'I thought I'd look like a bigger idiot if I spun out leading,' Gordon said
Jeff Gordon (above) scored his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the season at Kansas Speedway by leading the final nine laps of the 5-Hour Energy 400 behind the wheel of his No. 24 Axalta Coatings Chevrolet SS. The win was the 89th career victory for the four-time Series champion, who was able to fend off Kevin Harvick in his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevy SS by 0.112 seconds. Harvick, who started from the pole position, led 119 of the 267-lap race and posted his eighth top-10 finish at Kansas.
Kasey Kahne brought his No. 5 Farmers Insurance/Thankamillionteachers.com Chevrolet SS home in third place, which was his fifth top-10 finish of the year and gave Team Chevy a 1-2-3 sweep. This was also the 10th win at Kansas Speedway for Chevrolet
Gordon became the ninth winner in the 2014 season, which essentially clinched him a spot in the year-end Chase for the Sprint Cup. He now leads the series standings with a 15-point advantage over Matt Kenseth (Toyota).
Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a strong fifth place showing in his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS and Danica Patrick posted her best career finish (7th) in her No. 10 GoDaddy Chevy SS. Jimmie Johnson rallied from adversity to bring his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to the checkers in ninth place overall, to give Team Chevy six of the top-10 finishing positions.
Joey Logano (Ford) was fourth to round out the top five.
Next on the 38-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tour will be Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 17th.
JEFF GORDON AND ALAN GUSTAFSON, NO. 24 AXALTA COATINGS CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
KERRY THARP: We're going to hear now from our race winner of tonight's 4th annual 5‑Hour Energy 400 benefiting Special Operations Warrior Foundation, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race here at Kansas Speedway. That's Jeff Gordon, and Jeff was the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Coatings Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He's joined by his crew chief Alan Gustafson. This is Jeff's 89th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his third victory here at Kansas, his first win in 2014. You're our points leader, you're going to be in the Chase.
JEFF GORDON: Can you guarantee that, Kerry?
KERRY THARP: Jeff, trust me, I think you're good.
Seriously, you won the first race here at Kansas. You won the first night race here at Kansas under the lights. How cool is that?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, it's very good. This has just always been one of my favorite tracks from that first race. I don't know what it is about this race team and this racetrack for inaugural events, but tonight's win was very, very special. Man, and it didn't come easy.
This team has been working so hard, and this guy sitting next to me, he's been so driven and motivated, and it's been inspiring to me with the kind of race cars I've had this year.
Nothing makes me more proud than when it's all on the line and you get the lead and you've got to hold off somebody like Harvick and you get it done. It might have been by inches, but we got it done because that's what builds momentum, that's what builds a great race team and turns you not only into a winning team, but hopefully a championship team.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Jeff. Alan Gustafson, congratulations, big win as Jeff alluded to here at Kansas, had a lot of energy out there tonight. Under the lights, winning this race, getting into the Chase, points leader. Just how big of a momentum boost is it for this race team?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it's just a huge payoff for all the hard work this race team has put in. Really, really proud of all the guys on the 24 team, and really, to take it a step further than that, all the guys in the 5‑24 shop and all the hard work they've put in.
We've been so close, had so many good cars and it was great for it to pay off, really proud of the effort. Kasey had a great night and finished third tonight, so it was a very good night for our shop in general.
Q. Jeff, that last lap, did you feel like Kevin was coming on strong? Did you feel like you had enough to hold him off at the end?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, that whole last run was really strange for me, because I felt like we had a good stop. We came off pit road and the four tires that we took, the car was hooked up right away and I was excited about that, and then a lap or two later, I saw Kevin come off pit road onto the back straightaway and we got ahead of him, and I knew it was on at that moment.
I knew I had to push hard, and the car felt good at that time, so I was like, oh, we're okay. And then I had to maneuver through some lap traffic, and he got right to my bumper, but I actually was able to pull away from him, and I was like, wow, I wasn't expecting that. He'd been so good all night. We'd finally gotten the car where I could run the top groove.
So I started to settle in, and right about the time I settled in, I started getting super loose, especially in 3 and 4, and I didn't know where that came from. Maybe it was traffic. Traffic was pretty tough out there tonight, and so ‑‑ then he caught me, and I got through traffic. He had some trouble, and I pulled away, and I thought, okay, we're good. And then the car was great, I took off, and all of a sudden got loose again.
And so there at the end, I was just trying to stay away from traffic. I didn't want to get closed up on anybody. I wanted to try to have a clean lap. I got through 1 and 2 pretty good, but I got over to 3 and the car just went completely sideways on me and I couldn't get on the gas, and I thought I'd look like a bigger idiot if I spun out leading than just trying to make sure I get back to the line first. I gave up some speed there, but we won the race, so it's all good.
No, he was strong and he was coming. He was so strong on the top side of 3 and 4, I'm not sure I could have held him off much longer.
Q. Jeff, you became the first driver tonight to have three wins here at Kansas. What does that mean to you?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it means that this is a good track for us (laughing). I mean, you know, you love winning anywhere, but there's just something about this track, the transitions, the shape of the corners. I've just always enjoyed it.
Now, when they did the repave, it threw some challenges at me personally that it wasn't my best track, but as it's aged and as we've gotten the cars so good and the tires and everything, it's come back to a track that I feel comfortable at.
It feels awesome. It just feels so good to get that first win of the season, especially this year with the points structure and how close we've been so many weekends. I think that, while that's a huge relief off our shoulder, it's probably going to just make us that much hungrier to go get that next one.
Q. Does that mean tracks on an older surface play to your advantage more?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. An old guy like me likes to be patient and finesse. I say that, but when he gives me cars like he's given me this year, I've been able to be aggressive and drive hard, even on the tracks that aren't worn out, and that's a sign of the kind of cars that we're bringing.
Q. Kind of been stated already, you're leading the points, you got this win now, so you're going to be in the Chase unless something totally weird happens ‑‑
JEFF GORDON: Don't even say that. Why you got to go there?
Q. How do you use this momentum as you go into the All‑Star Race and then you come up on the Coca‑Cola 600, the 20th anniversary of your first win?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I just know this race team. I know Alan, the way he leads this team, and just this, to me, is more motivating than it is ‑‑ it is a relief, but it's more motivating than that, and I think it's only going to inspire us to ‑‑ listen, we won the race and we're excited about that, but Kevin was a dominant car. He's been really strong this year, and then there's been times that the Penske cars have, as well. We've got to continue to work and gain and push.
All I know is that by getting this win, it just allows us to focus that much more and fine tune on what we need to do to go win more and continue to just push as hard as we can to be the best out there.
Q. I think you said last week something to the effect of you're leading the points, but leading the points matters less than before. What's it like to have the relief, even though you're the points leader, to get the relief of getting that victory, knowing that it kind of validates and puts you in the Chase, versus the pressure that keeps building. I know Jimmie is in that situation where they've had a lot of winning cars, but they haven't got it. Until you get it, it seems like there's a lot of pressure riding there.
JEFF GORDON: I'd love Alan to talk about how he's seen it from a team standpoint. I know what I've seen, that win that Jr. got at Daytona and just their approach from that point on and just being able to roll the dice and be more aggressive, that first win is so crucial, and it's not a guarantee, but it's almost a guarantee, but I think once you get that first win, it only leads you to the ability to take risks to get the next win.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think, for me, the biggest thing for us is we know we've had a good race team, we've had really good cars, and you just have to have that validation and kind of verification you can win races, and we won. Obviously that helps get you in the Chase, but to me you can't stop there.
I don't think you can be so aggressive that you kind of lose the art of kind of grinding out races. You still have to win this over 10 weeks, and you're still going to have to win it with consistency. Winning does pay more, but I don't see one win just setting you in a position where you can take it easy. I think it's kind of the opposite. I think you still have to push.
And the key for us, and we've been in this situation before, we've had to battle late to get in the Chase. We've been in the Chase earlier. The key is always to peak at the right time and to get the team in a great position, and that's something that we've got to be very careful of, and I think some of the guys that have won, it's tough to sustain ultimate performance over 36 weeks.
We've done a pretty good job over the first part of the season. We've got to be wary that we don't slip and don't get complacent, so when we get into the time that really is going to matter, we're not flat, and I think we've got to be focused on that, too.
JEFF GORDON: What he's trying to say is he's going to keep cracking the whip. (Laughter.)
Q. Along those same lines, obviously tonight fuel had everything to do with the way this race played itself out in the final laps. Guys having to come in and make final pit stops and stuff like that. Having all but secured a spot now in the Chase moving forward, I know strategy can change a little bit, but will you be able to take more chances? Do you see guys taking more chances from a fuel standpoint, going for it at the end of the races now that you don't have to worry about that as much going forward?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: You know, you can't ‑‑ I think the 48, the 2, those guys I know for sure, I think the 11, they weren't trying to make it. They were trying to get a caution, and if they had enough cautions, then they could make it and have that track position.
So that was kind of a gamble, but it's not like you just go out there and say, all right, I'm four laps short, I'm going to cross my fingers and hold my breath and see if we get it. No, they were just trying to formulate something, and to be honest with you, I don't know that ‑‑ Jimmie did it, he needs a win; and Brad did it, he doesn't need a win. That's not really determining why they use that strategy. It's more about the situation they were in at the end of the race.
Q. So does the situation you're in tonight change your strategy going forward?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think it's a little bit over done, but there's going to come a time where two or four tires or maybe trying to make it on gas, that, yes, we'll do that, based on having a win, but I'm going to say, if I had to guess, that might be one or two races.
Q. Jeff, the word retirement has been thrown around, mostly by other people, but you said in victory lane you feel 25 again. Why is that, and how do you feel now going forward the rest of this year?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I say that because the race cars that I've been driving are just making a lot of fun. I just feel so competitive out there, and that makes me feel young again.
I just see how hard these guys are working. It's making me work harder. I've been really working harder on my fitness, which I think is helping me mentally and physically be more prepared out there.
When the cars are that good, my back just doesn't seem to hurt as much. The whole retirement thing I think is thrown out there too much, and I'm probably somewhat to blame, but there's no secret, I'm going to be 43 this year, but, man, if 43 is like this, I can't wait for 50. This is all right. I'm having a good time. That's why I feel young, because I'm just having a great time.
Q. Jeff has already talked about this; Alan, if you will. What was it like for you in that final lap? He takes a white, and then you've got all that time watching everything. What was it like for you?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I mean, really at the end of those races in the situation we were in where we were leading with, not a big lead, but a reasonable lead there at the end, you always want to get the white, because then you're like, all right, well, not going to get into any restart issue or anything like that, right.
And then I kind of was a little suspicious, from the last run what I had seen and looked at on the timing and the scoring. We were better than Kevin in clean air, but it's tough, always tough for the leader to catch traffic, even guys who were getting lapped, they're going to race hard because the caution could come out and anything could happen.
I think traffic was the concern, and Jeff alluded to it, and he was trying to manage it the best he could, and we were kind of forced into some traffic, and obviously I didn't know that he had been getting so loose, but it was a concern. Kevin was going to go all he could go, right; at that point in time he's just going to do everything he can to beat us and get back to the flag.
It made for a great race. I think if there wasn't traffic there, it probably wouldn't have been as dramatic, but at the end of the day we won. It was good that it was close, it was exciting.
Q. Jeff, people are listening on Sports Radio 810 right now, we're doing a post‑race show, and a lot of people are calling in. There's a lot of people ‑‑ David Pearson, 105 wins, do you think you can get there?
JEFF GORDON: I think we can get to 89 because we did it tonight, and the next one on the list is 90.
