Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson take top finishes for Chevrolet (2nd and 6th, respectively), while Terry Labonte scores his first top 10 finish of the season at his hometown track. Johnson continues to move up in the...
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson take top finishes for Chevrolet (2nd and 6th, respectively), while Terry Labonte scores his first top 10 finish of the season at his hometown track. Johnson continues to move up in the point standings and is now in 3rd place. Gordon skips from 10th up to 6th. Post-race comments follow:
Jeff Gordon: "We were good all day - it was (again) that dreaded track position that you hear about. We were good on the real long runs all day. Through a lot of hard work and just never giving up, we just kept fighting throughout the whole day. We kept gaining positions every time. We made one mistake where we got into the pit box a little bit too deep and I thought our day was over. But we got our lap back and after that, it seemed like things really started coming around our way. The car was really good. Robbie (Loomis) made a great call there at the end to take two tires. So, second was the best we'd been all day. We were very thankful to get that. I thought I might have a shot at Matt, but he was out in clean air. As long as I ran his line, I couldn't pass him. It's no different than when Mark (Martin, finished 3rd) caught me he couldn't pass me even though he was a little bit faster."
Q:Did the rules changes for the Chevrolets help you in traffic?
Jeff Gordon: "It's hard to say. In my mind, you'd have to push it back and then go run the race and then push it back out and compare the two. My car was good, but then we've been good the past three races. We just haven't shown it because we haven't finished where we should have. I was happy with my car, but I still was not happy with it in traffic. But it looks like most guys are fighting the same thing, not just Chevrolets. I know I fought it pretty bad a couple of times today where I just couldn't do anything. I just couldn't pass anybody. I think if you had the car set up real loose at the beginning of a run, you could make some passes. Jimmie (Johnson) could pass really good. I saw him a couple of times just turn and go under a couple of guys. I don't know what happened to him in the end, but I couldn't pass. I had to wait a really long time."
Jimmie Johnson: "Yeah, it's hard to tell a difference. When you're running in clean air, your call turns real well and you come in (to pit) and you call for no adjustments and you get back in traffic a little bit and pretty soon you can't turn the car. Then you're screaming 'tight'. That was one thing that bit us. When we got our lap back, we were the first car on the track and we ran away. The car was extremely balanced. It was awesome. Then we came in and put tires on and we were stuck in traffic and we should have picked the trackbar up a couple rounds or something to free the car. We put four tires on it in the end when everybody else put two on and raced our way back up to sixth."
Q:How proud are you of Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team's success so far this year?
Jeff Gordon: "Oh, we're very excited for a number of reasons. When Jimmie and I first started talking about this, we were both excited. We sat in those meetings with sponsors and trying to tell them how great a driver Jimmie is and what a great team we were going to put together and not knowing what the heck was going to happen when it all came about. It's nice to see the smiles on everybody's faces and see how it's coming together.
"I think Jimmie is the first to say how important it is to be a part of an organization like Hendrick Motorsports. That's why my career has been the way it has been. I think it's awesome for a guy who is as talented as Jimmie is to be a part of that. I'm thankful to be a part of it too. He's fun to watch. He might have told you he's learning from me, but I feel like I've been learning more from him lately. And that's the way I wanted to structure the deal so that we could learn from one another. He's been having more good days lately than I have, but we've both been running good and today's the first sign of us being able to turn things around."
Q:How were the speeds, the groove, and the overall track today?
Jeff Gordon: "I always said the speeds are fine unless you hit something. Ward Burton probably has a different opinion on it than I do. I thought the track was great. I passed a couple guys on the outside there towards the end and it didn't have a great outside groove, but it had a little one working.
"I'm real anxious to see what it's going to be like the next couple of times we race here. I didn't think there would be any kind of outside groove today, but there was. Goodyear brought a great tire here too. Tire wear was good. I saw very few problems with tires and that was very promising. The track is smooth as glass, that's for sure.
"The only thing is that the bottom groove still seems to be the best groove. When you follow the leader like that, you can't pass. I'd come up on somebody and be three-quarters of a second faster and not be able to pass. But we're finding that everywhere. With the downforce that we have in these cars and softer springs and all these things that are getting the cars down to the track, it's going to happen. We're going through the corners so much faster than we ever have before. That's where this aero push and all this stuff you hear about is coming from. A track like this that's so fast doesn't allow you to run side-by-side and make passes the way you'd like to."
Q:Does this finish leave all the bad luck at Texas behind you?
Jeff Gordon: "Well, yeah, if you base that off of finishes. If you look at the numbers, it's not too good. But look at how fast we've run here. I think the first year we were leading when some lapped cars got together and I got caught up in that. Another year, we were running second or third and blew a right-front tire. So, we've actually run pretty good here. The problem is I've qualified poorly in the past and got caught up in some wrecks, but this is the type of track we actually run pretty good at. We just haven't had good luck."
Q:How do you make the aero push less of a factor?
Jimmie Johnson: "More Atlantas. Wider race tracks where we can run top to bottom. The biggest thing is to have multiple grooves to race on. On a new surface like this, there isn't a penalty to run on the bottom. You can set the car up to run there all day long and keep the right front on it so there's no need to go to the top - just to pass lapped cars. As the race went on, the second groove came in from the middle off. It wasn't too bad. But on the entry, there wasn't any way you could get up there and really sail it in and get to somebody's quarter panel into the turn. If you did in the center, you could have position on them coming out to the wall on the exit and get the pass done."
Jeff Gordon: "We could talk about this for a long time because everybody's got a lot of theories on this. I think that's the most obvious, is having racetracks with more than one groove so you can get into clean air. It's all about getting fresh, clean air to the nose. But I think the corner speeds have increased and the downforce in these cars has increased so much that unless you slow the corners down somehow..... We saw what happened with the Busch cars. They've got less horsepower and were almost running faster than we were because they had less horsepower. I think NASCAR is looking into some big greenhouses and things to change the way the air and the downforce is on these cars. It doesn't make them a lot of fun. When you have a lot of downforce and you take it away like we did with the five and five rule, the guys aren't having a lot of fun out there. But I think it does help that follow-the-leader aero push a little bit.
"I heard something this weekend that New Hampshire has changed their banking. I don't know exactly what they're doing, but they're trying to do is something I would love to see. They've got to invent a new machine to do it, basically -- some type of paving machine that does a concave track where the middle and top groove has a lot more banking than the bottom groove. Because the only way you're going to be able to go fast around the top at a lot of these tracks is to have more speed and more grip. The only way you're going to do that is to have more banking - or less banking at the bottom of the track. But it's got to be a smooth transition. It can't be one lane and than another lane and another lane. That won't work. We'd have a lot of wrecks. I'm interested to go to New Hampshire and see what they've done there and see if it works. They certainly need to do something there, but I don't know if that's going to work or not.
"We've found so many ways to make more downforce in these cars these days. Somebody told me a statistic the other day that we have twice as much downforce today as we had five years ago. That's unbelievable. We used to just go in small increments. We've gone in huge jumps. That's why the racing at tracks like this - where it's really fast around the bottom - we don't put on quite as good a race as we do at Darlington or Richmond or Michigan or places like that."
Q:Will going to a two-tire change late in the race for track position with an aero push become almost standard?
Jeff Gordon: "It will on tracks that don't use up the tires. You can't put two tires on at Darlington or Rockingham. Those don't really change. We just look at the tire wear and evaluate it as the day goes on. You don't make a two-tire stop early in the race. I think Robby Gordon tried to do a two-tire change today early, and it cost him a lap. But when there are 20 laps to go, at the end, it is a no-brainer. Track position is so important and the competition is so incredible. You can't imagine what one or two positions can do for you. Anything you can do to get it - even taking no tires - can be a big payoff."
Q:On the clean racing today : Jeff Gordon: "It looked like a lot of guys used their heads. If they poked their nose in there, there was a lot of give and take. I think the outside groove was better than it was in the past, which was surprising. I think that helps. If you can maintain a certain speed on the outside, then you don't have guys turning left and fighting their way down to the bottom, and that causes a lot less wrecks. The racing that I saw, even when it jammed up, seemed like a lot of guys were using their heads. That's good. When you're going as fast as we are around this place, we'd better have that. I hope we all remember this a couple weeks from now when we all go to Talladega."