Jeff Gordon drove his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet to his 83rd NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday, tying him for fifth all-time with Cale Yarborough, and ending a 66-race win-less streak. Afterward, he and crew chief Alan Gustafson met the media.
First of all, how cool is that to tie Yarborough. That is the ultimate. First guy I ever drove a Cup car for was Cale Yarborough. A lot of people don't realize that. Of course, I spun the car that day, too!
Man, I don't know where to start. First of all, they dropped the green flag and I knew that we had something special. The car just, it was doing a lot of great things. It was turning good. It was getting off the corner really strong. And you know, I just – I mean, I know how good Kevin Harvick is around this place and we were just hanging right there with him and picking our way through some of the cars there. I was like, man, we have got something really good here.
Sequence of events, really I guess it was just to mess with our emotions, because I'll be honest, I thought we were done. When I hit the wall, I hit it hard over there, when Carl had his problems and just went in him outside of the three and he just drifted up, not his fault, I think he had a left front tire go down or something and put us in the wall and I thought we were done. Came into pit road and Alan [Gustafson, crew chief] orchestrated those guys fixing it and he said, 'No, man, I think it looks all right.' They dropped the green and it felt OK. We only made a half-lap and they wrecked on the back straightaway and they all came to pit road and we were sitting there like fourth. I was like, all right. And then we drove up, took the lead or something not too far after that and I was like, wow, this is an unbelievable sequence of events and turnaround.
And I knew at that time, we had a car that could win. We had a great battle with Stewart, and he was really strong on the long runs. Our car was real strong on the short runs and then we seemed to wear the right front tire out a little bit. And Alan made some great calls, great pit stops, and you know, we were out front there. When Kyle got us on that green flag exchange, I was a little concerned because I know how good he is, and how good he is here. I mean, nobody beat him at anything this weekend. So I was looking forward to the battle and the challenge, because I knew how good our car was.
I had no idea Tony was out there on two tires, and then the caution came out. He got that jump on the restart and I was like, man, that's going to be hard to catch. We just started picking away at him and the car was so good, I could see his car going away a little bit on the exit, and that is where our car was so strong.
Today, the difference for me was that we have had cars – we have been in position to win races, like even here, and you know, with our spun the tires on the restart or whatever it may be, but I have not been in a position to put pressure on the leader to force him to make mistakes and be in control of the situation in a very long time. And that's what I love so much about today is to be in that position was such a cool feeling, and at that moment, you don't care if it's Kyle Busch or who it is; you feel like you're in control of your destiny and it got a little hairy getting into one of them, I admit.
I was shocked I even got underneath him and I was like, all right, I'm going to check up early because I was afraid he was going to do the swap-over on me. He's pretty notorious about that.
I drove in easy to try to get a good run off of two and not let him do the swap-over and I kind of felt him on my right side and my car got real loose and we banged a little bit and slipped the racetrack and my spotter said clear, and I drove off and I looked up and he was three or four car lengths behind me and I'm like, yes, let's go. Then it was just putting some laps to go.
Q: Let's hear from crew chef Alan Gustafson. Congratulations on this win and your thoughts about, as Jeff said, hit wall that one time and you had to really work some great things on pit road today.
Yeah, not only today. It was the weekend as a whole was not the easiest of weekends for us. We started on Friday with the new tire. We were off quite a bit on it. We were not very good at all. And we had to work really, really hard to get the car better. Didn't quite get as far as we wanted to get on Saturday and qualified a little bit farther back.
But we knew, we felt like we were gaining on it all weekend and we didn't know if we were going to get there in time or not. But we knew we were headed the right direction and today as Jeff stated, when the race started, we got pretty close and their car was good.
And the first 60 laps of this race, I felt like we ran five or six races. It was chaos. It was crazy. Wrecking, everybody everywhere, track position, flipping, guys in the back staying out and stacking people up. We got in the fence, unfortunately, with Carl, he had his issues and got us up into the fence, and we worked really hard at that point in time. It's really hard to know what you have and the guys did a great job fixing it and getting it back right. Like Jeff said, we went back out there and made half a lap and they wrecked about 18 more of them it. We came, drove back around and after that, had the track position and it was pretty evident that we had a really, really good car. We just had to tune on it and get it right.
At the end of the race, you hate giving it up on the pit stop exchange, the green flag exchange, but I felt at that point in time we had come a long way to get where we were at and were going to make it interesting. Jeff Gordon, he was perfect in the car and got everything he could out of it, and he just put together 20 qualifying laps and got the job done.
Q: Jeff, last week obviously there was a lot of excitement about how the race finished and a new face in NASCAR. Is there anything about this race or track that you think of being a veteran of experience helps succeed?
Well, not as much as having a fast racecar. This is an abrasive – you are comparing apples to oranges. You have Daytona two-car drafts, restrictor plates. There's no comparison if that's what you are trying to compare to.
This week, you look at Kyle Busch, he's was really strong but so is Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Carl. I think you've got – you've got to have a little bit of experience, no matter how good your car is to run good here. But I can tell you, I've had a lot of experience here and I've been here a lot of times and this is only my second win. So it's not just about experience.
But I will say that the two characteristics that are alike with those two wins is the car did about the same thing. It did what I wanted it do, which you would get in the corner, it would cut the middle and drive off really hard and strong. The last time I had a car that did that, besides today was the last time we won here.
But this is a tricky place. It's not easy. So you know I think it's been one of the most challenging tracks that I've had in my career, but then you have days like today where you're like, well, man, it almost seemed easy because the car drove so good. That makes up for a lot of things, I'll tell you that. But this is not an easy track to just come to your first time or first couple of times. You're not necessarily just going to go fast.