Back-To-Back Victories

HAMPTON, GA.- - It might have been an overcast day in late October, but Jeff Gordon is on a hot streak reminiscent of days gone by. Gordon won the rain-delayed MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Monday for his second consecutive victory, and sixth consecutive top-five finish. It is his longest top-five streak since an astounding 17-race streak in 1998.

When the race began on Sunday, but was up to 11th by lap 10. On lap 24 he moved up to fifth before Tony Stewart passed for position on lap 31. The caution flag for rain halted action on lap 33. Gordon lost one position on pit road and was running seventh when the race was halted due to rain. The intensity of the rain continued throughout the day forcing the event to be postponed until Monday morning.

Under cloudy, but dry, skies, Gordon restarted seventh on lap 45. One lap later, Michael Waltrip got loose in turn one, drifted up the track, and made contact with Todd Bodine. The ensuing melee heavily damaged Bodine's car. Points leader Matt Kenseth sustained minor sheet metal damage which was repaired on pit road. On the restart, Bobby Labonte took the lead from Kevin Harvick. By lap 65, Gordon worked his way up to fifth as Tony Stewart took the top spot. On lap 88 he passed Harvick and was running third when he came onto pit road for a green flag pit stop on lap 100. Three laps later Ricky Rudd spun coming off turn four and came to rest in the infield grass. Confusion reigned as Gordon was scored on the lead lap but since he was the last car on the lead lap, he could not get gas in the pits. After coming in, he was told that he could get gas and made an additional stop to top off the tank. The restart on lap 113 saw Gordon mired in 14th place. However, he would not stay there for long as he worked his way up to 9th on lap 120 with a pass on Kenseth. Twelve laps later he regained the lost ground by moving up to fourth. A caution for debris on lap 153 brought the field to pit road and Gordon moved up to second behind Stewart after the stops. Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip brought out cautions in the next 20 laps due to engine failures with Stewart and Gordon holding 1-2 at the front of the field.

The Winston Cup title picture was altered on lap 198 when Dave Blaney spun out. Kevin Harvick brushed the wall to avoid Blaney's car and the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet was never the same after that. Gordon beat the field off pit road to lead his first laps of the day. The lead was short-lived as Bobby Labonte took the lead just two laps after the green flag waved. Stewart took the runner-up spot one lap later. On lap 223, Steve Park brought out the final caution flag of the day with a hard crash in turn one. Gordon exited pit road with the lead while Stewart fell back to 17th after an air gun problem in the pits. On the restart, Labonte and Dale Earnhardt Jr passed Gordon but the DuPont Chevrolet would rebound. Gordon passed Earnhardt Jr for second on lap 245 and closed in on Labonte. As Stewart made a dash through the field to take 5th, Gordon took the lead from Labonte on lap 277. The final round of pit stops came under the green flag on lap 287. Stewart moved into the runner-up position and made some headway in catching Gordon as the laps wound down. With four laps remaining, Stewart closed to less than a second behind Gordon. Ryan Newman, running sixth, was hit by Earnhardt Jr and lost control of his car. The caution flag waved and Gordon rode behind the pace car for the final three laps.

It was his second consecutive victory, third win of 2003, and 64th career victory. He moved up to fifth in the points standings and is just 38 points behind Earnhardt Jr for second. Matt Kenseth finished 11th and leads by 258 points with just three races remaining. Following the event, Gordon and crew chief Robbie Loomis participated in a Q&A with the media.

Post-Race Press Conference

"It felt like we were going to have a great race car and we certainly did. We had an awesome pit crew today and that's what got us into Victory Lane. What a major run for these guys and the Dupont Chevrolet. We didn't have the best car on new tires. Bobby (Labonte), Tony (Stewart) and Jimmie (Johnson) were maybe a little bit better. But on those long runs, we were really awesome. I knew it was going to be hard to hold off Tony. I'm kind of surprised that we did. But I learned a few things on that last run before that and that really helped me out. I just tried to run that line and get through the lapped traffic the best I could. This is going to go down as a great victory for me, but as by far the most embarrassing burn-out I've ever seen in my life."

