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February 22, 2014

Kelley Earnhardt Miller

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Ryan Pemberton

Regan Smith


KERRY THARP:  Let's talk to the owners of today's winning race team.  We're joined up front by team owners Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Kelley, congratulations on this win today.  No better way to start out than winning here at Daytona.  Talk about the shot in the arm this gives the race team.
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER:  Well, it's obviously a great way to start off the season.  Happy for our partners that are here in Ragu and TaxSlayer.  Just real exciting there for the finish.  I was holding my breath the whole time, for sure.
It will give our team a whole lot of momentum for the season.  We're just one team with one dream, and that's to win the championship.  This is a great start for it.
KERRY THARP:  Dale, congratulations as well.  Team owner.  You also obviously raced in today's race.  Talk about what this all means for JR Motorsports.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  How things worked out last year was tough for Regan and the team.  To be able to come down here and get the win is great for them.  Great for Ragu, who has been a partner of ours for a long time.  For our company, we've sort of weathered the storm.  In the last 16 or 18 months, things have been on the uptick for us as far as our alignment with Hendrick, our partners staying onboard.  Everything seems to be going in a great direction.
I think Regan understood a lot about last year.¬† This is a great way for him to start the season and give him a lot of confidence after the off‑season we made with crew chiefs and whatnot, to race for the championship.¬† I think they got a great opportunity at it.
KERRY THARP:  Questions for Kelley or Dale.

Q.  Dale, can you talk about the end of the race, the crash, what transpired.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Yeah, we were coming to the finish line.  The 42 was shoving me pretty good.  I really didn't have anywhere to go.  I got down on the apron.  I was trying not to come back up on the racetrack, get quarter paneled, have a big wreck there.
We were slowing down.  I was looking all around trying to figure out where everybody was at.  Ran into the back of the 87 and 39.  Totally my fault.  Really wasn't paying attention.  I hate it for Joe and those guys 'cause they don't need to be tearing up racecars.

Q.  At this level, how important is winning to the survival and prosperity of the business?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER:  I mean, it's just definitely key to put it together.  Really with our partners, they want to see us in Victory Lane, they want to see us running on the track and off the track.
We do a bang‑up job off the track with our group.¬† So putting it together and being across the finish line number one really just adds to that.
At the end of the day this is a performance‑based business.¬† Being up front and being up there for the wins is what we really need to do.

Q.  When Kyle Busch was in here last night talking about racing in the lower series, he said whether people liked it or not, the reason the sponsors came and were on his car for a full season was the agreement he would race a handful of races.  Does that apply to your group as well?
KELLEY EARNHARDT MILLER:¬† It definitely does.¬† We talked about this for probably the last 30 days at the owners meeting.¬† NASCAR suggested they might be looking at different things next year for this series.¬† I'm lobbying real hard.¬† Obviously Dale runs a few races for us.¬† We leverage those relationships so that we can have multi‑race partnerships for our other cars.
This year we're going to be doing that with Kevin Harvick as well.  He's brought a lot of partners onboard.
It's important to be able to have the Cup guys in our series.  I think the young guys that are in the series like to be able to race against talent like Dale and Kevin and those guys.
We'll just have to find the balance for what makes it work.  But it's definitely part of our program and part of the leverage we use from a sponsorship standpoint.

Q.  Dale, how much do you think the last lap took out of Regan last year?  You talked immediately after this race that it was redemption for what happened last year.  Given the seriousness of what happened, the kind of guy he is, how he takes this stuff to heart, how much do you think it took out of him?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  I think it hurt him deeply that the fans were involved in the accident.  I think that he personally and privately beared some responsibility for his involvement in the crash, just being in the crash, to have someone in the grandstands get hurt had to affect him tremendously.
That was definitely probably one of the toughest things he went through personally as a driver.  He's a good guy with a good heart.  I think he has good talent.  Hopefully he's going to be able to have a successful season and enjoy some success this year.
But I think that really shook everybody.  I think it shook the whole sport, to be honest.  Obviously, everybody involved in that accident was a lot closer to it.

