CHEVY NSCS AT DARLINGTON: Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson Post Race Press Conf. Transcripts

2014-04-13


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NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

BOJANGLES SOUTHERN 500

DARLINGTON RACEWAY

TEAM CHEVY POST RACE NOTES AND QUOTES

APRIL 12, 2014

 

CHEVROLET SS SWEEPS THE PODIUM AT DARLINGTON

KEVIN HARVICK EARNS SECOND WIN OF 2014

 

DARLINGTON, SC – (APRIL 12, 2014) – Team Chevy crossed the finish line occupying the top three spots at the conclusion of the Bojangles Southern 500, the eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to open the 2014 season.  After the first seven races the series had witnessed seven different faces in Victory Lane.  However, after 367-laps around the facility nicknamed the track ‘Too Tough to Tame’ Kevin Harvick drove his No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS to Winner’s Circle for the second time this season.  Harvick becomes the first driver to win from the pole at Darlington Raceway since Dale Jarrett achieved the feat in 1997. This is Harvick’s first victory at ‘The Lady in Black’ and 25th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.  With two wins this season, Harvick is now guaranteed to be among the top 15 winners, earning a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

 

“It was just one of those deals where the strategy was going to be hard to overcome with the track position without those green-white-checkers there at the end,” said Harvick in Victory Lane.  “The cautions all lined out and this Budweiser Chevrolet was unbelievable all night. We were able to hang on there at the end and I knew I had that high line I hadn’t showed it to them all night on the restarts and I wanted to save it until the very end.  I kind of learned that last night as we were in the Nationwide race.  It was a good tool in your tool bag to have there at the end.”

 

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made a valiant effort to get his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS back in Victory Lane.  The team made a gutsy call to take two tires and looked to possibly be on their way to another checkered flag.  However, he was unable to hold off Harvick’s advances and brought home a second-place finish, which is his career-best finish at Darlington Raceway.  His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet SS, finished third, earning his fifth top 10 finish of the season.

 

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, finished seventh, but remains the series points leader by 1 marker over Matt Kenseth (Toyota).

 

Matt Kenseth (Toyota) finished fourth and Greg Biffle (Ford) finished fifth to round out the top-five finishers.

 

The series returns to action in two weeks at Richmond International Raceway for another battle under the lights on April 26, 2014.

 

KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 4 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER

RODNEY CHILDERS, NO. 4 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNING CREW CHIEF

 

KERRY THARP:  We're going to roll into our post‑race and hear from our winning team tonight at the 65th annual Bojangles’ Southern 500, and winning here at Darlington for the first time in his career is Kevin Harvick, and he drove the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet for Stewart‑Haas Racing.  Kevin is the first driver to win from the pole at Darlington since Dale Jarrett did it back in 1997.  Kevin becomes the first double winner of the season, as well, so that's a big deal.  That's going to pay dividends here later this fall.  Congratulations to this race team.

 

Certainly you had a fast car from the time we started Friday, had a fast car tonight, led a lot of laps and made that move there at the end.  Just talk about how that all played out.  Certainly you were the class of the field.  The drivers that were in here earlier tonight certainly testified to that.  But just talk about how you had to get up through there.  It wasn't easy, was it?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  Made it a lot more stressful than we'd have liked it to have been.  You know, honestly, I felt like we did everything right with putting the four tires on.  I didn't really expect four, five, six of those guys to put on two tires to tell you the truth, but all in all, I think it worked out really good the way the cautions fell, and we were able to just get ‑‑ our car was really good on the launch on restarts tonight and we were able to push the 88 to the lead that one time.

 

I felt that I had a little left in the bag down there in 3 and 4 on the top on the restarts, kind of learned that last night in the Nationwide race.  But all in all, it was a good night and really a great weekend.  Just proud of all my guys for everything that they've gone through over the last five or six weeks, and we've had cars this fast, and we just have had some things go wrong.  But I think it says a lot about the character of the people and the things that happen within Stewart‑Haas Racing, to have everybody keep their head down and stay focused on what they need to be focused on is kind of like a big test to see if it would implode from inside out, and everybody just kept doing what they're supposed to do, and everything went really well.

