“I thought I got as good of a restart as I could ask for. And then you’ve got guys with fresher tires behind you. But I thought I got a really good re-start as soon as I could ask for to be on the bottom lane and I’m pretty happy with this 3M Chevrolet to come home third. Yeah, at one time I felt like maybe we could get second; but that was just chaos there. For us, it was just chaos the entire race. We had a really good car; we had the loose wheel, and we had to come from behind. I didn’t think we had the best car on that last run. I thought Carl (Edwards) looked pretty good. The No. 41 (Kurt Busch) looked really strong. And we were building a top five out of it. But, I certainly didn’t like NASCAR running us around under there under caution so long. I thought we were going to run out of gas. I hated it for the No. 3 (Austin Dillon). Happy for Matt (Kenseth). I think he deserved it. They had a good car. It would have been a shame for him to run out of gas. So, a great job to him. I’m just really proud to have 3M on board and we gave them a really good top-3 finish.”
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 2ND
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 3RD
KERRY THARP: Let's roll right into our post race for today's and tonight's 55th annual Food City 500 in support of Steve Byrnes. Our third place finisher Jeff Gordon. Jeff drives the No. 24 3M Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Just, take us through your day today. Certainly a race that started this afternoon, finished late tonight. But certainly you showed a lot of grit and determination to try to get that win.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, thank you. I'm very pleased the way we finished. It certainly wasn't easy, and was full of ups and downs and emotions. You know, the whole weekend really was. We were very disappointed in the way we qualified. I didn't get the best out of the car. But we were just lacking some speed, as well. And in the race, I thought we were really, really good.
The long runs I got a little bit tight. It's really difficult trying to maneuver the rubber building up on that top groove where they've ground it down. I really hope they reconsider that in the future and do something about it, but anyway, it makes for some interesting racing out there, especially around lapped cars, just big, big challenges getting through traffic. Makes it very hard to pass.
But we were cruising along there making our way to the front, and I was pretty happy with the car, and then we had the loose wheel, which was a bummer, and lost two laps. But the car was really fast after that, and we were able to get back on the lead lap, which was great, and then we lined up in the outside lane which was a huge plus tonight, a couple times on some restarts and ended up driving our way into the top 5. We were in a good position to get a really nice, solid finish, and then all the chaos broke out with restarts and rain and crashes and everything else. Found ourselves somehow in second, and I thought we were going to run out of fuel for sure, but luckily we didn't. I saw the 3 peel off there and I felt sorry for him and I thought we were going to be next, or the 20. But that last restart was just trying to get momentum and not spin the tires too much. I knew Jimmie on the outside was going to be really, really hard to hold off, and I thought a third would be a great finish. So I'm very happy with the third.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie Johnson came in second in today's race. Jimmie, certainly looked like every piece of that car except maybe the roof was fairly damaged, and my goodness, just take us through how you were able to recover from that and almost win the race.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the first half of the race or first third of the race I was behind the 24 and we just worked our way up through the field and things went pretty smoothly. I had a very fast race car and felt like we were going to have a strong night. And then one of the restarts midway through the race, the 41, I don't know what happened, but he lost control, got into me. I went into the outside wall in Turn 3, and a caution came out. We had a fair amount of damage to the right rear quarter-panel. I didn't think I hit that hard, but after I got out of the race car and saw the damage, no wonder it didn't drive very good after that, and we needed two or three pit stops to get the quarter-panel pushed back down so there was some side-force on the back of the car on corner entry and once we did that, we weren't as good as we were at the start of the race but still very competitive. Chad called for two late in the race. That picked us up a few more spots, and then I think the last two restarts I was in the outside lane and that helped me out quite a bit. Wild night, but glad to get it in.
Q. Jeff, obviously you'd like to be the one in the winner's circle, but Matt Kenseth was getting some questions about retirement himself as a fellow 43 year old and with you hanging it up. Are you just happy to see a guy like Matt kind of get the monkey off his back with the long winless streak ended tonight?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, Matt might have 10 more years left in him or so. I don't think he's ready for that yet.
You know, I like Matt. He and I, we've had our differences over the years, but I get along really well with him. When you see a guy like that who's certainly in the later stages of his career, makes a move over to Gibbs, he's just one of those guys you like seeing good things happen to. I would have been really bummed out if he or I would have run out of fuel there at the end because I felt like he really did a great job on those restarts and they made a good gutsy call, and the race was really theirs to lose.
And he still had to hold Jimmie off even though he had the outside lane which was a plus. But yeah, that was a gritty run to the finish there, and I know we were all sweating and I'm sure he was, too. But yeah, great to see him get that win. He hasn't said anything to me about retirement, so I don't think that's coming.
Q. Jeff, when you got back on the lead lap and you were back in traffic, do you kind of credit the way your night ended up getting this finish, because it looked like you were biding your time back there and waiting to get another caution to be able to close up and catch up with the rest of the lead cars, or was it just that hard to deal with traffic tonight?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it's so hard to pass cars that are close to your speed. Lapped cars are difficult enough, in that they give you a little bit of room or sort of work with you, then you can maneuver your way through there. But basically what's happened now with the racetrack is it's more abrasive on the bottom. It's smoother on the top, and the top lays rubber, and when it does, it has more grip than everywhere else, and on the bottom you're just grinding the tires and don't have much grip. Some guys have gotten their cars set to rotate and roll around the lower part of the race track a little bit better than some others and those guys do better in traffic, but for me I was just slide jobbing every car I came to. If I got a run off the corner and had momentum and could get to their quarterpanel or bumper, I'd just dive in there and slide up in front of them, and that worked really well for me all night long, but there were some cars that were a little bit faster that you couldn't do that with, and when I finally got back on the lead lap with cars I was racing with, I really had to pick and choose those moments to make those passes very carefully or I would lose positions instead of gaining them.
But kind of like what Jimmie was saying, we made a few spots up. We had a good race car. I could hold on to about anybody I was behind, but I needed to have a restart to start on the outside. There was a couple we made a bunch of spots up on the outside.
Q. Jimmie and Jeff, I think between the two of you it's like 70 something starts here. Where does this one rank here as far as craziest nights that you've had at Bristol, multiple laps down, wrecked race cars, where you came from at the end.
JEFF GORDON: Heck, that's Bristol, isn't it? I'm sure I've had whackier nights and days at Bristol than this. I mean, mine, other than the loose wheel, mine was pretty...we had to fight hard all night long, and when you're up top like that against the wall, I mean, mentally it's draining. You're just on the edge waiting to hit the wall every single lap or for everything to jump out from underneath you. Other than that, I can't say that mine was too wild and crazy. Our car was solid, our team was solid. Everything else kind of was working our way the rest of the night.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's potentially heading towards the old Bristol. Just thinking it through a bit, when we had to race the bottom, everybody gets so mad at one another and punts each other out of the way. We're getting pretty pissed off at one another riding around the top and there's a lot more contact. Now when you get into somebody there's really nowhere for them to go, but I think as we continue to race here and continue to run around the top, we're going to see it turn into the...it'll never be the old Bristol but something very similar. Frustration is so high. I mean it doesn't matter if you're catching a guy that's four laps down with crash damage. You can't pass them if they run the top. It's just so tough. So, it was whacky. But I think there's more potential yet.
Q. For any of you or all of you, there were three red flags for rain, the start was delayed 90 minutes. I think this was nine hours. As drivers, is it hard to start and stop and just kind of be sitting, waiting, wondering when it's going to go again?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think so, and I feel like it was a little easier today because there was a big band of rain. I went back and ate and took a nap. I just kind of got ready for the long night.
The one thing that does make a difference here is how fast the track can dry, and I think it caught people off guard. I think Tony might have been a little tardy getting to his race car to get started. But it was nice, though, having that big band so that we could prepare from a driver's standpoint. Now, for the crew guys I think it was far worse for them to sit there and wait it out all day.
Q. Did NASCAR do the right thing in trying to get this to a complete finish? I know that there was that long caution at the end.
JEFF GORDON: I love the fact that that race ended under green. What makes no sense to me is when it started raining hard that they ran lap after lap after lap under caution. So I think that they did the right thing, but go ask the 3 car. I don't think it was right that they ran that many laps under caution when they started to lose the track. At that point you've got to recognize everything going on in the race, and all you have to do is stop the cars and give everybody kind of that fair shot to go finish that race off. Not to mention, you know, I don't know if it needed to be a green white checkered, either, but I can promise you I'd have a whole different opinion had I run out of fuel, but I think we all want to see the fans, especially a day like today where they stay here, like you said, for nine hours, I mean, that's commitment, and you want to give everything back to them. You don't want it to end under caution. But you've got to make sense of the whole situation and what's going on from a competition standpoint, as well. So I think they could have managed that slightly better, but all in all, it turned out pretty good.
Q. Jeff, in listening to you for 23 years, I don't think I've ever heard you like you were in your opening statement here be quite content at finishing third.
JEFF GORDON: That's because I didn't have a shot at winning.
Q. Did you really feel at the restart that there was no way and that it was unlikely you would win?
JEFF GORDON: The only chance I had at winning was if Kenseth would have went down there and went straight, which is possible, so you know, my car really faded. I really wore the right front tire out I think on that last run, and so being on the bottom, had I been on the top I might have had a little bit different opinion about it. When I was starting fourth I was excited to get the restart going, but when I was on the inside I was not too happy, especially knowing some guys had a little bit fresher tires. Of course I wanted to race Matt for the win, but I was going to pretty much either have to take him out or he was going to have to make a huge mistake just because that inside lane is such a disadvantage.
Q. Jeff and Jimmie, 26 or so laps to go, and Kurt's got the lead and he pits under caution. He's the only guy that comes down to pit road. Did that surprise you that he'd give up the lead to pit at that point?
JEFF GORDON: I was a little surprised. I mean, his car was so good. It's hard when you're the leader. When you're the leader you feel like everybody is going to do the opposite of what you do. I still think he had a great shot at winning the race had Carl not had his issue. To me Kurt, on old tires or on newer tires, he had the dominant car. I was behind him a lot tonight, and I watched him do things that I didn't see anybody else do. I mean, I saw Jimmie pretty good on the bottom, Carl decent at times, but the 41 would drive by five cars in the middle of the racetrack to the bottom on restarts and then pull back up in line and go to work on the rest of them. He was incredibly fast. I don't know if he necessarily needed to pit, as it turns out, he didn't probably need to. I don't know if they didn't get full fuel. There's a lot of different factors. But being the leader is a tough call.
Q. My apologies if this has been asked already, but it seemed like NASCAR waited a pretty long time to bring you guys to pit road and throw the red flag. Austin Dillon ran out of gas. You guys are pretty close. Were you surprised they waited that long, and what was going through your minds when you were running around on caution and the rain was coming down?
JEFF GORDON: Do you want to look at the transcript, because, yeah, I spent a few minutes on that one.
KERRY THARP: He covered that quite well.
JEFF GORDON: I really don't want to do it again, I can tell you that.
Q. Jeff, Ella and Leo doing the command, how was that for you?
JEFF GORDON: Highlight for me. The day couldn't be bad after that. That was so, so cool, and they nailed it. I'm just so, so proud of them. Yeah, that was just, I'm just so thankful to Bristol Motor Speedway and Marcus and Bruton and all those folks. To do that, to invite them to do that means so much to me, and they just had a blast preparing for it, just practicing in the car on the way to school. So funny, and Leo, he had to put his little engine rev in there at the end, which I thought just kind of put it over the top. As soon as the red flag came, I went back to the bus and rewound it and watched it with them, and they were just beaming. It was awesome.
KERRY THARP: Probably one of the better ones we've heard I'd say.
JEFF GORDON: I thought so, too. Best one I ever heard.