JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS - FINISHED 2ND
THIS IS ABOUT AS GOOD A ‘PRACTICE’ SESSION YOU COULD GET. HOW MUCH DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THIS CAR AND WHAT IT WILL DO WITH THIS SIZE OF A DRAFT?
“Of course you always want to win the race. Congrats to Dale Jr. He drove a great race, was aggressive and made some good moves. I thought we worked really well together. Our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet is excellent. That’s exactly what we needed to come out of this race with - other than the win - is a really good session like that where we’re dicing it up, running three-wide and seeing what we’re driving like even though it’s a little cooler conditions than what we’ll see Sunday. Overall it was a really, really good test session for us to come away with a good result and a car in one piece so I can take the green flag with this race car from the pole on Sunday. That’s awesome.”
YOU MENTIONED JUNIOR. WHAT OTHER DRIVER-CAR COMBINATIONS DID YOU FIND WERE THE STRONG ONES THAT YOU’LL HAVE TO CONTEND WITH SUNDAY?
“Of course, Matt Kenseth. He’s been really strong this whole week and was strong today other than the one time he got shuffled back. There at the end, everyone looked strong. The 22 (Joey Logano), the 4 (Kevin Harvick), the 1 (Jamie McMurray) was strong early in the race. Definitely Kasey Kahne my teammate was strong. I’m looking forward to watching this second race. I’m glad I survived the first one. Now we can go relax a little bit and go work on it some more the next couple days to get ready for Sunday.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – DUEL #1 FINISHED 2ND
LANDON CASSILL, NO. 40 CHEVROLET SS – DUEL #1 FINISHED 9TH
TY DILLON, NO. 33 CHEVROLET SS – DUEL #1 FINISHED 16TH
THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by Ty Dillon. Ty, you finished 16th, obviously raced your way into the Daytona 500. Talk about your emotion and what it will mean on Sunday to great in the Daytona 500.
TY DILLON: It means so much. I've been coming here since I was born with my family and watching my grandfather's cars race. Always wanted to be a part of this.
I love NASCAR. I love our sport for the passion that it takes and the history and everything that's made it. I always wanted to be a part of the highest level and racing in the biggest races. Tonight I was able to accomplish a goal I've wanted to accomplish for a long time.
The last couple days, my wife can attest to it, I've been pretty stressed and nervous. This just means so much to me. I love our sport and I love people that have come and won races and championships. I want to be a part of that one day. This is a start.
I can't thank everybody enough for allowing me to fulfill my dream.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Landon Cassill, racing his way into the Daytona 500. Landon, talk about securing your spot in Sunday's race.
LANDON CASSILL: It's extremely emotional. My team works really hard on our superspeedway cars. I've talked to a lot of you guys over the last years. You've seen our performances at superspeedways. It's really where we put all of our resources.
It's exciting at the rest of the races, but when you come to the Daytona 500, we have to race our way in. It's our second year in a row doing that. I'm extremely proud of it.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff Gordon, we spoke earlier today, and you pointed out you needed to survive tonight's race to start on the pole. You did that. Talk about your run.
JEFF GORDON: I wish I could say that was an easy task tonight, but it wasn't. I rode three‑wide there for many laps at the beginning. Didn't quite get the start I wanted to on the outside. We fought hard and had a really good, strong, racecar, had a really nice gas‑and‑go. That number one pit stall was nice under caution.
Other than win the race, I think we did everything we would have liked to have set out to do and accomplish and learn for the 500. I know its a little cooler temperature, so the balance is slightly different. I felt like we got a good read on the balance and a good read on what it's going to do in traffic, the speed on the car.
There were a couple guys, the 88 and 20, that looked really strong. Still some work to do, but we're in great shape.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. The conditions for the qualifying race and Sunday are going to be different. Is that going to have a dramatic effect?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it's going to have an effect. I definitely think the cars are not going to drive as good as they did tonight. You probably can't be as aggressive. It's a much longer race. You would think people would be a little more patient for the first half of the race. There was anything but that tonight. I don't know exactly what to expect on Sunday.
I know the track temp being warmer, being a day race; we're definitely going to have to probably think a little bit more about having some grip. You can't just trim the car out as much as you possibly can because that could bite you.
I think all the cars are going to drive pretty good up front. I think it's when you get fifth, sixth on back, inevitably at some point in the race that's going to happen.
That's what we're going to be working on. I thought Junior got some good pushing, the 20 as well. There's that compromise between getting the car that really can get that big burst of speed and make those passes, but also handle decent. That's what we'll be working on.
Q. Jeff, as you go through each day, do you take mental notes of this is the last time you'll do this, or is everything sort of routine for you?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, right now it's mainly routine. I mean, certainly when we were qualifying the other day, we came out of it with a pole, certainly that thought came into my mind.
On Sunday, when I get up that morning, think about that day that will come into my mind.
Other than that, everything has been pretty much routine. It hasn't been completely like a different week or anything other than it's going well and I'm enjoying it.
I think the biggest thing is that relaxed mindset. I'm a little bit more relaxed than I normally am for whatever reason. I guess because I'm looking at it as my last Daytona 500.
Q. Landon, aside from the ego and status of being in the Daytona 500, last year you had a really good finish. What does a $300,000 check mean to a team like yours or some of these other guys? What does this do for a season and a career?
LANDON CASSILL: I mean, to kind of put it in perspective on a weekly basis, you all know what the prize money looks like, and 75% of our budget is prize money. The way the prize money averages out in a regular race, the race on Sunday; it takes us three races to get that.
When a majority of your team's budget is off the prize money, there's a lot of things that have already been purchased that just haven't been paid for yet. The check that's coming after Sunday's race is going to pay for that.
That's just kind of how it works. It's hard to dig out of that hole if you don't make it. It really sets up your season. Then obviously points‑wise, it can swing 20, 30 points either way if you finish 10th or if you finish 30th.
Q. Landon, over the last 10 laps, you were in, you were out, you were in, and you were out. How do you manage the emotions during that time?
LANDON CASSILL: That's not the hardest time to manage the emotions. The hardest time to manage the emotions was the few days leading up to it. For some reason this year was a little harder on my mentally. I had to actually focus on my plan, what I had to do, how I wanted to race my way into this race.
I couldn't have done it without my wife this week. She could see it in my eyes on Monday. She really helped me calm down and think about what I know I can do what I know my cars capable of.
In terms of the last 10 laps of the race, at that point you're just in the zone. These guys know sometimes you get to that place where you don't even feel your arms, your body, you're just making decisions.
The one thing I knew I needed to do that I told myself before the race I needed to do and I told myself with five laps to go on that last restart I needed to do was I wanted to put myself in a position that the cars behind me, that I could control their decisions.
Fortunately with five to go, I had Matt Kenseth behind me, I was on the outside line. Because of the cars that were underneath us, I was in a position I could control his decisions. So he really didn't want to be pushing me, I could tell. He wanted to go around me. Fortunately I had the upper hand on him. He's the one that pushed me up into the top 10 and kept me in the field. So, thank you, Matt, even though you didn't really intentionally do it. I helped you help me.
JEFF GORDON: Teach me how to do that. I'd like to know how to control Matt Kenseth's decisions (laughter).
LANDON CASSILL: Maybe it was a one‑time deal; I don't know (smiling).
Q. Ty, who at RCR helped you handle the stress going into the race? What was your most stressful moment in the race?
TY DILLON: I had a little bit of help from everybody. My wife helped me out a lot. She's been there, my calming little angel on the side. She's been keeping me strong.
I've been stressed out and nervous. This race means a lot to me. As I said earlier, I've watched it since I was a kid, watched my heroes race. To be in it, meant a lot.
Missing getting in by speed by so much, I was nervous. I wanted to be in officially. It's finally here that I'm officially in the Daytona 500. It's awesome. My brother, my grandfather, they were so supportive the whole time, too, in keeping me with the right mindset.
But nothing was going to calm me down until I got behind the car and I shifted into fourth going into one.
Q. Jeff, Kenseth was really strong early. When you and Dale got by him, the outside line did whatever it did, you dusted him. How did that develop?
JEFF GORDON: Just circumstances. Like I said, Dale was getting some good runs. I think I got a big push from somebody that kind of gave Dale a big push. Then I went up and started blocking whoever was behind me. It just allowed Dale to go get a run around the bottom, and Matt sort of hedged toward the top. When he did, Dale just barely got to his quarter.
I came off with a pretty big run off of the top on four and had a gap on the inside. I could have either gone three‑wide or pushed Dale. I mean, at that point, with that choice, I saw where Dale was dragging Matt down, so I knew Matt was coming backwards, I didn't want to go with him. I had to make that quick decision. I decided to go with Dale. Then the 2 got tucked in right behind me. We just blew right by him.
At that point he was kind of a sitting duck. He was going backwards in a hurry. Usually in that scenario, if a guy is coming that fast, people are going to start splitting him. I didn't see what happened after that.
Q. When you're the Daytona 500 pole winner, when you finish this race, do you go, Whew, got through that one, car is still starting on the pole? How important is that?
JEFF GORDON: The first thing was, man, I would have liked to have won that race. Wish I got a little bit bigger push. The second thing is a big sigh of relief. The reason I said that wasn't necessarily an easy task, even coming to the white flag, I think it was the 4 car, he went up to the outside of me. I mean, it all but turned me sideways when he was side drafting me.
I was just kind of hanging on tight. As soon as he got to the outside, I didn't spin out, I was looking up, who was coming, Tony was coming with a big head of steam. Is he going to split me or push me? Luckily he pushed me and took me back up to second almost with a run on Junior.
That's the way your thought process is working, it's that quick that things can look pretty bad then all of a sudden you have the momentum going forward and everything was looking really good. It was like that on those closing laps for quite a while.
Q. Jeff, on the final restart, Dale Jr. seemed nervous about what you were going to do. Logano appeared to lay back. With this being like the second year in a row with these rules, everybody more comfortable with this car at the plate tracks, is it becoming more difficult to out‑smart guys when they're behind you?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, I started on the front row on restarts three times tonight, and I don't think any one of them I came out with the lead. Whatever I'm doing is not the right thing (smiling).
Yeah, it's tough. You want that car pushing you from behind. But the back end is moving all over the place when they do that.
Even Ty and I were talking before the race, when I decided to choose that side, mainly you want that line to kind of all go together. It's not that you necessarily want somebody pushing you, you just don't want big gaps. You can't control that three and four rows back. You have to go with it, stick with it.
Other than what Landon is going to teach me about controlling what other people are thinking and decision making.
LANDON CASSILL: Just controlling their decisions.
JEFF GORDON: I understand. You're going about it the right way (smiling). But, yeah, I mean, every decision is very crucial. People can get such big runs. You can go backwards so quickly. I found out in the Unlimited that inside line just didn't work well for me. I went backwards every single time.
I was glad I had some good people pushing me when I was on the inside. I never really fell back that much from the inside lane. Got a little bit different opinion on that standpoint.
But, yeah, it's tough. I mean, it's gotten tougher and tougher every year when you come down here. The competition, the cars are tighter and closer. Everybody has learned so much more.
There are guys that are real bold and aggressive, they go fast and look spectacular just before they hit something. They sometimes win this race, too.
I think it's trying to figure out how to make that happen without wrecking your racecar.
Q. Jeff, you were talking about it being more difficult. How much more challenging is it in the sense of having these rules the same? How more is it pushing you? Is it that significantly different from last year?
JEFF GORDON: What's funny is I watched the Duels from last year. The outside line took off. Everybody went into the outside line. Single file for like 10 cars back. I was like, Oh, man, this is going to be a nice, easy 150. I'll be able to take the outside, get going, we'll get single file, ride around till the end, everybody will start dicing it up. I'll be out in front of everybody. It was anything but that.
I'm curious to see what happens this second duel. That was a dogfight the entire time. I was three‑wide. McMurray, he all but turned me down the back straightaway. I moved up, he nudged his way in there. I thought we were going to wreck on like the fifth lap. It was wild out there.
Everybody was pushing really hard. At the end you expect that, but you don't expect it from lap one. That's what I saw.
You know, for me, I'm just being aggressive to try to maintain some track position. Other guys look like they're aggressive trying to make some big moves to get that track position. So everybody is thinking about it differently. Usually they're a little more calm in the 150s before we get to the 500. That certainly wasn't the case in that race.
The cars aren't really any different this year from last year. Everything is really the same. It's really maybe just experience or how people's cars are driving or their mindset on how aggressive they want to be.
Q. Ty, when the shifter broke, how concerned were you knowing that you really needed to make your way into the Daytona 500?
I knew if we would have had to wait, we would have risked not catching back up to the pack or going a lap down.
It's the Daytona 500. I'm going to do whatever it takes. I was going to get it shifted.
JEFF GORDON: Happened right at the beginning?
TY DILLON: Last caution.
Q. Ty, how concerned were you when the 42 came across your nose when Trevor lost it?
TY DILLON: I didn't really have too much time to be concerned. I was a little concerned afterwards. I could kind of feel a little bit of the air, like those guys were waving around. Next thing I know Larson is across my nose. He made a good save. I came close to wrecking his day, too.
Things happened quicker than, like I say, we're used to or ready for. I'm just glad we didn't crash our car along with it. Just part of the bumps that got us here, I guess.
Q. Ty, the emotions of making your first one, has it sunk in yet? Jeff, it being your last 500, can you appreciate the emotions of a guy making his first?
TY DILLON: It hasn't totally sunken in yet. When I get back to the motorhome, watch my brother, be sitting on the couch, I can finally relax after a couple hours, maybe it will sink in. Kind of surreal. Like I said, I always wanted to be a part of this. It's finally happened.
JEFF GORDON: I don't think I can put it in perspective from his standpoint because he grew up in a family that came to Daytona ever since he was a baby. I didn't really watch the Daytona 500 until I was in my teens. I was always focused on Indianapolis.
It's taken me 20 years to get the appreciation for this sport, the greats, the history. Of course, winning it. I feel like the first year I won it in '97, I didn't have a full appreciation for the history of this sport.
That race meant a lot to me, but it didn't mean near as much to me as after I won the second one and the third run. I don't know, just a kid who grew up in open‑wheel racing in California. That's not what we did back then.
But that has changed in a big way. Certainly Ty, growing up in his family, my gosh, the significance of this race, I can't imagine what that must mean to him to know he's been walking ‑‑ he probably was strolled around here (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for coming in. We wish you the best of luck on Sunday.