Q: Jeff, you may or may not know this, but this also gets you in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint All‑Star Race because your provisional had expired.
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know how bad we’d love to be in that All‑Star Race, so that’s cool. That’s a lot of positives to come out of a win.
Q : You know, you’re third in points and made up some ground there, but anyhow, congratulations. Talk about what it meant to win here today.
JEFF GORDON: Oh, my gosh. This meant so much. I feel like we’ve worked so hard, and many weekends we’ve left the racetrack looking at one another going, what do we have to do? We’ve had race cars, we’ve had pit stops, we’ve had strategy. I feel like I’ve had days where I’ve done my part but just couldn’t get it all lined up. Today ‑‑ I mean, we come into this race with a lot of confidence. This is a great track for us, the 24 team, for me personally, and these guys, Alan especially, they gave me a great race car all weekend long. I was a little disappointed in myself qualifying. I felt like we should have done a better job than that, but he made up for it getting that No. 2 pit stall. That was sort of a turnaround for our weekend in many ways, or just that kind of added bonus, and that paid off for us today, as well. And of course a great race car. I feel like we’ve been in position to win this race several times the last few years, and no different than like Jimmie Johnson today, you get stuck in that outside lane on the wrong restart, all of a sudden you’re fighting to try to be in the top 5 or top 10, and we went through some of that today at times ourselves, but there at the end, great pit stop, tires at the right time, good adjustments, and then we were in the inside lane the final two restarts, and to me that made all the difference.
Of course we had to really run in Matt’s (Kenseth) tracks. He was strong. I felt like they made some adjustments, made his car even better. That’s probably the most patient I’ve had to be here, or in a race in a long time, just because I didn’t see his car fading like I thought it would. It just took a little longer, and it finally did start to give up a little bit, and we took advantage of that.
Q: Alan, talk about coming here this weekend and maybe a couple things that stick out in your mind that might have been the key to the win. Is there anything that sticks out in your mind?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it was obviously a great day. Coming here we knew this was a race that we needed to try to capitalize on. We needed to get a lot of points out of here to keep ourselves in contention for this championship. As Jeff alluded to, I think we had a really good car all weekend. Qualifying we were a little disappointed. We focused solely on qualifying on Friday because we really wanted that No. 1 pit stall. We felt like a few of the last races we’ve lost races because we didn’t have that No. 1 stall and our competitors did.
A little disappointed with ninth, but ended up being a blessing in disguise because I think we got a really good stall in No. 2 and we had a good car. Through the day we had track position, had a good car, had a decent short‑run car, had a good long‑run car, and we maintained track position fairly well, and I don’t remember what lap, but that was just a rash of cautions that got ‑‑ when we were leading that put us in kind of a compromising position. I had to make a tough decision there to either stay out on tires or come get tires. I decided to come get them, and ultimately I think hindsight 20/20 it probably wasn’t the right decision. The caution came out 25 laps later and all the leaders were able to come in so we had to battle back from that, and I think the key to that was having a really good car. Jeff did a great job in traffic, and then we had two really clutch pit stops at the end I felt like that we needed ‑‑ had a little bit of a rough start on pit road and the guys got two really good ones at the end, and when I knew we had gotten back to the front with new tires and were in position, I felt like it was going to come down to those restarts, and personally was looking forward to a long run. I felt our car was really good on the long run, and Jeff is the best here at keeping the car straight, driving the car straight off the corner, being patient with the car, taking care of the car. I think his patience and his ability to be really precise with the car at the end of the race ultimately paid off, and he wore Matt down, and that’s not easy to do. Of all the drivers in the series, Matt is much like Jeff. He’s a guy that does not make many mistakes. I was really proud of Jeff to be able to do that and just wear him down and ultimately pass him and win the race.
As Jeff also alluded to for me personally, man, we’ve been so close here so many times and have not been able to win this race, and it’s a race that I dearly wanted to win and really happy that we could do it. No matter time than right now.
Q. Jeff, I talked to Mark Martin a couple years ago, and he said you never know when you’re going to win the last race or the next race, so the further on you get in your career the more meaning and the more appreciation they have. You alluded to that earlier, but can you just talk about the emotion of doing this after coming so close and barely making the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I remember for years Mark saying that, and we’d always laugh at him, be like his 10th race win of the season. You’d say, wow, you never know when that next one is going to come. I understand that better today than I ever have, just because the wins haven’t come as often, and it seems like even when we’ve had race cars capable of winning we’ve been close. Just the little small circumstances could be all it takes sometimes to keep you out of victory lane, and it makes you realize how hard it is to line all those stars up to make it happen.
Sometimes guys make it look easy, and it’s not. I can promise you that. I think what’s even tougher is when you’re not getting the wins and just over time it just starts to accumulate, and it’s hard to keep the confidence in what you’re doing. Each individual on the team as well as together as a team. That’s what I think I’m most proud of is that we’ve been able to stick together and maintain a great working relationship to know that just keep on our path and it’ll come.
Now things have really been coming our way, and the momentum is there, and confidence is there. The race cars are a lot of fun to drive, and just going to the racetrack right now is a lot of fun, and that makes a big difference.
Q. Along those lines, how long will you think about this win, and how long will it stick with you before you start thinking about the next race and what do we have to do to ‑‑
JEFF GORDON: I was going to say, when do I get to Texas? You don’t get to enjoy wins for very long in this series. You always want to win a race when there’s an off weekend or an off‑season. It’s pretty sweet to win Homestead last year because we got to enjoy that one for a while.
But this is a special one for many reasons. You know, it’s Martinsville, that grandfather clock is very special, very historical racetrack. It’s one that’s been very good to me. Also memories, not so good memories, so there’s a lot of meaning to winning at this track.
I mean, I think it’s just really why it’s going to stick with me is because it’s been a tough year. There’s no better time to win races than right now, and to be able to carry that momentum ‑‑ I’m so proud to be third in the points. We all want to win the championship, but I mean, from where we started early in the season, heck, where we started in this Chase, to be third in points right now, I’m very proud of that. We can’t get the cart ahead of the horse; we’ve got to appreciate that but also take advantage of this momentum and confidence that we do have, and I can’t wait to get to Texas. We just tested there, thought we had a great test, thought we ran good there earlier in the season. I mean, right now, like I said, I’m looking forward to getting to every race.
But you try to savor and enjoy this one as much as you can until we get to the Homestead test on Tuesday. We’re busy right now, so I just can’t wait to get home and see my kids. My daughter, she made me cry on the phone because she told me she was crying because she wasn’t able to be in victory lane. That kind of stuff makes every win special.
Q. You kind of just touched on this a little bit, but this question is for you and Alan. A little over seven weeks ago, you weren’t even in the Chase, and now with three races left in the season, you have a plausible chance to win a championship. What has transpired over the last seven weeks?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it’s not seven weeks to us because to me it’s about 11 or 12 weeks. It started before we got to Richmond that I feel like we started to connect on some things with the setup of the cars. I think ‑‑ I really think back to actually New Hampshire between me and this guy, the first New Hampshire. We had a terrible ‑‑ I went into that race thinking, this is a great track for us, that we’re going to come out of here with either a win or a great finish, and we were not very good that day, and I had a bad attitude, and he and I had a heart‑to‑heart conversation afterwards, and I’m so proud of him for stepping up because what happened, the things that I said, the attitude I had was just not the way we were going to get ourselves up into victory lane or where we needed to make it in the Chase.
To me, that turned things around. It kind of was a bonding moment for us as well as kind of smack myself around a little bit to where I was like, you know what, I’ve got to go and work as hard as I can, give these guys everything I’ve got because they’re working their butts off, and let’s pull it together.
I think from that race on, we started seeing improvement, and sometimes you’ve got to have those moments, and I’m proud that we did. It might not have shown up at the racetrack the next week or the week after that, but it did finally start to come together, and I don’t know, Alan probably can touch on it more so. He’s got a better memory than I do when things really started to allow us to even get to that position that we were in at Richmond.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, you look back at it, and unfortunately or fortunately, I felt like we did a good job those races leading up to Richmond and put ourselves in position and raced really hard in my heart to get in that race and put ourselves in the race. And like Jeff said, I don’t think we had any bad performances or the cars ‑‑ Vegas maybe, I think Vegas we were pretty bad, but we’ve had decent speed and we just haven’t been able to put together the finishes, and ultimately we got to a point through the summer where we kind of reset, and we said, hey, being negative is not going to do any good, we’re going to have to go at this and be positive and fight hard and put ourselves in position and try to win some races, and I think we did that and raced our way in at Richmond.
The thing at Richmond that to me personally what happened there and barely qualifying for the Chase, for me it changes your perspective a little bit. Ultimately you sit there, and I don’t want to say you take it for granted, because you don’t take it for granted, but it is a special chance to compete for a championship at this level, and you don’t know how many of those you’re going to get. And for me when we didn’t have it for a couple days, that was one of the most terrible feelings in the world, and I think the guys and Jeff share that sentiment, and especially in the circumstances, and when we got the opportunity, I knew ‑‑ you could see it on the guys’ faces, you could see it on everybody’s faces, we’re not going to squander this opportunity, that we have a good enough team, we have good enough cars, we have a good enough driver to go out and compete with these guys week in and week out.
Really, really proud of the guys and Jeff and everybody for making it through, and ultimately I think times when you ‑‑ part of the struggle, you see the highs here, but that maybe isn’t the biggest accomplishment. The biggest accomplishment is us not falling apart on the lows, and I’m really proud of that.
Q. The win today puts you 27 points out, which I think you’re in it, but maybe first, do you agree, are you in this championship race? And what do you have to do to get closer to it with the way that the 20 and the 48 are running?
JEFF GORDON: Well, of course we’re in it. Until we’re mathematically out of it, we’re in it. This was certainly a big moment, big day for us, and like I said, we tested at Texas. I’m excited about Texas. I think it’s a great track for us. But it’s pretty darned great for both those guys, as well. They performed very, very well again today. It’s going to be tough to catch them.
You know, but all we can do, I think, is go out and perform at our best and just see what happens. The nice thing is that we’re not doing the points racing right now, we’re just going out and just trying to go out and win races and not think about protecting anything. You know, it’s just go and give it everything we’ve got.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I agree. I think we’re in it, and I think that Jimmie and Matt, both of those teams have been incredible all year. I don’t expect anything different than that. But I do feel like it’s plausible. I think we can go win these next three races, and I think that anything can happen.
If we go win these races, it’s not like they’ve got to finish 20th. Those guys go and finish 10th, we’re going to have a show at Homestead. That’s what we’ve got to focus on doing, and obviously we can win. We did it today and we’ve got to go try to win Texas and we’ve got to try to win at Phoenix and so on and so forth. It’s not going to be easy, never is easy, it’s not going to be easy for them, either. I haven’t been actually in the exact position they’re in, but I’ve been close, and even being first and second it’s not an easy ‑‑ with 27 points between us, it’s not an easy position to be in.
Q. For Jeff, you talked about how going on a winless streak or not winning at a track you’re expected to kind of gets to you after a while. How do you remain confident at this track, considering how well you run when you come so close, and how do you maintain that confidence knowing if we have something go our way, unlike the 2011 spring race, that we can actually come out of here and win?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I’ve said this quite a few times over the years. Martinsville is probably of all the tracks, all of the things that you look at with our sport today, it’s probably changed. Don’t get me wrong, but it’s changed the least amount as far as I’m concerned, how you drive this track, how you set the cars up, just the way kind of the race is run. To me it’s changed the least amount of every track that we go to, so it has allowed me over the years to do what I did 15 years ago when we first started winning races here and apply those same things today.
Now, competition has gotten tougher, setups have changed slightly, but I feel like I just try to go do the same things and then feed information back to Alan and the guys of what I feel like we need with the car.
So that has helped me tremendously because if you think about it in another light, when they repave a place like Kansas, I mean, aerodynamics and the setups and the tire, how it reacts to the racetrack, that has changed so much over the years, and an old guy like me, it gets a little tough to adapt to some of those changes, some of those big changes in the setups and what these guys, Alan and the engineers, are doing to make cars go fast at those tracks, it’s changed so much.
But here I would say that it’s still kind of old school. You’ve got to save the tires, you’ve got to be patient, you have to get into a rhythm. I like this track. I like Atlanta. I like Texas. I like those types of racetracks, and it definitely plays into a guy that’s been around the sport for a long time like myself, especially when there’s a long green‑flag run all the way to the finish.
Q. You mentioned getting caught up on the outside a couple times on the restarts early in the race. Can you describe the helplessness of that at this place when you get into that situation? And also maybe compare how ‑‑ we know the inside line is the better line here, but maybe compare it to some other years you’ve raced here. Was it more difficult today?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I feel like I kept my composure pretty good all day today except for those two times that I got stuck on the outside, and I wasn’t real proud of that, but I was mad. It wasn’t just the outside lane, it was some of the things that were going on of the guys on the inside lane making it even harder for you on the outside. They know they’ve got you in a vulnerable position, and they just run you up the racetrack. And then other guys know, I’ve got to fill that hole. That’s part of what makes Martinsville so exciting and why those restarts are so critical.
So it was very frustrating, but on the flipside of that, when I was on the inside, I was able to take advantage of that situation and make up for it. But yeah, you know, telling you, you get caught on that outside on the final restart, it doesn’t matter how good your race car is, it’s difficult to come back from that.
Q. Alan and Jeff, if you could both address this. Jeff, the last time you missed the Chase in 2005, you changed crew chiefs. The last time you went winless in a season, 2010, you changed crew chiefs. Is everything that’s happened in the last couple of months maybe reinvigorated both of you guys and made you more committed to each other and have this surge and make you feel like you can still work together and want to have a future together going forward, given that past events you’ve made changes in these sorts of situations?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I don’t want to get too much into the conversation we had at New Hampshire, but I didn’t bring it up, he did, but it’s either you’ve got to have a heart to heart ‑‑ the thing is I love this guy. I think he’s a great crew chief. I don’t think he gets near enough credit. And when you’re Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, a lot of people like to say things when things aren’t going well, and it makes it even tougher to be in his position. I think the crew chiefs already have the toughest job out there.
But before he was my crew chief, I wanted to work with him, and now that he is, I like working with him more than I ever thought I would. So when things aren’t going well, the toughest thing is to see him go through criticism or to criticize himself or anybody doubt one another. When we’re not doing well, I can tell you, I’m not questioning him; I’m questioning myself. I’m like, man, what do I have to do. But the nice thing is they’re doing the same thing, and that’s how you come together. Once he stops believing in me and I stop believing in him, then we’re done.
Luckily for us, that has not been the case this year, and that’s why I think we’ve been able to stay so strong and come back and be where we’re at today.
Q. You’ve gained a few points today, you’re a little closer, three races to go, you’re within striking distance. Does the fact that you’re closer, does it take a little bit of the pressure off or does it increase the pressure and ramp it up?
JEFF GORDON: I think it increases the pressure. I don’t know if pressure ever decreases, does it?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I don’t know that it increases it. To me I think that opportunity, it kind of ‑‑ you’re always competing to win and you do everything you can, but when it’s getting closer and closer, you know, somehow or another you seem to find a little bit more and a little bit more, and I’ve seen that in Jeff, and I think it’s just kind of part of human nature.
Yeah, I’m hoping to go to Texas and get a little bit closer and then we’ll have this conversation again. I think the closer we get, really ‑‑ I don’t want to say that we’re playing with house money, but of all the cars that are competing with it, I think we are. For us the best thing we can do is just go out there and try to win and get closer and closer and have a chance at Homestead. That really was my goal going into the Chase. Still, my goal now is to go into Homestead with a shot.
Q. Jeff, as far as the Texas test, when you’re at that test and Kenseth is there, too, a guy that you’re competing with for the title, how much are you ‑‑ is it hard not to peek and look at what they’re doing or wonder what they’re doing or wonder what times they’re running on a test like that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, of course we’re paying attention to that. I think we’ve got one of the toughest competitors not only for this championship but for each track that we go to right next to us in Jimmie Johnson. You know, and really all of our teammates, Kasey and Junior, they all run good at every track we go to. But when you’re at a test like that, you want a bunch of teams there, especially the highly competitive ones, one, to put rubber down on the track and get true race conditions or as true as you can get, but also to stack yourself up against them.
I’ll be honest, the first day I didn’t think that we were competitive enough, and I felt like now that the Roush guys, they were down at one end of the garage, so there wasn’t a lot of peeking and looking around, it was kind of they were on one end and we were on the other. But we are certainly looking at lap times of them as well as our teammates and keeping track of it.
You know, I don’t think it really changed our game plan. I think we just had to continue to try to find comfort and speed and confidence in the car, and I feel like we really made huge gains the second day that we were there. I was looking forward to that race already, but even more so now.
Q. Jeff, in 2007 you put up some big numbers and were the runner‑up in the points. This season right now the way you guys are running now sort of gives me that feel. You come every week competitive, you come with a car that can run top 5, a chance to win. Does it give you that feel and does it frustrate you guys that the worst number you’ve had is 15th here in the Chase and yet you’re still 27 points behind? And also, if you could make a comment about clinching the Manufacturers’ Cup Championship for Chevrolet, as well.
JEFF GORDON: Well, my memory is bad but it’s not bad enough that I know that 10 weeks ago those questions and comments that you’re making were exact opposite. What’s wrong with you guys? How come you’re this far back? Why can’t you win races? So it’s very refreshing to us to sit up here and not just be talking about a win but hear those types of comments.
I understand, right; it’s easy to count a team out when we haven’t put the numbers. But we don’t live off stats. We live off of how competitive we are and what little minor things that are going on that sometimes maybe look bigger on the outside but to us on the inside, it’s like, we were this close. And so that’s why we’re looking at it a little bit differently than others.
But this is a great position to be in. We’re excited to have had these last six, seven weeks go the way that they’ve gone, and it only ‑‑ each race weekend where things ‑‑ actually in a lot of ways, I think we could have done even better. I mean, I think of Chicago. I thought we had a car that could win there. We did a great job getting back to sixth or seventh or wherever we finished because we had a flat left‑rear tire coming to a restart. But we don’t dwell on that, we just move on to the next one.
I can’t say right now I feel any frustration in anything. I’m just very proud, excited, and know that there’s three races ‑‑ that’s a lot of racing left, and with the way things are going for us, anything is possible.
As far as the manufacturer’s championship, it’s a great way to wrap it up with a win today. It was a great, exciting finish there, battling it out with a Toyota that you’re battling for the manufacturer’s championship with, and I know how much that means to Chevrolet. They’ve been amazing supporters of ours for so many years, and it feels great to be able to ‑‑ there’s a chance we were going to get it either way, but it’s always good when you’re the one that kind of seals the deal.
Q. I don’t know if you know the answer to that or your theory is, but you got roundly cheered in driver intros and you got wildly cheered after the race. This is one of those southern types of tracks where you didn’t always get cheered. What do you think has changed? Is it you’re not winning as much? Is it that you’re older? Why do people cheer for you now at places like that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you never really know why people cheer or boo. Sometimes it’s obvious, but for me I came into the sport and started our third year in, started competing for the championship, and then the boos started coming. We were winning quite a few races and for the next three or four years we won a lot of races and it was a lot of boos and cheers and fan bases building at the same time. So I never really thought a whole lot about it. It was, I don’t know, things are going well, and if they’re booing I guess that’s a good thing. As long as they’re making noise, there’s no doubt not winning as much and being older, I think you earn respect through your consistency and just trying to go out there and show what you’re capable of and your team fights through a lot of things and shows signs of the things that the fans love to see your team doing, and then you come to a place like Martinsville that you’ve won a lot of races at but it’s been a while. I’ve got to think that not winning has a lot to do with it because Jimmie Johnson to me has been so dominant here, and I wanted so badly to see him right after driver introductions just to say, Earnhardt told me a long time ago, as long as they’re making noise, and they were making a lot of noise for him but it wasn’t all cheers, that’s a good problem to have.
Q. In the stands afterwards were you soaking up ‑‑
JEFF GORDON: I’ve never felt more support from my fans than this year, and I think it has a lot to do with social media. You see it through social media. But that kind of response where they’re sticking around after the race, and while I can’t hear and see everything going on when I’m passing for the lead or getting the checkered flag, I had a lot of people telling me the reaction, and that’s so cool. I think that’s awesome. Whether I’m at the track hearing it one‑on‑one from the fans or reading about it on Twitter or Facebook, through all that we’ve been through this year, I’ve never had more support.
And they are critical, at times, don’t get me wrong. There’s times they’re saying things that are tough, but I know that it’s only because they want the best for us just like we do, and when you finally can pull that victory off and see their reaction, between the team, my wife, my kids and the fans, it’s just nothing better.
Q. From how you got into the Chase to the positive and negative reactions surrounding that, to running well, you win, you now have a shot to win the championship, do you look at it as a, hey, take that, to the critics, or does it just feel sweet in the sense that we belong here and now I’m going to show you just how much?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, I mean, for me, obviously when the unprecedented events happened at Richmond and Chicago, right away what I felt like it was fair because you can race for it. It ultimately isn’t ‑‑ if we didn’t belong here, then beat us. If we don’t belong here, then we won’t run good and we’ll be 13th.
But for me I feel like we’ve proved right now we’re a third place team. Ultimately at the end of the year can we be better than that? We’re going to do our best, but that’s the way I look at it. I think the proof is in the pudding. Your finishes and your results ultimately determine how good you are or you aren’t, and I think that we’ve represented ourselves well, and I don’t think we’re done.
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I feel like we deserve to be in it. I don’t like how we got in it, being an added 13th team. You can dispute that all you want. But we’re certainly not going to say no, we won’t take it. We wanted to be in it. We feel like we were in a position to earn our way into it, and I think that this team would have performed like this whether we were in it or not.
I was as motivated on Wednesday between Richmond and Chicago to go out and just prove why we should have been in it and how we’re going to go into the season strong as I was once I found out on Friday that we were in it. You know, to me that decision just meant that what we’re going to be racing for is a championship instead of for ourselves and pride and to kind of show the critics.
Q. Besides the fact that you just want to win another championship, deep down does it ever cross your mind, hey, I just want to win it to give all the critics something to talk about, how we got in the Chase and I went on to win the championship, just to maybe frustrate them all off‑season?
JEFF GORDON: I don’t think of it that way. We just want to win. We just want to win the races and win the championship. That’s all that matters.
Q. One last question about points. Matt said earlier tonight that anybody in effect one race behind, 48 (points) behind, is probably out of it. There are five teams still within that 48‑point margin. Do you think it’s down to you, Kenseth, Jimmie, Kevin and Kyle? Are they the five that are still in it? You’re all less than 48 points.
JEFF GORDON: Let’s be honest. We’re all alive, but right now there’s two that are in it. Our job is to go to Texas and make it three. Realistically, legitimately, we’ve got to put pressure on those guys. Right now, other than this win today, they don’t really feel a lot of pressure from ‑‑ they’re racing one another is the way I look at it, and those guys are capable of putting very solid finishes together for the remainder of the season.
For us we’re really thinking of we’ve just got to go fight hard and see if we can’t do something extraordinary, and it’s going to take an extraordinary three weeks for that to happen. But mathematically we’re certainly in it. But until we close that gap, I don’t think that anybody else is really looking at it other than those two guys.