 

KERRY THARP:  Rodney, certainly a big win here, as Kevin alluded to, very, very big to win this race here at Darlington.  Just talk about how things folded out there at the end, cautions came out, cars were spinning out, fluid on the track.  You had to make a call there at the end.  It was the right call. Talk about the thought that went into that.

 

RODNEY CHILDERS:  Yeah, I mean, I thought we had a strong car all weekend, so when it comes down to the end like that, I thought the right thing for us was to put four tires on.  I was sitting there thinking in my head there would be three or four that put two on, and we were right beside the 20 and the 24 on pit road, so I knew that's what they were going to do.  But I still thought four was the right thing. We got a little bit fortunate there with the caution coming out.  If that wouldn't have happened we probably wouldn't have won the race. It's hard to say.  It's always easy to go back and think about that stuff and what you should have done and shouldn't have done.  I think we could have won the race on two tires, and we still won it on four. Really all that goes down to Kevin and his determination at the end of the race and the guys building the strong race car, and like he said, keeping their heads down and just keep preparing for each weekend.

 

Q.  I believe you tried to win here at Darlington on 18 different occasions.  What's it like to finally reach victory lane here?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  Yeah, this is one of those places that I circle every year I come to Darlington, and most all of us know the history of this particular racetrack and what it means to our sport.  To come here each year and know that now you only have one shot, but to win the Southern 500 and you look at the names and pictures on that trophy that they have out there is something that's pretty phenomenal to be a part of. It's the last crown jewel race I guess you could say that I wanted to ‑‑ I told him before the year even started, if we're only going to win once this year, let's win at Darlington because this is just the place that you want to race, and I love racing here.  I think it's like going to Bristol for me, for him here. He's not as enthused about it as I was.  But all in all, it's a great place to race and means a lot to our sport.

 

KERRY THARP:  You certainly have completed now all of them, 500, 600, Brickyard, this one tonight, so congratulations.

 

Q.  Rodney, inspections seemed to be a challenge for you guys this weekend.  When you have to kind of tweak on the car to kind of get it through tech, does that mess up any of the setups?  Are you sitting there wondering whether everything you had planned is now kind of out the window?

 

RODNEY CHILDERS:  No.  It was never an issue, really.  I think everybody saw we did have a few problems getting through qualifying inspection. It really just comes down to hitting it right across the platform.  It's been a learning curve for everybody basically, and it seemed to change a little bit from the first time we went through until qualifying, and then of course in qualifying it didn't hurt the car at all, and then we went back through today and had a similar issue.

 

We got in trouble a little bit because I was in chapel which I thought was kind of weird, but the guys aren't allowed to mess with the car unless I tell them what to do, and I was in chapel. All in all, we got through there fine.  It's not an issue and never thought it was going to hurt the car one bit.

 

Q.  Rodney, when you made the four‑tire call, did you have in mind that very likely at this place there were going to be more cautions and more restarts to make up for the four‑tire time?

 

RODNEY CHILDERS:  Originally when I made the call, that's not what was in my head.  After we left pit road and I saw that many cars in front of us, I thought that was maybe our only shot.  It worked out good for us.  The thought process going in was maybe three cars would take two and we'd be able to drive by them before we got to the end of the race, and we were a little fortunate that things played out the way they did.

 

Q.  And for Kevin, what did you think of that call after the 48 took four and jumped out there to that lead on that restart?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  I'm a four‑tire guy, so I would have probably argued a little bit if he'd have said two tires on the radio.  It's one of those places where the cars were so ill‑handling tonight as we went into the race.  We never really saw how ill they were going to be in practice because they never really drove like that.  Our car drove good for 20 laps.  You get to lap 12 and 15 and the cars really started to go south pretty quick.  But it was a lot of fun. You could use the whole racetrack top to bottom, and that made it a challenge to figure out where you needed to be and what you needed to do to your car.  But all in all it was a very challenging race and a lot of fun to drive.

