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March 29, 2021

Denny Hamlin

Ricky Stenhouse

Daniel Suarez

Bristol, Tennessee, USA

Press Conference

Bristol Motor Speedway

An Interview with:

THE MODERATOR: We are joined here now by our second- and fourth-place finishers in today's race, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez, as well as Denny Hamlin, our third-place finisher in today's race.

We will go ahead and start with questions.

Q. Daniel, they say that dirt is really kind of the great equalizer for a lot of drivers, a lot like the draft at Daytona and Talladega. When you looked at the races prior to the season, was Bristol one of those that you circled on the calendar thinking this might be the best shot we have early in the season?

DANIEL SUAREZ: I want to be very honest with you, I love racing at Bristol. Is one of my favorite racetracks.

When they announced we're going to be coming here with dirt in one of the races, I wasn't too sure about it because I never been on dirt in my life. In Mexico, we don't have ovals in dirt, at least as I know.

Honestly, I am just very, very proud of my team that they brought a very fast car and I was able to learn as I went.

It was a challenge. Last probably five days ago was my first time ever on a dirt car. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoy a lot. I enjoy a lot, as well, the entire weekend.

Overall I felt that we're very close. That always bring a smile to my face. But it wasn't close enough. So we have to keep working. Now I'm excited actually that we're going to come back next year with another shot to race and compete for the win in Bristol on dirt.

Q. Ricky, certainly you talked about working a lot with Steve Swift on the track conditions. What can be learned from this experience moving forward since this race will be around next year, and how you felt things went?

RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: Steve and the boys did a great job. Obviously I watched every race last week. They did a great job with all the race cars on the racetrack, knowing they had to prep the track a little bit different for our race cars. Obviously you can't have it wet with the cars overheating and our grill screens, windshields, and things like that. They prepped the track to the best of their ability.

Obviously all the rain didn't help. They reacted, did stuff as best they could. Came out here last night just to check out the track. Kind of talked to them about what they were going to do between the stages and the competition cautions. I think they did a great job.

May have got a little bit behind there. When we started running single file, all the dust just sat in that second lane. I was one advocating for single-file restarts. I felt like NASCAR did a great job adapting to that because, like Steve O'Donnell said, that's things that you see in dirt racing when track conditions just change and kind of are out of your control at that point.

But I think it made the racing better, a lot better there at the end. Hats off to everybody at NASCAR and everybody on the track crew.

Q. Denny, going to the single-file restarts at the end, how much did that impact what you were able or weren't able to do at the end on the restart?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, it's tough to say. If I'm beside 'em, I'm in a better spot than if I'm behind 'em on a green-white-checkered. I had an opportunity to choose whether I was going to make a move on the high side or the low side. I chose high, and the track was just too slick up there at the time.

Certainly he didn't get a very good restart. I was on him entering turn one. That tells me if I can start beside him, then I had an opportunity there to be ahead of him getting in one.

It is what it is. We all had to adapt. We knew after halfway or so when they changed it that was going to be the rule for the rest of the race. Those are the cards we're dealt.

Q. Why didn't you just go through him? This is short-track racing, bump-n-runs is the standard formula. Why not through?

DENNY HAMLIN: Because I think me and the 22 race differently. I don't have that mentality.

Q. Ricky, when NASCAR returns next year, what would you like to see done with the cars, if anything, to have them better adapted to dirt racing?

RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: I think that's a really good question because we're bringing back a totally different race car next year.

I think us teams learned a lot throughout the weekend, what not to do, what we can do better. Drivers, as well. When you're bringing back a totally different race car, it's going to be all new.

Hopefully Goodyear is able to work on a tire that we can have a little bit longer run. Our Kroger Camaro was really good on the long run today. I didn't have the short run speeds so I needed those long runs. So hopefully with the package that we have when we come back, we can get those 75-lap, 100-lap runs, depending.

It's going to be tough. I think the track crew learned a lot with these heavy race cars, what they need to do to be better. They adapted well, like I said, with the rain. Those are things that are always changing with dirt racetracks. They did a good job. Next year is going to be just as much of a toss-up with a different race car.

Q. Denny, this is a big-picture question. Is there something to take out of this in terms of trying new things, being willing to try new things, things that could be implemented other races, different venues?

DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, pit stops have been part of NASCAR racing for a long time. I think on the dirt, absolutely leave it as is. We don't need to have competitive pit stops when it comes to dirt.

