Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th at Las Vegas, which wasn't exactly his idea of a good time.
But it wasn't all bad, either, as Earnhardt Jr. moved up to 15th in points and is in decent position heading out of the West Coast swing.
So will it be baby steps for his team at this point?
"I hope not," Earnhardt Jr. answered quickly. "I don't want it to be, you know? We're not fuckin' stupid, you know? We made a lot of dumb shit happen last year. I think we're a better team, we're mentally prepared to run these races."
Earnhardt Jr. ran around or in the top 10 until about two-thirds through the race, when he was lapped by then-leader Jeff Gordon.
He took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap after a caution and gained a few positions, but couldn't make up much more ground.
"Once you get outside that top five, man, it's just so hard," he said. "The air is gone off the cars and you're just at the mercy of what's going on around you and there's no downforce. It just feels so much better running in the top five and I just couldn't keep it there."
His pit crew didn't help either. It lost a few positions for him on pit road – and the driver said he lost a few on the track as well.
Team owner Rick Hendrick said the team has "made a lot of improvements," but can't put together a complete race.
"It seems like every time the car's good, the pit crew screws up," Hendrick said. "If the pit crew's good, something breaks on the car. I think they've made a ton of improvement and will have a really good year."
Earnhardt Jr. echoed that sentiment, saying the chassis and engines were capable, but "we just gotta put all the components together."
He said after seeing teammates Gordon and Jimmie Johnson dominate the race, "the first thing you think about is studying their notes a little bit harder."
Earnhardt Jr.'s right front kept hitting the ground, he said, so he could have used more spring in that area – which is something Gordon's car had.
Asked if he wished the caution lights had malfunctioned again when he needed it to prevent from going a lap down, Earnhardt Jr. chuckled and said no.
"No, I like the green flags, even if we're going backwards," he said. "I like to get this shit over with and go home."