 

Q.  I understand that racers in general measure things by how fast the car is and not necessarily the results, and you guys have still had fast cars even though you haven't been able to close out some of the races, not by your own doing.  Was there ever times over this kind of mini‑slump, I guess, where you guys looked at each other and you were like, geez, if we can't finish some of these races we're going to be in trouble long‑term?  What was the conversation like?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  You look at all sports, and people go through ‑‑ I guess the classic example in today's day and age would be the Indiana Pacers. You've seen them go through a slump, and they are imploding within as a team, and as players they're just absolutely destroying each other.  I think when you look at this team, you look at all the things that have happened, and the same thing could have happened, but everybody has patted each other on the back and said, look at the speed of our race cars and look at the things that we've been able to accomplish, and everybody just kept supporting each other.

 

Everybody is frustrated and everybody wanted to finish the deal on weekends where we felt like we could do exactly what we did here today and did at Phoenix, but sometimes it just doesn't go your way, and you have to be able to put that behind you whether you win or lose.  Monday morning we have to be able to put this win behind us and say, all right, what do we need to do to get better and how do we do that and where do we go and what do we do and where is the weak link.  I'm just proud of all my guys, Rodney for keeping them all together and being a part of it, and seeing it not implode from within is pretty awesome.

 

Q.  You alluded earlier to winning the 500, now you've added the Southern 500, you've got Daytona.  Can you put into words the mindset of the drive and desire now to chase down a championship to sort of just put the bookend to your career and to your legacy in this sport?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, I'm excited about it, and I think that's why everybody on this team came here.  We came here to race for wins, to be in a position to where we could contend for a championship, and felt like ‑‑ I really feel like everybody on this team felt like we all bettered ourselves in coming together and being a part of Stewart‑Haas Racing.

 

For us it's a lot of fun just for the fact that you have so many resources, and it's almost a challenge to figure out how to use them all.  Gene has put in a major commitment from a financial standpoint, and I think that's hard to get used to because it's all about winning.  It's not about money, it's not about resources, it's all about what do you need and how are you going to achieve what you think you should achieve with the people around you.

 

In the end you're as good as the people around you, and hopefully we can keep getting better.  I feel like we have as an organization and team, we have a lot of room for improvement, and we just have to keep picking it apart one piece at a time.

 

Q.  Kevin, when you think about you've won Daytona, Charlotte, the 600, the Brickyard and now here, kind of a NASCAR Slam, what does that mean being able to accomplish all those things in your career, all the way back from being on Ron Hornaday's couch to doing that, and Rodney, can you talk about the fuel issue and did you almost feel like something bad had to happen tonight to overcome before you could win and that was kind of the obstacle you guys faced tonight?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, I think to be a part of the sport and be able to accomplish the race wins that we've been able to be a part of, I just feel lucky to tell you the truth, just to be a part of it.  This is what I used to do for a hobby, and I'm sure Rodney will tell you the same thing, you used to do this as your hobby and pay to do it.  We're fortunate to be able to do this for a living, but to be able to have celebrated a lot of the race wins, whether it be Indy or Daytona or Charlotte or All‑Star Race or the Southern 500 now is something that some people don't get to experience at all in their careers, but to celebrate them all is something that's pretty phenomenal. I just feel lucky.  I'm glad to be here.  I love my job, and looking forward to racing every week.

