Victory At Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, VA. (April 14)- - Jeff Gordon used a bump pass to take the lead from Bobby Labonte with 14 laps to go and held on to win the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Following the race, Gordon and crew chief Robbie Loomis answered questions about the day.

Regarding the contact with Bobby Labonte at the end of the race
JG: "I race guys the way they race me. Bobby raced me clean, but he was definitely crowding me. He was cutting the entry of the corners pretty short. So, I got underneath him a couple times and knew that it was going to be pretty tough to do it without either running him up the track or us touching a little bit. Basically, that last time when I got by him I just ran straight. I didn't really turn into him. I just ran straight as he turned into the corner and we touched a little bit. I was just watching my mirror, watching the guys behind me. I had a little bit of breathing room. It looked like Tony Stewart started going away and he started fading. I kept cooling my tires off good behind Bobby, would run him down, get inside him and just see what I could do with him. But, each lap that went by that got closer to the finish, the bumps were going to get harder and harder and harder. I was pretty determined to win this race. This team worked hard today. They did an awesome job. It was a great call by Bobby and the 18 team with what they did there and it almost got them the win. It got them a second, so that was still a great call for them. I don't think anybody would have done any different. We were definitely better. It was just hard to pass out there. I would have expected the same thing from anybody else."

How big of a relief is it to get your first win this early in the season?
JG: "It's a big relief to me. There are so many sweet things about getting a victory early in the season. In the first third of the season, I think it means so much. It just takes that weight off your shoulder. We don't have to go each weekend going, 'Ok, it's been 18, 20, 30, 40,' however many races it's been since we won. Plus, we go into an off-weekend, so we get to enjoy it for a little bit longer than just a regular win. Any win is special and it was awesome and it was great to be able to do it from the pole today. This team-- I think they've been right there week in and week out to get a win. We've been close and let it slip away and it's awesome to finally get it- especially early on."

Do drivers remember things like the bump today?
JG: "I expect them to. When he is going for a win and I'm leading and in the same situation, I expect him to remember that- absolutely. Bobby is a guy that, he's a nice guy. He runs hard and clean, but he doesn't mind getting the job done doing whatever it takes to get that win, also. He came up to me after race and congratulated me and we laughed about it. It wasn't like I just went down in there and took him out. I don't know what the etiquette is. I know that when you're on a short track, you get down the finish, if you can get to his bumper, then there is usually going to be some contact somewhere along the way. I thought I was kind of nice about it, to be honest."

Did it surprise you that Bobby held you off as long as he did at the end of the race?
JG: "I saw where my car was working better than his. He couldn't keep it on the bottom, so I just saw a hole and I went for the hole. I got inside of him and I thought I should be able to get him. Then, I noticed him crowding me getting into the corner. I was doing everything I could just not to wreck myself and him at that time. Then, we ran there for a couple laps and I was like, 'This is going to be a lot tougher than I thought.' Then, I saw Stewart, Earnhardt, and Marlin all coming and I said, 'Alright, now I need to get back in line and cool my tires.' When I got back in line behind him, all of a sudden I started to spin the tires and he drove away from me a little bit and I was pretty nervous at that moment. I was like, 'Uh-oh, this is not good.' But, all it was was just I had overheated my tires and needed to coo them down a little bit. The breathing room that I got was that the 20 car faded. When he faded and was holding the 8 car up and they fell back, it allowed me to make some maneuvers where I could go high going in, get a run on him and do some different things. Then, I could just keep getting inside of him and keep working him and working him, hoping he'd make a mistake. Bobby doesn't really make many mistakes. I think what happened was I ran down in there and he crowded me pretty good. That pretty much gave me the sign, 'Alright, it's OK for me to lean on him a little bit.' I think Bobby knew he was not as good as me. He only had two tires and he was going to work me over as hard as he could to make me work for it and not just give it away."

On racing back to the yellow flag
JG: "I think when it's coming down to the finish, you'd better race as hard as you can back to that line. I never let off- no matter what lap it is."

On moving guys out of the way
JG: "The competition is extremely tough. Track position is hard to get and it's hard to pass. This is a neat short track, but it's extremely hard to pass. Any track that we go to where we can't pass you're going to see guys moving guys out of the way and getting everything they possibly can."

Are you satisfied where you are in the points standings?
JG: "I am considering we were 15th in points about six races ago. I'm very happy with the performance. These guys have just been bringing the best cars to the racetrack. We've been leading a lot of laps, we've been qualifying great and pit stops have been phenomenal. I can't exactly put my finger on why some races have slipped away from us - just little things here and there that have kept us out of victory lane. I think the only thing I'm disappointed with was me hitting the wall at Darlington. Other than that, I think we've been great. I'm very happy with everything that has taken place. For us to get back up to third and really make a charge here at this point in the season- yeah, I'm pretty happy with where we're at right now."

On knowing how much of a bump to give to someone
JG: I learned from Dale Earnhardt (Dale Jr's father). There are certain things you can do out there, just like Bobby was doing. He wasn't really hitting me, but he was definitely making it close to impossible for me to get by him. There at the end, I had a fender right inside his left rear bumper and when he turned in the corner I just didn't turn. That's usually a good way to, either, loosen them up or sometimes you're going to touch them a little bit. And, on the short track, it usually takes a little more than just air to move them around. I try to not do anything to where I'm going to send the guy off to the wall or spin him out. I try to work him over, race him, and try to pass him as clean as I can- then, you start going to other motives."

Did you anticipate this coming down to you and Dale Jr for the win?
JG: "I knew he was going to be pretty tough. I knew Bobby was on two tires. Bobby surprised me more than anything. I really thought we might run there for 10 or 15 laps and then he'd fall back, but he didn't. My car wasn't real good on new tires. My car was much better on the long run. Junior was extremely good on new tires and I think Junior probably would have gotten by Bobby a little easier than what I did because his car really seemed to just cut the middle really good on new tires. But, I think over the long run we still would have been battling with him for the win, which we still were in a way. But, I was pretty concerned with him. He was very good. Track position means so much. My car - if I could be the leader and in some fresh air I could pull away. But, if you put me behind a couple cars, it took a full run before I could get back up to the front. I was pretty concerned. I don't know exactly what went on there. I saw Craven come up there and get him and slide up and man, I just stood in the gas and said, 'I'm going to take advantage of this situation,' because I knew it was going to be big. If I could get by Junior, that was half the battle right there."

Do you think Dale Jr would be tough to catch if he had the points lead?
JG: "I think I'm aware of him being tough, no matter whether he's got the points lead or not. They're definitely running good at a lot of different tracks. In the past, they've had some weaknesses. I think the team has matured, I think Junior has matured and they're showing that week in and week out. We've got to hang with them at the places that they are really strong- Daytona and Talladega- and we've got to take advantage of some of the tracks that they're not as strong at. I didn't know how strong he'd be today, so today was somewhat a surprise of how good he was today. Short tracks are important to the championship. We never really focus on any one guy. We just focus on our own program. We've always done it that way and we know that if we do our job that that is what is going to put us up there for the championship. If we don't do our job, that is what is going to prevent us from getting it."

Why was this race so clean early on?
JG: "I think the grinding of this racetrack has changed this racetrack tremendously. There's not much of an inside groove. It used to be nothing but an inside groove. Now, there is more of an outside groove. The grinding of the track grinds the tires down so bad that the tires go away, so you basically have to float the car in there and there is just no grip up off the corner- so, you get in the gas and the tires just spin. It's real easy to get the car sideways or smack the wall. Even getting in the corner, I had a lot of trouble today getting loose getting in the corner. To me, I'm driving this track totally different. I feel like we're setting the car up different and the race is just being run a lot different just because of the way they ground the track."

Is it too early to be looking at the points standings right now?
JG: "I think so. We certainly keep track of it and we pay attention to it. But, I think it's too early to be racing for points. Right now you just need to race as hard as you can for those top fives and top 10s and get those wins when you can. I think the points come by racing that way. We do everything- every lap of every race- to get the best possible position we can and that usually pays the most points that we can get in that event. We've been leading a lot of laps here lately which is nice to get those bonus points. But, we're really not looking at that just as the championship. We're just looking at that as bringing great cars to the track and trying to win with them."

Robbie Loomis, Crew Chief

Discuss the points situation right now
RL: "We really don't pay a lot of attention to it. But, when you have a day like you had today where you lead the most laps and you win, that's when you start looking at it and gaining confidence. But, it's not something that we sit there and focus on- especially on a bad day. I hardly even look at the sheet going home."

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