RICKY CRAVEN, NO. 32 TIDE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: NOTE: Craven was involved in a crash following a blown engine by Michael Waltrip. He hit the wall in Turn 1 after getting into Waltrip's oil. "It's just unfortunate. Michael and I were on the same...
RICKY CRAVEN, NO. 32 TIDE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: NOTE: Craven was involved in a crash following a blown engine by Michael Waltrip. He hit the wall in Turn 1 after getting into Waltrip's oil.
"It's just unfortunate. Michael and I were on the same line and I chased it all the way into the wall. It's too bad for the Tide Pontiac team. We actually ran much better than it looked. We ran in the top 15 the first 100 laps and then we got caught by a caution. We had no more than pitted and the caution came out. It was a fight uphill from that point on."
MICHAEL WALTRIP, NO. 15 NAPA CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: NOTE: Waltrip was involved in his second crash of the day on lap 173, blowing an engine entering Turn 1.
"I thought I was on the straightaway and all of a sudden it just went sideways. I hate it. My guys just rebounded from that earlier crash and the repairs they made were just perfect. The adjustments they made throughout the day that got us as competitive as we were at the end of the day were admirable. I just look forward to the next three races. We can still accomplish a lot of our goals and we look forward to trying."
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Finished 6th:
"It was a good day. My Bud Chevrolet was a little tight at the start. We got it real good in the center of the race, and then there at the end the last two tires were sideways. We just followed it and I feel pretty good with a sixth-place finish."
YOU PICKED UP A SPOT IN THE POINTS TOO. "Did I? That's good. We gained some on Matt too. We'll just keep gaining until we can't gain any more."
WHAT HAPPENED THERE AT THE END WITH THE 12 CAR? "He used up a little too much race track, I had a run there on the outside and he just pulled up there in front of me. I was right there on me. He's a great race car driver, but he just used the whole race track doing it."
TALK ABOUT STARTING THE RACE AS THE LEADER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK. "It was kind of nervous, but you just have to be real calm and try and pick your way through the field. You know you have a good car so there's no reason to be too nervous about being crowded. You just be calm and get through there as best you can. The 20 car was real good today and he came up through there. You just kind of let people like that get on by and then carve on up through the field too because you need to put as many people down a lap as you can."
KEVIN LEPAGE, NO. 4 KODAK PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: Finished 14th:
"I'm real proud of the guys here on the Kodak Perfect Touch Pontiac. We qualified 12th, finished 14th on the lead lap. We got turned around early in the race, and we really thought that was going to put us at a deficit but it worked out for us. The guys just dug all day long in the pits and the engine department did a great job. Everybody had a first-class effort today and we got a lot of notes for next year."
WARD BURTON, NO. 0 NETZERO PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: Finished 13th: NOTE: Burton's finish today in his first run was the team's best of the season. The previous best was 14th at Daytona by Jack Sprague.
"That was just what the doctor ordered for this NetZero HiSpeed Pontiac Racing team. This was our first time out and we were in a backup car, so we've got to be pretty proud of that. The guys made great adjustments all day--the car got pretty tight on a couple of runs, but Tony [Furr] made good calls. If we'd had that last caution flag about 30 laps earlier, I think we would have finished in the top 10. We can whip those guys if we keep working hard."
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Finished 2nd:
"That was pretty impressive, coming from 17th to second with no cautions. I'm very happy."
YOU'VE GOT SOME MOMENTUM NOW. "I'm really proud of this Home Depot Monte Carlo team. Everybody at JGR has been doing an awesome job. Through the disappointments we had earlier in the year, these guys have really bounced back and I'm really proud of them."
A LOT OF GOOD ON THIS DAY FOR YOU. "We had a good car all day. We just didn't win."
JOE NEMECHEK, NO, 01 U.S. ARMY PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: Finished 10th:
"That was a pretty decent start. We started the day in the back (39th) and drove it to the front. It seemed like the middle part of a run the U.S. Army Pontiac was exceptional to other cars out there. Considering the problems we had yesterday (loose-handling car) I'll take a top-10. These guys are easy going, but at the same time they're very smart and get the job done. I'm just here to fill in a piece of the puzzle and if they keep giving me cars like this we'll be running in the front. Atlanta has been a good race track for me in the past and to come out and get a top-10 the first time with this group of guys in very good. Hopefully this is a start of many more solid results for the U.S. Army team."
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 GM GOODWRENCH CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Finished 20th: Declined comment but said,
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Finished 5th:
"This is our first top five since July 4th at Daytona, so we're pretty happy about that. But when you come to a track that you're real good at all the time and have a shot at it, well you hate to miss one. But our car just wasn't quite as good as we wanted today. We just couldn't quite get the balance good. When you're a little bit on the edge going into the corner here, it kind of screws up the rest of your corner lap times. They guys worked real hard and sometimes you're going to have days like that. We finished 5th, which was a good run for us."
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Finished 3rd:
"I was wondering if Jeff Gordon was going to get held up through lapped traffic and if the No. 20 (Tony Stewart) was going to get up beside him. Thinking that might happen, I just ran as hard as I could trying to chip away at the deficit I had to make up. But those guys were all so equal at the end - it's just kind of like where we came off of pit road is where we ended up at the end - but it was just a great effort for this entire Lowe's team. I want to thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. You run wide open around here for almost an entire fuel run and to have these engines hold up all day long and the car drive this good is really a testament for this entire team."
"We went down a lap from pitting under green one time when the caution came out and was able to get it back. We went through everything. We had a very tight race car at the beginning of the day and we didn't know if we didn't know if we were going to get it back. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) made great calls all day. It was another top three for us."
"It seemed like there were about five or eight cars that were so equal at times that it didn't really matter where you came out of the pits. It was very hard to make up any ground until the very end of a run when the tires were falling off and you could find somebody making a mistake. When the race started, we weren't that good. We made a lot of changes throughout the race today."
WHAT HAPPENED ON LAP 260 WHEN YOU AND JEFF GORDON WERE RUNNING SIDE BY SIDE? "On new tires at the beginning of a run, I think he was a little loose and I was just trying to get by him and I couldn't get by him. Being trapped down on the inside that if I was loose that I would take us both out. And I'd hate to have to explain that to Mr. Hendrick. But I tried to get by him and I stayed underneath him for a while until my stuff got hot and his tires finally came in and he was able to march off and get away from me. He worked through traffic. I followed him through traffic and then there at the end on the pit stops he maintained the lead, the No. 20 passed us and we were in third and brought it home."
ON THE RADIO CONVERSATION. "When you're racing out there and doing all that you can, I'm sure that everybody has said things and done things that once everything has calmed down you don't even realize that you said it. I'm sure he was irate. I'm not sure what about. I was definitely trying hard and was vocal on my radio as well. It's just hard racing. One good thing about it is that Jeff and I can race as hard as we can together and we won't cross that line and take each other out like you might see with some other guys. We'll race each other hard but we're not going to give each other an inch."
TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE STAYING IN THE TOP 10 IN POINTS FOR SUCH A LONG TIME? "Just driving for Hendrick Motorsports and having Lowe's backing this team like it needs to be backed. I think everyone was curious about what was going to happen with me coming into Winston Cup and I was too. If I didn't have the quality of equipment and cars and support from Lowe's, I wouldn't be able to go out there and show what I can do in a race car. It's kept me in there and kept me good through all of last year. At Rockingham and Daytona at the beginning of this year - those are the tough ones to finish in the top to keep that streak going - but we were able to do it."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Won his second straight race and the 64th of his career. NOTE: Chevrolets have led 739 of the 825 laps run the past two weeks. That's 89.6 percent.
"It felt like we were going to have a great race car and we certainly did. We had an awesome pit crew today and that's what got us into Victory Lane. What a major run for these guys and the Dupont Chevrolet. We didn't have the best car on new tires. Bobby (Labonte), Tony (Stewart) and Jimmie (Johnson) were maybe a little bit better. But on those long runs, we were really awesome. I knew it was going to be hard to hold off Tony. I'm kind of surprised that we did. But I learned a few things on that last run before that and that really helped me out. I just tried to run that line and get through the lapped traffic the best I could. This is going to go down as a great victory for me, but as by far the most embarrassing burn-out I've ever seen in my life."
WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE BURN-OUT? "The motor's been messing up all day long on the restarts and it just loads up. The thing doesn't spin the tires, it just starts cutting out and I just said, 'Forget it.' I couldn't put on a show for them but I hope they enjoyed the race."
WHEN TONY STEWART WAS GAINING ON HIM "He was really good on new tires and I was trying to get all I could get. We made the right adjustments. The car was definitely better. I'd been loose all day. As he got to me, I started moving my line around and trying to block some air. When he got to me, he slowed down a little bit and it looked like he backed off me, and then he came back after me. He kept making those surges. He was making one right there with four or five (laps) to go. The No. 4 car was in front of me and I just couldn't do much to get by him so I was kind of at the mercy of a lapped car and just watched my mirror."
YOU'VE WON THREE RACES THIS SEASON AND THERE ARE THREE RACES LEFT. HOW MANY MORE CAN YOU GET? "Never count us out. I know we haven't won a whole lot this year, but we're strong finishers. I'm just so proud of this team and their efforts right now. We've had five straight great runs and we're going to keep it going."
JEFF GORDON POST-RACE PRESS CONFERENCE:
TALK ABOUT YOUR RUN TODAY. "The car was great. I knew yesterday it was good when we drove from the back up to fifth or sixth. They dropped the green today and the track was really green and didn't have a lot of rubber on it. It took a little while for the car to come to us, but once it did, we started marching to the front. On the long runs, I thought we were really good. It was fun, exciting and just great race, I felt like, between about five of us--the 20, the 18, the 8 and the 48 came into it there at the end. It was just an awesome battle. On those restarts, there was one time when I was right behind Tony and could run right with him, but I just couldn't pass him. There were times when I was leading and Bobby could get by me. I just followed him and tried to learn some things, where his car was good, where it was weak and just what we could do to our car. Our pit crew was amazing today. They cranked out great stops when we needed it most, on those last two stops. I felt like at the end of the race, it was ours to lose. The 20 made a heck of an effort and certainly kept it exciting. I didn't know whether we were going to win it or not. He came charging up there and got to me, and I saw where once he got to me, he stopped gaining. I thought, 'ooh, we might have something for him now.' I started adjusting my line and then we were just battling it out. Then the caution came out. Great victory."
YOU WERE RUNNING HIGH AT ONE END AND LOW AT THE OTHER AT THE END. WAS THAT STRATEGIC OR WAS THAT WHERE YOUR CAR WAS BEST? "Both. I did get enough time to run with Tony and see where he was running all day. I learned some things on the run before that when I was running behind Bobby. Even the run prior to that, I learned a few things down in Turns 3 and 4 that seemed to make our car better. I feel like I learned from a lot of guys and trying things by myself today and adjustments we were making on the car. There was one time when Jimmie and I were racing hard together. He was better than me in 3 and 4 and I was better in 1 and 2, so once I got ahead of him. I started running a similar line to what he was running in 3 and 4 and I started pulling away from him. I kept that in the back of my head. When I went up there and ran down the 18, that's how I passed him, running low in 3 and 4. All day, after I ran about 10 laps, my car was really good high in 1 and 2 and anywhere in 3 and 4. When the 20 was catching me there at the end, what made the difference and what I was really happy about is that, one, we had a great pit stop and we had a couple of seconds on him when we left pit road. When that happened, it gave me enough time for my tires to build up and my car to come to me. My car really wasn't as good as his on new tires. Had he been right on me on new tires, I don't know if I could have held him off. Because we were spread out, I was able to run hard enough to let the tires build up and the car come to me, and then start running my line. That was sort of the line he was running in 3 and 4 and that took some air off his nose. It seemed like when he caught me and I ran in front of him down there, it seemed to slow him down a little bit."
WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO YOUR CAR ON THE RESTARTS? "I tell you, it's been a mystery all weekend long. That car, leaving the pits when I would go and take off, the car would get to about third or fourth gear, the car would lose fuel pressure all of a sudden. We still don't know what it is. I would take off and as soon as I got into Turn 1, it would start skipping. We were fortunate to maintain the speed we had on those restarts, but it would happen, then come right out of it and never do it again, except on restarts and the burnout."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RESTART IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RACE WHEN YOU WERE PLACED BACK IN THE FIELD? "It was mass confusion. All I know is, my spotter said there was a wreck off Turn 4. I looked up, saw a lot of smoke and a car sliding. I checked up because I automatically assumed the caution was coming out. I had no idea if I was on the lead lap, not on the lead lap, where I was in position. All of a sudden, these cars shoot by me, and I'm like, 'what are they doing?' and then I realized that the caution had not come out for a split second or something, I didn't know what was going on. That's when I started talking to Robbie."
ROBBIE LOOMIS, CREW CHIEF:
"It was a confusing time. Ever since they made that rule, they said it was going to be a learning curve. When NASCAR threw the caution, from the time the car spun to the time they threw the caution, they had to look at where the cars were on the track. I didn't see where we were in relation to the 97. At one time, I was thinking we were going to be the lucky dog, by the way it was on the monitor. What happened was they said the 24 was ahead of the 97 at the time the caution came out, therefore they let us come around. It ended up hurting us anyway, because it put us in the back. When we came in the first time, they told me we couldn't gas because we were the lucky dog. They changed that a lap or two later, and said, 'we just corrected it to you guys were ahead of 97 right when the caution fell.' "
"Just to add to that. One, they didn't throw the caution soon enough and I didn't understand that. Two, in my opinion, they shouldn't have let anyone come down pit road in my opinion, they should have closed the pits until they know what their scoring situation is. That really could have cost us this race today. Luckily, we had a great car and they got it sorted out, but when they got it sorted out, it was too late for us. We were the unlucky dog today, if you ask me. That kind of sucked, but I'm still in Victory Lane, so I'm happy."
YOU'VE SAID YOU'RE NEVER OUT OF THE TITLE HUNT, AND MATHEMATICALLY, YOU ARE STILL IN IT. IS THERE A FIGHT GOING ON? "We fight for a lot of things. Number one is, we always want to win and we fight to win every race. We've had to fight extra hard here because of all the downfalls we had during the summer. Throughout that time, I never thought we weren't performing at a high enough level, never felt like there was any one thing that was preventing us from finishing races or winning races. They were just circumstances that were happening. The thing I love about our race team is when we go through tough times, and we've been through them not just this year but in other years, it just makes us dig deeper and get stronger. This reminds us a little bit of 2000, where we ended the season on a real positive note, and this is better because I don't remember us winning a couple of races toward the end of the season. We're very excited about the way things are right now. Our main focus has been second in the points. We've made big gains toward that, and I guess if there is a miracle, there's still a possibility. We just want to keep doing what we're doing right now, and that's putting great race cars out there, communicating well and fighting until the end. When I have pit stops like we had today and a race car like that, we're going to do some spectacular things. I think we have some more left in us before it's all over this year."
WHEN STEWART HAD HIS PROBLEMS ON THE PIT STOP, WHAT WAS IN YOUR MIND?
"Oh yeah. The 20 and the 18, because of his history here, were the main focus most of the day. When I saw he came out 17th, I stayed glued to see what happened. It looked like they had a lug nut hang in the socket, but I knew he was still going to be strong. Atlanta is a great track for the fans because you can pass and there are so many grooves. The one time we were back there after that miscue on the yellow, we came right back up through there, so I knew it would only be a matter of time before he'd be right back up there."
"I asked Robbie what had happened to the 20, because when I was leaving pit road I saw they were still in their pit stall. When we got out, I looked up on the scoreboard and I didn't see his number up there. Robbie said he was 17th. I knew he was going to come up there, but I didn't think he was going to be as strong and fast as he did. That was a pretty awesome run that he had to get where he was."
IS IT TEMPTING TO LOOK AT THE WHAT IFS THIS SEASON? "I try not to. I just try to learn from them and move on and just focus on now and what's happening. We can certainly learn from those situations for next year, but it's just kind of the way our season has been. If it's meant to be, then it will fall right for you and right now it is. Things are going well for us and we're taking advantage of that and not looking back."
CAN YOU CARRY MOMENTUM THROUGH THE WINTER? "Absolutely. That's what we're trying to do right now is build for next year. We did it in 2000, and that's why it reminds me of that. We really came into our own toward the end of that year, gained momentum and confidence with good race cars, a good pit crew and the chemistry of the team, really, communication between Robbie and myself and that's what we have right now. It's as strong as it's ever been. It cracks me up that just a month ago there were all these doubts and questions and that was from outside, not from inside. Now, we're able to show really just how good it is and it feels great to do it the way we have here lately. This is all about not only trying to get as far up in the points as we can this year, but to build momentum for that off-season. How you do that is by having good runs and winning races. You go into the off-season, those guys are like, 'yeah, yeah' they're fired up. They have to build a lot of cars and they have a lot of work ahead of them. It can be a tough offseason if you end on a tough note or a bad note, that off-season can be rough. By ending on a good note, it can carry momentum through the winter."
YOU HAD A STRETCH OF TOP-10 FINISHES EARLY IN THE SEASON AFTER MARTINSVILLE. CAN YOU COMPARE THEN TO NOW? "I think it's very similar. I felt on top of the world at that point in the season. We finished second here and won Martinsville, and we were on top of our game. Matt was on top of his, too, but I felt like we were definitely in position to challenge for that championship. Our downfall this year has not been performance, it's just been bad luck or just circumstances that were out of our control. We've definitely performed well enough to win the championship. That doesn't mean I feel like we've performed well enough to win as many races as the 12 car has. There's two different sides to look at it, and the side I like to look at it from is championship-wise."
AT THE END OF THE RACE WHEN THE CAUTION CAME OUT, DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ALREADY HAD THE RACE WON? "No, I didn't know. It was pretty tight there. I came up on the 4 car and he wasn't real cooperative. I wasn't a lot faster than him, and he was hurting me a little bit because he was running the same line I was. It didn't look like the 20 could get right up on me either, so I felt like I kind of had him at bay and had him where I needed him and could finish it out, but I had to hit all my marks just right. When the caution came out, I was more concerned we were going to have to go back green because of that engine problem, the fuel pump problem. I was more concerned that if we went back green and that thing started messing up again, he could get by me on the restart. I didn't want to see a restart because I like the position I was in. When the yellow came out, I was a little nervous, but then I realized we were going to end it under caution and I was very relieved."
WHEN YOU WERE RACING WITH JIMMIE, WAS THAT AS HARD AS YOU'VE RACED HIM? "I think Jimmie and I were racing for third, and I think that's as hard as I've ever had to race Jimmie and that's as hard as he's ever had to race me, and I don't think either one of us is used to it. I knew how good his car was, and I knew how good my car was and I felt like I had to race him for that position. He could get underneath me in 3 and 4. My strong suit was the high side in 1 and 2, so I raced him as hard as I could down there and he raced me as hard as he could at the other end. Once I got ahead of him, I think I forced him into a position to really use his tires up and be aggressive trying tog et by me. Once I got ahead of him, I was able to stretch it out a little bit."
HOW DO YOU BALANCE RACING WITH JIMMIE AS HIS TEAM OWNER? "Heck, I'm racing with him right now for the points, and it's like a championship as far as I'm concerned. We battled last year at the end of the season. Today is a perfect example. We have to race hard, have to be aggressive and do everything we can to race each other hard but not take one another out. It's a fine line, but I think we have a pretty good balance on it. We have two great teams that work well together, two drivers that work well together and I've shown over the last couple of years that I can give and take a lot. But when it comes down to racing for the win, it's no different for him. I'm going to fight for the win and he's going to fight for the win, other than knocking each other out of the way. If we're at Bristol or Martinsville, the bumpers work just as well on the 48, the 24, the 5 or 25 as they do anywhere else. I think we try to use our heads and know that together we can be better if we work together more than fighting against one another and building a rivalry. It needs to be a friendly rivalry. That's what it is right now and I hope that continues."