Pirates Of The New Age

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.- - When most people think of pirate, images of a swashbuckling seafarer with a patch over one eye, and bottles of rum, fine women, and jewels within easy reach come to mind. When you look up the word "pirate" in the dictionary, there are several available definitions.
1) One who robs or plunders without commission from a sovereign nation.
2) One who preys on others; a plunderer.
When applied to Jeff Gordon's performance in the Daytona 500, the meaning might just fit. In the final six laps of the race, Gordon made several moves to prey on leader Tony Stewart, and rob Budweiser nation of another Daytona victory. Running in second as the laps wound down, Gordon had two options. He could stay in line and push Stewart to a victory. Or he could take his chances and pull out of line, hoping that his teammate back in fifth place could move up and help him. Nobody would have faulted Gordon for taking the safe road. After all, in a day that saw some dramatic wrecks, a runner-up finish would have been a fine start to the new season. But this is Jeff Gordon... this is the Daytona 500... this is crunch time. There are no safe roads.

Gordon pulled out of line with six laps to go and immediately lost the runner-up spot to Kurt Busch. As expected, Johnson jumped to the outside to push Gordon. Dale Earnhardt Jr. drafted off Stewart and pulled high to move into the race lead. The crowd roared its approval. But Gordon's chess game wasn't over just yet. With Earnhardt Jr. in front, Gordon and Johnson teamed up for a run on the outside line. One lap later, Gordon took the lead from Earnhardt Jr. coming off turn two. After a two-lap sprint to the finish, Gordon held the field at bay to win his third Daytona 500 and 70th career race. He pulled into victory lane to claim the pirate's treasure. Don't let the benign exterior fool you-- Jeff Gordon is the toughest, smartest, and simply the best race car driver of his era.

Following the race, Gordon, crew chief Robbie Loomis, and car owner Rick Hendrick met with the media.

JEFF GORDON: The restart was pretty key there at the end. Also the pass with Junior there toward the end of the race. Just take us through everything. I don't know where to start. There's so many key moments. I knew all week that these guys, Robbie and these guys had done an amazing job on the car. Actually, I knew when we tested here, we just had a fast car, good driving car, good power, everything. We got down here and, you know, had a decent run in the Bud Shootout. I knew how much better our car was for the 500. We were a little disappointed on pole day because I felt like we had a car capable of sitting on that front row. You know, we just stayed calm. I'm just so excited about this race team right now and how well put together they are and how experienced they are, but yet still have excitement of some new people in there, as well. I felt like, you know, we stayed calm all week through the 150s, through practice, everything just seemed to work well. You know, we were kind of under the radar. Not many people looked at us. That was kind of nice. But in our hearts, I think we all knew we had a car capable of doing what we did today. Once the race started, it was just about trying to get from 15th up there to those top four or five positions. And through great pit stops, some great strategy by Robbie, knowing when to take four, when to take two, we worked our way up there and stayed up there all day long. There were times when I knew I could make some moves on those guys, but it was too early, and I just tried to stay patient, tried to stay on the bottom, tried to make any passes I could on the bottom. And there at the end, I knew I was not going to pass the 20 car on the bottom. He was strong. He was using his mirror well, blocking it well. I knew that we were going to have to go to the outside. I made one move out there a little early, and it looked like it was going to be a bad move for a second. Then we ended up creeping our way back up there. 8 car gave me a big shove, got me up there. Then the cautions kept falling. When that 8 car got that lead, I thought it was over, done. He looked so strong. I knew we had a good car, but I had no idea we'd ever get up there even beside him, let alone pass him. Jimmie Johnson gave me a big shove down the front straightaway. I had a lot of momentum. I was shocked that I not only got up beside him, but I passed him. Just a fantastic day, fantastic car. Rick's fifth Daytona 500 win, our third, it was amazing.

Q: What were you feeling like in the pit box in those closing laps, Rick?
RICK HENDRICK: I was afraid to get excited. I thought we had a good shot when Jimmie was there behind Jeff, and then when I saw Junior up there, and then we got hung on the outside, I was kind of just waiting for the end. Jeff did a super job. I have to watch the tape because I think it was so exciting there at the end, I still don't know how he got around him.

Q: Robbie, take us through your thoughts, your first 500 victory? He's won it before, but you haven't. What has it been like for you? What kind of pit strategy moves did you have to make?
ROBBIE LOOMIS: Whoa, Daytona 500. It's so exciting. I've never been as hurt as I was over a qualifying. I mean, qualifying, usually I don't get up for it any more. When we didn't sit on the pole, I was really, really hurt. In fact, I called Bergy that night. We have a guy on our team over on the Speedway program, Steve Berg, and he works incredibly hard with a big group of 500 employees at Hendrick Motorsports to make it happen. To come up a little short on qualifying day... But by Monday, we stayed focused, we talked, and we knew we come to win the race. Mr. Hendrick, he gave me a little inspiration. He called and he said he had a Bud trophy. He said that, you know, it didn't compare to the 500 trophy. So he said, Keep focused on it, get the guys happy. That's what we did. Just feel very fortunate. I grew up here in Florida. To get the victory here, just very thankful, that's for sure.

Q: Is this race an indication for what the season is going to be like?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'd like to hope so or think so. You know, there's some different rules that we have this year that really don't have anything to do with Daytona. But, you know, the tires and the spoiler, I think you're going to see more lead changes. I don't know if you're going to see as much side by side racing. But what you see here at Daytona is not what exists anywhere else other than Talladega and here. I'm really happy with the restrictor plate and the rules that we have in store. You know, you watch those truck guys, you watch those Busch cars, and it's pretty hairy. I think we've got a package right now that allows for great racing, allows for passing, but keeps us, you know, able to control the cars as well. But I don't think you're going to see quite this much excitement every weekend, but I'm hoping you do see, you know, some more excitement based on what rules they have for this year.

Q: Compared to your previous two 500 victories, is this more of a veteran win? How would you characterize it?
JEFF GORDON: Honestly, in how the race went, I would characterize it similar to our other two, where we had good cars and just raw desire and belief that we could do it, and you want it so bad. You know, this team, when they're on, they're amazing. And I felt like they were on all day long. We were just solid in the pits. Our communication between Robbie and myself was good. My spotter did an amazing job. Everything was just on. We never made, you know, a mistake. Didn't mean we were perfect, it just meant we never made a big mistake. All I said to the guys earlier today is, If we're in that top, you know, five towards the end of this race, we're going to have a shot at winning this race. And that's what they did. They just kept us there all day long. There at the end, it's just instinct of wanting it so bad and just trying to put every bit of energy into it and every bit of knowledge that you've had over the past on how you're going to pass these cars, and you know that's not going to guarantee anything. But I was real happy with the way things went for us. I wanted that one restart where I got by Tony. That was about the best restart I think I've ever made in my life here at Daytona. Unfortunately, the caution came out. I got a little frustrated because I passed him twice, and the caution came out and we weren't ahead of him. So I was hoping the third time would be a charm. You know, it kind of worked out that way, even though the 8 car passed him before I could.

Q: Given what happened last year with Earnhardt and Stewart, are you surprised he didn't commit with Tony?
JEFF GORDON: (Laughing) Let me tell you, if they worked so well together, how come the 8 car pulled out and drove by him? I mean, he did it last year, too. So, I mean, you know, last year at the end of the race they were the only three or four cars that were even there capable of winning the race, and nobody was going to get by that 8 car. This year, you know, I knew that when I pulled out, he was not going to go with me. I knew he was going to go to the 20, and he did. And then it was up to those two. And he got a run. He went to the outside. It didn't surprise me at all. What surprised me more than anything else was that I got a run and was able to even get near the 8 car, because he was really strong.

Q: Rick and Jeff, talk about how badly you both wanted to win this race in light of the tragedy last October.
RICK HENDRICK: There was a lot of talk about the motors down here, and Randy Dorton, you know, all week long we were saying, "This one's for Randy." The picture that I probably treasure with Ricky more than any picture other than the one in Victory Lane at Kansas was he was on my shoulders down here when Geoff Bodine won the race for us back in I think '86. There was a lot of fire in our hearts. Every race we come to now, I personally think about all those people. And this is the Super Bowl of racing. So to come down here, you want to do well. You want to start the year off well. We feel like it's a way to honor those that we lost and we love and we miss. It was a great win.
JEFF GORDON: I think Rick really addressed it well. I couldn't have put it any better. This is just an awesome win. I think everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has been motivated by, you know, trying to honor those that were lost. That's the way we like to keep them in our memories and know that, you know, they're looking down smiling. It doesn't get any better than that.

Q: Jeff, could you comment, were you surprised that Jimmie did not go with you when you first made that initial pass to the outside, the one you mentioned maybe was a bit early?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I thought it was a little early, but I thought maybe that's why he didn't go with me. You know, he's trying to win the race, too. You know, you see your teammate jump out there, and you go, "Hmm." Looked like a good idea, but maybe it wasn't (laughter). I was fortunate to get I think maybe the 10 car, somebody, then the 8 car, you know, to keep me up there. But, you know, I understand how it works with me and Jimmie because we've had we've been together enough and we've talked about it enough, if he can go with me and the momentum would allow him to go with me, he's going to. If I can go with him and the momentum will allow me to go with him, then I'll do the same. Sometimes that hurts you and sometimes that helps you. You know, we do everything we can to try to work together, but we also do what we can to win the race. It all worked out. I mean, he still helped me to win this race. It was just a little bit later than that. It wasn't able to work out that time.

Q: Jeff, are you aware of the record you're piling up, where this is putting him in the history of auto racing?
JEFF GORDON: I know obviously it's number three, I know it's number 70 for me race wise. I wanted to get to 70. That seemed like a good number, I don't know. You know, I try not to put too much emphasis on it right now because I don't want to focus on that, I want to focus on wins and this team and give them my best effort that I can week in and week out and do what we can to win the championship. I know how fortunate I am to be a part of such an awesome team. But, you know, every once in a while I know Rick and I or Robbie and I, we'll kind of reminisce and talk about some things that we've done, you know, maybe our fourth Brickyard 400 or different things like that. You get a little choked up. You know, it's unbelievable to know that since I met this guy like May of 1992, it's been one incredible ride. And who would have ever thought that we would have racked up the things that we have? I'm just fortunate to, you know, be at this organization and to have had the success that we've had. I don't want to stop any time soon.

Q: Has it bothered you at all that it's been a few years, obviously since 1999, that you won this race?
JEFF GORDON: This is a big event. It's a tough one to win. I think I look more at how proud I am that I've won two more so than how long it's been since I won the last one. You know, I know how hard we work. I know how hard, you know, the guys on this team, how much effort they put in every single year to try to win this thing. And sometimes you get the results and sometimes you don't. But when you've got a car like I had this week, you certainly want to take advantage of it. And I feel like that's what we did in '99. We had a car. I think we sat on the pole that year and won the race. We had an awesome car and we took advantage of it. I felt the same way for this car and this team this week is that, you know, let's take advantage of having a piece like that. You just don't know if you're going to be that good every year when you come back here.

Q: Can you talk about the 8 car a little bit. He wasn't a factor for most of the race. Did you kind of expect him to be there at the end?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I was shocked. I can tell you that when the cautions came out, I'd look in my mirror, see how far back he was, look up on the board, see where he was at. The 15 was really strong. You know, I thought maybe Junior was having some problems, engine problems or handling problems. And then he flipped the switch or whatever and that thing took off there at the end, I was like, "Okay, here he is." Then it was no surprise to me at all. I was just more surprised that he was hanging back or doing whatever he was doing most of the day. But it's certainly no surprise to see him there at the end.

Q: Did you question some of the cautions that came out for debris, especially the last one, after you took the lead?
JEFF GORDON: I was only questioning whether I was leading or not. That's the only question I had. I knew I was side by side with the 20 car twice. You know you never know when the actual light comes on because you're not looking for it. And I knew it was close both times. That's the only thing I questioned. I never questioned why they came out. There was one time I knew I saw a wreck behind me. There was another time, you know, I mean, there was definitely debris and different things each time I saw it. Now, at the very end, they were putting speedy dry down on the inside of three and four. I think that's why they held it a couple more laps.

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