Talladega II: Winning team interview, part 2

Continued from part 1 YOU BECAME THE ALL-TIME LEADER ON RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES TODAY. DO YOU VIEW YOURSELF AS THE BEST? GORDON: "I don't believe that. I think you guys missed something along the way. I thought (Dale) Earnhardt had so many it...

Continued from part 1

YOU BECAME THE ALL-TIME LEADER ON RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES TODAY. DO YOU VIEW YOURSELF AS THE BEST?

GORDON: "I don't believe that. I think you guys missed something along the way. I thought (Dale) Earnhardt had so many it was ridiculous. I'm blown away by that. That includes 125's and all that? No, to me, he's the man on restrictor plates. I'm blown away that we won this race today. The package that we had here early in the season, I could say that if you kept that package going back, I think we could win quite a few races. I like that package. It really works well for me. I feel like I use the momentum in the mirror as good as anybody. I feel like I learned so much of that from Dale. I watched him do things and I knew they were cheating or there was something in his carburetor and then I maybe pulled a couple of those moves throughout the moves and I say, 'Ahhh. Now I know what he was doing.' And I was fortunate. My very first restrictor plate race, I was racing Dale for the win at the Daytona 500, even though I didn't have a chance to win it, I was there in the batt le watching. That education started very early for me. HMS has always given us cars capable of being up front there. I like to draft. It's a lot of fun and there's a lot of thought that goes into it. And there is some luck that goes into it. But I'm pretty blown away that we've been able to win that many restrictor plate races to be honest with you."

ON CONVINCING JEFF TO HOLD BACK IN TODAY'S RACE AND IF IT WAS HARD TO KEEP HIM IN THAT MODE

LETARTE: "To start, our strategy wasn't really planned out until we qualified. Once we knew where we qualified there was just no reason to do anything else. And then, the Roush cars kind of put a hint out about what they were going to do in last practice Friday. We saw them line up and go out and see how fast they could run. So I took that information. I knew how fast they could run lined up and we figured we could probably run with those guys. I don't know if they wanted us with them or not, but it worked out good. It gives you a good safety valve to have those cars back there like that. If you make a mistake, they can catch you. But a lot of the talking I do on the radio, I'm talking to both of us. I'm a very competitive person and I hate riding around. I hate just clicking off laps, but I know what our goals are and what we need to be. I have the advantage of walking off the pit box and getting a water and walking around and cooling off and thinking about it, where he does n't."

GORDON: "I had time to do that today (laughter)."

LETARTE: "Yeah, today maybe. But it gets frustrating. The two of us don't really do anything unless we agree on it. It's kind of always been a democracy on those sorts of things. And if we pit, he believes us. If it doesn't work, he still supports us. It's the same way on the race track. If he pulled out today and finished 7th, I still think he's one of the best drivers to ever sit in a restrictor plate car. So, it's just a good relationship. The writing was on the wall. It just became evidently clear that it was the only choice we had."

DOES A SUPERSPEEDWAY WIN MEAN MORE?

GORDON: "Oh, a win's a win (laughs). The restrictor plate races always seem to be exciting right down to the finish with battles among the cars. They are just as exciting, but at the same time a restrictor plate track is about drafting and getting that push. The Daytona 500 is our biggest event, but winning at Martinsville or Atlanta or Darlington, to me, you look at who has won at those tracks and to me, you're talking about a totally different type of racing and the kind of racing we're really brought up to do. Restrictor plate track racing is this thing that you have to learn and be taught and it's a totally different mindset and philosophy of things."

LETARTE: "I agree; a win's a win. The one thing about plate racing that I've seen is that you have your instances where people maybe that would be their first or only win. But if you look at the guys that have won consistently at plate tracks, be it Dale Earnhardt Sr. or Jeff Gordon, or Tony Stewart, or second place finishes here, there is a reason they win at a plate track. It's the same reason they win at a short track or intermediate track. People really underestimate how much thinking is involved in these races. It's not how everyone thinks. It's not just drive as hard as you can all day long. These guys amaze me every time I watch them race with the decisions they make in a split second. People always talk about a quick decision a crew chief has to make, but we still have 15 or 20 seconds inside the pit. These guys are doing it in fractions of a second and I think you see the consistent front-runners of the plate tracks are the same consistent front-runners, if they have good enough equipment, at all the other races."

GORDON: "I would just add that if the only race I ever won was on a restrictor plate track, then I'd be disappointed. The fact that we've won at just about every track out there and that we win at the restrictor plate tracks, makes this win as exciting as any of the other ones."

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LETARTE AND GORDON

LETARTE: "The reason our organization and our relationship works the way it does is really simple. It's the owner we have. Mr. Hendrick is the leader of the ship. I don't think there is any other one else in the garage that could get away with having the superstar lineup or drivers that he has, the team he has, the equipment he has. He sets a tone where it's a very, very distinct pyramid. He's the boss. I work for Rick Hendrick and everybody at that company works for Rick Hendrick. He does it in an interesting way. He's definitely not an iron fist. He's the most kind guy you've ever met. He knows a lot about you and I think what that's allowed is that I've gotten to grow up in that organization and see how he leads. I've seen other crew chiefs that have had this position. I just don't know what it is. It has a lot to do with him and a lot to do with how my father raised me and the driver is a tool. The crew chief is a tool. We're all just tools. We just make good decisions an d do the best we can. And we leave a lot of the personal stuff off the race track. I feel I can tell him whatever I need over the radio or in the truck after a practice or after a race. I think he feels the same way with me. It's a lot like a marriage. You can only cover up problems for so lone and eventually they're going to blow up to where you can't recover anymore."

