Phoenix: Winning team press conference, part 1

WINNERS OF SUBWAY FRESH FIT 500, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY SUBWAY FRESH FIT 500 - POST RACE TRANSCRIPT - JEFF GORDON, STEVE LETARTE JEFF GORDON: The whole weekend has just been a pleasure. It's been so much fun. I've been more fired up...


JEFF GORDON: The whole weekend has just been a pleasure. It's been so much fun. I've been more fired up this year than I've ever been. It's been frustrating and disappointing what we haven't got the wins when I felt we've been capable of it. I told Stevie, I owed him one from last week, and, you know that, one got away from us. So that was pretty disappointing.

So, you know, to be able to come back and do it here at Phoenix, from the pole, to get 76, oh, man, I can go on and on with all of the things that are just fired up about with this win.

THE MODERATOR: We're also joined in here by tonight's winning crew chief, Steve Letarte. Talk about tonight's strategy and your view from the box.

STEVE LETARTE: The strategy, I wish I had planned that out. We just got real lucky, a real timely yellow fell and we were fortunate to put four tires on and our spotter, Shannon (ph) should get a lot of credit for that. He had to find the leader on the racetrack, and it's very hard to do under green flag conditions; and he found it and let us know we had enough time to put tires on. And once we put tires on, I knew we were good to go for track position.

Phoenix has always been a very finicky place for us. We are always good on one end and not the other, and we never seem to get the breaks at the end of the race even when we have the best car.

So to come here and to get a little lucky on a yellow feels really nice. It feels really good to win here.

Q: Getting 76 and behind Dale Earnhardt was no big deal and when the moment came you got the flag from Steve and made the victory lap, so in essence it actually was a big deal. Can you kind of talk about that?

JEFF GORDON: You know, the way we approach each race is to win. And so, you know, in the back of our minds, yeah, it was an important win and we're going to hold onto that flag for a long time.

Yeah, we wanted to do something cool for Dale and pay tribute to him. I had so much fun racing with him and I miss him a lot out there. To do something he has done in this sport is pretty overwhelming for anybody and it is for me. I can't believe that we've won 76 races, and, you know, it feels good to get back into victory lane and just to be able to hold that flag.

I was afraid, you know, some people might think we were trying to get the Earnhardt fans or think that we're, you know, saying we're as good as him, and that wasn't the case. You know, we just wanted to honor him. It felt really good that Junior came in and really accepted that that way.

It was a special moment, you know, and you know it's -- man, it's a special night. I don't really know how to put it into words. It really means the world to me to be able to do this at this point in my career, and, you know, to still be competitive out there; to be coming to the racetrack and driving the cars that I get the privilege to drive; it's a blast.

I knew that it was a matter of time that we were going to get that win, but it just seemed like it had been hanging over us for so long.

Yeah, in the back of our minds, it was important. But I didn't want to approach it as if that's what our goal was to just get to that number to tie Dale. It was a lot more than that even for us. It's just -- and maybe we knew that it was a lot more; we didn't want to put any more pressure on ourselves.

Q: For each of you after you look back at everything that was accomplished tonight, it started with your cars sitting on pit road on the first lap, and you had to change helmets, can you just talk about what happened there at the beginning?

JEFF GORDON: We've been having some radio issues and Steve and I are going to have a little sit-down with our guy. He does such an awesome job. He works in my seats and radios and all that stuff, but that's the second week that row that we've had a radio issue, or third week that row I think, and tonight it was a helmet. And maybe it's been the helmet the whole time and it finally just quit on it. But that stuff should be checked in the pre-race and it wasn't. He says it was so, I don't know, we have to figure out what that t was.

But it certainly caused some -- and this is where Steve is, you know, I give him so much credit because when that call came to be made on pit road when that caution came out, he was calm and cool. At least he sounded pretty calm to me. He was a lot calmer than I was, I can tell you that. I was going to drive right through the pit, and luckily he made the call and he knew exactly what to do, and it was just awesome.

And that's exactly what he did on pit road when that radio issue happened. He looked at me, he said, "Calm down. Everything is fine. We're to the going anywhere. You know, we've got time. We're going to change the helmet if you want to change the helmet." And we found out the other helmet was working so I said, yeah, and I was trying to -- and he wanted to make sure every belt was put on, every hook, everything was secure and that we didn't do anything stupid on top of what had already happened.

You know, I give him a lot of credit for that. It was pretty awesome.

Q: In a way, once Tony had passed you, you kind of raced like Earnhardt there at the end to get lead back. You went between him and Martin Truex. Just talk about how satisfying it was to get in a side-by-side battle like that when you're going to tie a guy like Dale Earnhardt.

JEFF GORDON: I certainly wasn't thinking about all that at that moment. I just -- I was a little bit angry because I felt like we had -- again, the king gave me the car, gave me the position, gave me everything and here I was going to lose it on the racetrack and that was pretty disappointing to me because we've got such a good effort going right now. I wanted to get a win. I was hungry for it. I felt like we had an opportunity to get our first one here.

