Darlington: Winning team interview, part 1

Jeff Gordon , driver of the No. 24 DuPont Impala SS Steve Letarte, crew chief of the No. 24 DuPont Impala SS ON THE RACE AND WHAT TURNED IT AROUND FOR HIM: GORDON: "Well I don't know where to begin. The thing that stands out the most to me...

Jeff Gordon , driver of the No. 24 DuPont Impala SS
Steve Letarte, crew chief of the No. 24 DuPont Impala SS

ON THE RACE AND WHAT TURNED IT AROUND FOR HIM:

GORDON: "Well I don't know where to begin. The thing that stands out the most to me that turned around for us today was one, Steve and I just trying to make adjustments - obviously I wasn't making 'em I was just giving him input - but those guys making adjustments. So it made the car a little bit better but there was one time when we stayed out under green and made a stop real late. The caution came out immediately after that and then a bunch of guys ahead of us came in and got tires. That put us up in the top five with only one lap on our tires and from that point on we seemed to stay in the top-five so track position was obviously very important. And then we were able to just fine tune. The car was pretty good. We bounced between loose and tight but still maintained that top five. Then the water temp kept and all that stuff started going up and sky rocketing and certainly had us concerned and I didn't think we were even going to make it to the end. We were running pretty comfortably behind Jimmie and I was going to be very happy to finish second to Jimmie today because I just wanted to finish because everything we've worked so far towards, I just didn't want to lose all that momentum and that ground. To then have that caution come out and Steve make the call to stay out and Jimmie come in and the engine last. It was just a ton of emotions going on today that is was a pretty unbelievable victory."

ON THE STRATEGIC PIT CALLS HE MADE AND ON THE STEAM COMING OUT TOWARDS THE END OF THE RACE:

LETARTE: "I think Jeff picked the right part of the race that really turned it around was that green flag cycle. We really weren't good enough to short pit, at that point we were just trying to get the best finish we could so we decided to stay out and hope for a caution and it didn't come and then just a lap after we pitted it did come which worked out good. We had fresh tires so we decided to stay out and that moved us into the top five. The cars just handled quite a bit different in the top five and I think we made better decisions as a group and maybe had a little better read on our car since we were clean air. Once it started to overheat we pulled all our tape off but there really was no other fix so the Hendrick engine department, they've really, really impressed us time and time again over the last few years and today was another perfect example of teamwork and a whole company coming together and all the small details that people forget. That's what came together today with good pit stops, a good car and a good finish with the engine."

ARE YOU CONCERNED YOUR TEAM IS TOO STRONG THIS EARLY IN THE SEASON AND THE POSSIBILITY OF LOSING MOMENTUM:

GORDON: "I'll be honest with you, today we were off. Steve and I have already been talking about things that we're going to do different going forward. Not that we go to this type of track anywhere else, but the speed mainly and the banking of this track. We made some mistakes on what we had in the car and that's why we struggled so much today, why we couldn't move forward. To me we won a race today that probably shouldn't have where we didn't win at Martinsville. I feel like we've had some get away from us that maybe we should have won. Now we've won some.We've won some that we shouldn't and we didn't win others that maybe we should of. I think that right now it's just about continuing to move forward. I'll always constantly try to get better and while I do think that some other guys are going to figure some things out close the gap, I still feel confident that we've got room to improve as well. If we can continue to do then I feel confident but right now what I'm excited about is that we've got a great race team. My goodness we've got a great race team. I think today's performance really showed what kind of race team we got. We're going to be on and we're going to be off with the race cars at times but when we can perform the way we did today with a race car that's not capable of winning, it's got me very, very excited about this entire season."

WAS THERE ANY THOUGHT AT THE END TO FOLLOW JIMMIE INTO THE PITS BECAUSE YOUR CAR WAS GETTING HOT?

GORDON: "You can probably ask Steve that. He makes those calls. I didn't say much on the radio because I was shocked that Jimmie was going to come in. I didn't think we'd run enough laps...if you got the lead in clean are, I don't know what'd be run six laps. If you got the lead I didn't think that was enough laps to come in. Track position is extremely important today. I was pretty happy that he was telling me to stay out but it was his call but he can tell you more. One of the reasons I didn't want to come was because when we stopped on pit road the overheating got worse and so I wanted to keep moving. I ran in fourth gear to put the rpms as low as I possibly could to not build heat. I tried to just get as much air and being out front.honestly had we gotten behind we probably would have blown up. I think that's why a lot of guys blew up there at the end because they were actually behind other cars and not enough air was getting to the front to even hold on to the end. From my standpoint we didn't have much of a choice because we thought we were going to blow up but I will say if he told me to come down pit road I'd have come down pit road. He said stay out and I thought it was a great call."

WAS THERE A TIME THAT YOU KNEW YOU GOT THE CHEMISTRY RIGHT?

LETARTE: "I don't know if there's a specific moment. The one race that comes to mind that I feel we did the best job last year was the fall Charlotte race where we broke towards the end. We were just pitiful in Charlotte in May and we weren't very good. We had struggled at the mile and halfs a lot that year and we showed up at Charlotte in the fall and we weren't very good again. We qualified extremely bad and to build a momentum and make good decisions that day, we were in a position to win when we had our engine failure and I think that's the one that maybe gave me the most confidence to make decisions. But I think the key is we're going to run bad again. There's going to be a week that we show up where we struggle and we miss it and run bad. Those are going to happen and I think that as long as you can accept it, there's no fault in it. We all have a percentage in it, some of us might have more than others. As long as you understand you're going to miss it some weeks and just get the finish you can. At Bristol we completely missed and we came back for a top five and I would say this weekend here there weren't many highlights until the last 10 laps here this weekend and we still pulled out a good finish. I think the key is there's no magic chemistry it's just being on the same page all the way through the team top to bottom."

GORDON: "Steve doesn't quite give himself enough credit but to me we were a team to beat for the Chase last year. We were strong, real strong and we had some failures. We didn't run good at Homestead. It was the only place in the Chase that we did not run good. We had failures and problems that kept us out of it. To me that was when I remember us really gaining momentum with how strong we were in the Chase last year. I feel like the momentum coming from the 48, we're in that some shop so.Steve got a year under his belt and then had an off-season to just say 'OK, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We just need a little here, a little here, a little there and ever since this year started I could just tell the cars are better, he's more confident. The guys are behind him and then when we go out and put the results together on the race track, it just builds momentum. He had to push me today. I was just not very happy inside that car today yet the whole time I was screaming we were still maintaining top 10 at that time. We made a few adjustments, saw some improvement and even there at the end I just didn't think we were going to make it to the end. Steve just kept saying 'Hey, we got this. We can do it. We can do it. Stay with us.' I never slowed down or anything like that. I was just a little frustrated. There's going to be days when I'm going to need that and he was there to be able to that today. Besides getting this team to a whole new level that part of it is nice as well."

ON IF HE SAW THE DEBRIS ON THE TRACK AT THE END AND IF THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A CAUTION:

GORDON: "Absolutely should have been a caution at the end but there shouldn't have been one before that so that's why I'm not saying anything about it. So that's why I'm not saying anything about it because there should have never been one, the caution before that when we really checked out and those guys never even had a chance at catching us. They were caught in a lot of traffic and we had a great restart. I was pretty upset they threw that caution. There's wasn't a think on the race track but I will say there at the end - debris, oil, everything you can imagine was on that race track and that comes back to the inconsistency. I'm glad they didn't they throw it at the end but I didn't understand why they threw it earlier. It can work with you or against you, today it worked for us."

WILL IT HURT YOU THAT THE DOVER TEST IS CANCELLED?

LETARTE: "We always like the opportunity to go to a race track and test but I feel that Hendrick Motorsports is very well prepared with this car and I feel that it's no secret that the banked tracks have been our weakness. I feel we didn't have the best car in Bristol and we got fortunate to win there with Kyle. I don't feel we had the best car today and we were fortunate to win here. I believe the 11 probably had one of the best cars. Jimmie was better and he had a little different setup. I feel between the four crew chiefs we can make good decisions and go to Dover and be competitive. I really don't have an opinion either way on the Dover test. I'm kind of glad. The crews deserve some time off. Unfortunately the weather has been bad these last two weeks. Those guys put in night and day effort to run these two different cars and especially with Chevrolet having two different engines. It's a lot of work and they deserve the rest. I think NASCAR made the right decision to completely cancel it."

GORDON: "I think you know what my opinion is."

WAS YOUR MOM HERE AFTER THE RACE?

GORDON: "They bailed on me. Man, I had my mom, my sister, my nephew, my dad and I can't wait to call them when I get done because my sister's never been to victory lane nor my nephew and they always come to Darlington being the Mother's Day weekend and I cannot believe that they left. That was my gift to her. I got a little something for her as well but I really wanted to see them in victory lane. It was great to have Ingrid here. This is her last weekend of traveling so she was pretty emotional. It was very cool to have mom-to-be in victory lane. But yeah they bailed on me. I can't wait to call them when I get done here and chew them out."

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR-CUP