GORDON: "How do you know? You've only been married once (laughter)"

LETARTE: "But you've got to believe that person. It's like pitting or not pitting. We have very distinct roles. We admit what our roles are and no one encourages me more to make decisions than he does and I encourage him the same way on the race track. As long as we keep them separate, I think we'll remain successful."

GORDON: "Rick is great, he reads people's personalities so well. He knows whether things are going to work or not plus to get to learn from him. I just saw something in Steve several years ago, if I was sitting there, I don't think I have a big ego anyhow, but, I guess sometimes, since I have had success, it does come out. (laughter). In every role he played at our shop moving up through the ranks, he excelled at it. Every time he was challenged, he took it to the next level and I was impressed with that. I have always felt he had great common sense and to me common sense will out so many more times than being book smart in this business. We have had communication and worked together for years. I have always respected Steve. I didn't know what it was going to be like having him a crew chief until we put him in to that role. But I did tell him right from the beginning, if you treat me like I am a four-time champion and won however many races, then I am going to wal k all over you. If you treat me like any other race car driver out there and I am, like he said, a tool, we have to respect one another, but, if there is something that I am doing then you have got to put your foot down on me. If there is something that you are doing, then I have to put my foot down on you so that is the only way we are going to keep a common respect and he does that. He hasn't had to do that many times, but I know he is not afraid to do that. As young as he is that impressed me more than anything is the confidence he has that he believes in what he is doing, he believes in the people around him and he has made the most of that group of people."

ON WHAT MIGHT BE DONE TO IMPROVE RACING SINCE RIDING AROUND IN THE BACK ISN'T TYPE OF RACING HE WANTS TO DO:

GORDON: "This car needs a little bit of work, I agree. We were here testing for two days and I don't feel like we did enough, I can tell you that. We went to a smaller wicker from where we started and a smaller restrictor plate from where we started. I was pushing hard to see us continue down that path. I don't know if we ran out of time, that wasn't what the test was about, but we ended up with this package. We get here; I think a lot of guys would have liked to have seen something like that. That wicker creates so much drag that when you lose the momentum you stop. You just slow down and go backwards so fast, that I think that it is too much. I think we need to take that down. Now, you take that down, it makes the car go faster, not as much drag, now we need to do something with the restrictor place. But, we can't do that without testing it. You have to test it and thi s package might work great at Daytona, but I just don't it is perfect for here. If the fans in NASCAR want to see us three wide lap after lap after lap, then we got to tone things down a little bit, so we have something that we can manage. I think today, everybody was so worried and afraid of not being able to manage that momentum shift, then unless NASCAR is hard on us about the bump drafting, which they should have been, it forced us to have to get single file like that. But still, it was a great finish. Regardless of whether I won or not, I knew it was going to be wild at the end."

ON HAVING HIS DAUGHTER IN VICTORY LANE FOR THE FIRST TIME:

GORDON: "That was cool, Man, that brought a tear to my eye. I hope one day I win a race and her actually be able to say "You won Daddy." That would be the coolest thing ever. Just having her there was amazing and that made this win that much more exciting and memorable."

ON IF DESTINY IS SHINING ON HIM AND TEAM AFTER OVERCOMING PIT ROAD PENALTY TODAY TO WIN:

GORDON: "Well, you can call if whatever you want. Good fortune, whatever. We definitely had some good things go our way. You have to have that to win a championship. We have that right now and hope we can keep that going. But we also have to perform. We did that today. We did it at the end of the race last week. I feel like we have done it everywhere except for Dover and I hope we can keep that up. But, like I said, we had our problems today, but we were able to battle through them and get fortunate with caution, but we had to drive up through that pack. It didn't come that easy. Luckily we didn't go down a lap. We are still in the thick of things. It is not going to be handed to you; it is not going to be easy. You aren't going to get out there and lead every lap and win the race. It is not going to happen this weekend, not next weekend, all the way to Homestead. Long as we keep putt ing up this kind of fight, I don't care what happens, with the points, I am just proud of this team."

ON WHAT IS DIFFERENCE ON A SEASON LIKE THIS WHEN THINGS COME TOGETHER:

GORDON: "It is the people. When you have the people and the cars working well, it works. When Robby (Loomis) came on board, we had to fight through some things that were lacking in the team and make some changes, which we did then we went and won a championship in 2001. We kind of fought that same thing when Robby was leaving, the last year we struggled and Steve came on board. He brought some things that got this whole team fired up. One of them was getting the cars to drive where I am comfortable and can go fast. So I have great cars out there and I like that. I like the way he leads this team. I like the way the guys rally around him and believe in him. I like the calls he makes on the box, he is confident about it even though I know he is nervous as heck up there. He doesn't act like it on that side. He makes a call and believes in it and I believe in him. I believe team chemistry means a lot but you hav e to have those race cars too and some times one makes the other. Not really sure which it is. Sometimes, you make calls and they don't go your way, but they are going our way this year. I have been saying this for a while. I don't think you just have luck, you make luck. The way you do that is you put the right people together, the best people, they have to be people who like to work together and work with one another and then you have to built good race cars and a good race team. Then you go out there, you are well prepared. You put yourself out there in postions to do good and to have that good luck, have that good fortune. Have that No. 20 car with the momentum to hit you in the rear bumper and push you in to the lead. That is what we have been doing this year. It is actually not just this year, it has been happening the last year, it is just now we have been able to fine tune some of the details."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart