JEFF GORDON AND ROBBIE LOOMIS AND RICK HENDRICK, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Post-race press conference highlights: FOR RICK HENDRICK (ON THE POSSIBILITY THAT TERRY LABONTE WILL RETIRE AT THE END OF 2004) "When the year started, it...
JEFF GORDON AND ROBBIE LOOMIS AND RICK HENDRICK, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Post-race press conference highlights:
FOR RICK HENDRICK (ON THE POSSIBILITY THAT TERRY LABONTE WILL RETIRE AT THE END OF 2004) "When the year started, it was decided that Terry and the sponsors would sit down after Daytona. I think we were planning on talking in the next week or two. We want to look at what Terry wants to do and we want to get the sponsors involved in the decision-making process too. So we haven't made any decisions and we were hoping we'd stay out of silly season and do it on our timetable. So I think in the next couple of weeks we'll make that decision and make an announcement."
FOR RICK HENDRICK (DO YOU TAKE ANY SPECIAL PRIDE THAT YOU KNOCKED DEI OFF IN TWO OF THREE RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES SO FAR THIS YEAR?) "I don't want to brag (but) yeah. I don't want to make them mad. There are a lot of good teams out there. They've kind of raised the bar and we everybody just rallied to the cause. I've seen Jeff here with not a second or third place car hanging on. It was a lot of effort from a lot of people in all the departments in all the teams. Robbie (Loomis) and his crew just brought a really good piece down here and it's paid off. We know that we've got to go back and work harder because they're going to go back and work harder, and so are a lot of the other teams. We're just enjoying this one and the last one and hopefully we'll be that good again."
FOR JEFF GORDON (ON HIS THOUGHTS ABOUT THE NEW CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS SYSTEM) "If you're leading, you hate this system. And if you're way back, you love it. It's going to be very interesting when we wind down to those last 10 races and basically everybody is separated by 50 points. It's going to be extremely interesting as to how it all turns out because at that point, basically everything you did all year long is a wash. You'd just better hope that your momentum and the experiences you've had are the payoff and you have that in those last 10 (races). It's very possible that the guy who is 10th in points can come out of this thing with the championship, and the guy who is leading all year long and has a huge lead can finish 10th. And that's why, in my opinion, there needs to be something of an added bonus for a guy who is leading after race 26.
"If he's leading by a certain number of points or if he's led for a certain number of races - I don't know what the structure is but it needs to be thought about. I think the leader at that point needs to have more than a 50-point gap between him and 10th place or be rewarded monetarily or something for accomplishing that. That guy could very easily finish 10th in points and that's a huge loss. All that effort that he put into those 26 races is for nothing. If I were leading the points like Jimmie, I'd be criticizing it too. But from where I'm sitting, I'm pretty happy with it."
(TAKE US THROUGH THE FINAL LAPS) "It was certainly very evident tonight by obviously having a great handling race car, plenty of speed and the pit crew did their job as well. When those guys took two tires and they got out there ahead of us I was trying not to get rushed too much because I knew that the longer we ran the more their car would go away. I looked in my mirror and Robbie reminded me the boys were coming fast. I didn't want to waste too much time. I got by Harvick. I got in behind the 20 car. I had the 97. The 97 was I thought probably the second best handling race car out there. I didn't want to give him any opportunity to get ahead of me because I didn't think I could get by him. I had a feeling I could get by the 20 since he had two tires on but I needed help. Those guys started shuffling around behind me. The 97 got beside when I went to make a move on the 20. Then the 8 car shot by and took us three wide. When that happened I thought 'oh boy, we're in trouble here.' The 8 car had some kind of problem off of two. He wasn't handling that good tonight. I think that was what was hurting him. He backed out of the wall and lost his momentum. I was coming and had Jimmie behind me. We pushed on by him. When Jimmie came behind me he gave me another big push. What I love so much is that Jimmie is great at learning fast and he absorbs it very well. Jimmie and I when he first came on the circuit, we didn't talk a lot about racing at a lot of tracks but this is one place we did talk a lot about. We talked about drafting and he asked me how I went about it and I tell him things I learned from Dale Earnhardt and things I learned over the years. It's just awesome because tonight we applied it together. He knew exactly what I was trying to do and he did exactly what I needed him to do for us to make that move happen. I'm just really thankful that not only did he get me by Tony but he got himself by him at the same time."
(DO YOU FEEL IF YOU CAN'T BEAT THEM JOIN THEM IN A TEAM OWNER PHILOSOPHY?) "We've never really had a team owner's philosophy but we've always talked about how powerful that they were when they were working together and how it's so hard to beat them if you can't separate the two of them. Jimmie gets it. He understands that there are times that I can help him and times I can't. There are times he can help me and times he can't. Brian Vickers is starting to learn that. Terry Labonte has of course been around a long time and understands that. It's all about circumstances and track position. You can't get bumper-to-bumper and then start passing cars and getting the lead and stay there. It doesn't work quite that easy. I know the No. 8 and the No. 15 made it look easy at times but it really isn't. Our philosophy is that we help one another when we can especially through three quarters to all the way through the race. At the end we're still trying to race for wins but we think that if we can get together and get up there and get the lead then maybe we can battle ourselves for the win.
"There were times when all four of us were lined up tonight and it was costing some of us positions by all four of us working together. We're trying to stay with the guy and somebody comes up and passes you and separates you. You do what you but it really worked out for us tonight for it to all fall in place. I think all the Hendrick cars are strong. They worked well together. They did the best we possibly could to help one another out and it certainly paid off."
(ANY QUESTION ON GOING WITH FOUR TIRES ON THE LAST PIT STOP?) "We definitely knew leading that we were in the captain's seat but when Chad (Knaus - Jimmie Johnson's crew chief) came down to the pit and we actually talked about doing two. That was going to be our strategy. It's kind of weird how it worked out. We talked with Peter Sospenzo (Brian Vickers crew chief) and said there was no way he could go with two. He was our closest one because Terry was a little bit farther back. About that time Jimmie started complaining that his car was real tight. We decided to go with four. We knew when we pitted they would all come because they wanted to be with the lead draft. There's wasn't much decision after that."
ROBBIE LOOMIS (TWO MONTHS AWAY FROM THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN THIS HIGH STREAK AND HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM PEAKING TOO EARLY?) "You just have to have a good steady pace. The best thing about this race team is that whatever happens we can put it behind us and we can strike at any moment. There have been people that have a good short track program or a good road course program. But the good thing about this team is that every week with Jeff Gordon driving and the tools that we have at Hendrick Motorsports, we can come out here and strike at them at every time.
JEFF GORDON - "This team has too much strength and depth and personality and experience to peak too early. We're going to go through our ups and downs throughout the season, and hopefully we've gotten our big downs out of the way. But there's no team out there that's going to be more prepared and fired up in those last races."