Continued from part 1 Q: I wanted to ask you about Clint Bowyer, how surprised are you that he's a guy in the hunt at this point, and what has he shown you in 68 career Cup races that tells you he's a guy that's going to challenge you for...
Continued from part 1
Q: I wanted to ask you about Clint Bowyer, how surprised are you that he's a guy in the hunt at this point, and what has he shown you in 68 career Cup races that tells you he's a guy that's going to challenge you for the title?
JEFF GORDON: Well, he's incredible. He's impressing a lot of people right now. To me, when you're going to measure a driver's talent and abilities and what they are really capable of, it's about people that are consistent, No. 1, that can run good in a lot of different types of tracks. And one of the things that he's been very good at this year is being consistent. Maybe he wasn't spectacular before this Chase started, but he's very consistent; zero DNF's, you've got to be impressed with that, regardless whether they have a failure or not a failure, just him on his own just being able to stay out of trouble.
To me a real key to one of the top drivers is when the moment comes, when the Chase for the championship is on the line, is are you capable of stepping it up. And we see it every year, you know, guys step it up, take it to the next level, and they are the guys to beat, and he's doing that. You know, it's impressive.
Q: Wonder if you could just briefly speak about Kyle Busch, the fact that he's obviously a lame duck driver, and the way he's handled himself in the Chase and the way he's held his emotions in check in the last few Chase races, would you speak about him?
RICK HENDRICK: I'm really proud of Kyle. I think that you've seen that he could easily have had an attitude or lost focus, but I think he and Alan and the whole team have really stepped it up.
I don't know that I've ever seen a situation in my 25 years where, you know, a guy knew he was going somewhere else, and has stayed focused and determined to do the best he can. It's been real impressive what he's done. I'm real proud of he and Alan both. They have had some bad luck the two races they were taken out of that were not his fault. He didn't do anything; he was just a victim. He put those points back on the table to me right there. I think he's done a great job, and coming to victory lane, the way he handled the end of this race tonight shows a lot of maturity in Kyle.
Q: How much of this win was preparation and how much of this win was would be tonight?
STEVE LETARTE: We make our own luck. These races are so long, that really you say it's bad luck or it's good luck, but I truly believe that some of that exists and as Mr. Hendrick was just speaking with Kyle, he's had some bad luck, but at the same time, you have to be up front and I think that's what we did today. I think preparation is 95 percent of it. There's just a little bit out there that you need a little help with, and we've definitely been getting the breaks going our way this year. But you can't win from fifth are and you can't win from tenth. You have to be up there when the chips fall.
JEFF GORDON: Steve and I have the same philosophy on this. I believe that you make a lot of your luck. Honestly, I don't even know if I believe in luck. I think that there's a lot of things that factor in having things go your way. And you can call it whatever you want to call it. Some people call it luck.
To me, things don't just happen just because they just fall in your lap. You have to work hard and you have to work together as a team and you have to be well prepared, as Steve said, you have to put yourself in those positions for things to go your way. You know, we've done a good job of that this year, and you know, certainly did a great job of that tonight.
And trust me, that philosophy that I have, you know, I had to question it myself several times tonight when I thought we were giving it away. But you know, I think that it was our night to win and we showed we had the car. Obviously the results speak for itself. But you know, I think that it was crazy that the 12 had his trouble, and I thought it was crazy that we had the trouble that we had, too. So, who knows.
Q: Rick, you were talking about Kyle a minute ago; how confident were you that Kyle would heed your request after the red flag, and would you have done that had it been Jimmie or Kasey running second rather than Kyle?
RICK HENDRICK: Absolutely I would have done that no matter who it was. I think in racing and it comes down between two cars and there's a caution, I believe if you just come on the radio and tell them to think about it and look at the big picture, not just the Chase, but what's made the organization what it is today, working together; think about it.
And Jeff and I talked on the radio and Kyle got there; he was not going to try to block him. You know, if he was better than Jeff, they were not going to wreck, I was not going to try to wreck keeping him back there. It was to Kyle to just think. You know, good to see Steve and Alan together, and the momentum the organization has right now can only be destroyed from inside, not from outside. I believe the guys all know that, and they are using their heads.
