Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dale Jr. takes points lead


FONTANA, Calif. (March 24, 2013) – Behind the wheel of his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, Dale Earnhardt Jr. avoided a late-race accident between the leaders to collect a second-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, Round 5 of the 36-race 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.  Earnhardt, Jr. and his No. 88 Chevy SS team are off to a fast start as the schedule swings into full gear.  The team has already collected five top-10 finishes in the first five races; the only team to accomplish that feat this year. Earnhardt, Jr. also is now the series point leader with a 12-point advantage over his closest competitor.

Kurt Busch, No. 78 Furniture Row/Serta Chevrolet SS, collected his second consecutive top-five finish bringing home a fifth-place effort at the 400-mile race. The run moved Busch to 13th in the standings, which is a three-position gain.

Richard Childress Racing’s Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards/CertainTeed Chevrolet SS collected another solid top 10 finish by crossing the checkers in eighth. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS who brought home a ninth-place finish, followed him.  Ryan Newman, No. 39 Wix Filters Chevrolet SS, recorded his third top-10 finished of the season by taking the checkered flag in the 10th spot.

Kyle Busch (Toyota) scored the victory; Joey Logano (Ford) was third, and Carl Edwards (Ford) finished fourth to complete the top-five. 

The series takes a break next weekend and returns to action in two weeks at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, April 7th.  



THE MODERATOR:  We have our runner‑up finisher Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet.  Can you just talk about that last lap there and what happened?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Yeah, I wasn't racing up there, so I couldn't really get a good view of it, but I was running around the bottom of the corner, and I knew they were going to ‑‑ they were slowing up and battling real hard, so I was just trying to get what I could get.  I felt like on the back straightaway Kyle had the best shot at winning the race because those two guys were slowing down running so hard.  Just lucky we were able to get by on the inside there.  I got turned by Harvick one time when he had a flat tire back in '01 or '02.  Man, turned into a wall there, and I didn't want to have that happen again today because that's what I thought was going to happen to me.  So I was a little ‑‑ that was the world I was in at that moment.  I really wasn't worried about those guys too much and how they were wrecking and all.  I was just glad to get through and get a good run.

We had a good car all day, and sort of just got off sequence and all screwed up on tire strategy there at the end with all the cautions and guys coming for four and two, and we were able to take advantage of that on that last caution, get four tires, and starting on the inside was terrible.  I would lose five, six spots down there trying to get going on the inside, and finally that last restart we started 18th but we were on the outside and we were ninth by the time we come back around for the first lap under green.  Just really important to get that outside restart, and we weren't getting it there near the end, so we were just going backwards.

Just happy we were able to finish.  I thought the car was good enough to finish in the top 5, so I'm glad we got a good finish up there.

Q.  Can you just talk about what a team effort it took from where you got knocked down to the back?  You guys had the tire changes; you came to fight for where you are, now you're the points leader.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Yeah, we had a little problem on pit road on one of our stops and lost a lot of positions.  But we've always ‑‑ we just stick together, and everybody was just kind of ‑‑ patted each other on the back and we was going to get another chance to redeem ourselves on pit road.  We had a good car.  On that next restart we drove back up to 10th before the next caution, so I felt like we were back up in position to run well and everything was fine.  We got a good pit stop on the next caution and put that mistake behind us.

You know, then the race sort of got weird.  I'm not sure exactly ‑‑ when we would take two tires, our car drove really bad.  It just didn't like that old left rear on there, and it would ‑‑ we'd just get really, really loose.  So that was giving me some problems.  And we were fading there at the end of the race, but we got an opportunity to fix it when we got that late caution.

But yeah, we just stick together.  We got ‑‑ we were pretty good at closing races, something I never really was good at for years, and now we're doing it as good as anybody.  Just riding the wave.  Just real happy with how things are going for our team.

Q.  A lot has been said this weekend that the track hasn't been resurfaced or redone in a while.  Some people are calling it character like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.  What's your take?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  I think it's great.  Do everybody a favor, whoever owns this place, and pave the back straightaway.  If you pave the back straightaway, there's some real bad bumps, we all watched it on TV in the Nationwide race and I'm sure you saw it today.  It's just going down the back straightaway.  It probably doesn't cost much to pave the two lanes that we race in, and that would really cure any complaints that I got.  I think the corners are perfect.  I wouldn't pave anything or change anything about the turns.  This place has got ‑‑ this is the age of asphalt that I think tracks strive for.  This is what places like Michigan and Phoenix look forward to, you know, when they get a good 10, 15 years on their asphalt.  This is really right in the ballpark, right in everybody's wheelhouse.  I think everybody that runs in the Cup garage really likes the surface.  It's just real bumpy down the back straightaway for some reason, and it doesn't have to be, and I think they can fix that with a couple lanes of asphalt on that outside toward the wall, and like I said, the corners, man, you couldn't ask for a better racetrack.


