JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS - Finished 3rd:
WHAT'S YOUR MINDSET FOR THE CHASE GOING TO KANSAS?
"I mean, I'm just really proud. I've got a rookie crew chief that is acting like a veteran and I'm pretty excited about that. He's making great calls, doing an awesome job bringing good race cars to the race track and we struggled at New Hampshire, the first race, came back and we had a great car - not the best car but we had a great car - then this week, same thing. Last time we were here we were not that good and today we were better, still not good enough to be battling for the win but to take a car like that, a seventh- or eighth-place car and come out of here with a third-place finish. I know some guys had misfortune but we had a top five legitimately on our own and a lot of it had to do with his calls in the pits and pit strategy and different things that we did there. I'm pumped; I can't wait to go to Kansas. I feel like it's one of our better tracks. It doesn't guarantee anything but to be second in this thing two races in with two third-place finishes, what more can I say. That just is proof of what kind of race team I've got and in my mind, the championship caliber that they're proving right now. Hopefully we can keep proving that for the next eight races.
FOR THE GUYS THAT PITTED DURING GREEN BEFORE THE LAST YELLOW, DID YOU PLAN TO STAY OUT AND IT JUST WORKED OUT IN YOUR FAVOR?
"Once you make the call to come in and you lose all that track position, those guys are out there then you've got nothing else to do except stay out as long as you can. You don't really wish for the caution to come out on those guys but that's the risk they took. Sometimes it works for them and not for us and sometimes it works for us and not them and today that was the case."
DID YOU SEE THE RIGHT-SIDE TIRE WEAR THAT OTHER TEAMS SAW?
"I just know I asked (crew chief) Steve Letarte one time. we made that long run, it was like 88 laps or something, then we had 100 to go. We thought we could make it on fuel, which, now we come back on it, I don't know if we could have. I was more concerned with tires when I saw the No. 10 blow. I thought that he blew, maybe he didn't. I said 'we can make it on fuel but can we make it on tires' and Steve said our stuff looked good."
AMONG THE CHASE TRACKS, IS THIS ONE OF THE TOUGHER TRACKS TO ESCAPE INCIDENTS THAT YOU HAVENT STARTED?
"I'd say Talladega is probably number one, next is Bristol or. among the Chase tracks: Talladega, and I would say here because I would have put Bristol in there even though it's not in the Chase. And so, this is just a big Bristol. Those restarts, there was a time where we were 12th or 14th but basically lining up like, 28th, and you're just nervous, you know. You don't know what's going to happen. You're watching guys up in front of you; they're sliding out, three wide, different things. You know there's not a thing you can do when they start wrecking. You can try and drive it through there or close your eyes or whatever but it's going to be pure luck if you make it though."
AS THE SENIOR DRIVER AT HENRICK MOTORSPORTS, WHAT CAN YOU TELL KYLE BUSCH RIGHT NOW?
"I think that you've got to take this opportunity and this experience that he's getting. the kid is so young and so talented, here he is in his second year and he's in the Chase. He's going to be a champion one day - it's just a matter of time. Sometimes you've got to go through these types of experiences in order to learn from them. That's the most important thing - what did you learn from it. No matter whether it was his fault, not his fault, whatever the circumstance. And every member of that team, they have to say 'what could we do to have kept ourselves out of this position, what could we have done differently and let's learn from it'. That's the only thing that we can do and go next week and drive hard and race hard. You never know what's going to happen to these other guys in the Chase, especially with Talladega in the mix."
THIS IS THE BEST STRETCH IN A COUPLE YEARS FOR YOU GUYS - WHAT HAS LED TO THE TURNAROUND?
"Yeah, I know I keep beating this to you guys and I'm sorry about that but it's really the truth. We started on 2006 last year through these last 10 races of last year. We came into the season, we sat at Hendrick Motorsports during the big media tour and I think I said it then and I continue to attribute things to this is that we had some new members, some young guys, a rookie crew chief, a lot of new guys on the pit crew and a team that hasn't been up to their full potential of what Hendrick Motorsports offers over the last couple years and that doesn't turn around overnight. It builds and it builds and once you get good chemistry then you've got to make sure that the performance of the cars and the engines and the pit crew and everything else goes along with it. And that's what we had pretty early on with Steve Letarte last year was we started building on chemistry very, very easily. Just his attitude, he's got this great attitude and he's sharp.
And the race cars slowly but surely started to come along with it. Mainly when I say the race cars I mean the setups that match my driving style. When you have a crew chief that believes in you and just wants to give you the tools you need to go out there and then you believe in him, everyone knows that's the magic. That doesn't happen overnight, it takes time. It's been building and building and I said that I hope that by the summer we start to see that potential, and we have. It started in the beginning of the summer and really started coming into it's own at the end of the summer and I can't think of a better time for it all to really start to come together which is now, in the Chase. Obviously we've had two guys in the Chase win the last two races. We've got to put ourselves up there on the board as well; as far as I'm concerned we can keep doing what we're doing but I want to battle for wins as well."
COMMENT ON THE ROOKIES:
"I've got a teammate that's not necessarily a rookie but he's a young guy and he just has a tremendous amount of talent. I've been able to see firsthand what he's capable of doing. Denny Hamlin has been extremely impressive to me because you know; I saw what he did at Martinsville. To me, Martinsville is one of the toughest tracks to adapt to as a rookie - I know it was the hardest track for me - and he seemed to pick it up right away. So that says a lot to me about Denny Hamlin and he's in the Chase, he's solid. Today was a solid effort for them. I thought I saw one time; they were pretty far behind. And end up coming back with a decent finish. Obviously it takes the team along with the driver but Denny's been very impressive.
And of course Martin (Truex, Jr.) had a great run today too. I think the thing we missed on Martin is that out of those guys that got a lap down or tail end of the lead lap, he's one of the only guys that drove away from Matt Kenseth to get back on the lead lap. That was pretty impressive."
THE TURNAROUND YOU SPEAK OF, DO YOU SEE THAT WITH RCR?
"I've seen those guys struggle the last two years. The things that they're doing right now, they've been working on for a year. I can remember watching some of the things they were doing, that's where you see things - you're in the garage and you see springs and shocks and things they're throwing at the car and I can remember two years ago and then mainly last year, them doing some funky things and you just knew that if they get it figured out and they hit on some things, they're going to be tough. Because you saw them at moments be really fast where at certain tracks it was sporadic. Then you saw them struggle big time. Once you go down that path and you work on something, you hope that there's light at the end of the tunnel and for them there has been.
"I forgot to mention Clint Bowyer too, he's a rookie and I think he adds a lot to that team as well in helping them in that battle that they've had to get back up on top. It doesn't happen overnight and we're an example of it, Jeff Burton is an example of it, and RCR is an example of it. You'll see others be examples of it for years to come. That's just the cycle that it works in."
GIVEN THAT YOU WERE THE POLESITTER, HOW COME YOU DIDN'T LEAD A LAP?
"I'd almost forgotten about that and now you brought it back up (laughter). I was very disappointed in that. Our car was just not strong on new tires. I know that sounds crazy because we qualified on the pole but our qualifying set and our race set are two total opposite ends of the spectrum and I got a good start and I really wanted to lead that first lap but obviously Ryan Newman wanted that first lap pretty darn bad too and he's not even in the Chase. Maybe I should have talked to him, I don't know if that would have done me any good but I didn't feel like wrecking on the first lap was worth five points. There was one point after that where we had a restart and I was actually gaining on him, gaining on him and I thought I was going to be able to catch him and pass him and then the caution kept coming out. I'm disappointed we didn't lead a lap. I really wanted those five points and I hope that this thing at the end of the season doesn't come down to five points, I'll really be kicking myself then."
IS IT SMART NOT TO CHALLENGE THE RCR GUYS WITH STUFF LIKE THE WHEEL ISSUE AGAIN?
"I don't know, I didn't challenge him. I think that the media has to do their job. If someone in the media finds that they hear something or that there's a source, maybe they need to verify it a little bit more but I'm still trying to get that source out of Bob Dilner and he won't give it to me. I think that shows what kind of race team they are. Whether that's true or not, they really had a lot of heat on them this week and it was important for them to react and bounce back. Now the No. 29 car wasn't able to bounce back but the No. 31 was. That's impressive. You've got to take your hat off to them. Jeff Burton is the kind of race driver that had been in this business long enough. He can handle the pressures that come along with it. There are certain guys out there that when those things happen, it only motivates them or their team even more, especially if it's not true. If it's true, it ends up hurting them. When it's not true, those guys get fired up and want to prove to the world what they are capable of doing and that they're not doing something illegal. It's NASCAR's job to make sure of that and that's what I leave it up to. You guys can challenge him or not challenge him but I'm going to go out there and drive my race car and try to make it the best I can and try to beat those guys. That's what I'm going to do."
-credit: gm racing