Richmond II: GM top three, rookie press conference, part 1

POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: JEFF BURTON, No. 31 Cingular Wireless Monte Carlo SS JEFF GORDON, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS KEVIN HARVICK, No. 29 Bare Naked Ladies / GM Goodwrench Monte Carlo SS KYLE BUSCH, No. 5 Kellogg's Monte Carlo ...

JEFF BURTON, No. 31 Cingular Wireless Monte Carlo SS
JEFF GORDON, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS
KEVIN HARVICK, No. 29 Bare Naked Ladies / GM Goodwrench Monte Carlo SS
KYLE BUSCH, No. 5 Kellogg's Monte Carlo SS

KERRY THARP: Ladies and gentlemen, we're pleased now to be joined by our eighth-place finisher in the points standing right now, driver of the number 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet, that's Jeff Burton. Jeff, congratulations on making the Chase. Tell us your emotions right now, talk a little bit about the race, but your emotions about getting into the Chase for the first time.

JEFF BURTON: Well, I'm relieved for sure. Today was a long day. The last two weeks have been pretty long. Glad to have this behind us. Now it's time to, you know, get focused and go again. I mean, the next ten weeks will be pretty pressure-filled all weeks, but I'm looking forward to it, excited about it. I think we need to step it up just a little bit. I've got to do a better job of explaining what the car is doing so we can make the car better during the race. But I feel good, we're in, we've done a nice job. 29 comes in with a tremendous amount of momentum, and feel really good about that. So proud to have two RCR cars in there and we're just going to go and do the best we can.

Q: You've contended in championships before. Compare this one with what you've done in the past, if you can.

JEFF BURTON: Well, these are really interesting. This is my first shot at being in one of these, and it is different. It's different because, you know, if you go to -- there's more finality in the other old points system with four or five to go, you know what I mean. There's like three or four to go, you kind of know you're out of the deal or you know you're still in it.

And this deal, I mean, it's like there was 11 -- well, there was seven people, maybe eight people, that were racing for a championship tonight. I mean, this was -- this is what we saw Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott, that deal in Atlanta years ago. That's what this was tonight, because although the champion wasn't crowned tonight, any one of us has a chance. So there was -- there wasn't two people. There's not three people, there was seven or eight that were racing for a championship tonight, and that's a hell of a lot of stuff going on out there.

It is different. I think it's better. I think it's more -- I said this a few weeks ago, I'm not so sure after tonight that I'm a big believer in what I said. What I said was the more pressure-filled and the more excitement and more tense it is, the better it is for the fans, but damn, I'm not sure I want that. Because it is pressure-filled, but you know, that's what it should be. I mean, that's what this race should be, and that's how it's shaked out.

Q: You talked about the pressure and sort of the -- does it ever turn into frustration like you're trying to cling to the end of a vine or the end of a rope? Can you just talk about the emotions you went through just waiting for this race to start at the end of a long day?

JEFF BURTON: Well, this was a long day. I thought it was a long day, anyway. Maybe these guys didn't, but I thought it was.

JEFF GORDON: If you'd been driving my car, it's been a long day.

JEFF BURTON: Three nights in a row and then the long afternoon there, it takes forever. We've had three night races in a row and it's a lot of waiting around. I don't like night races myself because of the waiting around, and then you add all the stress and the pressure of this deal, you end up spending a whole lot of time sitting in the motor home, walking around trying to find something to do to pass the time, and it's very difficult to pass the time and not think about it.

Again, that's what sports are about, and this -- as crazy as I thought this system was when I first heard it, it sure has produced a hell of a lot of excitement with ten races to go in the year.

KERRY THARP: We're pleased to be joined by our ninth-place finisher in points standing, Jeff Gordon, driver of the number 24 DuPont Chevrolet and he raced in tonight finishing tenth in the points standings. Talk about getting into the Chase, you're not in it last year but you are this year, talk about your emotions.

JEFF GORDON: That's the king that's keeping me smiling right now is that we're in it. You know, we know what it feels like to not be in it from last year. You know, we've had to fight hard all year long, and we've really come together as a team. And tonight wasn't, you know, really a showing of that; we're struggling here and having gotten something figured out here at Richmond. So, you know, it was a long night for us. But luckily, the last three, four weeks have been good for us, good enough to get us a little bit of padding in the points there to be able to, you know, fall back as far as we did tonight and still make it.

KERRY THARP: We're also pleased to be joined up here, he's fourth in the points, he finished second in to night's race, driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet, Kyle Busch. Your first time in the Chase. Talk about it, talk about your race tonight.

KYLE BUSCH: Well, for us, it's definitely exciting to be not only in the Chase, but to have the kind of run that we did tonight with the Kellogg's Chevrolet was very strong, led a lot of laps there. Knowing how Kevin Harvick felt in the spring race, leading so many laps and wasn't able to come away with a win, just shows these guys keep preparing great race cars for me and I'm excited to drive them. Looking forward to the final ten, seven of the ten, one is a crapshoot and the other two we need to work on. See how we do with it. Overall tonight's race, it was pretty much a dominant car but not quite enough there in the last lap.

Q: Jeff Burton, did you ever feel, it seemed pretty smooth ride for you in some respects, did you ever feel precarious in any moment during the race, and the other question, considering where you've been in recent, last few years, how much does it mean to you to crack this Top-10 and what would it have meant if you had?

