Q: Did you feel that your organization was down at all after the qualifying effort yesterday, and can you comment on Dale Jr.'s 10th-place finish.
"I don't know about them but I was sure down after I got off the plane yesterday afternoon. I talked to them and they said, we are pretty good, we are good in race trim, the car feels good. We just didn't have the speed and I think we'll be OK today. You never know. As soon as the race started, I could watch Jeff in particular and Jimmie was pretty quick, too, but Jeff was really faster even than Carl, which I thought looked like was going to be the class of the field.
"And I can tell you, Dale Jr. has done everything. He was in position in Daytona to really compete and win that race and had a flat tire with two to go. He did not qualify good here. None of them did. But he drove a great race and he never gave up, and when he had to pit with a loose wheel, Stevie made some good calls and came back with a top-10 finish. So to pit on the green here with less than a hundred laps to go and come back with a 10th-place finish, you've had a good day."
Q: Every year it seems like some of your guys start slow and we say, there's something wrong with Jimmie, Jeff, something wrong and August comes around and you go through the championship Chase and blow everybody away. You say you were worried and everybody is saying the Hendrick cars are a little off right now; is it part of the game to be slow starters and fast finishers?
"The problem is that you've got a lot of guys out here. If you remember the last race here on this pavement, Denny Hamlin dominated the race, and he probably brought the same car back here, but I can tell you, we went and we have tried and we have got a lot of new stuff here. I was of the opinion, swallow hard, this is the first race here, and if we are not good and we tried and tested and we thought this was better than what we had; if it's not, we just have to keep working to make it better. You just – it's just so competitive. When you go back to a track where a guy has dominated and then they are a 10th-place car, that just shows you that the competition, they are not sitting on their hands.
"They are working their butts off, and I think Alan can tell you, the difference between the race we ran here in the fall and what we brought back here today was a ton of difference. But there's a lot of hard work and you're always searching because the rest of the guys are getting better."
Q: You mentioned the fan reaction to Jeff's victory, and obviously there's been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about some of the challenges that NASCAR has faced when it opened this season, Dale Jr. on the pole at Daytona and Trevor Bayne's victory appealing to the youth market, seats sold out and ratings up and now a Jeff Gordon victory. Do you have the sense that NASCAR has turned the corner and is back on an upswing?
"Absolutely. I think the 18- to-30 viewership was up 40 percent, and our sponsors look at that. That big crowd in Daytona; Trevor, a great young kid who's going to be a star in this sport, to win the Daytona 500 for the Wood brothers, is a phenomenal deal. Dale sitting on the pole.
"The fans are excited; that you see the stands full and you see it with the ratings, too, and I think – I've been doing this 28 years, and this is the most competitive, by far, that I have ever seen this sport. When I started, you had to beat four cars to win a race and you had to beat two or three to win a championship. And today, there's 20 cars that can win a race, and probably 30. You are not going to know who is going to be the champion until we get to the last race of the year. It's just that much, that competitive.
"I told someone the other day, the equipment in the garage, there's more equipment on one team than the whole garage as far as top-notch stuff when I started this sport. I think we had positive momentum at the end of the year. I think the sport and the drivers are all working together to make it a better show for the fans – and I think we've got it."