NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: 5-Hour Energy 500
Topics: 5-Hour Energy 500
June 12, 2011
LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA
THE MODERATOR: We now welcome into the media center Jeff Gordon, winner of today's race, along with crew chief Alan Gustafson.
With this win, Jeff has tied Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for third on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win list with 84. With this win he also tied Bill Elliott for most series wins here at Pocono Raceway.
Jeff, a few comments to start off with about this memorable win.
JEFF GORDON: It was so amazing because I was so excited about the hard work that Alan and his guys have been putting into our Speedway program, whatever we call these types of racetracks, intermediates, because we struggled on 'em. I'm so excited to get that win and see what we've been working on, the talk we had in our team meeting prior to today's race about just putting it all together. We've had fast racecars at times, then the strategy didn't fall our way or the cautions don't fall our way or we didn't have the fastest racecar.
So today to see it all come together, to have a fast racecar, great pit stops, calling the race right, good restarts, those types of things, I was so caught up in that, I was so excited, plus I have my family here to celebrate it with, I didn't even think about 84 till they reminded me when I went to do the SPEED Channel Victory Lane Show. I was like, Oh, yeah, man, that's unbelievable.
I really can't even express in words what it means to tie Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison at 84 wins because I just never thought it would ever happen for me, or really when I got in this sport for anybody to win that many races is amazing.
THE MODERATOR: Alan, talk about your race today.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it's really a great accomplishment for our team. Winning at Pocono, it's a really tough track. To win, there's a lot of difficult challenges you have to face.
I think as Jeff said, the most rewarding thing about all of this, it's just a really complete day from our race team and we've worked really hard to get to this point. All phases, the car was good, the guys did a great job on pit road, the strategy was good, the strategy we employed on the transmission was great. Top to bottom, it was a great day.
We weren't necessarily the fastest car, but I think we were the most consistent, solid race team at the racetrack today. That's rewarding for me. Super, super, super happy for the guys because we've worked them hard, real hard, and they deserve this payoff.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. Jeff, I know you don't want to say you're virtually in the Chase now, but with two wins you have to feel like you're more in the in crowd than the out crowd?
JEFF GORDON: They take two, right, with the win? So looking at that, it certainly helps us.
But there's too many good guys to me inside the top 20 in points that can win a couple races here. Hamlin, Biffle, several others. I don't know who is in the top 10 right now after the points, how they shook out today, and who's not.
But our focus has to be the same thing all the time, and that's just trying to win races. If you can't win the race, get the absolute best finish you can to try to lock ourselves in.
I'm just more excited about the momentum that's coming for us and getting into that stride at this point in the season. The conversations that Alan and I have had prior to the season, as the season has unfolded here, and starting to see those conversations come to fruition, I'm just excited about that because the things that we've talked about and believe in with one another are starting to come true.
You definitely question that at times. You're like, Okay, are we just being cheerleaders here to try to keep ourselves from getting down or are we really serious about it. Days like today show how serious we are about those things.
I think this point in the season, to get our program turned around as quickly as we have, because of the effort that Alan and his group of guys, those engineers have done, to get us better on these types of racetracks, the timing couldn't be better. Hopefully we can keep that going.
Q. Jeff, obviously the drivers you're tied with now, one is in the Hall of Fame, another one will go in the Hall of Fame, you'll probably go in the Hall of Fame when you retire. People forget you're a solid racer now. Did you ever feel that they're overlooking you, they forget that you're a four-time champion that still has something to prove out there?
JEFF GORDON: I don't know if it's about forgetting. You got to go out there and show it. To me, the people that the media talk about, the fans look at, the garage area looks at the threat to win are the people that are doing it on a consistent basis.
When we were doing that, people looked at us. They were scared of us. They thought, Don't ever count them out. You know, truthfully, me and the 24 car, you know, 'cause I look at Alan's group as a little bit different because it's new, even though it's still the 24, we just have not put the numbers together. So I don't expect anybody to look at us as a real threat.
