NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Bank of America 500
Topics: Bank of America 500
October 13, 2007
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
KERRY THARP: We are going to roll into our winning team tonight, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. Congratulations to this team, Rick Hendrick and crew chief Steve Letarte.
Jeff, talk about your win out there tonight at Lowe's.
JEFF GORDON: Man, I don't know where to start. I'm fired up about this. I mean, I was fired up last week. Now because this is the final, last, duel, and this week, it's Charlotte; I was in here this week and getting asked the questions about, you know, how we haven't run or finished well here in the last several races, and it hasn't been since '99 that we've won, and just all the different obstacles that we had to overcome tonight, it really truly made this one very, very special.
I had my sister here, and in 81 race wins, she's never been to victory lane. She's been there and left and a lot of crazy stories, but to have her and family and friends and to do it here in Charlotte was just really special, and of course, with the championship on the line, every win is so important today.
And my goodness, if you don't win today, you know a guy that you're battling the points with is going to finish ahead of you, either Jimmie or Clint Bowyer; both of those guys are stepping it up, so it's a very special win.
KERRY THARP: Steve, your thoughts about tonight's race.
STEVE LETARTE: I can't say enough about everyone at DuPont Chevrolet. They came over here and we've had good cars the last couple of years over here. We just can't get the monkey off our back. We could never complete 500 miles, self-induced or just trouble. We really focused on this race to come over here and one all 500 miles and be patient. I think Jeff was extremely patient. I think the pit crew battled through a couple of bad stops and really came on strong there at the end and had some good stops when it mattered.
And we were just fortunate. I think the track came to our car a little bit and that last green flag run we were real good. And even after the yellow we were decent, just had a little bit of a fuel; I think everybody was having it, but it ended up working out.
KERRY THARP: This team has been on the entire year now, and as we have five races left in the Chase, definitely looks like a team on a mission. Your thoughts on this 24 team.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I've seen it before and it always had a happy ending. So I hope that we can finish it off, five more races, and just, you know, it's been a real -- Jeff's always done a super job, but he's raced smart all year, and then when it counted. And we've been good every week. That's what you have to do and put the finishes together. I couldn't be more proud of the job that they have done and the way they have clicked.
Q. Jeff, just to make sure of something, you sure did take off pretty good ones Bowyer kind of rammed you in that green and white checker started waving. Any idea why you were overdramatizing your fuel situation in those last cautions?
JEFF GORDON: If I was overdramatizing it, then I wouldn't have lost the lead. I mean, what happened was when that happened, I wanted to be more to the safe side. There's a reason why those guys drove by me on the restart prior to that and I'm really thankful that Kyle, he played it really smart. I think he had a little bit of a problem, too. But he could have run right over in the back of me and spun me out so easy, because I had no power as we went into turn one, and then Newman was smoking by us on that side. I don't think anybody would have touched us had we not had that fuel issue.
You know, on the last one, I just wanted to make -- all I really cared about was not how got tires were or scuffed in or heating. All I cared was about we got a start where the engine didn't set the fuel out of the box there, the pick up tank. And I just ran around the flat
It wasn't that we with are running out of gas. I don't want to you take it the wrong way. When I say I was running out of gas, we were running out of gas because there wasn't enough with the banking running around slow to hold it up in the box inside the tank to where I was trying to scuff the tires, spin the tires. It was just sucking it right out of it or it was draining out into the rest of the tank. So when I ran around there flat, it was to keep as much fuel into the right side of the gas tank as I could. That way on the restart, I have plenty of power and didn't suck it out.
And so it took off great. It took off so good there at the end, I spun the tires all the way to the start/finish line. That's why Bowyer, he was kind of hanging back, and we were playing cat-and-mouse there. And when I took off, I was in trouble and spun the tires terrible. Luckily he hit me, he came to victory lane, said, "Sorry I hit you," and he said, "No, if you had not of hit me, you would have passed me."
