Sears Point: Winning team interview, part 1

JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS, STEVE LETARTE, CREW CHIEF, AND RICK HENDRICK, OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS (HMS) -- Race Winner: JEFF GORDON: It was a great win. A lot of emotions because it's been a while. Obviously everybody...

JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS, STEVE LETARTE, CREW CHIEF, AND RICK HENDRICK, OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS (HMS) -- Race Winner:

JEFF GORDON: It was a great win. A lot of emotions because it's been a while. Obviously everybody has well documented that and reminded us many times. You know, I just had so much belief. I knew we had the right ingredients and we focused and put a lot of effort into this road course package last year. Not only did we have failures, but we got beat. We were getting beat on the racetrack.

We focused on those areas, making sure that we found some speed, as well. We were able to show that this weekend. It didn't come together too well in qualifying, and today we showed it. To come from 11th up to 1st was not easy to do today. Passing was tricky. Fortunately for us, the cautions came at the right time. At the end I didn't want to see any, but it was just a great day.

It just means so much to me and to the team to get back to victory lane and get that No. 1 in the season off of our shoulders. It's a relief. Now we can just go on and focus.

You have no idea how much pressure -- I think it's for a lot of teams that have won, it's so important to get that first win of the season. Of course it couldn't happen a better weekend, too, because announcing an engagement and being here was a really special weekend for me all the way around; to be able to complete that with a win and go to victory lane, it's just fantastic. Everybody wants to get that first win when you know you're a Top 10 team and you know what you're out here to do week in and week out.

We struggled the last year, and even here at the road courses we were a 2nd to 4th place car, and we knew that just wasn't good enough for a team like ours. We tried to get it better. I was really proud of how we ran last week in Michigan and we didn't get the results and the finish that we were looking for. We've had that two or three times this year, so I was finally glad to come and get the results that we knew, we had the car and the pit crew and the team to do it.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how important it is for you now to be in the Top 10 and in the hunt again for the Chase?

JEFF GORDON: Well, it's important because we've had some trouble not last weekend, but when you look at Pocono and Charlotte and glitches that we've had the last month. At one time we were solidly in there because of consistency, and I attribute that a lot to a solid team. But performance-wise we weren't where we needed to be.

Then we had problems, and that really took us back in the points, so we needed -- to me, you have to always put those behind you, you have to figure out how to do it better and fix the problem the next time, but you have to put it behind you and focus on the next race.

We've got a real string of races coming up that are very good for us, and this was the first one -- maybe even last weekend, but this is the first or second one in a line of races that are tracks that we can really gain some points, get ourselves solidly back into that Chase. Nice to be in there right now but we're not solidly in there yet, and we need to take advantage of the tracks that we're good at that we can really capitalize on; here, Daytona next week, Bristol, short tracks and road courses, and then we've got to run like we did last week in Michigan at those mile and a half's. That was a very important race for us, as well. We finished 8th, but leading the most laps, it meant a lot to us.

Q: This is your first win here at Infineon, and with your induction into the Hall of Fame and your engagement to Ingrid Vandebosch, is this the best one yet?

JEFF GORDON: It's definitely the most emotional one for me. You know, it's just been a special weekend all the way around. I've got to admit, I got a little choked up riding around in the car with the checkered flag. I don't know if it was getting to victory lane for the first time this year, whether it was the excitement last night with announcing the engagement or the pressure of not winning so far this year or just the road course. I don't know what it was, but it was there, it was real, and it felt great and I was excited. I think I did one of the best burnouts I've ever done, so I'm proud of that. I don't know what's left in the engine or the car, but it was just great.

Just seeing the look on Steve's face and hearing his voice, I could just tell how much it meant to all the guys. He'll tell you, I never, never, never do this, I called him this morning at about 7:30, 8:00, and I said I've got two things for you: One, we're going to win the race today; and two, I'm engaged (laughter). I'm not sure which one impacted him the most, but I never do that, and I just for some reason had that feeling that it was going to happen today. I don't have that very often, but I had it all day today, and it's great.

Of course I didn't have it had halfway through the race. There was a point in the race where I was worried a little bit. We weren't catching some guys and in the position we needed to be in at the time, but it really came through.

Q: Can you tell us about the proposal and getting engaged and when all that happened, and the second question is is she willing to sign a prenup (laughter)?

JEFF GORDON: Well, she's here. Maybe she can come over and talk to you for a little while and answer those questions.

I think she knows that I'm a lot smarter the second time around (laughter). She's got a much better guy this time around, too, and I've got an amazing girl this time around, too.

I can't say there's any big story to the engagement, other than last night was -- we've actually been holding this to ourselves for about a month, and we just -- because we didn't do it the traditional way and get down on one knee and go to some fancy restaurant or the Eiffel Tower or something, we kind of held onto it for a while until we were ready to tell people, and because we travel, we're just not typically in a place where you get a bunch of people together, and fortunately for me, I have a little croquet event -- you can get a list of people that come to this event, and they're all very well-known. But I get family and friends that I grew up with and family that I don't get to see very often, and it was just a great opportunity for us to really make it public to everybody.

We wanted to let our family know first obviously, so it was great to be able to do that. The prenup thing, you're going to have to ask her (laughter).

Q: Were you using that new chassis, the Pratt & Miller chassis, and if so, how much of a performance enhancer was that for you?

STEVE LETARTE: No, actually we brought our tried and true chassis that we've run for years. I think the Pratt & Miller group that worked for General Motors on the Corvette has a good car here, and I've worked with them a little bit on some setup, not only setup but how you approach a road course. We're still stuck in our ways of racing week in and week out. All the gentlemen at Pratt & Miller really opened our eyes on how you even breathe, how you talk after a road course practice, and I put a lot of that emphasis on Doug Duchardt, the vice president here at the company, really important lining that up. I think that really showed this weekend that we put our road course program on high priority along with everything else, and I'm glad we got out here and showed it.

Q: You were able to reel in Labonte pretty quickly and pass him but then you didn't really pull away from him quickly. Were you in conserve mode at that point and how much pressure did you feel an those late restarts?

JEFF GORDON: Well, he kept telling me he's going to pit. He kept telling me don't worry about Terry, he's going to pit, he's going to pit (laughter). I'll be honest with you, I was conserving as far as fuel, but I wasn't conserving that much through the corners. Terry was really driving a great race and being smooth like he is, and he's a great road racer. I wasn't taking that for granted. That's why there was a few times Steve probably heard in my voice I was probably getting nervous because our car on the long runs really used up the rear tires, and if I had to battle with Terry it was going to be quite a battle because I may have been short-shifting and things like that to try to conserve fuel, but I wasn't doing as much as -- put it this way: In areas that when I looked out my mirror I was concerned about, I wouldn't say that I was holding back, and he was driving a great race.

I kept asking is he going to pit? I can't believe he made it. He pitted so much earlier than we did, and we were concerned about fuel. At the end for some reason his car wouldn't take off on the restart, and it really gave me a nice breather for the first five or six corners to get the rhythm and get the heat in the tires and go on.

Q: Rick, if you could take a moment to talk about the race today.

RICK HENDRICK: It was a great win. You know, any win in Cup Series is a special win, but these guys who work so hard and have been so close, and it really hurts me to see Jeff have mechanical failure at Richmond, had the rotor in Pocono and got turned in Bristol. You put all those together, and we had had some pretty good runs, but it kind of felt like if we could come here and then go to Daytona, we would have an awful lot of momentum. We're just excited about the races now leading up to the Chase.

Q: Jeff, you mentioned a little while ago about the pressure of going week to week working for a win and not getting it. Could you elaborate a little bit more on what the pressure felt like and how did you cope with it?

JEFF GORDON: Well, one way I cope with it is I try not to read the paper or go to NASCAR.com or any other website that might show, oh, Gordon had trouble again, Gordon doesn't win again, when is it going to happen, how long is he going to go. I've been through it before so I know all those things exist, so I do my best to stay away from it as much as possible. I just really try to put as much effort and energy into ease and communication with the team. We've had some great meetings and talks and just really keeping the glue together there and knowing that we're going to each and every race with our best effort. I'm very confident in that, and I've been patient that it's going to come together for us. Because I've been through it before where we went longer than this into the season, that helped, as well, just knowing that you've just got to be patient and not pay too much attention to outside criticism.

Q: And the follow-up is did you lose any sleep over it? Did it keep you up at night?

JEFF GORDON: I lost some sleep Friday night not qualifying the other day. Any time I make a mistake, I definitely am hard on myself. Luckily I let it go pretty quick. I lose some sleep that one night but let it go pretty quick. It's all about focusing your energy on the next race and the next test. Steve or Rick might have a different answer to that, but I'm pretty good at not losing too much sleep over it.

Q: Jeff, the engagement announcement last night was at a club?

JEFF GORDON: Well, the official announcement was last night. You know, I told my mom and dad last week, I told my sister yesterday, I told Rick Hendrick yesterday, and I told family and friends that were there at the Meadowood resort yesterday, I told them, and I called Steve early this morning, called John Edwards right after that. I told John the same day I told Steve; two things, we're going to win the race so get prepared, and I'm engaged.

Continued in part 2

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