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February 28, 2016

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Chase Elliott

Hampton, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: Let's roll right into our post‑race for today's 57th‑annual Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race here at Atlanta Motor Speedway. We're pleased to be joined by our top‑finishing Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, and that's Chase Elliott, and he drives the No.24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Fine eighth‑place finish here today for Chase, grew up nearby in Dawsonville, Georgia. This is his home track. Talk about what you learned out there today and how you enjoyed the race out there today.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, just really proud of our effort, and most importantly finishing this week. Last week was a bummer for sure, and I think a big goal today was just try to run 500 miles and try to stay on the lead lap, and really proud that once the green flag dropped we were able to move forward and gain some ground. Friday night didn't go as well as we were hoping, so kind of had us in a hole there to start and didn't give us the best pit road selection. I messed up there on Friday. So I was proud that we could move forward. Pit stops were solid, and it wasn't a perfect day, but it was a day we can build on and try to get better.

Q. I don't think I've ever seen you happy with a seventh‑ or eight‑place finish, but for your first time out in a Cup car here at AMS, how do you rate the day? What are some of the other emotions you are feeling?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Other emotions are I need to get better and build on that. Like I said, it was a good day. I was happy we could move forward. Most of all, happy with how we finished versus last week. I made a lot of dumb mistakes these past two weeks, and I was just happy that we could finish. But like I said, a lot of room for improvement. I need to do a better job, lost a lot of time in a lot of different aspects today, so you've got to look at that stuff and see where you can get better and look as it as a day to try to improve on.

Q. First, you had speed with the pole at Daytona, but how do you grade that speed where it's so much a team effort compared to today where the pack had just completely different and it's a whole different kind of trying to wheel it?
CHASE ELLIOTT: It's hard to compare the two. Daytona is such a different animal than Atlanta. It's really not even two comparable racetracks, so I don't really‑‑ other than that, I don't really know how to answer your question.

Q. As far as today's run goes, I know it's big for you to get a top 10 and put Daytona behind you. How big of a motivator is it to do it at your home track heading into Las Vegas?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, it's definitely special to be here at Atlanta and have a strong run. I'm very happy about that, and definitely a very special feeling to walk out before the race and to see the support in the stands of a lot of people that are close to‑‑ this is close to home for me and a lot of people around here supporting our race team, so that was really cool. We're excited to try to get on to Vegas and most of all just take what we had today and try to improve on it. I think we're working hard, and hopefully we can get in the right direction.

Q. Chase, after running 210 laps caution‑free with as loose of race cars as you guys have had, what was that like?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Just the longest green‑flag run I've ever been a part of for sure, so I'm definitely wore out, and I will be going to bed early. (Laughter.)

Q. Chase, kind of a similar question, rate this race as far as the challenges that you faced versus anything else you've done in your career.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, like I said, it was the longest green‑flag run I've ever been a part of, so that being said, this is a slick racetrack and a lot of things going on. It's very important to hit your marks correctly, so I'd definitely say it's up there on one of the tougher races I've ever been a part of for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Chase, nice job out there today. We'll see you in Las Vegas.
Next up, we have our race runner‑up, and that was Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Dale drives the No.88 Nationwide Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Dale with a fine second‑place showing today, was up front just about the entire day, started 16th. I know you had a tough pit stop at one time, lost some track position, but just talk about your race out there here today.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, we had a great car. I could see that most of the top 5 there in front of me all day, just never‑‑ you had to take it easy on your tires, man, because you could wear them out. I wore mine out on the first run, drove to the top and drove all the way up to fifth or whatever, and then they were wore out, so I started falling back. So I learned then it was kind of like old school racing, man. You had to take care of your tires and be smart about how you drove the car and driving the car straight, not really swinging the car around or getting sideways, and when you get around another car or a lap car you had to be careful to drive the car straight when you got around them.
Then on old tires if you got lucky to race somebody, it was a blast. Me and the 18 and the 2 had a real good time a couple laps there and a bunch of other guys we got to race with. It was fun. You know, everybody just wasn't hooked up and hauling tail. You had to drive the cars. The cars were a real challenge, and I had a great time today inside of the car and enjoyed driving it. It reminded me a lot of the 80s and 90s, the good ol' days. But I never drove in those days, but it sure looked fun.
You know, we didn't know how good our car was. It's so hard in practice to tell where you are, so I didn't know what to expect going into the day, whether we was going to run 30th or win the race. But we set a pace each run that was comfortable with the tires, and I could run the top but I was worried about wearing the right rear out doing that. I saw the 2 go up there hard for a while and then get loose and fall back, so that was awesome, had guys that could haul butt and then guys that would fall off, comers and goers, man. So it was fun for the drivers, fun for me anyways, and looking forward to the rest of the year with this stuff. We're just going to keep learning and trying to improve our setups and what works with this package, but should see some great racing on in the rest of the year.