Q. A lot of times when people win championships or major golf tournaments, there's a moment that happens that you go, okay, this is ours or we're start of destined to win this. Fred Couples hit a ball at the Masters one year that stuck on the side of a bank and made the ball stop like it had Velcro on it. Is this one of those moments, and do you think if you can pull it out, you can do anything?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, there's too much racing left to go. Just like, you know, we were trying to survive at Talladega and we did, trying to get a win, we were trying to survive tonight. Our goal coming into it was to get to the end, 500 miles. I think we felt like if we could get 500 miles, we would have a Top-5 car. But you know, there's no doubt that this team has an amazing chemistry about it. We have some great things that are going our way. You know, call it luck, karma, whatever you want to call it. There's some great things happening, but there's still five races to go and all that has to continue in order for us to get this championship.
So, you know, those types of things that take you out of it can happen at any time, and we don't take that for granted. We know we've got to approach next week or going track to track to track; we are going to Martinsville with the same attitude, same game plan to come out of there with a strong consistent finish. We are not going there saying, this is our place to get another win. We just want to go there and keep doing what we've been doing and stay consistent.
Q. This is kind of a small matter, but I don't know if you remember, on lap 83, I think it was, you came up on Dale Junior and gave him kind of a shove, he got loose and then you scooted past. I just didn't understand the sequence of events, whether he had done something to or the of irk you or that was just what you needed to do at that moment.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, no, I figured you guys would pick up on that. No, what happened, he had been running that high line, and he's just got this tremendous momentum up there on top, but it took a long time to come in.
So I was closing on him and it was only a few laps after the restart and I was on the bottom. And so I drove into turn three, and he had been running the high line and he drove right down to the bottom right in front of me and so I carried the speed in there, and my car worked so good on the bottom, and his car obviously didn't, because I went to the throttle and he was like still on the brakes.
And I wasn't trying to move him out of the way. I was going to try to get as much momentum as I could. But when I bumped hip, I was like, oops. Then I was able to get by him. You know, that's all it was.
Q. Jeff, congratulations on your win tonight, but I know you won -- the way the win transpired, the way you worked your way and the race played out tonight did, that play out exactly as you were laying it out, or did your strategy towards the end give you the opportunity to be in the right position to get this win tonight?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, we pretty much scripted that one three or four days ago. (Laughter) I mean, come on.
No, you can't. You never know how races are going to unwind. You can't lay out any set plan. You need to ask Steve. He's a game planner and he's a guy who makes the calls up there, asking about two tires, four tires, gas and goes. I just do my best to try to give races away here at the end in Charlotte and still pull it off.
You want to talk about the strategy and what your game plan was and how you had that all figured out?
STEVE LETARTE: It worked good until the yellow came out after the green flag run. It's no secret when you come to these mile-and-a-half tracks, especially with a hard tire and really grippy asphalt, it's a game of cat-and-mouse and when you're going to take how many tires and when you're going to stay out.
We played conservative for the first 150 laps. I put the poor guy here in a bunch of bad positions because he kept giving up track position with poor tires. And we didn't want to show our hand; and you take a risk every time you put four tires on for flat tires.
We cruised around for half the race and had we saw how other people had done. And we had a goal from 100 laps in, we had a strategy from there, we never took four the rest of the night. We took lefts, we took rights, and it worked out; the car was the best at the end. The green flag run I think said it all. If the yellows did not come out, it was going to be an uneventful night. And seems what always happens at Charlotte, the yellows started falling and we got a lot of story lines.
Q. I'm going to go way past the Chase on this one. Your next couple victories you're going to go by some Mt. Rushmore-like names in NASCAR racing. Do you have 25 more wins left you, because that puts you past Pearson.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, he does.
JEFF GORDON: I'm really trying to savor and enjoy this one right now. I just told Rick when I sat down here, I don't know how we ever got to 81. That's an incredible number and an incredible accomplishment and I'm very proud of that. I'm not even thinking about 82 now. So you're going to have ask me that -- hold on that to that question until we can talk about it a little more.
Do I have 25 left in me? I don't know. A couple years ago, I didn't think I had any left in me. So right now, we're just having one of those spectacular seasons. We're just going to try to finish it out and see what we get, and next year is a whole new season. Who knows?
Q. For any of you three, have you ever seen three races in a row that have finished that strange, and has this been by far the strangest Chase we've had?
STEVE LETARTE: I don't know about the strangest Chase. I think they all have their different story lines. Last year everyone ruled Jimmie Johnson had and he had I don't know how many top twos to win it.
