NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference Indianapolis Motor Speedway
An Interview With: Jeff Gordon And Regan Smith
KERRY THARP: We will roll into our post race for today's 18th running of the Brickyard 400. Finishing third in today's race is Regan Smith. Not only was this an outstanding showing by Regan today, third in the Brickyard, let's take a look at some of the things he's done in 2011.
Coming into 2011, he had had no prior top 10s. This year alone he's won the Southern 500, he finished third here at the Brickyard, he finished seventh at the Daytona 500 and eighth at the Coca-Cola 600, certainly some of our sport's biggest races.
You perform on the big stage. Did it again here today. Talk about your run.
REGAN SMITH: We just got to figure out how to perform on the rest of the stages, we'll be in shape.
The Chevy was good today. It was probably a top-10 car, ninth or 10th place car. Didn't have track position for a long time. When the 51 car wrecked, played our hand for us, didn't have a choice but to come in and clean the grill off because we were overheating right away almost immediately. Cleaned the grill off, looked at the fuel strategy, and said, you know what, let's top it off. We had nothing to lose. We got to start in the back of the pack anyway.
They kept pulling me back, pulling me back about saving fuel. We'll see how much is left in the tank after all is said and done. I felt like I had a little bit to go a bit further.
But certainly can't be disappointed with third, and in particular when somebody like Paul wins, I have very many close friends on this circuit, that's one of them. He was at my victory celebration; I plan on being at his tonight or tomorrow or whenever it is.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Regan.
Q. You talked a little bit before you came in about the fuel mileage races, absolutely hating them. Could you expand on that a little bit.
REGAN SMITH: I think it's pretty simple. I hate 'em. I don't care I don't think they're fun racing. I don't think there's anything good about them. I'm certainly sure there's cars that ran up front, led a lot of laps, that ended up 10th or 12th. I don't know who was up front most today, I was just worrying about our race and what we had to do to get track position.
It's a product of how we're racing right now. I think every week we know it's going to be a fuel mileage race and we try to plan for that, to work around it accordingly.
That's what we're doing. Even when it's races that aren't necessarily fuel mileage races, they still play a part in how much track position you can get, who can pit sooner so you have that track position.
It's here to stay. It's not going to go away. We'll learn to like it and to adjust to it. I guess I should be happy for it today because we had a good day and Paul won. So, you know, I'll take back that statement. I love fuel mileage races right now (laughter).
Q. You won the Southern 500. Running top three at Indianapolis. I know you're kind of busy in the car, but did you let your mind wander to think you might be able to win Indy and Darlington the same year?
REGAN SMITH: Hell, yeah, I did. I saw Jamie do it last year with the Brickyard and the 500. I certainly thought we had a shot to do that.
The thing that was going to hurt us, if I would have pushed a couple laps earlier to catch the lead pack, we would have had to pass four guys. If I would have pushed a little bit sooner to do that, we would have used up too much fuel, maybe run out. If we wait till they go, we're going to have that same gap no matter what. Unless I got the most incredible restart in the world, passed 10 cars right away, that was what we were going to have to do today, accept a third-place finish and be happy with it.
We tried doing this at Loudon. Had a good car. Did the fuel mileage there, ran out way short. So this meant a lot to me to be able to save it and actually be able to make it to the end of this one.
Q. Can you talk about the balance that you've got to strike over the next six races?
REGAN SMITH: Well, from my team's standpoint, I don't think we're looking at the top 20 right now. We'd have to win out at this point to have a shot at getting back up there. Certainly we'd love to do that. The reality is, this is such a tough series, it's going to be really hard to do.
We're going to focus on winning races. If it puts us in position to get top fives, great. If we can sneak up there and maybe get top 20, and the right things play out, then cool. If not, we're working hard to make sure we can do this every week next year and this just isn't a thing we did a few times this year.
Q. Regan, you mentioned how thrilled you were that if you couldn't win it, that Paul won it. What do you think it means to his dad in particular to put so much into winning here?
REGAN SMITH: Well, Jeff can probably speak better to that than I can, being from Indiana, being up here as much as he was. I just know what it means to Paul. I know how hard he's worked. One of the really good close friends that I have on this circuit, always go to if I have a question or need something.
He always talks about coming up here. He always talks about how much he loves this place. I know if he had to highlight one race to get his first win, I'm sure he'll tell you in a minute he couldn't be happier.
It's cool. You only get one chance to get your first win. It's a special thing, especially when you do it here.
KERRY THARP: Jeff Gordon has joined us at the podium. Finished a strong runner-up today. Jeff has moved up to seventh in the points, with two victories on the season.
Jeff, you were coming like a locomotive at the end of that race. Talk about your effort today.
JEFF GORDON: It was awesome. What a fun race for us. From the time we got here, probably even prior to getting here, I felt really positive about the effort that was put into our racecar. The guys were really fired up about getting here. But you still never know until you get out there on the track.
The first couple laps on that track, it just had that feel, you know, it had a great feel. Struggled a little bit getting ready for qualifying, but qualified better than I thought we would.
When they dropped the green, I knew we had a car that could win this race. It was a lot of fun. Kasey Kahne looked to be one of the best. He had some issues. We got up there and were able to kind of control the race.
It was just a lot of fun. It's been a while since we had a car like that here at Indy. Just a flawless effort by the team. The pit stops were fantastic. I thought Alan called a great race. When we came off pit road the last time, we were able to get ahead of Harvick, I thought that was a huge moment for us. That put us in position to win.
I knew that shortly after that, there were some guys that were going to try to stretch it on fuel and all I could do is run as hard as I could to put pressure on them and hope that I got there in time.
We got there just a little bit short. But Paul did a great job saving fuel because when I got there, even Regan and other guys, they were still pretty much checking up when I got there. It was easy to get by them. But Paul had saved enough to where he could go back to a full pace. By that time, my car was just too tight behind him.
Back to what Regan said, you know, I don't know Paul as well as he does. But I was with him the other day. I thought it was pretty cool. We were talking about him coming here as a kid with his family I think from like, I don't know, late '80s or something all the way to 2000, some ridiculous thing where every year he was here for the 500, knowing what his dad has done here in IndyCars. I don't think there's anybody that could appreciate a win, even if it is his first win.
I think he's in awe right now. I went and saw him. His eyes, he's like a deer in headlights. I'm so happy for him, I think a lot of people are. It's one thing to get your first win here, but it's another when you can appreciate how special it is to win here. I think Paul certainly has that.
KERRY THARP: We'll continue with questions.
Q. Jeff, I guess second kind of sucks, but what does this weekend and effort today say about your team's championship drive?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it says a lot. Obviously we wanted to win this race, but we also wanted to make a statement. I think we certainly did that. You know, this team is for real. We showed that today. You always hear about people talking about, you know, the team that wins here at Indy, their chances for the championship.
While we didn't win, I think we definitely showed that we're a championship-caliber team. We've been knocking on the door, getting closer every single weekend, won a couple races. For me this is going to be a huge boost for this race team and hopefully a bit of a statement to the competition as well that we're serious about our efforts at a championship this year.
If we can run like we did today here at Indy, you know, I know we're capable of winning just about anyplace we go.
Q. Jeff, do you have any theory as to why out of the four major races, three have been won by first-time guys this year?
JEFF GORDON: Well, Daytona's different. The type of drafting that you do. So I don't know if you can necessarily -- you got to kind of put that in its own category.
But when Regan won at Darlington, I mean, that was a risky move that they made, kind of like what Paul did today. But he drove the wheels off that thing to keep Carl behind him. So you got to give him a lot of credit.
I'm not sure which other one? The 600?
Q. The 600.
JEFF GORDON: I don't even know who won the 600.
Q. Harvick won the 600.
JEFF GORDON: So three of the four. Got you. It was a good thought (laughter).
Q. Regan, you mentioned Paul being one of your closest friends out here. How did that develop?
REGAN SMITH: I think the same thing, we came into the circuit the same time, around each other a lot, a lot of different appearance, stuff like that. You start seeing guys more and more, get comfortable with them, just like that.
We're both kind of similar personalities, quiet, a little bit shy if you want to call it that, keep to ourselves a little bit.
But he's been knocking on the door for a while. Had some really strong racecars. Certainly happy for him.
Q. Jeff, you won the first Brickyard here. You know how you felt. Compare it with what you think he feels today.
JEFF GORDON: I think the comparison's probably very similar. I think, you know, it was a dream come true for me just to get a chance to race at Indy. That first event, you know, was unbelievable. I was definitely in shock that we won that race. That race changed my life forever, certainly my career has never been the same since.
I think Paul is going to experience that same thing. This will be a big boost for his confidence. But, you know, those guys have worked hard to come into Childress and put together a good, strong team and put Paul in a position to be able to be competitive enough to win. And they've been competitive this year, they really have. They've been strong.
This is not just a fluke. They took a big risk. But they had to beat a lot of other guys that were trying to save fuel. There at the end, you know, I couldn't have passed him.
Again, just because he's been here so much as a kid experiencing Indy, he knows how special it is to compete here, let alone win here. So I think the feelings are probably very similar. He probably has a greater appreciation for it than I did in '94, because while I was watching from a distance and my heroes were Indy 500 drivers, I wasn't in the garage like he was. So he could probably appreciate it even more.
Q. Jeff, you've won a couple times, basically locked into the Chase. In these next six races, where is your team's focus going to be? Business as usual, R&D?
JEFF GORDON: Man, we're going to try to put the same kind of effort we just did today and just keep building our team up to be able to be championship caliber when the Chase comes around. I think we're very close.
Alan and I, it took us a little while to get to know one another, how to communicate with one another, what I need in the car. He's been really giving me great stuff to drive. It's been a blast.
Today was just solid pit stops, no mistakes, a lot of confidence in his calls, in his adjustments. I thought today we were a complete team. We've got to continue to do that week in and week out. I think there's definitely more tracks that we can win at. But it's really about building ourselves up to be strong when the Chase comes around.
Q. Jeff, when is the last time you've been this happy to finish second?
JEFF GORDON: Well, this is Indy, you know. I guess I'm happy because we ran so good today. We haven't run this good in a while. I know what it means to run good here at Indy. This is a tough place. There's no coincidence that teams that have won here in the past several times have gone on to win the championship because it shows who has the complete package.
I think that we showed we got a great package. While we came up short, I guess too because I'm happy for Paul. If you're gonna get beat, it's pretty cool to get beat by somebody that can really appreciate this win.
I don't like finishing second. I was disappointed. When I came down the front straightaway, I was pretty upset. But that quickly turned into my thoughts about how great we ran today and how cool it was for Paul.
Q. Matt said he thought when you got around him as Burton was coming into the pits, that was probably the pass for the lead. Did you have that same thought?
JEFF GORDON: There was two big moments I thought that happened for us. That one, when we got by Matt. I was better than Matt, but I couldn't pass him. He was good enough to keep me behind him. If we didn't get in front of him, then he very easily could have won this race. So when I got by him there, you know, I thought that was big.
Then the next big moment was when we came off pit road. I thought this was where Alan was genius today. I don't know how it worked out. But when we came in for that last pit stop, we rolled off there and I could see him coming down the front straightaway, and I ran really hard through one and two on that access road to try to get ahead of him. I just squeaked ahead of him by the time we got to turn three and pulled away. That was Harvick and Kenseth.
Those two moments were key moments to put us in position to win. Had those guys had to come in, we had the position. We did everything we could to put ourselves there to win this race.
Q. How much more time do you think you needed to catch him?
JEFF GORDON: I'll be honest with you. You know, I used it all up getting to him. There were a couple cars that were saving fuel when I got to them. They didn't make it real easy on me, which you can't blame 'em. But that held me up a bit.
And then when I got to him, I got tight. He could run a good enough pace where even if I had gotten closer to him, I don't think I could have passed.
Paul was pretty good all day today actually. I ran with him earlier in the race. It was going to be tough to pass him then. There at the end, where I give him a lot of credit, he saved enough fuel to where at the end he went for it. The tires are not too burned off because he didn't push the car too hard. He saved enough fuel that he could run a good enough pace that I don't think I could have passed him.
I used it all up getting to him. But another lap, I was hoping he was going to run out (laughter). I was hoping it was going to be an easy pass.
Q. Regan, we know how you feel about Paul and the friendship you have. Now we know what Jeff thinks. Among other drivers, do you sense that a lot of them echo Jeff's feelings about Paul, that he has a lot of respect?
REGAN SMITH: Yeah, I think so. A lot of people know what the Menard's name has meant to racing, what the family meant to racing. Certainly I didn't come to this place as a kid and didn't have my roots around this track, and he did, like Jeff said.
The other thing is Menard has built a lot of engines and cars to bring to the 500 year after year. I think pretty much everything has been said. It's just really cool for him to do that deal, to win here.
Part of me's happy, part of me's mad. Maybe these two could have run into each other and then I could have won this thing. That's what I was hoping for. Afterwards I said, That's okay (laughter).
Q. Jeff, is there any master plan for the fueling system that you can come out with enough fuel to finish big races like this?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it seems to me like what a lot of guys are doing now to save fuel, used to be a big track like this, if you were one lap short, you better come in, you're not going to make it unless you get a bunch of cautions.
Now what's happening is guys have figured out how to stretch it and get incredible fuel mileage even under green by pushing on the clutch, shutting off the engine, doing a bunch of things that they can stretch it four and five laps now, even on a big track like this. Used to be impossible to save that amount of fuel. But these days guys are figuring it out.
That's about the only thing. There's not a whole lot you can do to the tank. There's not a lot you can do to conserve fuel with the carburetor. Little tiny things. But other than that, even just checking up early isn't going to save you a whole lot. You have to get the rpms down. It's something that a lot of teams have been working on. Things to in-car cameras, we've seen other guys, how they've done it, and now we work on it.
I will say, you know, I really enjoyed there at the end being in a position to not have to conserve. It was a lot of fun to run hard and try to chase these guys down, even though we came up short. It's the position everybody prefers to be in. Doesn't mean you're always going to win the race that way.
Q. Regan, after winning Darlington, everybody was saying that the wins may start to pile up for you. While wins haven't come, you've had four top 10s this year. Finishing third here is a big deal. Is this further validating your career and your team's ideology being based out of Denver and proving that model can work for you guys?
REGAN SMITH: I think we're going to continue to prove that that model can work. It's a model nobody else has tried in a long time. For the longest time, everybody thought you had to move to the Charlotte area to race. We're trying to dispel that theory.
I think the times have allowed us to do that, technology has allowed us to do that. We can be on a live active database back to North Carolina and see different things going on from Denver also. Certainly with some of the teams having the troubles they've had in the past years, we've been able to get really good people to complement the people we already got in Denver.
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