THE MODERATOR:  We are now joined by our third place finisher, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Serta Chevrolet.  Good run for you out there, Kurt.  Great finish.  Talk about that race.

KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, it was awesome with Todd Berrier's pit strategy to get us back up to the front.  The way the race played out for us at the end, I was looking at the bumper of the 16 car going down the back straightaway with a run, and he was right on the 99 and I was able to pass both Biffle and Edwards on the top side as well as dodge the wrecking 22 and 11.  And right now they've got us scored as third.  We'll see where they post things here at the end.

But just real ecstatic.  I mean, I was just telling everybody, this is what it's all about.  Persevering, digging hard, and bringing it right back up to the front when it counts, and so you can race 400 miles and be leading every lap like Kyle was, and I had a chance to pass him for the lead on that final restart, and I took it.

Normally I'd have followed him and pushed him and drafted with him and tried to break away from the field.  But I went to his outside, and it was a move that held him up, and it took his momentum away, gave me a shot for clean air, and up on the high side, and just a little too tight.  The car just was a little tight on that top side, couldn't quite get the power down and couldn't get in front of him and Logano to seal the deal.  But they were fast, and that was my one shot to win and I took it, and I'm glad the 18 got back to victory lane.

It's an amazing race, how the low groove comes in, even the apron of 3 and 4, the middle, the high side.  We were calling it lane 5 all the way up by the wall.  That's the Harvick lane.

It was great watching everybody race and putting on a good show, and I think the cars performed well here.  For our Furniture Row Chevy SS, another top 5, this is what it's all about, just keep plugging away and surprising people.

Q.  Kurt, obviously you're driving for a different team and different car than your brother Kyle.  Nevertheless are you exchanging technical information with each other?
KURT BUSCH:  No, no information is ever exchanged as far as team setup notes or any privacy type material.  But what we do talk about is tracks and trends with the groove and the racing line, like the braking point at Watkins Glen or any short track where there's a bump, just general terms.  We've always been tight that way in communication, but we made a rule, or at least I did since I got into Cup Series a few years before him, that our information is ours and yours is yours.

Q.  Can you just talk about how much your team has worked to try to get to this point, being away in Denver, it's like even though you guys call yourself the 4 Childress team, there's still been a lot of changes made over the last few months to make this a contender.
KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, Joe Garone, the general manager, he's the most hands‑on GM I've ever met, more so than Penske Racing, Roush Racing, and the way that he operates, he's in charge of all departments.  And he stays with his thumb on top of it.  So Joe Garone deserves a lot of credit.  Barney Visser has supplied us with the funds to do so.  We're teamed up with Childress, that gives us motors, it gives us chassis, but then it's up to the crew guys to find little things every week when we're bolting cars together, and one of our main guys that won't ever get credit, Cole Pearn, he's our lead engineer.  He's probably the smartest guy that's applying numbers to the car.  Him and Todd Berrier work side by side.  Todd likes the mechanical side, Cole likes the engineering side.

Q.  What kind of instructions was Rick Carelli giving you in that last part of the fracas at the very end there?
KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, I saw all the safety vehicles.  We slowed down to about a 5 mile per hour pace and he said come down pit road.  I guess I was supposed to go down to Turn 1 and turn into pit road.

Q.  How about during the last five, ten laps when things were kind of winding down?
KURT BUSCH:  Carelli is awesome.  He's a racer himself; he's been Southwest Tour Champion, Winston West winner, Truck Series.  He was a legend on the West Coast, and to have him as my spotter, it's an amazing feeling to have somebody you respect, somebody that you looked up to as a legend helping you, telling you, hey, you're a legend.  I'm like, no, I'm just Kurt driving around in circles.  And just the chemistry between us is awesome.  I've never had a racer as much as he is be the spotter.

Q.  So basically what was he saying when all that was going on up front there at the last?
KURT BUSCH:  We were so busy with our 16 and 99 and then he's just like, watch out for the cars.  I mean, he knows that it's hard to predict when people are wrecking which way they're going to go.  But we were worried about our initial bubble around our car.

