An interview with: JEFF GORDON - Winner STEVE LETARTE - Crew chief THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined in the Victory Theater by today's race winner and his crew chief. Race winner is Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/National...
An interview with:
JEFF GORDON - Winner
STEVE LETARTE - Crew chief
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined in the Victory Theater by today's race winner and his crew chief. Race winner is Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/National GED Plus Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick Motorsports. His crew chief is Steve Letarte. Jeff, congratulations for your victory, today's win. This is your 82nd career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race win, your first at Texas Motor Speedway. You gotta feel very, very happy about this win and just how your season is going right now.
JEFF GORDON: It feels like the very first time I've ever won. It's been a long streak. It's been a lot of ups and downs and tough times, not only here at Texas but just over the past, I don't know they keep reminding me I think it was 46, 47 races. And I knew we were going to get one eventually. I feel like we had some missed opportunities last season, even as we didn't have a great year. But there was still times we could have won. And so that just keeps you driving and driving hard and pushing forward. But at the end of this season, I don't know, I wrote Steve an e mail and we talked a lot. And I just saw the progress that was being made in the final 10 races with how Steve's restructuring the engineering and the team and his efforts. And it just fired me up to want to do even more than I already was.
And the whole year has just been like that since Daytona. Just see a different look in the guys' eyes. You see a different effort that's being put out. It's not that you can work any harder, it's just different. The guys are just positive and a bounce in their step. And all of us, including me and Steve. And when you have that, you just have a great team that works well together, believes in one another, and all we were missing was that victory. And I can't believe it happened here today at Texas. But, man, this is just even better than any other place. I think this is probably the best place we possibly could have won, because it's eluded us for so long, and to break the streak not only here at Texas, but over the last 40 whatever races, it's pretty cool and I'm real proud of this guy. He's worked his tail off to get us here. And this was an incredible team effort today.
THE MODERATOR: Steve Letarte, congratulations. What are your thoughts about some of the calls, some of the strategy that unfolded and your thoughts in general about today's victory?
STEVE LETARTE: I think Jeff said it the best. To win here is just huge for the team, just for the confidence, kind of for everything. But just the way we won, it was a total team effort. I know the pit crew has been beating themselves up since California. They felt like they let one slip away. Without that last pit stop I don't think we had that opportunity to win today. I think top to bottom, inside out, driver on down, pit crew, everyone that built the car, it's just a full team effort and I think that's what makes it so special, is we knew we could win. We know Jeff can win. We knew the team could win, and to come and to win somewhere where we've never won and have truly everybody here today and everybody
JEFF GORDON: Double point for you.
STEVE LETARTE: And it's just a huge it's just a huge momentum builder. Now we just need to make sure we do the right things to keep the momentum going and make all good decisions.
JEFF GORDON: We have a joke around the shop. If we win at Martinsville, then it almost doesn't count. It's like half of a win. But when we go to places where we've never won before like Phoenix, these are double points.
STEVE LETARTE: He told me Sonoma didn't count. We won at Sonoma, that was a half a win. When we won in Chicago he said that was a double win.
THE MODERATOR: You only have one more place you haven't won.
STEVE LETARTE: Just one.
JEFF GORDON: Just one.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q: I'd like to point out two pieces of irony. Number one, if Jimmie caught you and passed you it would have been 48. So that's not really
JEFF GORDON: Tell me about it.
Q: You said when you first sat down this feels like the first time you've won. For a guy who has won 82 times, that's pretty big.
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think that if you're in this sport long enough, whether you've had success or not, you know, and if you have, you're going to go through ups and downs, and we've had from some of the best seasons in history of this sport, you know, some tough, tough moments. I can't say we've had some of the toughest seasons. For us we were measured against our success. But when you have the high expectations that this team has and you go through what we've gone through with all the wins and then when you don't win and you have to hear it each and every day, every weekend, when are you going to win, when are you going to win, you know, you go long enough and you feel like you've never won a race ever. And the only thing is that the thing that's gotten me here and the thing that's gotten Steve where he is and this team and Hendrick Motorsports, is that we work hard. We know we have the resources, we know we have a great team. And we all, individually, in that team know that we can do it. It's about putting all the right pieces together at the right time and that's what this team did, showed perfectly today.
