As soon as Dale Earnhardt Jr. emerged from his No. 88 car after a ninth-place result at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, he caught the eye of crew chief Steve Letarte and the two walked away for a private conversation.
Standing between two transporters, Earnhardt Jr. let his crew chief know how he felt about his car in much more detail than the driver had revealed on the team radio.
No one – not the team members, public relations representatives or reporters – could hear the conversation. And that's significant, because it represents somewhat of a change from how Earnhardt Jr. used to conduct himself.
"Two or three years ago, I would have complained about everything I thought was wrong with that car today over the radio," he said. "Today, I know better."
It's that type of veteran experience – along with a good car and good team – that's propelled Earnhardt Jr. to what has so far been one of his best seasons ever.
"This is definitely the most consistent I've ever ran," he said.
There's evidence to back that up: The Talladega race marked Earnhardt Jr.'s sixth consecutive top-10 finish, which matches his career-long streak (the other one came in 2004).
But Sunday's result might not have happened a few years ago. In the middle part of the race, Earnhardt Jr. said he realized "we didn't have such a great car," and in order to finish, "I needed to be smart."
So he played it a bit safer than he would have preferred – after all, Earnhardt Jr. loves to lead laps at Talladega – but it worked out.
"I think you always hope to get better the more you run, the longer you are around," he said. "I'm definitely more mature, especially in the decisions I make on the racetrack."
One of those decisions, though, was just instinct.
When avoiding a big crash that took out several contenders, Earnhardt Jr. came to a virtual halt before weaving his way through the wreckage.
So how'd he do it?
"I didn't really go through it at all," he said. "I just stopped and watched the whole thing, and when everybody got done crashing, I just took off and drove on out of there."