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NASCAR: Interview With Jeff Gordon, Alan Gustafson And Rick Hendrick

Jeff, historic day here at the Speedway.  Did you ever think this was going to happen?

JEFF GORDON:  Certainly not in 1994 I didn’t.  You never know when your next win’s going to come.  We’ve been close a couple of times to getting number five.

But every time I come here to Indianapolis I feel like we have a shot at winning.  It’s just a special place and I love racing here.

This weekend in particular, you know, the first couple laps that I felt this racecar, I knew that we had a racecar that was capable of winning this race.  It just had the feel.  It had the balance that I love to have.  I think we showed that today, just how strong this car is.

We got behind a couple times.  Pit strategy changed for some people.  It threw some people off.  I think it made for a great race.  Throughout all of that, I think we showed the speed our car had.

There at the end, had a great battle with Kasey Kahne.  I didn’t know how it was going to end up.  I didn’t want to see that caution because I thought I could push him to slide the back, he was sliding the back a little bit.  But I don’t know if I would have gotten by him.  I’m terrible on restarts.  Restarts didn’t go great for us all day today.  I didn’t think I wanted to see a restart.

Out of nowhere, I have the restart of my life at the most important moment that you could ask for in a race, in a season, at a race like this.  So that was awesome, just awesome.
Q.  Jeff, you said this weekend that 90% of the time the best team wins this race, and maybe 90 plus percent of the time the best team wins the championship.  Pretty clear the best team won this race today.  Are you a believer now that the 24 team is the best team in Cup right now?

JEFF GORDON:  Well, I do think we were today.  I think the reason why we’re leading the points is because I believe we’re the best team.  I don’t believe that means we always have the best racecar.  We’ve had a lot of great racecars this year.  There have been times when I feel like we’ve needed a little bit more.

But this weekend we had the best car and the best team, no doubt about it.  That tells me that if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere.

It’s certainly going to be a huge confidence boost for this team.  We recognize the significance of this.

It’s so hard to gain confidence in this series.  But a Brickyard 400 win, it just doesn’t get any better.  I mean, to share that with that team that worked so hard, to see the look on their face, you can just see it in them now, you know, they believe.

I think we saw we were points leaders, we saw we won at Kansas, but I don’t know if we believed we were capable of winning this championship this year, truly believe it.  We do now.  We got to keep that fire in us, keep it going.

I think we can, so I’m excited.  Right now I’m on top of the world, so of course I’m going to say all these things (laughter).

 

Q.  Jeff, knowing how you are on restarts the last few years, you get that caution, Alan said on television, We know the race is going to be made or broken right on this restart.  Are you doing the restart in your head mentally?  What is your thought process like?

JEFF GORDON:  I’ll be honest, I was hoping Kasey would pick the inside.  I really was.  He did.  He was loose.  I knew if I could just get to the outside of him, he was going to have a hard time using the throttle up off the corner.

I didn’t know if that meant we were going to just wreck, be sitting ducks for the 18 to go by.  I don’t know what that meant.  But I thought that was our only shot at winning.

As we rolled down off of four, I had spun the tires a couple times on some restarts, so I wanted a fast pace.  Kasey was slowing it down.  That’s why we were so jockeyed when we came through the restart zone.  I really had to let him go.

I thought I let him go too much, but I just was able to get to his quarter as I shifted to fourth gear, and I was able to just have the best position I could ask for.

I know it didn’t go well for Kasey.  We were both really sideways, but I think we knew that could be the win.  You don’t know if another caution is going to come out.  Luckily it didn’t.  I think we both knew that was for the win.

He got me in Pocono last year on a restart.  I love Kasey, I love racing with him.  I wanted to be able to race him for this win.  I’m just glad it went well.

I didn’t spin the tires like I had, so that helped.  I was able to just get the right position, get my tires cleaned off, just do what I’m supposed to do really.

 

Q.  Jeff, several of us were in here 20 years when you won the first one.  You ordered a ham and pineapple pizza that night.

JEFF GORDON:  I think I’m going to eat that tonight, too.  I’m starving (laughter).

 

Q.  How much did you have to call on your quiet reserve and confidence after that first pit stop with the incident?

JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, you know, the first couple pit stops didn’t go great for us.  But as we all know in racing, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

I made one mistake on pit road where I slid the car and got too close to pit road, they were having trouble getting the jack on the left side.  Alan told me about it.  I adjusted.

