Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his crew chief Steve Letarte meet the media following their NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway.
Dale, that is your 19th win in NASCAR Sprint Cup. I know that coming out of yesterday's practice, might not have had the best feeling in the world but talk about the win
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, we had some tough things to overcome this weekend with the tire issues and they made some changes and we were not really – I wasn't very confident after the practice. Steve felt pretty good. Talked about the things we would do to the car and he felt pretty confident, and I was a little nervous when the race started – the car was not quite where I needed it to be. We were not in too big of trouble.
But we needed some adjustments, and then in that moment, it's really kind of tough to give Steve or I guess I worry whether he knows exactly where I'm at or what I need with the car, how much I need. But I guess he knows me well enough, because he made the right calls, and the thing took off flying.
And then, he made some pit strategy choices that put us toward the front to where the car could respond, and if we had a fast car it was going to happen, and it did.
So he did a good job, and from there on, we just did everything we had to, to keep ourselves in the top, you know, five or the top three, to stay in the clean air, because it was definitely difficult in traffic, especially from 10th on back. It was really a real challenge to run around there.
So he did a great job putting the car toward the front and the car responded when we got there, and I just learned a lot, you know, running around behind people and learning about what my car was capable of doing. I pushed my car a little bit harder each time we ran around the corner and found where the car was comfortable and fast, and just tried to maintain a good pace. I was worried about tire issues and stuff like that, even late in the race because our car kind of started turning better, and I was thinking, “Man, I'm going to work the right rear a little harder.”
I saved a little in my pocket in the last 50 laps and ran only as hard as I thought I needed to, and at the end of the race, this thing was a rocket and I couldn't slow it down, it was so fast.
Steve, could you talk about working through all the tire issues?
Yeah, it's been an eventful weekend. I think it really started back in Pocono. We had some concepts and some ideas in the racecar we took there and it showed speed, so we were excited to get here.
We were pretty comfortable with our car on Thursday and on Friday we were disappointed to see the tire trouble, because we thought we had good speed but understood the situation and what needed to be done. When Goodyear brought the different tire in that short happy hour session, we did the best we could throwing some thing at the car to get feedback on it.
I can't say enough about our guys. It was a long day (Saturday) and they left with as much energy as they came in with and were ready to go this morning. The engineers put a tremendous car together and Hendrick engines stuck together. We went over our laps, for sure, in practice; and to be able to run 200 strong laps today was a total team effort. It was good. We had to make adjustments on our car today, we made them early and then worked really hard on our pit strategy. Just kind of all worked out. It was great.
This was run as a slower pace because of the change in the tires, but the hardness of the tires probably made things a little treacherous in the turns. Did those two factors balance each other out? Did the changes help or hurt?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: The car was a real handful, especially around other cars; when they change the tire, it takes away a ton of mechanical grip.
So the car really relies a lot on the aero grip from that point on, and when you get around other people, you lose that. So when you have no mechanical and no aero, the car is a real tricky thing to get through the corner.
You've got to be careful, because whenever cars are around you, that changes how the air is displaced from your car. So you've just got to know where if a guy is on your right rear quarter panel, how that's going to change the aerodynamics on your car versus a guy being out on front of your car or the left side or whatever. You just have to know that going into a corner, and watch out.
But you know, I was really disappointed not really that they changed the tire; I was just disappointed we were going through the process. I know everybody was. I know NASCAR was and Goodyear was probably disappointed. But we worked a couple of days getting the thing to work with what we brought here.
Then we were thrown into a deal where we had about an hour to figure it out, but we only had 25 laps on our motor. Our motor tuner would not let us run more than that. I told Steve, “We are going into this practice with 25 laps, and what if my car is junk?” He said, “We can't practice no more.” That's how strict of a deal it is. I was desperate in that last practice to get something to work and when it ended, I still wasn't really sure if we were where we needed to be, and I woke up this morning just antsy not knowing how this was going to play out.
We had done so well up to this point, cognizant of the top-10s and the laps we have ran and how steady we have been all year and I just want to keep that going each weekend. I felt like we might be getting ready to have a difficult race.
It turned out to be the exact opposite for whatever reason. But I was just disappointed we were kind of going through that process and I know that at the time, I didn't know if it was the right decision or not.
We got to put on a race today without any problems, without any tire problems, so I assume that, you know, everything is OK, and everybody – we'll probably have to tire test here again and figure out something a little bit better than this, because this definitely ain't the answer.
We got through the weekend OK and we didn't have any trouble with guys blistering tires. We are going pretty fast out there on this new surface to have tires blistering and coming apart. I would I have hated to see anything happen to anybody or even myself with a tire failure or something like that at this speed.