CHEVY NSCS AT CHICAGOLAND – Tony Stewart Wins-Team Chevy Goes 1-2-3; Stewart, Harvick, Earnhardt, Jr. Press Confererence Transcripts

TONY STEWART WINS AT CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY; KEVIN HARVICK AND DALE EARNHARDT JR. FINISH 2ND AND THIRD TO GIVE TEAM CHEVY ONE-TWO-THREE FINISH IN GEICO 400; HARVICK TAKES POINT LEAD IN CHASE FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP FOLLOWING RACE ONE OF 10-RACE BATTLE

JOLIET, ILL (September 19, 2011) – In round one of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Tony Stewart put his fuel mileage management skills to work in the closing laps of the GEICO 400 to put his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet in victory lane. Kevin Harvick in the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the No. 88 AMP Energy Chevrolet finished second and third to give Team Chevy a one-two-three finish at Chicagoland Speedway.

The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion started 26th in the 43-car field and led four times for a total of 35 laps. This is his 40th career race win and his third at Chicagoland Speedway. Stewart has won at least one race in each of his 13 years in NSCS competition and now sits second in the standings. Postponed due to rain, the 267-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup feature was 2 hr. and 47 minutes in length and slowed by only six caution flags.


American Muscle

As the end of the race approached and the closing laps wound down, it became a game of strategy as to who had conserved the appropriate amount of fuel and Stewart, who took the lead the final time on lap 253, proved to be the best.

Harvick, who also had to battle from deep in the starting field in 30th position, rallied back to score a strong runner-up finish and take the lead in the standings with nine races remaining in the season.

Earnhardt, Jr., steadily worked his way up through the field from the 19th starting position to finish third and jump from 10th to fifth in the standings.

Four other Team Chevy entries rounded-out final top-10 order to give Chevrolet seven of the top-10 finishers. Clint Bowyer was 7th in the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet and Mark Martin brought his No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet home in ninth position.

Falling victim to the fuel mileage race, but still in the top-10 were Ryan Newman who finished 8th in the No. 39 U.S. Army Medicine Chevrolet, five-time defending NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson, who crossed the stripe in his No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT TOOLS Chevrolet in 10th as well as Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet who was credited with 24th in the final order.

With the first of 10 Chase races complete, the Team Chevy drivers rank in the standings as follows: Ryan Newman is 7th; Johnson is currently 8th with Gordon now sitting in the 11th position.

Carl Edwards (Ford) and Brad Keselowski (Dodge) completed the top-five finishers.

Round two of the 2011 Chase is scheduled for Sunday, September 25 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS:

An Interview with:

TONY STEWART

DARIAN GRUBB

THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Darian Grubb. Talk about the ebb and flow. Had a strong car throughout the afternoon and what was it like there the last few laps before you got across the start/finish line.

DARIAN GRUBB: It was really good day all around for us. We started out 26th. We knew we were going to be struggling for track position all day.

Tony was still able to make up a few positions those first few runs, even though the car wasn’t perfect. The picker did an awesome job getting him in and out of the pits and doing adjustments and got the car a lot better those first two runs.

I think we gained five positions the first run, ten positions the second run. After that it was steadily marching forward from there.

And the very end, the fuel mileage we knew was going to be an issue. But Tony is one of the best at saving fuel. We tried to keep him updated on who we were racing and how far we were ahead and making sure we had enough to make it to the end.

Q. How concern were you after the practices? Looked like maybe it didn’t go the way you wanted? Did you feel like you had something you weren’t showing?

DARIAN GRUBB: Felt like we had a top 10 car at the end of practice. We definitely didn’t have the fastest speed out there. We knew we were going to have to have a little bit to figure it out. But the guys did a good job in engineering. The SIM group came up with a few changes we needed and started out pretty close, especially regarding track conditions. It was really close to what we had the first two practices today with it being cloudy and a little cooler.

So we were actually pretty impressed with how close it was and just a couple of adjustments. We went a little bit too far with the first adjustment on the first stop. Then we backed half of that back out and pretty much stayed around that area for the rest of the race.

