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November 17, 2017
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our second place qualifier, driver of the No. 78 Toyota, Martin Truex Jr. Take us through your lap.
MARTIN TRUEX JR: That was a good effort today by everybody on the Bass Pro Camera team. Just coming in here a lot of pressure, a lot going on. To be able to stay focused and have a solid day was important. Definitely wish we could have been first,.005 away from that. The first two rounds were really good and just missed it a little bit that last one.
Proud of everybody. We outran the other three guys, which is good. I don't think it's a big deal because we're all pretty tight together there. It's a track you can pass on. All in all, successful day. One spot from where we wanted to be.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go with questions for Martin.
Q. You mentioned that you guys are all, the four of you are close. Is there at least sort of a psychological boost that you're first of the four?
MARTIN TRUEX JR: You always want to be the fastest, no matter what it is. We won today. Again, that doesn't really mean a whole lot. It will be nice to win again tomorrow. Win again on Sunday. That's what we're here for.
THE MODERATOR: Continue our post‑qualifying media availabilities with our championship four drivers. We're joined now by the driver of the No. 4 Ford, Kevin Harvick.
Ninth place effort there, Kevin. Talk to us a little bit about that final round.
KEVIN HARVICK: Just about spun out there going into turn 1. I don't know if I just tried to roll a little too much speed. Got the car sliding and missed the whole corner. They did a good job trying to get it back out. I thought we were going to make it back out. Yeah, just missed the lap there and got it loose and wound up ninth. Good thing is it's ninth, it's not 39th. And there's nobody in the first pit box.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined now by our third place qualifier, driving the No. 18 Toyota, Kyle Busch.
Kyle, if you could just talk us through your qualifying effort this evening.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah. It was good. I thought we had a pretty good first round, second round, and when Martin went out there and ran oh‑something, I felt like there was a 90 out there.
Had an opportunity to beat him and go for the pole, and trying to cut my turn 1 entry a little bit, got to the bottom too soon, hit the apron, messed up the exit for 2. Felt like I tried to get a little bit more back in 3 and 4 than I needed to and probably messed up down there. But felt like I got off the corners okay.
We'll work on it and work on myself for making sure that we can hit some perfect laps tomorrow and really focus on what we need to do for the race.
Q. This tire wear about what you expected in practice today, and any changes in how you feel about the number of sets you have for tomorrow ‑‑ or for Sunday?
KEVIN HARVICK: I haven't looked at the set tires. I've only run three laps total, three runs.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, I mean, fall‑off seemed to be greater obviously in the sunlight with practice earlier today when we ran the same set consecutively. And then we put on stickers, and they were really fast. And then in qualifying right there, we ran a 90, a 90, and an 04. We were pretty close on that. The fall‑off is definitely going to be the name of the game on Sunday.
Q. Question for Kevin. We had a chance to look at the replay, your hands in the car. How big of a save was that down 1?
KEVIN HARVICK: It was definitely sideways, but I just‑‑ I don't know if I tried to roll a little too much speed or just I was pretty confident that it was going to turn to the bottom. It kept turning, but the back wanted to go the other way. It was just one of those things where you're trying to get that 90 and the 90 was a little too far and just wound up messing the whole lap up. Just one of those moments.
Q. I know you guys want to win, of course, every race, but this one, how does your mentality change? If the strategy doesn't, at least it's huge for Sunday. Can you guys both just kind of walk me through that.
KYLE BUSCH: You want to go first or me?
KEVIN HARVICK: Go ahead.
KYLE BUSCH: This race is obviously the one we set our sights on each and every year. First, you've got to be in the final four to make it worth your while, and then you've got to go out and execute and do a good job to win the thing.
Obviously, with everything on the line, you do the best you can and push as hard as you can, aggressively but yet smart, and getting the most out of your race car, and you've got to have a good race car to be able to go out and race with.
It's an important one to get. Pit strategies and race strategies are going to be all over the place because we don't care about stage points. The rest of the field is going to care about stage points and things like that. And tire sets being on the limited side versus past seasons is going to be different as well too.
