Post Race Press Conference:
Rewind: Finally — Jeff Gordon tied Cale Yarborough on NASCAR’s all-time wins list with his 83rd victory in the Subway 500k at Phoenix Raceway. Gordon dominated the event leading 138 of the 312 laps. Gordon started 20th and worked his way into the top-5 by lap 50. However, on lap 59 he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Carl Edwards got into the grass on the backstretch and slid up the track. Gordon made contact with Edwards’ car and pancaked the retaining wall with the right side of the Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. Gordon came to pit road to repair the damage and restarted in 34th place. Restarting in the rear proved advantageous when Brian Vickers wrecked and started a chain reaction crash on the backstretch. Gordon was able to stop on the track and avoided getting caught up in the 12-car melee. He stayed out under the caution and took the lead from Ryan Newman on lap 77. Gordon went back to the top spot on lap 124 before a caution for David Ragan’s wall contact. In the closing stages, Gordon flexed his muscle by passing Tony Stewart for 2nd with 20 laps to go, and Kyle Busch for the victory with 8 to go. It was Gordon’s second win at Phoenix and moved him within one victory of Darrell Waltrip’s career total.
Road ahead: The 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway is next on the schedule. Gordon dominated the race in 2010 only to see his victory hopes come unhinged in the final 25 laps following a two-tire pit stop. It’s early in the season, but it’s clear that Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson have jelled very quickly.
[MP3] With Spotter Chatter
[MP3] Without Spotter Chatter
Rewind: Jeff Gordon started 2nd but dropped back on the start after failing to find a drafting partner. Help from Kasey Kahne kept Gordon in the top-10 until the first caution flag. On lap 10, Gordon was pushed into the top-5 by Kahne in a two-car draft before the second caution. Gordon restarted 24th and hooked up with Trevor Bayne in a draft. Gordon sustained minor damage to the front of the car after hitting the rear of Robby Gordon’s car when the field slowed for a caution flag on lap 23. A chain reaction wreck on lap 29 collected Gordon in the mess. Heavy damage to the rear of the car resulted in an extended trip to the garage area for repairs. Gordon returned and finished in 28th place — earning 17 NASCAR points. Trevor Bayne became the youngest ever (20) to win the Daytona 500.
Road ahead: Throw out the “restrictor plate” madness of Daytona when the series heads to Phoenix. The #24 team tested at Pikes Peak Raceway in early February (1 mile track w/ similar banking) to prepare for the event. Gordon has struggled at Phoenix in recent years. A strong effort in the desert will go a long way toward moving him back into points contention.
“The Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was really fast. I had just got with Trevor Bayne again, I had some help from Kasey Kahne in the beginning. We were having a lot of fun. You know, I totally get the two-car drafting and I think we are going to see a lot more of it. What I don’t understand is why guys are doing it three-wide, three-deep running for 28th. We need to let it thin out a little. As soon as it thins out, then go to it and they can do it pretty safe and pretty harm free. Like right there, I was sitting there just kind of riding along just waiting for it to thin out. I probably should have waited even farther in the back, but you see them and they are pushing and shoving up the middle down the back straightaway. I’m like ‘what are they doing’, you know. You can understand those guys in the front two or three rows, go ahead… they are going to go out there and do it. But, anyway, it is disappointing.
WHAT HAPPENED? “We got into the NO. 7 (Robby Gordon) when the No. 29 (Kevin Harvick) blew up. He got down in front of me, I just couldn’t get slowed down enough and got in the back of him and tore his car up. We had a little damage to the grill opening so we came in and patched that up. That got us in the back and we lost our drafting partner Trevor Bayne and Kasey Kahne. Back there you could actually just use the draft, you didn’t need a partner. I was watching these guys in front of me like bumper cars. Bumping off of one another, three deep, four deep and three and four wide. Unfortunately we go caught up in it. I saw the 00 (David Reutimann) get turned and I was doing everything I could to avoid it and we got caught up in it.”
HOW DISAPPOINTED ARE YOU? “It is such a bummer. We had such a fast race car, such a great race team. You have to take what you can from this. The most disappointing thing is we don’t have a shot at winning the Daytona 500. We prepared so long and hard, these guys worked so hard and built me such a great race car. So that is the bummer. But at the same time, this could be a good lesson for us to repair this car and get back out there and get ourselves prepared to win a championship.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE RACING OUT THERE? “In the first eight or 10 cars, it is good, it is fun. But everybody is trying to do this two-car draft all the way to 38th and that is where you have to be careful. You can’t be three and four wide and five rows deep trying to push and shove one another. You have to use your head a little bit more and you have to be a little more patient. When it thins out, then we can go. A lot of guys aren’t waiting for it to thin out, they are just pushing and they are getting themselves in trouble.”
DO YOU KNOW HOW THE WRECK HAPPENED? “I don’t know, somehow the 00 got turned, I’m not really sure how. I’m pretty sure somebody was pushing him and he had to check up or something happened. You are going to see a lot more of it. It is just not going to work until we thin out the field. Unfortunately we are one of those cars that got thinned out of it. We’ll do what we can to get this Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet repaired and get back out there and get as many points as we can.
Rewind: Jeff Gordon started on the pole for the Gatorade Duel and the field quickly went into two-car drafts which have become standard during Daytona Speedweeks. Gordon drafted early in front of Trevor Bayne. He was pushed to the front on two occasions by the 19-year-old rookie. The duo was broken up by a caution flag with 23 laps to go, which mandated they re-start parallel to each other. However, Bayne eased up to allow Gordon to lead their drafting pack, thus showing wisdom well beyond his years. On the final lap, Gordon got loose coming out of turn four with Bayne tucked in behind. The car brushed the wall and made contact with Bayne, thus triggering a wreck. Gordon masterfully steered around the spinning cars of Bayne and Ragan to bring the car back with minimal damage.
Road ahead: The #24 car will repair the primary car for Sunday’s race. Gordon will start on the outside of the front row along side Kurt Busch, with Jeff Burton directly behind him. Gordon’s car seemed to struggle on restarts in the Gatorade Duel as the partnership with Bayne lost spots on every restart.
WHAT HAPPENED THERE AT THE END? “I just could not get going on the restarts. I really had a blast working with Trevor Bayne. He’s a good kid. He’s a heck of a race car driver. They’ve got a fast race car. We just couldn’t get going on the restarts though. I’m not sure why we couldn’t get that momentum. So we lost a lot of spots on every restart and then once we got going, we were fast; real fast. There at the end, we lost so many spots we were just trying to make up a few. A couple of guys looked like they lost momentum and got disconnected and I had to go three-wide around them. It’s a vulnerable spot. We’ve already seen that in practice at the some other races and it turned me. And when it did, I was lucky that we didn’t have worse damage than we did. But I got in the wall. So, we’ll have to see if we can fix it. I was just thrilled with the car and thrilled with the team. I thought everything was going really, really good with the Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. Unfortunately it didn’t end very well and we’ll just go to work and see what we have to do for the 500.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE RACING THAT’S GOING ON OUT THERE? “Really intense. It’s actually really fun from inside the car once you get going under green and it gets spread out a little bit and you’re just racing with four or six other guys. Those restarts are not a lot of fun. But no restart at Daytona or Talladega is a whole lot of fun. But once you get going, I think it’s pretty cool. Trying to figure out how to pass a guy and looking at your temps and trying to find a partner. There is a lot of strategy involved. You’ve got to drive the car, because it’s not easy. And we’re seeing some great finishes. I don’t know. It is kind of what it is and we’ve got to try to figure out how we’re going to get through 500 miles of it.”
ARE YOU FINE WITH IT, OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THEM MAKE A CHANGE OF SOME SORT? “I don’t think there are any changes that need to be made or can be made. Am I fine with it? It’s not what I prefer. I prefer to go back and race like we did in 2005 (laughs). But you know that’s not going to happen. But I think NASCAR has done pretty much all that they can do, but maybe they’ll do more. I don’t know. I just want to go race and I think we’ve got a fast race car. We’ve just got to get hooked up with the right guys and see what we can do from there.”
HOW MUCH DAMAGE IS THERE? “I don’t know. They’ll look at it. That right-front fender has got me concerned. We’ll go from there.”
Rewind: The debut of the Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet produced a 6th place finish. Jeff Gordon fell to the back and drafted with Clint Bowyer late in the first 20-lap segment to finish 9th. His best lap in the first segment was over 202 miles per hour. Depsite the speed, the small two car drafts reduced the possibility of a “big one” eliminating several cars. In the second segment, Gordon worked almost exclusively with Kevin Harvick. He led 1 lap as he was pushed to the lead and then fell seconds behind. In the closing laps, his pairing was distantly behind the front two pairings. The finish was Gordon’s fourth consecutive top-6 finish in the Shootout.
Road ahead: The new pavement ushered in a different style of racing. The large 30-car drafting packs are gone. There will be little 3-wide racing in the Daytona 500. Instead, the two-car breakaways have now become standard operating procedure. The key will be running in the two-car draft without having the oil temperature spike too high. The closing rate of two cars working together will be the difference in the Daytona 500. As witnessed in the Shootout, two cars closing on the lead pack have a distinct advantage. The goal is to lead a two-car draft running in 3rd entering the final corner of the Daytona 500. And then find a way around the leader without causing chaos.
JG’s comments: On paired racing “It’s interesting. It has its own excitement and interest that’s all new that all of us are trying to get adjusted to. But it’s wild out there; it really is. It’s a lot harder than it looks and it’s just trying to get the right guy to either push or push you. Right there at the end we had the right guy I thought, but he kept hitting the rev-limiter and every time he did he fell off me do I just having to back up to him and back up to him. We just couldn’t go anywhere. But we had a good, fast race car so I was excited about that.”
It seems like this is a whole new learning process “Oh, yeah; for everybody (including) the fans, for NASCAR, for us, it’s pretty crazy.”