You can't keep cutting the grass. Cut this, cut that, cut this, cut that. Eventually you're down to dirt and you got nothing left. You can't keep cutting the grass. The grass is our racing, NASCAR racing.

Hopefully we can keep things somewhat a little bit authentic for the way it's been for a long time. But absolutely, I love the nimbleness of our schedule. They were able to take us to a Bristol dirt race, we're going to Circuit of the Americas. A lot of different venues. That part is very, very positive.

But definitely don't want to see them cut out any more competition when it comes to little stuff like pit road.

Q. Daniel, I know it's on dirt so it doesn't necessarily equate to what you guys are facing the rest of the year, but what does this do for Trackhouse just in terms of confidence, morale around the shop? Your confidence? What do you take away from this?

DANIEL SUAREZ: Yeah, it was already a good day for us, running up front, leading laps, and staying in the top 10, top 5 the entire race.

But if you look at it, last week we were very similar. I mean, we didn't lead laps, but I made a mistake in the last pit stop, and that took away our chance to finish either fifth or sixth.

It's the second week in a row that we've been running strong. I don't see this as, okay, we run good because we're on dirt. I feel like everyone at Trackhouse Racing has done an incredible job to work hard on these cars, get them better. Really a lot of support from RCR, engines and chassis and everything. I feel like we still a long ways to go from where we want to be, but we're heading the right direction.

Hopefully we can compete in the top 10, top 5 like we've been doing the last couple weeks on a weekly basis. Eventually we're going to get a trophy.

Q. What were you missing at the end? You were so good throughout stage two. What was missing that final stage or what changed?

DANIEL SUAREZ: The racetrack changed completely. I was actually talking to Denny about it. They did a lot of things to the racetrack, to some cars it came to them, some others they lost the balance a little bit. Unfortunately I was one of those that lost the balance a little bit. For some reason, my rear grip wasn't the same. I felt that my car was capable to challenge for the race lead before that. I kind of like had a plan in my mind.

The last 50 laps for some reason I lost that grip. I just couldn't do much about it. From being a first- or second-place car, I became a fifth- to fourth-place car. That's exactly where we ended.

It's a learning curve. Like I said, I'm still learning about all this dirt racing. My first time was actually just five days ago. I wasn't expecting the racetrack to change that much, but it did. That's something I have to keep in mind for next year.

Q. Denny, they announced they're going to do this next year. Is there anything you particularly would want to suggest to say, Hey, do this differently?

DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I think you probably need to get with the dirt guys a little bit more or ask them. But the dust hindered the ability -- the single-file racing as much as anything. You could not get out of the groove or else you were just running on dust.

I don't know if there's different dirt that doesn't produce as much dust as this one. I know they really did a lot of research on the dirt itself. A couple of them said if you didn't run during the daylight, dust wouldn't be as bad.

I thought the racing was good. It really was. It was almost like the old Bristol. If you got out of the lane, you got shuffled. That part of it was really encouraging. For fans' sake, for visibility of the drivers' sake, I think a lot of the wrecks happened because of the dust and we couldn't see anything. Just that part.

When we get the new car, those things have paint on the bottom of them. I don't know, these holes, somebody better get a tape measure, some of them are at least like a foot deep. They are super deep. I don't know if that new car can stand that.

Q. Any more frustrating to run second to Logano? You complained on the radio that he cut you off. I assume that's kind of expected in that type of situation.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, definitely. I mean, he's doing what he has to do to protect the lead. I'm trying to get it from him. I just wasn't aggressive enough. I should have shoved him out. When I had position on the bottom, I should have just moved up and got him in the dust, and got rid of him. I just wanted to pass him clean. I didn't, so I didn't win.

THE MODERATOR: Denny, thanks so much for your time today.

DENNY HAMLIN: Appreciate it.

Q. Ricky, I know this is a would have, could have, should have, but is this a different race if Larson and Bell are able to go the distance to the end? Larson remained in there, but he came from the back of the field and was up to fourth when he ran into Bell.

RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: Yeah, obviously there's a lot of races that change, the flows of them change, especially when different things happen throughout the race.

They're two of the best dirt track racers in the country, and don't do it full-time. They had the top working really well. I don't think they would have made the top work. There towards the end, the rubber that got down on the racetrack was just too fast around the bottom.

But obviously they would have been contending for the win. They showed that they were really fast. So the 22 car looked good in practice. The 11, the 19 looked good in practice. I think the 99 did a phenomenal job all day just working his way up. Obviously his car was really fast, as well.