JEFF BURTON: Well, it always looks smoother than it really is. You know, we had a bad pit stop there one time and we lost a bunch of spots, and that was pretty stressful because the 6 got in front of me and I knew Kasey was running really well. I didn't understand what Tony's situation was. I was pretty nervous about that.

And the points were really close. If you look at them, good God, it's really close. But you know, I've run like crap for three years in a row, and it's been embarrassing to be quite honest. You know, I care a great deal what my peers think about me from a competition standpoint and from a personal standpoint. It's kind of hard to walk through the garage when you're running 20th and look Jeff Gordon in the eye and expect him to respect you for what you can do on the racetrack.

Over the last three years, I haven't been able to get it done and that's not felt very good. This year, we've been able to step it up. Certainly, from where we've been over the last three years. You know, it feels good. I went to RCR, a lot of people thought I was crazy when I went to RCR, I went there not because I was trying to finish my career but because I was trying to start it over again. Hopefully we've been able to do that.

Q: Jeff Gordon, you were kind much plummeting there at the end and it looks like you just made it in by three points; were you at all panicking there? (Laughter)?

JEFF GORDON: Thank you.

Q: And I have a second question, too.

JEFF GORDON: You're only getting one for sure with that one. (Laughter).

Yeah, it was pretty obvious to me and everybody else, we were struggling. We had two problems, I mean, one, the handling, we really tried about five different combinations here the last five times we've been here, and none of them have worked.

So, you know, certainly have to look at what I'm doing versus what we're doing set-up wise, and then we had a brake issue there at the end. I was just concerned, the weight, I felt a little grinding in the brake pedal and steering wheel and I wasn't sure we were going to make it to the end. I probably slowed the car down a little bit more there at the end than I actually had to. But luckily, you know, there wasn't really anybody around me those last ten -- well, I was racing Joe Nemechek one time but something happened to him and he faded. I mean, I couldn't keep cars from passing me, so, you know, it's a very helpless feeling when you're in that situation. You know, they are going by you left and right and you're just holding on, hoping that you've got enough to make it to the end.

Q: My second question; you were a champion and you missed the Chase last year; can you sympathize at all with Tony now, who didn't make it tonight?

JEFF GORDON: I can absolutely sympathize with Tony. I mean, you know, we experienced what that was like last year. It was a tremendous amount of pressure and, you know, I think for us because we were on the outside looking in for several weeks leading to this race last year, you know, it was just a constant burden and it was tough. It only made it tougher when we didn't make it.

But at the same time for us last year, it's somewhat of a relief to just start focusing on the next year. I really believe those ten races of last year are what turned this team around to get us in this year. But I know that, you know, you don't think Tony Stewart's not going to be in it. He's one of many guys that I would have thought would have definitely be in there.

Q: Jeff Gordon and Kyle, last year we saw Roush get five in and I see Hendrick get three; what does that mean for Hendrick, and is there any big picture difference from last year?

KYLE BUSCH: I was looking for the expert to answer that one for you guys. You know, I think the biggest thing for us is that as an organization is the team meetings that we've been having. You know, I think they have really paid dividends. Jimmie Johnson came up with the concept, I think he heard it from Casey Mears in the Ganassi organization. After happy hour and all that stuff we would get together in Rick's motor coach and talk, the crew chiefs, engineers and drivers and just talk about how the things were going through the weekends and about how different -- know our cars, what are what kind of changes we made and what kind of changes they made and put it all together.

As far as having three cars in the Chase, we've just been working all that much closer together and it proved dividends there.

JEFF GORDON: I'll just add, I know Rick's really proud of that effort. I think he was as nervous as anybody else. I saw him before the race, and, you know, I know it was a real goal, after seeing Roush do that last year. He takes a lot of pride in the teams he has and for them to be able to perform at a level for all four to be able to make it in the Chase and to have three of the four is really a great accomplishment, and I know how excited and proud he is to have them in there.

Q: Seven Chevrolets in the Top-10, does that mean that Chevy can dominate? What are your thoughts on that?

JEFF BURTON: Well, I think that, I mean, the rules aren't really different this year from last year. I think, you know, last year Roush did a great job with what Ford gave them and this year Hendrick and RCR have done a nice job with what Chevy has been able to give us.

You know, I think that the manufacturers have a huge influence on how well we perform, but it's more I think what matters here most is how the teams use what the manufacturers have available to us. I think that Chevrolet does a tremendous amount of good stuff to help us and a lot of tools but at the end of the day, it's up to us to use them. Hendrick stepped up their program this year, RCR stepped up their programs this year and the teams show it.

Q: For anybody, were any of you surprised about how relatively clean of a race this was with so much at stake, a la Bristol, too, a pretty clean race?

JEFF GORDON: It certainly was for me. I'm going to go talk to Clint Bowyer, that guy, he gave me like way too much room. He could have passed me ten times, I swear we ran side-by-side for 20 laps because he had a car width between me and him every time we came off the corner and he was on the inside. I was like, wow, that's pretty generous right there. I know the guys raced me pretty clean, and obviously there were not many cautions. That tells you something.

I think that, you know, the guys that weren't in it seem to be pretty respectful for the guys who are battling to be in it, and the guys that were in it knew that they didn't want to take one another out of it; they had to race for it. So maybe guys were being a little extra cautious tonight.

KYLE BUSCH: Ask Jimmie Johnson how clean it was. He got knocked up twice. (Laughter).

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Joe Nemechek , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Kyle Busch , Alan Kulwicki