News


Triumph At The Beach


DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.- - After watching Dale Earnhardt Jr and Michael Waltrip freight train their way to a number of restrictor plate victories, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson turned the tables on the venerable duo in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon, with drafting help from Johnson, moved up from third place to take the lead with 17 laps to go. Johnson remained glued to his teammate's back bumper as Earnhardt Jr could get no closer than third place. It was Gordon's second consecutive victory and fourth win of the season. After a 90 minute rain delay, Gordon started the race from the pole but lost the top spot to Michael Waltrip just after the green flag. He slipped back as far as 14th on lap 28 before teaming up with Johnson and Terry Labonte. The Hendrick Motorsports teammates drafted into the top-ten within four laps. Gordon held onto his top ten position during pit stops and made his way to the front by hooking up with Greg Biffle. Gordon took third from Biffle on lap 55 and retook the top spot by beating the field off of pit road under caution on lap 71. He hooked up in a draft with Brian Vickers but was overtaken by the DEI duo of Earnhardt Jr and Waltrip on lap 86. However, he passed Earnhardt Jr on lap 94 and received a drafting push from Johnson to take the lead on lap 100. Gordon held the lead through a series of green flag pit stops. The final pit stop came on lap 138 as Gordon elected to change four tires. Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick changed two tires and wound up ahead of Gordon on the track. He moved up to second on lap 145 and closed in on Stewart for the lead. In turn two, Stewart moved down to block Gordon which broke his momentum. Earnhardt Jr was able to get a run and made a daring three-wide pass on the backstretch. But this night would belong to Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson pushed Gordon past Earnhardt Jr on lap 150 and helped his teammate take the race lead from Stewart on lap 153. Earnhardt Jr moved up to third but couldn't get around the Gordon/Johnson tandem at the front of the field. "He gave me a push out there that no one else out there would have given me," Gordon said of Johnson. "I owe this win to him and I owe him a push and the next time I'm going to give him one." This was the 68th win of Gordon's career and fifth overall at Daytona. It was also Gordon's second consecutive win from the pole position


Saturday: Post-Race press conference

FOR THE SECOND CONSECUTIVE WEEK AND THE FIFTH TIME AT DAYTONA YOU'RE CELEBRATING IN VICTORY LANE
"It's a big one. We had a lot of guys challenging us. What an awesome effort by Hendrick Motorsports. I owe this one to Jimmie. This team built an unbelievable race car but he gave me a push that nobody else out there would have given me. I love working with him and racing with him and drafting with him. He absolutely gets it and next time, he's going to get a push from me. What a big day for this team. I can't thank DuPont enough for allowing Pepsi to come on board and do this $1 billion promotion. We had all those 'red cars' gunning for us so it's really awesome to finish ahead of them. It's the Pepsi 400 and it's a special night."

TALK ABOUT THE CALL TO TAKE FOUR TIRES AND WHAT A DIFFERENCE THAT MADE
"The four tires made a difference. My car drove so good tonight. My hat's off to these guys. Yesterday I was asking for a lot out of the race car. We had plenty of speed all weekend long but just didn't have the feel that we're looking for. Robbie Loomis and all these guys just really went to work and put a great piece underneath me. We took four tires and the other guys had to gamble if they were going to beat us. The four tires definitely played a roll and enabled us to make some maneuvers out there and get some runs on guys. When Junior got by me, I thought we were in trouble. I really did. He had a heck of a run back there. And then for some reason something happened to him off of Turn 2. His car stalled out and I had a heck of a run and a push from Jimmie and we both got by him and then we went after Tony Stewart. He was driving a great race and I didn't know if I was going to get by him or not."

YOU'VE WON 4 RACES THIS YEAR. DO YOU HAVE THAT CHAMPIONSHIP FEELING AGAIN?
"It makes me feel pretty darn good right now, that's for sure. What a way to get momentum to just be strong week in and week out on totally different types of race tracks. I think Charlotte led a fire underneath us. We had a miserable day and embarrassed ourselves and Rick Hendrick and our sponsors and we don't like to do that. They've been on a mission ever since."

ON THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS SYSTEM
"If you're leading, you hate this system. And if you're way back, you love it. It's going to be very interesting when we wind down to those last 10 races and basically everybody is separated by 50 points. It's going to be extremely interesting as to how it all turns out because at that point, basically everything you did all year long is a wash. You'd just better hope that your momentum and the experiences you've had are the payoff and you have that in those last 10 races. It's very possible that the guy who is 10th in points can come out of this thing with the championship, and the guy who is leading all year long and has a huge lead can finish 10th. And that's why, in my opinion, there needs to be something of an added bonus for a guy who is leading after race 26. If he's leading by a certain number of points or if he's led for a certain number of races - I don't know what the structure is but it needs to be thought about. I think the leader at that point needs to have more than a 50-point gap between him and 10th place or be rewarded monetarily or something for accomplishing that. That guy could very easily finish 10th in points and that's a huge loss. All that effort that he put into those 26 races is for nothing. If I were leading the points like Jimmie, I'd be criticizing it too. But from where I'm sitting, I'm pretty happy with it."