Q. It was after Michigan that Tony said you guys shouldn’t be in The Chase. You had three really strong weeks in a row. So what has changed and what has pushed you guys on that upward spiral? And Tony said on Thursday I guess it was he didn’t think he was a championship contender. He said seven guys were and that he said that the 14th wasn’t. Did you agree with that? Does that change this?

DARIAN GRUBB: That’s Tony’s mindset. We all work too hard to even come to feeling that way. They were definitely heat in the battle comments he made. We had a bad run from what we expected to have at Michigan. We didn’t feel at that point we were contenders.

You leave there, then you go in the shop the next morning and you put your game face back on and you say we’re contenders, we’ll be Chase contenders. That’s the way we treat it. We don’t work any differently. We work really hard. The 11 guys we’re racing against are going to be the toughest every week. We know that. We gotta come out on top when we can. We’ll have a off week here and there. But the hardest we can work is the best we can work.

Just keep doing that. And everybody at Stewart Haas Racing did a great job keeping their head up. Even after those comments, took a little bit to rally the troops and keep the morale up. That was the feeling after the first two weeks. Then we had these two solid runs leading into this week and this win, should keep everybody pumped up. Strong race this week for both Stewart Haas Racing.

Q. Do you have to say anything to him like, hey, dude, we are a championship contending team, or just let him be his crazy self and you worry about your guys?

DARIAN GRUBB: We do a little bit of both. We’ve had conversations to where I have to do things to keep him pumped up let him know what we’re doing to get better. That’s the biggest thing is making sure he knows what we’re working on to try to get better. Because where we are is not the best. We know we have some areas to improve on.

If I give him feedback of what we’re working on in the engineering group and things to get better, it makes him a little more confident that I’m not just blowing smoke. I’m really telling him what we’re doing to get better, and we go to the racetrack and we prove it to him. Once we do that we get better.

Q. Chase opener last year, you guys did run out of gas. Were you thinking about that at the end?

DARIAN GRUBB: I honestly did not think about it during the run until after the race when somebody else brought it up. You deal with every week on its own and we had a fast race car both times and this time luckily it worked out in our favor. We tell him that every once in a while ourselves.

THE MODERATOR: Let’s hear from Tony Stewart. Champion race today. Won the Geico 400. No. 14 Office Depot Mobil 1 Chevrolet. Fortieth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Ties him with Mark Martin. 16th all time. Also gives him a win in 13 straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. So congratulations on that. And talk about getting off to a great start in The Chase.

TONY STEWART: You couldn’t pick a better weekend to get that first win of the year than here at Chicago, obviously. We felt like there were three or four opportunities earlier in the year that we let some get away from us. But we have struggled.

We’ve had a miserable year. But the last three weeks have really started coming into it. We had a really good run in Atlanta. Good solid run last week at Richmond and then to come out this weekend, I didn’t honestly know going into the race, I don’t think Darian either one of us thought that we had as good a car as we thought we needed to win today. But it didn’t take long in the race to figure out that we were pretty solid.

It was just getting the track position. I mean, it was really hard at the beginning of the race to make up any ground.

And then we had one restart there where we just, we caught a bunch of guys messing around with each other and we were able to just pick them off two at a time.

Couple times we were three wide and through the middle and in positions that we didn’t want to be in and that we typically wouldn’t put ourselves in. But the way guys were racing today, you had to take chances. You had to put yourself in bad spots.

Everybody was putting each other in bad spots during the day. And you just had to some guys in particular you just had to get through and get away from them.

And it seemed like once we got through that batch of cars, we were able to keep going forward. And I think we went from 18th to 7th or 6th or something in two stints there.

So once we got up toward the front we had a car that was good enough at that point to pick off a couple more cars on the restarts and once we got in the top four there, I think it was, once we got to that point it was as long as we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we were in position to at least have a nice, solid top 5 finish. We knew we had speed.

Just depended on what line you ended up restarting on, whether it was inside or outside. Seemed like we were better on the outside row.

But at the end you hate to have to play the fuel mileage game. But that’s just the way the caution came out. And we came in and got fuel and Darian told me we had to save a lap’s worth of fuel.

So we had a whole run to do it. But we kept a lot of pressure on Matt and finally got by him and once we got out to a second half, two second lead we could start backing off to their pace and start saving fuel.

And I felt like I’d saved enough to get us to the end. But we came off of turn 2 after we got the checkered and the fuel pressure was down to two pounds, and it stayed there until just shortly after we picked up the checkered flag at the flag stand and we didn’t do any wild burnout or anything like that and ran out before we ever got on pit road.

So we were closer than I wanted to be. But we didn’t have anything to lose. Where we’re at in The Chase right now, we had to press. And I was glad I saved as much as I did. But I had a good enough car to get us there and Darian and his calls and the car that they gave us the opportunity to get to the lead to where we were able to do that.

Q. Tony, do you recall about how many laps were left when you started saving fuel and then was there a point with three, four, five to go when you knew you could just go flat out from there?

TONY STEWART: I don’t know what lap we took the lead. But it was probably roughly four or five laps after we got the lead. And it took to build that two second lead. Once we got out there that’s when we started really conserving and trying to take care of it to the end.

And all we were doing was just trying to match their pace. Darian was giving me intervals every lap, and I didn’t care what my lap time was. I was just more worried about what the interval was.

Because we knew they had to kind of sell me that Truex was going to have to pit. And once they got me sold on that we just kept worrying about our pace with Jimmie and Matt at that point.

Q. Tony, even on the Thursday you said you thought you guys were really the underdogs and kind of named a bunch of other people. How do you feel now? Does this put you squarely does that change your mindset on that?

TONY STEWART: I’m not sure one weekend can do that. But I feel better about it, obviously. We’ve had three good weekends in a row. Today doesn’t change my mind. But the last three weeks definitely make me feel better about it.

We’ve still got nine hard weeks to go. And we have some tracks that have been a struggle this year. So we’ve got a long way to go but this gets us off to the right start.

Q. At any time did you have flashbacks to last year, New Hampshire, when you were trying to stretch the fuel there and worry that it could all blow up the wrong way?

TONY STEWART: No, I didn’t. I was just worried about our interval, honestly. We’ve lost a lot more fuel mileage deals than we’ve ever won.

So you really don’t have time to think about what happened a year ago. I mean, I’m listening to him and worrying more about the intervals.

Q. Tony, third one at Chicagoland, 40 years, fortieth win, looks like you’re going to have a good year the rest of the year. Do the numbers mean anything to you? Do you play the numbers game at all?

TONY STEWART: I hope it doesn’t mean that I have to wait until I’m 41 to get another win. Because that’s going to suck, having to wait and get one a year. But I’m proud of that after hearing what he said, to be tied with Mark Martin, that’s a huge honor in this sport.

Mark’s been one of the guys that’s been one of my mentors and somebody that’s on my top five on my hero list, and I’m probably the most proud of that fact after winning today than anything.

He’s somebody I’ve got a lot of respect for and a lot of admiration for. And I wish I could be more like him. But that’s pretty cool to be sitting here and be tied with him it’s pretty neat.

Q. Tony, you said where we’re at in The Chase right now we had to press. 12 points, it doesn’t seem first race doesn’t really seem from this perspective that you’re in a press situation at that point. Can you kind of explain that a little bit more?

TONY STEWART: Tied for ninth in the points somewhere. We had nowhere to go but up. But what are we going to lose if we take a gamble and it doesn’t work? We really weren’t taking a gamble, but I was more worried about getting the win than I was worrying about what was going to happen if we didn’t win the race.

So we had nowhere to go but up. So we could put that pressure on those guys. It’s still ten weeks, but we had we needed every point we could get today because we may not we may have an off week in the next nine weeks. So we’re going to need everything we can get right now.