Q. Obviously Jimmie tied your dad on the career wins list. Is it kind of a given that he's the best of this generation? We didn't have to have this win to know that today?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I thought that when he won five championships in a row. He's pretty good. I don't have a problem calling him the best of this generation even as a competitor of his and having to go out there and race against him. Obviously he will credit his crew chief and his team. That all has been real consistent throughout his career, and they do deserve some credit, but Jimmie is just a phenomenal talent.
One of the things about Jimmie that I think he doesn't get enough credit for is that he's the same Jimmie that I knew when he drove the 59 Charcoal car at St.Louis as he is today, even after all this success. He's a guy that you can walk up to, he's approachable, he's real easy‑going. All the success didn't change him much. He just has a little bit more money in his pocket now than he did then, but he certainly doesn't act any different. He doesn't get enough credit for that, because I don't know if I won five in a row, that would probably change me a little bit or anybody else. But it's amazing, he's really down to earth, so you like to see him do well. Obviously he's my teammate, love seeing him do well. When he does well, we learn, we get better. It's been awesome being in his shop and sharing a shop with Chad because I think that's helped my career. So I definitely enjoy working with Jimmie, and very proud of him.
It was awesome, I didn't even‑‑ we talked about it. I told him on a couple occasions that when he tied daddy, he'd better say something cool, and he'd better tell them that it's awesome for him to tie him, because I know Jeff had the flag and all that, so that was awesome when your competitors and peers recognize your father like that.
I knew this day was coming, but I didn't know it until we got out of the car. I'm glad if he's going to win and tie that record, I'm certainly glad that I got to run second today.

Q. Jimmie has often said that if he had one wish, he wished he could have raced against your dad in Cup. What do you think your dad would have thought of him as a racer, and what would it have been like seeing them go head to head?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: You know, I think dad would have liked Jimmie as a person, but he certainly wouldn't have enjoyed competing against him. I don't think any of us really‑‑ I mean, I love when we race door to door, but when he goes out there and spanks you it's not a lot of fun.
You know, knowing dad and knowing Jimmie's character, they would have gotten along tremendously and dad would have thought the world of him. He said he felt the same way about Jeff when Jeff came in. He had nothing but awesome things to say about Jeff when Jeff was a rookie and they ended up becoming great friends and working together in businesses away from the racetrack and doing things together, so they definitely trusted each other, but they're definitely tough competitors on the track. But Jimmie, how can you not like Jimmie? He's just a good guy that never stepped over the line with anything he's ever said or anything he's ever did, so I think it's awesome to praise him.

Q. On the same subject, how would you compare their driving styles, even though they came from different eras and different cars? I'm sure there's some similarities by both of them getting to 76.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I don't know, dad was real rough and pushing people around. Jimmie is‑‑ every time I see Jimmie race, I just think about them dirt trucks, and he just hangs it out. I remember the‑‑ one of the first times I saw Jimmie, the Jimmie Johnson on the track that we know today, was in the All‑Star Race. He went three wide in the middle of 3 and 4 and he turned sideways and never lifted and just kind of banged‑‑ he drove the quarterpanel on the guy on the outside and had the fender laid on the door of the guy on the inside and beat them both off the corner. I thought, man, it's amazing the car control he has. He drives very hard and with‑‑ he drives that style that you see them guys run them trucks out west, and that reminds me of Jimmie. I think about, man, no wonder he's got such good car control and ability to drive the cars as loose and fast. He just‑‑ you don't ever see‑‑ you never hear Jimmie complaining about his car not turning. They always have that thing loose, and he just hangs on and makes it work.