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE BURN-OUT? "The motor's been messing up all day long on the restarts and it just loads up. The thing doesn't spin the tires, it just starts cutting out and I just said, 'Forget it.' I couldn't put on a show for them but I hope they enjoyed the race."

WHEN TONY STEWART WAS GAINING, WHAT DID YOU THINK? "He was really good on new tires and I was trying to get all I could get. We made the right adjustments. The car was definitely better. I'd been loose all day. As he got to me, I started moving my line around and trying to block some air. When he got to me, he slowed down a little bit and it looked like he backed off me, and then he came back after me. He kept making those surges. He was making one right there with four or five (laps) to go. The No. 4 car was in front of me and I just couldn't do much to get by him so I was kind of at the mercy of a lapped car and just watched my mirror."

YOU'VE WON THREE RACES THIS SEASON AND THERE ARE THREE RACES LEFT. HOW MANY MORE CAN YOU GET? "Never count us out. I know we haven't won a whole lot this year, but we're strong finishers. I'm just so proud of this team and their efforts right now. We've had five straight great runs and we're going to keep it going."

TALK ABOUT YOUR RUN TODAY. "The car was great. I knew yesterday it was good when we drove from the back up to fifth or sixth. They dropped the green today and the track was really green and didnít have a lot of rubber on it. It took a little while for the car to come to us, but once it did, we started marching to the front. On the long runs, I thought we were really good. It was fun, exciting and just great race, I felt like, between about five of us-- the 20, the 18, the 8 and the 48 came into it there at the end. It was just an awesome battle. On those restarts, there was one time when I was right behind Tony and could run right with him, but I just couldnít pass him. There were times when I was leading and Bobby could get by me. I just followed him and tried to learn some things, where his car was good, where it was weak and just what we could do to our car. Our pit crew was amazing today. They cranked out great stops when we needed it most, on those last two stops. I felt like at the end of the race, it was ours to lose. The 20 made a heck of an effort and certainly kept it exciting. I didn't know whether we were going to win it or not. He came charging up there and got to me, and I saw where once he got to me, he stopped gaining. I thought, 'we might have something for him now.' I started adjusting my line and then we were just battling it out. Then the caution came out. Great victory."

YOU WERE RUNNING HIGH AT ONE END AND LOW AT THE OTHER AT THE END. WAS THAT STRATEGIC OR WAS THAT WHERE YOUR CAR WAS BEST? "Both. I did get enough time to run with Tony and see where he was running all day. I learned some things on the run before that when I was running behind Bobby. Even the run prior to that, I learned a few things down in Turns 3 and 4 that seemed to make our car better. I feel like I learned from a lot of guys and trying things by myself today and adjustments we were making on the car. There was one time when Jimmie and I were racing hard together. He was better than me in 3 and 4 and I was better in turns 1 and 2, so once I got ahead of him. I started running a similar line to what he was running in 3 and 4 and I started pulling away from him. I kept that in the back of my head. When I went up there and ran down Bobby, that's how I passed him, running low in turns 3 and 4. All day, after I ran about 10 laps, my car was really good high in 1 and 2 and anywhere in 3 and 4. When Tony was catching me there at the end, what made the difference and what I was really happy about is that, one, we had a great pit stop and we had a couple of seconds on him when we left pit road. When that happened, it gave me enough time for my tires to build up and my car to come to me. My car really wasn't as good as his on new tires. Had he been right on me on new tires, I donít know if I could have held him off. Because we were spread out, I was able to run hard enough to let the tires build up and the car come to me, and then start running my line. That was sort of the line he was running in 3 and 4 and that took some air off his nose. It seemed like when he caught me and I ran in front of him down there, it seemed to slow him down a little bit."

WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO YOUR CAR ON THE RESTARTS? "It's been a mystery all weekend long. That car, leaving the pits when I would go and take off, the car would get to about third or fourth gear, the car would lose fuel pressure all of a sudden. We still don't know what it is. I would take off and as soon as I got into Turn 1, it would start skipping. We were fortunate to maintain the speed we had on those restarts, but it would happen, then come right out of it and never do it again, except on restarts and the burnout."

YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RESTART IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RACE WHEN YOU WERE PLACED BACK IN THE FIELD? "It was mass confusion. All I know is, my spotter said there was a wreck off Turn 4. I looked up, saw a lot of smoke and a car sliding. I checked up because I automatically assumed the caution was coming out. I had no idea if I was on the lead lap, not on the lead lap, where I was in position. All of a sudden, these cars shoot by me, and I'm like, 'what are they doing?' and then I realized that the caution had not come out for a split second or something, I didn't know what was going on. That's when I started talking to Robbie."

Robbie Loomis: "It was a confusing time. Ever since they made that rule, they said it was going to be a learning curve. When NASCAR threw the caution, from the time the car spun to the time they threw the caution, they had to look at where the cars were on the track. I didn't see where we were in relation to the 97. At one time, I was thinking we were going to be the lucky dog, by the way it was on the monitor. What happened was they said the 24 was ahead of the 97 at the time the caution came out, therefore they let us come around. It ended up hurting us anyway, because it put us in the back. When we came in the first time, they told me we couldn't gas because we were the lucky dog. They changed that a lap or two later, and said, 'we just corrected it to you guys were ahead of 97 right when the caution fell.'

JG: "Just to add to that. One, they didnít throw the caution soon enough and I didn't understand that. Two, in my opinion, they shouldnít have let anyone come down pit road in my opinion, they should have closed the pits until they know what their scoring situation is. That really could have cost us this race today. Luckily, we had a great car and they got it sorted out, but when they got it sorted out, it was too late for us. We were the unlucky dog today, if you ask me. That kind of sucked, but I'm still in Victory Lane, so Iím happy."

YOU'VE SAID YOU'RE NEVER OUT OF THE TITLE HUNT, AND MATHEMATICALLY, YOU ARE STILL IN IT. IS THERE A FIGHT GOING ON? "We fight for a lot of things. Number one is, we always want to win and we fight to win every race. We've had to fight extra hard here because of all the downfalls we had during the summer. Throughout that time, I never thought we weren't performing at a high enough level, never felt like there was any one thing that was preventing us from finishing races or winning races. They were just circumstances that were happening. The thing I love about our race team is when we go through tough times, and we've been through them not just this year but in other years, it just makes us dig deeper and get stronger. This reminds us a little bit of 2000, where we ended the season on a real positive note, and this is better because I donít remember us winning a couple of races toward the end of the season. We're very excited about the way things are right now. Our main focus has been second in the points. We've made big gains toward that, and I guess if there is a miracle, there's still a possibility. We just want to keep doing what we're doing right now, and that's putting great race cars out there, communicating well and fighting until the end. When I have pit stops like we had today and a race car like that, we're going to do some spectacular things. I think we have some more left in us before it's all over this year."

Robbie Loomis: "Tony and Bobby, because of their history here, were the main focus most of the day. When I saw Tony came out 17th, I stayed glued to see what happened. It looked like they had a lug nut hang in the socket, but I knew he was still going to be strong. Atlanta is a great track for the fans because you can pass and there are so many grooves. The one time we were back there after that miscue on the yellow, we came right back up through there, so I knew it would only be a matter of time before heíd be right back up there."
JG: "I asked Robbie what had happened to Tony, because when I was leaving pit road I saw they were still in their pit stall. When we got out, I looked up on the scoreboard and I didn't see his number up there. Robbie said he was 17th. I knew he was going to come up there, but I didn't think he was going to be as strong and fast as he did. That was a pretty awesome run that he had to get where he was."

IS IT TEMPTING TO LOOK AT THE WHAT IFS THIS SEASON? "I try not to. I just try to learn from them and move on and just focus on now and whatís happening. We can certainly learn from those situations for next year, but itís just kind of the way our season has been. If it's meant to be, then it will fall right for you and right now it is. Things are going well for us and we're taking advantage of that and not looking back."

CAN YOU CARRY MOMENTUM THROUGH THE WINTER? "Absolutely. That's what we're trying to do right now is build for next year. We did it in 2000, and that's why it reminds me of that. We really came into our own toward the end of that year, gained momentum and confidence with good race cars, a good pit crew and the chemistry of the team, really, communication between Robbie and myself and thatís what we have right now. It's as strong as itís ever been. It cracks me up that just a month ago there were all these doubts and questions and that was from outside, not from inside. Now, weíre able to show really just how good it is and it feels great to do it the way we have here lately. This is all about not only trying to get as far up in the points as we can this year, but to build momentum for that off-season. How you do that is by having good runs and winning races. You go into the off-season, those guys are like, 'yeah, yeah' they're fired up. They have to build a lot of cars and they have a lot of work ahead of them. It can be a tough offseason if you end on a tough note or a bad note, that off-season can be rough. By ending on a good note, it can carry momentum through the winter."

YOU HAD A STRETCH OF TOP-10 FINISHES EARLY IN THE SEASON AFTER MARTINSVILLE. CAN YOU COMPARE THEN TO NOW? "I think itís very similar. I felt on top of the world at that point in the season. We finished second here and won Martinsville, and we were on top of our game. Matt was on top of his, too, but I felt like we were definitely in position to challenge for that championship. Our downfall this year has not been performance, itís just been bad luck or just circumstances that were out of our control. We've definitely performed well enough to win the championship. That doesn't mean I feel like we've performed well enough to win as many races as Ryan Newman has. There's two different sides to look at it, and the side I like to look at it from is championship-wise."

AT THE END OF THE RACE WHEN THE CAUTION CAME OUT, DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ALREADY HAD THE RACE WON? "No, I didnít know. It was pretty tight there. I came up on the 4 car and he wasn't real cooperative. I wasn't a lot faster than him, and he was hurting me a little bit because he was running the same line I was. It didnít look like the 20 could get right up on me either, so I felt like I kind of had him at bay and had him where I needed him and could finish it out, but I had to hit all my marks just right. When the caution came out, I was more concerned we were going to have to go back green because of that engine problem, the fuel pump problem. I was more concerned that if we went back green and that thing started messing up again, he could get by me on the restart. I didn't want to see a restart because I like the position I was in. When the yellow came out, I was a little nervous, but then I realized we were going to end it under caution and I was very relieved."

WHEN YOU WERE RACING WITH JIMMIE, WAS THAT AS HARD AS YOU'VE RACED HIM? "I think Jimmie and I were racing for third, and I think that's as hard as I've ever had to race Jimmie and that's as hard as he's ever had to race me, and I don't think either one of us is used to it. I knew how good his car was, and I knew how good my car was and I felt like I had to race him for that position. He could get underneath me in turns 3 and 4. My strong suit was the high side in turns 1 and 2, so I raced him as hard as I could down there and he raced me as hard as he could at the other end. Once I got ahead of him, I think I forced him into a position to really use his tires up and be aggressive trying to get by me. Once I got ahead of him, I was able to stretch it out a little bit."

HOW DO YOU BALANCE RACING WITH JIMMIE AS HIS TEAM OWNER? "Heck, I'm racing with him right now for the points, and it's like a championship as far as I'm concerned. We battled last year at the end of the season. Today is a perfect example. We have to race hard, have to be aggressive and do everything we can to race each other hard but not take one another out. It's a fine line, but I think we have a pretty good balance on it. We have two great teams that work well together, two drivers that work well together and I've shown over the last couple of years that I can give and take a lot. But when it comes down to racing for the win, it's no different for him. I'm going to fight for the win and he's going to fight for the win, other than knocking each other out of the way. If we're at Bristol or Martinsville, the bumpers work just as well on the 48, the 24, the 5 or 25 as they do anywhere else. I think we try to use our heads and know that together we can be better if we work together more than fighting against one another and building a rivalry. It needs to be a friendly rivalry. Thatís what it is right now and I hope that continues."

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