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NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: PURE MICHIGAN 400


August 17, 2014


Jeff Gordon

Alan Gustafson

Rick Hendrick


BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN

THE MODERATOR:  We are joined by crew chief Alan Gustafson.
Alan, this is Gordon's third victory here at Michigan, third victory in 2014.  He made comments that everything seems to be coming together for you guys.  Talk about where you are in the season.
ALAN GUSTAFSON:  The team is doing a phenomenal job, tons of hard work and effort.  I felt like we've been close all year long.  We've had really fast cars.  We seemed to be a little short and we worked hard on overcoming those things, improve in the areas we needed to improve on.
The guys are doing a great job of that, putting a lot of effort into it.  It's paying off.  Jeff is doing a phenomenal job.  It's all working.
It's not something that's happened overnight.  I think it's something that's culminated over a long period of time.  But it's all due to the hard work of all the guys on our team.  Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, the engines, the cars, everybody is very dedicated and have great direction on moving forward.
Really proud of them and just happy to be part of it.
THE MODERATOR:  Also joining us is team owner Rick Hendrick.
Obviously Gordon's win for you here today is huge.  He's leading the points by three over Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  Talk about that.
RICK HENDRICK:  We love to win here at Michigan.  Like to win everywhere, but because I'm a General Motors dealer, having the Chevrolet folks here today, it's a big win for us.
Had a great year.  Alan has just done a super job.  Jeff is just really on a roll.  I hate we had the battery that shorted out on him at Watkins Glen because he was really strong there, too.
I think all of our teams are running well.  But this is a big, big win.  It's just great to see Jeff so happy.  He's like a little kid again.  I think it's going to be really, really important for the momentum he's carrying right now into the Chase.  So we're excited.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll take questions for Alan and Rick.

Q.  Rick, I know that Jeff has done pretty much everything.  Have you ever seen him drive more consistently and better and more focused?
RICK HENDRICK:  No.  I think what I see now with Jeff today is how smart he is.  If someone gets in front of him or is trying to block him like they did today, instead of pushing the envelope like maybe he did in the early years, he'll just back off and let them use their stuff up, then he'll pass them.
You just don't see him make any mistakes.  I think all of his years of experience is paying off for him right now.  When you have the fastest car, everybody races you extremely hard.  They know they got to get you on the restart.  If they can do that, probably they can pull away.
I've never seen him with just enough aggressiveness.  When he drove down in the corner, the quarter panel, at 210, that's what the young Jeff Gordon did.  He made so many moves today in that race that showed his patience, knowing he had the car.  And Alan was doing a great job of giving him his lap times, telling him, Let them get in single file, come off of two behind them and you'll get them.  It was working all day.

Q.  Alan, is this a preview of the kind of cars you're going to bring to the Chase?  When will you run this car next?
ALAN GUSTAFSON:  This is a great car.  I'm proud of this car.  We used all of our resources at Hendrick Motorsports.  Developed some new technologies and put them into this car.  It's paid off.  It was not an easy thing to build.  But the car has an extreme amount of performance.
This is the best we've got.  It's the latest and greatest.  We're going to try to improve.  We know we have stiff competition.  We know there's a lot of really good teams out there and we've got to keep getting better and better.
This car is definitely a step in the right direction for sure.
Where we're going to run it next, I'm not really sure.  I'd have to look at the schedule.  We're pretty well slated out for the Chase.  I know it's in there.
The guys were joking about running it at Homestead.  We'll see how it all works out.

Q.  Rick, this team was pretty strong for the first half of the season, but they look like they've taken a step up in the last month.  Anything you see they're doing so well kind of right right now?
RICK HENDRICK:  You know, I think when you get a little momentum, and I can't really explain it, I've seen it with Jimmie, I've seen it with Dale, I've seen it with Jeff, he's got that real stride and he's excited to get to the track.  He and Alan have just gotten closer and closer.
Some of the new stuff that Alan brought here a few weeks ago, to Indy, Jeff has been running so well.  We haven't run that well as an organization.  We haven't finished that well at Watkins Glen.  To go up there and sit on the pole, lead the race, I mean, again, it's a combination of a lot of things.  The engine guys are working really hard.
But I think the chemistry between Alan and Jeff, it's almost like Alan anticipates what Jeff needs, the way he calls the race, the way they work together.  I mean, they're in the best stride they've had since they've been together.  Just listening to them, Alan is so calm.  He knows what Jeff wants.  He knows what he likes in the car.  No matter what the rest of the teams are doing, he's making those adjustments that he knows will work for Jeff.
The chemistry is the best I've ever seen.

