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November 11, 2014

Todd Gordon

THE MODERATOR:  Joining us now is Todd Gordon, crew chief of the No. 22 Shell‑Pennzoil Ford for Team Penske.  Thanks for your time today.
TODD GORDON:  Yeah, great to be on.
JENNIE LONG:  Talk about your strategy going into the weekend knowing that you and the 22 team will likely be battling the 4, 11, and 31 teams until the bitter end for the 2014 Sprint Cup Series Championship.
TODD GORDON:  I think you really have to‑‑ you have to approach this weekend like we did all of the races here building up to this race and continue to race aggressively.  The way the format is kind of laid out this year, you have to be aggressive to reap the rewards, and I think you're going to have to be close to being a winner to take home a championship here.
We're going to continue to try to do the things that we've done, not break the format of how our practice flow has worked, how our week of preparation has worked.  Had a really good test down there a couple weeks back, just before Texas, and feel good about that and building off of that with coming back to Homestead.

Q.  Todd, when NASCAR announced at the beginning of the year the changes in the Chase format before even the first race, did you expect all the intensity and the emotions that have gone throughout the season and now rolling into Homestead when you've got three other teams that have the exact same points and you've got one championship out there for you guys?
TODD GORDON:  When you first look at it, obviously until we've run through the whole format, I don't think you can totally expect what's going to happen.  I think when everybody looked at it, we knew that it brought the intensity of the go or go home race multiple times within the format and within the race season.  You knew there would be a heightened level of‑‑ I don't want to call it anxiety from the pit box, but effort from every team, and there would be instead of just slow and steady, it would have its peaks every three races.  It's definitely, I would say, lived up to the expectation if not exceeded it with some of the things that we've seen here.
You know, it's the format that we've got, and it's been exciting.  I'll say that when we looked at it when it was first announced and even through the year, we really thought you were going to have to win one of these races coming into Phoenix, Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix in order to move on and you had to focus that way, and it ended up being kind of the polar opposite.  It was a points race.  It changed up the whole last segment, but the first two segments really lived up to what we thought, and it's proved that even if you anticipate the most, you won't get what's going to happen until it happens.

Q.  Joey and you and the team have had a really good season.  How does that play when you've got good results?
TODD GORDON:  Yeah, I think we ended last year fairly strong.  Joey coming over here to the Shell‑Pennzoil team, I think it was a good match.  I think everybody here buys in.  We're all on the same page and pushing together, and I think we had success at the later half last year, and Team Penske has done an awesome job of pooling resources, and Paul Wolfe and myself working together and Brad and Joey working together to make sure that we're prepared for every week.
I think we've had success, and we've not lost track of what makes us successful and make sure we include that every weekend.

Q.  What has prepared you for this week, this weekend?  You haven't had anything like this to some degree in the crew chief role, but is there anything that comes close or can prepare you for the pressures or whatever of being in this type of situation?
TODD GORDON:  Yeah, you know, it's a new situation for everybody.  The great part is you're not behind, you're not ahead.  You're on an even playing field and going forward.  The pressures of it, you know, you had to come through‑‑ we kind of earmarked that we needed to win a race at Kansas or Charlotte, so that put us forward, and really Charlotte has been a weaker racetrack for us.  So we felt like Kansas was a place we had to perform, and as we needed to, we did.  This whole race team has just responded well.
I think when we've been put in adversity the last two weeks, we've recovered from it.  We've found ways to not lose the cool and continue to race forward.  I think that's a statement of where this race team is and what they're made of and how we'll race forward in this race at Homestead.  Is there a preparation that you can say definitely this is where we're going to be?  No, but I think the makeup of the people within this race team, everybody is together and we've come through some rocky roads and some rough situations, and we've always figured out how to persevere and have success.  We'll look to do that again this weekend.

Q.  And also, obviously there's a lot of talk about the 31 car, the Ryan Newman team not having a win and being in this position.  I don't know if the word is surprised or just your thoughts about them having gotten this far.  I think a lot of people didn't expect that.
TODD GORDON:  Well, it proves that nobody‑‑ before we had this whole format laid out and played out, everybody's perception of what it was going to take to make it to Homestead isn't exactly true to what has to happen.  If you look at their performance throughout the Chase, they haven't dominated races but they've been a contender in several and continue to be a top‑10 car.  They find ways to make that happen.  I think they've done an awesome job to get themselves in the position that they're at, and look forward to racing them on Sunday.

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about Joey's evolution since he arrived at Team Penske, because after he left Joe Gibbs Racing, he felt a little down, and he acknowledged that the fresh start was what he was looking for, but how has he changed in the last two years since you guys have gotten together?
TODD GORDON:  I think the biggest thing is when Joey walked in here to start over, I think he walked in with confidence and knew what he needed in a race car and knew that this was his opportunity and his race team, and he's owned that.  I think through the last two years you've seen an evolution of that.  There's ownership and there's confidence.  As we were more competitive right off the get‑go, I thought we had a lot of speed and we competed for race wins.  That, I think, just built into him believing that he had what it took to be very successful.
He had that all along in the Nationwide Series over there at Gibbs before he came over here, but I thought he was able to bring that confidence to the Cup level, and that confidence is something that we believe in each other, and this whole race team believes in Joey, and I think when you're a person as a driver that is surrounded by people that believe in you, I think you have to believe in yourself, and it gives you a new level.
I think he's matured, as well.  He's 24 years old now, and he's been in the Cup Series for six years.  He's got a lot of bangs and bruises, but he understands the business and what it takes for us to be successful together, and I think the communication side is phenomenal, and his mental aptitude of dealing with stress and keeping a level head, I think that helps this whole race team, and it's done wonders for us.

Q.  Are you surprised at his level of maturation for a 24 year old having worked with other young racers?
TODD GORDON:  He's well ahead of his curve I would say for his age.  But if you look at his history, racing is all he's done.  He's been doing this since he was nine years old, and he's been in a competitive environment the whole time.  It's not just having fun with it, he's been competitive.
I think he understands.  I mean, he's driven to be successful.  I think he has that ability to find the next level when he needs to, which is a talent that only few possess.  As he believes in that ability, he's very succinct and very clear on what he needs out of a race car, and that communication piece helps us to be more successful.  I can't wait to see where the next few years take him because he is only 24 years old, but very mature for his age and very mature in the race car for understanding what's got to happen.

Q.  I think you kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, but from the outside, it seemed like you guys didn't have as much pressure as you went through the Chase because of the early success, and then you talked about the last couple of races that were probably a little bit more pressure on the team.  Were you beginning to wonder at all how the team was going to react when and if it had its back to the wall?  And what did you see when you felt like they did?
TODD GORDON:  Well, yes, we had success, but I think as you look at it, the biggest thing that this team has done is this team has always believed in itself, whether it be the mechanics, the car chiefs, the engineers or the pit crew.  You've got to believe in yourself, or Joey for that matter, and you've got to understand that mistakes happen, but you can't dwell on them.  We fought through.  We've fought through adversity in the past.  I think if you look back to last year we had circumstances where we had to battle back from adversity to find success.
So the teams proved it in the past.  We didn't‑‑ you know, we laid out a plan of what we felt we needed to do through every segment to get to Homestead, and honestly, the first two played out just as we thought.  The third one was nothing like I thought it would be.  I felt like we had to go to Martinsville or Texas and win, and I really felt that the people that won those two races were going to be so far ahead because their preparation for Homestead could start once they won.  With two non‑Chase cars winning those two races, it kind of changed up the whole composition of how you got to Homestead.
I'm proud of the way that the guys, everybody here has responded to the adversity the last two weeks and identified what we can do differently to resolve those situations and move forward, and also trying to look at other things, what else can happen, the what‑if factor.  Guys have done an awesome job here, and Team Penske has done a fabulous job preparing us for that with all the support here at the shop.

Q.  Kevin is sort of a closer and Denny has been in this situation to race for a championship before, Ryan has won some big races at Daytona and Indianapolis, and I'm wondering if Joey being the youngest guy and not having been in many of these situations will hurt him at all on Sunday?
TODD GORDON:  I think the opposite.  I think it's a new format for everybody.  You know, everybody has got their nicknames.  But I think if you look at the performance that Joey is able to give on every restart that we see, if you look at what he's able to do on the last run of every race, and the ability to maximize points and positions, I think we've had some races‑‑ if you look at our average finish through the Chase, it's been exceptionally good.  A lot of that is given to Joey and what he does on late restarts.  I think we've recovered from‑‑ he's recovered great finishes out of average race cars a couple times here throughout the Chase.
I think his ability‑‑ yes, he's young and he's never been through this race, but I don't think anybody has been through this race.  There's always a difference.  Kevin was in the championship run last year, but he was 30 to 40 points behind.  He was in an all I've got to do is win.  It's a different thing because there's four cars that are tied, all equal in points.  It's a different format and it's one race to get it done.  I think Joey has the mental maturity and his ability to focus in when he needs to to be very successful in this format.

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