Q.  Dale, Regan started off so strong last year, won a couple races, led the points, then dropped off as the year went on.  What can the team do this year to avoid a similar kind of letdown?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:¬† Regan just learned a lot about last year going through that process.¬† I think at the road course at Road America, he just had a real rough day.¬† We were sitting there with a 50‑point lead in the points, and lost a good chunk of that.
I told him that the guy that wins the Nationwide Series championship is the guy that's going to make the least amount of mistakes.  You have plenty of racecar, but there's four or five teams that have enough racecar to do it.  It's the guy that will be most consistent and not falter that will be up there.  That's really what happened.
He had a couple big weekends that cost him quite a bit.  Some of that stuff is unavoidable.  You just got to be careful of the situations you're in, especially at the road courses.  Late in those races, they kind of run all over each other at the end.  He has to be careful at those races and try to get out of there alive.

Q.  How much mentally stronger does a driver get getting close, learning what not to do?  Do you have to get close before you know the pitfalls to push through the second time and win it?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  I think it definitely helps to come close and lose 'em.  That's what they always tell you when you do lose 'em, is you got to lose a few before you can win one.  But that doesn't apply to everybody.  That's just something I think people tell you to make you feel better.
He has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself personally.  Knowing everything that he's been through as a driver, it's good.  Surprising a little bit that his confidence is as high as it is and his belief in himself is as high as it is.
He worries to death about his performance, where his career's headed, what he needs to do to go in the right direction.  I'm thankful we're able to give him the opportunity to succeed and win races like today to give him the chance to right his ship and do whatever he feels he needs to do.
I feel great in what he's been able to accomplish in the last 20 months with us.  Hopefully we can win some more races this year.  He's definitely a guy that deserves it.
But he's very confident in himself, very hard on himself at the same time.  This process of having some success, actually winning some races, going out there and running up front is doing a lot for him.