A lot of cars kind of came and went. I felt like mine was really good. If we had 75-lap runs, I felt like we had one of the best cars. The first 15, 20 laps, I was terrible.

Definitely things would have been totally different, no matter who was out there. The 18 obviously got off to a great start and overheated, I'm assuming, running the top.

Yeah, they would have been battling for the win, I'm sure of it.

Q. Is there any reason not to bring these cars back next year? I know we're going to the Gen-7, but rather than building a dirt-purpose car, couldn't we just recycle these and save the teams a ton of money?

RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: Yeah, I'm not exactly sure what all the RTA and NASCAR do in their meetings. I think a lot of the teams, crew guys would advocate using these cars, especially with everything we learned this weekend. Maybe we could put on a better race using the same car with the notes that we had. I don't know if the owners and the teams want to keep switching back and forth between race cars throughout the year.

That's not really up to us drivers. We get out and drive whichever one that we can. But I do think the racing could be pretty good if we brought these same race cars back.

Q. Daniel, following up on your performances the last couple weeks, how do you feel about going to Martinsville in a couple weeks?

DANIEL SUAREZ: I feel good. For now I'm really looking forward to sit down a little bit, relax for a few days, try to see everything that we have done the last month and a half, either good or bad, and what can we do better.

But I definitely believe that this team is very good and we just keep getting better and better. I'm just very excited and happy to be back racing with these guys.

I feel like Martinsville has been a good place for me in the past. I'm really looking forward, like I said, a few days off, then come back with my group, work hard and try to build a good piece for Martinsville. I'm sure we're going to have a lot of fun there.

Q. Talk about your relationship with Travis Mack. Is it better than you expected after the first seven races?

DANIEL SUAREZ: I really enjoy a lot working with Travis. He's very smart, a great leader, a great person that work extremely good with people. He keeps me down. I'm sorry, he calms me down the entire time. I'm the kind of person that I get excited very easy. He does a great job making sure that I'm always calm down and relaxed on things.

He doesn't get to the chip on the rpm too often, which is a good thing. I really enjoy working with Travis, everyone at Trackhouse Racing. Everyone does an amazing job. We have a very good relationship, very good chemistry. I feel like it will only get better from here.

Q. Ricky, this has been an excellent start to the season for you and your team. First top 10, let alone top 5. What changes have been made heading into the year to improve the team's performance?

RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: Yeah, we really focused on just being more consistent week in and week out. We had some really high moments last year and some really low moments. We're just trying to even things out, take the speed of our race cars, make sure we execute when we're at the racetrack, when we're in the shop, just being prepared.

That's starting with me, the things I do behind the wheel, the things I do off the racetrack preparing, going into the weekend, just getting that mindset going into each race that it's one race at a time.

We didn't get off to the hottest start. We struggled a little bit at the 500. Had a couple mistakes that cost us at the road courses. Really, other than that, we've stuck to our game plan and done everything that we've wanted to do and accomplish every week.

Coming into the Bristol dirt event, I felt like I was going to be comfortable on the racetrack. But I felt like these are the best drivers out there. They were going to adapt, their teams were going to adapt, bring good race cars, as well. I didn't want to put too much emphasis on, Hey, we have to go win.

We methodically worked our way throughout this race of getting our race car better, not freaking out early in the race, knowing that the track conditions were going to change, and probably come around the balance of our race car. We did that. Got our first top 5, top 10 of the year. Trying to keep that momentum going into an off weekend and start back fresh when we get going again.

THE MODERATOR: Ricky, thanks so much for your time.


Q. Daniel, I'm curious, at what point during the day did you feel comfortable or feel like you got the hang of this dirt racing thing?

DANIEL SUAREZ: Probably between lap 50 to a hundred or so. I felt like, okay, the car is actually pretty good, I can make some moves. We were getting to a top 10. I was still passing cars.

Obviously when I went into the lead, I say maybe we can have a shot to win this thing. Really, the track kept changing. That's probably where I lacked some of the experience on dirt. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to ask for in the last 50 laps. I knew they were putting a lot of water on the racetrack, but I had no idea what to change.

I even asked my crew chief, Travis, Hey, should we make an adjustment too tight, too loose? He said, I have no idea (laughter).

We were just hoping for the best. Unfortunately didn't work out. Overall on and off it was a very, very solid day. We're back running up front for two weeks in a row. That's something to be proud of.

We really can put our arms down, keep working, keep building for after the break.

THE MODERATOR: Daniel, thank you. Congratulations on the great run today.

DANIEL SUAREZ: Thank you, guys.

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