JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS, RACE WINNER
DESCRIBE YOUR DAY, WHAT A GREAT PERFORMANCE:
“I don’t know what happened to Kevin Harvick. It was unfortunate for him. He was the class of the field. We were tuning on it to try to keep even with him. When I saw him go out, I knew we could compete with the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) car. The No. 2 was really good on short runs, but we could run him down. Of course he made us work for it there at the end, because he was so good on short runs and he got to me. I was really, really tight in traffic there at the end. I didn’t know if we were going to pull it off. I’m so proud to have this orange Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. This is Hunger Action month and it’s extremely important to all of us who are fighting for the older Americans going hungry every day in this country. This is a great way to take action. I don’t know what I’ve found, but I think a lot of it has to do with Alan Gustafson and all the guys on this No. 24 team. They’re just giving me such awesome race cars this year. I’m having so much fun.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS WIN TOWARD GETTING THAT DRIVE FOR THE 5th CHAMPIONSHIP?
“Oh, I think this is huge. We came in here with a little bit of extra pressure because we weren’t guaranteed to be in. If we hadn’t finished where we were running at New Hampshire last week, it would have been kind of an easy day for us. But all we did was focus on executing as a team and trying to win this race and nothing else. It wasn’t about the points; it wasn’t about just squeezing by to get to the next round. It was about making a statement. I don’t know how you make a bigger statement than what this team just did right there.”
ON HIS DAY:
“I have to tell you Alan Gustafson and this whole No. 24 Drive to End Hunger team they work so hard this weekend. We struggled a bit. It was not an easy weekend. There were times when we were pretty good. Other times we needed to really work on it, we just stuck together as a team. They gave me a great car today. We weren’t the fastest on the short runs, but boy if we had long runs I could get there at the end of the race. We were pretty tough to beat. They just made great adjustments. One time we got a little bit too free and luckily we didn’t fall back too much and tuned on it a little bit from there and man that thing just took off. I hated that Kevin (Harvick) had his trouble. I don’t know if we could have beat him he was pretty strong, but I would have loved to have raced him. I felt like we could beat the No. 2. He was good on the short runs, but we seemed to be able to pull ahead of him or run him down pretty good and consistently on those long runs.”
POST RACE DRIVER, OWNER AND CREW CHIEF TRANSCRIPTS:
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNING DRIVER
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by the winner of the 45th annual 400 at Dover, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon. This is his 92nd victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, his fourth victory and 19th top 10 finish in 2014, and his fifth victory and 25th top‑10 finish in 44 races here at Dover International Speedway. Jeff, congratulations, very exciting race there. Tell us how it was from your point of view.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it was a really solid race all day long. I know we had that one little hiccup on pit road and we over‑adjusted one time, got a little bit loose, but other than that the car was just solid from the drop of the green. Our strength was definitely the longer runs. After about ‑‑ it took probably a good 10, 15 laps before our car came in. I don't know if that was tire pressure or what it was, but sometimes just the pace. But my car really came to life then and we could start reeling guys in. Especially when we got into traffic my car was real maneuverable. I was pretty happy from the start with what we had and we just kept trying to tune on it, and one time we over‑adjusted and got a little bit loose, and from that point out we were able to tighten it back up, and all the way to the end I knew we had a car that if we got long runs we were going to be one of the cars to beat.
I saw Kevin have his issues. He was going to be tough. He was really strong.
I felt like we had a shot at the 2 car. We had kind of stayed with him throughout the day. He really would fade after about 30 laps, and so I was able to run him down on one of those restarts on the longer run and get by him, and then at the end I was glad we had a lot of laps to go and that we didn't have a restart. He would have been tough on the restarts. But on that long run we definitely were the car to beat.
Q. This win puts you up to 92 for your career. Do you think in your opinion that you can reach 100?
JEFF GORDON: I'm going to tell you the same thing I say every time I'm sitting here after a win: It's awesome to have 92, and I look forward to challenging for 93. I can't even think about 100 until we get to 99.
I mean, I never dreamed in a million years that I would be here talking to you after 92 wins, and especially at this point in my career, this many years in the sport, to be having the year that we're having, it's just something I never thought could happen. It feels amazing, and right now if I felt like we could stay this competitive for the next several years, I would say, yeah, we could get there. But right now it's just ‑‑ we're just laser focused on this championship and going to the next race. I don't think we're going to get to 100 this year, but I hope we get past 93. That would be pretty awesome to get a couple more, and it almost takes a win to get to Homestead. That's our goal is getting to Homestead, whatever it takes.
