NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 400
Topics: Auto Club 400
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
March 25, 2012
THE MODERATOR: We welcome to the driver meeting room Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who finished third in today's race.
Dale, talk a little bit about your run out there today.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We had a really good car. The car was really quick in practice at the end of the day yesterday. We carried the same car into the race. I was real happy about that. We started off moving forward. Had some really good pit strategies, pitting a little bit earlier than most guys. Steve brought us down pit road and we gained a little bit of time, passed some guys on pit road.
We drove the car up to fifth before the weather came. We had been watching the weather all day. We felt certain if it started to rain it wasn't going to stop. We made the right choice by staying out and building ourselves into the top three.
Pretty happy. Pretty uneventful weekend. Other than the qualifying miscue we had, we've had a really good weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Did you have any doubt you were making the right call? Were you surprised some guys stayed out? How did you feel about your car throughout the race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was surprised that everyone didn't stay out. I was pretty certain by watching the weather and studying the weather all night long and all day today that once it began to rain, it wasn't going to stop. I was surprised that some guys came down pit road and gave up track position.
My car was really good. The handle on the car was a little bit tight at the start. We moved the track bar. We put the track bar down a quarter of an inch just to be on the safe side once the race started. That's something we can adjust. We thought we were a little bit loose in practice, so we wanted to do something we could take out of the car if need be. We ended up putting that back and loosening the car back up on the second run. I thought the car was a little bit too loose. We may have tightened it up for that last little bit.
We weren't making big changes to the car at all. I liked the speed. There was a couple runs where the 99 car had ran us down, but we were kind of taking it easy and just waiting on things to shake out. Knew we were going to get some yellows once we got past halfway, get an opportunity to race some of them guys.
Q. You're kind of the torchbearer for the Hendrick crew at Fontana. What is it like this year that you're kind of leading the garage this time for the Hendrick guys, it's not always Jimmie and Jeff?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, they outran us all day long. Jeff had a little trouble on pit road. Jimmie had ‑‑ they decided to come down pit road because they thought it was not going to run all day. They've been beating us most of the weekend. We've really been competitive, though. I like how our season is going so far. If we can keep going like this, we might get some opportunities like we did last year of winning some races and seal the deal eventually.
THE MODERATOR: At this time we also welcome Kyle Busch, who finished second in today's race.
Kyle, tell us a little bit about your short run out there today.
KYLE BUSCH: It was really good for us. We had a great racecar there from the beginning of the race. Got the lead from Denny after the first lap, led a lot of laps. I just wish we led 30 more and we'd be in a different position right now.
Had a great car. The Interstate Batteries Camry was fast. Can't say enough about those guys, Dave and everybody, for putting together a really good car this weekend. Wish we would have been able to race the whole thing on one hand, but on the other hand I'm kind of glad we're not because we kind of have a little bit of damage that slowed us down there about 20 laps ago.
All in all it was a really good day. Glad we were able to run that way and up front like we're supposed to and to our potential, that we had a day where we didn't have attrition or something else get in our way.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions.
Q. Talk about the battle with Montoya.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, when you're the leader, those guys, they're not very courteous. They don't give you much room. They try to take away your air. My car wasn't that great in traffic anyway. I found that in practice yesterday driving it in practice. I didn't think it was going to be that bad. I tried going low on him, he kind of pinched me low, then I tried going high and he kind of drifted up a little bit. Mirror driving me.
Stewart was better in traffic. He had to deal with that most of the day. Wasn't the time in the race to push the issue. Let Stewart go, he got by. Montoya gave me the spot. Trying to run back with Stewart's lap times, that's when I was trying too hard, too close to the fence, got myself in trouble there, caught the right side a little bit.
Overall glad that the rains came when they did, as heavy as they were, we were able to go home with a second‑place finish.
Q. With the approaching rain, how did that affect your strategy?
KYLE BUSCH: With the rain coming on, we all knew it was just going to be a matter of time. Probably lap 60 or 70 we were all thinking, Okay, we're going to race to lap 100 here because that's halfway. Whoever is leading after halfway, if the rains get here right in time, you'll be the winner.
That's how we all started playing it. Pit strategy kind of played into that role. We actually could have went probably five more laps on fuel, but everybody started short pitting, so we kind of came in and got tires as quick as we could so we didn't lose time to the rest of the guys, get ourselves boxed out with traffic maybe a few laps later.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, we started short pitting at the beginning of the race. We sort of played our hand early, didn't have an opportunity to do anything other than what we had planned from the start when we got toward halfway. That really worked in my favor.
We moved up to fifth on all them green‑flag runs, but we probably wouldn't have passed all of those cars if we hadn't short pitted earlier to get out in front of them and get out in clean air.
Q. Was it difficult to adjust on the car without cautions, being able to talk with the team?
KYLE BUSCH: No, not at all. The beginning part of the race, our car was really good. We didn't change anything the first time. Second time we came down, getting a little bit loose, so we wanted to tighten it up a little bit. Made some adjustments. Made it a little bit better. But still Stewart was really fast out there today. We weren't running the same times he was.
We were hoping we could get another opportunity at it. But the rains came and we didn't have any more time.
Q. Junior, can you talk about going to Martinsville. Do either of you think anybody had anything for Tony Stewart today? He looked really stout.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Kyle knows probably better than I do. I didn't get to run around him.
I look forward going to Martinsville. I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. It's a pretty fun track. We've had some good success there. I'm hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win.
Q. Kyle, we saw on Saturday Joe Gibbs Racing and its dominance here in Fontana, Denny led all practices, was on the pole. Can you talk maybe about what that is about the Cup Series that is keeping Joe Gibbs Racing out of Victory Lane and why he's so dominant in Nationwide?
KYLE BUSCH: I think the biggest thing is how many good teams there are here in the Cup Series. You have a lot of good teams: Hendrick, Roush, Stewart‑Haas, Gibbs, RCR. We just haven't quite found it yet.
Why it's been this long that JGR hasn't won at all, I have no idea. Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart through the years, '90s and 2000s, would destroy everybody at Michigan, Atlanta, fast places like that, but never had much success here, whether they finished second or third, I don't know how many times, but never won.
Another close day today. Again, I just thought our car was really good at the onset of the race. Once the track really rubbered in, every lane was black, our speed fell off a titch, where Stewart kept digging and was still mowing them down.
Q. Dale, great start to the season, but how are you feeling within the team? Are you content?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I'm really happy. I'm performing better. Most of the credit has to go to Steve and the team. Those guys did a great job today on pit road. We had some really good stops.
Steve is doing an amazing job. He deserves most of the credit for how well we're running. He's giving me really good cars, cars that are fun to drive, relatively easy to drive.
KYLE BUSCH: Must be nice. They're not easy to drive.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Compared to the last several years, they've gotten easier.
KYLE BUSCH: I'd agree with that one.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We're competitive and I'm happy with the direction we're going.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations. Thanks for your time.
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