Hampton, GA - Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion Jeff Gordon held firmly to the lead in the point standings with a strong second place finish behind the wheel of his No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Youth Challenge Impala SS in the ...
Hampton, GA - Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion Jeff Gordon held firmly to the lead in the point standings with a strong second place finish behind the wheel of his No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Youth Challenge Impala SS in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Starting 16th, Gordon led once for 47 laps in the race scheduled for 325 laps but went 330 laps when caution fell for the final time with three laps remaining.
It was a strong day for Team Chevy at Atlanta with six of the top-10 finishers piloting an Impala SS race car.
Kevin Harvick powered his No. 29 Reese's Impala SS from one-lap down to finish fourth in today's race, round four of the NSCS 36-race season. The strong finish jumped Harvick three positions in the points to 8th place.
Clint Bowyer, No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Impala SS, continued his strong showing early this season with a sixth place finish. The performance kept him securely in second place in the points, 43 points behind Gordon.
Tony Stewart, No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Impala SS, was at one time two laps down to the leaders but fought back actually passing the race leader to regain one of his laps to finish eighth in the final order. He also rose in the standings to now sit sixth in the order.
Jimmie Johnson, three time and defending NSCS champion, finished ninth behind the wheel of his No. 48 Lowe's Kobalt Tools Impala SS, to continue his steady climb to the coveted top-12 in the point standings. He sits 13th after today's race.
Martin Truex, Jr., No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Impala SS, finished 10th despite suffering from a kidney stone after Saturday's final practice and being hospitalized to alleviate the problem. Truex is now 19th in the standings.
The race was won by Kurt Busch (Dodge). Carl Edwards (Ford) finished third and Brian Vickers (Toyota) rounded out the top-five finishers.
After a weekend off, the schedule resumes on March 22, 2009 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS -- Finished 2nd:
"These guys just keep bringing awesome race cars and they're doing a heck of a job in the pits. We keep having little issues that pop up that we're having to overcome and these guys are just flawless with it. And I'm as proud as anything of that. I'm certainly impressed with how fast the cars are and that we're battling up front for the lead. I really thought on that restart that that was our one shot at it because the No. 2 (Kurt Busch) was definitely better than us in the long run. I know the No. 83 (Brian Vickers) had some trouble of something there in the pits. And I got a run on the No. 2 and he about turned me in the fence. So I had to check up and then we were just wide-open. I thought we were clear of the No. 99 and then Kurt got in there a little hot and drifted up in front of me and got me tight. It was just a great race and a great battle for second."
YOU ARE SO MUCH BETTER THIS YEAR THAN LAST, WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? "You know it's just this race team stepping it up. I'm really proud to have National Guard on board this weekend. This DuPont Chevrolet team has just been unbelievable this year. The fire in their eye and the things they've been working on back at the shop and the set-ups that match my driving styles and things I've been working on; physically just being more fit and the pit crew and just everything. These guys have just stepped it up. We've had little small issues just like last week with the fender and this week with the clutch and these guys are just flawless. They're just not skipping a beat. We're going to win races. We're getting close. That was a heck of a battle there for second (place) and we had a lot of fun and we'll keep knocking on the door until we get into victory lane."
TAKE US THROUGH THAT GREEN, WHITE CHECKERED AT THE END "We'll I felt like that was really our shot. The No. 2 was better than us on the long run, but we were really good on the short run and I thought we might have a shot at 'em and we did, actually. I got a good restart and he started to go low and I went to the high side and I don't know if his spotter told him or what, but he moved up and man we about wrecked. So, we got in the corner and we were both just wide open trying to get by the No. 99 and we did. I didn't quite clear the No. 99 (Carl Edwards). If I would have cleared the No. 99 I might have had a shot at him. But I drifted high. Both Kurt and I drifted high. And the No. 99 got a run back underneath me and until I got clear of him, there wasn't anything I could do and we had run out of laps."
YOU WERE CHARGING HARD "Well, when you have race cars like we've had this year, it makes it so much easier for me to get up on the wheel. We're all here at the mercy of set ups and race cars and a race team that's behind you and I tell you right now, we've got the best team out there. They're showing it on pit road. They're showing it in the confidence that they have like Steve Letarte making calls and the way we're communicating and certainly those race cars. They've been awesome this year."
HOW MUCH FUN WAS IT TODAY? "Well it was fun battling up front. It was a handful. There was a lot of slipping and sliding going on out there. That one time we got the lead and I thought, oh, man, this thing is just driving so good we're going to check out on these guys. I was just cruising and all of a sudden the car just completely sideways and I jut had to really start really backing off. The No. 2 ran us down. I know at that point that we had to be careful about how hard we could push. We had some tire wear and tire management conditions that we have to address in the future. What a huge step-up from the past. I love that we're battling up from each and every weekend."
HOW MUCH DID IT AFFECT YOU WHEN THE CREW MEMBER CHASED THE TIRE OUT ON THE GRASS? "I don't' know anything about it. I couldn't' even tell you."
HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE YOU HAD THIS MUCH FUN? "In '07 we were having fun but I really never felt like we were one of the best cars. Even before the Chase, I felt like Jimmie was just a little bit better than us. This is the first time that I can remember, maybe 2001, that we've had something that we battle with these guys and get in there and grind it out and have something for anybody on any different weekend. We've seen other guys who have beat us and we're the most consistent one toward the front. That's going to pay off for us in the long run. We haven't reached our full potential yet, we're still gaining momentum."
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S KOBALT TOOLS 500 -- Finished 9th:
"We kept taking swings at it but we just battled a variety of conditions throughout the day in our Kobalt Tools Impala SS. The guys did a good job on pit road and we wanted to get out of here with at least a top-10 finish and we were able to do that."
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 42 TARGET IMPALA SS -- Finished 27th
"Today's race wasn't what we had hoped for. The weekend started strong with our solid practice and qualifying run, but today was a different story. The Target Chevy was loose all day and then we couldn't catch a break with the cautions. We'll keep our head up and look to improve in Bristol."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS, FINISHED 11TH:
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS RACE TODAY: "We handled really poorly. We fought all day long and didn't really make it better. We could get it ok and we tried to go in a lot of directions and could do it."
WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN THAT CREW MEMBER CHASING THE TIRE CAUSED A CAUTION?: "Well, it is a dangerous situation. NASCAR probably did what they thought was the right thing so I can't argue with it. I mean, it is unsafe. I wouldn't want to see anybody get hurt."
WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO THE TIRES TODAY? "HMMM, they need to go back to the drawing board I guess. I don't know, I ain't no tire engineer, but, I sure...I mean...we have good success at a lot of tracks. We struggled to get the tire to match the car a lot of tracks. The COT has caused a lot of problems for a lot of people, all the teams are trying to figure the car out and engineers at Goodyear are trying the car. It is a real challenge for the sport, which has come at a tough time you know, the economy being the way it is. We just have to try and figure it out. I got a lot of confidence in Goodyear that they will figure it out. If this is as good as it is, this is as good as it is. I had fun. It was fun. I would have liked to have run better. But that is not the tires fault, that is our fault."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CROWD TODAY? "Atlanta has had a tough time. This is Hampton and it is an hour from the city or any resemblance of Atlanta. You'd think that this place would do really well. I love it. I love coming here. I knew when they didn't rebuild the back grandstands when they tore them down after the tornado, that this place was struggling and in trouble. I would hate to see them lose a race, which I ain't saying it will. I love coming here for the fans that do show up, I enjoying racing in front of them here. It is a great race track with a lot of history."
ARE YOU PRETTY WITH THE HAPPY WITH THE DECENT FINISHES GOING IN TO THE OFF WEEKEND? "Well you know, we are doing about as miserable as we can do without being too upset about it. You know. I mean, I would like to run better than that. We struggled all day; we just can't struggle. I look at my teammates and they are running better, we should run the way they run. It is frustrating for me and the team. The only thing you can do is keep working and show up next week with a new attitude. This weekend off will be good for everybody. We are repairing some damage we did early in the season, the first couple of races with these finishes, but they don't make you, running 11th and struggling all day, doesn't really do much for your confidence."
CASEY MEARS, NO. 07 DIRECTV IMPALA SS, FINISHED 16TH:
"We had a really good car. We were just loose there at the beginning and we came in and took two tires to get track position but we were just too loose for it there at the time. Then we went in to a long green flag run and we were sideways and got a lap down. We pitted a little bit earlier than our window, not much earlier then the caution came out because the guy ran across the grass and it just put a lap down. Us included so we were two down. It just kind of takes you out of the race. We had a top-five car. It is too bad because we had a really good car."
MARTIN TRUEX, JR., NO. 1 BASS PRO SHOPS/TRACKER BOATS IMPALA SS, FINISHED 10TH:
"It was a great run for everybody on this Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet team especially after the luck we have had the past two weeks. It was just a really good comeback effort. I am really proud of Bono (Kevin Manion, crew chief) and all the guys. The car was really good on long runs. We tried a number of different air pressure changes to just get the car where we wanted it. The probably didn't need that last caution flag, but nice solid run for us and we'll take it."
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 REESE'S IMPALA SS, FINISHED 4TH:
"Our Reese's Chevrolet was good all day, and the guys just hung in there. Our car was decent enough to make up some ground there and we were able to get those two laps back. It just took us 130 or 140 laps to get back on the lead lap. They all just hung in there, and it made for a good day.
"We got around the (No.) 1 there on the restart, but we didn't quite have what we needed to get by those top three guys. It was a long day's work. To come back from two laps down and get a top five out of the thing just shows a lot about our race team.