But I think the thing that was probably the most disappointing to me, we came into the season talking about the stuff we were going to do. We went to Phoenix and did it. We were like, Oh, yeah, we're going to get them. Then it kind of fell off the cliff for us. Then at that point it was not about how people looked at us, it was, We got to get it together ourselves.
Days like today to me give us that confidence and momentum and show the competition that, you know, they might need to start worrying about us again. But we got to do that consistently to show that. That's why people fear the 48. That's why people fear Carl and the guys that have run up front, because they're doing it week in and week out.
Q. Alan, a lot of guys had mechanical issues today. Can you speak to how punishing this place, the shifting changes sort of exacerbated all that.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: This track is very unique because of the size and corners. You really focus on straight line speed because the straightaways are so long, but you have to brake hard for turn one, you've got to shift, you have to accelerate really hard. There's a lot of things. A track this size usually is a Speedway plate race when you don't ever brake until you come to pit road, you don't ever accelerate. This has so many attributes that make it so difficult. You have to try to maintain good braking ability, but you can't give up the drag. You have to have the right transmission package, you have to have a car that drives well, has a good motor, good straightaway speed. On top of that, you got to take care of it. Any one of those components, the brakes, the engine, the transmission, the driver can find a little lap time in those and abuse them. The driver has to be able to put everything together and take care of his stuff.
Jeff is obviously extremely good at that, good on equipment. We were a little nervous. We didn't know, shifting, we haven't done that in a while consistently, the different gear ratios. We're all trying to win in this sport. You have to have everything right on the edge. We had everything right on the edge. When you have that, it's not like, We're going to run 200 laps at Pocono. You definitely are concerned.
Q. Jeff, could you talk about putting this in perspective at this phase of your life, two months short of your 40th birthday, where this win ranks. The first 75 wins of your career came pretty easy, then you struggled. Put this in perspective.
JEFF GORDON: I'll put it in perspective of the great Mark Martin. These days you just never know when it's going to be your last win and when that next one's coming. I guess it's because we haven't won as much recently that you definitely take that into account and you appreciate those wins a whole lot more when they come.
Today was a special day. To have Ella and Ingrid here. Ingrid was at Phoenix, but Ella wasn't. I would have liked to have Leo, too, but he's probably not old enough to understand. Ella, when I leave to go off to the race weekend or I get in the car before the race, she's like, Go win the race, papa, good luck. She's starting to understand it.
Being a parent, I appreciate it more and it means more to experience things like this with them. I've never been one to really focus on age. When I was real young in the sport I said, I'm not going to focus on being the young guy and let that hold us back. Now that I'm the old guy, I don't want that to hold me back either.
Also I'm so appreciative of the confidence that Alan has in me, the things that we talk about as a group, trying to get better, trying to improve our racecars, our program. Sometimes I know that can be frustrating because as I've gotten older, I feel like I've gotten smarter in some ways about driving the car, but also I'm a little bit more conservative.
I feel like I still have a lot to offer in the car, and I think that the things that I do have, some are better when I was younger and more aggressive and some are weaker, but I feel like I have a pretty good balance even though I'm 40 and haven't won as much.
I think Alan has the ingredients and the confidence to be able to get us back to our winning ways more often. Today to me is the type of a moment and experience that kind of solidifies that.
Q. Jeff, could you talk about the whole shifting mindset today, particularly with other guys that were having issues with their transmissions. How does this change your outlook for the rest of the regular season? You have a breakthrough win today that you said you needed.
JEFF GORDON: Well, this is a tough place to win. I'll be honest. This is a tough place to win at. I do think the shifting made survival a little bit more important today, in today's race, than what we've seen in the past because you're just shifting more, so you throw that extra element in there. It can put you in position to make more mistakes.
