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MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES: DAYTONA 500 QUALIFYING


February 18, 2018


Justin Alexander

Richard Childress

Austin Dillon


Dayton Beach, Florida

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the champion of today's 60th annual Daytona 500, and that is none other than Austin Dillon, driver of the No.3 Dow Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. This is Austin's second victory in 159 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts, of course your first victory of 2018, and you have joined the ranks of drivers who have now won the Daytona 500 and the Coca‑Cola 600. Amazing accomplishment today. I just have to ask you, talk us through the final lap.
AUSTIN DILLON: I don't know, I think I blacked out and just everything just kind of kept going, and we were staying in the gas, and things were happening fast, and I knew‑‑ I kind of knew it was the checkered flag, I knew it was green‑white‑checkered because we crossed the line once, and I was like, okay, this is it right here, and got to give a shout‑out to my buddy Bubba, I raced Bandoleros, legends cars, and glad he's got him a good ride in the 43. That ECR engine gave us a good push down the backstretch, and when we caught the 10, he tried to block, and I just had a lot of momentum. The last lap of the Daytona 500, you just don't lift, actually the last couple laps. We were lucky to get through there.
Man, this place is awesome. I don't know what it is about storylines and Daytona. This place just creates history. Proud to be a part of it and make some history here tonight.
THE MODERATOR: Walking to the stage is Richard Childress. Richard, 20 years ago, you were celebrating with Dale Earnhardt in the 3 car in Victory Lane. What's it like to be able to celebrate with Austin here tonight?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: It's incredible. You know, to come back 20 years later after Dale's great victory here, and to be able to celebrate 20 years later with my grandson in the No.3 car is just a storybook tale. I couldn't be prouder of him, his race team. The Earnhardt family, I called them about running ‑‑ Kelly and Dale Jr. running the 3, and they supported us all the way.
And for all the No.3 fans that stuck with us and pulled for Austin, it's just‑‑ I'm speechless, I guess.

Q. Austin, Aric Almirola said he's not mad at you because he understood what was going on there, and he threw a block and that you were both trying to win the 500, but people are mad online about the move. Can you explain what options you had aside from doing that, if there were any other options?
AUSTIN DILLON: I guess I could have lifted and gave it to him. I guess that was my other option, give up a Daytona 500 ring that I'm wearing. I don't know, I'm glad he's not mad. If he needs to do it to me at Talladega for everybody to feel good, I've got a Daytona 500 championship trophy, ring, whatever. I don't care. I've got the 3 back in Victory Lane at date. It feels pretty good.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by crew chief Justin Alexander. Congratulations on your win in the Great American Race. How nervous were you on that final lap?
JUSTIN ALEXANDER: Man, it was like slow motion, really. Austin did everything he needed to do. He stayed in the outside line. He side drafted when he needed to. The 43 helped us out there. To win these races, you've got to put yourself in position to be there at the right time, and Austin did what it took. I don't know, it was crazy. It was kind of surreal. Still surreal.

Q. For Richard, Dale Jr. was in here this morning, and he was asked about his thoughts on Daytona, and he said that he had to make peace with this place a long time ago, he had to decide if he was going to love it or hate it. I'm wondering what you think of this place, and with all the history you have and now you're making new history with your grandson, what do you think of this place?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: You know, Daytona has been a special place for me. In 1965, I came down here and slept in a tent over here off of Nova Road, and I fell in love with it. I remember going, making my first laps myself here in 1969. Went around the top of the track, and I went and called my wife, I said, I just drove around where the Daytona 500 is against the wall. And it's just special.
So many great memories, and then the sad memory of losing Dale in 2001. You know, we were ready to get out of the sport at that point, and I thought of a story that Dale and I talked about on a mountain over in New Mexico one day, and I know the idea he wanted us to be here tonight, and I know he's smiling down tonight on this No.3 win and victory. It's just a special place.

Q. Austin, do you have any memories of 20 years ago? I guess you were, what, seven in Victory Lane, and you're just a kid, I am assuming just enjoying the moment?
AUSTIN DILLON: I was just having fun collecting hats and crawling on the trophy. Pretty cool to look back. We have an office in the museum kind of tucked away, and the senior 98 car is sitting right there, and the win constantly plays right there, and I walk by it all the time, and you see him win and win and win. Last night after the Xfinity race it was on FOX, and my grandfather said, I always like watching that '98 win. He came by, we were going to dinner, and he said, if you win tomorrow night, you need to slide through the grass like that, and I was like, all right. So I remembered it halfway down the backstretch and slid through the grass, had fun, and it was pretty awesome.

Q. How close do you come to wrecking yourself on that last lap?
AUSTIN DILLON: I don't even remember. I just remember knowing that I wasn't going to lift is the biggest thing. It just happened and worked out, and we won the race. For me, I remember catching the wheel after it hit him and just kind of wiggling a little bit, but heck, I didn't‑‑ I really kind of didn't‑‑ I thought we were just going to race back and they were going to have a shot at catching me, so I was looking in the mirror the whole time back. Houston didn't say that it was the checkered flag. He never does. He's always a lap or two off. We usually don't count really well together. I ask him about every race how many laps to go, and he gives me the wrong number, and it's kind of a running joke against our team about our math skills. But yeah, I don't know, man. I had such a run, and I had to use it, and if I lift right there, I get run over out the back, too. It's part of this place. I've been run over‑‑ I've been in the catch fence and not mad after a race because it's just part of it, man. Your eyes roll back in your head and you say don't lift, and you just go. Everybody does it. It's part of it. You just hope you're the one that comes out on the good part of it, and sometimes you don't. I hate that, because last night I got wrecked when Erik in the 42 wrecked against the wall and took me out in the Xfinity race. It's a part of it, man. It's just crazing racing; that's why people love to show up for it, because you never know who's going to win, and you've just got to stick it in there and hope it works out.

Q. (Indiscernible).
AUSTIN DILLON: That's a good question. The next week we went to Kentucky, and I was a little sore, and I think there is. Every time you wreck like that, you don't know‑‑ that was a big wreck. Like when it happened, I didn't know how big it was, and then you see videos of it, and you're like, how did I like walk out of that like with nothing. It's weird. I don't know. I guess nervous coming here. I think everybody does. Especially like the first race in the Clash, I remember before the race, I was like, man, there's something about this place that just makes you nervous.
But once you get in the race car and you settle in, the belts are tight, you're like, all right, it's time to go racing. It's fun again. This place is just cool because of that. If it didn't make you nervous, something would be wrong, I think.

Q. Justin, we talked yesterday about your car and the balance that you had to find, and you said you felt like you had the speed to win this if things played out right. You led one time for one lap; at what time during the race did you truly believe you had a car that was capable of winning this thing?
AUSTIN DILLON: Every lap.
JUSTIN ALEXANDER: No, the only lap you've got to lead is the last one. No, we had some struggling, some handling issues, not bad, a little bit, early in the race‑‑
AUSTIN DILLON: No, they were bad. I just was driving it. It was pretty loose.
JUSTIN ALEXANDER: I guess he didn't lead us to believe that. No, we had to make some adjustments. It wasn't just our car, it was all the cars I was scanning, all the guys out there it seemed like they were having handling issues. We made some decent adjustments on the car, and I think we got it to where he wanted it, and about the second stage, we had made some adjustments that he liked, and he was pretty happy with the car. It definitely took some work for sure on our end, and he did a heck of a job.

Q. Austin, you got a lucky penny earlier from a fan, same sort of situation as Dale Sr. 20 years ago. Can you walk us through that story and how special is that for you to have the same set of circumstances?
AUSTIN DILLON: It was really cool. We did an autograph session before the Clash, and a lot of fans were there, and some kids that I don't think they knew a whole lot about racing, but they were enjoying themselves, and funny thing is he had a white Ford hat on. I said, man, you've got to take that off. I signed my hat, gave it to him, and said, now, look, I've got to be your favorite driver, right? And he's like, all right, cool, I've got you now, and he was probably seven, eight years old, about the same age I would have been 20 years ago, and the next day, he had my hat on and I was walking through the garage, and I seen him at the fence, and he yelled at me, and I turned, I seen he had my hat on. So I was like, sweet. He's like, hey, I got this for you. It was a lucky penny. Put it in the car, and it's sitting on the dash right now, and it's pretty special. I think that's really cool. I've never been that superstitious in my life, but my grandfather is very superstitious, so I listened to him in the race, I ran the bottom more, I found a lucky penny, and it just worked out tonight, I guess.

Q. Richard, just to be able to see on the scoreboard the 3 and the 43 together, what that means for you, and for Austin, obviously all you guys are supremely confident, but how much are you‑‑ I don't know if surprised is the right word, or is that not even in your lexicon in running here at this place?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Yeah, you know, I was just‑‑ you're reading my mind. I looked up, seen the board up here, the 3 and the 43, I thought, how special is that for the history. Petty has been here so many times, and Bubba done a great job in that car tonight, and I'm really proud of those guys. Yeah, I'm a little superstitious, I guess. But I'm just so proud of Austin for carrying the banner for RCR. It's tough on him running that 3. A lot of people asked about it. But we had 97 percent, I would say, or 98 percent support from the Earnhardt fans that said, we're glad to see it back. We want to see it back. And so he handled the pressure well.
AUSTIN DILLON: As far as being surprised, this race, like we had to start in the back, and yesterday in the Xfinity race, I kind of played the race the same way, and always just try and give yourself a chance to win at these places. I've won two of them doing it. Just making it through the wrecks. But you always want to stay in that lead pack for green flag stops. We actually messed up. The 17 waved me off like he was coming to pit road, and I thought, all right, all the Fords are coming to pit road, and Houston was like, pit, pit, pit, and we pitted, and there was like four cars, and I was like, oh, no, this is not good. So we're running out there by ourselves, hoping for a caution, the 24 spins, and it was like, all right, we're back in the race. After that it was‑‑ I don't know, 12, 13 to go, I think, 11 maybe, and I was like, all right, it's time to go. We're three wide, two wide, and I got a run off the top, and you're making decisions really quick, and you're trying to make sure you're making the right decisions, and I went from the top to the bottom, because he always talks about having a lane. I like running the top because it seems to carry more momentum. He's like, have a lane, have a lane to get out of in case a wreck happens. And sure enough, the 41 and whoever else wrecked, and I see him coming down, I'm like, hey, I've got a lane here, I'm going to be all right. It worked out, and we're sitting fourth, and it's not going through my head like, yeah, we're going to win the Daytona 500 right here, I'm just trying not to miss a shift and do my job. You're so focused, you don't even think like 600 miles, 500 miles. When we won the 600, I wasn't thinking about winning, I'm thinking about doing my job.
We go through the gears, everything is fine, the 43 is on my back bumper. Side draft the 11 tight to keep the lines even, the 10 gets out front, and we keep that line for a full lap, and the 43 gets a big run and shoves me, and the rest is kind of history after that. We got the lead and the win.

Q. I just wonder what Barn Life is going to be like this week.
AUSTIN DILLON: That's a good point. Barn Life‑‑ for all the Barn Lifers out there, it's a YouTube show with me and my buddy. We're working on it pretty hard. I'd say we're going to be on a couple other shows this week, so hopefully we can get together with Barn Life and maybe I'll just take Paul with me so we can document the whole trip. I think I can work out a plane ticket for him to travel with me, and me and my cohost will have a lot of fun for you guys to keep up on social media.

Q. RC, this has kind of been a rebuilding year for you, and I got a note from Andy Murstein, and he said for the both of you to kind of come together and build your companies, rebuild the companies together, that it was a huge moment for both of you to finish one, two. What does it do to help bring in‑‑ you have tons of technical alliances, but what does it mean to bring in someone of their nature into the fold?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: It's special. You know, I've been a Richard Petty fan for many years and been friends with Richard, and the opportunity came along for us to get together. But I knew we had to do something different at RCR, and I brought Andy Petree in. Eric Warren is now looking after our engineering, but Andy Petree has so much more to our racing operation, and just the whole group that we've built around the 3 and the 31, I think, with two cars, it's given us a lot more focus. Our cars were really fast, and it just depended on where you were tonight.
I think it's just special to be with the Pettys and have them up there. The future is going to be bright for us, I promise you. We tested at Vegas, and our intermediate cars are going to be great, so we're really looking forward to Atlanta.

Q. This is the same sort of question but for you, Austin. You talked before the season started about last year was a big step getting a win, but how much more you guys were looking forward to doing this year. Although Daytona doesn't necessarily transfer to other tracks, as Richard said, you had a great test at Las Vegas. Can you be any more excited about going into the rest of this season?
AUSTIN DILLON: Oh, I'm pumped. The Camaro ZL1 has showed some promise already, and obviously it takes a lot of pressure off when you get that first win for getting in the playoffs. I think we have a high ceiling, especially we build fast race cars and work together as a team, and the ceiling is as high as we want to take it. We've just got to keep working together. I love Justin's demeanor in the box. Our team pretty much stayed together from last year, and that's really hard to do in this sport. We kept a lot of good guys. The only guys that left were guys that wanted to leave, know what I mean, they went to another team, and it feels good to get my guys that stayed wins. But my mechanics, my engineers, they all stayed, every one of them, tire guy all the way up to crew chief, they stayed. We lost like a tire changer and a carrier. Past that, everybody stayed the same and we added some new blood on the pit crew, and it feels good. Most of them are my guys. The Wolf Pack was out there tonight representing.