That last pit stop, I felt like I nailed my marks, they nailed the stop.  We didn’t beat Kasey, but we were able to put pressure on him that run.  That’s what I’m looking at, not what happened on the first or second stop.  Somebody said the gas man fell, but I didn’t even know it till now.  To me, our pit crew is just phenomenal because they know how to stay in the game.

You’re going to make mistakes.  It’s not about making mistakes, it’s about not making the same mistakes twice and regrouping when you do.  I think that’s what we’re doing very, very well right now.

 

Q.  Could you share your emotions today, maybe how they compare with the emotions that you felt in 1994.

JEFF GORDON:  Very, very similar.  I remember in ’94, you know, in the closing laps of just disbelief.  You don’t want to see a caution.  You’re leading the Brickyard 400 with just a handful of laps to go.  You want to take that moment in and look into the crowd and see what they’re doing, but at the same time you don’t want to lose focus.  You know it’s not over till in this case the white flag waves.

I kept going in and out of those emotions of, All right, don’t get off track, what’s going on.  Remember, still got to get to the end.  Be ready if there is a caution.  But yet I’ll say on that last lap I looked up in turn four.  To just see everybody standing and cheering, that’s awesome.  That sends a chill up your spine as a racecar driver in a race that is so important to you, yet you have so many fans out there supporting you at the same time.

THE MODERATOR:  I’d like to introduce here Mr. Rick Hendrick.  Could you talk about the special moment that you just experienced here today.

RICK HENDRICK:  Anytime you come here to Indy and you can win, it’s special.  To see Jeff back it up after 20 years, it was a great day.

Carl was super fast.  I had a feeling this morning, I told him, You’re going to win the race today.  It’s really special.  The team put a lot of effort in this.

Alan brought us a great car.  They’ve been so strong all year.  If you get 20 laps into a run, man, they’ve been there.

To win this thing nine times is unbelievable, but to see Jeff be the first guy to have five on the oval, I’m tickled to death for him and Alan.

THE MODERATOR:  We’re also joined by crew chief Alan Gustafson.

Had to be some tense moments up there on the pit box after he takes the lead.

ALAN GUSTAFSON:  Yeah, it was a tense day from the get-go.  Strategy is really tough here.  There is really no margin for error whatsoever.

We knew we had a good car from practice.  We all wanted this race so bad, everybody at HMS, the 24 shop, put so much effort into this car.  This is the one we wanted.

All day that’s kind of looming.  We knew we had the car to do it.  Just want to put ourselves in position and let Jeff take care of the rest because we know he does that so well.

It was an amazing day, amazing accomplishment.  This place is unbelievable, the history here.  Very humbling to be a part of it.
Q.  Jeff, you’ve won 90 races now, including a bunch of Daytona 500s, this race five times.  Where does this rank?  How will you reflect on this at the end of your career?

JEFF GORDON:  We all know the significance of the Daytona 500.  To me, what I love about this race, besides we’re here at Indianapolis, as a kid growing up I just idolized the drivers that raced here, and to me this was just the ultimate place.

But the difference is that at Daytona it’s a restrictor plate track, it’s drafting, it’s avoiding these wrecks, all these things, where here it’s just to me the total team effort.  You have to get it done with a great racecar.  You do it on restarts.  You have to have good pit stops, pit strategy.  It’s the total team effort.  At the same time it’s a very historical place.

The significance of this win at this point in the season, what it does for you as a team, confidence, positioning yourself to try to go win a championship, I don’t know how you really rank it.

In my opinion, for me personally, this is it.  This is as good as it gets.

 

Q.  Rick, can you tell us about any conflicting emotions on the restart.  You have Rick going for the win and Kasey who needs the win to make the Chase.

RICK HENDRICK:  When you have that situation, you just hope they don’t wreck each other.  Two cars, kind of the class of the field at that time.  You hold your breath till they get apart.

Have a lot of confidence in our guys not to do that intentionally.  I know Kasey, he needed a win.  He ran awful good today.  But Jeff had the dominant car, so it all worked out.

It’s like having your two kids in a state championship, one is pitching, one is hitting, you go somewhere else than by your wife (laughter).

 

Q.  Jeff, earlier in the year reports came out you were looking towards retirement.  With the season you’re having, to win this a fifth time, has this become a rebirth instead?

JEFF GORDON:  This team certainly has rejuvenated me in a lot of ways.  Makes me want to dig down even deeper than I possibly can to give them everything back that they’re putting into it.  So they’ve inspired me in so many ways.  I’m just having a blast this year driving awesome racecars.

To win now two races, this one being such a big one, leading the points, I’m not thinking about anything else, in all honesty, other than going race to race in this season to try to battle for a championship.  That’s the only thing I’m thinking about at this point.

 

Q.  Earlier this season you were the points leader before you got your first win.  At that time you were confident they were going to come.  Now that you have a couple wins, does it reinforce your feelings about how you felt since the beginning of the year?  And how do you feel at this point of the year compared to some of your other championship seasons with this team?

JEFF GORDON:  You know, it’s interesting because earlier in the season I felt like, you know, the wins were going to come.  The team and the cars were so strong.  As I mentioned in here earlier, I do believe we have the best team.  We’re well-rounded.  We’re communicating very, very well.  We’re bringing great racecars to the racetrack.

But there’s been times when, you know, you think, Man, what do we have to do to beat the 2 car or 48 car?  You start thinking about tracks in the Chase.

But that’s what you do as a team.  That’s what makes you better.  You never settle for anything but the best and first.

So I don’t complain about those things, I just work with Alan and the engineers.  He’s working hard at just everything we can do week in, week out to be the best we can be at every track.

All I can say is that this car this weekend, and this team, was superb.  There’s no doubt in my mind we can take that to other races and other racetracks and keep it going.

 

Q.  What does it mean to you to be so competitive over the last 20 years?  I imagine if we asked you in 1994 if you would win this race in 2014, you’d have no idea you would be able to stay running so well for so long.

JEFF GORDON:  The best thing that ever happened to me was meeting this guy right next to me.  To sit down with Rick Hendrick, to sign with him to drive a Cup car, it was what turned it all around for me.  I had a good career going, but who knows where it was going to go had I not had the opportunity to drive for the best owner and the best team out there.

It kind of started with Ray Evernham, the group that he and Rick put together.  I’ve just been able to drive awesome racecars every single year.  It continues this year with Alan.  Just the kind of cars he’s brought to the racetrack.  These guys make me look good.  I’ll be the first to admit that you’re only as good as your equipment and your cars.  I know we get a lot of credit as racecar drivers.  I want to make sure they know they’ve got the right guy behind the wheel.

But I can’t do much with that wheel if I don’t have four tires on the car planted on the racetrack and the engines to get it down the straightaway.  Man, we’ve got that this year.

So I think it’s built my confidence, it’s built his confidence in me.  It’s built all our confidence as a team.  This certainly is going to boost that.

 

Q.  Jeff, under that last caution you were kind of pushing Kasey a little bit, looked like you were trying to get him to run out of fuel.  Was there any regard that that was your teammate or did it not matter?

JEFF GORDON:  I’m here to win the race, you know.  We were in a better fuel position.  I understood what he was doing.  I would have done the same thing.  He probably would have done the same thing to me in that position.

Guys are out there shutting the engine off to save fuel.  If they’re real close, they’re not maintaining the pace car speed, you got to push ‘em.  That’s what I did.

I treated him like a competitor at that point.  He might not have liked it.  But I have so much respect for Kasey, I love him, that team.  We’re out of the same shop.  But when it comes down to the end of a race, we’re here to win.

I mean, it’s no different than at Pocono last year when I let off into turn one.  He didn’t lift.  He drove it outside of me.  He didn’t say, That’s my teammate, I’ll let him roll in there and come off of turn one first, that’s my teammate, I don’t want to pass him.  He drove down in there said, I want to pass him, I want to win.

We felt like we were doing everything we needed to do to win all the way until that restart.

 

Q.  Jeff, back to the restart thing.  Obviously you’ve been doing restarts for 35 years.  Do you have a feel for why that’s not a strength for you?  Does it become a mental block at some times?

JEFF GORDON:  Ever since double-file restarts, they’re not the same as they used to be.  I’m actually a pretty good restarter if you consider going up through the gears, getting momentum, getting up to speed to turn one.

These days a good restart is not spinning the tires, but it’s about passing cars through one and two side-by-side.  That’s all changed with double-file restarts.  This year has been better for me.  Today wasn’t my best day.  The first one I spun the tires really bad.  The next one I was stuck behind the 4.  He didn’t take off very good.  The next one I got a great run on Kyle and dove inside of him.  Just didn’t stick.

I really wanted to be exactly where I was on that last restart.  I was hoping I’d be on the outside.  It to me was just all about not spinning the tires.  I think I made the mistake once earlier being on the outside, by learning what not to do.  This time I just carried a little bit better momentum to the throttle and it helped.  Didn’t spin the tires.

 

Q.  Jeff, you said meeting Rick changed your life.  That was 1992.  I remember talking to you after you won your last championship, saying, Do you see yourself going after four?  You said, I won’t be around that long.  Well you have been.

JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, and it’s his fault.  He won’t let me get out (laughter).

 

Q.  You seem more driven than ever to win a championship, even more so than before the 2002 season.  What is it that changed your mind?  And, Rick, if you could add anything to that.

JEFF GORDON:  These two guys beside me definitely played a big role.  My wife and kids play a big role.  Seeing them experience coming to the racetrack, experiencing me and this team in Victory Lane.  My son wasn’t real thrilled today, but my daughter was (laughter).  Those things kind of change your perspective on what’s important to you, how much effort you want to put into something.

You feel like you’ve kind of won all that you could win, you’ve won four championships, then a guy like Jimmie Johnson comes along and starts dominating, you kind of lose the motivation.

I think between conversations I’ve had with Rick, with Alan, coming so close, winning the championship, the drive that he has, that work ethic that he has, how good the racecars are, I don’t want to be the weak link.  So it’s pushed me to give more, do more, work harder.

My wife and kids, they’ve never experienced it.  Ingrid has never experienced a championship.  I told her, I said, Hey, I know you want to know what it’s like to win a championship.  Well, there’s a big commitment that it takes.

She’s like, Whatever it takes.

That’s the kind of year that we’re having.  We’re just putting everything we possibly can into it.

Sometimes I just need a vacation, obviously.  I don’t know what happened after that vacation.  Things have been going good (smiling).

 

Q.  I understand the importance of equipment, what you talked about earlier.  Can you talk about what the things are you have to do different to win races nowadays compared to before.  How does that experience prevail over the youth?  How are you having to find more out of yourself?

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, I think it’s a lot of the same.  It’s trying to do your part, making sure you have the best racecar out there.  I think that’s always first and foremost.

 

Q.  That’s easier to do at 24 and 25.

JEFF GORDON:  It is?  It’s the same.  I don’t do anything different today than I used to, other than just the amount of time that we spend together communication-wise.  So much more engineering involved, so much more detail.  We go over every single thing.

It puts more pressure on you as a driver.  You can’t make mistakes because they’ll show it to you.  Right here you didn’t get in the throttle.  Right here you used too much brake.  Right here you were too slow on pit road.

You have to be spot on, on top of your game.  Then at the same time we can look at other driver data, setups and things, compare.  I can say, Here is where I needed to get more out of it here, here is where we were really good.

I would say most of what’s different is looking at all that data and trying to understand it.  I’ve never been one to go run marathons, cycle.  I do my part there.  But to me, you know, the commitment is more today than it ever has been from a time standpoint.  I think I’m spending more time now with the team than I ever have.  That’s just sort of a trend for everybody, in my opinion.

 

Q.  It’s more time communicating than more time doing the marathons?

JEFF GORDON:  Everybody has a balance.  You have to be physically fit, but you have to make sure that you do your part.  Definitely restarts, that’s the biggest thing that’s different, in my opinion.  Restarts, we used to just line up and they’d give you the green and you’d try to make a run on the guy going into one.  That was just to get up to speed.

Now, you know, it’s just a dogfight.  You just have to be so aggressive.  Sometimes my aggressiveness actually gets me in trouble.  Other times it’s not enough.

I would say the biggest change is double-file restarts.

 

Q.  What was your reaction when Rick came to you this morning and said that this was going to be your day?  To your memory, has he ever made that kind of bold prediction to you?

JEFF GORDON:  It was Jeff Gordon Day, so…

He’s made those predictions a few times.  He’s usually right, I must say.  He doesn’t say it very often.  When he does, it’s usually right.

I think he just says that four times every weekend because he has four pretty good chances of making that happen (laughter).

I don’t know.  It was a little bit different today.  I don’t know if he sensed it with things that were going on with us, some text messages, that look in my eye.  I definitely sensed something different in the way he was looking and talking.  He was pretty, you know, strong-minded about it, he thought today was going to be the day.

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Posted by on July 28, 2014. Filed under Breaking News,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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