News


King Of The Road... Again


SONOMA, CA.- - From the time Jeff Gordon hit the road course in Sonoma, California for practice on Friday, he was the driver to beat. He captured the pole position and was fastest in both practice sessions on Saturday. The trend continued on Sunday as Gordon led 92 of 110 laps en route to his third victory of the season and 67th of his career. Gordon's cooling system had failed earlier in the race, but he remained focused throughout and conserved enough gas toward the end to easily hold off Jamie McMurray. He lost the lead briefly at the start, and during pit stop cycles. At the outset of the race, he bumped with Rusty Wallace heading into the first corner and allowed Kurt Busch to pass. Gordon made his way around Wallace and passed Busch for the lead on lap two. During the first round of green flag pit stops on lap 35, Gordon lost the race lead to Scott Pruett. However, Gordon passed Pruett off turn seven just two laps later and retook the lead after the cycle of pit stops was completed. Gordon's second and final pit stop came under caution on lap 67. Pruett, who seemed to be the only one capable of running close to Gordon, was boxed in his pit stall and fell to fifth. Gordon beat his competitors off pit road and took the race lead from Casey Mears on lap 73. During the final laps, Gordon drove to keep the lead and to conserve fuel. He shut the engine off on downhill parts of the course during caution flags and stayed in fourth gear at times to avoid burning more fuel than necessary. With under five laps remaining, McMurray closed to within two seconds of the lead but was kept at bay as the laps wound down.


Sunday post-race comments

JG: "That's the way we need to do it coming in here. We've been running really well lately. We just haven't had things go our way. We came in here and I knew we were going to be strong. I felt things were going well for us when we tested back east. I had a lot of confidence. One thing I am proud about with this race team is that they don't let allow bad weekends to get them down. They know what we're capable of and they know how to forget about the past and focus on the next race. That's exactly what we did here. We didn't worry about the last weekend or the weekend before. I was pretty disappointed at the road courses last year when we didn't capitalize on our great cars. Obviously we didn't have quite the car we had today, but I felt like we were a good enough car to win last year but we didn't capitalize on it. We didn't get victories on road courses last year and this is a great way to get it started this year."

Robbie Loomis: "You just have to take it one day at a time. The strength of this Hendrick Motorsports team is just incredible. The support we get is just incredible. When we come in here on Friday, it's just a clean slate. Everybody keeps his head up. I still attribute a lot of that to the confidence of somebody who has won four championships (Jeff Gordon) and pinches you on the shoulder and says, 'We're going to do it this week.'"

HOW MUCH DID THE LATE CAUTIONS HELP YOUR FUEL SITUATION?
Robbie Loomis: "I don't know if it helped the fuel as much as it helped all of our heart rates (laughs). They were huge. There was no question. It was miraculous that we finished that thing because by the numbers, it wasn't looking pretty. The cautions definitely helped us out. The guys were doing a great job on the fuel cell work."

WITH MORE TEAMS GETTING BETTER ON THE ROAD COURSES, IS THIS WIN ANY SWEETER FOR YOU?
JG: "They're all good and they're all sweet. But I think every road course win we've ever had, we've had some sort of challenge whether it was the competition or fuel mileage or trying not to run off the race track. I thought Scott Pruett and Jamey McMurray drove great races today. I know that it looked like we were dominating and I know we were, but I never could let up. I had to run hard every lap. Not only was the car out of gas, but I was out of gas too. I was conserving when I got a gap. Jamie did a good job because he didn't make any mistakes. Scott started racing with him there at the end so I got a chance to relax a lap or two there at the end. But they're all sweet. I'm so beat right now it's hard for it to sink in. I'm looking forward to getting back to myself and celebrate this one and realize how special this one was."

WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE FUEL SITUATION?
JG: "Robbie kept saying he knew I was getting tired of him saying it but keep conserving, keep conserving. I guess I learned from my teammate a little bit. I was shutting the engine off rolling down the hill under caution. I was putting it in fourth gear when I needed to and then I was short shifting under green. I thought when we had those two caution flags, we were fine. I'm not sure how close we were or how much we needed to conserve. But obviously we did enough because we made it. We had such a good race car that I was able to jump out there and then start doing a lot of the things to try and conserve fuel. But we were still running fast lap times, so you're not saving too much fuel."

HAVE YOU DONE ANYTHING TO HELP ELEVIATE HEAT EXAUSTION HERE?
JG: "I have. Unfortunately, we didn't have it in the car today. We are tested by many things with every race win, and today I was challenged for my physical fitness because that car was extremely hot. We've been running a carbon fiber seat. The venting and the way we cool the seat was just amazing. I've felt fresher after races this year then I've felt in any race. Now I will say that road courses are more demanding on the driver - especially if you go green flag. There was barely enough time today for me to tell Robbie what the temperature gauges said or to take a drink of water or rest. You are just constantly turning and shifting. When you go green flag that long, it just takes a lot out of you. We did not have my carbon fiber seat in this car. It will not fit in my road course car. It will be in the car by Watkins Glen. I guarantee it.

RECLAIMING THE 'KING OF THE ROAD' CROWN:
JG: "Last year, here, I don't remember how we got behind on a pit stop. A caution came out or something that put Robby Gordon up front. Even though we were better then him, he still did a good job because I couldn't pass him. Today, there wasn't anybody I couldn't pass. At Watkins Glen, I got taken out in the first corner. And then I ran a second faster a lap and ran myself out of fuel. We were much better at Watkins Glen last year than we were here. Let me clarify that in 2002 the competition got better (Gordon's last win was 2001). We were a little bit behind. Last year, we got our act together and I felt like we were the best car. We were the car to beat. Circumstances worked out to where we didn't win. This year, we've taken what we had last year and improved it."

WHY WERE YOU SUCCESSFUL ON THE NEW TRACK SURFACE AND OTHER TEAMS WERE NOT?
JG: "This was a really old surface that was very slick. I was happy to see it because I felt like you really couldn't even do anything with the two braking sections and passing zones we have on this track. You'd drive in the corner and there was no grip. If you got off line, there were ripples in the track and you'd wheel-hop. Even if you had a run on a guy, you really couldn't make anything out of it. Today, you could have some fun in those braking zones. You could drive in there deep and not break guys. The grip level, because it was so hot, just seemed smoother to me. The Goodyear tires were different also. This is a tough race track. I think guys always have trouble here. There were many moments I felt like I could have lost control. The trickiest part of this race track is the front straightaway. It's so narrow and it's tight. It you try to get aggressive at all, you'll end up off the race track. I don't why guys have trouble. I was able to get out there in clean air and just run my line and not focus on anything else. If the track has more grip, it puts guys in a position to be more aggressive, but you're going to make more mistakes. Also, there were some really good cars that didn't qualify up front that would have been dicing back and forth coming from the back to the front."

WHEN DID YOU FEEL THE HEAT INSIDE THE RACE CAR?
JG: "About half way, I really wanted a caution. We were able to get me some ice packs and some things in there to help cool me down. It was just hot. For some reason, the air system just doesn't ventilate as well with this seat. We try to build a stronger and safer seat and also a cooler seat. The way we vent it in the back, there are grooves that run up and down the seat that really help cool my entire body. Today when I turned the switch on for the cooler, I never felt anything on my back. The later cautions really helped me a lot to be able to come in and get some ice packs."

DID YOU REALLY SHUT THE ENGINE OFF UNDER CAUTION?
JG: "I did today. I don't know, Jimmie Johnson said he did and it saved some fuel, so I tried it. You're desperate. You'll do anything (laughs). This is one place where it can work because you do run downhill for a long ways. From Turn 7 all the way to Turn 10, I just coasted."

WERE YOU WORRIED THE ENGINE WOULDN'T RE-START?
JG: "Well, it's going to start because you don't have to crank it over. You just put it in gear and let out the clutch. It turns it over and it will start."

ON THE CHEERING FANS AFTER THE RACE:
JG: "They were? I can't tell. I can only tell when they throw things out me. That's cool (laughs). I'm glad they were cheering. With me being from this area, I see more Jeff Gordon fans out there than any place we go. It feels awesome. It puts pressure on you too. I'm glad we lived up to that today."

OTHER THAN FUEL, DID YOU HAVE ANY OTHER WORRIES TODAY?
JG: "The thing that got me a little bit worried today was when Scott Pruett beat us out of the pits. I messed up coming into pit row and I didn't carry enough speed around there and he really gained on us a bunch. And then they had a good pit stop and we didn't and he beat me out and I thought, 'Whoa'. What I realized was that he wasn't very good on new tires. He was just really good at the end of a run. So I was able to get by him and drive away. And then at the end of a run he'd start coming back at me. It seemed like that's how we were with a lot of cars today."

ON PASSING OTHER CARS:
JG: "There are two places to pass - going into Turn 7 and going into Turn 11. Turn 7 is a little bit riskier than Turn 11. I passed guys whenever I thought they made a mistake or I could get momentum on them. There were a couple of times I passed going into Turn 4, which was surprising. But it was always after a restart and the guys were on older tires or something like that. But that doesn't happen very often. I like to pass whenever I can. We've worked really hard on our brakes over the years. We were really getting into the corners good when we needed to. With the new surface being smoother, we have maximized our braking even more."

WHY ARE YOU SO SUCCESSFUL AT THIS RACE COURSE?
JG: "This is a finesse type of race track. With the type of racing I've done over the years and the type of driver I am, works well with that. You can't over-attack the corners. I just enjoy the road courses. I think they're fun and challenging. The guys put great race cars under me. I can't say what it is. In '94, we started hitting on some things. And since 1995, we've just been on top of our game at these road courses. It builds confidence in our team and the driver. There's nothing sweeter than having confidence."


Saturday comments

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SUNDAY'S RACE?
"I would imagine we'll be battling Robby Gordon. I think Rusty Wallace is going to be tough along with Boris Said. We're going to have a lot of fun. It's going to be exciting. It's hard to say who really is going to be the guy to beat, but I'm feeling very good about our program."

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ROBBY GORDON AT ROAD COURSE RACES?
"You have a different rival everywhere you go. When we go to a road course, your rival is the toughest competitor. And I think he's definitely one of the toughest competitors at the road courses. He's fast and he's aggressive and he doesn't really make a lot of mistakes. You've got to give credit where credit is due. On those road courses he would be a rival - not really anywhere else. You've got Tony Stewart in some places and Dale Jr in other places and Jimmie Johnson in other places. When we come to a road course, Robby is definitely one of the guys to beat. He certainly got the best of us last year. But I felt like we had the best car and the best car doesn't always win. We've got to make sure that it does happen this year."

YOU'VE HAD THE TITLE OF ROAD COURSE KING FOR A LONG TIME. IS YOUR PRIDE ON THE LINE WHEN YOU COME TO A ROAD COURSE RACE?
"I just always think it's about taking advantage of opportunities. If the car is strong enough, and as strong as our cars have been here, if you don't win with it you're going to be disappointed. I was just as disappointed with finishing second here last year as I was with finishing wherever I finished (33rd) at Watkins Glen. It's all about taking a car that's fast and capable of winning to Victory Lane. Anything else is unacceptable."

WHEN THE CROWD BOOS YOU, DO YOU EVER ASK, 'WHY ME?'
"No, because it's nothing but good things for me. It just depends on who you are. There are some drivers out there that are boo'd for negative reasons. For me, the boo's have never come from anything negative. They've always come from things that are positive. So I encourage them if anything else. The more boo's there are and the more things they're throwing, it seems like the better things are going for me on the track."

WHAT ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT JR? IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYTHING HE DOES IS RIGHT AND THE CROWDS NEVER BOO HIM:
"It's impossible not to recognize it and know how strong it is. He's worked himself into a position where his on track ability, his off-track personality, and his relationship with his father and that name have elevated him to a level that none of us can even touch. When you talk to him about his fame he says he was given it and asks what to do with it. And I think he's done a great job with it. He handles it well. It doesn't matter if you've been given a talent or what you were given, you've got to take advantage of it. He's done a great job with it. He's also a threat for the championship, which takes it to another level. As long as he's winning and running up front and running for championships, I don't think there is anyone who will ever compare in the fan base."

YOU OBVIOUSLY RESPECT DALE EARNHARDT JR. DO YOU THINK YOU GET THE SAME RESPECT FROM HIM?
"I hope so. We've had great times on the track. We've raced hard. I had the utmost respect for his father. I think he senses some of that relationship between Dale Earnhardt Sr. and myself."


Friday comments

ON POSTING A NEW TRACK RECORD:
"The track record is because of the track being repaved. It's got a lot of grip. I think they've got just a little bit different tire out here also. But I was really disappointed when I made the run because I felt like I left the door wide open for other guys to knock us down the list. I knew I made a great effort on the rest of the race track and got everything I could get out of it until I got to turn 10. As it turned out I think the conditions were much trickier than we anticipated. I thought going out early that was the case. But the wind really kicked up and everybody had trouble with Turn 10. I was just more disappointed because I did the same thing last year. Last year I went off a lot further than I did this year. But we've had an awesome car all day long. We're on a mission. We're not happy with the way things have been turning out for us lately. All we can do is just attack, attack, attack. This is a great opportunity and place for us to do that. I was shocked. I'll be honest. I was talking with Robbie Loomis and watching were the guys were ending up-- Robby Gordon and Boris Said and Rusty Wallace. I said I couldn't believe we were going to get this pole. We kind of dodged a bullet there. We've got to make sure to keep that thing on track the rest of the weekend. We've got a great car."

IS THIS A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN PICK UP SOME POINTS?
"It's hard to start thinking about that right now. All we can focus on is getting this car dialed in for this race. Pit strategy can bring guys from the back to the front in a hurry. Jimmie Johnson certainly entertained us all. I don't know how he runs that thing and gets it so sideways and doesn't spin or wreck or hit things. It's pretty amazing to just bring that car back. With the new pavement, starting up front is more important than it ever has been before. It's already tough to pass. There are only two passing zones at this track: going into Turn 7 and going into Turn 11. With the new surface and being able to driving in so deep because of the good grip under braking, I think it's going to be even harder to pass."

HOW CLOSE WERE YOU LOSING IT GOING INTO TURN 10?
"It really wasn't about losing the car, it was about losing speed. I knew I had a great lap going. I got into turn 10 really good. I felt the car starting to push there and we'd been struggling with that all day long and had freed the car to compensate for that. That's why I think that wind really was playing a role. I got in there and I felt it get tight. I hesitated to get back in the throttle because I knew it was going to do that. I felt like I really turned it and got it where I needed to be. I started to accelerate up off there and the car just kept going and kept going and I just couldn't bring it back. I got the left sides off there. I really didn't have to get out of the gas that much, but there was wheel spin there and slowed me from accelerating as much as I wanted to. My next thing was what to do about turn 11. I knew I had lost some speed and had a little bit of dust on the tires. That was what I was really happy about was getting into turn 11 really deep and got the car slowed down and hit my marks and still recovered for a good lap. Some guys looked like when they did bobble they weren't able to do that. The next corner got them behind or something happened where they lost speed. That corner could have cost us but luckily we recovered well."

ON GERMAN RACER KLAUS GRAF BEING THE FIRST EUROPEAN-BORN DRIVER TO QUALIFY FOR A CUP RACE:
"I'm excited. This is a great opportunity. If it were Michael Schumacher, we'd be in a little bit of trouble if that were the case. It's so hard for anybody outside the U.S. to come in and be up to speed right away because there are no other cars like these in the world. I like to think that we excel at what we do. I wish him all the best. I just wish that if we were going to get more Europeans - just like Formula 1 wants more Americans-- you've got to start at a young age. You've got to start racing on ovals. You've got to do a lot of different types of racing than what they do anywhere else in the world. It makes us very unique and makes our drivers unique."

ROBBY GORDON WANTS TO KNOW IF JEFF GORDON LIKES HIM:
"Number one, I'm not here to like anybody. I have no problem with Robby. I think he's got a lot of talent. The facts are the facts. I don't think he always uses his head. But I think he's got a lot of talent and he's going to be one of the guys to beat here on Sunday. He's not anybody I'd go hang out with. But I've seen him away from the track and I think he's a super nice guy."

CAN YOU APPLY ANY OF YOUR FORMULA 1 RIDE AT INDY TO DRIVING THIS RACE TRACK?
"I wish there was one comparison. There are zero comparisons. It's not even close. You can't attack the tracks. They don't accelerate. I wish I had traction control, I know that. But I think it's like comparing apples to oranges. There's no comparison. I love driving these cars around this race track. This is a finesse track. We certainly saw that today in qualifying. If you were willing to take risks, you'd better be prepared for what can come with that. I got a little bit risky in Turn 10 and it almost cost us the pole."

ROBBY GORDON STARTS 24TH ON SUNDAY. HOW DIFFICULT IS IT GOING TO BE TO GET TO THE FRONT?
"It's going to be tough, no doubt about it. If it were me in that same position, it would be very difficult for us. If we were at Watkins Glen, it's not as difficult. There are a lot more passing zones there. There are only two places to pass here. So he'll have to be aggressive, which already puts you at risk. And then you're going to have to be risky in your pit strategy. Those factors work against you but it doesn't make it impossible."

WILL YOU MAKE ANY MORE ADJUSTMENTS IN YOUR PIT STRATEGY OR ARE YOU SET FOR SUNDAY?
"We're going to know more after practice on Saturday. We'll see what our fuel mileage is and our tire wear and what the car is doing and how it's giving up under longer runs. Until then, it's really hard to say what our pit strategy is going to be. Typically on the road courses we focus more on our own strategy instead of what the other teams are doing. You just try to run until you need fuel. If you have track position, you can get away with that. The neat thing about road courses is that you want to get caught on pit road under a caution. You want the caution to come out as soon as you're in the pit box. So you don't want to pit too late, obviously. You've got to stick to your own plan."

ON MANY DRIVERS HAVING TROUBLE STAYING ON THE COURSE -ESPECIALLY ON THE BACK HALF:
"I think staying on the race course is going to be the key to Sunday's race. This has always been a track that's not an easy track. It's very finicky. You can't really max-brake anywhere. You can't attack the race track. You have to have a lot of patience. Today, the higher grip level gave you that feeling that you could attack a little bit more. Every time you did, it reached out and grabbed you. To me, this is like going from Martinsville to Bristol in comparison to Infineon to Watkins Glen. They're just two totally different types of race tracks. The track we tested at- VIR in Virginia- reminds me a lot of this race track. It's not the shape or the size or the turns. But it's a track where you have to have finesse and be smooth and not go off the track."

WITH THE CHANGED CURBING IN MANY PORTIONS OF THE TRACK, WILL YOU BE MORE CONSERVATIVE?
"I would like to be involved with them when they're doing the curbing because I'm not a big fan of some of the curbing we have out there. I haven't been able to use the curbs as much today as I have in the past, but I think most of it is because of the new pavement. There is so much grip. You used to really have to bounce around on these curbs here because the track was worn out and there wasn't a lot of grip. You'd use the curb to plant the outside of the car. Now we've got grip and you've got to get on them easy. They're pretty abrupt. They're not small curbs. I think there are some that are a little too steep. I did have to be more careful of the curbs throughout the whole lap early. I would have liked to have gotten on that curb a little bit better in Turn 10. I needed the help of that one."

BY WINNING THE POLE POSITION, YOU HAVE YOUR CHOICE OF STARTING ON THE LEFT OR RIGHT. WHAT IS YOUR CHOICE AND WHY?
"I've learned my lesson on that one. I've picked two different ones before and still wasn't leading in turn 1 on either one of them. We're going to take the left side, which I guess is the inside. They call that turn 1. But the real turn is at the top of the hill to the right. It's very tricky to get into those first couple of corners side-by-side here. I don't think it really matters. But I chose that outside one time and it didn't work out for me. So I'm going to choose the inside."




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