Q. Is it a situation where you’re just happy about the win, win or nothing at that point?

TONY STEWART: It wasn’t win or nothing. We ran hard enough to get to the lead. If we ran too hard getting to the lead and ran out, there was a chance they were going to run out, too.

But we weren’t going to be any more conservative than those guys were. I mean, we were going to push them to make the decision to have to save fuel.

Q. I guess for both Tony and Darian. Tony, you said Thursday it was going to take a revelation to kind of get through these last ten weeks and become a title contender. Does that happen this weekend or it happened today because having despite having won seems like you’re pretty subdued about the impact of the victory?

TONY STEWART: One day doesn’t change the whole season. Like I said, we’ve still got, the same thing I said a minute ago, we’ve got nine races we’ve got to go through still and today’s an awesome day. I’m proud of what Darian did, I’m proud of our guys. But we’ve got nine more hard weeks.

So this is one of ten. So there’s a lot that can happen and a lot that has to happen. So unless you guys know what the future is, I can’t really answer that accurately.

DARIAN GRUBB: You say we’re subdued. But if you hadn’t realized, that’s kind of the way we are every week. We come in every week trying to be the fastest race car and doing everything we can to get the best finish we can get.

And obviously today it all worked out in our favor. And we’re going to try to do the same thing next week. We don’t get a chance to celebrate too much. We have to be in the shop getting ready for New Hampshire. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, nine more weeks to keep doing what we’re doing. Don’t want to have too big a high or too big a low.

Q. Either one of you, I know Tony said you had to press today. Now second in points, seven points behind, obviously still a long way to go. But how do you maintain that or does that change or how do you convince yourself to continue to press based on how well it worked today?

DARIAN GRUBB: If you look at it, just the competitors we’re racing against, those other 11 guys, you have to press every week. If you’re not, you’re not going to compete with those guys, because one of those 11 is going to be pressing a little harder than you are.

You hope they press their luck a little too much, but you’ve got to be on top of your game and get every position you can get and every point you can get because it’s going to matter when it’s all over.

Q. At the end of the day, you didn’t do anything different?

DARIAN GRUBB: No, not at all.

Q. This was kind of a surprise last year in The Chase opener that so many people took chances, were you surprised Tony that so many of your fellow Chase contenders gambled on the gas deal and several of them came up short and Darian were you surprised that several of the other teams did the same thing?

DARIAN GRUBB: It wasn’t a gamble. It’s the way the race laid out and the cautions fell. That was the lap we had to pit on. The only thing you could do is be the conservative guy and come in and pit, because you don’t want to try to save fuel, but you knew you’re a lap down then. It’s not a gamble; it’s a call that had to be made considering the laps that were run.

TONY STEWART: It’s hard for me on my side because knowing I saw more what Matt and Jimmie were doing. I didn’t know what the scenario was with everybody else as far as whether they could make it or not.

All I could analyze were the guys we were around at the time.

Q. Seems like this team took off after the announcement you were going to add a third team. Was that a little bit of a hampering until that announcement was made and then after that a little weight off your shoulder let you focus a little more on driving the car less of the owner aspect?

TONY STEWART: No, definitely not. It doesn’t affect the decisions that are made day in and day out to make the 14 car and the 39 car competitive.

So it’s ironic that it happened there, I guess, but it didn’t have any bearing on how we ran the race team.

Q. Tony, when you got kind of ticked off there and said they’re a bunch of idiots driving around you, what specifically was making you angry there? And is that sort of a byproduct of the chase that everybody was kind of scrambling a little earlier than they would normally?

TONY STEWART: No, because it wasn’t even Chase guys. It’s guys that didn’t make The Chase. But it wasn’t a lot of give and take there. There was a lot of times that it was obvious that guys were quicker than others earlier in the race, and instead of using the etiquette we’ve had forever I don’t think you’re going to see that etiquette anymore. I think it’s just dying off.

I think guys don’t care whether they make anybody mad on the racetrack or not. They’re just going to do what they want to do and they’re only solely worried about themselves.

So we’re going to start adopting that attitude. I mean, I’m tired of being a guy that gives a guy a break and then a guy doesn’t do it in return or the guy puts you in a bad situation. And we were put in multiple bad situations by guys that I got a lot of respect for and that are friends of mine.

So I’m just going to adapt to their style. I mean, I’m not going to fight 42 guys to try to convince them to do the right thing. They don’t want to do the right thing, so we’re just going to do it their way. It’s a lot easier to not care about anybody but ourselves. That’s what we’ll do.

Q. Do you feel these younger guys are fearless, they’re not earning the veteran drivers’ respect, they’re coming out here thinking it’s all for them, some of these young guys?

TONY STEWART: I think in their minds they respect them, but I don’t know that when you had Dale Earnhardt around you learned if you weren’t doing the right thing and Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace, they would teach you if you were doing something wrong at the wrong time and you see what happens now. Take somebody out, they get their car fixed, they come out and their sole goal is not to finish it out and get the points they can get. Their sole purpose on coming back to the racetrack is to return your day.

So it’s just the attitude of everybody on the racetrack is changed. The ante has I guess gone up. So there’s a part of the sport that I liked because I like the respect that guys gave each other. There’s still guys that do. You’ve got guys like Matt Kenseth and Jeff and Jimmie and Harvick. There’s still guys that do. But the funny thing is that guys that don’t do it are the guys that don’t have good days all the time. And they haven’t figured out if you work with everybody that everybody else will work with you but you gotta do what everybody else is doing. And there’s a handful of guys that we still know will race us with respect and that’s why those guys end up up front every week. It’s our advantage that those guys are the only few guys that know how to do it.

Q. I saw you said in your interview you weren’t feeling well the other day. I guess the rain bought you another day. Would the outcome have been different if you had to race yesterday?

TONY STEWART: I’ve been battling a migraine for a day and a half. It started about an hour before we qualified Saturday. We battle it a lot. There’s a lot of weekends we have it. We’ve raced with them before. It’s not fun. I can’t say that I remember it’s actually affected us in the car. You get out of the car afterwards and you feel like you want to get hit by a train; it would make you feel better.

But it definitely seemed like once the weather came through last night about 11:00, it finally broke a little bit. And finally got a good night’s rest. So it definitely didn’t hurt us having that extra day for sure. But I don’t know that it would have mattered yesterday if we were in.

Q. I know ultimately it’s more about the car than about the history. But 13 straight seasons now you’ve never had a season in Sprint Cup with going winless. What does that mean to you the extent of that today?

TONY STEWART: Yeah, it’s cool. It would have been hard to take at the end of the year to break that string. I mean, I had a long string in USAC of winning a race every year for 15 or 16 years there. So I don’t know how many guys can say that they’ve won in every year that they’ve competed in the series. So that’s something I’m really proud of and I’ve had two great teams that have helped me do that.

An Interview with:

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.

KEVIN HARVICK

THE MODERATOR: Joining us is third place finisher in today’s race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He drives the No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Great run out there, Dale. You gained a lot of positions in the points. You’re only 13 points now out of first place. Certainly talk about your performance out there today, the No. 88 car.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Obviously we gained a lot of spots there at the end with guys that were short of fuel. But we were running really well at the end. The car struggled off and on throughout the day. And we didn’t have great track position either. But at the end the car was really good. And I think we were up in the top-10 there.

So real happy with being able to adjust the car, improve it. That’s all you can ask for as a driver, that the car gets better all day long.

We also had been struggling on pit road all year. And we worked really hard. The guys worked really hard to improve and they had an excellent day on pit road.

The car drove ‑‑ like I said, off and on it was pretty decent all weekend. We tried to be really smart and utilize every minute in practice and try to really focus in practice and get everything we could out of it. And tried to just be really smart about our adjustments and what we were trying to learn from the car throughout the weekend so we could put a good car out on the starting grid today, and I think we did a good job of that. I hated how we struggled in the middle part of the race but it was a really competitive field.

