Dale Earnharndt Jr. passes Greg Biffle for second, but can't catch Matt Kenseth. (Getty Images)
Second-place Daytona 500 finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s post-race press conference
You saw a little bit of everything out there tonight, but what an exciting race you guys and gal put on for the fans here tonight, and congratulations on a terrific way to start the season.
Earnhardt Jr.: “Yeah, it was a good finish for us. I'm really pleased to be able to get good points tonight. The Roush cars are just really strong. They've shown that all week. I really didn't know just how good they were until I got up there those last 60 laps, and I could get in between them, but I couldn't get in front of them. Just didn't have enough car to get around them and get the lead.
“But I'm happy for Matt. He's going to need that for his college fund, and them kids will be in good shape now.
“But I'm happy for our team, too. We had a really good looking race car, good craftsmanship, and I was real proud of that. You know, you bring such a nice car down here, and the chances of you tearing it up is pretty high. Odds are always kind of high you get caught up in something like we saw at the end of the race. But I was really happy to be able to take the car home in one piece, and liked the way the motor ran, liked the way the car drove. It was a little bit of a bizarre week with the rain and all that. But you know, we stuck around and got it all done.”
Was it more of a case that you felt Greg was basically blocking you, or he wasn't going to try to help have you pass Matt (Kenseth)?
Earnhardt Jr.: “I don't think that he was worried about me. Um, this is the Daytona 500, and I don't know what it pays, but it's a lot of money. And his team, I know that they're teammates, but his group of guys that specifically work on that car or travel down here to pit the car during the race, his crew chief, Greg himself, they work way too hard to decide to run second in a scenario like that.
“I'm pretty sure that if I know Greg, and you can ask him here in a bit, if he had an opportunity to get around Matt and had a chance to win the Daytona 500, he would have took it immediately. He's trying to do what he could do. If I were him, I can't imagine what his game plan was in his head, but if I were him, I would have tried to let me push him by and then pull down in front of Matt, and force Matt to be my pusher and then leave the 88 for the dogs.
"But that didn't work out. I saw Greg try to get a move going on the back straightaway, and it looked like Matt defended that really well. And I waited for Greg to have another opportunity on the exit of Turn 4, and it did not seem to be materializing. My spotter was keeping me aware of how much distance was between Greg and Matt, so when I knew that Greg did not have a chance to pass Matt, I would try to pass Greg if I could.”
You seem like you're very frustrated or angry.
Earnhardt Jr.: “No. No, sir, not at all, just has been a long day, and it's just been a long night. I'm very happy. I'm really in a good place. I'm not frustrated at all, I promise. I'm in a great mood. I run second here a lot, though, so I know I don't feel it right now, but I know later tonight and tomorrow and the rest of the week it's going to eat at me what I could have done to win the race. So that is kind of frustrating.
“But no, I'm fine. I think that we did everything we could at the end, and I didn't mean to interrupt you, I'll let you ask your question.”
That's okay. Is there anything really you can do as just one person? It seems like all these races, even with all the rule changes, you've got to do it in pairs.
Earnhardt Jr.: “Yeah, pretty much. This new package really didn't come down to tandem racing at the end. I mean, me and Greg were pushing like heck and we couldn't get to Matt. So they have definitely made some strides in trying to make that not the definite way to win in a Sprint Cup level.
“I like the rule changes. I'm sure that I was riding along in the middle of that race, and I was thinking, you know, the fans probably are wondering whether this is better or not, because we weren't really there wasn't a ton of action. Like the low line really had a dominant deal going there, and the top couldn't get any action happening. But I think everybody was just calm and not everybody was fine with how things were going. It didn't really matter to point it didn't really matter after Truex took the $200,000 that was on the line, nothing else was really important until the end of the race. Everybody started racing hard at the end, and then you had your accidents that will typically happen, and then the finish was quite exciting, I thought.
