What a way to win here, your 20th anniversary with DUPONT and Hendrick Motorsports, your 87th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, your first win here at Homestead Miami Speedway. You have now won at least one race at every active Sprint Cup Series track except Kentucky Speedway, and the only reason you haven’t won there is because you’ve only raced there twice.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, somebody tell them to stop adding tracks.
Q: Listen, congratulations, Jeff. Maybe just talk about the win, talk about how that has got to be special, 20 years with DUPONT, 20 years with Hendrick Motorsports.
JEFF GORDON: There’s a lot of reasons why it’s special. This is a big win. I mean, we’ve been really close here in the past years with some good race cars, but just coming up a little bit short. And today we just did all the right things. With the way this team has handled things and fought through things and some great moments and some pretty low moments, to be able to end the season like this, pretty amazing.
But I think what I’m most excited about is DUPONT. To be able to have a special paint scheme commemorating 20 years together, it’s such an incredible accomplishment, and then to be able to kind of pay them back or give them thanks by pulling that car into victory lane, I know how pumped they were. They were very, very excited, as well as I can’t believe — it’s not very often you get Hendrick Motorsports a first for Rick Hendrick. We got to do it together, Buddy. I appreciate that.
Q: Crew chief Alan Gustafson, talk about the win here today.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it was a really good race. To echo Jeff’s sentiments, to be able to win DUPONT’s 20th anniversary and Jeff’s 20th anniversary with that silver car, which I think is gorgeous, it looks really good on the racetrack and even better in victory lane.
It was a good race, had a solid car. I think we made the right decision there pitting. That was obviously a pivotal moment there for us to be able to contend for the win and had a really good car and a solid day.
Big deal for the team. We’ve been through a lot and are in a position that we wish we were in a lot better position in points right now, and we’re closer to contending, but we know to contend you have to win races in the Chase, and we were able to do that today, so that’s a big deal.
Q: And Rick, you finished the season, now you have 209 — your racing organization has 209 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories. You had the big 200th win earlier this season at Darlington. You finished the year with a big win. Just talk about how special that has to be.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, our goal is to win every race when we can, and the cars all ran well today. Jeff was fast. I think he had the fastest 10-lap average yesterday.
You know, it was a great day for us, a great day for DUPONT. You don’t have sponsors that come on board and stay with you that long. To look at the number of wins Jeff has, 87 now? 87 out of 209, that’s pretty good.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, that is good.
RICK HENDRICK: But it was a great race. I went over and congratulated Roger and Brad — Roger is actually wearing my hat and I’m wearing his. And he’s a great friend. And Brad did a good job, so we’re happy for them.
We talked about it before the race started. We wanted momentum out of this race carrying into next year. And I think I’m real proud of Jeff; he had the bit in his mouth today, and Alan made all the right calls. Good to get one here at Homestead because this is one of the other tracks we never won at.
Q. Jeff, can you take us through the emotions of the week, obviously starting in Phoenix and having to deal with the aftermath, and here you are, victory and having finished second to Bowyer without any incident. Just take us through that if you can.
JEFF GORDON: It’s like our whole season wrapped up in one week. Yeah, you know, I mean, definitely the emotions, and you can try all you want to try to move past the moment, but man, it just ate me up inside all week. I just kept going back and forth about the decisions that I made and wishing I had made different decisions to backing up reasons why I made the decisions I made, and I just kept going back and forth from being disappointed, being angry, feeling that I had a right. I didn’t have a right. So that just ate me up all week. It meant the world to me to have Rick stand here by my side not just in the media center but all week as well as Alan and the team, and I think that was what was so special today was to go into victory lane. And I think it started in our team meeting before the race; I apologized to those guys for some of the things that transpired that they had to get involved with that wasn’t their doing last week, and I put them in that position, and I apologized to them and I thanked them at the same time for having my back.
That’s the kind of team that we’ve been this year. We’ve had to have one another’s backs because we’ve all made mistakes this year.
And so to be able to celebrate with them in victory lane was very special, very meaningful, and gives a tremendous amount of momentum to go into 2013 with the new race car.
Q. For Rick and Jeff, obviously Jimmie would have had a chance to win if he didn’t have his problems. What’s it like to see him have those problems? You’ve never seen those problems in the past Chases that he’s been in. Is that just the odds catching up to them?
RICK HENDRICK: I think so. A pinhole in that line, that could have — something hit it or I don’t know how it happened, but I think about that. I mean, we had to run a bunch of perfect races to win five in a row, and Jeff to win his four, I mean, we’ve — I saw Terry break his hand and come back and win a race. And today, this Chase setting we have with the points as tight as they are, you just can’t have a problem, and I know it wasn’t from the lack of effort. We had a lug nut that started and then we had the hole in the line. But that’s just racing.
If you let that destroy you, you’ll never be able to win again, and I think we go back and figure out what happened and try to prevent it from happening on any of other cars again. That’s the way we usually work together.
It’s disappointing, but at the same time it’s racing. The tire blew in Phoenix; you can’t help that. And those kind of things happen. You just have to accept it if you’ve been racing as long as I have. I’ve had a lot of them on white flag and something happens, and you just have to go on and race again the next day.
Q. Kind of following up on that, you came into the day kind of hoping to be in both victory lanes or at least one celebrating a championship. What were the mixed emotions you had celebrating the win with Jeff knowing that the 48 team had kind of blown the championship?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think, again, I feel awful blessed to be able to have won as many as I’ve won, and after a while you just do the best you can and prepare the best you can. And if somebody just beats you, then you know you’ve got to go to work. If things happen outside of your control, then that’s just the breaks of the game.
I thought it was a long shot anyway coming in here tonight. Brad as good as he’s been, he’s run a flawless Chase, and unless he had the same kind of problem we had tonight, and that could have happened with a lug nut or run over something or an oil line or whatever, could have happened to him. So you know what can happen, but the likelihood, the way their year has been going, for that to happen was pretty remote.
It wasn’t a total shock. I thought that the 48 and the 24 were strong and could make it on fuel and we were going to be — probably about 10, 12 points, 10, 11 points, something like that. Unless they had the same kind of problem the 48 had we weren’t going to do it.
We talked about this again on the radio before the race with Jeff and Alan, we need to go out and get the job done today, and that’s what they did. So I’m celebrating that one and letting the other deal go.
Q. For Rick, I notice you have the Shell hat on. I understand you and Roger switched hats out there. Did you say anything or can you share what you said with him out there?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, he and I watched a race together not long ago when we were out of town. He’s one of my best friends, and I wanted to congratulate him, and he reached for my hat when I got to him and said, “I want to wear that hat.” And so I was happy to swap with him.
You know, I respect him so much, and he is such a good friend. So I’m real happy for him. I’m very, very — he’s paid his dues, he’s won a bunch of championships, and he’s done a lot of hard work in this sport.
And Brad, he was with our organization for a while, and he’s got a lot of talent. So you want to see friends do well. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to — this is it, that one is enough. Next year is not going to be that way. We talked about it, we laughed — we were actually texting before the race. Keep it in the family; that’s what we said.
If we both get the win tonight, that was pretty good.
Q. Jeff, were you close on fuel at the end, and if you were, how close were you?
JEFF GORDON: You need to ask Alan. He’s the one that gambled on it. I was saving a lot, I know that. I just kept looking at the gap — what made me concerned was that the run before that I had gotten really, really tight in the center and loose off, and so I lost some speed at the end of the run, and the 15 was able to run me down, and I didn’t want to see that same thing happen.
And so when he started saying save fuel, save fuel, I said, well, how many laps are we short? He said, no, we’re good, but we want to pad it a little bit. I kept thinking, I don’t want to pad anything because the last run we gave up a lot at the end. But they made an adjustment to the car, the car stayed good throughout the whole run. It was hard to break up the momentum or the rhythm that I was in on my entry and getting to the gas in the middle, but we started working with it and keeping that gap. But I don’t know, how close were we?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: We had probably a lap to be good. We had a two-second lead, and there was no reason — you don’t have to win it by just a foot. So we knew we had two seconds to spare, and shame on us if we’re out there trying to stretch a lead and run out of gas. That’s not very smart. We kept the two seconds as close as we could, and within that two-second window I had a thought in my mind if he got to one second we’d turn him back loose, but he never did.
Q. This is more of a career question or for Mr. Hendrick: In light of what Mr. Smith said a couple of years ago about Miami and now that you’ve finally won here, could you shed some light or Mr. Hendrick shed light on how over the last two decades NASCAR has changed from a southern-rooted sport to one that’s trying to extend its outreach to across borders, across the United States and across different foreign borders?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I think we feel the same way as NASCAR does, that we want everybody to be a NASCAR fan. The more fans, the better reach that we have to bring crowds and entertain them as well as sponsorship opportunities. I think that’s just the way the world is working, certainly in the marketing world, as well, of who the customer is out there.
But definitely this race, I’d say probably the Phoenix race, as well, just really reaching out and broadening the fan base. And it’s great to see. It’s really grown over the years. You see the Latino fans and Hispanic market growing here each race that we come here, and it’s very cool because typically they probably wouldn’t follow NASCAR. But if this track wasn’t here, or the fact that it is here, I think it really displays our racing at its best. It’s a great racetrack. It’s very entertaining. It’s a great weekend of racing with the trucks, the Nationwide and the Sprint Cup Series battling for the championship.
So it doesn’t get much better than this. And the fans that I come across, they just love the fact that they’re able to come here to this racetrack and see NASCAR racing at its best, that they don’t always get a chance to in other parts of the country. So yeah, that’s definitely an area that’s really grown.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, we had two fans from Israel that came, were in victory lane tonight, and we didn’t know them until they spoke to my wife. But they were wearing Gordon stuff, and they were telling us that — we were telling them that we visited there a couple years ago.
JEFF GORDON: Was it the couple with the little boy? Yeah, so at the airport this morning, we were at the airport, my wife and my kids and myself, getting ready to helicopter out, and they were sitting right next to us. But they didn’t say anything, and I didn’t really see anything. And then all of a sudden they were walking out to go get on this bus, and the little boy had a 24 backpack on. And so I said hi to him, and I was kind of struck that they didn’t say anything to me or get a picture or an autograph or anything.
And so my wife saw them at victory lane, or outside of victory lane, and she recognized them from this morning and said come up into victory lane. So I’m glad you got a chance to say hi to them and see them and learn more about who they are. I know the little boy was a big fan, so to get to go to victory lane was pretty cool.
Q. Clint was in here a little while ago, and he said it had obviously gone through his mind that you were the one ahead of him and I’m sure it was going through your mind that he was coming from behind. Was there any thought about that, or were you just more worried about keeping your distance to win the race, or were you thinking at all about Bowyer?
JEFF GORDON: I thought a little bit more about him when I was passing him for what could possibly have been for the lead because Alan told me that if this thing goes green, you’re racing the 15. So we came into some lap traffic, and I could tell he was pretty anxious and running hard. He knew the same thing that I knew. I was able to get to the outside of him and get by him. But I had to race with him a couple of times, and there were no issues.
It didn’t matter who was behind me. I’ll be honest, I wanted to win the race, and Alan put us in the position to win the race. We had a great race car, and I didn’t want to give it up to anybody.
But I thought it was pretty ironic. I mean, there was one time where it was a restart, it was me, Joey and Clint, and I’m like, isn’t that just the way it goes. And so we just really tried to focus on our car, our team, our position and get the most out of it.
After it was over, I thought, you know, wow, I can’t believe that we just finished first and second after what happened last week.
Q. Jeff, you’ve been a four-time champion obviously, and you congratulated Brad after the win tonight. What kind of champion do you think he’ll be for the sport? That’s a pretty big ambassador role, and he’s obviously the first guy born I think in the 1980s to be a champion in the sport and kind of looks at the world a little bit differently. How do you think he’ll do as the lead face?
JEFF GORDON: And I think because of that, he’ll do great. His ability to reach out to the social media and the younger crowd, you know, I think that he’s — he’s somebody that takes it — wants to take it and wants to be that, and he’ll — because of that, he’ll put a lot of effort into it.
He’s entertaining. You know, that’s for — you never know what you’re going to get with Brad. I enjoy or look forward to watching him, and I think this experience, he will just mature to a whole ‘nother level because of being in this position and carrying this responsibility. When he sees all that’s involved — every champion that I’ve ever seen win their first one, they always come out of it with a whole new perspective on past champions. And I remember when Jimmie won his, he was overwhelmed with everything that comes along with it. It makes you grow up.
If you’re ready for it or not ready for it, it doesn’t matter; it’s there, and there’s a lot to take in, and it makes you really look at things a lot differently and recognize that responsibility that you have.
So I think he’ll do a very good job.
Q. Rick, your season has been unusually erratic. You went 10 races at the beginning without winning, then you won seven of the next 11, then the next 11 without a win and won three of the last four. Was that all just happenstance and the way things happen, or is consistency something that your team needs to shore up?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I don’t really know how to answer that. We’ve run good every week. We had all four cars in the Chase. Everybody won a race. I think we had 11 poles and 10 wins, and we finished — I don’t know where we finished in the points. We could have — we had a shot to finish one, three and five two weeks ago, and I don’t really think we’re erratic. I think the competition is pretty stiff.
You look at Greg Biffle, who led the points going into the Chase, and so I just think it’s the level of competition, if you are short on fuel, you go from 1st to 12th. If you have a tire go down or you have to come back in on a speeding penalty, like Kasey, you lead the race and then you end up 20th, it’s just so many good cars out there.
I don’t think anybody can just be perfect for the whole year. I’d say if I can go every year and get them all in the Chase and win 10, 11 races and 10, 11 poles, I want to win a lot of championships, but if you run like that, you’ll win your share.
Q. For Rick, at one point Brad was in the Hendrick stable with JR Motorsports, and I guess the thought was eventually he may get a ride with Hendrick and he left. But did you see this potential in him back then and any thoughts you wish you could have retained him at that time?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I knew Brad had a lot of talent, and we looked at ways to try to keep him. I told Roger he was on loan. Now he won’t want to come back.
But no, you know, sometimes guys really blossom, and they are really way ahead of the curve and the timing isn’t right, but I wish him all the luck in the world.
And you know, he’s a great talent, and if — we worked to get him in the Nationwide car and then his first win in the Cup car with James was one of our cars. You know, if we kind of helped him get there, that’s great. But I — you just never know what turns life takes, and I’m happy for him, but I’m happy with our lineup.
Q. That was part of my question. He won his championship in his 125th start, and the guy who did it in the fewest starts is Jeff in 93 starts. I guess that’s an impressive start, and I think it’s impressive because I don’t think anybody thought three years ago that Brad could do that, he was sort of raw and aggressive. Would you agree with that? Did you think that he could turn it around that quickly? And my second question since you know Roger so well, does that guy ever show emotion?
RICK HENDRICK: He was pretty emotional tonight when I was with him. He was — he genuinely was happy, Roger was. Brad, and Jeff worked with Brad, Brad, he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but he was very aggressive. But he learned how to control that and how to race, and he did it in a hurry. And he did it almost in a year.
And you know, and I think Paul Wolfe has been a great influence, and that’s a great combination.
You see guys — I remember Kyle Busch, and Alan was the guy that had him, first race he ever ran in the Nationwide car, he should have won. When you’ve got a lot of talent — a lot of guys you see guys with talent and they get too aggressive or they just don’t know when to race, and he figured it out in a hurry. He’s been very, very — he’s been a very smart while he was aggressive racer this year.
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, when he was with us, I don’t know if I saw this much potential out of him, but he certainly had talent. I think he races smart, like Rick said, and a lot of times when you look at champions in any series, you have to have talent and know how to get the most out of the car, but you have to be smart.
To me, and Alan might even be able to talk to this point a little bit, what impressed me so much this year is that there were times when there was some back and forth between whether they were missing something or didn’t have what we had, and those guys went to work, and they made their stuff really strong, and it takes engineering, good crew chief, fabricators as well as a solid driver to pull together like that and make improvements.
You’ve got to give them credit.
Q. You’ve been the champion four times; Rick, you’ve had numerous championships. Could you talk about the mental toughness in Brad to — when you guys go full court press, you guys go full court press.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I’ll tell you, I remember just like yesterday Brad sitting in my office, and he eats, sleeps and drinks wanting to be a race car driver, and he — when he was with the Nationwide team, he was all under the car, all around the car with the guys, and he brings a level of intensity that I see in very few people, just that determined.
And I think he’s matured in a hurry, and he learned how to race, and race 500 miles and race against guys and know when to race and the gas mileage thing. They figured it out. I guess they were first, weren’t they? They kind of had the gas mileage thing down first. They won a couple races that way where everybody was saying, hey, can they go that far. So that was planning with he and the crew chief, and I think he spends a lot of time over there, and he’s made that whole organization better.
Again, I think like Jeff said, he’s — I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody mature as quickly — not so much mature but learn how to race and accept racing with guys that were champions and looked at as being the best but wanting to beat the best.
He deserves it. They deserve it this year. They had a great year.