TAKE US THROUGH THE FINAL LAPS
"It was certainly very evident tonight by obviously having a great handling race car, plenty of speed and the pit crew did their job as well. When those guys took two tires and they got out there ahead of us I was trying not to get rushed too much because I knew that the longer we ran the more their car would go away. I looked in my mirror and Robbie reminded me the boys were coming fast. I didn't want to waste too much time. I got by Harvick. I got in behind the 20 car. I had the 97. The 97 was I thought probably the second best handling race car out there. I didn't want to give him any opportunity to get ahead of me because I didn't think I could get by him. I had a feeling I could get by the 20 since he had two tires on but I needed help. Those guys started shuffling around behind me. The 97 got beside when I went to make a move on the 20. Then the 8 car shot by and took us three wide. When that happened I thought 'oh boy, we're in trouble here.' The 8 car had some kind of problem off of two. He wasn't handling that good tonight. I think that was what was hurting him. He backed out of the wall and lost his momentum. I was coming and had Jimmie behind me. We pushed on by him. When Jimmie came behind me he gave me another big push. What I love so much is that Jimmie is great at learning fast and he absorbs it very well. Jimmie and I when he first came on the circuit, we didn't talk a lot about racing at a lot of tracks but this is one place we did talk a lot about. We talked about drafting and he asked me how I went about it and I tell him things I learned from Dale Earnhardt and things I learned over the years. It's just awesome because tonight we applied it together. He knew exactly what I was trying to do and he did exactly what I needed him to do for us to make that move happen. I'm just really thankful that not only did he get me by Tony but he got himself by him at the same time."

DO YOU FEEL IF YOU CAN'T BEAT THEM JOIN THEM IN A TEAM OWNER PHILOSOPHY?
"We've never really had a team owner's philosophy but we've always talked about how powerful that they were when they were working together and how it's so hard to beat them if you can't separate the two of them. Jimmie gets it. He understands that there are times that I can help him and times I can't. There are times he can help me and times he can't. Brian Vickers is starting to learn that. Terry Labonte has of course been around a long time and understands that. It's all about circumstances and track position. You can't get bumper-to-bumper and then start passing cars and getting the lead and stay there. It doesn't work quite that easy. I know the No. 8 and the No. 15 made it look easy at times but it really isn't. Our philosophy is that we help one another when we can especially through three quarters to all the way through the race. At the end we're still trying to race for wins but we think that if we can get together and get up there and get the lead then maybe we can battle ourselves for the win. There were times when all four of us were lined up tonight and it was costing some of us positions by all four of us working together. We're trying to stay with the guy and somebody comes up and passes you and separates you. You do what you but it really worked out for us tonight for it to all fall in place. I think all the Hendrick cars are strong. They worked well together. They did the best we possibly could to help one another out and it certainly paid off."

ANY QUESTION ON GOING WITH FOUR TIRES ON THE LAST PIT STOP?
"We definitely knew leading that we were in the captain's seat but when Chad Knaus (Jimmie Johnson's crew chief) came down to the pit and we actually talked about doing two. That was going to be our strategy. It's kind of weird how it worked out. We talked with Peter Sospenzo (Brian Vickers crew chief) and said there was no way he could go with two. He was our closest one because Terry was a little bit farther back. About that time Jimmie started complaining that his car was real tight. We decided to go with four. We knew when we pitted they would all come because they wanted to be with the lead draft. There's wasn't much decision after that."

TWO MONTHS AWAY FROM THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN THIS HIGH STREAK AND HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM PEAKING TOO EARLY?
"This team has too much strength and depth and personality and experience to peak too early. We're going to go through our ups and downs throughout the season, and hopefully we've gotten our big downs out of the way. But there's no team out there that's going to be more prepared and fired up in those last races."

Robbie Loomis: "You just have to have a good steady pace. The best thing about this race team is that whatever happens we can put it behind us and we can strike at any moment. There have been people that have a good short track program or a good road course program. But the good thing about this team is that every week with Jeff Gordon driving and the tools that we have at Hendrick Motorsports, we can come out here and strike at them at every time."