Q. You mentioned the next race. It seems like this Chase is now in three‑race mini‑seasons. Can you look at this next three race cluster, Kansas where you won in the spring, and Charlotte and Talladega? Can you kind of frame the new season?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah. I mean, this is very interesting how this format is playing out. These next three races are going to be tougher than the last three, and it's going to be tougher after those three. We've got Talladega in this next one, so that's definitely going to shake things up, and that's what making Kansas and Charlotte so crucial and important and why you're going to see drivers and teams taking big risks at those two tracks, to try to make sure that you go into Talladega without having to come out of there with a car in one piece because the chances ‑‑ to me the chances of wrecking at Talladega these days are about 80 percent. The chances are so high the way the racing is, the way the drafting is, that even if you survive the wrecks all the way to the end, there's still probably going to be a wreck at the end. You don't want to go in there worried about, oh, we've got to finish ninth or got to finish fifth. That would just add a lot of stress.
I think that Kansas is a great track for us, always has been, but this year we won there. Right now I'm really excited about getting there and seeing what we can do. Regardless whether we win the next two races, we're going to need to have really solid finishes, again, to have some comfort going into Talladega.
You do have to somewhat look at just the next three races and not look too far ahead because you've got to make it through to the next round. I think we're a team very capable of doing that, and I'm excited about our chances, not just these next three but all the way to Homestead. We can't get that far ahead. Sure, the team prepares for those races, to bring cars that can win there, but right now, for me, I'm just thinking about Kansas and nothing else.
Q. Was it weird not to wonder about where you were in points after this race, and also, are you excited that you're now tied for the lead after the first three races, or are you somewhat disappointed you're not able to kind of put distance between yourself and other people?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, we had a bad finish last week, so I don't know where this puts us in the points, had we kept going forward. We have a very strong team and a very consistent team, and I like our chances this year no matter what the format is to be honest. But right now because of what happened in New Hampshire, I'm kind of glad they're resetting it.
I mean, I think that we're a team that, again, is strong enough to win, but also good enough to be consistent, and I think that's what's going to get you through to the next round, and ultimately I think what it's going to take to win this championship.
I'm liking the format. Right now when you have a car and a team like we have, you like whatever format there is, because you think you have a shot at it.
Q. I asked this same question to Rick: As you mentioned earlier, Kevin had problems, but at the end of the race, it basically became you against Brad, and I just wondered if coming out on top in that battle, given how the three of you have run all this season, if it kind of foretells good thing for the rest of the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, it's one race. I think Kevin definitely was the car to beat today, and I don't know if ‑‑ even on long runs we could reel him in a little bit, but I don't know if we could have passed him. I felt pretty confident against Brad if it wasn't a short run.
You know, it doesn't matter. We're here in victory lane. We battled with one of the top teams in the sport, the 2 car, and we came out on top. I think that gives us confidence in what we're doing.
This is a unique track. This is not Kansas, this is not Charlotte, and I don't know if there's really any other track that you can compare this one to moving forward of what it's going to take to win the championship.
We're happy with what we did today, but I don't think it necessarily means that we've got an edge on those guys. We've got to work really, really hard, and I think there's ‑‑ just like today, there's certain aspects of what we do that we have an edge on them. Sometimes it's the longer runs. The Penske cars I think have the best short run cars in the sport right now, and when it comes down to restarts at the end, those guys are almost impossible to beat. If we have more races come down to long runs, I think we've got a great shot at them.
Kevin, those guys are extremely fast, but putting the whole race together, you can see that they have some things to work on there. But they figure that out, I don't know anybody that can beat them. They're just that fast. Every weekend they have been. What we have to do is just put pressure on those guys and continue to try to make our cars better each and every week, and I mean, that's what I love about what Alan is doing. He's excited about what we just did today, but I guarantee he's already thinking about development of a car, setups for Kansas, for Charlotte, for down the road, getting ready for tests that we have coming up and all these different things. That's what's going to really ultimately make us competitive enough to race with those guys.
Q. I know you just talked about the confidence, but realistically what else comes out of a day like this, because like you say, the track is not going to mirror anything else, this format is different? Yeah, it's great you got to celebrate in victory lane, but other than that what do you get out of a day like this and how does it help?
JEFF GORDON: We get a lot out of it. A win is a win. Wins aren't easy to get in this sport. You fight to get them; everybody does. I think it makes a statement in one sense of what type of a team we are, how hard we fight, how you never count us out. I think that it makes a statement that we're a team to beat for this championship.