I think from the shifting standpoint, this again goes back to me almost being 40, I was pretty conservative when it came to shifting. The first hundred laps of this race, I guarantee you I shifted less than any other car out there. It wasn't because I was trying to save the equipment. It's just that it was easier to drive.
What I noticed is as we started making adjustments on the car and the pace started to drop, the track started getting slicker, I had to start getting that rpm range up there. I got into clean air and was racing with the leader, like the 22 and the 11, those guys. I knew it was time to step it up. I knew at the end of this race I had to do that and had to be comfortable with it.
It got my attention a couple times because I started shifting more as the pace started to drop. There were some times it almost got me in trouble. But I was never worried from a failure standpoint, I really wasn't. I mean, I got enough confidence in our equipment at Hendrick, what we did coming into the weekend, it could have happened but it certainly wasn't on my mind.
We have to enjoy this day, enjoy this win, carry momentum. I think the last couple weeks... Most people are not going to look at Charlotte as momentum for us because they're going to look at our finish. But I think we look at it as we made the fastest lap of that race, we were out front pulling away when we got out front. The cautions didn't fall our way there at the end.
But last week to me, to be able to go up front, stay up front, finish up front, even though we didn't have the fuel mileage strategy like some of those guys did, we were the best car that didn't make it or had to stop. To me, we've carried a lot of momentum on these last few weeks to get this win. This is going to continue.
I'm excited about the next couple weeks. I love Michigan, one of my favorite tracks. I think we're on to some things. We had a great road course test this past week that I'm excited about Sonoma, as well. I don't even know what the next race is after that, but I'm excited about it (laughter).
Q. Jeff, where do you place your career among the all-time NASCAR greats?
JEFF GORDON: Man, I'm going to be 40, but I'm not in the rocking chair yet. I really haven't thought about it a whole lot. And I don't know if I want to. I want my mindset to be in that mode of, How do I enjoy this moment? I'm looking forward to Tuesday, our debrief, to go over this race, what we could have done to even be better, and the great things we did do that we need to continue doing, then get ready for Michigan. That's what I want my mindset to be.
There's going to be plenty of time when that time comes for me to look back on my career. There's no doubt, it's been amazing. I'm very thankful and appreciative of it. But it takes more time than the time that I have right now with my schedule to really be able to express it the way I truly want to express it because it means a lot. But I want to think about it a lot more before I really answer that.
Q. Jimmie winning the last five championships, you're teammates and friends, but how hard has that been for you to drop off the radar a little bit?
JEFF GORDON: It happens. It doesn't matter if it's your teammate, your friend, or another competitor. I think you go through cycles in life, just like you do in your workplace. To me, I don't want to say it's been a down cycle. It could be a whole lot worse. Life is pretty darn good for me. We were living at the peak of the mountain there for a number of years. It was awesome. When you're there, you know you're going to get knocked off eventually, you can't always stay on top. I think you work harder, you appreciate it more. It means more to you when you get back. I hope we can get back to that moment and that peak because I know I would have a far better appreciation for it than I ever did before.
You won't understand that until you go through the valley, until you go through some down times.
Q. Earlier in your career so many people thought, He's going to get 100 wins, seven championships. Did you ever buy into any of that?
JEFF GORDON: No.
Q. Sort of like Tiger Woods, everybody assumed he was going to get 18 majors. Did you never buy into that and why didn't you?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, in 1998, I will say there were moments in that year where I was like, Man, this is kind of easy. We won 13 races that year. I'm telling you, as soon as you start to think that, that's when it comes up and smacks you upside the head. 1999 came and it got our attention. Then 2000 came. To me, those are wake-up calls of how hard it is to win, how hard it is to win championships, and that what we were doing was just extraordinary, and it doesn't last forever.
So you can't those kind of stats up. Nobody can. Maybe Richard and Pearson did, but I've never seen anybody else ever do that. I mean, Jimmie is certainly on a heck of a streak. I think he'll continue for a little longer. But how long? That stuff is going to not come to an end, but you're going to have some rough times. It's just the way the world works and the way the competition works.