Q. Obviously an eventful week for Hendrick Motorsports with the news about Stewart‑Haas on Wednesday, and I know Friday it seemed like it was a little bit of a struggle in qualifying for you guys. What's this week been like for the team? Does it feel good for it to end with you having three cars in the top eight?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I feel like for me personally it was great because of how we did last week in Daytona. It was critical for us to rebound. Two terrible finishes in a row would put us in such a deep hole points‑wise, and what if we could struggle through the year and come close but not win any races, and we don't need to cut it close on points. I know we really don't worry about points racing anymore, but when you start the year with two bad runs, you start counting points.
But to get to your question, I feel good about our future and our ability to learn and adapt each weekend and the information that we have going back and forth from team to team is very open and fluid and all that stuff has always been that way. So I think that we'll‑‑ we won't really miss that engineering relationship, but I'll tell you one thing, I've always enjoyed working with those drivers and those crew chiefs. I've got to become closer with several of those guys through that relationship that we had, but I'm looking forward to the rest of the year and the future at HMS seems very healthy and very strong, and Chevrolet is very committed.
I'm glad we're doing what we're doing. Looking forward to next week.

Q. Dale, were you surprised that we went over 200 laps caution‑free, depending on how the cars were handling?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was surprised. I saw the 31 have the tire issue. I was surprised we didn't see that in the first run. I thought I was going to tear my tires up because I went out there and ran too hard, and I thought I was definitely going to shred a right rear or something early in the race. I was surprised that nobody had any tire issues, but you saw us all start to short pit very soon. None of us run to the fuel run. I think that's great for the sport that we have the tires that are falling off and the cars that are challenging to drive. You don't want cars that are easy to drive. You don't want to look at the guy beside you and think, he ain't got the talent I've got but he's got the same opportunity because the cars are so easy. Everybody thinks they're the best driver out there, so you want to make the cars as challenging as possible so you take that out of the equation, and it just comes down to talent.
You've got to still have a pretty good race car and we had a good car today, but I love that the cars are harder to drive. I think all the drivers wanted that and I think all the drivers will get out of it after today, even the ones that didn't run good, and say this is the right direction to go. This is a unique racetrack, and we run from the apron to the wall, so you're not going to have debris laying around on the track for NASCAR to find and for cautions to develop as often as you will at other racetracks because we keep that track pretty clean by running on it and using every inch of it. So I love it. The race played out naturally. If it's going to go green, that throws‑‑ that's a different style of race, and maybe it suits one guy and doesn't suit the other as far as the viewer, but for me, I had a blast.
You're getting tired in there running 200 straight laps. I'm sure other guys were probably hanging onto the seat more than I was, and again, on old tires the cars were so hard to drive, it was awesome. I'm glad they're not‑‑ in the past couple years they've really been stuck like glue and you just hammer down, and it was very frustrating because you couldn't catch a guy, he was punching too big a hole in the air.
Today it seemed like you could move around and pass guys a whole lot easier, and you wouldn't getter terribly tight behind them. Actually a couple times I drove up to guys in the corner. I ain't done that in three years, four years, be able to drive to a guy's bumper in the corner. You just couldn't do that before.

Q. How do you feel about Vegas next weekend?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Vegas? Yeah, I mean, that track has got some crazy bumps getting into Turn 1, and with this low downforce and the slower‑‑ hopefully should be a lot slower corner speeds, I think it lends itself to running the high side, which I really love, so hopefully we can get up on that top and make some time up there and have a lot of fun in 1 and 2. That really works well because the billboards shade that corner just like they do here and you can get in that shade in that cooler temperature surface and find some speed and grip without beating your tires up. Three and 4 doesn't really have a sure‑fire top groove but it has worked well there in the past. I'm looking forward to going there. That place is getting wore out and that makes it more fun. We should be hanging on. These things are quite a handful. Last year's cars were a handful at Vegas, so getting down into Turn 3 real loose, real hard to get down into the bottom. I'm looking forward to that challenge. It's a whole new ballgame now.

