JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – Finished 2nd
HOW MUCH FUN WAS THAT BATTLE WITH KYLE LARSON?
“Oh my gosh. I was having a pretty good time watching him and Kevin (Harvick) go at it in front of me. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought for sure there was going to be a wreck. But that’s just two guys that are wheeling it. I’m really proud of Kyle Larson. Man, what a great effort; such a young talent. I really wanted to see him win that race because I like him, but I didn’t want to see those other guys win it either. But we had a couple restarts and this Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was really solid. The whole team effort was extremely solid. And that’s a great way to get started, especially with restarts like that to come out second. Brad (Keselowski) is really strong and Joey (Logano) is really strong in those short runs, and we had them beat I think, prior to that. Kevin (Harvick), well, maybe (Kyle) Larson, too, had us all beat prior to that. But still we were a top three or four all day long so to come in second, I couldn’t be more proud of this Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet team. And I want to say thank you to every name that’s on this hood that’s helping us to end hunger.”
KERRY THARP: Let's roll right into our post-race for today's race, the first race in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. What a finish we had out there today.
We have the second and third place competitors up here. We have Kyle Larson, who was going hard for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, and Jeff Gordon, true champion out there battling it out trying to get that win in the opening round of the Chase. He came in second.
Let's hear first from Kyle. Third place. You led some laps. Certainly, as you said out on pit road, a couple things didn't go your way towards the end. Talk about maybe what you learned out there today, the thrill I'm sure you had to experience being out front there late in this race.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, it was a good race. We were in a backup car. It was hauling butt. It was really good. Knew from the drop of the green we'd be pretty good. Once the line got around the wall where I like to run a lot, we were really fast.
Had a blast the whole race. I was really good on long runs. Got to second there, I don't know, before that last pit stop, was able to chase Kevin down. I knew he'd take my line away once I got to him. He did. Couldn't really figure out how to get by. Then I got a run on him through traffic, was able to get by. Had the pit stops. Came back out in the lead. Then got the jump on that first restart. Was just going to cruise I thought to the win. We got some more cautions and we had to battle with Kevin there. That allowed Brad to get by both of us.
The last restart, me and Jeff had quite a battle. Got in the wall, he was able to get by me. I held on for third. Stinks we got third. Coming up close as often as I have this year is going to make that first win feel that much more special.
KERRY THARP: Jeff, talk about the race out there today, how it unfolded. Certainly you had an excellent car. You were a big factor there at the end of the race.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, we had a pretty solid day. We started eighth. We were able to drive up into the top two or three fairly early in the race. I knew we had a solid car.
The line was changing quite a bit there early on, you know, laying rubber down, cars running all over the place. We ended up taking four tires more often than we anticipated. We thought we were going to be doing two more often. That one time we took four, others took two, we got out in front and drove away. The car was driving so, so good right there, I didn't want any changes. Once the other guys, like the 2, Kyle, Kevin were on equal tires right there with us, felt like they were a little bit better than us.
We adjusted and fought through it all day. I thought it was a great team effort. Great pit stops. Great calls. Great adjustments. We just hung in there.
Our car was pretty decent on restarts. I just needed to be in that outside lane. That inside lane was hurting me a little bit. I was able to get by Kevin, then Kyle. Saw his left rear was smoking really bad there. I didn't know if he cut a left rear tire or blew it up. Had a heck of a race there and were able to get to second. Our car was just solid. That's the way you want to get this thing started. Brad did a great job on that restart. He got the win.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now.
Q. Kyle, what about that smoke? I think that was on the last restart, just before the restart maybe. Was that tire smoke?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, that was tire smoke. I was lined up outside of Brad. We were both scrubbing our tires in. Then he decided to make some big swerves and hit me right in the left rear, damaged our left rear fender. Luckily we made it to the checkered flag. I didn't think we would. I could barely see with all the smoke in the cockpit.
I figured we were going to go into three and blow a left rear tire and end our race. Luckily made it to the end. I guess after we made it through three and four the smoke kind of went away. I'm not quite sure what Brad was doing under to caution. I don't know.
Q. Could you have won without that?
KYLE LARSON: No, no. Brad was really good. I don't know if it affected me at all. Maybe a little bit. Probably not.
Q. Jeff, you said in Toronto earlier this week that you'd be really happy with nine second place finishes going into Homestead. Today's performance make you want to take it one more step?
JEFF GORDON: Eight more and I'll be really happy (laughter).
You want to get the win. It was tough out there today because I've been here before running up front, having a really good start to the Chase, then have had problems, clawing our way from there.
While you can move to the next level with that happening, you almost kind of have to win after that. I think this is a great time for us to come out of here really solid and with a great second place finish. We got to get a little bit better. No doubt about it.
I thought Kevin and Kyle were the best cars out there today. Keselowski, those cars are just really good on short runs. They have been all year long. You put them in that kind of position, they're tough to beat. If it comes down to a short run like that, it's hard to beat them. I thought we were close. Just needed to be a little bit better.
Yeah, I'm not going to complain too much with second because I've come out of here before much worse. This is a great way for us to get going.
Q. Kyle, you don't have to worry about advancing to the next round of the Chase, but you're racing 16 guys who do. Do you think this provides you any advantage when it comes to racing these guys?
KYLE LARSON: I don't know. Maybe. Those guys might be a little bit more cautious, won't race you as hard. I didn't feel that way at all. I felt everybody was racing as hard as they do all season long.
I don't know if there's any advantage. We definitely have to be a little bit more careful around those guys, too, because we don't want to hurt their chances of advancing.
Like I said, I had a lot of fun racing Kevin, Jeff, Brad, Junior at some points in the race. I didn't feel like anybody was holding back at all.