Q. This is kind of a fun question. As you know, your car is going to be here on display in Daytona Beach for a year. Are you going to keep the penny in the car or keep the penny with you?
AUSTIN DILLON: I think that penny deserves to stay with its owner, the car, so it's going to stick right there. It's glued in on the left side of the dash, and you guys can go check it out. I'd like to find that kid, though. Maybe I can‑‑ if somebody knows me, if you could get him to the track tomorrow, that would be really cool.

Q. This question is for Austin. You talked about how you lost the lead draft there late in the race. How hard is it to keep your mind in it, and were you just sitting there in the final few laps going, how in the heck do I have a chance to win this thing after being half a lap behind and looking like you were going to finish like 15th?
AUSTIN DILLON: The fight is never over. You just keep on trucking. Yeah, I think we were running 13th, and I was like, our car is the cleanest car here. If we get a caution, we're going to be sitting really good. We had no scratches on it. I didn't get a scratch on it all day. So the caution came out, the good Lord looked after us, and we're here.

Q. Richard, when you decided about bringing the 3 back, was there any hesitation about putting Austin in the car, putting your grandson under that potential umbrella of continual observance from everybody, wondering how he's going to do and so forth? Was that a tough decision or not?
AUSTIN DILLON: He knew from day one.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: It was. I thought about‑‑ I asked some friends what they thought about it, did I really believe in Johnny Morris and some people like that. I asked Johnny about bringing it back because he and Dale were real close, and he sponsored Austin in the Truck Series. That was the first time we brought it back. And then Austin ran the Bandolero cars with 3, and when he asked me about running the 3, I said, you know, that was Dale's number. I said, you know, that's a famous number. He said, no, it isn't, it's your number. You drove it, and that's why I want to do it. That helped make my decision is when he said, you drove the 3. But Dale made it famous, trust me.

Q. What happened here in '98, obviously very special. Does today top that for you?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: You know, I've been asked that two or three times, and I don't see how you could top either one of them or pick either one of them over the other. The most special part about this is my grandson, and 20 years later, we win the Daytona 500. Dale winning that, I know how special the Daytona 500 was for his résumé. I was so happy for him to win that Daytona 500 because I knew how much it meant to him. And tonight for Austin to come back, my own grandson, 20 years later and win the Daytona 500 is really‑‑ that's a special one. Both of them are special, but nothing is thicker than blood.
AUSTIN DILLON: I will say growing up, as my grandfather‑‑ as the grandson, you always look up to people, and the relationship that him and Dale Earnhardt had was a friendship that you don't find every day. I mean, it's one of those friendships, a best friend that you trust and you love. I could tell how much as I grew older their friendship meant and still wears on him because he misses him.
I'll never be able to recreate any of that, but to be able to go to Victory Lane for him because he's given me everything I could ask for in my career. Everybody knows that. I'm here because of him. But to be able to deliver a trophy back to him feels pretty darned good.

Q. Austin, how has your confidence been over the last maybe year and a half, and what do you think this does kind of for your career and maybe how people look at you?
AUSTIN DILLON: Well, when I met my smoking hot wife, my confidence level grew. And it's still growing. But you know, NASCAR is so hard, and I've got a great family that you go through ups and downs, and I've fought with my grandfather and fought with my dad about my driving and how we're doing in the race cars and people in general. It's good to have a family that cares and fights together with you. But confidence is‑‑ I try not to let it waver you but it does at times. It happens. And you just learn to deal with the ups and downs, and luckily I've had great people behind us like Dow and other sponsors that have kept pushing us along and stayed behind us through all of it. I've struggled. When I came from the Xfinity Series, you win races, you win championships, same thing in the trucks, and you get to the Cup Series, and you're like, holy cow, these guys are good.
It takes time. I see Max Papis back there in the back of the room, my buddy back there. He worked with me for a long time and went through all of that. I knew I could do it. I feel like I can do it. You never lose the doubt that you can't drive the race car, and when you don't, you don't need to be doing it, you need to be doing something else. I know it's there, and the support of all our guys and getting the right people around you. When I got Justin around me, my confidence level went back up. He trusted me. He lets me make calls, and he sends them back to me when they need to be sent back to me. He calls me out, too.
His demeanor fits, and when all the pieces of the puzzle get together and it works out, you do great things. Dale Earnhardt had a lot of crew chiefs, he went throughout and switched and did different things, and different combinations worked, and I think we've found a great combination at RCR right now.