Q.  For those of us that were sitting here either watching on TV or trying to watch on the track, can you describe what it looked like from your window when that threesome between your brother and Hamlin and Logano was going on?  It just looked like mayhem.
KURT BUSCH:  Yeah, I'm trying to draw up the cutest analogy to describe all this.  You know, when the Kentucky Derby is coming down the stretch, you've got guys that were front runners all day and then you've got strong closers, which front runners would have been Kyle and Logano.  The closers today would have been guys with tires such as Hamlin, Edwards.  And when you have the clash of your pace such as Logano is going to be fast overall, where Hamlin is going to be fast in the corners with fresh tires, it's just chaos, and you hope that when you clear somebody that your momentum will allow you to draft with them and that you're not stuck side by side drafting and slowing yourselves down and waiting for the guy behind you to bonsai in there.  It's a free‑for‑all.  It's like here's a quick run again; it's like you see a shoot‑around NBA game and you've got everybody shooting basketballs at the same hoop, and all the balls are heading towards the hoop and some make it in and some bounce even though they were going to make it.  It's just crazy.  There are just cars everywhere and you go for it.  You can race 400 miles here and it comes down to the final restart every time.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Fontana

MARCH 22, 2013

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Auto Club Speedway, and discussed challenges of racing at Auto Club Speedway, the start to his 2013 season and other topics. Full transcript:

“I really like this track. There are a lot of grooves. We’ve talked about that before like race tracks where you move around and you’ve got to try to find different lines to find a good speed with the car. The balance of the car might be different and you can move either from the top to the bottom or from the bottom to the top to get your car to get going and do some things to get your car competitive. So, I like that. It’s real rough down the straightaways. The corners are fine; not that rough at all, if they just repave the straightaways this place would be a blast. It’s pretty rough, especially down the back straightaway, middle to the end of the back straightaway, corners are in good shape. Should have a pretty good run this weekend if we do everything right. Had a pretty good run last year here. We felt pretty good in race trim this morning when we started out and we’ll do more of that tomorrow to figure out exactly what we need to improve on. Went into qualifying trim and just dragging the splitter trying to get the car low is a real challenge with the bumps. Going down the straightaway, the car is bouncing and bumping and carrying on, you can’t really read shock loads and you can’t really figure out where the splitter is because it’s really hitting on the straightaway, you don’t really get a good gauge of where the splitter is in the corner because it bumps so bad on the straightaway. Really fighting that and didn’t  run any good lap in qualifying that I was happy with so worried about just how we’re going to qualify, but I think we’ll race well and this track is wide enough that if we don’t qualify well then we can move up, if the car is good we can move up.”

“I got asked to do it. I never filled out a bracket before so it was my first time. I kind of like to watch the tournament, it’s interesting to see who the Cinderella teams are and how far Carolina can go. I tend to pull for Carolina in college basketball. I don’t know, I got asked to do. I think Jimmie (Johnson) and I got asked to do it together so Mike Hoag (road manager) came over to the house the other day and we sat down, thought it through and made my picks. I think I was 11 and five this morning, I don’t know how I’m doing today.”

“Well, I’ve only ever done fantasy football and I didn’t really know if brackets were even that fun to do. It’s my first foray into that. I think it’s pretty fun to do with your friends, but I’m such a football nut and focus so much on fantasy football that’s really all I ever thought about doing as far as fantasy sports go, but this is pretty fun. I’m having a good time with it. I hate losing, but I hate making the wrong pick. What are you going to do? There’s a lot of games.”

“No, not really. The surface here, there are two totally different surfaces, especially with the new repave at Michigan. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and the guys might say it’s true because there’s some things in the setup I’m sure that are similar in the way the car travels and the loads the car sees in each corner of the vehicle, the engineers really get into that stuff. There may be some things in the setup that correlate between the two tracks that we can carry some improvements we made at one to the next one and it work. The way you drive them and the way you race them are two different things.”

“The fans really like it when you go to victory lane obviously and you get a lot of great feedback from the fans, but man, it’s really different when you go into the shop and you see the employees that don’t actually travel. You get to go around and see every single one and ring the bell and they get into it and they get excited. Every employee rings the bell. It’s fun, I enjoyed that. I thought it was a good way to sort of bring everybody together as one unit, one team. I’m ready to ring the hell out of it. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do that more often because the employees and all the people that work really hard on the cars that don’t get any credit, don’t get the kind of credit we do and don’t get to travel, they really enjoy that.”