All I can tell you is the kind of race cars and race team that I have this year tells me that we can get more wins. And if we can keep running like this, and I want to keep driving and keep winning.
As good as we've been this year, they've also not come easy. We've had some slip through our fingers and tonight went our way, and we got 89. To me I've never thought that that was attainable, and until we get within a couple, I still am just focused on getting as many as I can.
Q. Just kind of following up on finally capturing the win and the excitement that's kind of surrounded your heading to Charlotte, a place where you won your first race, a million dollars on the line next Saturday night, and then the Coca‑Cola 600, could you come in any better way, really, than you are right now?
JEFF GORDON: No, and, you know, it was so cool this past week with Marcus Smith and the folks at Charlotte Motor Speedway and at the Hall of Fame there commemorating that first win of mine 20 years ago. To go through that, talk about winning this race around 20 ‑‑ well, I guess it wasn't 20 years ago, but the first one, a long time ago, and to be able to ‑‑ you look back through my career and have the wins that I've had, and to be able to be this far into my career and be able to get back to victory lane is very special.
And then to follow that by going to Charlotte, a place that I love, I love racing at Charlotte, and to be at home and also race, it's just one of those races where you go all‑out, and it's more about pride and honor and just kind of showing your competitors what you can do.
So we're going to be pushing really, really hard to follow this up with a great performance there.
Q. In a season where going all‑out seems to be the theory, with wins being so important now in the Chase, any idea about what the All‑Star Race could be ‑‑
JEFF GORDON: If they made the win for the All‑Star Race count towards the Chase, yes. Trust me, dangling a million dollars out there doesn't hurt.
Listen, there's not a competitor out there on the track, every weekend, if it was for one dollar or a million dollars, they want that trophy. They want bragging rights. They want to make a statement, and they want to go win the race. That's what we're going to go do next week, and hopefully we can accomplish that.
Q. It seemed like Kevin Harvick obviously had the fastest car, but there was one point where he got caught in some sort of pit stop sequence and he was 18th and you were 19th, and I think you guys were stuck there for like 20 or 30 laps. Is that just indicative of this track and the tire, or looking ahead to other mile‑and‑a‑half tracks, is that going to be what we're going to be looking at again this season?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I talked about the repave. It's a pretty hard right side tire, so it's edgy. But lowering the ride heights and just making the cars ‑‑ the aerodynamic of the cars advancing over the years, it just makes pit strategy that much more important ‑‑ I mean, track position that much more important. And so the further back you get, the more challenging it gets, and so when you have a good race car, what happens is you can't go ‑‑ just go all out and push hard in the first couple laps, because there's no air there. It's just all turbulent and disturbed and the car is just out of control.
So you've got to kind of let them get strung out or find some clean air, and that's what Kevin did a really good job of tonight, he could jump on that outside on the restarts and make more passes than I could.
Later in the race I was able to do that. But yeah, it was more about just kind of taking your time, being patient, not getting too much in a hurry, and once it got strung out, you could start picking them off one by one, if you had as good a car as I had and Kevin, but yeah, when we got back there and they dropped the green, it was a white knuckle experience, to say the least. That's indicative of just racing in general, not just NASCAR, all motorsports.
But as the grooves get wider and the track gets more abrasive and the tracks that we talk about, then you have more options to have cleaner air on the nose of the car and on the spoiler, and tonight on the restarts, when you first took off, there wasn't enough room to just jump up next to the wall to get away from it. So you were sort of bottled up in it for a little while.
Some of it's the track, some of it's the tire, but most of it's just aerodynamics in general.
Q. You'd said on television right after you won that I believe you got off to a little bit of a rough start. What was going wrong? Was it strictly the traffic that you talked about earlier?
JEFF GORDON: No, the cautions came out very untimely. I don't know all the specifics, but I know ‑‑ I think it was our first green flag stop the caution came out right as I came off pit road and some cars had not stopped, so then we had to do the wave‑around, and if I'm not mistaken, that happened again for us on another green flag stop, and so we had to do the wave‑around again. To do that twice, it shows you how good of a race car we had, but at the same time those are the breaks that you have to have go your way in racing, and for us we were fortunate it happened early enough in the race where we were able to recover as well as have a good enough race car to recover.
Q. Just wondering if you had a chance to run around Danica Patrick tonight and what your thoughts were of her performance.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I did. She was very impressive. You know, one time I started on the outside of her, and I drove down into 1, and she left me, and then she about passed the two cars ahead of us going into 3.
It was pretty obvious she was feeling comfortable, had a fast race car. I think I heard she finished seventh or something. Yeah, that's a real testament to her work ethic and her talent as well as Stewart‑Haas. Those guys are just really putting out some great race cars right now. She did a great job, yeah.
She started behind me on another restart, and I had to like hold her off. I mean, she was aggressive, real aggressive.
KERRY THARP: Jeff, congratulations on this win here tonight, to the No. 24 team, and we look forward to seeing you at Charlotte.
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 4 JIMMY JOHN’S CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 2ND
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 JIMMY JOHN’S CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 3RD
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
KERRY THARP: Let's roll right into our post‑race for tonight's 4th annual 5‑Hour Energy 400, benefiting Special Operations Warrior Foundation, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race here at Kansas Speedway. First NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race under the lights here at Kansas. And our third place finisher is Kasey Kahne. He drove the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Bank Million Teachers Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Also joining him up at the front right now is our race runner‑up, our Coors Light pole sitter, and that was Kevin Harvick. He drove the No. 4 Jimmy John's Chevrolet for Stewart‑Haas Racing. Let's hear first from Kasey. Third‑place finish. You ran up front most of the evening, led some laps. Just talk about the race, how you thought the race went for you and how things unfolded there towards the latter stages.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, it went really good for us. We had a fast Farmers Insurance Chevy throughout the race, worked our way up. Some of the pit strategy and things, sequence more than anything. We got to the front there for a little bit, led some laps, felt really good at that point in time, and then we got a little tighter later and didn't free up or tighten up enough there at the end when we put four tires back on. We just tried to run rights for too long.
It was still a really solid run. Nice to run up front and be able to race hard the whole night. It was good for us.
KERRY THARP: Kevin, certainly this was one that you led a lot of laps, and certainly had a very fast race car. Just talk about how things unfolded for the 4 car and your outlook on how things went from your vantage point.
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, the car was really fast. We just had to overcome a lot tonight, getting caught on pit road both times under green flag pit stops.
Then there at the end, we ran out of gas coming to pit road there, and I was looking at the fuel pressure gauge instead of the tach and lost a bunch of time down pit road and off of pit road, wound up getting stuck behind the 24.
The car was really tight, and then I found a groove that worked for me way up the racetrack, and I caught him, and then I slipped and lost everything I had gained and then gained it all back and just ran out of laps at the end.
Q. So much of this race seemed to be dictated by pit sequence. Did you know going in, okay, it's going to be tough to pass, so this is how we're going to work our way through, or did it just unfold that way?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I mean, I felt like it was going to be tough to pass at times tonight. If you were ‑‑ it was tough to pass a fast car, but if your car was perfect, you could kind of pass later on in a run or right there at the start of a run.
It was tough, and then you just ‑‑ you have to pit at certain times, and you don't know when someone is going to spin. So more than anything it was just people spinning that I think got the sequence off that I saw, that I remember, so you don't know when that's going to happen, and it happened a couple times tonight.
KEVIN HARVICK: I think after the last race we saw here was exactly, probably not to the extent that everybody expected, but I think that everybody kind of knew it was going to be hard to pass.
Q. Kevin, as you probably noticed, Danica had one of her best, if not her best career finish tonight. A lot has been made of a conversation you and her had this week. Can you shed any light on that conversation what you might have told her and how you might have helped her this week?
KEVIN HARVICK: We talk a lot, and I think for her it's just the confidence in knowing exactly what the car is going to do. Obviously, she's run well all weekend, qualified well, raced well all night, and it's just ‑‑ there's a lot of hurdles to overcome for her to make up that experience. I feel like we can help her speed that process up by just telling her some of the things that she should expect and do.
As she went through the weekend, she kept her track position on the restarts. That's probably the biggest thing. But I guess the one thing I did tell her was just to quit thinking about it and smash the gas. Sometimes your car is never going to be perfect, and you just have to take what it'll give you and expect that every time you pit it's going to be better, and if it's not you adjust and move on.
Q. For each of you, where were you when the lights went out, and just what kind of effect did that have on the race or the driving?
KASEY KAHNE: I think I was on the front stretch or something, because the lights were good and the next time we came through it was dark on the back. And once it went green from that point, I didn't even remember that they were off the rest of the time. It's way darker back there, but you can still see just fine, and you just kind of forget about it.
KEVIN HARVICK: I think we've both probably raced at a lot darker racetracks, but I don't know where I was.
Q. Did you feel like you were in danger?
KEVIN HARVICK: No, if it was dangerous they wouldn't have let us go.
Q. With the weather delay, was there much concern at all that you'd be able to get this in tonight? Were you worried about having to come back here and run tomorrow?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't even know if there needed to be a weather delay. Once we left pit road it was raining as hard as it had the entire time, and then we went right to green pretty quick. I think we probably could have started right on time, maybe had a caution or five laps, but I don't think it would have been much more than that.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, you know, you can't control that kind of stuff, so you just sit in your car and sweat, wait for them to tell you to go.
Q. Kevin, is it as simple as if you don't run out of gas, you win the race?
KEVIN HARVICK: I can't say that. I mean, even though it was out of gas, with these EFI units it still runs, and I should have been paying attention to my pit road speed lights and should have got off of pit road better.
I think, to win the race, I just needed to execute on pit road better the last time down.
Q. How do you come out of this knowing you had a car that was dominant in spots, but then got back in traffic? How do you feel about the night overall?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think we had a good night. You can't win them all. For me, I made a mistake at the end and felt like that's probably what cost us the chance to stay in front of the 24. But the 24 was good all night, and the 48 was good when he was out front, and we got in the back of the pack and couldn't go anywhere. It came down to track position, and those guys executed a little bit better than I did.
Q. What mistake did you make?
KEVIN HARVICK: When we ran out of gas coming to pit road, I was looking at the fuel pressure gauge instead of the tach, so I wound up just going too slow.
Q. Kasey, it's been a rough start to this season for you guys. What did this run mean to the team?
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, well, our biggest deal is we've just been slow this season. Really haven't been inconsistent or anything like that, we've just been slow each week. We tested here, we had that Goodyear tire test, and I felt like from that point on, we've actually had really fast cars.
Richmond we were good, we had some things go on late in the race on pit road that we ended up 14th, but we had a top six or seven car, I felt like, that entire race.
Ran well at Talladega and then came here and ran up front. We were good in practice. I think the Goodyear test here, for whatever reason, we were able to try some things and just look at stuff a little differently than what we had been, and it helped the 5 team, my guys, myself and Kenny and Chris, our communication together. It's helped us a lot since then. I feel like that's been the key, and ever since we tested here, we've ran much better and been a lot more competitive.
Q. Kevin, you mentioned running out of gas there at the end of the race in the pits. Was that the moment it was over or did you still have a chance to catch the 24 after?
KEVIN HARVICK: It was my mistake, coming down pit road too slow. I had caught the 24 and then made another mistake getting up out of the groove and lost everything that I had gained. I made too many mistakes at the end to get by.
Q. Did you think you had a chance on the last lap to get him?
KEVIN HARVICK: It wasn't out of the question, because I knew that when we got to traffic that his car was not very good. I just needed to time it right, and I just had too much ground to make up at that time.
KERRY THARP: Kasey, Kevin, thank you for coming in and putting on a good show this weekend.