Q. Austin, what was last night? What was this morning like getting ready for the race? Obviously as you say, there's always that confidence, not like you expect to win the race, but what's the anxiety like, if at all? And secondly, on that last restart, Hamlin was up there, obviously has the most experience. Were you most concerned about him, and can you kind of talk about him in that last restart and how that played out?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, sure. So last night I went to dinner with our partners at Dow, and I had a chicken parmesan. It was really good. I went back to the bus‑‑ actually I had some ice cream, too. I forgot about that. I had some ice cream, went back to the bus, went to sleep. My dog kept me up all night, but it was okay. Slept pretty decent. We got up, and I did my rounds to all of our great partners that we have, went to Coast, to Dow and different people.
And came back, and my mom wanted to FaceTime me because she was closing up their house, and she wanted to FaceTime and pray, and Whitney and Whitney's mom and somebody else was in there. We all held hands and we prayed, and Whitney did a really good prayer, and after the prayer she cried like halfway through it, and I've always been weird about crying, I don't know, like if a girl ‑‑ I don't know what to say. I'm like, are you okay, like what's wrong, I don't understand why you're crying, babe, and she kind of got mad at me for like, why are you crying. She stormed off, and I was like, oh, gosh. So I walked back to the bathroom, like, babe, what's wrong, why are you crying. I get emotional when it comes to you. I'm like, that's good, but it's okay, I'm going to be okay, it's all good. We had it out there for a second, and I was like, look, before I get in this race car, my mind has got to be right, so tell me you love me. And she's like, I love you; that's why I'm crying. I'm like, okay.
Well, then she said, hey, this one is not going to be easy today. You're not going to like lead every lap and be up front much, but you're going to do it when it's clutch, you're going to win when it matters, on the last lap. I'm like‑‑ she's like, I like it that way better. I'm like, okay, that's good, all. I'm not registering things, I'm just glad she's happy again at this point.
We go through the whole motions, make it through everything all day, and she was right, we won in the last lap, so it was a pretty cool story really, all the stuff that happened throughout the race. That's like word for word how it all went. It's fun leading up to. People tell you certain things.
My buddy Dugger, he texted me, and I was kind of jealous because he was like, I think I'm sitting with the Daytona 500 winner, and he was sitting with Ricky Stenhouse, he posted on Instagram. I was like, ugh, sellout. He texted me like I think you're going to win the Daytona 500. I didn't text him back because I was like, you already said Stenhouse was going to win you think, and we ended up winning and he showed up in Victory Lane, so I'm going to give him some crap later when I see him.

Q. You helped somebody win a hundred grand. How important do you think fantasy is for NASCAR and just in general?
AUSTIN DILLON: Oh, man. Fantasy is fun. My brother and I both play a lot of fantasy. It's really key. I think other fans that are wanting to get into NASCAR and learn more about it, there's a lot of cool things that we can keep adding to fantasy as far as pit stops go and intervals. There's a lot of things that we could start taking and adding to fantasy and make it more in depth than football when it comes to that.
I'm excited for the future of fantasy and NASCAR and hope that more of it happens. It's awesome.
Actually you know what's cool, the NASCAR deal, the girl came in there in the commercial and she was like, picked every driver, and it was like Chase Elliott, Blaney, blah, blah, Suárez, and me and Byron were sitting there, and our line was to be, like, she missed out. I guess it worked out where we should have been picked, so a hundred grand, that's pretty cool.

Q. My question is for Richard. I was watching the race, it just seemed like a very emotional day for a lot of people to see that No.3 get back into Victory Lane. You even said yourself that it was a storybook tale, and it almost felt as though Dale Earnhardt was here today with us in spirit. Now, if he was here with us in person, what would you say to him?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: He would be‑‑ he would come over and grab Austin around the neck, put that old Dale Earnhardt hug on him, and tell him how proud he was of him. I knew Dale as good as anyone, and I know right now he's up there smiling down.

Q. Austin, Bubba was in here earlier, and he noted something about the way the finish was, him and you, and he said, people are tuning in and hopefully noticing the new face and the new change that's coming to NASCAR. I'm wondering, do you think this race and this finish and you younger guys being up there at the end is an indication of what he's saying?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I think it's really cool. It's a great feeling in the garage because I've kind of been fortunate enough to drive through where you have great guys that I was like, when I came into the Cup Series, I'm like awestruck to be on the same track with Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and throughout that time I feel like the whole time, I'm like, man, you've got to respect these guys. You don't want to get in their way, you don't want to do certain things, but you're also losing time on getting better because you're not being yourself, and right now I feel like a lot of these guys are coming in, we're all going to start trying to be ourselves because the people that led our sports for so long have kind of moved out. Yeah, it definitely feels good to have Bubba and I up there and fighting. I think there's going to be some great battles this year with all the young guys. There's going to be storylines, and the NASCAR fans are going to love what they see. I really do.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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