Q.  Alan, in Europe, as you know, wind tunnel testing is an important part of racing.  Can you give an update, how important is wind tunnel testing and aero in Sprint Cup?  If you are doing testing, which tunnel are you using?
ALAN GUSTAFSON:  Aerodynamics is a huge part of any motorsports.  The faster the track, the more influence aerodynamics will have on the cars.
We spent a lot of time and effort with aerodynamics on our car, work closely with General Motors and Chevrolet.  They do a great job supporting us.  It's a huge part of it, especially at a place like Michigan when the average qualifying speed is 206 miles per hour.
We use both wind tunnels that are basically in the Charlotte area.  We use Aerodyn and Windshear.  That's pretty common for most of the stockcar teams.  We have a good group back at HMS that supports us really well with a lot of information that we can apply to the track.

Q.  Rick, you talked about Jeff is a smarter guy, more patient.  The last restart, was that really not the old Jeff Gordon saying, I got the best car so I'm going to stand on the gas and prove it?
RICK HENDRICK:  When you get to 10 to go, when he can see it, then he's going to take it from you.  That was a heck of a move that he put on down in one.
Sometimes he won't show that if it's the middle of the race.  But that looked like the Jeff Gordon of 12 years ago, whatever.
Again, I think experience is playing a big role.  He has shown that he hasn't lost anything.  I think, if anything, you see so many of these guys that are really fast make mistakes.  They get loose, get into the wall, speed, they'll do things that cost them an opportunity to win a race.  But when the chips are down and it's time to get the flag, man, I put my money on him every time.

Q.  Rick, I don't want to put you on the spot, but I'm going to do it.  Jeff and Jimmie have meant so much to you in your career as an owner.  Who would you pick to win this year?  Do you want to see Jeff do it and get number five or Jimmie get number seven?
RICK HENDRICK:  You really think I'll answer that (laughter).
Look, I don't have any favorites.  I would love to see Dale get his first championship.  I would love to see Jimmie get number seven.  I'd love to see Jeff get number five.
The thing I'm so proud of with the whole group, I feel we've run 1‑2‑3 in the points.¬† Before the race I would get them together and say, Listen, I want you to know what I'm going to do.¬† I'm going to go to the loser first.¬† I don't want the guys that got beat to think I'm in Victory Lane celebrating.
I care about them all.  We give them each the best equipment.  There's reasons I'd like each of them win it.  Let the best man that does the best job end up with the trophy.

Q.  Alan, lots of gamesmanship in those last few restarts between Jeff and Joey.  From your perspective, seemed like both had a case for the other laying back on those restarts.
ALAN GUSTAFSON:  Yeah, I don't have a great perspective of it to see personally.  I'm kind of facing the cars.  It's tough for me to see that restart zone.
From what I can tell on TV, the best view I had of it was I think out of the front of Kevin's car when he was behind Joey.  That's really what I used.  Then I was listening to the 22, kind of knew what was going on.
I don't feel like from what I saw that anybody overstepped any boundaries.  I don't think there was anything that went on that doesn't go on every week.
We work so hard to win these races, and restarts are such a big part of it, if you can get clear, you're probably going to win the race.
Is Joey maybe not maintaining his speed consistently?  Probably not.  Do I blame him?  No, I don't blame him.  Was Jeff making sure that Joey didn't break his momentum?  Yes.  Do I blame him?  No.
They're trying to win.  I don't feel like either one of them crossed the line.  I don't have a great perspective on it.  But I really enjoyed the race, to be honest with you.  I thought that was great racing.  I thought that's how you race hard.  I thought the two of those guys did everything they could do, including Kurt, who went over the edge, they did everything they could do with their cars to win the race.  That's what the emphasis is about on the sport.  I thought it was on display today.  I thought all those guys should be proud of that effort.

Q.¬† Rick, talking about the 48 team, they've had a string of bad luck over the last few weeks.¬† That continued today, but they were able to overcome that and score a top‑10 finish.¬† Talk about what that means.
RICK HENDRICK:  Well, they have had a rough stretch.  He had it last year, though.  I think what they show is they can battle back, figure out a way not to lose with the shifter broken in the car, not to lose laps, then Chad focuses on trying to get him back on the lead lap, get him in position with tires at the end of the race to maybe even get a top five.
I think that's just calling a great race and Jimmie not giving up.  Hopefully we have all the bad luck behind us now.  They'll be able to go to the next race feeling great.
But we got some good races for them coming up.  If we got to have some things like that happen, I'd rather see them happen now than in the Chase.

Q.  Rick, you've encountered much tragedy in your life as well as success.  Have you been able to talk to Tony Stewart?
RICK HENDRICK:  I talked to Eddie Jarvis.  I didn't talk to Tony.  I've stayed in touch with them.  I brought Regan up to the race in Watkins Glen.
I think they're making the best of the situation that they're in.  Tony's got a lot of good folks around him.  I've told him I'm there if they need me.  But I haven't talked to him.
THE MODERATOR:  Gentlemen, thank you.
ALAN GUSTAFSON:  Thank you.
RICK HENDRICK:  Thank you.
THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by race winner Jeff Gordon.  This is his third victory in 2014, third victory here at Michigan, and 91st victory overall.
It's an exciting day for you, Jeff.  Talk a little bit about the race and your victory here today.
JEFF GORDON:  Extremely exciting.  Wasn't an easy victory, even though we had a great racecar.  Those restarts are so crucial, but also intense here, with the speeds that we're carrying.
Just proud of the effort.  I mean, just an awesome effort all day to stick with it and have good pit strategy, pit stops, be in that position there at the end to have a shot at it.
Then, of course, as a driver, especially somebody that's been getting beat up over the years about restarts, it's pretty nice to have the last two wins come down to restarts.
That's just building all of our confidence in what we're doing, making these races at lot of fun to go to.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll take questions for Jeff.

Q.  Rick said he felt you were driving smarter than ever during your career, more consistently.  How do you see that?  How do you feel about your chances for the fifth championship?
JEFF GORDON:  Well, there's got to be some advantages to being 43 out there.  I would hope being more patient and using your head a little bit more would be one of them.
You know, I think I've always felt like to be a top driver in this series you got to balance that out with aggressiveness, being smart, utilizing your equipment, making the most of it.
Right now I've got great racecars.  That's obvious.  I've got a great crew chief that believes in what I'm doing out there, and I believe in what he's doing, and the engineers.
Right now I feel like I'm driving smart, but also when it comes down to the restarts, I'm confident in my car enough that I can put it in places I haven't been able to put it in the past and be a little bit more aggressive when it matters.
Certainly things are going well, no doubt about that.  I'm as shocked as anybody else.

Q.  You said over the radio that you wanted to do a burnout for somebody.  Who was that?
JEFF GORDON:  We do these VIP meet and greets at the start of my weekend.  There was a young lady who told me she'd be in turn four as part of the group.  I went down there and did one for her.
I can get the name later if you need it.

Q.  As strong as you were here back in June, it seems like you were stronger today.  It seems like the last four weeks this team has actually been stronger than it was earlier in the season.  Is there something that you can point to for that?
JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, a lot of hard work.  I feel like Alan and the team, ever since we learned about the right height rules, really went to work early on it.  I think they made some good choices and decisions and the direction to go in, things you find in the wind tunnel, simulation.
We got a smart group of guys.  Hendrick has also done a great job with the engines and the cars.  We hit on something early and we were strong.  Like at California, for instance, we were really strong there.  Ever since then, you know, they just are constantly gathering information and trying to improve, looking around the garage area, seeing what your competitors have, as well.  You learn from them.  You learn from what you're doing.  You try to apply it.
I think the team definitely has been constantly applying little things, little changes, little improvements to the car along the way.  The setups have just really been complementing everything the last, I don't know, couple months.
When things go well and you get better, then you keep going down that path.  I feel like we started on a good path at the start of the season and we've continued to do that up to this point.  I think it will even continue through the next 12 or 13 weeks.

Q.¬† Could you walk us through the late‑race battle with Joey.¬† Seemed like there were some games being played on the restarts.¬† When you really needed it, it really stuck for you.
JEFF GORDON:  I can't say there was really anything on that last restart.  I don't know if NASCAR warned Joey or whatever.  To his defense, these restart boxes, you used to have a line, all the way to the start/finish line, and it was too big.  It was causing issues.  Then they made the box this big.  I don't know about other drivers, but I know I've asked them to make it bigger.
As the leader, the other cars around you can anticipate when you're going to take off.  So Joey, as we rolled up to some of the restarts, as guys were starting to anticipate it, he was slowing down.  When he slowed down, everybody got bottled up.  NASCAR warned him about it.
The last one, I thought he had a good start.  But I had a good one, too.  I really think what happened to him on that last restart was Kevin was having some trouble getting going.  This is a big, fast place.  There's a draft there.  My lane moved along as a group.  Even though Joey got out there, he was sort of sitting on an island by himself.  We kind of tracked him down.  I was able to get to his left rear.  When I got to his left rear, drug him back, gave me a ton of momentum.  I was able to get to the bottom and get by him.
I thought it was over.  We got the lead, it's over.  But his car is so strong.  The way the front end turned into the corner the first few laps, that's why he pulled away from me so much on restarts when he was out front.  When he was behind me, he just drove in there and it stuck.  Mine just didn't.  I couldn't drive in as deep as he could.  He got to my left rear and got me loose.  That's when he got underneath me.
I thought it was over, I really did.  My car got loose, I lost some momentum.  I think he must have wiggled a little bit, too.  I was sort of able to drag race him, get back to his right rear, Kevin came behind me, then we kind of went by him.

