NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 500
Topics: Auto Club 500
February 22, 2009
KERRY THARP: We have our race runner-up, Jeff Gordon.
Jeff, you certainly had a fast car. You put on a great show out there. I know you got to have some confidence building right now after the past couple weekends.
JEFF GORDON: Oh, man, do we ever. I'm so excited about this race team right now. I just think we're head and shoulders above where we were. I know it's just a couple races in and this is one race.
I love the way the car was driving. To be able to battle and go to the front like that, have solid pit stops, I'm just really, really excited and also really bummed out we didn't win the race tonight.
Felt like we had the car. Matt was awful good in the pits as well as on the track. That last run, we made one little adjustment. I didn't mind if he got out there on us, but when I started running him down, I was like, We got him, we got him. Then my car started getting tighter and tighter and tighter.
As I got to him, I moved around, went to every groove I could possibly find, and the car just wouldn't turn. I kind of knew with about 20 to go that we probably, unless he made a mistake, weren't going to get him.
You know, ran as hard as I could and had a great race. Really proud of this team. It's a great start to the season.
KERRY THARP: Questions now for Jeff Gordon.
Q. Can you talk about Matt's ability to not beat himself. What does it mean to a driver to win the first two races of the season?
JEFF GORDON: Well, Daytona is such a different type of race, restrictor plate racing. Last week it was about staying away from the crash, being there at the right time, making the move. You got to give those guys credit for being in the position they were in when the rain came and the caution. But still a great race for him.
You know, tonight was to me a sign of what we were gonna see more of this season. Those guys were incredible in the pits. I mean, he was good on the track. They made some good adjustments. But I feel like if they didn't get out front, it would have been a different race. They're off to a great start. I think they're going to be really strong this year.
I have so much respect for Matt. We've had our differences over time, but I've always had a ton of respect for what kind of racecar driver he is. I tell you, you know, you can say that the pit crew won him the race tonight, but Matt didn't make one mistake.
I put a lot of heat on him. I drove as hard as I've driven in a long time. He didn't make any mistakes. Maybe one little slip up, but just wasn't enough for me to do anything with him.
So, you know, give those guys a lot of credit.
Q. You said you feel you're head and shoulders above where you were a year ago. What's been the progress, the biggest change in your mind?
JEFF GORDON: It's called getting beat and not liking it (smiling). I mean, I think this team is still -- you know, when you're at Hendrick Motorsports, you see your teammate doing what they're doing, winning races, battling for the championship, winning the championship, it's inspiring to all the other teams.
At the 24 Dupont Chevrolet team, we've been there before and we've experienced that, even in '07, as strong as we were. But '08 was very disappointing. Probably the biggest motivation we could have ever had.
We just went to work. I'm so proud of Steve Letarte. He got beat up so bad by a lot of people. It's tough being the crew chief of that DuPont Chevrolet. There's a lot of pressure and expectations. Over this off-season, he restructured his engineering group. He went to work on the cars, on the setups, listening to me and what I feel like I need. Those guys worked hard.
I changed my routine, too. I've worked harder over this off-season getting myself in shape than I have in a long time. I'm refocused. I'm a little bit more used to being a dad now. I'm just ready.
I feel better today going in and after the race than I felt in a long time. I've battled some back issues and some different things. I've been working really hard on those things. It's paying off. I mean, I just feel good when I get in the car. The car is driving good. It's just starting off right. I think we only have room for improvement.
Q. Earlier in your career you did Busch Series and Cup Series races. Considering what Kyle Busch was attempting to do this weekend, how hard is it to win two races, let alone be in position to win three in the same weekend?
JEFF GORDON: Well, someone asked why you'd want to run three races in one weekend and two in one day (smiling).
But, you know, the kid is young and very, very talented. When you have that kind of ability, that much energy, then you go out and you do what he's doing.
He's impressive in every way. Even with a third-place finish, you know, that he had tonight, I thought he was impressive. In practice, I didn't think they were that good. The beginning of the race, he was okay. But I looked up, he was in my mirror in the closing laps of that race. I was like, Uh-oh.
You just can't count him out. He's a great racecar driver. He's got good equipment. It's pretty cool to see.
Obviously, the Cup level is a whole 'nother level. But, you know, to come as close as he did is pretty awesome. He's I think one of the few guys out there that really has what it takes to be able to pull off not just two in one day but all three.
Q. If you would have gotten a 'green-white-checkered' at the end there, what was the chances of you being able to catch him and run him down?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, ifs, ands and buts.
I thought we were better off on the long run going green all the way to the end. I really thought our chances were better with that. Matt was pretty good on the short runs.
But all I can tell you is that my car would get around the outside really good in the first turn. If there had been a 'green-white-checkered', I would have thrown it up there, see where we ended up.
You know, we made one little adjustment that I was asking for. It just was a little bit too much. We didn't have the car. They had the car there at the end, probably even if there was a 'green-white-checkered'.
KERRY THARP: Jeff, enjoyed watching you this weekend.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you.
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