Q.  Can you talk about Chase Elliott.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Happy that he come out of the deal unscathed.  I'm sure he learned a ton.  This package is completely different than what it's like in the past.  We really couldn't pass.  The race was really amongst the guys in the top five positions.  You had to kind of be very patient in the pack if you were in 10th or so, be very patient for your opportunity to make a move.  They just weren't presenting themselves lap after lap like we were used to in the past.
Maybe that was good that he didn't know that, being his first race.  He didn't have any experience from the past.  He just was taking it all at face value.  I'm sure he learned a ton.
He's got a great demeanor, very calm guy, not easily excitable.  I think that will be a virtue going forward in his first season this year.
KERRY THARP:  Kelley and Dale, congratulations on this big win today.  Hope there's plenty more.  Dale, good luck tomorrow.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Thank you.
KERRY THARP:  Let's hear from our race winner, Regan Smith.  He's joined by his crew chief Ryan Pemberton.  This is Regan's fourth NASCAR Nationwide Series victory, his first win at Daytona.
Regan, as you mentioned to me offstage, a little different turn‑out than last year.¬† We had Dale Jr. and Kelley in here.¬† They talked about how big a deal it is for this race team.¬† Just talk about the moment right now that you're having here after winning this big race.
REGAN SMITH:  It still doesn't feel real.  It's a very special moment.  You know, last year was a tough pill to swallow.  There were a lot of circumstances around it.  You know, nobody felt worse than me on Sunday morning and Saturday night.  We were fortunate that all turned out well with all the fans and everything.
I think we learned some stuff from that coming back here this year.
To talk about today, I didn't know it was going to happen.¬† At the beginning I made a move to go three‑wide thinking the top was going to work like it normally does.¬† Got hung up behind the 85 car, somebody like that, we ended up in 40th before I even blinked.¬† We had to work all day long to get back to the front.
Ryan made great pit calls.  We took four tires early so we didn't have to worry about tires the rest of the event.  Got those on there.  We protected them in the pits, coming onto pit road, whatever the situations were, which we practiced the other day.  Good pit stops, the guys would get three or four spots for us, we would make good moves on the racetrack to get good spots.
In the right place at the right time.¬† The 6 car played a big part with us winning, with Trevor back there pushing, but he was basically bump‑drafting.¬† That's all we can do now.¬† He stuck with me.¬† I don't know how it would have worked out if he would have tried to pull out and go three‑wide.¬† Maybe we all would have gotten shuffled.
I was able to get on Brad's door at the right moment.  Once we got even, I felt like we had an opportunity to get to the stripe at some point.
I pinched him out through turns three and four as much as I possibly could.¬† Once we came off the corner, I made one last dive to the wall, pulled out on him.¬† At the same time I got a bump‑draft from Trevor almost at the exact time that I started pulling off of the 22 car.¬† It was just enough to surge us forward.
My cards were on the table at that point.  I went to the wall as quick as I could without losing the help I had behind me.  It was either going to be enough or it wasn't.  We were fortunate that it was enough.
I did not think we'd be able to line up on the outside and get that win that way.  I was kind of going to be happy with third or fourth, getting out of here with some good points to start the year with.  You never win a points race at Daytona, certainly.  But now we don't have to worry about that.  We got the win and we're going to enjoy this one.
KERRY THARP:  Ryan, congratulations to you as well.  Tell us about a few things that you thought were key with today's win.
RYAN PEMBERTON:  Well, key was keeping the car, which we talked about prior to the race, what our goals were.  Our goals were to be mechanically sound and block and tackle, do all those things properly.  That comes down to don't speed on pit road, don't leave a wheel loose, don't run him out of gas.
REGAN SMITH:  You were nervous (laughter).
RYAN PEMBERTON:  There was an hour there with the cautions and everything that it was real close.  He does a great job at managing that.  That allows you to have the confidence to go forward and let him use his skills, save some gas, do all the things properly under caution, coast, all the right things to have an opportunity to win the race.
That's what we talked about all week, the fundamentals.  Make sure we didn't take ourselves out of the game.
If you look at the lineup, the guys that might have had a shot at it, they made mistakes.  It was a little bit tougher to pass this time than last time.  I think everybody is organized a little bit different on the racetrack.  So being out front was key.
I was real worried about the fuel mileage.  When you're running sixth or eighth, you can do a lot of part throttling.  Our fuel mileage was good enough to make it from that last stop, but that's when you're running sixth.  We pitted, come out.  I think he stole the lead there real quick on that restart.
We led most of the last segment.  Fuel mileage was not going to be good.  I was really preaching to him about being smart on the throttle, save a little bit here and there when he could.
That was kind of our race.  We gave him an opportunity to win the race.  From past experience, he does a great job at it.  We let him take the ball and run with it.  He scored a touchdown, so...
KERRY THARP:  Definitely got a touchdown here today.
We'll take questions for Ryan or Regan.
REGAN SMITH:  Not to interrupt you guys, but this was a big deal for us today.  It was Hendrick Motors 300th win as a company.  We're very proud of that fact, proud of the engines they build.
I didn't realize that until a little while ago.  300 wins is a huge number in any sport, especially in NASCAR.  So we're really proud of those guys.

Q.  Regan, when we chatted on the media tour, you mentioned your desire to get back to the Cup Series.  Is this the kind of win that makes people take notice, maybe helps you ultimately get back to reaching that goal?
REGAN SMITH:  I don't know.  I'm going to enjoy this win for what it is tonight.  We're going to go back and have a good time with our win, know that we won at Daytona.
It's a huge deal to win here no matter what the series is.  I myself have been trying a lot of times, whether it's Duel races, 500, different things.  I'm going to enjoy that.
My comment was that this year there's two goals, that's to win Junior Motorsports their first championship and for me to prove to the right owner that I belong racing on Sundays.  But that first goal is the primary goal.
I've got a great opportunity with a great crew chief, great team behind me.  Dale, Kelley and Mr. H have given us every opportunity to go out there and reach that first goal.  That's what the primary focus is going to be.  If we do that, the other stuff will fall into place.
Right now we're just going to enjoy Daytona.

Q.  This is your fourth series win.  How does this feel different than the first three?
REGAN SMITH:  It's completely different.  They're all special in their own right.  They all have meaning and things like that that are different, different feelings, emotions that come with it.
Homestead, I was coming off an interesting year.¬† I would say in a two‑month swing, by the time I got to Homestead, I went through every emotion you could go through as a racecar driver.¬† That just pumped me back up to the point where I know how to drive a racecar, I know what I'm doing out here.
Fast forward to Talladega.  Talladega was a situation of wait all day long, get to the end of the race, make the right move.  Don't know if you win or didn't win.  You find out you win, you're excited about that.  Different style of racing than what we did today.  Two completely different forms of speedway racing.
Michigan, Greg's home track.  You fast forward to this.  This is Daytona.  It's Ryan's first win at Daytona.  I know it's my first win at Daytona.  It's pretty special.
We've had the opportunity to work together in the past.  To get paired back up this year, to get to fight for a championship, to have the caliber of equipment and people we've got working with us, I'm pumped up about it.
We went to dinner the other night with all the guys.  We've got a good group together that's gelled early.  That's important.  Certainly to win helps to gel even quicker.  There's going to be ups and downs, but we're not going to think about anything other than doing what we can do week in, week out from here on out.
KERRY THARP:  Couple New York guys.
REGAN SMITH:  That's right.  Syracuse.

Q.  Speaking of right moves at the end, was that side drafting you did with Brad on the 22, was that the key thing in your mind to being out front by a nose?
REGAN SMITH:  Yeah, there was a couple moves that happened.  We took the green and got shuffled coming to the white to where I was on the outside of the 54 car, I think.  Don't quote me on this.  I got to watch the tape to exactly remember, some of it was a blur.
I saw Brad get just a little bit out front of the 54 as we took the white flag.¬† That gave me just the ability to choke the 54 down a little bit.¬† As Brad was having to come back, as the 54 was closing up on him, it gave us enough momentum to get to his quarter panel.¬† Once I got there, ended up door‑to‑door with him, it was about pinching him down for the rest of the lap all the way around.
The 6 car is back there bump‑drafting me at all the right times.¬† You're dancing around.¬† The cars don't like the bump‑draft.¬† They dance around a lot when we're doing it.
I think my biggest concern going into three was that the 54 didn't bump the 22 too hard and send us both spinning in a joint spin there.
Once we came off the corner, I pinched him down all the way through the corner, like I said, I ran it to the wall as quick as I could.  I got off of him.  I got just the right bump from the 6 car to where it sent me forward when I needed to.  At that point it was a drag race.  We can thank our Hendrick motor for that at that point.

Q.  Regan, Junior was in here a minute ago and said that he felt like last year's finish affected you very deeply for a long time because of the fan involvement.  Is that true?  If so, how long did it take you to not get over that, but get where you could race comfortably again?
REGAN SMITH:  Well, it did.  I'm fortunate that I've got a boss who has been in a lot of situations in this sport, understands a lot of different things over the years in Dale.
We went to dinner Saturday night.  We were both getting ready to run the 500 on Sunday.  We went to dinner.  I forget where we were eating.  He basically said, You got to shake it off.  It's racing.  No fault of anybody's.  Things happen.  Circumstances sometimes happen.  He offered up a lot of good advice through that situation.
It did bother me.  I mean, I'd be lying if I said it didn't.  I think some quotes after the race were taken out of context and some of the fans maybe didn't understand that I was answering another question.  Sometimes that's tough to get your point across that, look, I was highly concerned about what had taken place there.  I was just answering another question after that.
Being able to talk to him, lean on him for advice and situations he's been in and involved with, he's very calculated in all that stuff, understands a lot of things like that, a lot of situations.
I was lucky to have him to be able to lean on in this situation.  I've continued to do that throughout the years.
I've learned more in a year and a half since I've been at Junior Motorsports than maybe I did in my whole career up till this point.

Q.  Mr. Regan, you're one of 43 drivers tomorrow.
REGAN SMITH:  I wish I was one of 43.  I'm going to watch on TV like everybody else.