But I never assume I've seen the strangest race ever. This sport throws curveballs at you left and right. I can think back in the late 90s, if it can happen, it happened for different people. I mean, Dale Earnhardt cut a tire on the last lap of the Daytona 500, was a pretty strange finish.
I think that's why there's such a distance; it's 500 miles, when you come into it, you have to run all 500 miles, and that's been our motto here lately. I think that's what got us behind in some races this year is maybe we got a little lax before we got to the end, me especially, got off my game and my pit strategy. So we try to finish them. It's one thing to take the lead and it's another thing to finish the game. That's what we're trying to do week-in, week-out.
Q. After the restart, you had Ryan Newman fly by you; you had Kyle Busch behind you; Clint Bowyer behind you; you thought you were running out of gas. To be able to make it through all that, what role does your experience in the series and being a four-time champion play in being able to make it past all that stuff?
JEFF GORDON: Zero. I mean, you don't -- experience, talent, whatever; none of that plays a role at that point. At that point, I drove into turn one, and, you know, I had my foot flat to the floor and it was as if somebody shut the switch off on the engine. And I knew -- I had a pretty good idea that it was going to come back.
You know, we've had this happen before. There are several times when you get late in the race and you stretch it out and you're not low on fuel or you're going to run out; you're low on getting enough for the pick up. And the pump is trying to suck so much out and it's just not enough volume; sometimes it gravitates in there.
So we've had it happen before, it's been a long time, and you know, I guess I just wasn't -- knew enough about it to run around the apron prior to that. I wish I would have done that on the restart because I don't think we would have lost the lead. I thought we would be okay.
But you know, so the other experience maybe was that it's happened before, and I knew it was going to come back eventually. I just hoped in the middle of the corner when I got into the corner, enough fuel would start to get to the right side of the tank and it was finally starting to pick it up, which it did. I went in there and saw my mirror where the five was right on me and I was just waiting for him to hit me because -- not that you know, I expected him to hit me. It's just he thought I was going to be going.
And when it wasn't going, you know, I just thought that for sure somebody was going to stack it up or me stack it up and they were going to get the back of me. I tried to move up a little bit and that's when he got underneath me and the 12 just blew by on the outside, and I was just like, "Come on fuel, come back, please." And it came back and all the way down the back straight.
I'm just looking to fuel pressure and it's just sitting there hovering on six, seven pounds, which is not very much. And I'm like, is this thing running out, or is it going to come back, what's it going to do? I went through the next corner and it was fine and just that was it. I was just like, well, hopefully it lasts until the end. That's all I could do.
Q. (No microphone.)
JEFF GORDON: I wasn't really focused on that. I was just focused on, "Please come back, fuel." I just wanted it to come back as soon as possible. Because I was telling them on the caution, "This thing is running out of fuel, it's running out of fuel."
And Steve told me, "It's not running out of fuel. You've got plenty of fuel." And we talked about what to do, and we just didn't talk enough about, I guess I came on kind of late about it. I didn't do much down the back straightaway. I thought enough of it would stay there in the back straightaway, but it just was running out in turns three and four. NASCAR doesn't like me running around the apron there coming into the last restart, but I wasn't taking a chance. Luckily enough, it finally worked out.
Q. When you crossed the finish line, you made reference to a horseshoe in human anatomy. I'm not trying to get you to jinx yourself here, but the things that have happened, the birth of your daughter and passing Earnhardt on the wins list and the races like here, Darlington, Pocono, is it hard not to feel like this is your year; that for some reason, whatever reason, all of these things are happening for a reason?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm going to tell you right now, I don't care what happens with the championship, this is my year, just because I'm being a father. And even with the wins that we've had so far and the kind of year on and off the racetrack for me personally, it's just been the most incredible year.
You know, I hope more than anything that we can, you know, seal that off with a championship because, you know, it would be just one of those dream years that I don't think I could ever even touch ever again; even better than '98 and the 13 wins in the championship.