DO YOU TAKE ANY SPECIAL PRIDE THAT YOU KNOCKED DEI OFF IN TWO OF THREE RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES SO FAR THIS YEAR?
Rick Hendrick: "I don't want to brag, but yeah. I don't want to make them mad. There are a lot of good teams out there. They've kind of raised the bar and we everybody just rallied to the cause. I've seen Jeff here with not a second or third place car hanging on. It was a lot of effort from a lot of people in all the departments in all the teams. Robbie Loomis and his crew just brought a really good piece down here and it's paid off. We know that we've got to go back and work harder because they're going to go back and work harder, and so are a lot of the other teams. We're just enjoying this one and the last one and hopefully we'll be that good again."

DO YOU THINK YOU COULD HAVE GOTTEN BY JEFF GORDON FOR THE WIN?
Jimmie Johnson: "Absolutely. We're here to win the race. I knew that I didn't need to make a move with two or three laps to go. I needed to be off of turn two on the white flag lap or off of turn four because once you make that move and get out and slow the two lead cars down and once with the 8 and 97 working together they would have passed both of us. I was just trying to wait, dragging the brake and set up that opportunity. The 8 didn't get back to me in time to give me the push I needed."

WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN OUT OF GORDON'S TEAM IN THE LAST MONTH?
Jimmie Johnson: "Typical 24 team. If you look at the #24 and the #48 in the same shop, it seems like we're one-upping each other each week. The No. 24 has been very strong. We've had our strong moments. I think you're seeing a whole surge from all of Hendrick Motorsports. If anybody doubted that Hendrick Motorsports was closing the gap after Talladega and had any doubts after leaving that race, I think tonight showed that Hendrick Motorsports has all the speed and commitment and the drivers to get the job done. We put on a good show."

DO YOU THINK PEOPLE MIGHT PEOPLE MIGHT SAY YOU RAN INTERFERENCE FOR JEFF GORDON?
Jimmie Johnson: "It's funny. If it would have been any other car it would have been 'man you drove but' and 'great second place finish.' But soon as it is a teammate in front of you, everybody wonders if you're blocking or content in second. There's no way in the world I wanted to finish second. If you would have listened to me when they crossed the start-finish, there were plenty four letter words since I wanted to win this race. It's just the way it is. You do race smarter when you are around your teammates. You help them because you can count on them helping you back. I helped the #24 get the lead. I was stuck on the high side next to Tony Stewart and he stayed up there ahead of me and helped pull me by. It was a two way street and worked for us. But after that if the 8 car could have been on my bumper it would have been a different story."


Friday: After final practice

HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER PRACTICE?
"It's hard to really know with the track conditions the way they are now versus what they are going to be like at night. The track temperature is going to cool down. The track was really slick. A lot of guys were struggling with the handling. It's good. It gives us an opportunity to work really hard on the handling of the car. That's what I'm concerned with the most. Once you get through qualifying, you get your raw speed out of the car and it's all about being able to hold that thing wide open. We're close. We're real good. I'm pretty happy but we have to get it a little bit better."

ON THE ROLE OF THE DRIVER
"It's all about a guy that knows how to use his mirrors and how to draft and use the air and can feel the car and try to get the car handling decent. It's hard to really make many changes that make a difference for the handling. Sometimes you just have to drive it different. Everybody thinks you just got to hold it wide open. Sometimes you can't hold it wide open. You got to figure out how to get the car working best through the corners that way. We're all out to try to do the same thing and get the most speed out of it, get out front and stay there."

ON HIS MIRRORS
"I'm extremely finicky. That's probably my biggest pet peeve when it comes to Daytona and Talladega, the restrictor plate races. The mirrors are everything and being able to see the cars all the way around you. You can feel them a lot of times but sometimes it can be too late if you have too much momentum. Your spotter is there. I got a great spotter in Ron Thiel. Sometimes he has blind spots as well. I try to mirror up the car a lot. Flat mirrors are really important to me and left side mirrors and everything else we can do to see as much out of the back and sides of the car as possible. You can when you've cleared a car. You can feel when a car is starting to get up behind you or starting to get up behind or up beside you. It starts to slow your momentum down or speed your momentum up. Some of it you see in the RPMs. Some of it you just hear in the motor."

ON PEOPLE FOLLOWING HIM WITH HIS PEFORMANCE IMPROVING
"In my opinion when you come to restrictor plate races, your job is to make sure, no matter how much more power somebody may have or you may have over somebody else, it's how you keep them behind you. That's why those mirrors are so important. You got to use those mirrors to keep the guys behind you. If you don't give them an opportunity to let them get the momentum on you, then they're not going to pass you. You want guys to work with you and follow you and if you have a strong car then guys may have a tendency to do that a lot more to a point. Once it gets time to win, they're not going to work with you. They don't want to try to race the fastest car out there."

ON THE NINE COKE SPONSORED CARS PAINTED RED
"As long as that blue one is out front, I don't care what the rest of them look like."


Thursday: Post-Qualifying press conference

"On tracks like this, you wish you could bring the guys in who really made it happen because the driver gets the accolades or the publicity, but he certainly doesn't do a whole lot to make that happen. They guys really surprised me. I'm just so proud of them. We've been qualifying great, obviously, lately but I didn't expect to come in here and qualify like this. We had a lot of trouble getting through inspection this morning so we didn't as much practice and yet we were at the top of the board as soon as we went out. Our practice speeds from last weekend to this weekend are certainly flawless and we're riding a great wave. It was certainly a great effort by those guys and they deserve a lot of credit. Pepsi has been such a big sponsor of ours for so many years and they really enjoy getting involved with this promotion and program where they get a paint out car. With all the Cola wars going on this weekend, this is one chalked up for them. They have been putting a lot of pressure on us. It's one against nine out there. We're going to do what we can but certainly tonight we did the job."

WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT YOUR TEAM FOR WINNING THREE POLES IN A ROW AT THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF RACE TRACKS?
"I think it says a lot. That's what has impressed me the most. If you look at our other poles this year, they're on short tracks. So we've really gotten our act together. We have tremendous power. Our cars are handling well. Right now, these guys are just really on top of their game. At Hendrick Motorsports we're doing a tremendous job of blending people and resources and talent and communication and we're really making the most of every bit of resources we have there and putting it on the race track. That's makes it exciting and makes for a lot of fun for me on race weekends. I'm having a blast right now. The confidence level is sky-high for us. You take away a couple of mishaps like the blown motor and the blown right front (tire) and who knows where we could be right now or what statistics we could have added. But we can't go back and do those over. We've just got to look at the future move forward. Right now the future is looking real good."

WILL SATURDAY BE A JEFF GORDON/DALE JR. SHOWDOWN AT DAYTONA?
"You're just forgetting 41 other guys other there. At these plate races, anybody can get it done. In February, we were embarrassed. I'll be honest. I think not only Hendrick Motorsports (was embarrassed) but every other race team out there except for the No. 8 and the No. 15. They were in a league of their own. They could pull out and pass any time they wanted to. They played with us all day long and won the Daytona 500. We don't take those things very kindly. We worked hard. I think we've caught up. I don't think we're there all the day. Talladega is a much different race track than Daytona. The good thing about here - especially in July - is that it is much more of a handling race track than Talladega. So you've got to be able to run wide open, not just have the power or the speed. Until we get out there and practice tomorrow and until we get out there and race, who really knows? But I would love to have a showdown with Junior and the DEI cars. I think that would be a lot of fun. If we can keep up with them, I feel like we can beat them. But we've got to be able to keep up with them first. All those races they've won, I don't remember them being on the pole. They might have been on the front row, but not on the pole. Obviously it doesn't have anything to do with qualifying. They've got something else when it comes time to go racing."

WITH YOUR RECENT SUCCESS, ARE YOU MOUNTING A HUGE CHARGE GOING INTO RICHMOND?
"You always want to get momentum on your side. I really can't put my finger on why these things have happened. Maybe it's what happened to us at Charlotte. Again, we were embarrassed by our performance and got our act together. We don't want those things to happen - certainly if we're going to be battling for this championship. We can't allow races like that to happen. All I know is we went to Michigan for qualifying and the car just felt great and I was able to drive the wheels off it. We sat on the pole. We go to Sonoma and it was the same thing. I drove it for everything we had. Here, I can't say we drove it hard or anything because you can't as a driver. But the team did a great job today. Are we mounting a charge? Sure. We always want to mount a charge and we hope we can keep it going."

DOES EVERYBODY FOLLOW JUNIOR?
"Well, I can tell you they're not going to follow me. Let's make that clear. We all know that. Junior has gotten to that point where he reminds me a lot of his dad. Half the guys out there don't want to help him because they don't want to see him win because they know he's the guy to beat. But half of them think he's the guy who can take them to the front and get a top five out of it. For me, I want to win and I'll do everything I can to keep the competition behind me. We can all be pretty confident that the #15 and the #8 will be the guys to beat. I know I'm going to do everything I can to keep them behind me to shuffle them out of the draft or split them up or whatever."




News Archives



Jeff Gordon Online




Copyright 2004 Jeff Gordon Online.
All rights reserved.