JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA COATINGS CHEVROLET SS – WINNER
DID YOU KNOW THIS WAS GOING TO BE THE NIGHT?
“I knew we had a fast race car. We have been bringing fast race cars every single weekend. It’s just given me so much confidence in the race cars and the race team. I have got to thank Axalta Coating Systems they are an awesome sponsor. When the lights went out we could still see this thing out there. Of course AARP Drive To End Hunger, Pepsi Max, Valvoline and Chevrolet. You know Kevin (Harvick) was tough. He was so strong I did not know if I could hold him off. I almost didn’t there at the end. I caught traffic. The car just got extremely loose on me and he was just coming. Luckily that was the checkered flag. I’ve got to say Happy Mother’s Day. What an amazing Mother’s Day present this is going to be. I can’t wait to see my wife Ingrid and my mom tomorrow. It’s going to be an amazing celebration. What a huge weight lifted off this team’s shoulders. We have been leading the points but we needed to get to Victory Lane and they proved they were capable of it. Great job by them.”
WHAT WAS THE KEY TO WINNING THIS RACE?
“I think it was overcoming a lot of adversity. We had a lot of things in the first half of the race that did not go our way. We knew we had a fast race car. We weren’t sure if we had as good of a race car as Kevin (Harvick), but I thought if we got in front of him we could hold him off. Then that last pit stop I mean we cycled out in front of Kevin and it was confusing because there were guys still out there so we were in the lead. I pulled away from him. The car was just driving unbelievably and then all of a sudden I started getting extremely loose. He faded but then he kept coming back on me. Then my car would tighten up and I would go forward again and then he would fade. We just kept going back and forth, but the key was getting out front and this pit crew and Alan Gustafson and all these engineers, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports they actually won this race. We have been building up to this all season long.”
ON HIS RUN:
“I don’t know what it is about this team, this No. 24 car and us here at Kansas on inaugural nights or days but I love this place, such a great race track. Some of the best race fans we have, so thanks to them for coming here for a Saturday night race before Mother’s Day. What an incredible job by this Axalta Coatings Systems No. 24 race team. I’m just so proud of them. They have been giving me the best race cars all year long. I have been having so much fun. I’m going to be 43 (years old) this year and I feel like I’m 25 again. That is the way they make me feel. Credit goes to them not only for the race cars, but the pit stops and just sticking with it tonight. We had a lot of things that didn’t go our way in the first half and then in the second half we just stuck with it. We were just grinding it out and then that last pit stop got us out front and it was awesome.”
IT LOOKED LIKE FOR YOU GUYS THIS RACE HAD JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING IN IT:
“It really did. It was great to see the groove widen out and get a top groove going and a bottom groove and a middle groove. It was a lot of fun racing out there. Kevin (Harvick) was really strong. I felt like there were times that if I could get in front of him I thought we could keep him behind us and we had to prove that there at the end. I almost didn’t do it. Luckily we got to the start/finish line ahead of him, but congratulations to him.
“The relationship that we have at Hendrick with Stewart-Haas is a very tight one that we share a lot of information. Those guys have been so strong. We have been strong, it’s fun to go out there and race those guys for a win like that.”
NOW THAT YOU HAVE THIS WIN ALL THE FRUSTRATION FROM BEING SO CLOSE CAN GO AWAY NOW:
“Well that is where being coming up on 43 (years old) can pay off because I’ve got a lot of patience (laughs). To me, yeah there were moments of frustration like California when we were leading on the last lap and the caution came out and we finished deep in the field. That was frustrating. There have been a few moments this year where it has been frustrating but all in all it’s been more excitement and just pride in the team and just having fun driving fast race cars.
“I knew it was just a matter of time. I didn’t know if it was going to happen tonight I will be honest. We were kind of catching Kevin (Harvick) there before the last pit stop and then we took four tires and I didn’t know how it was going to all cycle out when we were out in front of them. I was like ‘boy this is not going to be easy to hold him off.’”
JEFF GORDON AND ALAN GUSTAFSON, NO. 24 AXALTA COATINGS CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
KERRY THARP: We're going to hear now from our race winner of tonight's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race here at Kansas Speedway. That's Jeff Gordon, and Jeff was the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Coatings Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He's joined by his crew chief Alan Gustafson. This is Jeff's 89th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his third victory here at Kansas, his first win in 2014. You're our points leader, you're going to be in the Chase.
JEFF GORDON: Can you guarantee that, Kerry?
KERRY THARP: Jeff, trust me, I think you're good.
Seriously, you won the first race here at Kansas. You won the first night race here at Kansas under the lights. How cool is that?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, it's very good. This has just always been one of my favorite tracks from that first race. I don't know what it is about this race team and this racetrack for inaugural events, but tonight's win was very, very special. Man, and it didn't come easy.
This team has been working so hard, and this guy sitting next to me, he's been so driven and motivated, and it's been inspiring to me with the kind of race cars I've had this year.
Nothing makes me more proud than when it's all on the line and you get the lead and you've got to hold off somebody like Harvick and you get it done. It might have been by inches, but we got it done because that's what builds momentum, that's what builds a great race team and turns you not only into a winning team, but hopefully a championship team.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Jeff. Alan Gustafson, congratulations, big win as Jeff alluded to here at Kansas, had a lot of energy out there tonight. Under the lights, winning this race, getting into the Chase, points leader. Just how big of a momentum boost is it for this race team?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it's just a huge payoff for all the hard work this race team has put in. Really, really proud of all the guys on the 24 team, and really, to take it a step further than that, all the guys in the 5‑24 shop and all the hard work they've put in.
We've been so close, had so many good cars and it was great for it to pay off, really proud of the effort. Kasey had a great night and finished third tonight, so it was a very good night for our shop in general.
Q. Jeff, that last lap, did you feel like Kevin was coming on strong? Did you feel like you had enough to hold him off at the end?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, that whole last run was really strange for me, because I felt like we had a good stop. We came off pit road and the four tires that we took, the car was hooked up right away and I was excited about that, and then a lap or two later, I saw Kevin come off pit road onto the back straightaway and we got ahead of him, and I knew it was on at that moment.
I knew I had to push hard, and the car felt good at that time, so I was like, oh, we're okay. And then I had to maneuver through some lap traffic, and he got right to my bumper, but I actually was able to pull away from him, and I was like, wow, I wasn't expecting that. He'd been so good all night. We'd finally gotten the car where I could run the top groove.
So I started to settle in, and right about the time I settled in, I started getting super loose, especially in 3 and 4, and I didn't know where that came from. Maybe it was traffic. Traffic was pretty tough out there tonight, and so ‑‑ then he caught me, and I got through traffic. He had some trouble, and I pulled away, and I thought, okay, we're good. And then the car was great, I took off, and all of a sudden got loose again.
And so there at the end, I was just trying to stay away from traffic. I didn't want to get closed up on anybody. I wanted to try to have a clean lap. I got through 1 and 2 pretty good, but I got over to 3 and the car just went completely sideways on me and I couldn't get on the gas, and I thought I'd look like a bigger idiot if I spun out leading than just trying to make sure I get back to the line first. I gave up some speed there, but we won the race, so it's all good.
No, he was strong and he was coming. He was so strong on the top side of 3 and 4, I'm not sure I could have held him off much longer.
Q. Jeff, you became the first driver tonight to have three wins here at Kansas. What does that mean to you?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it means that this is a good track for us (laughing). I mean, you know, you love winning anywhere, but there's just something about this track, the transitions, the shape of the corners. I've just always enjoyed it.
Now, when they did the repave, it threw some challenges at me personally that it wasn't my best track, but as it's aged and as we've gotten the cars so good and the tires and everything, it's come back to a track that I feel comfortable at.
It feels awesome. It just feels so good to get that first win of the season, especially this year with the points structure and how close we've been so many weekends. I think that, while that's a huge relief off our shoulder, it's probably going to just make us that much hungrier to go get that next one.
Q. Does that mean tracks on an older surface play to your advantage more?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. An old guy like me likes to be patient and finesse. I say that, but when he gives me cars like he's given me this year, I've been able to be aggressive and drive hard, even on the tracks that aren't worn out, and that's a sign of the kind of cars that we're bringing.
Q. Kind of been stated already, you're leading the points, you got this win now, so you're going to be in the Chase unless something totally weird happens ‑‑
JEFF GORDON: Don't even say that. Why you got to go there?
Q. How do you use this momentum as you go into the All‑Star Race and then you come up on the Coca‑Cola 600, the 20th anniversary of your first win?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I just know this race team. I know Alan, the way he leads this team, and just this, to me, is more motivating than it is ‑‑ it is a relief, but it's more motivating than that, and I think it's only going to inspire us to ‑‑ listen, we won the race and we're excited about that, but Kevin was a dominant car. He's been really strong this year, and then there's been times that the Penske cars have, as well. We've got to continue to work and gain and push.
All I know is that by getting this win, it just allows us to focus that much more and fine tune on what we need to do to go win more and continue to just push as hard as we can to be the best out there.
Q. I think you said last week something to the effect of you're leading the points, but leading the points matters less than before. What's it like to have the relief, even though you're the points leader, to get the relief of getting that victory, knowing that it kind of validates and puts you in the Chase, versus the pressure that keeps building. I know Jimmie is in that situation where they've had a lot of winning cars, but they haven't got it. Until you get it, it seems like there's a lot of pressure riding there.
JEFF GORDON: I'd love Alan to talk about how he's seen it from a team standpoint. I know what I've seen, that win that Jr. got at Daytona and just their approach from that point on and just being able to roll the dice and be more aggressive, that first win is so crucial, and it's not a guarantee, but it's almost a guarantee, but I think once you get that first win, it only leads you to the ability to take risks to get the next win.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think, for me, the biggest thing for us is we know we've had a good race team, we've had really good cars, and you just have to have that validation and kind of verification you can win races, and we won. Obviously that helps get you in the Chase, but to me you can't stop there.
I don't think you can be so aggressive that you kind of lose the art of kind of grinding out races. You still have to win this over 10 weeks, and you're still going to have to win it with consistency. Winning does pay more, but I don't see one win just setting you in a position where you can take it easy. I think it's kind of the opposite. I think you still have to push.
And the key for us, and we've been in this situation before, we've had to battle late to get in the Chase. We've been in the Chase earlier. The key is always to peak at the right time and to get the team in a great position, and that's something that we've got to be very careful of, and I think some of the guys that have won, it's tough to sustain ultimate performance over 36 weeks.
We've done a pretty good job over the first part of the season. We've got to be wary that we don't slip and don't get complacent, so when we get into the time that really is going to matter, we're not flat, and I think we've got to be focused on that, too.
JEFF GORDON: What he's trying to say is he's going to keep cracking the whip. (Laughter.)
Q. Along those same lines, obviously tonight fuel had everything to do with the way this race played itself out in the final laps. Guys having to come in and make final pit stops and stuff like that. Having all but secured a spot now in the Chase moving forward, I know strategy can change a little bit, but will you be able to take more chances? Do you see guys taking more chances from a fuel standpoint, going for it at the end of the races now that you don't have to worry about that as much going forward?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: You know, you can't ‑‑ I think the 48, the 2, those guys I know for sure, I think the 11, they weren't trying to make it. They were trying to get a caution, and if they had enough cautions, then they could make it and have that track position.
So that was kind of a gamble, but it's not like you just go out there and say, all right, I'm four laps short, I'm going to cross my fingers and hold my breath and see if we get it. No, they were just trying to formulate something, and to be honest with you, I don't know that ‑‑ Jimmie did it, he needs a win; and Brad did it, he doesn't need a win. That's not really determining why they use that strategy. It's more about the situation they were in at the end of the race.
Q. So does the situation you're in tonight change your strategy going forward?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think it's a little bit over done, but there's going to come a time where two or four tires or maybe trying to make it on gas, that, yes, we'll do that, based on having a win, but I'm going to say, if I had to guess, that might be one or two races.
Q. Jeff, the word retirement has been thrown around, mostly by other people, but you said in victory lane you feel 25 again. Why is that, and how do you feel now going forward the rest of this year?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I say that because the race cars that I've been driving are just making a lot of fun. I just feel so competitive out there, and that makes me feel young again.
I just see how hard these guys are working. It's making me work harder. I've been really working harder on my fitness, which I think is helping me mentally and physically be more prepared out there.
When the cars are that good, my back just doesn't seem to hurt as much. The whole retirement thing I think is thrown out there too much, and I'm probably somewhat to blame, but there's no secret, I'm going to be 43 this year, but, man, if 43 is like this, I can't wait for 50. This is all right. I'm having a good time. That's why I feel young, because I'm just having a great time.
Q. Jeff has already talked about this; Alan, if you will. What was it like for you in that final lap? He takes a white, and then you've got all that time watching everything. What was it like for you?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I mean, really at the end of those races in the situation we were in where we were leading with, not a big lead, but a reasonable lead there at the end, you always want to get the white, because then you're like, all right, well, not going to get into any restart issue or anything like that, right.
And then I kind of was a little suspicious, from the last run what I had seen and looked at on the timing and the scoring. We were better than Kevin in clean air, but it's tough, always tough for the leader to catch traffic, even guys who were getting lapped, they're going to race hard because the caution could come out and anything could happen.
I think traffic was the concern, and Jeff alluded to it, and he was trying to manage it the best he could, and we were kind of forced into some traffic, and obviously I didn't know that he had been getting so loose, but it was a concern. Kevin was going to go all he could go, right; at that point in time he's just going to do everything he can to beat us and get back to the flag.
It made for a great race. I think if there wasn't traffic there, it probably wouldn't have been as dramatic, but at the end of the day we won. It was good that it was close, it was exciting.
Q. Jeff, people are listening on Sports Radio 810 right now, we're doing a post‑race show, and a lot of people are calling in. There's a lot of people ‑‑ David Pearson, 105 wins, do you think you can get there?
JEFF GORDON: I think we can get to 89 because we did it tonight, and the next one on the list is 90.
All I can tell you is the kind of race cars and race team that I have this year tells me that we can get more wins. And if we can keep running like this, and I want to keep driving and keep winning.
