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February 22, 2015
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
KERRY THARP:Â What a race we just witnessed, the 57th Annual Daytona 500.Â Joining us at the podium is our race runner‑up, Kevin Harvick, and our defending race winner, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Let's hear from Kevin first.
Kevin, talk about how you thought the race unfolded.Â Certainly it was just one heck of a Daytona 500.
KEVIN HARVICK:Â Yeah, definitely, for us it was a good, solid day to start the season.Â Obviously you want to try to win the race.Â But sometimes you're just happy to keep rolling and going out of here and head to Atlanta with a solid day.
Really proud of my team and how they handled the week, adjusted on the car, did everything they needed to do, came out of here with a solid day.
I thought we were going to have at least a chance, back up to the 88 there, come up to the 22 coming off of turn four.Â But in the end that didn't all pan out with the caution.Â Still a good weekend for us.
KERRY THARP:Â Our third‑place finisher, defending race winner, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale, talk about your run out there today.Â You had a very strong racecar.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:Â Yeah, we did.Â I made a mistake on the restart with 20 to go, didn't do what I needed to do.Â Got shuffled to the middle there.Â Had a fast car, was able to get some spots back.Â Get a good finish.Â Pretty happy about that.
You don't get cars that good too often.Â You like to try to capitalize.Â A little disappointed.
Congratulations to Joey.Â He's done a good job the last several years.Â I'm sure it's a great feeling for him.
And Kyle in the hospital, hope he's doing okay, enjoying the race.
KERRY THARP:Â Denny Hamlin with a strong showing out here today, as well.Â He came in fourth.
Denny, talk about how you thought things went for you.
DENNY HAMLIN:Â It went well.Â Really all you can ask for is a chance.Â Really when you start on the front row on a green‑white‑checkered, you got a 50/50 shot.Â It's a matter of whether your line forms up better than the other line.Â Ours just didn't form up well.Â Allowed the 22 to get clear.Â Really everyone on the top lane to get clear of us.Â That was pretty much it.
It was a good day, though.Â Obviously we came from the back and ran up front all day.Â Proud of our whole FedEx team and Dave for doing a great job.Â Working together for the first time.Â Excited about the whole year.
Obviously thinking about Kyle, as well, like Dale said.
KERRY THARP:Â We'll take questions.
Q.Â Kevin, before the caution came out, did you feel like you had Joey set up to make the pass?
KEVIN HARVICK:Â Coming to the white, you never know what's going to happen.Â Obviously everything is shuffled out to where these two guys were nose to tail behind me.Â Maybe I should have backed up a little bit harder.Â But I didn't want to back up so much that they drove right by me.Â I wanted to try to time it so I could have them to my bumper, have a good run coming off of four, have a shot.
That didn't pan out.Â Didn't even have a chance to try to time it out.Â But still just really proud of my team, the way they act and react to things.Â Just really good.Â Feel really good about where we are.
Q.Â Dale, if the caution didn't come out, did you have a move for him?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:Â I was in eighth, I think.Â I didn't have nothing going on.Â The outside line got going really good.Â It was going good enough that you didn't want to disrupt that by going outside of the guy in front of you.Â We needed to kind of get clear of that bottom lane before we got racing.
Once we got clear, we sort of strung out.Â Just not enough laps to form anything.Â I think even if Kevin backed up, I don't know whether I would have stayed with him or whether Denny would have stayed with me.Â You never know what decision you would have made.
DENNY HAMLIN:Â Absolutely I would have.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:Â All right.
You just never know what you're going to do.Â You got to try to win the race.Â We didn't get time to make a run.Â I wasn't in a good position to think about winning, but we were going to do what we could.
Q.Â Before the caution that sent us to the green‑white‑checkered, you were running three‑wide about five to eight rows deep to 10 to 15 laps.Â Everybody was wondering, can you do that all the way to the finish.Â Talk a little bit about the last 20 laps.
DENNY HAMLIN:Â I mean, it's intense, especially when you're in the middle.Â You've got guys side drafting off both sides of you and you're trying to pull them back.
I think the drivers have just gotten so smart over the last really year and a half.Â I mean, as far as working their mirror, working the side draft.Â Guys don't breakaway anymore.Â They don't let them get free because they just side draft so much.
I mean, there was a good chance we could have ended the race three by three eight rows deep.
I think Joey got clear of that anyway.Â Joey had the upper hand if the caution didn't come out because everybody else was just side drafting each other.Â It would have been tough to make a run on him.
Q.Â Kevin, when I talked to earlier this week we talked about the weather, how it was going to change today.Â Did it make as big of a difference as anybody thought it would?
KEVIN HARVICK:Â It was a huge difference.Â For us we were banking on it.Â I think we lowered the track bar four inches, put a couple percent of nose weight in it to start the race.Â Made some pretty big adjustments.Â Just trying to go off of past experience and what you felt in practice to try to anticipate where the handling went.
We went a little too far, wound up too tight.Â My car was very manageable so I could be pushed.Â My car was tight enough, Denny, to be pushed (smiling).
DENNY HAMLIN:Â Good, man.Â That's why I push you guys.
KEVIN HARVICK:Â We were all pushing and shoving.Â It was fun racing there at the end.Â I was in the top lane with the 15.Â We would just scrape off the wall a little bit.Â That's when you knew you were high enough to push the guy in front of you.Â But it's fun.
Q.Â Denny, when Joey washed out at Gibbs, a lot of people thought he would never be the driver some thought he would be.Â Why do you think he's changed so much?Â How differently do you view him than you did when he was a teammate?