So there's a lot to take into account for this weekend.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, you know, for us, it's been a year of just building everything to get to this point, and I think everybody's done a great job. You just have to go out and race like you normally do. You just don't want to be at the end of this race with less sets of tires than the guys that you're racing with, the way that the tire strategy is and the cutting of the sets.
Obviously, tire fall‑off is something that we always talk about here, and I think this weekend it's going to be magnified. The pace is already‑‑ I think I was on the pole last year and ran my fastest lap of the three rounds in like a 30, 30‑something. So the pole is like‑‑ what is it, 31 flat?
KYLE BUSCH: Uh‑huh.
KEVIN HARVICK: 31 flat. So the cars are substantially slower, and I think you're going to see that in the fall‑off as well.
Q. Both of you, the fact that the tires‑‑ you have to race the same tires that you qualified on. Were there any level that you felt like you needed to kind of save your tires for the race on Sunday, or was it just going all out?
KYLE BUSCH: You definitely kind of want to save as much as you can in the first round, but for me, here especially, when you practice during the day‑‑ and we ran a 31.20 was the quick time during the day, and Truex went out there and ran a 30.70. So it's kind of hard to judge how much you can save by the field picking up half a second. So you try to do what you can moderately and yet make sure that you're still safe and secure to be able to get through.
So we ran decent times each round and felt like we were pretty flat with our lap time follow.
How was that? You're good, right?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, that was good.
THE MODERATOR: Kevin and Kyle, thank you very much. Good luck this weekend.
We're also joined by our fifth place qualifier, driver of the No. 2 Ford, Brad Keselowski. Brad, talk us through your qualifying effort.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, a decent effort position‑wise. These races are so long that where you start is not always super important, but getting a decent pit selection, as qualifying does for you, is not a bad thing. There's about half a dozen good pit stalls, and we'll be able to get one of those.
Even though we don't have a lot of tires to put on in a race, when we do, we'll have a decent position to pit from. So that's good.
Q. The tire fall‑off here, is it such that on the first lap you kind of feel like Superman and literally a couple laps later you can tell a significant difference, just the way the car feels?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it's certainly one of the more dramatic tire fall‑off tracks, which, you know, I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it's a good thing. Gives the track its own distinct character. And really, I never got to run it the old 1996 Atlanta, but from what all of Dale Jr and those guys tell me, this is exactly like it with the shape and the fall‑off and so forth. So I think that's really neat. Kind of funny how that's the end race of the season, kind of harken back.
But I think that's always a good thing. It requires you to be a little smoother with your inputs and, of course, adjust to the car as it changes and faces degradation to the tires and makes its way to the performance of the car. At the end of the day, it's just another challenge for us as drivers to face, and that's not a bad thing. That's how you make the cream rise to the top.
Q. During the first practice, you experienced some brake issues. Was your team able to resolve those, and do you have any worries for the race on Sunday?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, we haven't yet, Rudy. We'll keep working on it. It's certainly a concern for us at this moment.
Q. Brad, starting fifth, based on practice and everything coming into this, is that about where you guys thought you'd be, exceed expectations, lower, where?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I thought we could qualify somewhere from fifth to tenth. I think in that first round, we might have been eighth or ninth. The second round was a little disappointing. We were 12th and just barely got in. Third round was probably at the top of the spectrum.
You know, probably a tad bit higher than what I realistically thought we'd end up, especially off of the second round, but I'm not complaining.
THE MODERATOR: We'll wrap up our post qualifying media availabilities with our Coors Light Pole Award winner, driving the No. 11 Toyota, Denny Hamlin.
Denny, that was an exciting final lap there. At what point did you know this was going to be the one to put you on top?
DENNY HAMLIN: Really when I got off turn 2, I knew I was probably in the green by a lot. I just carried a little too much speed into 3 and was a little higher than what I anticipated. I just kind of committed to it and was hoping at that point I was just going to bounce off the wall and finish where I was going to finish.
But it was good. It held on. Obviously, it's good to get a pole here on the last race.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions for Denny.
Q. Denny, is there some satisfaction in playing the spoiler role? Would you want to do it again in a couple days, and feel like you could?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. I mean, there's‑‑ it's half satisfaction. Half of it's disappointment because you only run this good for so long. I mean, I feel like we timed out the playoffs really, really well. We performed great over the last three or four races, better than probably any stretch of my career that we've performed for that consecutive amount of weeks, qualifying second, second, first the last three. All that's just been really good.
But we don't have our chance. We're not part of the final four. So I think there's a little bit of satisfaction proving that you should be here with a chance, but it's also a little disheartening that you're not.
Q. Denny, some time to reflect on last week at all. Has your opinion changed on the events between you and Chase at all, or do you still have the same beliefs of what happened?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's all the same. Nothing's really changed from my standpoint. It was an unfortunate circumstance. I made a mistake in Martinsville, and he didn't make a mistake at Phoenix.
Q. Denny, you talked about how this was satisfying but frustrating as well. How do you move forward? I mean, is it a balance? You're frustrated. You're disappointed by last week.
DENNY HAMLIN: I've been here before, you know what I mean? I've been doing this for 12 years, and it's always close, close, close, close, never there. So any time we've had a chance‑‑ 2014 was the last time we were here in the final four. We were leading with nine to go, and some back markers crashed. That took us out. Some other guys pitted. We didn't.
I feel like, when we have to really perform well, we really, really do, and sometimes circumstances take you out of the playoffs. I've had roof hatches fly open. I've had running out of gas. Everything you can imagine bad luck‑wise. And sometimes, like this year, it was not bad luck. It was driver mistake and things like that. So we all share in it, but I'm comfortable in feeling that eventually we're going to have our time, eventually we'll win our championship, and when we do, it will probably mean that much more.
Q. As you're adding all that stuff up, this, that, and everything happening, do you feel a little extra snake bit perhaps than other guys?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, you always‑‑ it's like poor me, right? So many other guys could say the same things about the things that they‑‑ chances they've had slip through their hands. Carl Edwards‑‑ I mean, last year was an unbelievable chain of events. He goes from probably leading the race, going to win and walk away, to crashed in a few laps. There's just so many times where things like that happen.
Any time you have a one race take all for the entire season, I mean, you're going to have to have some luck ultimately to win the championship. I don't believe that the fastest car this weekend is just going to go out there, dominate, lead all the laps, and it's going to be a snoozer.
I think that somebody is going to‑‑ especially with the less tire allotment that NASCAR gave us this week, alternating strategies with the stages. I don't think the fastest car wins this week. I think somebody sneaks it out with something that is going to make people shake their heads.
Q. Obviously, you have a good car. Obviously, you want to win this race. If you're up front with five to go in a restart and two or three of the guys are up there with you, do you race them any differently because of not only what's on the line for them but for you too?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I'd have to think about it. You really‑‑ you won't have a whole lot of time to think about it. I don't know what I'll do honestly. I'll definitely try to do everything I can to win the race, but as far as like moving one of those guys or something to win the race when the championship's on the line for them, that's not going to happen. But I'm certainly going to try everything I can to win the race outright and then hope my teammate finishes second.
But if we don't win, I'll just say we're pulling for them.
Q. You spoke about the tire allotment this weekend. Was there any feeling that you're going to kind of have to save your tires in qualifying because you start on that set?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, we got bit first lap on the racetrack today. There's something that stuck in my right rear. We blew the right rear out on the first lap on the track. So we had to sit in the garage for like 45 minutes to try to just wait for our tires to catch up with time.
It's tough that, as much money that's being spent, we've got to wait on tires and things like that, but it's part of it. I think that sometimes you look at the XFINITY races, they're pretty exciting because there's not an abundance of tires, so the teams are able to do some different strategies and whatnot.
That's why I think that, between the stages and the tire allotment, the winner of this race or the winner of the championship is going to have to go through some serious adversity and traffic at some point.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the Pole Award and good luck Sunday.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thanks.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports