Pocono: Winning team interview

JEFF GORDON, DRIVER, AND STEVE LETARTE, CREW CHIEF, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS - RACE WINNERS GORDON: "I felt like we had a top five race car, and I was a little disappointed that we didn't qualify better than we did (18th). We weren't able...

JEFF GORDON, DRIVER, AND STEVE LETARTE, CREW CHIEF, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS - RACE WINNERS

GORDON: "I felt like we had a top five race car, and I was a little disappointed that we didn't qualify better than we did (18th). We weren't able to show what we had until we had the track position. Once we got out front, we showed what we had. But that's the place where we put ourselves on Friday. Steve made a gutsy call based on looking at the radar. Our spotter also noticed it was getting darker and that contributed to making that call. It was risky, but he knew exactly how he was going to play it out. We were going to come in whatever is was -- 15 laps -- and then you've got to run hard and hope you force those other guys to come before the rain comes. And they did. It worked out pretty awesome."

NOT TAKING ANYTHING AWAY FROM THE CALL THAT STEVE LETARTE MADE, BUT IS THIS ONE OF THE MORE BIZARRE WINS OF YOUR CAREER?

GORDON: "Absolutely. It was bizarre for many reasons. I didn't know if we were going to get on the track today. And, we were floating around there in 8th, 9th, or 10th, and every time we'd start to move forward, I'd start to have brake issues. At one point, I just wanted to finish the race. I think we knew from the beginning of the race that this was going to be a shorter race. We knew making it to the halfway point was very important because the rain was around us. It was certainly bizarre walking to victory lane. It was extremely bizarre. On one side I feel guilty for even taking this win. On the other, I don't because Steve made a great call that worked out in our favor. Other people had that same opportunity to make that call."

AT ONE POINT, WHEN YOU STAYED OUT AND DIDN'T PIT AND THEN HAD TO PIT, AND YOU HAD NOT ALLOWED YOURSELF ENOUGH GAS TO MAKE IT HALFWAY, TV COMMENTATORS CALLED YOUR STRATEGY, "INCREDIBLY STUPID". IT WORKED BECAUSE OF THE WAY THINGS FELL

GORDON: "I didn't make the call. You need to talk to Steve. He deserves the credit and the stupidity. He explained it to me on the radio. He didn't think the other guys could make it to the halfway point either. He had it in his mind that we were going to stay out and come early enough to then we could make it to halfway and hope we force the other guys to come in just before halfway. So I don't see how it could be lucky when you see it happening in your mind and feel like it could happen that way and it does. I've got confidence in him. He's a smart guy. And he's made great calls for the past couple of years. He's building his confidence and my confidence. I think he knew in the back of his mind that the weather had to come at the right time for it to work out. Our goal was to get to lap 100 (halfway) and hope that those guys pitted at lap 98 and the rain comes at 100."

ON THE BRAKE SITUATION

GORDON: "When you've had a brake issue here and you've hit the wall as hard as I hit in Turn 1, then you don't mess around with brakes. This is not a track to play around with on brakes. And we're getting the cars working so well these days that we're driving in the corners extremely deep. Ever since we had that problem, we put so much brake on it that brakes going away is not an issue. So I was very surprised. We actually had a little issue yesterday in practice. I thought it was heat-related. I don't think it's heat related; I think that it's actually the amount of temperature or lack of temperature we're putting on the brakes and the type of pad we put on there. We had a little bit different pad than our teammates because I brake differently than they do. We're trying to compensate for that. But I think they started vibrating and what was happening was that as I ran longer, it started building up pad and started kicking the pads out as I was going down the straightaway. So I was having to pump the pad to have a hard pedal when I'd go in the corner to brake. But sometimes I couldn't pump them enough. I'd go in the corner and they'd go halfway down and then they'd grab. They were always grabbing. I just wasn't sure which time it was going to happen. I'd go in the corner and push it and it wasn't going to grab. That's a scary feeling. It seemed like it got worse each time the run went on. I didn't understand why it wasn't staying the same throughout a run. On new tires, it was great. Everything was good. Into the run it got worse. But the brakes were so much better being out front. Maybe I didn't have to use them as hard or maybe it was a little bit more clean air getting to them. I don't know. But they just didn't see to be as bad. Although in those last couple of laps, I was fading fast. And not only were the brakes an issue, but it was making the handling of the car go away too. When it vibrated like that, the right front tire wasn't sticking to the track and it started sliding in the nose as well."