And it was important to try to restart on the inside at least for most guys. Couple times we had to start on the outside and we’d lose a few spots there and they’re so hard to get back. But real happy how it turned out.

We were never worried about our fuel mileage. Steve said we’re about three tenths of a lap short before we ever took the green flag for that last run. We were going a little faster. We were worrying maybe this was probably the worst fuel mileage we was going to have all day long. So we started backing off and saving gas with about 20 to go. And so it’s just enough. It started running out at four but ran to the finish line but it wouldn’t have made it another lap.

Q. Dale, it’s your best finish in 14 races. Is this the shot in the arm that you need? And I don’t know it seems that you flipped a switch all of a sudden. Not you were able to but you made the end of race adjustments you needed to. Have you kicked it into another gear?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: You know what, I felt like we would do well in The Chase. These are good tracks for me. And the tracks where I ran poorly just aren’t ‑‑ if you look at my track record I don’t run good at those tracks. And I was hoping Steve would give me a little magic to fix that but we’ll have to wait until next year to see.

I felt we would rebound and kind of return to the form we started at the beginning of the year. Again a lot of guys ran out of gas. But we did adjust and improve the car and got faster at the end and drove by a bunch of guys that really weren’t saving.

So that felt pretty good how the car was running at the end.

Q. Dale, does this feel a little bit like the beginning of the season where you were turning 11th and 12th in the 6th and 7th that maybe you’ve stolen a little bit and got the early season strategy back and what was it like the closing laps where you’re just whizzing by guys as they’re running out of fuel?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Basically everybody ran out. The last lap I was counting them when I went by. I don’t know what place I was in to be honest with you so I didn’t know where I would finish until after Steve told me.

But I just knew we were going to get a good finish if we didn’t run out of fuel. I was happy where we were. I thought we had really improved throughout the day. And, yeah, it felt a lot similar to how we ran earlier in the year where we would ‑‑ we would use strategy to improve our finishing position.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll hear now from Kevin Harvick, our race runner up. And he’s also our points leader. He’s got a seven‑point lead now over Tony Stewart. Lot of excitement towards the end. Talk about your run.

KEVIN HARVICK: It was a solid day for us. Obviously the last three weeks have been really good for our Budweiser team. We’ve just got to keep going.

I felt like we had saved a fair amount of gas under caution in the first 15, 18 laps, and never really had to push my car very hard and just kind of maintained the pace that I was running. And as we got a couple of gaps we were able to shut it off five or six times. And when Gil said go, I guessed it about right, came out off pit road there after we took a checker flagged. Good calculation by the guys and good solid day.

Q. Kevin, how nerve‑racking was that over those final 15 or so laps? It seemed like Ken said I’ve got to save gas but you never seemed to let up?

KEVIN HARVICK: We just went about it different. We tried to do it a different way in the run, and when he turned me loose, I was still a little bit gun shy. I should have just listened to him. Because I was probably that one lap that I shut the engine off twice was probably the lap that I needed to catch the 14.

But either way, I mean, it was still a good day and there was no way we needed to run out of gas. So that’s the ‑‑ you can put yourself in such a big hole right off the bat if you’re not careful here.

Q. Chase drivers were eight of the top ten finishers today. It seemed like you guys set the tone all day long. This track has a history of being flukey with a Reutimann win last year. You guys know what I mean. Did it feel like today was the championship contenders came out and made a statement, maybe this is what you guys were expecting the rest of the way like you guys said it’s going to take top 5s top 10s to win this thing?

KEVIN HARVICK: I looked up. I said we’ve done pretty good, we’re seventh. And I was running behind six guys running in The Chase. There’s a reason that those 12 guys are running where they had all year and are in The Chase and it always seems like everybody steps up this time of year, and those guys just have a little more to go after.

So, yeah, I don’t think that’s going to be abnormal.

Q. 17 was running well, 18 was running well, 48 was in the top 5. They ran out of gas, how big of a hole are they in now?

KEVIN HARVICK: Last year we lost the championship by 41 points. And we missed second by two points and we came behind into The Chase last year, so every point matters at this point because somebody’s going to put ten weeks together and make it happen. And if they don’t then I’ll be surprised. But every point matters right now. You can lose by one point and give up right off the bat you put yourself into a hole. I don’t know about the 48. He’s put himself in a hole a number of times and figured out how to win it. So who knows about those guys.

Q. Were you surprised that 18 wasn’t as much as a factor as people maybe would have expected here today?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I really thought he ran pretty well. The one guy I thought was a surprise was 00. He was good in practice and ran well here last year. You never know who is going to show up each week, and this was a unique deal with the rain delay and everything else. And kind of maybe threw a few teams the curveball they didn’t expect.

Like Kevin said, everybody in the top 12, man it was so hard to pass. Everybody was so competitive and really similar. So you know if you wanted to hold a guy up you could just real easily take his line away and make it hell for him to get by you. And that’s what a lot of guys do. So he just ‑‑ I thought the 18 ran pretty well. He might have had some struggles on pit road or something, lost some spots. Once you lose a few, it’s tough.

KEVIN HARVICK: I was running six or seven and he was right in there. I don’t know what happened on the pit stop but he just disappeared. They must have had a bad stop on pit road or something.

Q. Tony said on Thursday when we got together with you guys that five drivers didn’t have a chance to win this thing and he was one of them. Do you think he was just sandbagging a little bit?

KEVIN HARVICK: Counting Tony Stewart out, that’s pretty funny that he counts himself out. He’s won a ton of races to start off The Chase like they did today, have the notes and teammates and things to lean on at Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan and all the stuff they have to lean on, there’s no way they’re going to be totally out to lunch. So I think that’s yet to be seen. So he ran strong all day and drove from the back to the front and led the race and won the race.

So he shouldn’t count himself out. That’s pretty funny.

Q. What was going on pit road, looked like they picked up horsepower. Can you talk about those engines in general, please, thank you?

KEVIN HARVICK: I didn’t see any added strength on engines but pit road was it was just a bad scenario. 22 was running up front most of the day and the 9 was running behind me, and I was pitted in between them. And it was bad for all three of us.

So there’s really no way to get around it other than to try to do the best you can. And nobody ran into anybody or anybody’s guys or anything like that.

So you just ‑‑ I’m sure the other two guys were as frustrated as I was. But just a bad qualifying result in a bad pit selection there.

Q. At the end of the day, what do you take away from this? I think this is now, I think, four of the last five years, a driver who hadn’t won during the regular season wins the opening race in The Chase, a couple guys able to finish third, but the champion hasn’t won the first race. What do you take out of it?

KEVIN HARVICK: For me, I’m just happy that we finished second, to be honest with you. There’s still a lot of question marks for us coming into The Chase on the mile‑and‑a‑half stuff. But the call was solid all weekend. Stats are stats. And for us it’s one week at a time, one lap, one practice.

It’s just one minute at a time literally going through the motions. So you just ‑‑ if you can come out of here with a second, during the year it was all about trying to win races. Now it’s about accumulating points.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Happy to run third, happy to maximize our potential today, start thinking and working on the next one.

Q. Kevin, you and the 31 and the 33 have some personnel changes on pit crews this weekend?

KEVIN HARVICK: I think there were changes, pit crews changes to make teams better. I don’t know exactly how it shook out.

Q. Did it feel okay to you?

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, the last pit spot gained three spots, so it went pretty good.

Q. What did the rainout do? Did it take any rubber off the track, or did you see the track staying pretty tight? We saw the color didn’t really change that much. How did it affect your driving?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Made my back hurt from laying on the couch too much. I know that for sure. But really I was surprised when the race started as black as the groove was and my car didn’t really change much .

Q. Dale, any comment on the track change from yesterday, the other day?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I didn’t really notice much, I thought the track was in good shape when this race started and all day long it was good.

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