Another Week, Another Win

LOS ANGELES, CA.- - With air temperatures hovering in the mid-90's during the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, the hottest driver on the circuit turned up the heat on the competition. Jeff Gordon took the lead from Kasey Kahne with 58 laps remaining and had enough fuel to make it to the finish line to claim his second consecutive win and 66th of his career. Gordon started 16th but quickly showed the field that he would be a serious contender. On lap 6, he made a three-wide move on the backstretch to move into the top ten. Ten laps later he was up to third. He took the race lead for the first time on lap 50 by passing Kahne when Todd Bodine lost an oil line. He fell to fourth during pit stops but briefly retook the top spot on lap 66 from Matt Kenseth before Greg Biffle went by. Gordon dropped as low as 9th on lap 93 after a round of pit stops by made his way up to third on lap 134. During caution flag pit stops on lap 140, he left pit road with the lead after a sub-14 second pit stop from the DuPont team. Gordon held the lead until Kahne passed with 84 laps to go. Gordon worked his way back around Kahne with 58 to go. He came onto pit road for the final time with 52 laps remaining under the green flag. After the cycle of pit stops, he had more than a three second lead. Bobby Labonte came on strong in the closing laps and closed to within one second of the Rainbow Warrior. However, Labonte ran out of gas on the white flag lap which allowed Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson to move into the runner-up spot. After taking the checkered flag, Gordon ran out of fuel while doing a burnout on the infield.

Jeff's post-race press conference

"Just right from the beginning, I was so impressed with how well the car was working. When they dropped the green, both Jimmie Johnson and I drove straight to the front. I was impressed with all the adjustments Robbie Loomis and the guys made to the car because I wasn't real happy with it when I left yesterday. I just remember battling Kasey Kahne and chasing and chasing him and not really making any headway. I finally got by him. I knew we had one more pit stop to go and that we'd be close on fuel on all those things. We had a great stop and I was shocked to see myself pulling away from him. I was just on cruise control. I knew we had to conserve a little bit of fuel. I tried not to push it too hard yet maintain a good pace. About that time the car started to get really loose. Kasey gained on me every once in a while when I'd get sideways down turns 1 and 2. They told me to keep an eye on the No. 18 car (Bobby Labonte). But I was pushing as hard as I could but I definitely had my hands full. It looked like a lot of guys were struggling there at the end holding on to the cars. Everybody was getting loose. Fuel mileage was not even on my mind. Once we got down to the finish, I was just trying to stay ahead of Bobby (Labonte). I knew it was going to be really close. When we took the white flag, it was a huge relief. But I hated it for him because he had a great car there at the end. But it allowed me to go conservative on that last lap to keep the car from coming around on me. The first thing I did was look at my fuel pressure gauge. It was fluxuating a little bit. I wasn't sure what that meant. Luckily I made it to the finish and then I did my burnout and then I ran out of gas. That's why we had to push it down pit road."

Discuss the momentum of winning two in a row
"When you have race cars like we do and a team like this and the research like we do at Hendrick Motorsports- by the way, Randy Dorton and the engine shop, that thing was going down the straightaways. But we do have momentum right now. We're going to enjoy one over the off-weekend and just try to keep the momentum for when we come back. This team is just awesome. These guys never give up. They just work so hard. We just worked so hard yesterday getting this car dialed in. But when they dropped the green flag, this Dupont Chevrolet just drove straight to the front and it was just a joy to drive. Those last several laps when Bobby Labonte was running me down, I was getting real loose and trying to conserve fuel. We had great calculations and great communications by Robbie Loomis and Brian Whitsel and all the guys on this team."

Are you in a groove of races where you can do well?
"This is not a track where we've done well the last few times. We've been a 5th, 6th, or 7th place car, which isn't bad, but we've stepped it up today. Bobby Labonte, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and all those guys are so strong on these types of tracks and we're competing with them. This has given us a lot of confidence in what we're doing. This is a great race car. This is the car we had at Atlanta and Texas. But we're looking forward to the schedule. There are a lot of great races. We want to be in the top-10 so we can really go after them in the last ten races."

On being 27 points from the lead
"That's incredible. It's been an amazing four or five races that we've had. After Darlington, we had a pretty tough wreck there, and we just shook it off and just kept on plugging away and going strong. It makes we really proud to get behind the wheel of that car when you know you've got guys like that behind. That was the baddest engine I've ever had underneath the hood of a race car."

Discuss the upswing following Darlington
"Well, 2000 was a tough year for us. We questioned ourselves. Once you overcome adversity, it allows you to overcome it more and more and deal with it in a better way. I'm very fortunate that the people at Hendrick Motorsports never lose sight of that. Each week, no matter what's thrown at us, we put it behind us and go to the next week. The criticism doesn't come from within us. It comes from outside. Everyone has a story to write. Some days we have the best car and the best team out there, but the results don't show it. Today we had the best car when it counted. But we didn't really have the best car there at the very end because Bobby (Labonte) was coming. So it's just funny how things work out."

On the realization that Bobby Labonte had run out of fuel
"Honestly, I was pushing the car as hard as I could. I want to look at the right rear tire on that car because it almost felt like we abused it or something happened. That was really the first time I'd started a run off in clean air and ran through the whole run in clean air. Kasey Kahne had been in front of me for so long that it helped tighten the car up and so my car was just awesome before that. We put those four tires on there at the end and it took off right away. But it somehow built up heat to the right rear tire and I was just holding on tight. There at the end, it was everything I could do just to keep the car from spinning out down the middle of Turns 1 and 2. Bobby was coming but I was just trying to drive the car as straight as I could. I knew if I pushed too hard I was going to make a big mistake and he was going to catch me immediately. So as much as I hated to see him close that gap, I just had to drive it straight. When they said he was out of gas, I could let off (laughs) and drive through the corners very slow. That last lap was by far the slowest lap I made all day long- because I could."

A lot of attention has been paid to the "young guns" of late. Do you miss the attention a little bit?
"I like getting attention because I did something good on the race track or because we won a race or a championship. Sometimes I feel for guys like Dale Jr. because he's got a lot of weight on his shoulders and a lot of pressure and that can be tough. But honestly, I am enjoying my thirties a lot more than I thought I would because I'm comfortable with myself and the role I'm in. I don't need to be the guy in the headlines every weekend. I only want to be there if I did something worthy. I feel like I have a voice. Some people listen to it and that's a nice thing. There's nothing better than having respect in this garage area. It's taken me a long time to get it. I don't mind these kids coming along and getting some of the limelight. They are young guns and they are talented. I'm happy for them. I'm also happy when I can pass them and go to victory lane and see that they're behind me."

Do you have empathy for the young guys and what they're going through?
"The only difference is there are a lot more eyes and ears that are part of the sport. Marketing has gone to a whole new level. The expectation on these guys is very high. That's got to be tough. From what I can see, the majority of them are handling it very well and I'm proud of that. If I saw something I'd probably say something. But I think they're doing a good job. But I wasn't expected to win races as a rookie. I wasn't expected to do anything other than try to bring the car back in once piece and I didn't do that very often either. My rookie year was the toughest year I've ever had in this sport. After that, I was finally able to get that yellow tape off my rear bumper and focus on what I needed to focus on. I think everybody's rookie year is their toughest."

What makes you so strong at California Speedway?
"I've been hearing about how dominant we've been here, but all I've been able to think about lately is the last three or four years we've been here we've stunk (laughs). The numbers are great, but I only look at the results of last year or the year before. I like this track. It's really matured. This track has grooves all over the place. It's not easy to drive. I would like to say it's a lot like Michigan, but it really isn't. It's a much different beast. Yesterday during Happy Hour, I did not like this race track. But today when they dropped the green, I like it a lot because of what Robbie did to the car. I can honestly say that today, the horsepower was amazing. That really means a lot here at California Speedway."

Why doesn't the heat bother you?
"I'll be honest-- I never got hot at all today. I don't know why other than I've been drinking a lot of water. This new carbon seat we have is great. We've worked on how to vent it and how to put the air into it. I have an air conditioner but I didn't even run the thing until the last 100 laps. I like to conserve to make sure it blows cool air out the whole time. Sometimes if you start it at the beginning of the race, it goes away. I'd rather have the cool air at the beginning of the race instead of at the end. But even when I didn't have the air on, I have a blower that just blows whatever temperature the outside air is. I stayed very hydrated. I felt like a million bucks today. The seat is cooler. The only thing that got hot on me was my foot. We have one of the best systems. You have to learn how to manage yourself coming into these races. Maybe that's an advantage of being one of the old guys."

Discuss the incident with Tony Stewart. Were you concerned that it damaged the car?
"I was real concerned. I didn't know what the heck happened. I was on the outside in the middle of Turns 1 and 2 and we were just coming off there side-by-side and I thought he didn't see me or his spotter didn't tell him I was there. I don't know what happened. That turn can be pretty tricky over there. Sometimes it'll suck you out to the wall. That's my only guess because I was just going by on the outside and got squeezed into the wall. We hit pretty hard. I knew it tore the left front fender up on it. Luckily there was a caution not too long after that and Robbie and the guys were able to take a look at it and make adjustments for the damage."

Post-race comments from Robbie Loomis

Did you think it would be that close on fuel?
"Yes, we knew it was extremely close. We felt like we were within a lap and a half to the good side and we relayed that message to Jeff. The teams work real hard. We lost some last year and got ourselves in some trouble. The engine room has just done a great job. We try to look at every area of drag on the car and the fuel economy and they've really picked it up. We just had great communication on top of the box to Jeff - far enough out there with 50 to go that he knew whenever he could take care of it a little bit, he would."

What was going wrong a few weeks ago? What has changed?
"We went through a very rough 2000 season. Since that time, we've won the championship. That gave me some confidence. But the biggest thing is that Jeff talks to me a lot. We talked at Bristol. He said no matter what we come across or how we get criticized, he believed in this race team and what we are doing. There are things we need to improve, but he believes in the guys and that we can do it. When you have that kind of confidence from a guy who has won four championships, it gives you confidence to get back to the team and walk through the shop on a bad day and know that we can put our best foot forward. That's the biggest thing about Jeff Gordon. If you have a bad weekend, he puts it behind him. That helps us with our confidence and to be able to prepare the car for the next week."

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