Q.  You've always maintained that restarts haven't been one of the strongest parts of your game.  Last couple of wins you've had at the Brickyard and Michigan, that's where you really have won the race.  Are you getting better with age?  How would you characterize it?
JEFF GORDON:  Well, when I look at the restarts, I mean, sometimes it's the lane that you're in, sometimes it's did you spin the tires.  A lot of it is just your car, how well is your car sticking.  Then there's the aggressiveness to it, as well.
I think Kurt Busch showed us what happens when you're too aggressive.  I think the time before I had a good restart when I was inside of Joey, and he got on my door, got me real loose.
I mean, sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don't.  I feel like in the past when they haven't gone our way, some of it was me not finding that clean air, some of it was I didn't feel confident in the car, that it would stick in the traffic.
But it makes a huge difference when you're on that front row.¬† Even if you're in second or in the inside lane, that's not preferred, you still have clean air getting to your car, then it's all about not letting them get three‑wide behind you.
All that matters to me is we're timing it right when it counts.  I feel like all of that comes with experience.  You learn as you go.
The double‑file restarts haven't been there throughout my whole career, which in some ways I'm thankful, but it's something I've had to adapt to and get better at, get more aggressive at.¬† Luckily I've got cars this year that are doing what I need them to do on those restarts.

Q.  You're very successful here.  Is there any reason why?  And for next weekend, you go to a small oval in Bristol.  Is it difficult to adapt to that?
JEFF GORDON:¬† Well, I like to go fast.¬† This place is really, really fast.¬† I'm excited because I get to go back‑to‑back to two of my favorite racetracks.¬† Michigan has always been one of my favorites.¬† I will say when they repaved it, it didn't suit my style as much as the old pavement.¬† But the cars have been getting so much better, and I feel like I've been getting more comfortable here, you know.¬† Today I was able to drive this place the way I like to drive it, have success here again.
I've always loved the transitions that this track has.  They're just nice and sweeping.  Yeah, you carry a lot of speed, but whatever it is about the way this track is shaped, the size, it's always just been something that I've enjoyed.  Then when you have a racecar like that, it helps, too.
Bristol next week is a complete opposite, you're right.  But it's also to me a track that I love.  I love the challenges of Bristol.  I love the input that I can give to the team to help influence the setup and the speed that we have.  I love how you search different lanes from the bottom to middle to top, the close proximity and battles that you have on the racetrack with one another, even though they're low speed.
Pretty excited about Bristol as well.

Q.  When the Hendrick organization had the tragedy several years ago, you were very stoic, almost like the figurehead.  People looked to you for leadership.  Have you had a chance to talk to Tony?  If you haven't, what would you tell him?
JEFF GORDON:  Well, we luckily had an incredible leader in Rick Hendrick.  To me he set the example for all of us.  I was just so motivated by his ability to go through something so tragic, lose family members, yet be so appreciative of the people that work at Hendrick Motorsports, their efforts.
You're always looking for something to get you out of that.  Even though it takes time to grieve, there's a period of time where that needs to find a solution and a way for each and every person to go through it.  I think at the same time seeing the race team go and perform and win races, come together through a tough, tough time was huge for all of us.
I think Rick played a bigger role in that than I did.
I have not spoken to Tony.  I have reached out to him through texts, knowing I'm not going to get a response, but just to let him know I was thinking about him.
I just can't imagine what he's going through.  Can't imagine what the Ward family is going through.  It's a very, very difficult time.
But I support Tony, definitely support him.  Wish I could pat him on the back, give him a hug, talk to him.  I'd love to.
THE MODERATOR:  Jeff, congratulations on your win today.  Good luck the rest of the season.
JEFF GORDON:  Appreciate it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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