I didn't buy into it just knowing it's just too hard to stay on top like that, because of 1999 and 2000 really, those years said to me, I just want to win, it's not about trying to get to a hundred.
Q. Alan, since you became a crew chief at Hendrick, it seems like you've had a daunting challenge. Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon. Have you ever felt a little pressure? Seems like you've had a lot on your shoulders.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: No. I look at it as a privilege. I think it's a great opportunity. I don't think there's many people who can sit out there and say they were able to win Kyle Busch's first Sprint Cup race with him, have success, still to this day have the highest points finish. That and then Mark is a super guy. With Mark and Kyle, I just learned a tremendous amount about racing, about life on and off the track, about teamwork. Some good, some bad.
To have the opportunity to work with Jeff, you hear the questions, Is he the greatest? Where does he rank? I can tell you, he's pretty damn good. He's the best today. So I'm happy to be the guy who's able to work on his cars.
I believe that he's as good as anybody out there. I think there's 42 guys in that garage area who are envious of my position. I think it's a great opportunity. I just feel blessed. Maybe I'd like to do it a little longer with one guy, that might be cool (laughter).
JEFF GORDON: Not so sure how many years I got left (laughter).
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I hear you.
But besides that, I feel fortunate. I feel fortunate Mr. Hendrick gave me the opportunity in the first place. The rest of it, I'll make sure I'll do the best I can to give him the payback.
Q. For the last month or so we've seen fuel mileage races, tire strategy races. Today I think on the last restart you said, Our strategy is to go as fast as you can. Jeff said, I like that strategy. Talk about that. Was it that simple to win?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it is funny. The reason it's funny is from Charlotte and Kansas, those race winners generated those wins off fuel mileage. Obviously we know that. We take that into consideration, something we've been working on, trying to get a better grasp on.
As soon as that caution flew, that's what I said to Jeff. We just can go now, right? Don't worry about the rest of it. It's full-contact combat now. It's all about going hard, going fast. In a way, all of us love racing. I'll take any fuel mileage when I can get it. You want to win the race being the fastest car, and that's what we did.
Q. Jeff, you started third, but you didn't lead for the first time until lap 140, then dominated. Was it a conscious decision to play it a little easy for the first half of the race?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I was just hanging back there (laughter).
ALAN GUSTAFSON: You kind of laid back in the weeds and waited.
JEFF GORDON: I may be 40, but I don't have that kind of patience (laughter).
I pushed as hard as I could all day, to be honest with you. One is you don't know how the cautions are going to fall. Our car was really good on the short runs. The funny thing about it was it was not very good about getting into turn one on the restarts. It hit the track really, really hard.
I could get off the corner great. I could get through the tunnel great. I could get through three great. I had to be careful attacking on the first corner. So that kind of caught us out at the beginning of the race, some of the restarts.
But I felt like the adjustments that Alan made on the car, the way the track conditions were came to us. The pit crew did an awesome job. Those last two or three stops were as good as it gets. I credit them with getting us that track position that we desperately needed. That's all we were missing.
I think we had as good a car as anybody, but we didn't have the track position. The 11 did seem to fade. I know they had the left rear issue. He didn't seem as good there at the end of the race. Our car got loose, too. Seemed like the 22 was out there and he was tough. I don't know if we were going to be able to get by him. We could get to him on the short runs, but he seemed to be a little bit better on the long runs. The key was getting out front. The pit crew basically did that. Then we took four tires instead of two on that one restart.
Jimmie made a pretty bold move. He was on the outside. He had the momentum. I was working on Juan Pablo. I saw him start to take it three-wide. I had to block him. He maybe could have pushed the issue a little bit more. I felt like I blocked him just enough where he had to push me and that got us the lead.
Once we got the lead, I knew at that point we could not afford to give it up. You cannot give up that track position, once you get it, especially in the closing laps.
