Transcript: Phoenix International Raceway
February 27, 2011
An Interview With
RICK HENDRICK - Owner
JEFF GORDON - Race winner
ALAN GUSTAFSON - Crew chief
KERRY THARP: Rick, congratulations. You had to be really, really happy for that car and the race organization today.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, someone said it a little while ago; I think it was like our first win. Jeff was so happy, and we made a lot of changes in the off-season. He really drove his butt off today. To come out and run Kyle down, and you know, have Jimmie and Tony and all of those guys up there, I think he had something he wanted to prove. And it was a great win for the organization.
RICK HENDRICK: I think, you know, when you talk about your pre-year ticks, and he's mentioned in the Chase, but not a guy that's going to win the championship. And you pick the top three -- and I think it's been 60-some races since he won I think he had something he wanted to prove. Came close last year and had terrible luck at the end. When you're a champion like Jeff Gordon, you know that you can still do it. When people overlook you, I think it's something that he wanted to do and wanted to prove.
I'll tell you one of the neatest things was to see the fans, to see their reaction to him today was unbelievable. He mentioned that over and over and over again in victory lane.
I think, you know, he's been right there, but we have not -- he has not had that edge and I think we are going to see a lot of momentum out of that team starting right now.
Q: Jeff is not a young guy anymore. Do you think he still has what it takes to be a champion? Do you think it may be is a year that he finally can get that fifth title?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I really do. When you look at the restrictor plate races, there's nobody any better than he is. He's unbelievable on the short tracks, and this track here today, I think the fact that we did not qualify that well, but he thought the car was going to be good, and as soon as the race started today, I looked at the monitor and he was one of the quickest cars before a lot of -- Carl and some of the other guys got taken out.
You know, the guy has got all the talent in the world, and you know the calendar rolls on, everybody thinks he's got to be a young guy to do. Mark Martin has proved that that's not the case in '09.
Jeff has paid a lot of attention to what he eats and working out and I think Jimmie has started a whole revolution in the garage with guys getting in shape. You know, I don't know, if he 40 yet?
KERRY THARP: He's 39.
RICK HENDRICK: 40 this year, when you think about 60 (Laughter) a lot . of people second that one .
But you've got to look at some of the most difficult tracks there are to drive and you look at how good he is there. I think this combination, I think we needed to do something to rejuvenate our whole group, and I think I see every one of our guys stepping up. And I think Jeff sees this as an opportunity with Alan that he's got something to prove and I think that's a good thing.
Q: You made the announcement if not the decision to realign the drivers and crews last year; at any time prior to Daytona or this weekend with the qualifying problems, was there a, hmmm, did I do the right move moment?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, when you make the decision and then it's up to the guys to make it work, and you know, I didn't do it all by myself. But this organization is really one team of four cars. People say that sometimes and don't really mean it, but these guys work shoulder to shoulder. I think the chemistry and just the -- when you look at the DNA of all of them; Dale needed Steve because he's a real rah-rah guy that stays with him all during the race. I looked at Lance as a technician and that's what Mark is, and they have won together.
And then Alan and Jeff; Jeff's always had tremendous respect for Alan, and has always talked about having Alan. And then we just -- the 48 and Chad we left alone. It's early; by summer, you might be telling me I made a terrible mistake but right now the chemistry looks really good in the teams and we are competitive every week. We were competitive in Daytona and we were competitive here today even though we did not qualify that great.
Q: Were there times over the last two years that you sensed Jeff was down and he would come talk to you, or you would talk to him, and say, hey, we are going to get this back, and was there some real low moments for him over the last two years?
RICK HENDRICK: As proud as he is of Jimmie, and as responsible as he is for helping make that happen, you know, Jimmie has for five in a row, he's got a lot of people in this garage kind of disgusted; not disgusted, but after you win two or three or four and being on the same team in the same building with the same equipment, you know it's got to work on you.
I think he's a competitor, he's a champion, and you know, everybody gets down. I get down. We all get down. And you have to have some reason to get excited again, and that's what this re-alignment this year was all about. Let's spark to give everybody something new to look forward to without really going outside of the walls and changing, bringing someone in that we weren't accustomed to, because I felt like everybody there was capable and really good in their own way. But this might be a way to get us, everybody excited about coming back this year.
Q: Did you feel that your organization was down at all after the qualifying effort yesterday, and can you comment on Dale Junior's tenth place finish.
RICK HENDRICK: I don't know about them but I was sure down after I got off the plane yesterday afternoon. I talked to them and they said, we are pretty good, we are good in race trim, the car feels good. We just didn't have the speed and I think we'll be okay today. You never know.
As soon as the race started, I could watch Jeff in particular and Jimmie was pretty quick, too, but Jeff was really fast even Carl, which I thought looked like was going to be the class of the field.
And I can tell you, Dale Junior has done everything. He was in position in Daytona to really compete and win that race and had a flat tire with two to go. He did not qualify good here. None of them it did. But he drove a great race and he never gave up, and when he had to pit with a loose wheel, Stevie made some good calls and came back with a Top-10 finish.
So to pit on the green here with less than a hundred laps to go and comeback with a tenth place finish, you've had a good day.
Q: Every year it seems like some of your guys start slow and we say, there's something wrong with Jimmie, Jeff, something wrong and August comes around and you go through the championship Chase and blow everybody away. You say you were worried and everybody is saying the Hendrick cars are a little off right now; is it part of the game to be slow starters and fast finishers?
RICK HENDRICK: The problem is that you've got a lot of guys out here. If you remember the last race here on this pavement, Denny Hamlin dominated the race, and he probably brought the same car back here, but I can tell you, we went and we have tried and we have got a lot of new stuff here. I was of the opinion, swallow hard, this is the first race here, and if we are not good and we tried and tested and we thought this was better than what we had; if it's not, we just have to keep working to make it better. You just -- it's just so competitive. When you go back to a track where a guy has dominated and then they are a tenth-place car, that just shows you that the competition, they are not sitting on their hands.
They are working their butts off, and I think Alan can tell you, the difference between the race we ran here in the fall and what we brought back here today was a ton of difference. But there's a lot of hard work and you're always searching because the rest of the guys are getting better.
Q: You mentioned the fan reaction to Jeff's victory today, and obviously there's been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about some of the challenges that NASCAR has faced when it's opened this season, Dale Junior on the pole at Daytona and Trevor's victory appealing to the youth market, seats sold out and ratings up and now a Jeff Gordon victory. Do you have the sense that NASCAR has turned the corner and is back on an up swing?
RICK HENDRICK: Absolutely. I think the 18 to 30 viewership was up 40 percent, and our sponsors look at that. That big crowd in Daytona; Trevor, a great young kid that's going to be a star in this sport, to win the Daytona 500 for the Wood brothers, is a phenomenal deal. Dale sitting on the pole.
The fans are excited; that you see the stands full and you see it with the ratings too, and I think -- I've been doing this 28 years, and this is the most competitive, by far, that I have ever seen this sport. When I started, you had to beat four cars to win a race and you had to beat two or three to win a championship. And today, there's 20 cars that can win a race, and probably 30. You are not going to know who is going to be the champion until we get to the last race of the year. It's just that much, that competitive.
I told someone the other day, the equipment in the garage, there's more equipment on one team than the whole garage as far as top-notch stuff when I started this sport.
Q: Could you also comment again on, do you get a sense that NASCAR may have turned the corner; do you get a sense there's positive momentum?
RICK HENDRICK: I do. I think we had positive momentum at the end of the year. I think the sport and the drivers are all working together to make it a better show for the fans and I think we've got it.
KERRY THARP: Rick, thank you very much. Great win today.
Joining us right now is our race winner, that's Jeff Gordon. He drove the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet and congratulations, this is your 83rd NASCAR Spring Cup Series victory and this ties you for fifth all-time with Cale Yarborough, your first victory in 2011 and your second in Phoenix. Just talk about the way you maneuvered that 24 car the last part of the race. Certainly was exciting to watch.
JEFF GORDON: First of all, how cool is that to tie Yarborough. That is the ultimate. First guy I ever drove a Cup car for was Cale Yarborough. A lot of people don't realize that. Of course, I spun that car that day, too.
Man, I don't know where to start. First of all, they dropped the green flag and I knew that we had something special. The car just, it was doing a lot of great things. It was turning good. It was getting off the corner really strong. And you know, I just -- and I mean, I know how good Kevin Harvick is around this place and we were just hanging right there with him and picking our way through some of the cars there. I was like, man, we have got something really good here.
Sequence of events, really I guess it was just to mess with our emotions, because I'll be honest, I thought we were done. When I hit the wall, I hit it hard over there, when Carl had his problems and just went in him outside of the three and he just drifted up, not his fault, I think he had a left front tire go down or something and put us in the wall and I thought we were done. Came into pit road and Alan orchestrated those guys fixing it and he said, no, man, I think it looks all right. They dropped the green and it felt okay. We only made a half-lap and they wrecked on the back straightaway and they all came to pit road and we were sitting there like fourth. I was like, all right. And then we drove up, took the lead or something not too far after that and I was like, wow, this is unbelievable sequence of events and turnaround.
And I knew at that time, we had a car that could win. We had a great battle with Stewart, and he was really strong on the long runs. Our car was real strong on the short runs and then we seemed to wear the right front tire out a little bit. And Alan made some great calls, great pit stops, and you know, we were out front there. When Kyle got us on that green flag exchange, I was a little concerned because I know how good he is, and good he is here. I mean, nobody beat him at anything this weekend. So I was looking forward to the battle and the challenge, because I knew how good our car was.
I had no idea Tony was out there on two tires, and then the caution came out. He got that jump on the restart and I was like, man, that's going to be hard to catch. We just started picking away at him and the car was so good, I could see his car going away a little bit on the exit, and that is where our car was so strong.
Today, the difference for me was that we have had cars -- we have been in position to win races, like even here, and you know, with our spun the tires on the restart or whatever it may be, but I have not been in a position to put pressure on the leader to force him to make mistakes and be in control of the situation in a very long time. And that's what I love so much about today is to be in that position was such a cool feeling, and at that moment, you don't care if it's Kyle Busch or who it is; you feel like you're in control of your destiny and it got a little hairy getting into one of them, I admit.
I was shocked I even got underneath him and I was like, all right, I'm going to check up early because I was afraid he was going to do the swap-over on me. He's pretty notorious about that.
I drove in easy to try to get a good run off of two and not let him do the swap-over and I kind of felt him on my right side and my car got real loose and we banged a little bit and slipped the racetrack and my spotter said clear, and I drove off and I looked up and he was three or four car lengths behind me and I'm like, yes, let's go. Then it was just putting some laps to go.
KERRY THARP: Let's hear from crew chef Alan Gustafson. Congratulations on this win and your thoughts about, as Jeff said, hit wall that one time and you had to really work some great things on pit road today.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, not only today. It was the weekend as a whole was not the easiest of weekends for us. We started on Friday with the new tire. We were off quite a bit on it. We were not very good at all. And we had to work really, really hard to get the car better. Didn't quite get as far as we wanted to get on Saturday and qualified a little bit further back.
But we knew, we felt like we were gaining on it all weekend and we didn't know if we were going to get there in time or not. But we knew were headed the right direction and today as Jeff stated, when the race started, we got pretty close and their car was good.
And the first 60 laps of this race, I felt like we ran five or six races. It was chaos. It was crazy. Wrecking, everybody everywhere, track position, flipping, guys in the back staying out and stacking people up. We got in the fence unfortunately with Carl, he had his issues and got us up into it the fence, and we worked really hard at that point in time. It's really hard to know what you have and guys did a great job fixing it and getting it back right. Like Jeff said, we went back out there and made half a lap and they wrecked about 18 more of them it. We came, drove back around and after that, had the track position and it was pretty evident that we had a really, really good car. We just had the tune on it and get it right.
At the end of the race, you hate -- you hate giving it up on the pit stop exchange, the green flag exchange but I felt at that point in time we had come a long way to get where we were at and were going to make it interesting. Jeff Gordon, he was perfect in the car and got everything he could out of it, and he just put together 20 qualifying laps and got the job done.
Q: Jeff, last week obviously there was a lot of excitement about how the race finished and a new face in NASCAR. Is there anything about this race or track that you think of being a veteran of experience helps succeed?
JEFF GORDON: Well, not as much as having a fast race car. This is an abrasive -- you are comparing apples to oranges. You have Daytona two-car drafts, restrictor plates. There's no comparison if that's what you are trying to compare to.
This week, you look at Kyle Busch, he's was really strong but so is Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Carl. I think you've got -- you've got to have a little bit of experience, no matter how good your car is to run good here. But I can tell you, I've had a lot of experience here and I've been here a lot of times and this is only my second win. So it's not just about experience.
But I will say that the two characteristics that are alike with those two wins is the car did about the same thing. It did what I wanted it do, which you would get in the corner, it would cut the middle and drive off really hard and strong. The last time I had a car that did that, besides today was the last time we won here.
But this is a tricky place. It's not easy. So you know I think it's been one of the most challenging tracks that I've had in my career, but then you have days like today where you're like, well, man, it almost seemed easy because the car drove so good. That makes up for a lot of things, I'll tell you that. But this is not an easy track to just come to your first time or first couple of times. You're not necessarily just going to go fast.
Q: I would like to ask you the same question that I asked you right after you won at Texas in 2009. The moment you took the checkered flag, did you feel more joy or relief?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, no. It was all joy. Trust me. But maybe the joy came from a little bit of relief, but I got -- shoot, with two or three laps to go, when I started pulling away from Kyle, and I knew that all I had to do was pray that that white flag would come out before the caution, you know, and just put laps together, you know, I mean, I started having all kinds of thoughts and emotions and things, because it was just one of those roller coaster rides today. And it's been a roller coaster ride for the 24 team the last couple of years.
And you know, it just seems like all of that gets bottled up. You work so hard and it means so much; because of those moments and those times when you didn't get the wins. I didn't know what the reaction, what was going on in the crowd. I knew we put on a good race. But I was just -- I was just feeling a lot of emotion, because it's just so cool. You know, it's just so cool to get back to winning and that kind of -- have a dominating performance like we had today with all of the issues. Just over the off-season, talking to Alan, talking to Rick, with the changes, and just seeing the things that they were doing, I just felt like we were doing the right things. But then we showed up here and qualified 20th and I was like, oh, man, that was a little bit of a letdown. But when they dropped the green today, I was like, ahh, that's what I thought it would be like. To pull it off it's awesome, it's a great feeling.
I have to be honest with you, when I did the burnout, which I know wasn't a very good one, because I'm not very good at it; if we win some more, I'll get better at it. And I'm sorry, Rick, I think I hurt the engine or something because I spun around there and it would not start up again. (Laughter) But I got out of it down there in the grass, and I looked up, and I mean, I didn't see an empty spot.
And then I was like, that's cool and I mean, I was feeling the emotions but to see them react like that. And then the push truck pushed me around and to see them all the way down doing that, I was like, I don't know if I've ever experienced something like that. And that to me made it all worth it right there to have that feeling.
Q: Did you cry at all? And secondly, did --
JEFF GORDON: Well give me your definition of cry. There were no tears. The chin was shaking. I had to check myself. You've seen the boo-hooking. There was no boo-hoo crying. When I saw my wife, because you know, she has not been able to experience all of the wins.
And so you know, to go through a lot of things with her and the conversations that we've had, when I saw her, I knew that that was going to get me. So that got me a little bit.
And then seeing Rick that, got me a little bit. When I saw him, I was just excited. That was just cool. So you know, I guess when you go that long, and you work that hard, you expect to have that. I do, anyway.
Q: Did the two of you in the off-season do anything to kind of solidify your relationship? I know you guys have known each other for a long time, but to try to get that communication going between the two of you before you actually got into competition, did you guys do anything like that?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, gosh, to me, I was just highly motivated. I mean, the thing happened pretty fast. I think Rick could probably talk about it more than I could. But it happened pretty quick. And I've always admired Alan, always respected him. I go back, probably even when Kyle was driving for us, I remember having conversations with Alan about things that they were doing and I was like, you know, he just -- I like the way he talked about things, I like the ideas that he had and the things that they were doing.
And I liked him even more, because this is a young Kyle Busch. That's what we always say around Hendrick Motor Sports, that's a young Kyle Busch. Young Kyle Busch was a handful. I could remember every weekend, they would be fast and he would hit the wall and they would spend most of their time fixing the car in practice. To see him go through, knowing they are building fast race cars, but to be able to handle himself the way he handled those situations with a young Kyle Busch, was impressive.
So I've always admired him. And then when I got a chance to be over there and I came in and he's just business; I mean, here's what we are doing, what we are working on, I've got an idea on seat and dash and we are going to test here and we are going to test here. And I'm like, yeah, I'm on board, man, whatever you need. Whatever you need.
And to see the whole atmosphere in the shop, that solidified it for me. I didn't think he and I had to have some sit down conversation about, hey, here is how I talk and here is what I do. To me, it was just more about the work that was being put into it.
Q: For Alan, there's no polite way to say this but you guys were 20th and 28th in practices, you qualified 20th and pretty much all four cars were slow in qualifying and in practice. How did you get from there to here and does the new format with most of Saturday off, does that help and you give you more time?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think at the time, the format hurt us I felt like. I think to go back and explain from my point of view how all of that went down, we came to the racetrack with Jeff for the first time on a non-Super Speedway. We have got a new nose. We have got a new car. We have got a lot of new components as Mr. Hendrick alluded to early year in his questioning. And we have got a new tire. We have to quantify all of that in a very, very short period of time. And to be completely honest with you, there is no good way to say it, we were not good. I mean, we were far off. We were not right. And the thing that I'm probably most proud of the win, is that none of our team, Jeff, myself, none of the guys, at all wavered from the plan. We knew that coming here, we did not know what was going to come out behind the door when we opened it up.
But we knew we were going to have to be ready to adjust to it and it took us a lot of time. As we made changes and gained information; and Jeff gave us feedback and we learned our tire and learned the car a little bit better. We were able to arrange the pieces around to where our car was getting more and more competitive.
I felt like Saturday we had gotten a fairly good grip on what we had needed in the car. I just made a decision to miss the balance through the free side and it cost us probably two-tenths. We probably could have run a 30 on Saturday and that would have been representative of where we should have been. And on Sunday, that was a little bit more information than we could put in and process and use and Jeff had a nice de brief with us after qualifying when we went over some race trim stuff and by Sunday we were able to put all that stuff in and put it to good use. It's a test amount to the guy's fortitude and commitment and hard work. You know, on Friday night, the garage closed at 7:30 or I don't know what time it closed but me and the guys, we were up late. And those guys worked really hard to get it right. And the big payoff, that's on our side of it and to see the magic Jeff can do with a car like that with 20 to go, I know those guys are just ecstatic. That's the big payoff for them.
Q: What do you think it is, you've won with Kyle, you've won with Mark and now you win with Jeff.
JEFF GORDON: It's him.
Q: It's like you're a troubleshooter. Rick can really plug you in anywhere and you can identify whatever's going on, and you seem to have a knack for fixing the issue.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think it's this practice because I've won with all three of them here. That's probably the only place that I've done that. To me, to say you've won with Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, I think you're pretty lucky you know what I mean. If I would have won with somebody who has never won, I think that's probably a bigger accomplishment.
I thank Mr. Hendrick for putting me in position to work with drivers of that caliber. There are a lot of people there are going to work their whole lives and never have opportunities like that. I think it's awesome that I've got those chances and to work with Kyle and Mark and now Jeff, they are three Hall of Fame drivers, arguably three of the best ever to drive these cars, and I'm just ecstatic that I've got those opportunities.
KERRY THARP: Alan, thank you so much and congratulations. We'll excuse and you look forward to seeing you back up here again this season.
Q: Were you confident that you would catch Kyle and pass them?
JEFF GORDON: None of them came into play. Regardless I was going to be happy with today, to me, to have a car that that was that good and to perform like we did through all of the different things, hitting the wall, the debris on the grill, having to lead the race and go, you mean, I've got to let off and get behind guy to get the grill clean and lose the lead? I mean, I just couldn't believe that that happened.
And it happened twice.
So at that point I was like, I think we have got a car that can win this race. But even if we finish second, I'm going to be pretty happy with our performance. It's a great step for us. But as the run went on, you know, again, going back to being able to put pressure on Kyle, I started chipping away at him and when you put pressure on a guy that's leading and you start creeping up on him, you see them trying harder and harder and hanging the car out ask doing things that allows you to gain more confidence in your car and what you're doing.
That's all I was thinking about. All I was thinking about was don't make mistake. Take advantage of him in the areas that your car is strong and his isn't and that's what I did and I was able to get to him and I got to him off of four and he slipped up a little bit and I got my nose underneath him. At that point, I really thought that it was going to take some side-by-side swapping positions, him being on my door, getting me loose, and I thought I was going to have to go back behind him and keep trying after him. You know, the way it worked out, I got by him way easier than I thought that I would. Even though we did bang a little bit.
When you have a car like that, you're not thinking about what's happened in the past. You're thinking about right now what you have, go get it and that's what I was able to think about today.
Q: I know in the past you've always talked about how important it is to get a win early in the season, you've been a big proponent of that. Now that you have that off your back what does that allow to you do and how can that help this team move forward and grow that maybe you didn't have that situation last year? Can you compare and contrast that? Forgive me, I don't know if I've heard this story about Cale Yarborough.
JEFF GORDON: All right. Where do I start. What was the first part of your question? I'm somebody that's really big on winning early, and the reason I say that is because to me, there was a lot of pressure on us not just this year winning early but going back the last 66 races that we have not had a win.
So there was a lot of pressure. When you get it out of the way early, what it allows to you do, you're already just trying so hard to win, but to have the added pressure of, you have not won in 66 races. You hear it from the media, you hear it from the fans, and it's hard to ignore that. It's on all of us. I think that when you've had the success that we have had in the past -- I guess every race car driver knows that there's going to be that time in their life when they are not going to go to victory lane again and you don't know when that time is going to come. I was so hoping that time was not for me now.
I felt like I still have it in me. I know how passionate I am about it. But things have changed in the sport. The cars have changed. Tires have changed. Competition has changed. So when you go through a streak of without winning, you think, okay, is it me or what is it. Days like today allow you to gain that confidence in yourself, just keep doing what you're doing, what's gotten to you victory lane in the past, keep giving that good information and when the tools around you and the chemistry is there throughout the whole team and good decisions are made, days like today will happen.
As far as Cale, when I was racing for Bill Davis in the Nationwide Series, I got a call from Cale. And he asked me if I would test his car at Charlotte, the Phillips '66, I think it was a Pontiac. And I ask Bill Davis because I was sort of under contract at that time, this was before I went to Rick. Actually I think it might have been my first year in Nationwide, not sure exactly when it came out. But I was flattered, thought it was really cool to get the opportunity. And he wanted me to drive his car at North Wilkesboro two or three weeks after that and I said, I'll test for you. And I told Bill that was the deal, can I could just test and feel what a Cup car is like. And I couldn't race for him, Ford would have had issues anyway. He said go get some experience.
I spun out on the first lap and shader came over to me and said, I think that thing is bombing out, make sure they raise it up, I think that's why he spun. So we raced it and I didn't spin the rest of the day. I got that call from Cale, which blew me away and then the interaction with him as a team owner, testing his car, and I'll never forget that moment, that opportunity was something that I was very proud of.
Q: Earlier you talked about speaking with Ingrid about what's going on the last few years. During the media tour we learned that Ella is very perceptive, a la what happened in Texas. When she sees Jimmie Johnson winning and all of these others, what have you told her?
JEFF GORDON: I can tell her, she only knows two cars out there besides me and that's the M&M's car, and Jimmie Johnson's car. You know, because when Ingrid is not there, and I'm sure today, my mom was watching the kids today, I know they were watching. And she's starting to figure it out. So I can't wait to talk to her and I know she's in bed now. But I can't wait to talk to her to see her reaction and what she was doing and hear from my mom what she was saying.
But you know, when you go home and this is what being a parent is all about, when they watch what you do and you're getting -- you're not winning, and the guy that is winning, they know their name; then it's humbling. You have to accept that and you have got to smile at it and you have to understand it but it's also motivation. You want your kids to be proud of you and you want them to know that you can get it done out there, too. So today was awesome.
And in those conversations with Ingrid, she's still fairly knew to the sport, and even when I have won over the past four or five years, since we have been together, she's not been to a lot of victory lanes. Sometimes she can't travel, especially now that the kid's been born and I have not won as much; to have her here and experience it, and we are on our way to L.A. tonight, there's some post-Oscar par ties, so we get to celebrate with some neat people. I was a little disappointed that Phoenix International Speedway's trophy is so big and I've been to the parties before, the Oscar winners carry their trophies around.
The cool thing is John Lasseter with Pixar, and I'm in the upcoming Cars 2, just a small little part and he and I have become good friends and I sent him a text a few days ago. He asked me if about coming to L.A. and all this stuff and I said I'm going to be there. I said then, I said, "I'm going to come celebrate a Phoenix win and your Oscar together." So I can't wait to connect with him tonight. He is going to be -- he's a huge NASCAR fan, and he's going to be so excited about this win and that's going to be a fun night tonight.
Q: Are there M&M's in your house?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. There's no questioning there's M&M's. That's what there. Is Ella would eat M&M's every night if we let her so there's no keeping them out of the house.
Q: It was shocking for a lot of us to hear you say, "I beat Kyle," hearing that come from you. Curious about that comment, why that was one of the first things that you said.
JEFF GORDON: That was pretty tough to do this weekend from what I saw on TV. Nobody could beat him. He's tough. I respect his talent, that team, and he's aggressive. I think everybody knows, you don't want to have to restart up against him. He's just won a lot of stuff lately. And to be quite honest with you, to me, there's nothing cooler. I mean, maybe if that was with Jimmie; Jimmie and Kyle, I mean, to me, that's where they are at on tough guys in this sport to beat aggressive, talented drivers.
Q: In terms of just the drought, if you want to call it that, how much did that weigh on you over these last, I guess it's almost two years.
JEFF GORDON: It has not been fun, I'll be honest with you. Going to the racetrack and being competitive and battling for wins, that's been my whole motivation throughout my career. I've been so fortunate to be in that position to go to the racetrack with a shot at winning races on a pretty consistent basis, and that's what I love about racing. I don't love going out there and finishing tenth or 15th or 20th. I'll be honest, it's depressing and I know that might not come across the right way but when you've won 82 races, and you've worked for Hendrick Motorsports, that pressure is there and there's expectations not only from the outside but the inside.
When you go on that kind of a streak and drought, no doubt about it, it's frustrating. And it has not been a lot of fun going to the racetrack. And today, you know, man, that's what made it so sweet, this victory, is to be able to -- it's not like we lucked into it. We battled and we worked and we out-raced them and it was just so cool to experience that. It's got me excited about the rest of the season, as well. I think we can do this at other tracks, as well.
Q: Can I catch a ride home tonight?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, absolutely. I can't get you into the paragraph ties because I can barely get myself in but I can get you on the plane.
Q: Then never mind. (Laughter). This track has been pretty special for you the last few years. In 2007, you came here and caught Earnhardt, and then at the end of that season I remember it was very emotional for you because you sort of lost the championship to Jimmie. Now you come here and you tie --
JEFF GORDON: That part was not very special by the way.
Q: Now you come and tie Yarborough and move up another spot on the list. Talk about the emotions, the place just seems to engender every time you're here.
JEFF GORDON: It's interesting because I've actually won three races here because I won the Silver Crown race back in the copper world a long time ago, and that was to me a big event and so I came here, and I thought Phoenix was an incredible racetrack, to go that fast in that type of race car, come here and win; then I got into NASCAR and I struggled here. I just was not really that good. This track is not my best track.
But the two wins that I have here in the Cup Series have been amazing wins. I'll never forget tying Dale here and carrying the flag and winning here for the first time and being able to check this racetrack off, because there's not a lot of them out there that we have not won at. So that became a goal and something that we strive for.
So to do that and tie Dale and then come here, and this win being so significant to tie Cale, it definitely makes this place stand out to me being a special place. It's not always one that I've always looked forward to coming to, because I love the facilities and the fans and everything. But I just don't feel like this is my best track. Especially when the Chase comes around and you know that you've got to perform at this track. And I actually told Ryan earlier, I said, I'm not sure -- no, I told him, I said, I'm kind of glad you're changing the track because it not been my best track and then we go and win today and I'm like, man, can you just wait another year before you do that.
Q: If I got the numbers right, you had eight runner-up finishes during the winless drought, curious how the communication between you and Alan today differed than what it did with you and Steve Letarte during crunch time of a race. You were obviously in that situation a lot with Steve, not that one is any better or worse, but how is it different?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I can't say it was a lot different. I mean, today I felt like we had the car to do it. Like the last time we were here, I thought Steve -- the last time we had a shot at winning here, I guess a year ago, we had about a fourth or fifth place car that day, and Steve made the call to win the race. It was a great call and I messed it up on the restart. But the conversation wasn't really any different. Now Steve talks more than Alan does. And Alan through out some things today, like pumping me up and just saying, man, we have got Jeff Gordon in the car and stuff like that. And that's cool.
But we had the car to back that up. I felt like the last time we were in this position, we really didn't, and then I think back to like Martinsville when last year we were coming to the white flag; again that was kind of a pit call. We didn't really have the car. When I think of ones that got away I think of Texas and Vegas last year. We had the car to win the race and just didn't happen. Just wasn't meant to be I guess. But Steve is a great crew chief. He and I really click. We get along and we are great friends and for whatever reason just wasn't meant to happen for us. I think he's great for Dale Junior and those guys are going to do very well together. This is kind of a win/win for all of us. And I just think that it's all about having the right set up with the right car at the right time and today was that.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations on a terrific win today, have fun tonight and we'll see you in Las Vegas.