I'll be honest, Tony made a great call -- a great move. His car worked really good on the outside between 1 and 2. And Martin was being a pain in the butt; you know, I don't blame him for it. You know, he was balancing some guys for position. You know, once we got side-by-side and he started to fade, I didn't understand where he was racing the way he did. I had to race him pretty hard, shove him out of the way a little bit, and I think made him mad and Tony just stuck his nose in there and made a great move and he had me. I thought our night was done.

And luckily, I didn't give up on it. Drove in the next corner -- and I was getting through 1 and 2 on that set of tires really good, and Tony, I got right on him, looked like he got loose and I was able to get underneath him. Once I got underneath him, I just carried the momentum and carried him wide a little bit down three and our car up front was just awesome.

For 20 laps, we had the best car I think all night, and that was why I wanted to capitalize on it so much.

Q: To the best of my knowledge, after the race, there has not been any contact between America and Tony Stewart as far as radio, TV, press conferences. (Laughter) I want to know, has there been any contact between and you Tony Stewart?

JEFF GORDON: You mean on the racetrack?

Q: Anywhere. "Congratulations, nice race." High-fiving?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, he gave me a big thumbs up.

Q: On the track?


Q: But not like in victory lane.

JEFF GORDON: Well, I don't go to victory lane when he wins. (Laughter).

Q: He didn't come in here.

JEFF GORDON: Well, hey, what he does past that point -- you know, Tony's Tony. To me, if I was Tony and I felt like I was going to say something that I really didn't want to say, then I think I'd avoid you guys, too. (Laughter).

But I think that, you know, Tony has to handle things the best way he possibly can, and we all know that he gets wound up. You know, everybody has got their own different type of personality. And I'll be honest, when the heat of the moment's on and the adrenaline is flowing, you know, not all of us think straight, including myself. And if he wanted to avoid controversy by saying something he didn't want to say, then maybe that's why he didn't come in.

Q: I understand that but for a post-race press conference? (inaudible.)

JEFF GORDON: Well, that's not my issue. You have to talk to him. I mean, I love what Tony brings to this sport, you know, because he's got a flair to it. He's a great, great race car driver. I don't want to drive him out of this sport. I think it would be a loss for him to not be here past whenever his contract is up.

You know, I want to see him having more fun and I understand what he means when he says that. You know, at this level of racing, it's tough, man. There's a lot more work that goes into it than people think. Yeah, we get paid very well, because that's the going rate. That's the market. If he's the guy who is one of the best and they want to pay him that much, he deserves it.

The problem with that is that comes with expectations and a lot of work, and when you win at this level, it's not like winning at a dirt track on a Saturday. It pays a lot more, too. But there's a lot of camaraderie among your guys on the team, the people that you hang out with, the other guys that are at the track, maybe be friends or other team members. You kind of just hang back, sit back, talk about the win.

And that's not the case here. You go straight to an interview, they tell you when to get out of the car; they tell when you to smile; when to hold up your finger; what hat to put on; you know, go to this interview; go to that interview. The last people I get to see are these guys and those are the ones I want to be with the most.

I've been saying that for years that victory lane, you know, is somewhat spoiled by that. But we wouldn't have this sport and what it is today if it wasn't for that.

So, I hear where Tony is coming from, you know, but I hope that he can understand like I do when I sit down and think about it that that's the case for anybody in that position.

Q: It seemed that at Bristol and Martinsville, you couldn't get your front, the nose, under the bumper in this Car of Tomorrow, but when you passed Tony for the lead, it seemed like you were able to push him a little bumper-to-bumper. Can you talk a little about that and are we finding that finally maybe there can be a little bit of the bump-and-run some day in the Car of Tomorrow?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I'll be honest with you; it was better than I thought it was going to be. I really thought that once you got out front, all you had to do was just mirror drive and there's no way that guy had a chance.

On new tires when the cars had grip, you know, some guys' cars handle better on new tires and some guys' cars handle better on old tires. I still believe being up front was the place to be. But I was able to get close enough to it, to Tony, to loosen them up and he was already loose at the beginning of the run. He needed to get a gap between him and the guy behind him earlier in the race and I could see that. So I kind of took advantage of that.

My car was real good on new tires, but I will say, it was better than I thought it was going to be; it really was. I'm not saying I'm sold on it yet. I think there's still a little bit more to do. I think we can make this car better.

But I give most of the credit to the team guys and the whole garage of working on this car and improving this -- from the first time I drove this car, this is like a different race car. The thing was horrible the first time I drove it, and you know -- I won't say what I said.

Since then, these guys have improved that car so much that they are making it feel a lot like what I was hoping for in a race car, this race car. You know, there are still some things that are different. I mean, I wore the brakes out on this car trying to get the slowdown trying to get into the corner but through the middle and off the corner wasn't bad. And behind other cars, I didn't feel like -- aero, it was there, but no more than in the past, and maybe even a little bit better than in the past. I think that's because we are a little bit slower through the corner.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Tony Stewart