As good as we've been this year, they've also not come easy. We've had some slip through our fingers and tonight went our way, and we got 89. To me I've never thought that that was attainable, and until we get within a couple, I still am just focused on getting as many as I can.
Q. Just kind of following up on finally capturing the win and the excitement that's kind of surrounded your heading to Charlotte, a place where you won your first race, a million dollars on the line next Saturday night, and then the Coca‑Cola 600, could you come in any better way, really, than you are right now?
JEFF GORDON: No, and, you know, it was so cool this past week with Marcus Smith and the folks at Charlotte Motor Speedway and at the Hall of Fame there commemorating that first win of mine 20 years ago. To go through that, talk about winning this race around 20 ‑‑ well, I guess it wasn't 20 years ago, but the first one, a long time ago, and to be able to ‑‑ you look back through my career and have the wins that I've had, and to be able to be this far into my career and be able to get back to victory lane is very special.
And then to follow that by going to Charlotte, a place that I love, I love racing at Charlotte, and to be at home and also race, it's just one of those races where you go all‑out, and it's more about pride and honor and just kind of showing your competitors what you can do.
So we're going to be pushing really, really hard to follow this up with a great performance there.
Q. In a season where going all‑out seems to be the theory, with wins being so important now in the Chase, any idea about what the All‑Star Race could be ‑‑
Jeff Gordon: If they made the win for the All‑Star Race count towards the Chase, yes. Trust me, dangling a million dollars out there doesn't hurt.
Listen, there's not a competitor out there on the track, every weekend, if it was for one dollar or a million dollars, they want that trophy. They want bragging rights. They want to make a statement, and they want to go win the race. That's what we're going to go do next week, and hopefully we can accomplish that.
Q. It seemed like Kevin Harvick obviously had the fastest car, but there was one point where he got caught in some sort of pit stop sequence and he was 18th and you were 19th, and I think you guys were stuck there for like 20 or 30 laps. Is that just indicative of this track and the tire, or looking ahead to other mile‑and‑a‑half tracks, is that going to be what we're going to be looking at again this season?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I talked about the repave. It's a pretty hard right side tire, so it's edgy. But lowering the ride heights and just making the cars ‑‑ the aerodynamic of the cars advancing over the years, it just makes pit strategy that much more important ‑‑ I mean, track position that much more important. And so the further back you get, the more challenging it gets, and so when you have a good race car, what happens is you can't go ‑‑ just go all out and push hard in the first couple laps, because there's no air there. It's just all turbulent and disturbed and the car is just out of control.
So you've got to kind of let them get strung out or find some clean air, and that's what Kevin did a really good job of tonight, he could jump on that outside on the restarts and make more passes than I could.
Later in the race I was able to do that. But yeah, it was more about just kind of taking your time, being patient, not getting too much in a hurry, and once it got strung out, you could start picking them off one by one, if you had as good a car as I had and Kevin, but yeah, when we got back there and they dropped the green, it was a white knuckle experience, to say the least. That's indicative of just racing in general, not just NASCAR, all motorsports.
But as the grooves get wider and the track gets more abrasive and the tracks that we talk about, then you have more options to have cleaner air on the nose of the car and on the spoiler, and tonight on the restarts, when you first took off, there wasn't enough room to just jump up next to the wall to get away from it. So you were sort of bottled up in it for a little while.
Some of it's the track, some of it's the tire, but most of it's just aerodynamics in general.
Q. You'd said on television right after you won that I believe you got off to a little bit of a rough start. What was going wrong? Was it strictly the traffic that you talked about earlier?
JEFF GORDON: No, the cautions came out very untimely. I don't know all the specifics, but I know ‑‑ I think it was our first green flag stop the caution came out right as I came off pit road and some cars had not stopped, so then we had to do the wave‑around, and if I'm not mistaken, that happened again for us on another green flag stop, and so we had to do the wave‑around again. To do that twice, it shows you how good of a race car we had, but at the same time those are the breaks that you have to have go your way in racing, and for us we were fortunate it happened early enough in the race where we were able to recover as well as have a good enough race car to recover.
Q. Just wondering if you had a chance to run around Danica Patrick tonight and what your thoughts were of her performance.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I did. She was very impressive. You know, one time I started on the outside of her, and I drove down into 1, and she left me, and then she about passed the two cars ahead of us going into 3.
It was pretty obvious she was feeling comfortable, had a fast race car. I think I heard she finished seventh or something. Yeah, that's a real testament to her work ethic and her talent as well as Stewart‑Haas. Those guys are just really putting out some great race cars right now. She did a great job, yeah.
She started behind me on another restart, and I had to like hold her off. I mean, she was aggressive, real aggressive.
KERRY THARP: Jeff, congratulations on this win here tonight, to the No. 24 team, and we look forward to seeing you at Charlotte.