Q. Jeff, you say this is a tough place to win, yet you've done it five times, tied with Bill Elliott. Talk about that.
JEFF GORDON: Again, I go back to it's been a while since we won here. There were times when it seemed like it was easy. Hasn't been quite as easy lately. Last one we had here was a great call by Steve Letarte, rain-shortened fuel mileage.
This is just to me a tough place to get that track position, because of the shifting, the balance change in the car, the grip level change, when the sun comes in and out like it did. As soon as that sun came out, my car got extremely loose. Trying to battle back and forth on that was tough, what kind of information I was giving Alan. He probably sensed me getting a little frustrated at times.
We stayed calm. Tying Bill Elliott, any time you do something that Bill Elliott did, it's awesome. This is a great track. I love racing here. But it does seem like it's been a while since we had a complete day like we had today. It feels awesome.
Q. Jeff, why did it seem that no matter who was leading, especially Hamlin, yourself, it didn't seem like anybody was able to keep with you guys when you were leading?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I think if you look at the cars that were the best cars today, I would say Hamlin, Busch, ourselves, I think Jimmie was really good. That's why I mentioned that one move. Had Jimmie taken me three-wide and gotten the lead, gotten that all-important track position, I don't know if we could have beat him. Our car was pretty good.
But track position is just so important, even on a track like this. In turn one, you have some options. Turn three, you have a few options. Tunnel, you have no options, just one groove through there. It's hard to make up ground because of the aerodynamics. It's been a trend in motorsports across all platforms of racing if you look at the last five to ten years. But even in this series, they made the cars bigger and boxier, blowing a bigger hole, the splitter, so down the straightaway they might suck up a little bit more, but they're still aero dependent in the corners. Unless you have a track like Michigan that we're going to next week that has a super wide groove on it, and even there track position is still going to be very key.
If there had been more cautions today, I think maybe some guys could have come up there and challenged. But because there were so few cautions, those guys in the first two or three rows on each restart, the original start, could pretty much control the pace.
Q. This was the first season since 2007 where you've had multiple wins. You were 35 back then. I don't want to belabor the age issue.
JEFF GORDON: I'm embracing it, man. Go for it.
Q. If you had to pick one, would you pick yourself at 30, 35 or 40?
JEFF GORDON: Are you talking about moments in life I'd like to go back to or racing?
Q. Being the best driver you could possibly be.
JEFF GORDON: 30 was pretty good, man (laughter).
Q. Do you still feel you could be as good as you were back then from a physical standpoint?
JEFF GORDON: From a physical standpoint, no, I've had back issues. I feel in some ways I'm in the best shape I've ever been in because I'm actually working out and training, doing those things necessary to stay in shape, where before I was just younger and I kind of relied on that and stayed in race shape just racing every weekend.
Like I said earlier, there's advantages and disadvantages. There's times in my career where I was younger where I was probably a little too aggressive and didn't think enough about the moves, and sometimes that paid off, sometimes that cost us. Then there were times in my career where I was not aggressive enough.
I think the one thing is that there's a certain way I need that car to drive. I don't always like that about myself, but it is what it is. I think I'm just embracing who I am at this stage of my life. I think that's very important and I think that's something I probably haven't done enough of over time. That's something you do as you get older.
I'm happy about that because it allows me to stick with what I know, what I'm good at, and not try to go over those boundaries. It might frustrate Alan and the guys at times. But I think today we were good on restarts, I felt like I was good getting into the pits, and we were good when we needed to go. To me these are moments that prove that today, with a team like I have, a car that I had, that I'm as good as I've ever been. I think we can do more of that. That's all that really matters.