Q. But those statements were already out there, weren't they?
JEFF GORDON: It legitimizes it to the next level in my opinion. I think for us itself, it just gives us confidence and even more momentum to say, okay, we're in the heat of the battle, these are the crucial moments of this season of when it matters most; what are we capable of when that pressure is on like that. That to me says a lot about who we are, the kind of team we are, and what our chances are moving forward.
Q. You mentioned just a second ago that Alan is already looking, your words, down the road. If this were not a three‑race season, as it were, how far down the road would a team generally be looking, and in this case are you looking beyond the next three‑race segment?
JEFF GORDON: Well, and this is where things get really interesting from a team standpoint. I mean, if you go win Kansas, you start looking for the next three races. You can even ‑‑ I don't know if you can look as far to Homestead ‑‑ those guys do because they're building cars and preparing for our tests and everything, but really just almost throw away those next races from a prep standpoint, even though I think we can still go and win those races, but it's really putting even that much more ‑‑ because you have to balance out your time. The engineers only have so much time in the day to work through simulation and gather information from the wind tunnel and testing and all these things that they do. They only have so much time in the day, and you've got to spread that out and prioritize it, and if you win Kansas, your priority becomes Martinsville and the races in Phoenix, and what's the other one in that segment? I'm trying to think. Texas. You immediately just start going to work on all those things, where for us right now, it's not just Kansas, it's ‑‑ for me it's just Kansas. I mean, as a driver I don't think any further ahead than that. But for the crew chief and for the engineers, they're thinking Kansas right now, but they're also prepping for Charlotte and for Talladega, as well.
Q. Kyle Larson was in the media center earlier today and said that he wants to go out and win the first two races of this next round and really make all the Chasers nervous going into Talladega. What do you think if no Chase driver wins those two races and nobody is locked in going into Talladega?
JEFF GORDON: Well, if he wins the first two, I hope I finish second to him both of those races because that's the only thing that would give me any comfort at Talladega. Yeah, I mean, he's capable of it. He's running good. They've been really running good every weekend. But yeah, if a Chaser doesn't win it's going to make Talladega extremely interesting. Now you guys are going to be writing all your stories hoping that nobody in the Chase wins the next two races. I hope that doesn't happen.
It's our job to make sure we go out there and win those races, and the guys that aren't in the Chase, it's their job to make their own statement and try to make Talladega that much more interesting and exciting, which would be good for the sport. There's certain things that happen that is more good for the teams and drivers and other things that are good for the fans and media and people watching.
Yeah, I don't want to know ‑‑ even think about what that would be like going to Talladega under those circumstances.
Q. You seem to have a really good time with your race team. How important is that with as much pressure as all the teams are feeling right now for everybody to be on the same page?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think, you know, it's always a work in progress and balance. You don't want to have so much fun to where you're not putting in the right amount of effort to prepare for the races or that you're not working hard enough. When your guys work really hard and things are going well, I think it's important to get together as a group and have some fun, whether it be go to a go‑kart track or go to Sambo's, whatever it may be. We have a team that's enjoying what we're doing a lot right now, but they're also working really, really hard, and I think we've got really good balance.
And I think that's led from the top. I think that you can go all the way to the top to Rick Hendrick, but I think Alan Gustafson, the way he lives his life and the way he runs the team from the crew chief standpoint, he has great balance on how hard he works. Nobody works harder than him. But he likes to laugh and have fun and enjoy the spoils, as well, and I think that that translates to the team, everybody being able to go and enjoy those moments and times, and it's important to do that. You can't just work, work, work, work, work. You do that you're going to burn yourself out on a 38‑week schedule. I think we have good balance.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations.
RICK HENDRICK, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNING TEAM OWNER
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by the winning car owner, Mr. Rick Hendrick. Mr. Hendrick, congratulations on a great victory today and even more so, all four of your teams advancing to the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, it was a great day. Kasey made it a pretty long day. We were watching the monitor there at the end of the race hoping that we didn't have a caution and Jeff could win it and Kasey could get in. I didn't know exactly how close this thing was going to be until I watched the monitor, but it was a good day. All our cars ran well. Kasey had a really good car, but Jeff just did a fantastic job and was there all day, so good to get that win.