Q. What do you think about Chase's run, and any advice that you gave to him today after Daytona to get ready for this?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, you know, I think I just need to‑‑ you've got to watch his schedule. He's traveling a lot. He's going. He doesn't have the luxury that all the other drivers do with travel as far as his own personal airplane yet, so that really does cut into the time of day he has to travel, sometimes 12 to 24 hours ahead of schedule, and he's doing tons of appearances, so he's only home or off or has a chance to unwind roughly about 20 to 36 hours a week, and you need‑‑ he just needs to kind of go into that gradually. They don't need to work him too much outside of the racetrack. Let him drive these cars, work with his crew chief, do all the things he needs to do to get acclimated with the cars and then start to ask of him those responsibilities away from the track later on in the year. I remember my first year we came in with guns blazing, we were running everywhere trying to do everything all week long, and by the time we got to Daytona, I was ready for the year to be over with, and the results showed, too, the rest of the season.
I was real proud of him today. I was not surprised by his run, and he's going to just get better. They've got a great team. Alan is an amazing crew chief and they're going to work together really well. Alan is super excited about it, so you see that energy and that's going to be great for them. They'll just be careful not to wear him out outside the track during the week. Give him a couple days and give him a few breaks on the schedule the first half of the season at least.

Q. On the restart you're fifth on the inside, right, so are you thinking you have a shot because the inside lane is so much better or if Jimmie is out front he's going to be hard to beat?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Well, any guy leading on the inside is hard to beat. Definitely going to be hard to get around Jimmie. I was surprised we got around the 18. He sort of took a gamble on what he did in 3 and 4 to try to get to Jimmie, and it didn't work out, and we got around him before the caution come out.
Bud I was thinking, you know, being in fifth, the restart before that I was fifth and I went down in the corner and we slammed the racetrack and bounced up the track and pushed and didn't get a great restart, lost a few spots, but we were lucky this time around. Greg made some adjustments to the car to get that clearance I needed on the restart. Man, that thing flew through 1 and 2 just glued to the track real comfortable. Real happy with that. The guys on the outside got bottled up and had some issues, got into each other. That definitely helped us gain a spot or two. So we got lucky. I've had more of those restarts late in the race go the other way, and that's very, very frustrating, so it was nice to be on the good end for a change.

Q. You and Jimmie finished one‑two today, and with this new package, is this indicative of you guys having speed across the intermediates or because Atlanta is so much different with tire wear and everything else that's going on, is this kind of a wild card and you've got to wait until you get through the Western Swing before you really know how good you guys are going to be as an organization with this package?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it's a bit of a wild card being as rough as the track is. A lot of times you'll see teams that run really good at the rough places like Kentucky and here, obviously Kentucky is getting a repave, but when you‑‑ there's some guys that make that‑‑ find that spring combination that works to be able to get around these rough places, a lot of the mile‑and‑a‑halfs aren't quite as challenging on the ride quality of the car, so I don't know that it really says, man, this is how we're going to run the rest of the year.
But I feel like we are competitive at the mile‑and‑a‑halfs but that's also an area where we need to get better, the 88 needs to get better. If we're going to try and get in there and run with them in the Chase, should we be fortunate enough to make the Chase, we need to be better at the mile‑and‑a‑halfs. We ran third here, I think, last year, so it's hard to tell that you can't expect to take a lot that you learn here and take anywhere else because you have to set the car up so crazy to get the thing through the bumps, and it's so wore out and slick, too.
We really don't change the rear stuff too much at all these tracks, it's more about everything firewall forward when you're going to a smoother place.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for coming in and thanks for helping us have a great race here today. Thanks, Dale.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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