Q. I realize you don't want to look ahead and say two wins will get us there, but there's nobody else in the top 20 who has even one win other than you. Nobody has shown they've got enough to win multiple races. You're going to places coming up you like. Deep down inside, don't you think maybe you're in the best spot you can be in to make the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: We're in the best spot currently today. I disagree with you. I think there's a lot of guys in there that are capable of winning. I think Hamlin is one of them. The Roush cars have been strong. I believe Biffle is one of those cars. Alan, he knows those numbers a lot better than I do, the cars that are there. There's plenty of guys that are capable of it. Keselowski won last week and he hadn't really shown a whole lot, but he still won.
To me, you can't count on those others not winning. You got to think that they can and they will. It doesn't change our focus. It doesn't change our approach. We just keep doing what we're doing and hopefully we can do enough good things to make sure that we're in there.
I've said this before, too. I don't want to just be in the Chase. Being in the Chase, at 40 years old, is not enough. That's cool. Our sponsors like it and all, but that's not enough. This guy is too good of a crew chief with too good of a race team. I feel like I'd be letting them down if all we do is sneak our way into the Chase.
I want to be a threat for the championship. I'm not saying we're there. But today is definitely a big step in getting us there.
Q. Although it was premature to comment on your legacy since you're not done yet, how do you want to be remembered personally?
JEFF GORDON: You know how I want to be remembered? I want to make it to that speech. I've been to two Hall of Fame events. I want to be on that stage mixing it up with the other people when that day comes, and hopefully it does, and I want to be able to express it then because I think I'll have had the moment and the time and the appreciation to truly embrace it and understand what it means.
I'm just not there yet. I'm just not in that frame of mind to put it in perspective. It would be way too premature to talk about it. There's no doubt I'm blown away with what I've accomplished. Just like going through those down years, I appreciate the wins a whole lot more. I think I have to be able to step away from the sport and look at it for a period of time and really go back through those memories.
84 wins, I can think of about 25 of them right now in my head, but that's about it. But there's a lot more than that. I'd like to go and remember those moments, people I've become friends with. Just incredible memories that have made this crew what it is for me. Then I want to be able to talk about it. I'm just not ready to do that right now.
Like I say, I don't have time to go back and look at it right now. Being a father of two, trying to give this guy everything I got. I feel like, again, he's just so good the way he approaches it, the mindset, the attitude, the way he orchestrates his engineers and team. My mindset right now is split between doing everything I can to give him my best, to be the best dad and husband that I can be, and take care of our sponsors. I just don't have time to think about those things.
But there will be that day and I can't wait for that day. I'm excited for that day when I do get to think about it because it has been awesome, it really has, and I'm very thankful for that.
Q. Will you embrace or would you embrace it if the time came when you were the wily veteran, but you wouldn't be winning?
JEFF GORDON: If you're wily, that means you've got to do something good. If I wasn't winning, what would I be doing?
Q. Usually that's a term in racing they use with people that can score some wins.
JEFF GORDON: What do you think I'm doing? I'm getting those wins any way I can.
Q. If I could clarify. You would reach the time where the wins weren't there but you would be finishing fifth, still doing well, and that's when they refer to you as a wily veteran, a code word for not winning but doing well.
JEFF GORDON: I don't know. To me in this sport, as competitive as it is, if you're getting top fives and top 10s, then you're usually going to find a way to get to Victory Lane somewhere along the way because you got to be pretty good and you got to be running pretty good and your equipment's got to be pretty good to be in that position because it's so tight, it's so close and it's so hard to get there.
So to me, you know, I look at Texas, I look at some other places where we were like 15th to 20th at best, and that's just not acceptable. So I don't feel like I'm there yet. I don't feel like I'm there. I don't want to put him in a position to have to fuel mileage us to try to get a top 10.
That's what makes this win so special to me because instead of them going, Well, our teammates are finishing in the top 10, and they were faster than us, we just looked terrible. Instead of losing confidence in me, they went to work on giving me what I need. Here we are a month later and we're competing for wins.
I don't really know if that answered your question, but that's my thoughts on it.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, congratulations. Alan, congratulations. Appreciate your time today. Good luck next weekend.
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