 

RODNEY CHILDERS:  I echo what Kevin said.  As young as I am in my career, I've been really fortunate.  That race in Charlotte for the coke 600, I was lucky it kept raining, and then this year I was lucky that Kevin Harvick wanted me to be his crew chief.  This has been phenomenal for me, and it means a lot. But as far as the fuel issue, it really just came down to the can didn't plug in right the first time, and once the can doesn't plug in right the first time, it pretty much becomes a disaster, and panic mode sets in.  It's one of those deals where we're a young team, but we made a mistake, and we switched gas men as soon as it happened.  I was like, we're not giving this away.  We had somebody different the rest of the race and did an excellent job.  But the person that made the mistake I support 100 percent.  We're still a young team and still learning, and that's something that we've just got to work on.

 

Q.  We see a little more gray on this racetrack every year we come back, four tires won tonight.  Are we getting back to the point at Darlington where four tires is the only call here?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  You've got to love it, gray racetracks, you can almost see the sparkle of the rocks coming out in the asphalt.  That's so exciting. Maybe we need to spread the South Carolina sand on Kansas and Charlotte and all these other racetracks that haven't aged as fast as this one.  When you start to see that gray and you start to see the seams and you can see the sparkle of the small rocks in the asphalt, it just makes it fun.  Darlington is what it was supposed to be tonight, the cars slipping and sliding and bouncing off the walls and hard to drive.  That's how you want every racetrack to be.  You have Atlanta, you have Chicago, you have Richmond, a lot of these racetracks that are wore out.  We need to go in there and maybe we need to take some of this sand and just spread it everywhere and just rub it in with something, I don't know.

 

Q.  What do you think is more ‑‑ do you consider more exciting, what you've already accomplished this season or ‑‑

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  Wait a second, we're talking about excitement?  Have you seen how excited he gets?  This is it.  This is as excited as he gets. (Laughter.)

 

Q.  What you've already accomplished together this season or the potential for what you still have to go the rest of the season?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  I think for me it's the potential, just seeing what's forward.  I think you look at all the guys, and I've got to know them all pretty well now, so it's a lot of fun to ‑‑ everybody has put the energy into work hard to be a team, and he pushes a lot of that.  I feel like we have a great relationship, but I feel like all the guys on the team have a great relationship not only with him or myself but with each other, and that's important.

 

I think as we go through time, there's still a lot of growing pains that we have to work through as far as structure and things at Stewart‑Haas Racing and in general, just as you look at the four teams and how they flow and who does what and how things work.  There's a lot of things that still need to be worked on, but even on a good team.  If you're sitting on your hands, you're getting ready to get passed because this is a competitive garage, and there's a lot of competitive people that push things to the point where they get themselves into victory lane.

 

RODNEY CHILDERS:  You know, for me everybody thinks I don't get excited.  I was as excited as anybody out there on that pit box.  10 minutes after the race I'm already thinking about everything that we did wrong.  There's stuff that we should have done better. Like he said, we've got a lot to learn and a lot to get better at, but like I said at Phoenix, I thought the day I walked in there it was going to be June or July before we could win a race, and we're sitting here now, and without mechanical issues we could have won two or three races, maybe four races, maybe five races.  We've had good cars every week.

 

But that's part of the learning process, and like he said, we've had each other's backs through all of it.  There's been other weeks that were tougher than others.  But the thing that's so great about the team so far is I struggled really bad one week, I'll say Bristol I struggled to get over.  It was something that we've always run good there, and that's one of the ones I always wanted, and it ended up being a night race at Bristol and I wanted it pretty bad, and it took me until Wednesday to get over it, which is unacceptable.  We need to put things behind us and move on.

 

Everybody patted me on the back, and we've done that every week.  It's been a lot of fun.

 

Q.  Rodney, barring a tsunami or something, you guys are in the Chase.  I know you still want to win every week, but how does that change what you can do?  Can you experiment more, test differently, et cetera?  Big changes there or not?