Q. Kasey at one point was running four laps down, and if a caution didn't come out at that point it probably would have ended his season. What was your level of nervousness during the race watching him struggle, and did you feel at any point like maybe this was the end of the road for him?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, absolutely. You know, his car was so good, he was up, I think, sixth or seventh, and we pitted and then he felt something, and it was a loose wheel. The left rear was loose. When he had to pit under green, I just thought we were done because ‑‑ just no way to make up ‑‑ didn't think we could make up two laps, and then we did a wave‑around and it worked out. And then I thought we were okay, and then we were like even or one point behind. I really had written it off about two thirds of the race. I thought we were just not going to get a break to get back in it.
Q. Kind of along those lines, were you watching more what was going on with Kasey than Jeff, and who do you feel like is kind of the bigger winner out of today?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, Kasey escaped a bullet, and it was like ‑‑ but Jeff got a win and I think made a statement, and he's been good everywhere. So I think having Jeff win the race and carrying that momentum into the Chase as a real contender with four wins this year, I thought that was pretty special.
When you have four cars and you want them to make that round ‑‑ if Kasey had been a car that was just 20th or 21st and got lapped, it wouldn't have been as tough as it was for him to have one of the faster cars in the first segment and then get eliminated with a wheel, loose wheel.
It was a roller coaster of emotions, but winning a race is special. At least we now get to go to zero and take all four to Kansas.
Q. Rick, you mentioned, you kidded Jeff that he's discovered the Fountain of Youth. What are the keys to his resurgence this season in your mind?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think Alan Gustafson is one of the smartest crew chiefs I think in the garage, but this new rule package, it's a little bit tighter race car. I think it's helped the 5. It's helped Dale and Jeff, and I think Jimmie and Kasey, it's gone a little bit the other way for them.
As soon as we showed up with this package, Jeff has been solid. Jimmie is getting closer and closer, but he'll admit he likes a loose race car, and this rules package is a tighter race car. That's the difference.
I think when Jeff Gordon can see 10 laps to go, I'll put money on him anywhere, and he's a smarter race car driver I think than he was when he was in his late 20s, and he uses his head and he's got all the talent in the world, and Alan has given him some super race cars. Alan leaves nothing undone in every area of that team, and I think Jeff has really just stepped it up. It's a combination of a lot of things, but I've never seen ‑‑ I can remember back when he was winning 10 or 12 races a year, he didn't get out of the car and jump on the roof and have as much fun in victory lane as he is right now. He's really enjoying himself.
Q. Everybody has talked about the next three races with Kansas kind of having a lot of wrecks in recent years, then obviously Talladega. How are you going to handle watching them?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I might not watch Talladega. I might go to the next two and let them tell me when it's over. That one will be ‑‑ I think everybody that's in the next round is going to try to get as many points as they can before we go to Talladega because that's going to be a tough race.
I think Charlotte and Kansas will be okay. You'll probably have some problems but nothing like what we were facing going to Talladega. Actually I think I'm getting inducted into the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame that Sunday anyway, so I'll let them tell me when it's over.
Q. A little bit off topic, but we recently celebrated 25 years since Tim Richmond passed away. If you can pick out like one favorite memory of him, what would that be?
RICK HENDRICK: I think the one I'll never forget is Tim at Pocono. He and Dale Earnhardt Sr. used to play with each other a lot, and he keyed the radio, and he said, hey, Rick, are you listening, and I said, yeah, and he said, watch this. He goes into Turn 3 and he's leading the race, and he slides up the track, and Dale comes by him, and then he catches Dale about the flag stand and just lifts him up, his rear end off the ground, and I thought, man, you're messing with a snake.
So many Tim Richmond stories, but that guy just had so much talent. I've seen him make up laps at Pocono and would love to have seen him be around to see how many races and championships he could have won.
Q. Now that you've gone through the first round these three races, kind of seen how things have played out with this new format, how different is it from what it's been? How do you guys have to handle things, because obviously with the reset now it doesn't matter what you did. What's so different, and how are you having to adjust in how you plan and organize things with your group?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I think the plan has just got to be to go out and try to win. Win and you're in, but if you can't win, you've got to accumulate as many points as you can, and you can't take a chance. I mean, you can't do anything outrageous to try to win because you could put yourself in a box with the points.
So I think we're just going to have to ‑‑ I know, especially with Talladega being a wild card, we're going to try to get as many points ‑‑ try to win the race; that's goal one, because win and you're in. But then try to not take any chances if we're not winning to accumulate as many points as we can. This is really a ‑‑ this whole scenario, you saw it today, with a car that was in good shape, running in the top six or eight, have a loose wheel. If you have a speeding penalty, or like Kevin with a tire, if that had happened toward the end of the race, it can knock a great car out. I predict there will be one of the top guys, one of ours, one of Penske's, one of somebody's, that will have a problem like that and it'll cost them a chance to move on.