“No, not really. When I hear about people talking about the fast start I just feel like you have to take a lot of different factors into the equation. We’ve had good fortune, we got real lucky. We couldn’t have got luckier at that Bristol race. We were running good and Steve (Letarte, crew chief) did make some good adjustments there toward the end that I think would have helped us maybe finish 10th. A lot of guys wrecked out and we got a good restart where everybody on the outside got hung up and we passed three or four guys just on that restart into one. Then with the newer tires we got a couple guys before everybody started filing to the top in the next few laps and then that was it. Those scenarios have been working in our favor and they don’t always work in your favor and you’re not always going to get to come out on the better end of those deals, but we have. We’ve ran well, we’ve had good cars too, we also had real good fortune on where we were restarting, what lane we’re in and just having good opportunities to get positions for various reasons at the end of these races. I think it’s a long year, going to have some bad luck, it’s bound to happen. Nobody runs the whole season perfectly and I’m just trying to get as many points as we can as early as we can so when that bad luck comes it doesn’t hit us as hard as it hits some of these guys early. These guys that run so well and then have something silly happen to their car or whatever and get in a hold early. They really have to grind and it weighs on you trying to make that up and get back into a comfortable position in the points. Everybody wants to be in the Chase, it’s so important to be in the Chase. So much publicity for your team and so much excitement to be able to race for the championship. Trying to build on the points early is important to me, but we’ve been so lucky in so many scenarios too in order to finish like we have in the last couple weeks, but it’s a long year.”

“Indiana. I think Indiana will beat Duke. I’m not a Duke fan.”

“I don’t worry about it on the race track. Of course I think everybody in this room enjoyed all that stuff Sunday night. It was pretty funny watching them go back and forth. I don’t have Twitter so I wasn’t able to follow it too closely, but I did get some updates and hear people talking and texting back and forth so I got the gist of what was going on. I thought it was really entertaining. I think it’s over. I don’t think they’re going to go after each other. I think both of them want to win races and they’re going to concentrate on doing that.”

“No, I wear Asics, but I have to buy them. I don’t have a shoe deal anymore. The Adidas deal was company-wide for myself and Hendrick Motorsports. All the drivers, all the crew members, everything we got was Adidas apparel. It was a great relationship. I enjoyed working with Adidas, they’re a good company. The Adidas deal went away for whatever reason and I found these new shoes that I like to wear, they’re called Mexico 66s, they’re made by Asics and they are just like a retro old 70’s style soccer shoe, real comfortable. I’ve been wearing those. I don’t got a shoe deal, I don’t need a shoe deal. I don’t play basketball or anything like that. I’ll be alright. Adidas is a great company, I enjoyed working with them.”

“Easter, yeah. Just being around family and friends. We’ve got all sorts of stuff planned to enjoy ourselves. It’s really the only off weekend I’ve got. My buddy Brandon Suggs is getting married on the other off weekend so we really don’t have but one off weekend this year thanks to Bubba. We’re excited for him. I’m just going to be around family and friends and take it pretty easy. I really don’t want to quit racing as well as we’ve been running. Hopefully, we can come out of here with a good finish and be able to breathe easy for a week off, but I would much rather be at the race track. I like my off weekends to be deeper in the summer that one before Daytona was always a good time.”

“I think we’re feeling confident. The guys seem to be happy with the results. My crew guys really work real hard and expect good runs and expect us to run well, expect me to do my job. They hold me pretty accountable. It’s early. We’re just kind of grinding it out, got a lot of racing left to run. Got a lot of things to worry about besides where we’ll be come Richmond after 26 races. We’ve got a lot of things to learn about this car. Still kind of going through a lot of growing pains with the car, understanding what makes it work. The mood is good. I think we see where we need to improve and I think a lot of people don’t see. We qualified poorly, really poorly last week. We struggled today trying to get the car up to speed in qualifying trim. That’s just an example of things we need to do better as a team that don’t get documented as much as how well we’ve run and how well we’ve finished I’d say. We feel like we’ve got pretty decent speed in the car in race trim. Would love to qualify better, love to be a little bit better and be more dependable when we put the car in qualifying trim that we’re going to be good. There’s always speed to find in the track in race trim, but it’s been going pretty good. I was really happy with how we run in Phoenix that really gives us a good burst because we really, really struggled there for a long time. Hopefully we can keep all this up.”

“The first few laps we ran were in race trim and I thought the car was good and comfortable and had good speed and then we went to qualifying trim and we weren’t able to run the faster laps that the other guys were able to run partly because of the splitter, but a number of things that we’re working on right now to try to put the car through tech. We’re making the changes we think we need to make to have better speed in qualifying and we’ll just see. I’d be happy if we could get in the top-15 after how lousy practice was going for us in qualifying trim. I’d be happy to qualify in the top-15 and just give us the opportunity to give us a good start because I think we’ve got a good car.”

“You know I think it could at all the tracks like this and Michigan as well because of the shape of the spoiler. The rear spoiler being so big is really going to create a little more of a draft. The draft, you’ve always used the draft here and Michigan more so than at Texas or Charlotte. The dog leg sort of cancels that out a little bit, cancels out the opportunity to draft and side draft people because you’re trying to drive through there the best you can without hitting each other. At a track like this where there is so much straightaway and smooth straightaway as far as being able to just gradually turn down the front straightaway, you can side draft on guys and get away from guys and try to get guys to push you by people. It really works here.”

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