"We've run good every week. You know, at Vegas, it was the same deal (as today). We got caught on pit road when a caution came out and it cost us a lap and we made it up. At California, we ran in the top 10 all day and had an oil filter issue. All in all, the performance has been good and we're where we need to be."
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR IMPALA SS, FINISHED 14TH:
"The Caterpillar Chevy was loose all day. The caution early in the race forced us to chase the Lucky Dog for the majority of the race but I have to hand it to the team. They made every effort they could to get the car to handle but we just came up short. We'll keep doing our homework and, hopefully, turn this ship around."
CLINT BOWYER, NO. 33 CHEERIOS/HAMBURGER HELPER IMPALA SS, FINISHED 6TH:
"It was a good day for the BB&T Chevrolet. We were definitely better when we had long green flag runs and the sun was out. Another sixth place finish at Atlanta. We can't seem to shake that finish, that's the fourth time we've finished there. We needed to be a little better on the short runs, but all in all it was a good points day for us."
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/OLD SPICE IMPALA SS, FINISHED 8TH:
WAS THAT ABOUT THE HARDEST TOP-10 YOU HAVE EVER HAD HERE? "I think last year was just about as hard and we ran second. This was one of those days that is a little easier on you physically when you're a little bit tight and you are doing the work with your feet instead of your hands. We were able to beat guys in the center of the corner where they were tight. and we were a little bit free and we could still make ground on them. We got two laps down early and it took us the whole race to recover from it and you never get back good track position. When we were able to get up there with the No. 24 and the No. 2 and actually lead the pack, it was a whole different race car than it was way back there where we were. You can't compromise getting tires and that was a good thing. It wasn't a question of whether we gamble one time and take two, after he (Darian Grubb, crew chief) explained it, it was a brilliant move to get track position. There were only three of us on the same lap at that point and we were able to get a lap back because of it that helped us to get in that position to be on the lead lap at the end and have a shot to run back up front."
WHEN YOU HAVE A COME BACK LIKE TODAY, WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THE TEAM AND HOW FAR IT HAS COME? "It is going to be strong. It is strong already and it is going to be really strong. You know, there are a lot of guys that had problems today and never recovered from it. I mean the No. 18 got two laps down and never recovered. Guys that stayed on the lead lap all day at some point had a problem and never could recover. We got two laps down and fought our way back. At this place, that is hard to do. Jimmie Johnson did it last year and almost won the race because of it. It just shows that it is really hard to do that. There are not very many guys that can come back from two laps down like that so I am really proud of the team."
DARIAN GRUBB, CREW CHIEF:
TALK ABOUT THE COMEBACK. "Just a long day. The car didn't handle very well all day long, we could just not get it to Tony's liking. But he just still drove the hell out of it and kept it up all day. He got the best out of it what he could get every run then when it came time to push it and get his lap back, he did. He actually went past the leader of the race to get a lap back and he was the only guy to do that. That was pretty neat to see that and give us a chance to get to the one-lap down group and be a little strategy and be able to get out front and be able to take that and get that Lucky Dog when it did come up. It was a long day, a good day. I think it showed what this team is all about. We aren't going to give up; Tony doesn't give up. We're all going to keep working as hard as we can to figure out what we were missing today. I don't think there was anybody out there that really handled well. The No. 2 car pretty much had everybody covered but even he had his issues and didn't really handle that great all day either. We have a little bit of homework to do so when we come back we will be even stronger when we get to Bristol.
"It just signifies we are a team. We have had a lot of different issues all the way through this year with every race. We haven't been able to overcome all of them and still have these solid finishes we need. That the couple times we haven't, we have gone back, learned from these mistakes, we have gone to the shop and everybody has put the extra hours in to figure out what is wrong so when we go back next week we don't have that problem. We will keep moving forward."
BOBBY HUTCHENS, DIRECTOR OF COMPETITION, STEWART-HAAS RACING:
HOW IMPRESSED ARE YOU IN HOW FAR THEY HAVE COME IN SUCH A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME? "Pretty resilient group. They do a lot of good planning before the race and during the week at the shop and I think it shows on Sundays. The pit crew has been spot on and I think Darian (Grubb, crew chief) has made some good calls in the pits and as we saw today is the only person I know of all year that has gotten a lap back the old fashioned way. He got up on the wheel and got it done when we had to. I think the consistency there we'll get us a W before long if we keep diggin' like we are going."
DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NO. 31 RYAN NEWMAN? "I would say just speculation but it sounded like it broke a valve spring first and then maybe broke the tip of a valve and jammed a valve in the head. He ran on seven cylinders the last 75 laps. Without that last caution we were still going to finish 18th without any issues. We ended up 22nd. But, you have to hand it to those guys too. If there is a perseverance award so far this year, those guys probably get it."
-credit: gm racing