Martinsville II: Winning team interview

Jeff Gordon -- ...

Jeff Gordon -- #24 DuPont Chevrolet

Steve Letarte , Crew Chief -- #24 DuPont Chevrolet

TELL US WHAT IT'S LIKE TO WIN AGAIN

Gordon: I'm so proud of this guy right here. I can't think of a better way for him to get his first win than for him to make the call. And, you know, I've been fortunate enough to see those talents in him for years. I'm just proud of the way he's matured. And to step into that position with that kind of pressure, put that kind of car out there on the track and then to make that call-because it won us the race-was very rewarding day and gratifying for many ways. I was having fun out there driving the car for sure, but we were stuck in a lot of traffic. I could get up to about third or fourth, but just couldn't make those final passes. If we hadn't got out front, I don't know if we could have ever won that race. Once we did get out front, though, we took advantage of it and the thing was flying.

Letarte: I just thank Jeff and Mr. Hendrick for the opportunity. We have such a strong team and such a strong foundation here. I'm just kind of one player in the role. Fortunately today it worked out. I'm just really looking forward to the future.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE MOVE WHERE STEVE MADE THE CALL NOT TO PIT. IS THAT THE MOVE THAT WON YOU THE RACE?

Gordon: Oh, absolutely. I told Steve earlier that I drove for 300 and however many laps and I never got the lead. He made that call and got us the lead and kept that lead. So, I knew we had a good car all day. To be able to drive from 15th all the way up to third or fourth, I knew we had a good one, but just being behind cars, I was shocked at how much aerodynamics were playing a role in the race today and they were. And once we got our front, we were awesome. Yeah, that's definitely the call that did it for us. You know, we were able to actually drive away from the guys on newer tires on that one run. And I knew right then that we had a real, legitimate shot at winning that race. If we didn't fade back to the guys that had newer tires, then I knew we were in great shape.

DOES IT LOOK LIKE THE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE IS GOING TO COME DOWN TO JOHNSON AND STEWART NOW?

Gordon: I don't know. It's so tight. Obviously those guys have been battling back and forth and had a great battle today. I think that, really, this isn't Jimmie's best track and he pulled off a great finish today. You know, I think that this shows how much he wants it, how strong that team is and I think his best tracks are coming up. Of course, Tony runs good everywhere as well. I think Stewart is a great driver, Jimmie is a great driver. Those are both good teams and I wouldn't be surprised if they battle it out until the end of the season. But, you never know what is going to happen. I certainly would like to see them battle it out because I want to see Jimmie a part of the battle.

HOW DO YOUR WINS AT MARTINSVILLE RANK AMONGST ALL YOUR WINS?

Gordon: Well, when it's been 20-some races, it doesn't matter to me where we go when we win. I know what we're capable of and it's been a tough summer and just the second half of the season has been really tough on us. Our car, our team, everything is under the same roof as that #48 team and those guys have been really shining and on top of their game, and we haven't for whatever reason. We've obviously had some bad luck, that plays a role, but it gets you down and it's been tough. I know how much we were looking forward to coming to Martinsville because we felt like this was a track where it really favors us-our setups and our cars. You know, I like driving here and felt like coming here, even with a top five, I don't know how long it's been since we've had a top 5, so anything to really just get a spark, get the excitement, get some chemistry going between Steve and the team and myself and just to be able to build on something today meant a lot there. But as far as wins in general, I've always liked Martinsville since we started coming here. We started winning races here and there's nothing sweeter than getting one of those clocks. Those grandfather clocks are just so cool. You know, there's no other trophy like it and the history of this track is obvious, with how long it's been around and I think Steve even said it best that we wish there were more short tracks on the schedule, because we seem to always run good on the short tracks. I could come here every weekend-that would be fine by me.

IS IT TOUGH NOT TO BE THE GUY IN THE SPOTLIGHT?

Gordon: Well, you know, I feel like the only way you should be in the Chase is if you've earned it. Bottom line (is that) we didn't earn it this year. Whether it be that we had back luck or whether it be that we didn't run well enough or I didn't drive good enough-whatever it is, it just wasn't meant to be. The way the Chase is structured, it gives you hope all the way until the last race. Of course, for us all the way up until Richmond-it gave us hope that we could still make it into that Chase. I felt like we never really performed in a way that we're capable of. I'm more disappointed about how we've run that I am about not making the Chase. In some ways it was relief not to make the Chase, because we just needed some things to work on and I'm so proud and happy that we've been able to put Steve in place, get him this experience, now a win. That's going to do a lot for him and his confidence, confidence with the team and it's going to give us something to build on for next year and I love being competitive and I love being up front and we can still go out and try to win races and not being in the Chase is a little bit disappointing, but I'm really thinking more about next year and right now it's kind of refreshing for us just to sit back and work for next year and it doesn't matter where the point fall for us. And then go into the offseason with some fire in our eyes and momentum to build on. And I think today is a great way to do that. Now, if we come out of this season with a top-5 at a mile-and-a-half, we're really going to be on fire during that offseason.

DO YOU SEE ANY SIMILARITIES WITH STEVE'S WIN WITH YOU TODAY AND WHEN YOU CAME HERE WITH BRIAN WHITESELL AND WON AFTER EVERNHAM LEFT?

Gordon: Yeah, I don't remember all the details. Steve might remember better than me. You know, of how we won that race that day-whether it was on a call that Brian made and it may have been. Yes and no. I think when we put Brian Whitesell in that position, we knew it was in an interim position because Brian was really, I think, that his skills are so good in the managerial role that he's in the position he belongs in. He's so good at that and I think we would have been able to utilize his talents but at the same time would have been missing out on some opportunities in some other places, so we kind of knew that was an interim job. This is not interim. Steve is here for, I hope, a long time. I'm so proud that I am a part of him getting his first win and I hope that I can be a part of him getting his first championship, too.

RE: LAPPED TRAFFIC

Gordon: As far as lapped cars go, it doesn't matter how much experience you have or not. If you're trying to stay on the lead lap, I think everybody expects you to race hard. Once you get several laps down, yeah I think you've got to show some respect and courtesy for the leaders and those who are battling for the win. I hated to see Denny Hamlin get caught up in that wreck on pit road because I thought he really showed a lot of talent out there. This is a track that he really knows well and he was getting around there really well. He could have been a factor there at the end, so that was unfortunate. When he did get laps down, there was a couple of times I felt he was racing a little bit too hard, but you do kind of expect that in younger, less experienced drivers out there. But I think he's really going to something to watch, especially here in the future.

RE: WOULD YOU HAVE GIVEN JIMMIE THE FIVE POINTS BY LETTING HIM LEAD?

Gordon: Well, if we had been like, on that long green flag run when we were out front, if Jimmie had been close to me, absolutely. With 20 laps to go, he had his hands full just battling with the #20 car. I had my hands full trying to win the race. That wasn't really the proper time to do that. Under different circumstances earlier in the race-absolutely. I would have loved to have given Jimmie those five bonus points. Even there at the end, I wasn't guaranteed I was going to be able to keep him behind me. So, if he had gotten them it wasn't because I had gave them to him. But I think it was too late in the game for us to just move over and give up a win.

RE: IS THIS THE PROOF YOU NEED, OR IS THE REST OF THE SEASON, INCLUDING THE MILE-AND-A-HALFS, BE MORE INDICATIVE OF THE TEAM TURNAROUND

Gordon: Well, obviously we had a past performance at Martinsville. I think more than anything it's just expectations on Steve - 'They won here a bunch, they won here the last race, if you don't win here' - I think it would have been tough for Steve. Critics would have been tough on Steve. I'm just happy that he was able to withstand that type of pressure and also make the call. This is a great win for us, but I think that any win right now is just something to boost the morale of the team. There's no doubt when you've gone through what we've gone through and especially with a team that has these kind of expectations on them, that morale is up and down. As much as Steve can try to boost them up, as much as I can talk to them, there's nothing like a win. And we know that Martinsville is not resolving anything or fixing our problems. We need a good, strong finish at those mile-and-a-halfs. I think we were happy with the way we ran at Kansas. We were happy with how we ran at Charlotte. We had a good test at Atlanta and look forward to going there. We're not saying we have to win there but we're definitely looking for some improvement. A lot of improvement. And that will get us excited about going into next year strong.

