NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Wonderful Pistachios 400
Topics: Wonderful Pistachios 400
September 10, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Joining us now up on the podium, two more of our qualifiers for the Chase, Jeff Gordon, he drives the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He comes into the Chase seeded third with 2009 points based on those three wins. And our second wild card qualifier is Denny Hamlin. He drives the No. 11 FedEx express Toyota.
Congratulations to both of you guys.
Jeff, talk about getting into the Chase and the three wins, you're seeded third. Talk about that as you look forward to getting your fifth championship.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I'm really excited about our race team right now. I look back at our season, all the changes that were made with basically me going to a whole different team and getting to know these guys, getting an opportunity to work with them and learning how to communicate and how to get more competitive week in and week out. We had some great things happening at the beginning. We won the Phoenix race, but we struggled, as well, and we were way back in points at one time, 16th, 17th in points. To come all the way back up to -- I don't know where we ended, probably 6th in the regular season with Harvick winning the race today, but to win three races, to run the way we have and just gain the momentum, have a shot at winning that race tonight, man, this team could not be more pumped and excited about getting this Chase started next week, and Chicago is a great track for us. So look forward to the next ten weeks.
THE MODERATOR: Denny Hamlin, congratulations on getting into the Chase. Talk about coming in as a wild card.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, there's only one place to go from where we're at right now, and that's forward. We're very fortunate to be here, obviously, with the tough season that we've had and the ups and downs and the DNFs and whatnot. It's kind of a second lease on life for us and our season. Obviously we're coming into the Chase now with three consecutive top 10s which I'm not sure we've done that all year long. We've got some momentum. Who knows what's going to happen next week.
Q. Denny, knowing the precarious position you were in at the start of this race, I guess what went through your mind at the beginning there when your car got damaged?
DENNY HAMLIN: That was not what I had planned on happening. I mean, we thought we were going to have a good car. We didn't know how our car was going to be because we changed a lot of stuff from yesterday. But I mean, my car is just -- it is in bad, bad shape, and somehow it ran as good as it did. It was nerve wracking because every person that could win and then knock us out was running up front all day long, and it was just like, you know, if it wasn't one guy, it was another. One of them was always a threat to win throughout the entire day. It was one of those days where -- very nervous moments.
Q. Denny, I heard you on pit road list what was wrong with your car after it got banged up. What would your thank-you speech to your crew consist of?
DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, my gosh. They just did the best job I've ever seen them do as far as fixing the car after it got damaged. You know, it's hard for me to really assess how bad it is, but it looks better than what it really is, believe it or not, and it looks bad. They just did a great job.
We had to add an inch worth of packer to the right front to get it off the ground. Who knows what we were going to have. But they just did a great job getting the splitter back up off the ground, things like that. They pretty much kept us in it.
Q. 2007 was a really, really strong year for you, Jeff. Do you think at this point your championship chances are better than that year maybe at this point?
JEFF GORDON: I do. You know, I feel like we've got more momentum going into the Chase. I feel like our team is really, really strong. I feel like in '07, while we gave Jimmie a great run and a great battle, I still feel like they had the momentum. And were outrunning us just by a little bit on a regular basis. We're competing with everybody out there right now, and lately I feel like we've been better than most on a lot of different types of racetracks, short tracks, superspeedways, intermediates. We've got an awesome race team right now. I'm extremely excited.
'07, like you said, was a good year, but I think with the -- I'm not taking for granted where we're at, the way we've run. We've had to work really, really hard to make the improvements that we've made in our cars and in our team this year, and we know we're going to have to work equally as hard to maintain that and step up when the Chase starts.
But the way that this team has performed this year, you know, there's not one track in these ten, next ten weeks, that scares me, because I think that we just really have done a great job dissecting down our issues and addressing them and making our cars better as we go to those tracks.
Q. With this new points system, some people say that you get penalized more for a poor finish, track position being even more important, the gambling that takes place on pit road. How is all that going to factor in, alter the Chase potentially this year compared to previous years? Do you have to do anything differently or is it challenging not thinking you have to do something differently?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think that track position is a little bit more important this year than it was last year and so on and so forth. It's just a steadily evolving -- these cars, we're getting them so good now that everyone is so equal. I think that the pit crews and the crew chief has a bigger role in this year's Chase than what they did in years past. So it's not all about having the fastest car and the best driver. There's a big strategy part that plays out in each and every race. It seems like it's happening more this year than what it has in years past.
JEFF GORDON: I think that you still race as hard as you can to get the best finish that you possibly can. I think it depends on -- as you get into the Chase, I think you have to start the Chase with the same mentality of fast race cars and be smart. You know, I don't think you can take huge risks at the beginning of the Chase. But if you find yourself in a position to win the championship, then I think you have to start looking at your competitors and who you're racing, and you might have to address it that way.
But I think if you're talking about finishes outside the top 10, you're not going to win it anyway. You're going to have to be in the top 10 pretty much every weekend, and you're going to have to win races. There's a lot of great teams that are in this Chase that are going to step it up, and it's -- if you're worried about a couple 20th or 25th place finishes, then you might as well count yourself out.
Q. Jeff, you went into the last pit with the read, you came out of it scrapping for third place. What was going through your mind at that point?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I wasn't real happy I had to start that last restart on the outside. My car all night was not good on the outside, and I -- to know with 20 laps to go you're driving away with the lead, I was feeling pretty good about that. I didn't want to see a caution. I thought it was interesting when I saw a Childress car sitting down this in the grass.
But we dealt with it. We didn't have the best of pit stops. I didn't do them any favor. I didn't get into the box as good as I needed to. We got beat off pit road, plain and simple. And Kevin had the inside preferred lane, and I don't know, our car just didn't take off there at the end. Plus Carl was really strong so he got into my inside. Kyle got by me, as well, so I was happy to get back by Kyle and get back to third. I thought it was our race to win. When the caution came out, I knew we were going to have to battle it out to get back up to the front. We just didn't have it.
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