So you know, it's kind of hard to put into words and perspective, and you know, I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe that you've got to work hard to put yourself in good position to make good things happen. You know, you've got to have good karma and there's a lot of factors that play into why the chemistry of a team and certain people, you know, make special things happen; why it's some people one year and not the next. I don't have all the answers to it but whatever we're doing, we're going to keep doing it and see what happens
Q. I wanted to ask you about Clint Bowyer, how surprised are you that he's a guy in the hunt at this point, and what has he shown you in 68 career Cup races that tells you he's a guy that's going to challenge you for the title?
JEFF GORDON: Well, he's incredible. He's impressing a lot of people right now. To me, when you're going to measure a driver's talent and abilities and what they are really capable of, it's about people that are consistent, No. 1, that can run good in a lot of different types of tracks. And one of the things that he's been very good at this year is being consistent. Maybe he wasn't spectacular before this Chase started, but he's very consistent; zero DNF's, you've got to be impressed with that, regardless whether they have a failure or not a failure, just him on his own just being able to stay out of trouble.
To me a real key to one of the top drivers is when the moment comes, when the Chase for the championship is on the line, is are you capable of stepping it up. And we see it every year, you know, guys step it up, take it to the next level, and they are the guys to beat, and he's doing that. You know, it's impressive.
Q. Wonder if you could just briefly speak about Kyle Busch, the fact that he's obviously a lame duck driver, and the way he's handled himself in the Chase and the way he's held his emotions in check in the last few Chase races, would you speak about him?
RICK HENDRICK: I'm really proud of Kyle. I think that you've seen that he could easily have had an attitude or lost focus, but I think he and Alan and the whole team have really stepped it up.
I don't know that I've ever seen a situation in my 25 years where, you know, a guy knew he was going somewhere else, and has stayed focused and determined to do the best he can. It's been real impressive what he's done. I'm real proud of he and Alan both. They have had some bad luck the two races they were taken out of that were not his fault. He didn't do anything; he was just a victim. He put those points back on the table to me right there. I think he's done a great job, and coming to victory lane, the way he handled the end of this race tonight shows a lot of maturity in Kyle.
Q. How much of this win was preparation and how much of this win was would be tonight?
STEVE LETARTE: We make our own luck. These races are so long, that really you say it's bad luck or it's good luck, but I truly believe that some of that exists and as Mr. Hendrick was just speaking with Kyle, he's had some bad luck, but at the same time, you have to be up front and I think that's what we did today. I think preparation is 95 percent of it. There's just a little bit out there that you need a little help with, and we've definitely been getting the breaks going our way this year. But you can't win from fifth are and you can't win from tenth. You have to be up there when the chips fall.
JEFF GORDON: Steve and I have the same philosophy on this. I believe that you make a lot of your luck. Honestly, I don't even know if I believe in luck. I think that there's a lot of things that factor in having things go your way. And you can call it whatever you want to call it. Some people call it luck.
To me, things don't just happen just because they just fall in your lap. You have to work hard and you have to work together as a team and you have to be well prepared, as Steve said, you have to put yourself in those positions for things to go your way. You know, we've done a good job of that this year, and you know, certainly did a great job of that tonight.
And trust me, that philosophy that I have, you know, I had to question it myself several times tonight when I thought we were giving it away. But you know, I think that it was our night to win and we showed we had the car. Obviously the results speak for itself. But you know, I think that it was crazy that the 12 had his trouble, and I thought it was crazy that we had the trouble that we had, too. So, who knows.
Q. Rick, you were talking about Kyle a minute ago; how confident were you that Kyle would heed your request after the red flag, and would you have done that had it been Jimmie or Kasey running second rather than Kyle?
RICK HENDRICK: Absolutely I would have done that no matter who it was. I think in racing and it comes down between two cars and there's a caution, I believe if you just come on the radio and tell them to think about it and look at the big picture, not just the Chase, but what's made the organization what it is today, working together; think about it.
And Jeff and I talked on the radio and Kyle got there; he was not going to try to block him. You know, if he was better than Jeff, they were not going to wreck, I was not going to try to wreck keeping him back there. It was to Kyle to just think. You know, good to see Steve and Alan together, and the momentum the organization has right now can only be destroyed from inside, not from outside. I believe the guys all know that, and they are using their heads.
