As he does after nearly every race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed from his car and plopped down on the back step of his No. 88 team's transporter.
Crew chief Steve Letarte took a seat next to the driver to dissect the result – a 10th place finish on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway – and then gave way to a group of reporters who gathered around.
Suddenly, in the middle of Earnhardt Jr.'s interview, the grinning face of Matt Kenseth appeared among the media.
"You getting tired again?" Kenseth chided.
"No, I ain't tired!" Earnhardt Jr. replied.
"Oh, OK, just making sure," Kenseth said, his smile growing bigger.
"I'm talking, ain't I?" Earnhardt Jr. shot back.
"Just making sure you're OK!" Kenseth said before walking away.
Earnhardt Jr. was just fine physically, but he was somewhat disappointed to finish 10th at a track where he's won before and had high expectations. And that's not such a bad thing in itself, the driver said.
"I feel good about being disappointed in 10th place," he said. "We really didn't have a good car at the end of the race, and to finish 10th, I think that's a really good sign for our team. Last year, I think we might have finished 15th or 17th or something like that."
In an attempt to try something new, Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. decided on an "extremely unique" setup compared to the typical one run at a 1.5-mile track (which is what Earnhardt Jr.'s Hendrick Motorsports teammates had in their cars).
Earnhardt Jr. was game for the experiment, because he said "you've got to go out and try things" in order to get better and win races.
That said, some more testing will be required before they try it again, and Earnhardt Jr. said the team will likely return to a more conventional setup next week at Kansas Speedway.
At Kansas, Earnhardt Jr. will enter the weekend tied with Kenseth for second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings – 19 points behind leader Greg Biffle, who won on Saturday.
"I don't really know what happens to get you to Victory Lane, exactly what we need to do," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But we'll just keep showing up to the racetrack, keep trying to use our best judgment."
At one point, though, Earnhardt Jr.'s car was so bad that he lit up the team radio with some colorful language and declared it was the most ill-handling car he'd ever driven.
Looking back, was it really that awful?
"Oh, it's the worst," he said. "It's absolutely incredible. You know, I really feared I was going to wreck the car. There was a couple times the car was so sideways, it was near the point of no return."
And what of the curse words on the radio?
"I try to cuss to myself, but it really doesn't make me feel any better!" he said with a laugh. "So I had to tell somebody – you know, cuss at somebody or say something. It makes me feel a ton better, and I know Steve knows what the deal is."
"The only guys that you really worry about are the guys on the team that you're not as close to. I'm still building bonds and friendships with all these guys and they don't know me as well as Steve and some of these other guys. You've got to zip your lip every once in awhile and try to control yourself. I tried just to shut myself up and take it out on the car."
Earnhardt Jr. said he also had his hands full with the wind, which was gusting at 20-30 mph for most of the race.
"Oh man, the wind was something else!" he said. "It was terrible for me. Either that, or my car was really bad, I don't know. Down the front straightaway, it was weaving around and bobbing. You didn't know which way it was going to go."