Q: Jeff, Steve already alluded to the fact if you don't come out on that last pit stop in the lead you don't win.
JEFF GORDON: I believe that.
Q: Okay. Why do you believe that? And is that maybe a little piece that you all are missing to make it to the championship, and that because I can remember a day where it didn't matter where you came out on the last pit stop, you had every chance of winning.
JEFF GORDON: That was long before this car ever was designed. But I think that this track, it's very tough to like the thing that impressed me the most today is when we came out 7th and we drove to 2nd. I mean, we were rolling right then. That car was just awesome. And Steve made an incredible adjustment. We kind of took out something that we had done earlier that didn't work and he nailed it. From that point on we were a contender for the win today, because we could stay up front. We could run with the leaders, and our pit crew was keeping us in the game. But I really think that whoever was sitting here would tell you the same, that if they didn't get out front on that last pit stop, they probably weren't going to win. While Jimmie was making great gains and they had an incredible pit stop as well, as good of adjustments obviously because I didn't see him in the top five all day, and he was the fastest car there at the end. At least up in the top three or four. And we were real fast right from the get go. And then we faded a little bit. But we still got the win. But track position these days is so crucial. And as good as my car was out front there, it wasn't as good behind cars. I saw that happen for a lot of guys. It wasn't just us.
Q: Steve, last year you guys came here, struggled early and basically, if I remember correctly, made the race almost a test session. Is there anything specific from your experiences last year that contributed to the performance today? And then for Jeff, before that last pit stop, Carl Edwards had passed you, and he had a bad pit stop and was way back in the back. If he had come out up in the front of the field, do you think things would have maybe ended differently? Or how was racing with Carl how did he perform on the track?
STEVE LETARTE: Well, to the first part of your question, I don't think we learned any specific incentive in the spring when we were that far off that helped us here today. I think we just learned an important lesson to we had a very good start the last year. Everyone forgets that. We were very good until we got to here. And then we lost a lot. And struggled through the summer. So I think we came here maybe a little too confident as a team. I'm speaking more engineering crew guys, crew chief. And I think coming in here and struggling like we did in the race let us all remember how finicky this sport is and how you can kind of go to sleep at night up on top of the world and wake up in the morning on the bottom. So you need to really focus and put the effort in and not take anything for granted. And you assume you have a company like Hendrick Motorsports and a driver like Jeff Gordon, no matter how bad you are you should run in the top 20. And we proved that awful wrong last spring when we came here. So I think that was a big piece of the puzzle, let us all look inside ourselves and decide how bad you really wanted it.
JEFF GORDON: Races are won a lot of different ways. And sometimes the fastest car wins. Sometimes the best pit crew gets the win. I mean, in California we came out second and Kenseth won the race, I thought we had the best car, and we came out second and couldn't get by them. You never know how the results would have changed had Carl not had his problems. All I know is our team had a great pit stop. Tony, he was in he came in ahead of us and we went out ahead of him. So we had a good stop. Carl, on the run before that, he was strong, definitely. Earlier in the race I didn't think he was that strong. So they made some good adjustments, got him better. But on the run before that, when Kyle did his three wide in the Turn 1 and was being real aggressive to try to get his back, I had him and the 39 ahead of me, and the car just, again, in traffic just stopped.I just couldn't go anywhere. And just those five, six laps running behind them or the 39, it just killed the buildup of the tires and Carl was able to run down and this time we got clean air right from the start and we were able to just set sail, and I laid down some incredible laps.
These guys, they tightened the car up and we flew. And this car just punches such a big box, it has such a big box, punches such a big hole in the air that the old car, when you got behind somebody, that just made you push. This car, when you're behind somebody, it takes all the down you're pushing, you're loose, you just have no grip. So some guys have got better whether they're better in traffic and behind cars than others. You gotta be able to roll the middle and not get loose. And Carl had that working for him. But he wasn't there. We could speculate and say all kinds of things, would've, could've, should've. But we won the race. That's because we got out front and we had a fast car the first 10, 12 laps of that run. But sometimes when you're that good the beginning of the run you're not as good the latter part of the run, and that's exactly what we showed. Thank goodness it was 25 laps.