Q.  What is that like, to try to compete for this big race?
REGAN SMITH:  Well, just speaking in terms of years past for me, it's special.  You wake up in the morning here.  I guarantee there's 43 guys that are not going to sleep very well tonight.  They're going to wake up tomorrow.  Some will be a little groggy because they didn't get all the sleep they wanted to.  You have that different feeling of emotion.
I got to imagine it's the same feeling four guys will have when we get to Homestead later this year.  The difference is there's 43 of them and we'll have it here tomorrow morning.
It pays points, you get the same amount of points at Daytona.  But we as drivers, crew chief, we separate this event from the rest of them.  This place is special.  It means more than anything to win here.  I know there's a lot of guys you could talk to, Do you want a championship or a Daytona 500?  Some of them, they'd have to think about that question pretty long and hard.
It's going to be a special day tomorrow.  What I've seen as a driver watching what the cars are doing, what they're capable of when they're out there running, we could see one of the more entertaining 500s that we've seen in a number of years tomorrow afternoon.

Q.  How good is this team once you get out of Daytona?  When you leave here, how strong do you feel your program is going forward?
RYAN PEMBERTON:  Junior Motorsports is stronger.  Collectively we finished fifth in owner points, third in driver points last year, competitive at a lot of different racetracks.  I think we're just really building a better foundation for not our team, but all of Junior Motorsports.  We have to rely on Junior Motorsports to make it all happen.
Do I feel strong?¬† Yeah, I feel good about this race team.¬† I feel good about all three teams.¬† I think that's going to elevate our program going forward, having real competitive cars, multiple‑car teams, help lean on each other, make better decisions at the racetrack.
So the foundation's there.  The cars mechanically were better.  The whole situation, everything is better.  Pit stops were better, better organized.  Hendrick Motorsports with Hendrick engines, support from the pit crews, everything we're doing.
We're better now than we were.  We'd like to continue to do that.  I think things will change and we'll grow as the season goes on.
REGAN SMITH:  The foundation's amazing that's being built.  That started with Brian and Dale and Kelley two years now almost ago with the changes that were made.  Just continuing to grow it.  We got three teams that we truly believe week in and week out are going to go out there and challenge for wins.  It might not be the 7 car one week, it might be the 9 car.  It might be the 88 car.  It will be the 5 occasionally.
But we know what we have for equipment going into this season and what's been built and the foundation that's been laid.  That's a testament to the hard work.
Like I said, these guys' vision throughout the course of last year, the year prior to that.  We truly believe as a company this is a year we can step up and challenge the Penske and Gibbs cars week in, week out, stamp our name right beside them if not ahead of them.

Q.  Regan, not to belabor the last year situation, but you referenced it even at the end of the race, talking about redemption.  As you were bearing down on the final turn, did it pop into your head at all?
REGAN SMITH:  As a driver, honestly, you can't let situations like that pop into your head.  You have to go out there and believe in your abilities, believe in what you're capable of doing on the racetrack, trust the competitors that are around that you're going to get back to the stripe and finish the race off.
I think the way that this race lined up with the rules package with the guys being two‑by‑two made it a little bit smarter, safer, coming to the stripe.¬† If we would have been three‑wide, might have been a whole 'nother ballgame.¬† Seemed like you never had to worry about getting three‑wide.¬† You were more worried about the car behind you, getting them in position where they needed to be.
To say I haven't thought about it this week at all would be a complete lie.  When I was out there actually racing, it was not in my mind at all.  I was focused on what my job was, and that was to make sure that the 7 car got back to the stripe first.
RYAN PEMBERTON:  It was in my mind.
REGAN SMITH:  You're allowed to think about that stuff more than I am.

Q.¬† Earlier this week you said if NASCAR is going to be policing the bump‑drafting, tandem drafting, you didn't want to be a cop in that situation.¬† How do you think everybody handled themselves today?¬† Only saw one black flag.¬† What did you learn that you can use going on to the next three superspeedway races?
REGAN SMITH:  I think with us only seeing one black flag, everybody handled themselves pretty well.
Once I got out front, I didn't do much of it myself when I was in the back.  There was a period in the race when we were just riding.  Had Chase in front of me.  When you have two team cars together, you don't want to risk anything in the pack, be smart at that point, feeling our car to see what it was capable of.
Next thing I knew, we were able to get the track position and get out front.¬† Once we were able to get out front, everything I saw and felt was strictly bump‑drafting.
We used to hook the cars up when we had the tandem stuff.  The initial getting the cars together was never smooth.  It was always bumping off of each other.  So you're still doing that, you're just never laying right onto them and being connected.
Clearly with only one black flag, I don't know who it was, the 99 car, we all did a pretty good job of understanding the rules.  When you put it on paper and when NASCAR talked to us at the start of the season, at the end of last year about the rules, what we were going to have to do, that's what they envisioned.  When they tell you, You're the best in the world at this, you understand what to do, clearly we did.

Q.  You worked a little bit together before.  Did that help at all as far as getting up to speed with each other?
REGAN SMITH:  I don't think it hurts.  I think it definitely helps Ryan know my personality, me know his personality, know just how each other functions, how we work, how we act, things like that.  So, no, I don't think that hurts at all.
I would almost say more so than that helping, with Ryan at competition director last year, watching over both teams, I think he saw ‑ he can correct me if I'm wrong ‑ I think he saw things I could have done better as a driver, we could have done better as a team, especially as it got down at the end of it.¬† He always had his hand involved running the meetings, doing the things we do on a weekly basis.
If you want to be technical about it, we worked together last year, too.  That made it more seamless coming down here and doing what we had to do from that standpoint, I think.
RYAN PEMBERTON:  Yeah, what he said (laughter).
No, really I believe that.  We've been friends for a long time.  I've known Regan since he was even shorter than he is right now.
REGAN SMITH:  And fatter (laughter).
RYAN PEMBERTON:  So, you know, it's kind of fun to do this.  Back then, I don't remember what year it was.
REGAN SMITH:  '07 maybe.
RYAN PEMBERTON:¬† Mark Martin was the only one running the limited schedule.¬† We were looking around like, Who do we want to put in this car?¬† Some up‑and‑comer kid, find somebody to put in the car.¬† Like I said, I knew Regan when he was even shorter.¬† I'd been watching him for a few years.¬† I really believed he had the talent to, you know, do it.
That was my vote to put him in the car and share the ride with Mark Martin at the start of that season.  I never really thought about it, but now it's pretty cool how it's all come around like that.
REGAN SMITH:  It's gone full circle here.
RYAN PEMBERTON:  I like that, thank you.

Q.  As somebody whose brother has won at Daytona as a crew chief, as a crew chief, winning at Daytona is huge.  What does it feel like?  You're a winner at Daytona.
RYAN PEMBERTON:  Yeah, I think it's kind of like what Regan said.  For me the last hour, I've had my heart broke down here a few times.
REGAN SMITH:  I was sitting on the box with you at one of them.
Basically I thought we had it won last year.  That didn't happen.  Up until it went all the way across the line, I couldn't look.
The last hour was pretty nerve‑wracking.¬† It's Daytona, one of those things.¬† I had opportunities in different situations to win here, whether it be the time we almost won the race with Mark Martin, and Harvick beat us to the line there, there were cars wrecking.¬† If they had thrown the caution, we would have won the race.
All these different scenarios, those things keep slipping through.  All the way to two years ago I was leading the race with Blaney, and somebody hit the jet drier.  I said, Man, we're going to win this race because there's a hole in the racetrack.
So this right here is pretty cool because we didn't need anything else.  We executed like we said we were going to do and gave ourselves opportunity.  I think he did a great job of easing up through the pack.  We didn't make any mistakes and gave ourselves the best shot at it.  He took care of the rest.
It's Daytona.  It's awesome.  It feels just as good now as it did when I won the 500 with Davey Allison, not as a crew chief, but as a mechanic.  That was awesome.  It's always special.
Now 15 or 20 years later, you get a chance to win here.  I think it's going to be best when we get back with the guys, think about it tomorrow.  Right now, the last hour, a lot of worrying, a lot of thinking.  It just takes a lot out of you.  I'm ready to go hang out with the guys.
KERRY THARP:  We'll let you do just that.  Congratulations.
REGAN SMITH:  Thank you guys for being here and enjoy tomorrow.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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