Q. When you come off a corner like that and you see the guy who just passed you go into the wall, do you think what in the world is going on here; and did the All-Star race with Mark Martin ever flash in your mind --
JEFF GORDON: I mean, anything's possible. I mean, I've got to admit, I think Steve knows by the tone of my voice when I ask if this thing is out of fuel that, you know, I was questioning whether we got it all in there; or whether it was picking up all that was in there. You know, all you can do is hope that you know in those situations, that you make it to the finish.
When that happened, I was made, I was frustrated, but we got that going. I was going to try to run the 12 back down. He was pushing really hard, and you know, I had a good car that was certainly as fast or faster than him. But being behind him, I didn't have a car that could pass him, and I was pretty much getting myself prepared for second.
I was looking into my mirror to see what was happening behind me and looked like we in good shape there and I guess you were thinking at that point, that, well, at least it's not a guy that you're battling with in the championship and that you can still come out here with a good points day. You know, and then his car broke loose and that was it. I couldn't believe it but at the same time, I was like, don't get caught up in it. I didn't know if he was going to come back down the track, come up the wall and comeback down; I didn't know what was going to happen.
So as much as I was in disbelief that it was happening, I was also thinking to stay out of it and not get caught up in it myself. And also, if there was something on the track, I didn't want to lose control of my car, too, with the oil that we had. It was a crazy chain of events and I guess I'm kind of blown away that it was happening. Probably like he was when I was running out of gas and he ran by me.
Q. Scott said -- inaudible -- could that have been part of your problem, too?
STEVE LETARTE: I mean, absolutely. When you sit on the red flag, it heat up everything on the hood, the carburetor, we have some pressure regulator and other issues, when they get too hot -- I think we definitely need to look into it. Times are changed, you're not allowed to change pickup in your fuel cell. You're allowed to run two brands, and they are basically the same design and there's a lot of parts in the fuel system that they have taken out of our hands.
I think it just goes back to a lot of what we talked about. If we would have lost the race because of that, it's because I don't think Jeff and I did a good enough job of where we were at and we could have fixed it. Whether there was something under the hood or not, I'll leave that to Scott and Max and those guys in the engine room. They have done a phenomenal job, but I don't believe that's what it is. I think it's just plain not enough gas to ride on the bank at 60 miles an hour.
Q. First of all, do you really grasp your place in history? There's only five guys that have won more times than you. That's insane. Secondly, do you remember them all? And where the hell are all those trophies?
JEFF GORDON: I'd like to know the same thing. We've got quite a selection at Hendrick Motorsports, when we built that shop, I wanted to have every single trophy displayed of our wins as we hopefully accumulate trophies with the 48 team, which we have that, we would be able to display them all. I'm not sure if that display area has been made big enough. So that's a great problem to have.
You know, I really have a hard time sitting and thinking about my place and the number of wins. When you race 38 weeks out of the year, you don't have time to think about it.
Now, when the off-season comes, I usually get a chance to reflect on the season, my career. And once you take a breath and just kind of let it all out and hang out somewhere quiet with your friends and family, then that to me brings -- especially with my mom and my stepfather, because they have been there through, you know, many, many wins beyond NEXTEL Cup. It's just incredible. Even beyond NEXTEL Cup, the stuff that we did, Sprint cars, midgets, quarter midgets, go-karts, it's just mind-boggling.
This stuff has been going on in my life since I was six or seven years old. So I look forward to that day when I always say I'm going to be sitting on a rocking chair on a porch somewhere and be able to think about it and reflect. There's going to be a lot to remember, that's for sure.
Q. It's been a long time since you won here at Charlotte.
JEFF GORDON: I know, I've been reminded of it a lot lately.
Q. Can you talk about what it means to win here for the first time since 1999?
JEFF GORDON: Well, one, this has always been one of my favorite tracks. I love this track. In 1994 to 1999, you know, I'm not saying we own this place, but we were strong. We were solid. We came to Charlotte going, yeah, sitting on poles, running up front, winning races. Somewhere along the way that, just kind of came to a halt. I want to say that, you know, it seemed like a couple of years ago, from a performance standpoint, we were really able to step it up.
And I think Jimmie and Chad and those guys, their performance helped us, too. When you see them run that well, and finish like they have here, it elevates the whole organization, and it elevated up our game, too, to know that we're capable of doing this; we know what tools are there to do it. And I either have got to work with my driving or we've got massage our cars and our setups or whatever it is, and we've started running good, and that's half the battle. But just running good doesn't make it turn around, and for whatever reason, we just haven't been able to get to the finish several races here.
And I didn't do anything different tonight than I've been doing the last several races. You know, it kind of went our way and worked out
Q. Can you talk about the impact of putting Tony Stewart down 198 points now with five races left, and nobody else really getting back in the hunt and is a three- or four-guy Chase a little easier to deal with than a seven- or eight-guy?
JEFF GORDON: I'm going to say the same thing I said other day about Tony. I don't care, until he's mathematically out of it, that guy is a threat, a major threat. He can win any track, any time. They are a solid, strong team, and so I never count him out. I just know how good he is and how good that team is.
You know, it doesn't change my -- sure, I'm comfortable with where he's at but I'm not going to take that for granted. The good thing is that it's tight enough with the three of us, it's pushing us to do our job. We're not protecting or playing conservative. Yeah, we've got to be smart but we have to go and race and race hard; these guys are competitive. I'm glad with that because it doesn't change our game plan or make us think it out too much.
You know, the thing that makes a Chase so difficult to be a part of and to be competitive in is that you're battling 11 other guys. And any time you're battling 11 other guys, the chances of you winning it are that much slimmer.
As soon as you start eliminating or pushing those guys outside the box a ways, certainly it makes it a little more comfortable, a little bit easier. But doesn't matter, you've still got to beat our for five of them, and right now, you know, that's the way I'm looking at it.
Q. I remember Jeff Gordon winning Chases --
JEFF GORDON: Really? I've never won the Chase.
Q. Championships. But Mr. Hendrick, do you see anything different in Jeff this time around as he heads into the final races?
RICK HENDRICK: I think I see a real happy Jeff Gordon. I think that his life outside of racing is probably the best it's ever been, especially with his little girl. But he's always been competitive.
I think if you go back and look at times when he was struggling, he carried the team for several years there when we were just really not organized enough and we were not giving him the equipment. I've never seen a time in his tenure with me and Motorsports that it's been Jeff Gordon that wasn't getting the job done. We were short on equipment or we just weren't giving him his stuff.
I think Steve, the chemistry there; Steve waited a year, could have been a crew chief earlier, to wait for Jeff Gordon, and that chemistry has been unbelievable. You know, when you get him right, he can get it done; he and Steve are a good combination. He, in my mind, have never seen him where he was short in any way.
JEFF GORDON: I'm short.
RICK HENDRICK: He is short. (Laughter) But not behind the wheel.
Q. How do you balance the fact that you've got one championship-caliber team up here, guys that are real happy and have won the race and doing well in the Chase and you have another team that won the championship last year that wound up in the wall and finished 14th. When you're in the shop together on Monday, how do you keep everybody on an even keel, and just as importantly, how do you keep your stomach from eating you alive when you see one of those?
RICK HENDRICK: I can answer the last part real well. It eats me alive, because you want to see everybody do well. The good news and bad news is they are racing each other right now for the championship, so you hate to see anybody have bad luck, but somebody's got to come out on top.
The fact that the two cars are in the same shop and most of the guys work on all of the cars, so the road crews are separate and the crew chiefs are separate, but that's a real tight group. The road crews surely they don't feel as good as the road crew on the 24 does.
But each team, is incentivized every time we have a win. I think we have all seen the success of meeting together, drivers and crew chiefs meeting after practice exchanging information, and we've seen it makes us better. It's tough Sunday night and the next couple of days, but I think it fires up the competition. It's not easy.
But I think the guy that finishes second -- I know Jeff and I, when he comes to New York and he's not on that stage, he's going to have fire in his eyes for next year and I think that works with all of the teams. I think, too, the guys know that the stuff's there, and we just have got to come out and race harder. I think it's going to be a good finish here, but it's tough. It's tough when that caution came out and seeing two cars line up like that. So you just have to deal with it, but that's part of it.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, guys. Congratulations, and we'll see you in Martinsville.
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