Q: Steve, this is a 47 race situation for you, too, you've gone through. You and Chad are good friends. So much good has happened for the 48 team through the years. How have you handled that, having that right next to you with all that success, and is today a day of special meaning because it does end that?
STEVE LETARTE: I think, first, you can look at that two different ways. You can kind of be a little childish about it and get jealous, or you could kind of be a grownup about it and look at all the strength they bring to the company, the direction they've given our team. That's the beauty of having multiple teams that run well, is when you have a superstar or wonder team and you struggle, it's easy to question the cars and pit crew and engines and everything about your company, and it really eliminates the excuses when there's somebody that Chad and I have two offices, they're right next to one another. We have 85 employees that work for both of us. There's nobody else I'd want to beat than the teammate that has the same equipment that we have. And there's nobody else when we have an off day that I love see win. So it's a very unique relationship. It starts with the personalities. Chad and I are very different people and very good friends. I truly believe in my heart that I have a hand in every one of his victories and I truly believe he has a hand in every one of ours. It's hard for people to understand that and I don't think it's very hard to write about and it's a mindset, and we have a true team that fields two cars and some people understand it. Some really don't.
Q: Jeff, you had six finishes, six or better leading up to the win. It really can set a team to sail. Can you talk about how infectious, how contagious is that first win? Are they just going to start popping now?
JEFF GORDON: Who knows for sure. But I can say that because it's like getting that first win out of the way. Every season you're looking for that first win. And you get that one off your back and you can breathe and relax. We've been doing that 47 races now. And so this is a huge relief, but also very exciting. And I think that this team has already shown how strong they are with their consistency and the battles that we've had already, especially in the mile and a half tracks. And if we can win at Texas, I feel like we can win anywhere. So, yeah, I definitely think there's a confidence in everybody that comes out of this from Steve's calls, the engineers, the pit crew, myself. It's just every win just confirms that you've got what it takes. And that's what today's certainly going to do, just like any other one. And this is a great thing for this team, and we really needed not only the bonus points but that win, that victory to keep the momentum going. It's great to be leading the points. But you want to be the guy to beat for the championship. If you're going to win this championship, you've got to show that you're strong, you're consistent and you can win. And this racetrack is in the Chase. So this is a big day.
Q: Jeff, could you describe what happened on the lap 259 restart with Junior in the lead when it looked like he spun his tires and you took the lead at that point?
JEFF GORDON: I didn't see a whole lot of spinning of the tires. I saw Kyle go three wide in Turn 1 and make a gutsy move. He was pretty desperate at that point, because he was, I think, two laps, one or two laps down. So he wasn't getting the lucky dog. So he knew that he had to be aggressive. And we see that out of Kyle a lot. And it paid off for him. But it pushed Junior wide going into 1, and we already had some (indiscernible) on the track from a blown engine or whatever had happened prior to that. So Junior got shoved up there and just took him a while to recover. But I didn't really see any spinning of the tires on the restart. I thought he had a good restart. It's just that obviously came out of nowhere. He just shot up there and there was room for half a car and he made it wide enough for 1. And, like I said, it paid off for him. But it was a big moment that I thought we were going to have a heck of a wreck.
Q: Lee asked the question I wanted to ask, but what was it like driving to Victory Lane here? Did you have any problems trying to find it? Did you need anybody to point it out for you?
JEFF GORDON: Heck, yeah (laughter). It was the coolest. I'm telling you, it's like winning for the very first time. All those emotions and excitement and I wanted to I mean, I've been watching things have changed since I've won a race. It doesn't take long. A season goes by and guys recreate how they celebrate a victory from getting the checkered flag. That's the first time I've ever carried a checkered flag around a race win in NASCAR. Used to do it in Quarter Midgets back when I was about eight. But I've never done that before. But I've been watching these other guys do it. I can't do a back flip, so I'm not going to do that. I did a heck of a good burnout, I thought. So I was proud of that. And I did it so good I blew the rear tires off the car, at least one of them, on the back straightaway. I didn't want those fans back there to miss out on the burnout. And proudly carried that checkered flag. The good thing about these days, you don't have to worry about finding Victory Lane. They'll point you to it. It doesn't matter which direction. You come down Pit Road, you'll find your way there eventually, and we did.
Continued in part 2