“I kind of liked the package obviously. It definitely suits my style better, and I can do things on my own. Maybe not definitely going to need some help to win races, but I definitely can do more on my own like this. In the old package you needed someone else the entire race, and that's not fun.”
I know that the Daytona 500 is its own animal, but I'm guessing this is the preferred way to start the season for you. And your other three teammates had a really rough night tonight. If you could talk about the start of the year for you.
Earnhardt Jr.: “Yeah, that is important. You know, you do want to come in here and make sure the press knows that you wanted to win the race, because the press are going to tell the fans what you thought, and you don't want to give anyone the impression that you are fine running second, because I'm not. But I am happy with the points I got tonight, because it is a tough hole to climb out of, and this new system really makes it a little different and makes you uneasy.
“I am happy to be able to come out of here and not look back throughout the season, and look at this race as one of the ones where we give some points away, like we did last year.”
How do you parlay what happened here tonight, going to Phoenix, going to Las Vegas? You're not going to have this type of racing again until you get to Talladega, but yet it's the positive, upbeat feeling you get? And also you were concerned about how soft and wet Turn 3 was when you got it started.
Earnhardt Jr.: “Yes, sir. The track held up well. The drivers did not get an opportunity to see the track before we restarted, and I can only assume as I go through there and I hear stuff flying up into the crush panels that it's asphalt. When you're a driver and you're running on a racetrack and you hear things flying up, that's not typically normal.
“So I just assumed the track was pretty soft, but it held up well. They did a great job, whatever that deal, when we come off that turn, that was very scary and looked very tragic, and looked like something that was going to be tragic, so I was happy to hear that everybody was okay and able to go home to their families tonight.
"It was an unfortunate incident, but NASCAR did a great job to finish the show, and they took their time, and they did it right. So I was kind of happy how that all turned out.
"But yeah, we'll go to Phoenix with a good attitude, and we feel like we can go to Phoenix and run well. So we'll see how it goes.”
I know you've seen a lot of strange things in racing, but this race seemed like an appropriately bizarre capper to a very strange Speedweeks in general. Can you talk about what happened here the last week, and did you think that all the crazy, flukey stuff that was happening in the last week was maybe leading to something like what you saw tonight with all the craziness that went on?
Earnhardt Jr.: “Yeah, I don't really remember anything else that happened earlier than tonight. Yesterday and today really sapped my memory pretty good.
“My feeling, the thing that comes into my mind is that NASCAR can't catch a break. We're trying to deliver, and we just have some unfortunate things happen such as the rain delay, potholes in the track a couple years ago or whatever, things like that. And we're a good sport, and we're just trying to give a good product, and it's unfortunate that our biggest event was delayed, but I think everybody worked hard to put out a good product tonight, and it was good for us.”
You talked about the craziness of the Speedweeks and the day, but what about the fact of the primetime, Monday night Daytona 500. Could you ever see that in the future?
Earnhardt Jr.: “I don't know. I don't know nothing about networks and ratings, so I wouldn't that's best a question for maybe Helton or Brian France.”
But this felt like a normal night race to you then?
Earnhardt Jr.: “Yeah, I'll work, I'll race any night you want to race. We were talking about it on the back straightaway. That was kind of fun actually, standing around on the back straightaway. It reminded me of Hickory when we'd race over there and they'd have a funeral and you'd have to stop and talk about the race or whatever, whatever you'd want to talk about.
“But I don't know, I mean, when you're in the car you don't think about what night it is, and you could just forget, really, to be honest. But whenever they want us to race, we'll race.”
During that delay, I mean, you obviously were entertained by Brad Keselowski's Twitter account. Did you guys Twitter anybody or did you play with it at all during that time out?
Earnhardt Jr.: “Yeah, I heard he was in trouble for having a recording device in his car. But I think that's how Brad is, man. That's what he makes and what he enjoys. I thought it was pretty funny.
"We did take the phone and put it to some use and looked up the weather, because it was drizzling a little bit, so it did come in handy.”