Q. You just kind of touched on this. I know it's just one race, but the fact that Jeff won today and won beating one of the Penske cars kind of on a heads‑up battle towards the end of the race, does that bode well for the rest of the Chase do you think?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I think so. You know, we run really well at Charlotte and we run well at Kansas. I think those two tracks we've won a lot of races, and our guys all run well there.
I think today was good for us to see Jeff go out there and run them down. You know, it seems like all year, the Penske cars are better on the short run, our cars are better on the long run, and you're going to have to make adjustments if there's a restart and it's a short run.
You know, it's going to be a battle. I think Kevin Harvick is ‑‑ he's got seven poles, led a ton of laps. If he doesn't have any problem, he's been good everywhere. You know, it's going to be a real dogfight.
THE MODERATOR: Mr. Hendrick, congratulations. Thank you.
ALAN GUSTAFSON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNING CREW CHIEF
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by the crew chief of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Alan Gustafson. Congratulations on a great performance today. Talk about your strategy coming into this race.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, we knew this was going to be a pressure‑packed race and really tough track. Dover is always ‑‑ even when you're good here, it's a difficult racetrack to navigate, tight pit road, difficult conditions. The track rubbers up and then conditions change.
We knew we had to be on our game and we had to be focused, and we had to come together as a team and really work towards having a good run to transfer through, and I think all that kind of came to fruition here and we were able to win the race. Really good Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, which was one of the best three cars, and I think for us the long run was what we needed at the end, and we got that and fortunately were able to hold off Brad and get the victory.
Q. Alan, how much information did you guys glean from the 4 car for the setup over the weekend? I talked to them earlier and they said there might have been a little bit of information sharing going on there.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I mean, we look at all the information possible. Whatever we can use to get an advantage, we do. I wouldn't say that the information we got from them was any more than normal. They're obviously very fast, and it's nice to be able to play off them, and we were able to do that some this weekend. Obviously we've got a really good teammate with Jimmie Johnson. He's okay around here. We leaned on him a little bit. It's just kind of normal. At the end of the day, we've got a lot of resources, and we've got to take advantage of it.
Q. Alan, obviously you're not going to celebrate this win too much so I'm going to go ahead and look ahead and put the heat on you immediately. Obviously Penske and Hendrick have won all the mile‑and‑a‑half tracks. You've got a track coming up where you won at next week, you've got another track in Charlotte where the organization is strong. What needs to happen the next two weeks? How important are those two weeks to not have to worry as much about pressure situation at Talladega?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, absolutely, they're very important. You know, every race is important, but those two are as important as any that we run. Nobody wants to go into Talladega having to make something happen. I think that's leaving yourself to a lot of circumstances in not having a lot of things in your control.
I think we all feel like going to Kansas and Charlotte, those are racetracks that are more of our finish and the outcome of the race is going to be in our control, and we want to take advantage of those two tracks, and ultimately the goal is to win one of those two tracks and you don't have to worry about going to Talladega.
At the end of the day, Talladega has always been a factor in the Chase. It's going to continue to be a factor in the Chase. Whoever has won the championship has had to navigate that track, and I don't think that's going to be any different. The two guys who are able to lock in at Kansas and Charlotte are going to go there in a lot better mood than the rest of the competitors.
Q. Also another point, can you sympathize, if that's the right word, with a guy like Rodney Childers? They've been fast so many times this year and only having the two wins, certainly could have won several races and potentially someplace like today. What's that like to go through something like that, or have you had any kind of experience that even kind of mirrors that? I don't think you have, have you?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it's a very humbling sport. I've had a lot of circumstances ‑‑ you always feel like you should have won the race when you have a car that fast, and there's plenty of times in my career that I've had the fastest car and not won the race, and it's happened a lot. That's just the way the sport is. You have to continue to put yourself in position and kind of play the odds, and eventually you're going to get your wins and get your opportunities to win. If they run the way they're going to run, it's going to happen to them for sure, and it's not like they've finished 30th every week. I mean, they've still finished very, very well.
Rodney is a good friend of mine, and I wish him nothing but the best. I hate to see him have those problems, but I'm not going to lose any sleep at night over it. I'll worry about my stuff.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Thanks a lot, Alan.