ANNIVERSARY OF THE PLANE CRASH

Gordon: Well, I talked to Rick yesterday and I knew that he was going to stay at home and he said he spent time with his family and I just thought that was fantastic to spend time and surround himself with close family. I know that meant a lot to him. I know that today was a very tough day or this weekend was a very tough weekend for them. All we wanted to do was to go out there and try to put a smile on their face or honor those who were lost and I can't think of a better way for us to do that than to pull into victory lane the way we did. I was hoping for a one-two finish with me and Jimmie, but we got the next best thing. I think it was definitely on all our minds the whole time we've been here and you know, I think that there's just no better way for us to remember them than to come out of here with a win.

THIS IS A PLACE WHERE A STRATEGY CALL CAN LOSE A RACE, SO DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD THAT YOU FIRST WIN COMES AS A RESULT OF YOUR STRATEGY?

Letarte: Well, it definitely helps you confidence making the right decisions. We were fortunate to get a yellow and we were fortunate enough to be in a position to make those aggressive calls. I knew the #20 and the #48 both were racing for points and trying to race for a top 5. Our goal coming here was to win and anything short of a win, we probably would have been a little disappointed. That helped the decision. I'm just kind of one player on the team. We have a great team with Ken Howes and Doug Duchardt-really smart guys that help with those decisions. I was right on this one and I hope I have the timing with a different race coming up where we can make another decision like that again.

RE: GETTING ADJUSTED. WAS THIS CALL YOU MADE SOMETHING YOU COULD HAVE DONE THREE OR FOUR WEEKS AGO, OR IS THIS PROOF OF YOUR DEVELOPMENT AS A CREW CHIEF

Letarte: Well, it just seemed like an obvious call. I don't know if that means I'm developing or it was just lucky, but like Jeff said we rode for 300 and something laps and we had a good car, we just couldn't get by them. So, I had seen everybody else stay out and it looked like they were running pretty well and I heard Jeff make a comment that he thinks our car would be really good in clean air, so we just stayed out. Whether I could have made it a couple of weeks ago, I don't know. I feel like I made a pit blunder at New Hampshire and the race was kind of a blur. And then we came here and I felt like the race moved a little bit slower, so I would definitely say the experience in these ten races are definitely going to help us for next year.

RE: WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR YOU PERSONALLY AND HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO RICK TODAY?

Gordon: I haven't had a chance to talk to Rick today. You know, I will as soon as I get done with all the victory-lane stuff. I think I always carry a little bit of confidence and the whole team does coming into a Martinsville or a road course and other tracks that we've run good at. Even at Darlington or something like that. Anytime you get into victory lane, it's definitely going to help. I think for me personally, my goal to help me for the offseason and next season-I'd like for us to lead laps at the mile-and-a-halfs. And I don't even know if Atlanta is a good judge of that-it's pretty abrasive and tires go away fast. Texas, Homestead, those kind of tracks. That's where we need to build the confidence. You know, not just for the team but for myself. We've got some tests coming up. We tested at Atlanta a couple of weeks ago and felt like we learned some things. Those are the things I think we need to work on to be in contention for the Chase next year and that would complete what's been kind of a tough year for us. It would be a kind of a completion if we could come out of this thing with not only just a win today but a top 5 at one of those tracks.

IT BUILD CONFIDENCE

Gordon: That's what building confidence and chemistry is, it's that you've got to do it on a consistent basis and you've got to walk before you can run. Just going out and getting a win isn't enough. You've got to show that you're capable and running with the guys that have been fast all year long. And holding your own or even being better than them. It's not just going to happen next week or the week after that. We want to see us building towards some consistency by the end of the season and that's going to build our confidence for the offseason, not just this month.

WHAT'S THE TOUGHEST PART ABOUT RUNNING A RACE TEAM?

Letarte: Well, I think the toughest part in all racing is the personel. It's become really competitive. There are owners out there that have money and resources to go run good. With Hendrick being the size it is, that kind of helps me in that position. You know, the toughest part for me has probably been on Sunday, calling the race. There's no way to practice. You're either doing it or you're not. You can play all the roles out in your head but every race is different. Every track is different, so I can't thank the guys enough. The guys on the DuPont team have supported me like I've been there all year, like I've been there forever. That's really been great for the transition. You know, our goals chang week in and week out. They can't be the same for every track. Our goal here is to win and we came here and won and now our goal is move on and get better at the mile-and-a-half. That's what I think is going to happen.

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Denny Hamlin