 

RODNEY CHILDERS:  I talked to Clair about this in victory lane.  For me it just doesn't work that way, and anybody that knows me, if we're not the fastest car in practice, I'm not happy.  And if we don't sit on the pole, I'm not happy, and if we don't win the race, I'm not happy.  We've just got to keep working to make our team better, and I think the way we've got to make our team better is to keep bringing good cars and keep trying to win races. We've got some things that we need to get better as far as an organization, but all in all, I think we're just going to keep doing the things that we've been doing and focusing on what we can focus on and keep moving forward.

 

Q.  Kevin, you talked about the resources that Gene brings to the table.  On Monday he's going to hold a press conference to talk about the Formula 1 reasons that he's been granted, and that obviously is likewise a huge commitment in terms of time, resources and money.  What sort of effect do you think that's going to have on the Cup program?

 

KEVIN HARVICK:  I have no idea.  Obviously I think when you look at the things that it takes to ‑‑ I shouldn't even comment because I don't even know what it takes to start or where you even start to build a Formula 1 team.  I guess we'll have a great carbon fiber shop.  That's for sure, so that'll be a good thing.  But all in all, I think Gene loves racing, and I've learned that.  He's one of those guys that he has very few hobbies, and I'm still getting to know Gene and the people around him, but as I've gone through time, Gene likes to win races, Gene likes to be at the racetrack.  He loves the challenge of doing things that other people don't do, and he's fortunate to be in a position financially to experience those things, and I'm excited to see how it all unfolds. I guess we'll see what his plans are, and I'm excited to be watching it and see what it all ‑‑ how it all takes place.

 

Q.  Rodney, you guys have had I would think kind of crazy things happen to you.  Were they all just freak things, or was there anything that you felt was kind of a quality control thing on you guys' end?

 

RODNEY CHILDERS:  I think no matter what the situation, you could have done it better.  We had a hub failure at Vegas, and it really comes down to some of it being a new team and not kind of going through the processes of what hub should we be running and stuff like that. Every single thing you learn from it, and it's stuff you could have done different.  None of it was really one person's fault.  We just had some really weird stuff happen.  But we've took measures to make sure that it doesn't happen again, and that'll pay dividends later in the season.

 

KERRY THARP:  Congratulations to the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet team, Kevin Harvick, crew chief Rodney Childers and Stewart‑Haas Racing.  Enjoy the week off.

 

 

 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 4 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 2ND


JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 3RD


KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 8TH – TOP FINISHING ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CONTENDER

 

KERRY THARP:  Let's roll right into our post‑race for tonight's 65th annual Bojangles Southern 500 here at Darlington Raceway, and what a race it was.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. joins us.  He's our race runner‑up, your best career finish here at Darlington, so close to getting that win here tonight.  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.

 

KERRY THARP:  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.

 

KERRY THARP:  Our top Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate finished eighth tonight, and that is Kyle Larson.  Kyle drives the No. 42 Target Chevrolet.  Kyle, talk about your trip around Darlington here tonight.

 

KYLE LARSON:  Yeah, just really proud of my Target Chip Ganassi team for how hard they had to work after I got into the wall yesterday and pulled the backup car out.  The backup car was fast in the first laps made.  I was really confident going into tonight.  I started the race off so loose and just had to hang on for a couple runs and Shine got the car tightened up the car for me and we were able to run I thought top‑10 or ‑12 speeds.  Finally got up there and then I got in the wall a couple times and had to pull the fenders back out and drive back up there.  We had four tires at the end when a lot of people had two, so I was pretty excited about that.  The restarts just didn't really work out for me that well.  I was 12th the first restart and got to 10th and got to 8th.  I finally had the restart in that last on in 8th, I was going to be in a good spot but we just stacked up on the top.  Still ended up 8th, but all in all it was a good Saturday for us.  Friday was terrible, but my team worked hard.

 

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 any 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 are 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, and 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 there are some areas where we can improve.  There are 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, and 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.

 

KERRY THARP:  Guys, thank you very much for putting on a great show this weekend here at Darlington.  Have a good week off.

 

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