Q. Jeff, we're now going to see a dynamic that we've never seen before, which is that Keselowski can take it easy basically the next two weeks. What do you expect out of a driver like that going forward, drivers in the Chase who have won races, what do you expect when you're around them, what their strategy will be?
JEFF GORDON: I think everybody goes out there to race to win. I don't think that's going to change for those guys. In the preparation for the next three races is where it's going to change. They can now change some of their focus on really getting prepared to go win, say, like at Kansas or something like that where they can be in this same type of position going forward.
I think we all agree if you get a win early on, it puts you in a very comfortable position, similar to earlier in the season. If you got a win, that was going to lock you into getting in the Chase. It just puts you in the mindset of looking ahead, planning, better preparation for races coming up, but it doesn't stop you from racing for a win.
Now, that might be different if we're going into Talladega. But every other track, I think everybody's going to be pushing hard to get those wins.
Q. Jeff, you went over to Kyle's car at the end and said something. Can you share a little bit of that?
JEFF GORDON: Just how proud I am of him. I think this kid is the real deal. He's going to be a star in this series for a long time. I really wanted to see him win because I like him and I know he's going to win a lot of races, but I also didn't want to see those other guys win.
I'm a big fan. I like seeing young guys out there driving like that. That's so much fun. That's what this sport is all about. I just want to let him know what a great job I thought he did.
Q. Kyle, what did that mean to you?
KYLE LARSON: It means a lot. He gave me some advice on the restarts.
JEFF GORDON: Don't tell them that part (laughter).
KYLE LARSON: I'm never out front really. I'm never on the front row, so I don't know what to do. You look at my Nationwide races, I'm maybe on the front row a handful of times. Then the Cup Series, another handful. I'm still learning that part of it.
He came down to give me some advice, which was nice. I know Jeff thinks a lot about me and I think a lot about him, too. It was fun racing him. I definitely wanted to beat him. I was trying all I could. Just tried a little bit too hard. Was running probably an inch or two off the wall all day and finally got into it. But, yeah, it's nice whenever Jeff comes around or I read all the stuff he says about me. It's cool.
Q. Kyle, when you're racing Harvick like that, do you know how far you can go without being considered too far?
KYLE LARSON: I mean, I think he knew we were down to the last handful of laps. As long as we didn't touch, I think it was all going to be okay. I left him plenty of room when we'd get down to the corners. I would side draft him down the straightaways, but wasn't hitting him or anything.
I think the way I was racing was okay. I don't know if he thought the same thing. But I had a lot of fun. When he was around my outside, I felt like he was doing the same thing. I thought we were racing hard but clean.
Q. Jeff, I'm a little surprised you're giving somebody advice on restarts.
JEFF GORDON: Do as I say, not as I do (laughter).
Q. Were you surprised that the racing up front was as competitive as it was today?
JEFF GORDON: Yes and no. I mean, when you have a groove that widens out like that, then it opens up the opportunity for different cars to be stronger at different points of a run.
Say like Harvick wasn't that good on the short runs. He looked like he was loose. Brad was good on the short runs. I was pretty decent on the short runs. Kyle, he was really solid throughout almost the whole run, but especially from the halfway point on. On that high groove he was really, really strong.
Just depends if you have cars like that. McMurray was strong, too. When I saw McMurray strong, I expected Kyle was going to be pretty strong, too.
Yes and no. I like multi-groove racetracks when you can run on all these different lanes. But we've also seen that before where that didn't really change all the competitiveness or passing.
I think for the most part those restarts are what made it really, really exciting. Having multiple restarts allowed guys to run two, three, four wide at times, which made it very exciting.
Q. Jeff, do you know what you would have needed to do to your car to be the first to the checkered flag rather than the second?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I would have liked to have started on the outside lane on that restart that Keselowski did. I mean, his car turns so good on restarts. We've seen it all year long. They get up and go fast.
Prior to that, Kyle had it, I had third wrapped up, Keselowski was fading. I kind of got settled in there at that point that it might be a third place day for us. I wasn't going to be disappointed seeing him win.
Then it all changed there just because of a restart. I kind of got to Kyle's bumper there. I was just trying to keep guys from taking me three wide, then the outside lane kind of came. That got Kevin and Kyle side by side. They were swapping back and forth. I mean, Keselowski, he dove into the middle lane where there was some clean air. I was more surprised he got up in front of Kyle.
I don't know, for us, if we could have passed these guys like Keselowski did. The outside lane certainly would have secured some things up for us. It just seemed to work a little bit better on the restarts if you could get to the outside of that guy you're racing.
We're going to certainly debrief and evaluate what happened here today. This is a unique track. It's very rough here. The tires are pretty good. They don't wear out much. But you have multiple grooves. It's a unique track. But we're going to go through everything we can to try to see what our competitors are doing, what we can do to be better, make sure that happens in the next race.
Q. Kyle, is it strange at all hearing guys like Jeff that you're competing against on track praising you in this way?
JEFF GORDON: Don't worry. We won't be saying that for long (laughter).
KYLE LARSON: That's what I was thinking. It's only going to last so much longer until I'm kind of here and everybody knows, I guess.
I don't know if it's strange or not. It's just really, really cool. Guys you look up to since, heck, Jeff has been racing the Cup Series as long as I've been alive.
JEFF GORDON: I needed to hear that (smiling).
KYLE LARSON: That's just really cool that guys I've looked up to since forever are now talking about me and I'm racing them and battling for wins, which is really cool.
KERRY THARP: I don't know if we could have had a better opener here today in Chicagoland. We'll see you at New Hampshire. Congratulations.