HOW MUCH DID THAT FORMER BAD CRASH BOTHER YOU WHILE YOU WERE HAVING THESE BRAKE PROBLEMS?

GORDON: "It bothers you when the vibration is getting worse and you feel like the parts and pieces are going to fall off the car. As a race car driver, you don't have much of a choice other than to just keep putting it in there. That's not any fun. So I did. I just kept trying to make sure I had a pedal before I got in there by pumping them down the straightaway. If anybody was listening to my radio they would know I was concerned about the brakes. I was concerned whether we would make it to the end. But now as I'm thinking about it, they were going to last. There was plenty of pad. The rotors are fine. It's just that they were vibrating and that vibration was going to hurt us performance-wise over the long run of the race. I don't think it was going to be an issue whether we made it. But it was on my mind. Those couple of laps it was hurting the speed and I just had to back the corner way up to not overuse them."

COULD THINKING IT WAS WORSE THAN IT WAS ACTUALLY MAKE IT WORSE?

GORDON: "It is what it is. I drive in the corner and I push on the pedal and the pedal and steering wheel tell me what it is. I can tell you that it might have made me back the corner up a little bit - knowing what happened to me the time before. I didn't think it was the same issue though. So I wasn't afraid of the rotor flying up through the hood and sending me sideways into Turn 1. I was concerned that the pedal was going to go long and it was going to all of a sudden put a ton of rear brake into it when I did get to it. Actually, I did crank some rear brake to it to try to take some pressure off the front brakes.

LETARTE: "The problem was that our mileage wasn't very good so even if we had pitted there we couldn't have made it to (lap) 100. And you can't race to halfway like it's the end of the race even if it's going to rain because it might rain at 99 or it might rain at 103 and you'd look even dumber if you had to come in at 102. So we just race Pocono like a road course. We back it up from the end and that was also putting us in a fuel window for 200, which was another option. We had a good car but I really wanted to see what it was going to do in clean air. It's hard to judge a car back in forth in fifth or sixth. I guess it was incredibly stupid but maybe sometimes stupid works."

DID THE FACT THAT YOU ARE IN THE POINT LEAD ALLOW YOU TO MAKE SUCH A RISKY CALL?

LETARTE: "Absolutely. The way we performed in the first 11 or 12 races has allowed us to try to go out for wins and 10-point bonuses. I can't say that at most tracks, but I think today I question that if we were back in 12th maybe we would have just gone with the norm and tried to finish in the top 10. But what people forget about Pocono is that it ended up raining out, but even if would have gone back to dry and we all would have pitted at that point, we still would have gained track position. So, it worked in two ways. It was good and we won. At the same time, it was an easier way to pass eight guys because we just didn't give Jeff a car good enough to do it today and you saw after we got out in clean air we had speed enough."

YOU'RE REALLY ON A ROLL NOW. DOES THAT COMPARE TO OTHER TIMES WHEN YOU'VE HAD GOOD YEARS?

GORDON: "There's no doubt that good fortune is on our side this year. But at Charlotte, good fortune wasn't in our favor. So it can reach out and grab you at any time. I don't think there's a point lead safe enough to have because you just never know when things are going to go the other way. It feels great to have things going our way. It's building confidence. I feel excited about going to the race track. And we're putting great race cars out there. We get better as the weekend goes. But with the Chase, it only matters what you do in those last 10 (races) once you make it in. For us right now it's to try to secure that we're in the Chase and then it's about momentum and our cars and our communication and everything being at its peak and best in the last 10. That's the only time it really counts. We're in it to win a championship. We're not here to try to improve one or two positions over last year. We're here to win. We've got the tools to win I feel like we've got the crew chief and I have to do my part as well."

SO IF YOU'RE A JEFF GORDON HATER AND YOU'RE SITTING AT HOME AT ON LAP 104 AND THE 12 CAR COMES DOWN TURN 2 GETTING READY TO PASS THE NO. 24 CAR AND A CAUTION COMES OUT

GORDON: "If that were (Dale Earnhardt) Junior, we would have had an issue (laughter). But it wasn't Junior. I was hoping they'd throw stuff at me so they'd have to call the race for that reason. Anything that was showered down on that race track today would have been fine by me."

SO DOES THIS REMIND YOU OF WINNING TIME AND TIME AGAIN LIKE IT USED TO BE?

GORDON: "Maybe after today's race or Darlington. We've definitely had some dramatic wins this year. I think that you go back to Kurt Busch winning the championship a couple of years ago and when we were at Homestead and his right front tire falls off as he hits pit road and the caution comes out and you think how can that happen. My gosh, how lucky. I'm a big believer in things happen for a reason. Sometimes when it's your time, it's your time. Right now it's our time. We're doing something right. We're positive about how we're living our lives and how we're approaching each and every race. At this point in my life and at the age I am with a baby on the way and a great wife and all that, I've never appreciated good things and good fortune more than right now. When positive energy is surrounding you like it is Steve and this team, good things happen. And I don't think those good things happen just because you're lucky. I think they happen because you put yourself in those positions to make good things happen. That's through preparation and hard work and utilizing the resources and tools that you have. You add up all those things, among other things, and that's when good things happen for the right reasons."

ON THOUGHTS OF "TORTOISE AND HARE' SCENARIO AS RACE PLAYED OUT WITH STRATEGY AND WHETHER IT IS A GOOD THING OR A BAD THING:

GORDON: "I would like Steve to answer this so I will give you a quick little answer because he is on top of this a lot more than I am. Today was going to be a fuel mileage strategy race regardless of what happened with the weather. Steve and I talked about this before this race started. Because of the smaller fuel cells, we were treating this more like a road course just because of fuel mileage being cut down so much. It does change it, but does it make it more interesting, more exciting or less? That is up to you guys (referring to media members).

LETARTE: "I think it is like any other change made in the sport, it changes how you have to race. It is no different than harder tires, softer tires. You know, four or five years ago they changed the tires. No one ever would have stayed out on tires at Darlington or Atlanta or any of those places and now you see that winning more races. I think that it forces the crew chief, the team and even the driver to be studied up on all of it. A lot of what people see if luck. It goes back to what Jeff said, today with weather, it is a lot of luck. With other races when you see teams win, even when it is not us, it is preparation that goes in to that. It is knowing the trends. There are trends to these races when the yellow is called. There are trends on how many tires you need to take. It is just stats and studying and I think that is why you see teams that seem lucky win a lot of races."

ON HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO FOCUS, THINK CLEARLY AND COME UP WITH STRATEGY SUCH AS TODAY:

LETARTE: "Well, you know, it is interesting. The more rules there are with the chassis and the body, the more time a crew chief has to spend studying other things other than chassis and body. That is what we study, how races fall and it is very hard. You have people giving suggestions and helping you out. If you watch during the race, I walk a lot and sometimes I just have to walk away from someone giving a suggestion or thoughts because I just need to think and it worked out good today. The strength of our team is the team. I didn't make that decision today, I was part of the decision. Our car chief had a hand in it, our engineer had a hand in it, Ken Howes had a hand in it, our spotter had a huge hand in it because he could see the clouds coming. It is a huge group of people who are pulling in the same direction and that is what is going to make it work. I am not smart enough to go out and make that decision to win that race, but me and 19 other guys are collectively smart enough to get lucky and get a little weather and win the race."

ON THOUGHTS WHEN YELLOW LIGHT FLASHED WHEN IT DID:

GORDON: "If you only knew how excited I was. You probably couldn't hear me on the radio cause I was screaming so loud 'It is raining, it is raining - throw the caution!'. I have always hit situations where it started raining and ended up backwards on the other end of the it. When the rain hits that hard, I knew Newman was getting ready to pass me at any time, he had a heck of a run, I had already pretty much said this wasn't going to work. I just didn't think the rain was going to come soon enough. Steve kept telling me, let's just get what we can get, just get what we can get. He (Newman) was coming on me pretty hard and pretty fast when we were coming down the back straightaway. When it hit, I just didn't know what was on the other side of it. I didn't know if it was raining all the way to the tunnel turn or what so I started to check up and when I looked up, he wasn't checking up so I hit the gas because as I got through it, it cleared up and I knew the tunnel was clear. But the whole time I was on the radio screaming and yelling at NASCAR to please throw a caution. Luckily there must have been some other guys that said the same thing. It is a dangerous situation when on a track like this it doesn't take a whole lot of rain for you to completely lose control of the car. I was really more concerned with losing control of the car at that point than I actually was about losing the race. Once we got in the tunnel turn and the track was dry, so at that point, I was in the gas, trying to win the race because I knew they were going to throw the caution at any time and that could be the end of the race and we might actually pull this one off."