Q: When you come off a corner like that and you see the guy who just passed you go into the wall, do you think what in the world is going on here; and did the All?Star race with Mark Martin ever flash in your mind ??
JEFF GORDON: I mean, anything's possible. I mean, I've got to admit, I think Steve knows by the tone of my voice when I ask if this thing is out of fuel that, you know, I was questioning whether we got it all in there; or whether it was picking up all that was in there. You know, all you can do is hope that you know in those situations, that you make it to the finish.
When that happened, I was made, I was frustrated, but we got that going. I was going to try to run the 12 back down. He was pushing really hard, and you know, I had a good car that was certainly as fast or faster than him. But being behind him, I didn't have a car that could pass him, and I was pretty much getting myself prepared for second.
I was looking into my mirror to see what was happening behind me and looked like we in good shape there and I guess you were thinking at that point, that, well, at least it's not a guy that you're battling with in the championship and that you can still come out here with a good points day. You know, and then his car broke loose and that was it. I couldn't believe it but at the same time, I was like, don't get caught up in it. I didn't know if he was going to come back down the track, come up the wall and comeback down; I didn't know what was going to happen.
So as much as I was in disbelief that it was happening, I was also thinking to stay out of it and not get caught up in it myself. And also, if there was something on the track, I didn't want to lose control of my car, too, with the oil that we had. It was a crazy chain of events and I guess I'm kind of blown away that it was happening. Probably like he was when I was running out of gas and he ran by me.
Q: Scott said ?? inaudible ?? could that have been part of your problem, too?
STEVE LETARTE: I mean, absolutely. When you sit on the red flag, it heat up everything on the hood, the carburetor, we have some pressure regulator and other issues, when they get too hot ?? I think we definitely need to look into it. Times are changed; you're not allowed to change pickup in your fuel cell. You're allowed to run two brands, and they are basically the same design and there's a lot of parts in the fuel system that they have taken out of our hands.
I think it just goes back to a lot of what we talked about. If we would have lost the race because of that, it's because I don't think Jeff and I did a good enough job of where we were at and we could have fixed it. Whether there was something under the hood or not, I'll leave that to Scott and Max and those guys in the engine room. They have done a phenomenal job, but I don't believe that's what it is. I think it's just plain not enough gas to ride on the bank at 60 miles an hour.
Q: First of all, do you really grasp your place in history? There's only five guys that have won more times than you. That's insane. Secondly, do you remember them all? And where the hell are all those trophies?
JEFF GORDON: I'd like to know the same thing. We've got quite a selection at Hendrick Motorsports, when we built that shop, I wanted to have every single trophy displayed of our wins as we hopefully accumulate trophies with the 48 team, which we have that, we would be able to display them all. I'm not sure if that display area has been made big enough. So that's a great problem to have.
You know, I really have a hard time sitting and thinking about my place and the number of wins. When you race 38 weeks out of the year, you don't have time to think about it.
Now, when the off?season comes, I usually get a chance to reflect on the season, my career. And once you take a breath and just kind of let it all out and hang out somewhere quiet with your friends and family, then that to me brings ?? especially with my mom and my stepfather, because they have been there through, you know, many, many wins beyond NEXTEL Cup. It's just incredible. Even beyond NEXTEL Cup, the stuff that we did, Sprint cars, midgets, quarter midgets, go?karts, it's just mind?boggling.
This stuff has been going on in my life since I was six or seven years old. So I look forward to that day when I always say I'm going to be sitting on a rocking chair on a porch somewhere and be able to think about it and reflect. There's going to be a lot to remember, that's for sure.
Q: It's been a long time since you won here at Charlotte.
JEFF GORDON: I know, I've been reminded of it a lot lately.
Q: Can you talk about what it means to win here for the first time since 1999?
JEFF GORDON: Well, one, this has always been one of my favorite tracks. I love this track. In 1994 to 1999, you know, I'm not saying we own this place, but we were strong. We were solid. We came to Charlotte going, yeah, sitting on poles, running up front, winning races. Somewhere along the way that, just kind of came to a halt. I want to say that, you know, it seemed like a couple of years ago, from a performance standpoint, we were really able to step it up.
And I think Jimmie and Chad and those guys, their performance helped us, too. When you see them run that well, and finish like they have here, it elevates the whole organization, and it elevated up our game, too, to know that we're capable of doing this; we know what tools are there to do it. And I either have got to work with my driving or we've got massage our cars and our setups or whatever it is, and we've started running good, and that's half the battle. But just running good doesn't make it turn around, and for whatever reason, we just haven't been able to get to the finish several races here.
And I didn't do anything different tonight than I've been doing the last several races. You know, it kind of went our way and worked out
Q: Can you talk about the impact of putting Tony Stewart down 198 points now with five races left, and nobody else really getting back in the hunt and is a three? or four?guy Chase a little easier to deal with than a seven? or eight?guy?
JEFF GORDON: I'm going to say the same thing I said other day about Tony. I don't care, until he's mathematically out of it, that guy is a threat, a major threat. He can win any track, any time. They are a solid, strong team, and so I never count him out. I just know how good he is and how good that team is.
You know, it doesn't change my ?? sure, I'm comfortable with where he's at but I'm not going to take that for granted. The good thing is that it's tight enough with the three of us; it's pushing us to do our job. We're not protecting or playing conservative. Yeah, we've got to be smart but we have to go and race and race hard; these guys are competitive. I'm glad with that because it doesn't change our game plan or make us think it out too much.
You know, the thing that makes a Chase so difficult to be a part of and to be competitive in is that you're battling 11 other guys. And any time you're battling 11 other guys, the chances of you winning it are that much slimmer.
As soon as you start eliminating or pushing those guys outside the box a ways, certainly it makes it a little more comfortable, a little bit easier. But doesn't matter, you've still got to beat out for five of them, and right now, you know, that's the way I'm looking at it.
Q: I remember Jeff Gordon winning Chases ??
JEFF GORDON: Really? I've never won the Chase.
Q: Championships. But Mr. Hendrick, do you see anything different in Jeff this time around as he heads into the final races?
RICK HENDRICK: I think I see a real happy Jeff Gordon. I think that his life outside of racing is probably the best it's ever been, especially with his little girl. But he's always been competitive.
I think if you go back and look at times when he was struggling, he carried the team for several years there when we were just really not organized enough and we were not giving him the equipment. I've never seen a time in his tenure with me and Hendrick Motorsports that it's been Jeff Gordon that wasn't getting the job done. We were short on equipment or we just weren't giving him his stuff.
I think Steve, the chemistry there; Steve waited a year, could have been a crew chief earlier, to wait for Jeff Gordon, and that chemistry has been unbelievable. You know, when you get him right, he can get it done; he and Steve are a good combination. He, in my mind, have never seen him where he was short in any way.
JEFF GORDON: I'm short.
RICK HENDRICK: He is short. (Laughter) But not behind the wheel.
Q: How do you balance the fact that you've got one championship?caliber team up here, guys that are real happy and have won the race and doing well in the Chase and you have another team that won the championship last year that wound up in the wall and finished 14th. When you're in the shop together on Monday, how do you keep everybody on an even keel, and just as importantly, how do you keep your stomach from eating you alive when you see one of those?
RICK HENDRICK: I can answer the last part real well. It eats me alive, because you want to see everybody do well. The good news and bad news is they are racing each other right now for the championship, so you hate to see anybody have bad luck, but somebody's got to come out on top.
The fact that the two cars are in the same shop and most of the guys work on all of the cars, so the road crews are separate and the crew chiefs are separate, but that's a real tight group. The road crews surely they don't feel as good as the road crew on the 24 does.
But each team, gets incentives every time we have a win. I think we have all seen the success of meeting together, drivers and crew chiefs meeting after practice exchanging information, and we've seen it makes us better. It's tough Sunday night and the next couple of days, but I think it fires up the competition. It's not easy.
But I think the guy that finishes second ?? I know Jeff and I, when he comes to New York and he's not on that stage, he's going to have fire in his eyes for next year and I think that works with all of the teams. I think, too, the guys know that the stuff's there, and we just have got to come out and race harder. I think it's going to be a good finish here, but it's tough. It's tough when that caution came out and seeing two cars line up like that. So you just have to deal with it, but that's part of it.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, guys. Congratulations, and we'll see you in Martinsville.
-credit: gm racing