NASCAR Sprint Cup Series press conference
Series post race press conference Atlanta Motor Speedway
An interview with: Jeff Gordon and Alan Gustafson
THE MODERATOR: We welcome at this time Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet. Winner of today's AdvoCare 500. This is his 85th victory in 642 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, placing him solely in third place on the All-Time Wins list, also his third victory of 2011 and fifth victory here at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Talk about the race today. I know you're full of emotion and a little bit about the special presentation in Victory Lane as well.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, everybody knows when Mike Helton speaks he has a way with words. So to be up there, get presented that beautiful plaque that they put together with all the victories, just looking back on all the people that have contributed to it from Hendrick Motorsports, different crew chiefs and crew members and guys in the engine shop. I mean, it's a team effort.
To win 85, you know, is unbelievable. And to do it here at Atlanta. I'm not sure really to kind of rank everything, because the significance of this win today, the timing of it, doing it here in Atlanta on such a tough racetrack, battling with Jimmie, the bonus points, the 85th win, the momentum that this team has got right now and the race cars we're taking to the racetrack. Man, this is cool.
THE MODERATOR: Alan, from your perspective, obviously with this win and the finish here today, Jeff clinched a top 10 spot in The Chase. Your thoughts being with this team this year and being part of such memorable finishes and a memorable year for Jeff Gordon?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yes, this was one of the racetracks that we felt, like Jeff alluded to, we had a lot of momentum; but we felt like we struggled on the mile-and-a-half high banked tracks, Texas and Charlotte. This is one of the tracks we felt like to be an elite team and contend to win the championship, we'll have to do well on these style of racetracks.
So really pleased to do that. Had a really fast car. Jeff did a great job. And it was a lot of emotions today. There was times where I felt like, man, we were going to win the race and there was times where we were tenth, like it was going to ring out. So it was up and down and a long time coming. But a great day, nonetheless.
And Jeff alluded to it about the 85 wins, it's awesome accomplishment for him. I think he's super deserving of all the accolades he gets throughout his career, not only for a race car driver but for being a great person, and it's a big deal for Hendrick Motorsports also to have Jeff solely in that third position. It's a real great accomplishment for our company.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Jeff, how important do you think it was to sort of deliver a message to the 48 team that you guys are in championship form and we can beat you by holding them off here in those last few laps?
JEFF GORDON: I think everybody recognizes how strong they are, and that you can never count them out and those guys are running really strong right now as well. And I think the last couple of weeks we've been able to send a great message to all our competitors of how strong this team is, how good our race cars are.
I love the fact we go to -- at Bristol I felt we had a car that could win there. Then we come to a big mile-and-a-half track like this and we do win.
Certainly a great battle between me and Jimmie. A lot of fun out there racing him. Man, I was sliding around. This track really, really freed up as it laid rubber down.
And I'm kind of glad we had that break, because it tightened up after that, and we needed that.
So had we needed to run and make one more run, I don't know if we could have gotten it tight enough. But when you've got a five-time champion -- and I have a lot of respect for Jimmie and that team -- and when we pulled out after that last stop and we pulled away from him, I was like -- I felt pretty good. Pretty comfortable. The car was driving perfect. And then all of a sudden, with about 15 to go, it started to really loosen up. And I was hoping to look up and see him loosening up as well.
If he was, he wasn't showing it, because he was coming hard. And I made a few mistakes trying to search around and try to figure out if I could get my car to drive a little bit tighter. And I just had to go back to what I was doing. I had to get to the bottom in 3 and 4 and the top in 1 and 2. So that kind of maintained a little bit, but he was a little bit better than me at 1 and 2. And he had a couple runs at me.
And I think when he got underneath me and didn't complete the pass, to me that's what allowed me to go, okay, we still are going to win this race. I just can't make mistakes.
So I know that it was a great message. But I think that we're having a lot of fun right now. The race cars are awesome. And we've got a lot of momentum. So we can't wait to get to next week, Richmond, as well as get this Chase started.
Q. Jeff, you alluded to this just now. But just if we can backtrack a little bit. Just when did you think you pretty much had this thing in the bag when, as you said, he couldn't quite get by you, at what point? Because there was about 10 laps or so it was very much of a dogfight?
JEFF GORDON: Listen, my emotions -- I can't imagine what these guys were going through on pit road, but mine were going up and down. I made a comment about, man, we're done, the thing's just got too loose. Alan was encouraging me: We can get it done. My spotter, Jeff Dickerson, did a great job as well. So Jimmie got underneath me off of 2. It was probably like five or six to go.
And I kind of cleared him. Then we got into 3 and he got right up on me got real loose and got underneath me. But when he didn't complete the pass, you know, gave me a little bit of hope. But I didn't -- I mean, it was a nailbiter all the way to the end. He got real loose off of 4 coming to take the white. And I think that was the turning point. I really do. I think had he gotten underneath me off of 2, I was getting so loose over there, and if he could have got to the bottom into 3, I don't know if I could have held him off, off of 4. It would have been a great battle either way. But he got real loose off of 2.
When that happened, it gave me a little bit breathing room where I could go down to the 3 and drive the car straight and not push the issue and not get the car real sideways. Every time I stood in the gas off of 2 the car would step out and lose momentum. That's where he was gaining on me. I was able to drive it straight when he got loose off of 4.
Q. Today we heard stuff about tires lasting, but also wearing out. Tony talked about the character of the track, touching it, repave it. We saw side-by-side racing at the end by you and Jimmie. What were the ingredients you think that added up to what turned out to be a really good race from start to finish?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I think that any racetrack that we go to that has a pavement that is of this consistency, that has worn, has aged, that is abrasive like this, and as long as Goodyear can find a tire that can hold up in these kinds of conditions, then this is the ultimate track and ultimate place.
When you've got a track that cars are running on the bottom, the middle, the top, both ends of the racetrack, you know, and the drop-off in speed from the beginning to the end of the run, that to me is what you want to see in a racetrack.
So I think that if you look at Kansas and Chicago and these tracks that now have some age on them, those are the best tracks that we go to. They're finding a little bit better ways doing the progressive banking on new paves. But I think all of us prefer these older surfaces.
We understand that they've got to stay together, the foundation and everything. These start seeing the seams and the cracks. Obviously it's tough to hold these high-banked tracks together like this. Sometimes they have to do what they have to do like Phoenix did. But for all of us as competitors we prefer to keep it like this.
Q. Jeff, do you recall how long it's been since you won a race in a car that was that loose and might that be a little part of the rejuvenation you feel that you were talking about on TV a while ago?
JEFF GORDON: Well, the car wasn't loose the whole run. It was just loose there at the end. And that's why Jimmie caught us, just because we got too loose. But I gotta say that right now the rejuvenation is going to the racetrack and having race cars that are driving as good as the ones that I'm driving.
To me, it's not about being loose or tight it's about having a fast race car that you can lean on it. You can maneuver around the track. You can pass with. You know, and you can adjust.
When I can give information to Alan that we're not panicking, we're not way off, he can make those great adjustments that keep us in the game and keep us improving as the race goes on.
So I credit Alan and his group. These guys have been just unbelievable this year in how they listen to the comments that I say, the belief that they have in me, and now the confidence that I have in them in what they're bringing to the racetrack.
Q. And also, just again specifically talking about those last 10 or 12 laps, but I asked Jimmie if he was surprised or disappointed to lose a duel of loose race cars considering he's so notorious for that. And he said, well, I know what his setup is and it was a ton tighter than mine. The last 10 or 12 laps, were you as loose as he was from what you could see?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I think his car would just roll the middle a little bit better. So he could kind of roll into the corner and keep the momentum. But he was pretty loose off as well.
My car was a little bit tighter through the center. But it was as loose up off the corner, for sure. But I think that at the end there, as hard as we were all pushing, you know, I think that we had about the same amount of grip.
Q. Alan, you mentioned that you said you guys felt like you had struggled on the mile-and-a-halfs. After today's run, do you feel like you guys have solved your problems on the mile-and-a-halfs are is there still a lot of work to be done?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I don't think you ever solve your problems. I think we've improved a lot. Obviously our performance today shows that. And we tried some different directions and I feel like that we're getting some good validation on the things we're trying. And so we can understand how to take that a step further and improve.
So this gives us -- it's very encouraging for Charlotte and Texas. Two very similar racetracks, even though they're not near as rough. But we feel like we've learned some pretty good stuff today. And we're excited about bringing that stuff back to these other racetracks and being able to perform this well at Charlotte and Texas.
Q. Jeff, I'm sure if you've been around Bobby Allison very much lately. He claims 85 wins as well. A lot of historians agree with him. I'm just wondering what you consider on that issue?
JEFF GORDON: You know, that's what's encouraging to try to get to 86. As far as I'm concerned I'm probably still tied with Bobby. And as long as it's in Bobby's head that we are tied, then that's still a great thing.
So it's to be debated for sure. I started getting a little bit more of the story last week at Bristol from his brother and talking about how I guess there was Grand National cars against Cup cars or whatever it was back then. And so it's interesting when you hear the story and the debate of why they feel like they're at 85. But listen I'm just thrilled to be at 85 in the company that I'm with. Bobby and Darryl, and you look at being behind David and Richard, it's something very significant. Something I'm very proud of. And with the kind of racing that we have right now, though, I gotta say I think we can get free and clear of Bobby, if we have a few more things go our way.
Q. (Off microphone).
JEFF GORDON: The way things are going, the way the team has rejuvenated me and the confidence they have in me and the confidence I have in what I'm doing now, anything is possible when you've got this guy as a crew chief.
Q. Where do those final 20 laps rank in your own personal memory?
JEFF GORDON: It's going to rank way up there because we won. You gotta understand from where I was sitting it was very frustrating and intense. I mean, I felt like I was swatting flies inside there. I was so loose. And I was just trying to squeeze the throttle down to get a little bit of an edge, and when I did that, the whole back end would slide out.
One time I brushed the wall off at 2. You know, I really to me it's going to stand out in your mind as a great one and a great battle, because of the victory.
And certainly when you're battling with a guy as talented as Jimmie is and that team as good as they are, definitely it's going to be one that's going to be significant. And I gotta say, I mean, that's the kind of race team we have right now. We've not been able to do battle with those guys like we have been able to this year. Especially the last several weeks. And that's what's got me extremely excited.
It's not just them, it's the 17, the 99, a lot of guys that I think we're going to have to do battle with in this championship when it starts. That just feels awesome.
Q. I remember in Vegas last December somebody mentioned you hadn't won a championship in a while. You kind of joked about it a little bit. But you talk about the rejuvenation process. Did any of that start a little bit in the off season get you forward-thinking, you're going to hit 40, a lot of milestones coming up, 10 years since you won a championship, were you thinking more, not that you'll be less focused, but time to step it up a little bit this season, given some of the dynamics you're working with?
JEFF GORDON: I've been trying to step it up for 10 years. I think that The Chase format is definitely more challenging. Those ten tracks are significant ones.
I feel like we've had good years, and even when I go back to -- what was it? -- '07 when we battled with Jimmie and won races in The Chase and everything else but we still couldn't get it done.
To me, it was more about how can I play a role as a driver and give the feedback to Alan and his group and get myself settled in with this team and make sure that I'm doing the job that I'm capable of doing and that I feel like they think that I'm capable of doing.
And so it's been a new relationship. And there's excitement that comes along with that and kind of you can sort of start over. And that felt really good in a way because I saw the excitement in the guy's eyes in the shop when I walked in there the first couple of times.
Now to be able to build on that and show those results has only made us a stronger team. So it all comes down to -- it's not about me just deciding one day I'm going to step it up or not step it up. It's that I gotta do my job and they've gotta do their job and we've gotta come together and build chemistry and connect and just be on the same page when it comes to running races. And that's what I love about this group, and Alan and these guys.
It kind of leads back to the earlier question, where it's like driving a loose race car. It's not about driving a loose race car, it's about getting the car right for each driver. And Alan went from Mark Martin who does drive a very loose race car to me. And yet we're still having results because they say what do you need, Jeff. And here's what we think we need to do to allow you to do what you need to do.
And that to me is what makes up a great team. And they've been able to find the tools to do that for me.
Q. About this time 19 years ago you make your debut on the Sprint Cup Series here at Atlanta since then this racetrack has weaved itself in and out of your career as far as highlights. Can you talk about that? You clinched championships here and have this fantastic finish here today. You've won here five times. No. 85 here. Could you talk about how this racetrack has intertwined itself into some of the career highlights for you?
JEFF GORDON: I've always enjoyed this racetrack. To throw another one in there, my first Busch or Nationwide win came in here. That's where Rick Hendrick recognized me and where we kind of connected.
And then running my first race here, winning some big races here, kind of clinching the championship or celebrating the championships here. So this place has always been a place I've enjoyed going to. Plus I just think it's a great racetrack.
The surface and the slipping and the sliding around and having to run up against the wall in 1 and 2 and down at the bottom 3 and 4. And it's a challenging racetrack. And it can be your best friend or your worst enemy. And it's been a good track for me over the years for the performances as well as the memories.
Q. You talked about this rejuvenation. You talked a little bit about it before. But when you look at the stats, after 25 races last year, you had nine top 5s and 13 top 10s -- I mean, you had ten top 5s and 13 top 10s, nine top 5s, 13 top 10s this year. The difference obviously the three wins from this year to 0 from last year. But looking at the numbers, other than the wins, it's almost the same. So what --
JEFF GORDON: Are you looking at laps led?
Q. Obviously that's another factor. But what do you see and how do you do that because just looking at those numbers people could say in some ways --
JEFF GORDON: This is why winning is big. You know, winning is huge. It might only be worth a few more points, and it might only be one number there in the stats, but it is huge for the momentum and confidence in team building and heading into The Chase.
Yeah, you know, we had a strong season last year. But because we didn't win, you know, it just kind of took the wind out of our sails. We were like, gosh, we're good, but we're not great.
And right now we're great. That's what we have to try to maintain when The Chase starts. We're going to be tested on that for sure because the competitors will all step up, and we have to step up as well.
So that's the real difference there, is that it's the fact that we have won. We've proven that we can win. I think you have to win to be able to win the championship and you also have to send a message to your competitors that they know you can win.
And also the laps led. To me it's like getting top 5s is important because if you can get top 5s it shows you can win.
If you get enough top 5s, usually you'll find yourself into Victory Lane. The same thing with leading laps. You lead enough laps, you're probably going to find yourself getting to Victory Lane.
And so I think those two things are very significant right now the laps led and the fact that we're pulling off the wins when we're strong.
Q. Based off of that, how do you compare with where you've been the last few years; is this the strongest you've been at this point going toward The Chase since when?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, this is to me the strongest that -- I mean '07 we were strong. But you know the difference in '07 was I dreaded going to Phoenix in '07. And I know that the track has changed you know since earlier this year where we won there. But I'm looking forward to going to Phoenix, because Alan is, he's really good there. And they build great race cars for that type of racetrack.
We've had to work really hard this year at the mile-and-a-half stuff. That's what I love. Right now our momentum has shifted to make us better at those tracks. They're going to be significant in The Chase. I feel like when you go into the debriefs and you're talking to the team in the meetings and you look at how we're planning, you know, how we're improving and the areas that we can get better in and how we're addressing it, to me this is the best that we've been since I can remember. Certainly since The Chase has started.