ON BEING HELD UP BY TONY RAINES:

GORDON: "Me and Tony, we have had a time lately. He is a great driver and I love racing with him and watching him, he is doing a good job, but my goodness, I just don't know what it is, there is a magnet between us right now. He had fresher tires so he could get through the corners good. We were just killing him down the straightaways. My car was pretty good, but not good enough to pass him. Knowing he is not on the Hendrick side, he is on the Gibbs side, we weren't getting a lot of help there and we finally got by him but it cost us a lot of time. I understand, he is racing to try and stay on the lead lap but I saw the No. 12 coming as hard as he was and we needed all the time and laps we could get, I wasn't real happy about it, but you have to put yourself in his shoes every once in a while and understand it."

ON WHETHER THIS HAD BEEN PLAN ALL ALONG OR WAS IT SOMETHING THAT CAME UP AS THE RACE UNFOLDED:

LETARTE: "Once we realized that there was weather coming, I think I maybe mentioned it to Jeff about lap 50 or so, we were racing for half of that. Throw the theories out the window, throw 200-laps out the window. I know he didn't, but I quit worrying about the brakes because we aren't going to have an issue for 200 laps.

GORDON: (interjects): "Obviously. I had asked him to take the tape off the front and they wouldn't take it off, because I thought it was a heat issue."

LETARTE: "Yes, we were trying to keep our pit stops as fast as we could. It goes back to the first race we won at Martinsville. That day, you just feel something. I just decided to stay out that day in Martinsville and it paid off. We decided to stay out today and it paid off. I wish there was specific spot or a detail but the only thing I remember thinking when I was sitting up there is that I had a note from last year's race that Greg Biffle was 16 seconds behind the leader and pitted and didn't lose a lap. That was the only note I remembered is that you won't lose a lap here. So it doesn't matter if it doesn't work. It is going to cycle around and everybody is going to need fuel and you would be ok. Sometimes you are just going to get lucky and make the right decisions and I imagine that at some time this year, it will turn out as stupid as it might have seemed."

ON WHETHER IT WAS THAT HIGH OF A RISK:

LETARTE: "I think a lot of people are making it out to be a bigger risk than it was. If we had been in the top two or three cars and given up track position, I think it would have been a huge risk. A lot of times at Pocono the only way you are going to win a race or run up front is to get off cycle. We decided at that point we had run 60 or 70 laps or whatever it was and eighth was about as far as we were going to get, so we were going to try and get off cycle and gain a little track position. Everyone has said how great a idea it was to doit but there were other teams that did it. The No. 01 missed his pitbox and he finished seventh. It worked for him. The No. 25 did it. We were just fortunate enough to have a good enough car, a good enough driver and a fast enough pit crew to make it work for the win. But it worked for others too, we weren't alone."

ON WHETHER TIRES WERE AN ISSUE AT THE POINT YELLOW CAME OUT:

GORDON: "I think the brakes were playing a little bit of an issue. The car was driving really good out front for a good portion of that. In the beginning when Newman came out after he pitted, I knew he was running some good lap times but I thought maybe they would balance out because the car was as good as it had been right then. Getting behind the No. 96 just killed us. It started to hurt the right front tire and we were having to use more front brake which obviously wasn't helping. Those last couple laps, I came on the radio and told the guys it was really vibrating bad. I just had to slow down and he was catching me pretty fast by that point. There just wasn't anything more I could do, I was doing all I could at that point. Steve was encouraging me because I was getting a little frustrated on the radio. It was just a matter of whether the rain came or if it didn't, to maintain the best position that we could before we came in for our next pit stop and maybe make some adjustments but the rain came."

ON SHORTENING THIS RACE:

GORDON: "250 might be a little short, but I think we have always felt that 500 is way too long. It is one of the longest lap times that we have on the circuit. If you look at 500 miles here, it is a long long time. I thing the racing, especially with these fuel cells, I think the racing would be a little bit more exciting if it was a shorter race. But I don't make those calls. I think tradition is extremely important here and 500 miles is the tradition that we have had here for a long time. If they tell us that is what we are going to race here is 500 miles then that is what we are going to race. My personal opinion, yes I would like to see it shortened, I think it would be great racing at 400 miles or a 500K."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch