NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Toyota/Save Mart 350
Topics: Toyota/Save Mart 350
June 22, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Our third place finisher driver number 24 DuPont Chevrolet Jeff Gordon, this is Jeff's 7th Top-5 of the season and he has now moved up to sixth in the points. Jeff, if you could just go ahead and start off by telling us about the race today.
JEFF GORDON: Well, it was a hard-fought race for sure, for everybody, but definitely for the DuPont Chevrolet. We started off and the car took off pretty good there. Got a couple spots, and then I knew we were in trouble, really started losing the back end off the corners, and a lot of wheel spin and we just had to fade.
There was just nothing I could do. I couldn't hold the guys off that were coming behind me, and you know, luckily the cautions fell at the right time for us; that the first caution, you know, we needed to make adjustments and get it in and get four tires and we did that. Steve made some good adjustments and at that point we needed a long green flag run and we got there and made up some spots.
Then the next caution came and we were sitting on pit road, so you can't ask for things to go better than that, really, for what kind of day we started with. You know, we were making spots out, we were going to be sixth, seventh, something like that, and of course all that action in turn seven with the 29, 6, 20, I don't know how the 01 got in, he was in front of me and he got in low and I was in high and I never saw him again and it certainly worked out for a bunch of us to make up some spots.
I don't know if we had anything for those guys. You know, the first restart, we were slipping and sliding and those guys pulled away from me, but thought I might have a shot at Kyle and then that last caution, oh, my goodness, there was so much speed -- I don't know if I've ever had tougher conditions to run the last two laps of a race than that.
Of course, I had Clint Bowyer behind me, the dirt track specialist. So I was having to show him some of my track skills, too, because we were all sliding.
One time I thought Kyle was going off, it looked like he got in there a little hot and got real side ways and I thought he was going off and then the 38 got real sideways, as well, and over shot 11, and I just -- you just couldn't do anything. You were just tiptoeing around the last two laps, so I couldn't make any moves.
So I just wanted to finish, and glad we finished third.
Q. Do you walk away from here happy that you're third, or disappointed at a track you've won five times?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm disappointed the way we started the race. I really thought yesterday we were going to be good on the long runs and instead, we were not.
You know, I thought of all places that this would be the last one that we would really need to work that much on, but I don't know, after today, I hope we don't test at VIR any more, because that seemed to just absolutely put us into another la-la land. We just were not even close for out here.
Yeah, I've got to go back and look. I thought Goodyear changed the tire, and even -- but maybe I'm wrong. I'm not sure. But we're trying to just continue to go faster and faster, and we know we have to keep up and we have to try new things, and keep pushing the limits, but it doesn't seem like we're really, you know, going in the right direction.
So I feel very fortunate that we finished third today. Things really went our way to get that third. You know, when we've won out here in the past, we didn't need things to go our way; we were good enough to make up for some of that. Today, we weren't.
You know, we weren't bad there at the end, but we still didn't have a car really capable of -- I want to have the fastest car, and it's been a little while since we've had that; Martinsville, actually.
Q. Kyle has gotten really good on the road courses without a lot of background, and you did the same thing coming from primarily oval tracks. What clicks for a driver when they don't have road course experience and they take these facilities like he does, and what does it say about him and the patience he can have on a course like this?
JEFF GORDON: I'm really impressed with Kyle, because I've been around him and I don't think he's a very good road racer. I'm kind of shocked, actually, because I was really bad one time and he went by me at the beginning, and he wasn't much better than I was and he was out of control.
You know, I think that you've got to give that guy a lot of credit for his talent, because to be able to get the car up front and maintain that position; and if you keep it on the racetrack all day, then you get credit from me, and I would not have bet on him keeping it on the track all day today after watching him over the weekend and watching him in front of me that one time when he went by me.
You know, obviously he's maturing and he's learning, and that's what it's going to take for him to maintain that points lead and be a factor and continue to win these races.
You know, if he can win here, it's going to boost his confidence; he's going to think he can win anywhere. He might be able to.
THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by our runner-up David Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 freecreditrecord.com Ford. David is a California native, and this is your best finish in the Cup Series. Tell us about the race from your perspective.
DAVID GILLILAND: We hit on some stuff there late in happy hour that just made the car drive really, really good. And I told my crew chief, this is what we need to be able to stay on the racetrack all day, not make a mistake, and it was fast. So that's a combination for a good day, and then it was kind of in my hands to not make a mistake and that's harder than it sounds here.
Just real proud of all the guys, freecreditreport.com and our sponsors, and real proud of Yates Racing. From where we were last year to, these 16 races or however far we are now, I mean, it's 180 degrees from where it was, and I think it still has the potential to get better.
So real proud of that and being proud of being part of that.
Q. You said you made some adjustments through the race that made you stronger; can you elaborate?
JEFF GORDON: I'm not exactly sure. I know we made some air pressure adjustments, which really hurt the car on the short runs, but so I'm guessing they probably dropped the air pressure. Steve probably felt like we started a little bit high, and maybe that's why it faded so much on that first run.
But I heard him calling -- I had some problems being able to hear my radio. I could hear my spotter but couldn't really hear anybody else, so I'm not really sure what adjustments. I was just trying to give him the information of what I was fighting. Once you get out there in the race, it's really hard to fix what you have, but we did make it better on the long run where is I just had a little bit more drive-off and grip.
Q. Dave, what did you think when you had Jeff right in your rear-view mirror breathing down your neck?
DAVID GILLILAND: It's not a comfortable feeling, I'll tell you that. I grew up coming here, and so I wasn't really surprised about having him back there for sure.
JEFF GORDON: You didn't have anything to worry about, trust me.
DAVID GILLILAND: Our car was pretty good. On the restart before the last one, I got away from Jeff a little bit going up the hill, and so that made me a little more comfortable on the second one. But it was super-slick the last lap as far as challenging for the lead. It was everything I could do just to stay on the racetrack. It was wild back there. It was incredible.
JEFF GORDON: You were up there.
DAVID GILLILAND: Yeah, up there; back there. (Laughter).
Q. And for Jeff, you've driven here many times, was this the most treacherous you've ever seen the track out there?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, it was definitely challenging for us. That first run, I really, it was the first time I had been here and just trying to make laps and not go off the racetrack. I was having that much trouble in the braking zones.
I was locking up tires coming off the corners and I was swinging the back end out and that's why I lost so many spots; I was just trying to keep it on the racetrack.
But those last two laps, no doubt about it were the toughest laps I've ever made, possibly anywhere. I mean, this track has it's challenges already; the elevations, the curves, left, right, and when you take this big, heavy car like that and try to change directions on the track that just really has no grip from all the debris and Speedy Dry and fluids or whatever down there, I was actually kind of doing what Dave was doing.
I was watching my mirror and watching those guys see how much they slid through the corner and trying to judge my speed in there based on them and like I said, David, he slid around and I was like, oh, I might be able to get him and he got in 11 too deep and there was nothing I could do. I just could not push and try to gain any speed, or I was going to spin out, too.
I knew at that point, it was whether those guys made a mistake or I made a mistake and I just wanted to be as clean as I could on those last laps.
Q. As you were kind of at the beginning slipping back and slipping back, in the press box you were saying stuff like I've got the worst car out here and maybe you even through an f-bomb out there.
JEFF GORDON: I threw many f-bombs out there. (Laughter).
Q. How frustrating --
JEFF GORDON: I don't know if I said I had the worst car out here but I definitely was frustrated. You know, when you're fading like that and you start in the Top-5 and you actually get -- I think we were fourth at one time, and you know, you just start going backwards like that; I wish I didn't have a radio, because I don't want to push the button and say those things.
I don't know, it's just you're trying to relay your frustration back to the team but at the same time there's nothing they can do until you come to the next caution. It's been an up-and-down year, and you know, we've been able to pull these Top-5s out like this and not have great cars, and we're just working way, way, too hard for these types of finishes.
When the car is right, our team is unbelievable. Our pit stops, Steve Letarte, we are just not getting the handling on the car. I know what it should feel like to go fast, and especially if it's anywhere, it's here. Other than California Speedway at the beginning of the year and Martinsville, I feel like we have not been very close; yet you look at where we are in the points and it shows what kind of team we are.
So you know, frustrated with that, and we've got some work to do. I was frustrated, too, because my teammate was out there leading. I was like, man, you know, what am I doing wrong and then he faded as well and then they had some trouble. I was like, okay, well, maybe that clean air he had was just really huge and making up for a lot of things. And I think it was. I think that clean air made a big difference, even on a road course.
Q. There were three restarts in the last 11 or 12 laps, it appeared that Kyle had no problem pulling away; was he doing something with his restarts or was he just that much faster?
DAVID GILLILAND: It was just, you know, with the restarts, our first gear was pretty high so it was hard to get going. You know when you're leading the race and you have control and you can go when you want, it's hard to time it, especially with the first gear as high as it was; for me, it was.
And then the tires want to spin, it's hard to get -- you gather so much stuff on the tires under caution here, there was so much stuff on the racetrack today that it made it difficult.
That was what I was struggling with.
JEFF GORDON: That second to last one, you had a run on him. It looked to me like you really got off turn four good. I just could restart plenty could; just once I got up into the turns, I wasn't that good.
I saw David, he really, really got a good restart that second to last one, and he got off four good. He wasn't able to really get inside of Kyle, but it looked like he might be able to pressure him and maybe force him to make a mistake.
And I was just kind of watching, seeing if either one of them made a mistake because that's kind of all I had where we were in third spot.
Q. As a four-time champion how do you respond when your crew chief says nothing but I'm lost; and with what the tires were doing today, everybody out there said, you know, everything was sticking to them; did you see any trends that might have pointed to this on Friday or Saturday before all of this happened?
JEFF GORDON: The race is always different. To your first question, you know, trust me, I've been racing long enough that I've been lost many times, and so has my crew chief, and those are things that just happened.
You know, you have to work through it, and I'm just wondering, you know, if we're working in the right direction, because I don't feel like we are. I don't feel like we're getting better and I want to and he wants to, and nobody is working harder. I believe in our team and in our organization 100%. We know what our teammates have. We know what we're dealing with.
You know, I feel like as a whole, we're getting beat, and I feel like our team is -- and I'm just talking just the speed of the cars, because the effort we are putting out and the communication and the team work and the pit stops, those are all phenomenal. But we've got to go faster.
So we are testing in Kentucky this week and shoot, we'll probably be testing next week somewhere, who knows. This is the year of testing because we know we've got to get better.
As far as the tires, I mean, I do know that this is the first year that we've ever tested with the Sonoma tire at VIR and I've never gone off-course at VIR in the six years we've been testing there; I went off in the first two times out.
Second lap, I went off, went back out there; first lap I went off and I had to readjust everything. The grip level was just that much different and it was all in the braking zones and that's what I struggled with all weekend was getting in the braking zones. Qualifying, we had a potential pole run and the whole car is hopping and sliding, and I've never had to deal with that before.
Last year, I thought we weren't the best car but we were the second best car. I don't know what's going on as far as picking up stuff, I don't know what you're talking about.
Q. Like on the fourth caution, Kyle Busch said, I think I have a flat tire, that was the sensation that he was giving.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, the first gear -- David talked about it -- it lugs down so much, it's really hard to clean the tires up. Plus, we are all trying to save fuel, running without the engines; we are just coasting around and you pick up things and can't clean them off.
I actually asked NASCAR if they would increase the pace car speed today yesterday. They did it five miles per hour, and I was thankful for them doing that because I always had trouble trying to get any debris off the tires, and I didn't think that was anything uncommon.
Q. Can you talk about how maybe your familiarity with this course helped you compensate and stay in contention, and how many more trips do you think you have in you to come here?
JEFF GORDON: More trips? I've been coming here for a long time. I love this place.
Shoot, I look forward to being up in the chalet area and watching the race one day. I think I'll come out here when we're not racing one day.
You know what, it doesn't matter how familiar you are with the course. I go about it the same way every year. I want to stay on course and I want to make as few mistakes as possible and work on the car to make it go fast. That's what we did this year. I thought we were going to be better than we were. Maybe it was because we were not in the clean air, I don't know, but the track is a tough track. You can't over-drive this track, and this is the year that we missed it at the start of the race.
I think because of maybe the familiarity, I did know what they needed and Steve made some good adjustments and we got it back. We just were not tight enough on the long runs, so we needed to be able to get to the long -- end of those green flag runs because we were just fading and luckily we had some long green flags to get it back.
Q. Talk me through that final restart. How much of it were you worrying about catching Kyle, as opposed to dealing with Jeff?
DAVID GILLILAND: Obviously I wanted to catch Kyle, but once I got up to turn four, I quit worrying about that and focused on keeping my car on the racetrack.
We went through there once and I thought, well, the next lap is probably going to be better because there's 40 cars gone through there and the last lap, it was every bit as slippery as the first lap going through there.
You know it was everything could I do to keep my car on the racetrack at that point, and Kyle was sliding around, I was, Jeff was, and so it was a handful. You know, obviously the restart before that, like Jeff said, I got a good run on Kyle and I was able to apply a little bit of pressure to him and just hoping he would make a mistake.
That's the toughest thing I've learned about this racetrack that I've learned and my dad told me, is race the racetrack. And you can see it out in the races, or out in the track. You'll catch someone and just apply a little pressure and they will start locking up the brake here, locking it up there, and overdriving it here, and pretty soon they have two wheels off the racetrack. You just have to race the racetrack, and after I went through turn three and four up there, I just basically focused on that and trying to keep Jeff behind me.
Q. Talk about your strategy today, how you think it worked out, and did you think you were close to running out of fuel at the end?
DAVID GILLILAND: No. Our strategy was pretty good. We've done a lot of road course testing to try and get our fuel mileage the best we can, and you know, the cautions fell right for us today, too. It put us in a position to be able to run in the top six or seven there, and we were able to stay up there. Our car was good enough to stay up there, which is good.
So I think for the last 80 percent of the race, we were up there. It's good, when you're back in the back, there's a lot more stuff that happens and you take more chances coming up through there. Our fuel mileage was good. I was conserving fuel up until we had those last couple cautions and my crew chief just said go ahead and go and give it all you've got.
Q. Have you ever seen an incident like the one with Harvick, McMurray and Stewart?
JEFF GORDON: Every time I've come to Sonoma. Usually it happens in turn 11, though, and it did happen there, too.
You know, I didn't get a real good view of it. I just saw where Tony got a run on the 26, and then it looked like Kevin started applying some pressure and he got off of turn four really good, and --
DAVID GILLILAND: That's when he passed me.
JEFF GORDON: And he dove in there and he was going in there hot, and I don't know if he just got too low or what but I just saw the back end starting to come around. So I'm guessing he got in there hot and downshifted trying to make the turn and he wasn't going to make it.
I know that had they started -- he hit one of them or two of them and they started spinning, and I came around right on the inside, and then the 20 spinning, too, I was like, how did he get involved, I didn't think he was anywhere near it.
And like I said, the 01 was in front of me and he didn't even spin out and he got into the whole thing.
So I haven't seen one quite like that, but I've seen incidents like that similar to that many times.
DAVID GILLILAND: It was tough. Personally I had to -- as the run went on and you burned the fuel off, my rear brakes kept wanting to wheel hop a little bit and so as the run went on I had to keep adjusting my brake bias to the front a little bit but it can happen. Every lap you're on the edge and keeping your brake balance the best you can, as close as you can so you can stop the best.
But you know, that's something that helped me is adjusting my brake bias. I wheel-hopped there probably four times today, and luckily I wasn't on the inside of somebody or whatever to cause an accident.
Q. Not to take anything away from a strong run today but these are friendly confines for you; do you feel like you're making steady progress toward being competitive, really competitive at the bread and butter tracks?
DAVID GILLILAND: Absolutely. That's why we go to the racetrack each week. We're working hard at it. It's not easy, I'll tell you that. It's a challenge each and every week, but definitely, I mean, you know, I feel like we definitely made an improvement on the mile-and-a-half stuff. Our short-track stuff has been much better than it was last year. Richmond we had the best car we had and were in the Top-10 and got involved in an accident.
Had a bit of bad luck, but definitely I feel like our performance has improved 90 percent from what it was last year. Our cars are much better and you talk to people and they say, you know, you're just learning, experience, but you don't really learn anything driving a car that shouldn't even be on the racetrack.
So I'm having to relearn a lot of things this year and running up in the front with guys like Jeff Gordon, you know, you've got to earn that respect and that goes a long ways.
It's just a steady process that we are chipping away at.
Q. You mentioned it's been a disappointing season for you, but you moved up three spots today and you're still sixth place in points; just talk about that a little bit.
JEFF GORDON: I keep trying to separate the frustration and the up-and-down, because as a team, we're performing unbelievable. And to me, I really do treat it as two different things, they are trying to make the race car -- and this is a part of the team, trying to make the cars go fast.
And then there's the effort that the team puts in when the race begins, of fighting through every hurdle that comes your way, and in dealing with adjustments and pit strategy and in working together as a team to get the best finish, and in that sense, I think we are one of the best out there.
But it is very frustrating that the cars were so good last year, and this year, you know, we're just not where we need to be. Yeah, it's frustrating. I know that Hendrick Motorsports has the resources and I still feel like I have what it takes, and I know my team does.
You know, it's been frustrating at times because when you don't have the cars running the way you want them to, you know, everybody starts to lose their confidence. The team does, you do, and it only takes a few little things to click, and all of a sudden, you're right back there and that's what we constantly have to remind ourselves, and that's why we're working hard and that's why we're testing.
It's not fun and not what I want to do and not what the team wants to do, but it's necessary and what we have to do to stay competitive.
We are very happy to be where we are in the points, feel pretty blessed, really to be honest with you to be where we are in the points because I can't necessarily say that it's been from being awesome-fast. It's been, you know, just a total team effort.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot for your time today.
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