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February 12, 2009

Jeff Gordon

Steve Letarte


KERRY THARP: We'll roll into the post race champion of the Gatorade Duel, Jeff Gordon. To his right is his crew chief Steve Letarte.
Jeff, it's got to feel good to get back into Victory Lane.
JEFF GORDON: It feels fantastic. We talked before the race. Doesn't matter if it's a qualifying race, the Daytona 500, you know, any confidence builder and momentum that we can get is a positive.
You know, I'm just really excited about this race team this year. Not only do we have a new paint scheme, I think Steve Letarte here did a fantastic job over the off-season just fine tuning the cars, the team, personnel, engineering. I think we got some neat things in store for ourselves, not just here at Daytona, but moving forward, as well.
It was a great race out there today. The car was driving well. It was a lot of fun dicing it up with Martin at the beginning, and then with Tony and Jimmie, McMurray, a bunch of them. I can't even remember all the things that went on there. It was a great race.
I hope the fans enjoyed it, because it was fun from where I was sitting, not just because I went to Victory Lane.
KERRY THARP: Steve, your thoughts about the calls you made today?
STEVE LETARTE: I think Jeff said it the best. You know, the 150, it definitely gained some prestige. Everybody wants to try to win it. You could see with the passes in the last four or five laps that they weren't just riding around for a finish.
It was a good race. I think Goodyear brought a great tire for racing. I think it has a little more grip than last year. Allows for good racing. Also allows for some good pit strategy. Everybody came and put on four tires. Everybody that came and took four tires, that was the right call to really give the car some extra grip. He drove a fabulous race.
We got some pushes when we needed to, and finally got a couple guys to go with us. Couldn't get them Saturday night, but had a couple to go with us today. Hopefully we can get a couple to go with us on Sunday.

Q. Jeff, following up on your comments with how good the racing has been, why has it been better, and what kind of race do you think you'll see Sunday?
JEFF GORDON: I think you got to give Goodyear a little bit of credit for doing a little bit different design with the tire that makes the tire wear and makes guys -- gives guys confidence, because it has good grip at the beginning of the run. It makes everybody really get after it, especially if there's 10 to go.
The drivers are playing a role because the cars are slipping and sliding around, which brings the crew chief and the engineers on the team really into play as well because you have to have a good-handling racecar and good pit strategy, which Steve did a great call today with those four tires.
But, you know, I just think this car was designed and built for Daytona and Talladega. It's really built well. Sometimes we don't really care for it a lot at some of the other tracks, but it makes up for it, in my opinion, at Daytona.
Actually, it handles good. It's just that it's punching such a big hole that it really makes it interesting when you're behind other cars. But it makes it a heck of a lot of fun, a lot of passing, just what you're seeing, two and three wide, cars sideways, kind of bouncing off one another a little bit.
I don't think the show can get any better for the fans than what we've seen so far, but it probably will on Sunday.

Q. Your first race ever was obviously the last for the King. In 1993, your first full season, you started here with a win. Now the 25-year anniversary, a good way to kick off the 25-year anniversary for Hendrick.
JEFF GORDON: Certainly is fantastic. I'm so proud to have been a part of Hendrick for as long as I have. Going on 17 years now, I guess. You know, it's such a special place to work and be a part of. Rick is like a second - I guess it would be a third father for me. My stepdad and my biological father (laughter). But he's just been phenomenal to me and so many other people. He just creates great opportunity.
I was telling him in Victory Lane, he spoils us. He gives us such great equipment. He makes our jobs when we're out there doing that a whole lot easier. I'm excited to get the 25th anniversary started off right for those guys and be able to celebrate in Victory Lane for all of Hendrick Motorsports.

Q. Jeff, to see Joey do as well as he did, your comments on that? You were kind of Joey Logano before Joey Logano.
JEFF GORDON: I've never been Joey Logano. I've never had that much hype.

Q. Could we see a more wide-open Daytona 500 than normal this year?
JEFF GORDON: I was proud of him. We saw some things in practice. He got a little loose at one time. I was around him a couple times. He was definitely on a steep learning curve. These cars drive quite a bit different than the Nationwide cars do, or the trucks for that matter.
You know, I think he did a great job today. I really thought he did a great job because he gave me a big push there at the end that probably helped us win this race. I didn't really get to see a lot of what was going on for him throughout the race, but I would say he's probably pretty happy with it.
That's the thing about being young like that: you're a sponge. I see it in my little girl at such a young age. I see it in young racecar drivers. You're a sponge. You're taking it all in. You can learn so much more early in your career at a young age like that.
Sometimes we say, Are we moving them too fast? If you have the talent like Joey has, and I joked about the hype, I hate in some ways he's got that much pressure on him 'cause he's just got a tremendous opportunity and talent, being at Gibbs, having the talent that he has. You know, he's just got a steep learning curve, especially without testing.
I think today was a great race for him. I'm sure he'd say the same.

Q. Jeff, can you talk about whether Tony's success has surprised you so far?
JEFF GORDON: I think Tony's one of the best that there is here at Daytona. I know what our engine package -- how good our engine package is. But I think what impresses me is how well-organized they are. A lot of times you see a lot of shake-ups and changes and things like that. You'll see little things that will bite those guys.
To me, they've really come out looking solid and strong every time they've been on the track. The equipment is performing as well as looking good. They look like they've done a great job over the off-season.
But it's no surprise to me on the same hand to see Tony up front there, because I think he's one of the best drafters out there.

Q. You've won these qualifying races before. Do they mean more to you coming off a season like you just had?
JEFF GORDON: Heck, yeah. Any win's exciting and meaningful to us right now.
I think what makes this special is, one, these races aren't easy to win. You know, it takes a good racecar, a great race team, you know, to pull it off, and a little bit of luck, some good moves. That fortunately worked out for us.
But, you know, right now I think that because of the pressure that we felt from being winless last year, you know, it's important for us to gain some momentum and confidence that we're doing the right things for Steve and the calls he's making and for me and the moves I'm making, you know, just to be together, in sync as a team.
I think that's what today does. It just puts a smile on everybody's face. Everybody is patting one another on the back and really excited about Sunday's race. However you can get that is important, and today I think is a way we were able to achieve that. We got to keep it going, though.

Q. Jeff, you told us last year at Atlanta that you would sacrifice a winless year to have the opportunity to win four or five or six races this season. I know you haven't gone to the downforce tracks yet. How confident are you that that can happen from what you've seen in your team?
JEFF GORDON: I've seen some great things. Spending time with Steve, talking to him in the off-season, going to the shop. Just changing paint schemes is something that can light that fire a little bit. I say that with the flames (laughter).
But, you know, I think, you know, I see the moves that Steve's made at Hendrick Motorsports. He should say it more so than me. Just the support that he gets. You know, he's feeling that pressure 'cause he knows what's going on in the media, the fans. He knows, you know, whether we're winning or whether we're not winning. I don't need to speak for him.
We're doing everything we can to work together as a team. I believe a hundred percent in this guy, in the moves that he's making. I think 2007 proved it. We got behind last year. We can't get that back. But what we can do is learn from it, grow from it, and use that to motivate us.
This reminds me of 2000. In 2000, even though we won three races, I felt like it was one of our worst seasons. We came out of that and won the championship the next year because it motivated us. It showed us what we're capable of, how hard we got to dig down.
Also, we were able to work on the direction of things. We saw improvements towards the end of last year. Maybe not what the 48 saw, but we saw improvements in how good our car was and how it was getting better towards the end of the season those final 10 races.
Tell 'em what you've done. I can shut up.
STEVE LETARTE: No, I mean, I think the biggest lesson I learned last year, it's very hard to evaluate a program when you have a successful program like we had in '07, where last year it was easier to come in and change anything and everything when you really have no success to lean on.
No different than we did in '05. We missed the Chase. It was very easy to change anything. Nothing was sacred. There was nothing sacred. I think maybe me, including other people, but I'll take the brunt of it, maybe I got back on my heels and made some things a little too sacred that didn't need to be.
We've since changed all those. Anything can change to make the car go fast. We'll change any of the above to make it go fast.
JEFF GORDON: I will add to that, too. Last year I don't feel like I was on my best game. The opportunities that we had to win races, where maybe in the past we pulled those wins off, you know, it was on my shoulders. They gave me the car, the track position and everything else. There becomes a point where the driver's got to pull it off.
Last July here I feel like is a perfect example. I feel like I let the team down. We could have won that race that day. And those opportunities, you got to take advantage of 'em. They don't come around all the time. We know we got to pick it up on the downforce tracks. I know he's been working hard with the engineers to make that happen.
But we got a great racecar and a great race team right here in Daytona. We've got to capitalize on that and seize that moment. You know, I don't want to let these guys down. I feel like my back has been a little bit of an issue. I've been working out, trying to make that stronger. I've been stretching, doing a lot of things so that I have no excuses.
You know, I think we're all the type of team that none of us want to have excuses. We all want to go out there and make sure we're all doing our part.

Q. Jeff, you credited Goodyear for making a good tire for this track. There was talk last year when there was trouble with Goodyear tires that part of it was bump-stop running, running the cars real low. Have you made any particular adjustments? Goodyear is making their adjustments. Has your team made adjustments with this new car to adjust to that?
JEFF GORDON: Steve should probably answer that. The bump stops contributed to it. But there's a lot -- there's a center of gravity with this car, a right side weight. Goodyear knew going into last season this car was going to abuse the right side tires. I think what Goodyear learned was they could start to go to work on the left side tire a little bit more to maybe bring the grip and the consistency back.
We were wearing right sides out pretty good here today. That's what we saw last year - other than Indy - we weren't wearing tires out enough at times. We needed to actually wear them, to dissipate the heat, and also to keep the racecar a little more consistent, keep the racing consistent, bring it back in to crew chiefs making calls and drivers and crew chiefs working together on the handling of the car.
So far I think they're heading in the right direction. I think Steve should really answer that.
STEVE LETARTE: I mean, without a doubt I think there's more than one side to that story. I think Goodyear has definitely improved the tire. But people forget. We had 15 or 20 years with the old car. To come and try to come to Daytona two or three times with the new car and expect us to hit it the first time, I think Goodyear definitely had to take a conservative approach to make up for the teams' lack of knowledge with the new car.
I think now they have more confidence, the teams have a year under their belt, they're bringing tires that have a little more grip. You have to be closer on your setup. If you're way off on your setup, you will tear a tire up because the tire is meant to race. It's not meant to go out there and ill handle.
I'm excited to see the products they bring each and every week. Hopefully they are like they are here.

Q. Jeff, did you work with Tony at all today? Consequently, how do you view their organization? Are they almost like de facto teammates?
JEFF GORDON: You know, there's definitely the technical support and engine support that we give to them. Part of that package is some information sharing. I think that we pretty much proved out there on the racetrack today that we both want to win.
There was a time when I made a move on Truex and Tony went with me. That definitely helped me out. So I would say, yeah, we were working together. There was one time when I was second, he was third, and we were both being real patient behind Martin and just kind of riding it out to wait to see what the cars did and if and when we needed to make a move.
We weren't like on the radios. We didn't talk prior to the race or anything like that. But, you know, we're talking just throughout the week about car setups, what's going on. The crew chiefs are talking. So in that sense, you know, there's some information sharing and communication going on there.
But I know there's nobody that wants to pass me or beat me more than Tony. Same for me to him - or whoever else is the guy to beat out there. When teammates go out the window, you got to have some friends out there to give you that push.
So you don't want to make enemies, but when it comes down to the finish, you know, you really don't have many friends, or teammates. You got to go for it.
KERRY THARP: Guys, congratulations. Good luck on Sunday.

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