going for broke, and he’s having a fun time. It hurts to lose like that. We’d definitely love to be in victory lane right now, but our time will come. We’ll keep going.
Q. You mentioned Steve Letarte and his kind of moving on to the broadcast next year. Is there any thoughts as to who might be up for that position yet, or is it just way too early?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It’s way too early. I promise you, and I’m telling y’all the truth, there’s been no discussion as far as I know, and I wouldn’t think if there is any discussion – I would be involved in it even if it was light discussion in the shop. There’s been none at all yet about it.
And we’ve got a lot of time, and I think that it’s best not to jump to a conclusion early. Steve is a great part of that process; let him sort of watch the year unfold and see how the team is and understand what his opinion is on who would be best for that role, allow Chad to do the same thing. Everybody is busy getting the season going, and I don’t want that to be a distraction. We can be patient, and I promise you that there have been no even initial discussion at all really.
Unless you’re really ready to make the decision, it’s almost best not to even discuss it because you don’t want rumors to start floating around in the shop and people start getting the wrong messages and stuff like that. When we’re ready to make the decision, we’ll sit down and we’ll make it, and it’ll be clear.