The Battle Of California

SONOMA, CA.- - Jeff Gordon, a native of Vallejo, finished second to Robby Gordon, a native of Cerritos, in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. It looked as if the four-time Winston Cup champion might win the event in the late stages, but his attempts at a winning pass were held at bay by Robby Gordon. Following the event, both drivers discussed the race with the media.

Discuss your second place effort
JG: "It was just a great day all the way around for us. The cautions fell right for us and the pit stops were great. I made a couple of mistakes out there, but there at the end, we had the best car. I drove up through there and I was surprised I got past Kevin Harvick. My hat's off to him. He did a great job today and I'm really impressed by his efforts. I got up there to Robby and he was doing everything he needed to do, but he was good in the areas where you could pass, off Turn 10 and going into Turn 7. He got the track position by passing his teammate under caution, and I think that's obviously not my problem I was pretty surprised by that. I'm happy to come home second. It was a great points day for us."

You're up to second in the points standings now
"We were hoping to gain on those guys. Matt Kenesth, I'm telling you, he's feeling it. He's getting up on the wheel when he needs to and it's going to be tough to run those guys down."

You caught up to Robby, but it was a different story once you got there
"Yeah, this is a difficult track to pass on, there's no doubt about that. He wasn't very good compared to us, but he was good in the right places. Where he was the best was coming off Turn 6 going into Turn 7 and then coming off 10 and going into 11. If you can't get a run on a guy there, if you just drive off the track, you're not going to pass him. It's frustrating, because I knew we had a much better car, and I was working hard to get by him, but I gave it everything I had. I ran Robby down, and I came close to making a move on him, and I just saw kind of what he was doing, how he was driving. I said to myself, 'we've got a points battle on the line here. If I get a really clean shot at him, I'll go for it, but if not, it wasn't going to be worth risking it.' I ran as hard as I could to get a run on him, but it just never really materialized. One time I got to the outside of him and thought I had him, but I just couldn't get to the outside in the turn."

When you passed Rusty Wallace to move into second place, what was going through your mind?
"That was a good place to be in, obviously. I didn't know how strong Robby was. I ran him down right away, and I said, 'aw, man, we've got this.' He was all over the place and he finally calmed down and stopped watching his mirror, and he started being smooth enough for me not to really be able to get by him. I got all over him trying to get him to make a mistake, and I saw Kevin come into third place. I started backing off a little bit to cool things down in case Kevin caught us. I wanted to have something hopefully for Robby and Kevin. I was real proud of Kevin. I saw him drive a lot today and he did a great job, made very few mistakes. He was an awesome road racer today. I thought he had the car. When he got by Robby, that was a pretty bold move right there. I thought that he was going to be the guy to beat. If Robby was as fast under green as he did under caution that one time, heíd win a lot of these things."

Regarding Robby Gordon passing Kevin Harvick coming to the caution flag on lap 71
"That's a bunch of crap right there. Anybody who races back under caution like that I don't know where his mind is. He [Robby Gordon] did a great job. He won the race fair and square today, except for that move right there. I don't care if they call it a gentlemen's agreement or not, what he did, especially to his teammate, is absolutely ridiculous. If he can be proud and satisfied with himself to go out there and do what he did today, and he's sitting over there in Victory Lane because he knows he passed his teammate under caution, then by all means have it."

You mentioned you had a shot at Robby. When was that?
"When I got the outside of him going into Turn 11. It looked like he kind of locked the brakes up there. I had a run anyway, and I knew he was going to block the inside and so I just tried to get to the outside. I got the outside really, really good and he started slipping the tires and I just missed getting to outside of him. If I could have gotten position on him down that part of the straightaway I think we could have had it. It would have been a heck of a battle or a heck of a wreck."

Was that the only time you had a shot to the outside?
"He was good off turn 10 and he was good off whatever that turn is where we are all over the curb and going into turn 7. He was good in those two areas, the only two braking or passing areas that there are. Other than that, I ate him up pretty much everywhere. You couldn't get underneath him there. Itís hard to outbrake Robby, he was driving in there and locking the brakes up all the time. He did exactly what he needed to do to win that race."

When Robby brushed the styrofoam block out there, did it cause you to break concentration?
"No. I knew that was nothing. You can clip those things all the time and they crumple away pretty good. Other than breaking my concentration a little bit, it was nothing. He ran into the dirt one time and locked up the inside tire one time, and those were the things I was trying to capitalize on. When the tires are that old, itís hard to get that aggressive."

Why is it that the road racers who come in are never there at the end?
"I don't know what happened to Ron Fellows today, but I thought he was going to be the guy to beat when he got that lead. His car looked good. All I do know is one time that he got out of synch with the pit stops. The rest of us came in before that caution came out and we were sitting perfect. He was way in the back because he came in under caution. I never saw him again, so I don't know what happened, but prior to that he was the guy."

Was what Robby did worse considering the discussion you had this morning in the driver's meeting?
"That was totally not the same situation. What that [discussion] was, was a waving caution on one corner if there's debris or something on the track where it's not a full-course caution, you can pass if you happen to be making a move on a guy and you complete it through that area. In most road-racing situations, you aren't allowed to do that, but NASCAR said today it wasn't that big a deal. But that's not what happened. I saw what happened. I might not have been right behind him, but I saw what happened because he about did it the caution before that. What happened was, the full-course caution came out and just like any other weekend-- just because it's a road course doesn't make it any different-- we maintain our position and work our way back to the caution. You don't know what's on the track. There's a caution for some reason. What I saw was Robby became an animal as soon as that caution came out because he thought that was his one golden opportunity to get by him. He was all over the place on Kevin, and I'm sure Kevin was looking in his mirrors wondering, 'what the heck is going on here?' I don't know how he actually got by him, but he obviously got on the inside of him going into Turn 11. That's just unheard of, I'm telling you. It doesn't surprise me, but it's unheard of in our sport. You rarely ever see that unless it's coming down to the checkered flag or the white flag or with five to go, but not at that point in the race."

Considering what happened last year here (37th place), how satisfying is it for you to finish second?
"Iím real happy to finish second. We needed a strong run here. I'm not saying this because I didn't win the race, but I feel more for Kevin than anything else. I'm very pleased with our run today, our whole effort. To come out of here with a gain in the points and a strong finish like that, it was exactly what we were hoping for. With these road courses, anything in the top five you have to be happy with. We got a whole lot more than that today."

What do you think about passing your teammate under the yellow?
"To me, that makes it even worse. If me and my teammate were racing out there and he raced me harder getting back to the caution than he did under green and he actually passed me, we'd have a little discussion somewhere. That said, I should probably shut up and not say anything, but I could not believe it when I saw it. I said to my crew on the caution before that, 'can you believe he's trying to pass his teammate under caution?' Then the next time, I saw where he beat him back to the caution, and I said, 'you've got to be kidding me! Did he really pass?' After that, I was like, 'watch out for these two.' You never knew what was going to happen. But thatís really what won him the race."

What is the racing protocol in that situation?
"That's the thing here. There are no rules. This has nothing to do with a rule book or black and white or anything like that. What he did can be done and it is and he's sitting in Victory Lane. Give him that. But there's not going to be too many guys who are going to have much respect for him. It doesn't matter who it is, you don't do that. You don't pass the guy under caution and then tell NASCAR that's something any different. What this does is set a precedent. The reason we don't race back to the caution is for safety reasons. NASCAR says, 'we're not saying you can't do it, but don't put it in our hands to have to make that call.' That's the gentlemen's agreement. It has nothing to do with letting guys back on the lead lap. If you look at what happened in Texas, I passed Matt Kenseth because guys were trying to get their lap back. If you remember, I let him go right back by me. I didn't want to pass Matt Kenseth, I just didn't want certain people to get their laps back. From what I saw today, that didnít have anything to do with it."

What is your feeling on the name of the series changing to Nextel Cup in 2004?
"We're really proud of where the sport has come to and we give a lot of credit to Winston and R.J. Reynolds, but I think if you look at the way the sport is growing and moving forward and the markets we're moving into, the lack of limitations that a company like Nextel has versus Winston, I think is awesome. I think everyone is excited. It's kind of a wait-and-see thing, but for the most part everybody is pretty happy and excited about it. We're going to miss R.J. Reynolds a lot, but I think great things are coming and we're certainly excited about that."

Following Jeff Gordon's press conference, race winner Robby Gordon met with the media. Robby wasn't about to let Jeff Gordon's comments go unanswered.

Discuss the pass on Harvick coming to the caution flag
RG: "I sat and asked [NASCAR], and it was very obvious in the driver's meeting today, I asked 'are you sure we can pass under the yellow?' They said, 'yeah, you can race back to the line, just like every weekend.' Kevin Harvick may be mad at me, but it is what it is. To be honest with you, when he got by me, he wasn't going to make the corner if I didn't move out of the way. He would have wrecked me. Ron Fellows got under both of us there. He took a shot at risking it, and I paid him back under a caution."

Jeff Gordon called your move "ridiculous."
"You really think I care what Jeff Gordon says, honestly? The guy has won enough races. I don't know why he's so sore about it. I guess he doesn't like it when someone comes in and rains on his parade a little bit."

Talk about racing back to the yellow flag
"Jeff Gordon sat in the same driver's meeting I did. I asked the question three times and disrupted the driver's meeting because I wanted to make sure I understood exactly what they were saying. They said, 'under waving yellow, you can race back to the line until you take the yellow. After you take the yellow at the start/finish line, that's what it is.' I can't help that I understood exactly what the rules were and took advantage of it. Racing here at Sonoma, it's very hard to pass. You hear about on all the ovals the aero push, and you get it here too. I knew if I could get track position, we were definitely going to be the car to beat. If Jeff was so mad at me, why didn't he spin me out?"

Jeff Gordon said you were all over the place once you took the lead. What are your thoughts?
"I paced myself off Jeff's front bumper. It really bums me out that he's sore about it. He has no reason; it has nothing to do with him. He obviously didn't see what happened between Kevin and me earlier, so I don't know why he's sore about that one. What I did after that point was dictate how close I was going to let Jeff Gordon get to me. One time, he got an opportunity to get down to me in Turn 11, and from that point on I paced off his front bumper with my rear bumper. I didn't have to run any harder than we needed to to win the race."

What happened when you went from first to third in turn 11?
"When Kevin outbraked me going into Turn 1, if I wouldn't have moved out of the way, we both would have wrecked. There was no way he was going to hit the apex of the corner. I don't know why he should be sore at me passing him back, because I thought that was a little bit of a cheap shot earlier, especially since we were teammates. To be honest, I was in ride mode. Richard [team owner Richard Childress] had just got off the radio and said, 'OK, Kevin is going to ride right behind you and race with you, race you clean. Protect the inside and be good to go.' I wasn't anticipating him taking a shot and diving down the inside. When he dove down the inside of me, Ron Fellows got by both of us. So I don't see why Jeff Gordon should be disappointed about this issue. It had nothing to do with Jeff Gordon."

Is there anything NASCAR can do to make the issue less of a gray area?
"I asked it three times in the meeting today. I laughed when they said this is the way the rules are. I said, 'OK, are you guys sure?' I knew I was going to use it to my advantage. He said it's always been that way and you can race back as much as you want."

What is your relationship with Jeff Gordon after this?
"I'm cool with Jeff. I have no idea why Jeff would even comment on the issue because it had nothing to do with him. If I had passed Jeff Gordon under the caution, I could see why he might be concerned. As far as I'm concerned, he should mind his own business."

Will you have a discussion with him about it?
"He's not big enough to have a discussion with me."

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