DENNY HAMLIN:Â He's a different driver really.Â I think some situations just suit you better.
You look at when he left the 20 car, the 20 car instantly ran better.Â When he left, he instantly ran better.
I just think the situation didn't work for him.Â I think he matured and did his homework.Â He's really become one of the elite drivers in our sport.
Every single weekend you know you're going to have to beat the 22.Â That's something we didn't say about Joey just three years ago.
I think he's with a great situation.Â Their cars are really good.Â He just made the best of it.
Q.Â Dale, about the move with 19 to go, did you think a teammate would go with you or were you trying to tuck in behind Jimmie?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:Â Jimmie was on the quarter panel. Â He was in a great spot on the guy in front of me.Â And I thought if I could get in behind him, he was going to shoot past to the lead, I could tuck on the quarter panel a little bit as soon as I got on that right rear quarter panel.
I didn't think they were that close on the outside line.Â I thought we had a couple car lengths on the outside line, but they were right there.
You know, just one of them moves.Â You made some good ones, you make some bad ones.Â I made a bad one too late.
Q.Â Compared to the week before, this was a relatively clean race.Â Does anyone have an opinion?Â Did the owners threaten you?
KEVIN HARVICK:Â We had two races to get it out of the way.Â We sat around all winter, maybe we were just off a little.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Â I think running the race during the day, with the low downforce package, all the drivers seemed more comfortable.Â We had balance issues to work with.Â I think that keeps you on your toes, helps you understand where your car can work, where it can't.
Just a good package as far as the downforce.Â The track's starting to age a little bit, starting to lose a little bit of grip.Â Running the race during the day helps a lot.
DENNY HAMLIN:Â I agree.Â Really the slick conditions, we have to give each other a little bit more room because you can't just pin the guy down off the corner because he's going to lose his front end or back end.Â It makes us give each other a little bit more room.
When there's an enormous amount of grip, we feel we can run inches off each other and not wreck.Â I agree.Â I love the day race.Â It really puts it more in the drivers' hands.Â Definitely this package does, as well.
Q.Â What would little Denny have said knowing he raced in Jeff Gordon's final Daytona 500 with Jeff Gordon?
DENNY HAMLIN:Â I wish he would have pushed me to victory (laughter).
He tried to push me a bunch, but for whatever reason we hit the brakes every time he got to my rear bumper.
It was awesome.Â He showed a lot of strength throughout the day, as well as the 88.Â They just stayed up front all day.Â You just knew those were the guys you were going to have to beat.
Unfortunately, when everyone knows you have a fast car, sometimes you get hung out.Â I think that's what happened with him.
He's going to be missed.Â He's one of those few guys on a superspeedway like the Daytona 500 with a few laps to go, you can give him no room for error, and he's typically not going to make a mistake.Â He's going to be missed.
Q.Â Denny, the situation with Matt today, did you sit down and talk with him before the race?
DENNY HAMLIN:Â Joe grabbed us all by the collar right before we went out, told us we got to work together and do whatever we can to get a win.
But, you know, it's a tough situation to try to throw Matt into.Â Obviously his first start in the Daytona 500.Â I'm sure his trucks hasn't had handling issues like these cars did today.Â I'm not sure where he ended up.Â I did see him at one point.Â He was holding pretty well.
Q.Â Y'all seem pretty relaxed.Â Y'all drive for top teams.Â Does the Chase format, knowing you're going to race probably for a championship at the end of the year make not winning today easier to swallow?
KEVIN HARVICK:Â For me, I'm ready to go to Atlanta.Â It seems like we've been here for a month.Â I'm glad today is over.Â I'm relieved for my team that we had a good, solid finish, a good start to the season.
I'm excited about, you know, everything that we do on our mile‑and‑a‑half stuff.Â I'm looking forward to going to Atlanta.Â That's really what it's all about, is trying to win a race to get yourself positioned in the Chase, be able to try to win more races if you can do that early enough.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:Â Yeah, it's just about trying to win races.Â Kind of disappointing we didn't win today.Â It makes the rest of the season a whole lot different.Â You can get a lot more aggressive on pit road with fuel mileage and stuff.Â Worked for us great last year, getting that win early.
DENNY HAMLIN:Â You assume that you're going to be part of battling for a championship.Â We got reminded yesterday, I got reminded two years ago at California that nothing's a given.
You have to live in the moment and appreciate the moment.Â You got to continue to work hard and try to put yourself in that position.
What happens in Daytona is not a direct result of how you're going to run during the season.Â So I'm with Kevin.Â Let's get to Atlanta and kind of see who's got what.
Q.Â Kevin, as reigning champion, do you ever hear from anybody back home in Bakersfield?
KEVIN HARVICK:Â That was the first place I took the Sprint Cup trophy back to, my high school.Â We had a pep rally.Â It was pretty cool to be able to take that trophy and set it in front of those 950 kids that were in the auditorium that day and show them if you put your mind to it, follow your dream, it can all work out.
We're also going back there the week between Phoenix and California, too.
Q.Â Dale, you had the momentum of third place going.Â Talk about what that was like for you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:Â You don't imagine the 16 guys are going to win races, and you want to try to put points together in case you need to lean on that, fall back on that to make the Chase.Â But there's no guarantees.
You like to take good cars like we had today and win with them when you get a chance.
But I got a great team.Â I feel like Greg is going to be awesome.Â Hopefully we're going to have more opportunities this year.
KERRY THARP:Â Kevin, Dale and Denny, congratulations on a great performance here today.Â Thanks for putting on such a fine race for us.Â See you in Atlanta.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports