NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Kobalt Tools 500
Topics: Kobalt Tools 500
March 8, 2009
KERRY THARP: We'll roll into our post race press conference at Atlanta Motor Speedway. We're joined by Jeff Gordon, today's race runner-up. He continues to be our points leader for the second consecutive week.
Jeff, another strong showing out there by you today. Did you think you had enough to maybe catch him on the restart?
JEFF GORDON: I felt like I had a real shot at it. Certainly would have liked to have beaten that 2 out of pit road. Even in third, I thought we had a shot. I was pretty sure we were going to get by the 99. There were a couple things. On the restart, I had a run on the 2. He saw me coming. I mean, we about got in the fence going into one. I checked up, got behind him, we started making momentum on the 99. I didn't quite clear him. Drove too deep into three trying to get to the outside of the 2. When I did, the 2 drifted up, made me wash out, the 99 got back underneath me. I needed to be clear of the 99 to have any kind of shot at the 2.
We kind of had to settle for second. It was a great day for us, though. Just driving to the front, battling up front, leading laps, battling for the lead at times. We lost a little something there on the long runs, middle of the way on. Those guys were a little bit stronger than us. We were just settling in. But on the restarts we were real strong.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Jeff.
Q. Jeff, could you talk about what the deal was with the tires today. Were they too hard? When was the last time you saw a race where there were so many people sideways so often?
JEFF GORDON: I said when I was in here on Friday that it was going to be like this. Don't put all the blame on Goodyear. You can't build a tire. I will challenge, like I said, any tire manufacturer out there, to build a tire for this car at this racetrack. It's impossible.
I made kind of a joke earlier in the week with the Goodyear guys. I said, I'm not going to complain about tires ever again because I thought that the last time we were slipping and sliding around a lot, and this time we were really slipping and sliding around.
I think they came here. It was about 40 degrees cooler, track temperature. Conditions were different. Everybody seemed to be happy with the tire. I think the cool track temperature may have covered up a couple things.
I give them credit for trying. They were trying to do some things with the construction, based on some of the comments drivers made about how much the cars were moving around on the straightaways and getting into the corners. It didn't pay off. We didn't anyway, with the 24 car, have any real wear issues where we were going to blow tires. We just didn't have any grip. It had grip for one lap, that was about it. Kind of like old Darlington in some ways, except for the tires aren't wearing out. It's a strange thing. I really don't know how to explain it.
Q. More a matter of the compound?
JEFF GORDON: I'll tell you, I used to understand some things about tires. But these chemists have gotten some things in the tires now that go to a whole 'nother level that I can't even comprehend. We were testing one time at Darlington, last year or the year before, whenever they repaved Darlington, and they said, This tire has a little bit of stuff in it to try to dissipate some of the heat. I mean, whatever that stuff was was a lot different than the stuff that was in the other ones. It just turned to sand.
So I really couldn't tell you if it's compound. This tire was supposed to have more grip. It was supposed to have a softer left side. Some of the construction on the sidewall, how it flexes, was different. You really have to talk to those guys. I think they were a little bit baffled as well. I think they were expecting it to have a little bit more grip.
Q. Jeff, this place holds a lot of memories for you. First Cup race. How discouraging was it to see as many empty seats as we saw out there.
JEFF GORDON: What I find so discouraging is I think this is one of the best racetracks. Even though we're slipping, sliding around, having our hands full. Right there, you always see a battle with three to go or 'green-white-checkered' that guys are just dicing it out for the win. We've seen Carl win this thing by inches. I've lost a race or two here by inches. We always see it.
To me, this is some of the best racing we're putting on in the series anywhere we go. I know there's a lot of race fans around here. I'm a little baffled by it. I've been hearing that they were going to have some empty seats. It's hard to say. It's really hard to say. That's not my job, to figure that out. If I just base it off of the excitement that I see in the fans that I hear, the ones I hear from, my fans, the racing we're putting out there, this place should be packed.
Q. Since it's been a while since you've been in Victory Lane, coming this close and running this well, is it frustrating, encouraging?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, it's encouraging. I'm a big believer that you got to walk before you can run. I think we've turned the corner. This team has really shown consistently in all four races this year that we're a team that can battle up front and for the win.
I believe we keep doing that, we're going to win races. I think that we haven't really reached our full potential yet either. We're experimenting with something that the guys worked hard on over the off-season, the engineers, Steve, all the guys on this team. It's already been paying off. We're just really early into it. I think we can only make it better.
Of course, I want to win. We've been close. But I'm not going to say we feel like we're frustrated. We're pretty happy the way we're running.
KERRY THARP: Carl was our third-place finisher today.
Carl, exciting finish. You laid it out on the line. Your thoughts about today's race?
CARL EDWARDS: We had a great car all day. We fought hard. We just had our pit stall, between Jeff and the 88.
JEFF GORDON: Why did you pick that?
CARL EDWARDS: I didn't pick that pit stall. Bob isn't here to defend himself. It will never be picked again as long as I live (laughter). It did not work out.
Our decision at the end, you know, was based on that. We had to take two tires. We took four and got held up in there, if we came out seventh, it would be bad.
Had a good race with Kurt and Jeff here, but they got by us, and we ended up third, which I think was probably best case in our situation.
KERRY THARP: Back to questions for Jeff and Carl.
Q. Once you figured out the tire, do you think everybody did a pretty good job of adapting and racing each other based on the conditions? Didn't seem like it was a particularly crazy race.
CARL EDWARDS: I mean, we all knew what we had. Even though the tire was hard to drive, you could still get the car out of shape and gather it back up. I didn't have trouble racing with someone. Seemed like once you caught someone, you could pass them.
Q. Jeff, could you talk a little bit about the problem with the clutch, what was wrong with it, and how did you overcome that problem to finish where you did?
JEFF GORDON: I'm not really sure. It somehow was bleeding off or just had some air in it or something. On the first pit stop, what they do is on a four-tire stop, when they drop the right side, usually I push the clutch in, put it in first gear to get ready to leave. Halfway through them changing the left sides, the rear tire started turning, climbed right off the jack. We were lucky they finished the stop and we didn't really lose any spots. Had a little bit of damage to the side.
Then from that point on, I had to play around with it. It would last just for a second, maybe two seconds, before it would just start to grab and I had it pushed all the way to the floor.
I thought it was a one-time thing until about the fourth stop, I tried to get it, and it did the same thing. There at the end, I would just put it in gear right as they dropped the left side. We gave up just a blink of an eye. At least we weren't spunk the rear tires, going off the jack, missing lug nuts. Could have been worse. The guys adapted well. We didn't panic. I thought it was a good job by the team to handle it.
Q. When you watch a race at a track like this, you look at the old aero push thing, you look to see if a guy has been dominating all year, fall it is back in traffic and can't move. Certainly wasn't true of Kurt Busch today. Do you two think in that area, progress is being made?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I don't. This is a multi-groove racetrack. This track has more grooves than any track we go to. Like Michigan in a way, where it has all those grooves, the surface is much different. The banking is much different.
But I think that this car, you have to have a lot of different groups. When you do, you're going to see a car that can come up through the field. I think because of the surface and how abrasive it is, the tires, how it wears them, you're slipping and sliding around, you got to drive the heck out of this thing.
Obviously the setup means a lot. But you got to do slide jobs, dive down to the bottom. You got to really work a lot of things. I mean, no doubt Kurt had a great kart today. But if he hadn't been able to find clean air somewhere on this racetrack, I don't think he would have been able to come up through there. That's the one nice thing about this track, you got a lot of options.
Q. This is a mile-and-a-half track. Mile-and-a-half is going to dominate the schedule. Going back to last May, every one has been run by Childress, Gibbs, Hendrick or Roush. Kurt with the dominance of Penske, is that a sign there's a power shift going on?
JEFF GORDON: Very well could be. He was strong in California. They've been strong all weekend. They were certainly the car to beat today. They found some things that worked really well for them and they can build on that.
I've never felt like there was any other teams outside of those ones you mentioned that didn't have a chance. Everybody's got the shot at it. Penske's as good as anybody. They certainly showed it today.
CARL EDWARDS: I echo that. They've been working hard. Pat and those guys have done a good job. That's one thing about these cars, we're all in such a tight box. If you can figure something out, doesn't matter how big your shop is, you can go fast.
Q. Carl, you won your first race here. How discouraging was it to see the stands as empty as they were?
CARL EDWARDS: I mean, we are far from immune to what's going on in our economy.
It's like what Jeff said, though. This is one of the best, if not the best, racetrack we go to as far as competition, on-track performance, passing and action. It's too bad there aren't more fans in the grandstands. Our responsibility is to go out there and race as hard as we can, deliver for our marketing partners, our fans, do the best we can, and hope that as the economy comes back up, those stands get more full.
But there's nothing we can do about it. I'm just glad for the fans that are here.
JEFF GORDON: One thing I would like to add. I'm not sure what the deal was with the turn three grandstands, but they were full. Those were full. These were not. I don't know if those were less expensive, if those were sponsors that gave them away. That was slammed over there.
There's obviously a little something going on there, as well.
Q. You two were pitted next to each other. Jeff, do you want to ask Carl about the one time where you had trouble getting out?
JEFF GORDON: Which time (laughter)? I mean, I feel the same way, what I mentioned to him. Why did they pick that stall? Bob is not here to defend that.
It is what it is. We had to race one another. I knew that when I saw that, they picked it, it probably was gonna be a challenge for us all day. I felt like our guys did a great job backing me up with the pit board and getting out.
It definitely cost us time throughout some of the stops, but we dealt with it. You would think the 99, 24, qualifying where we would, would try to split ourselves up a little bit. I certainly know we would never pit next to him because they run so good here and so many places.
But it is what it is. Bob might have just wanted to be as far down pit road as he could be. There's a lot of factors that play into the crew chiefs picking those stalls.
CARL EDWARDS: I even told Bob, we were so messed up there, I told him, Tell Steve to back up their sign as much as I can, I have to stay wider. I did everything I could. We're just put in that position. We do the best we can.
JEFF GORDON: I don't know how many pit stops you made, but I would say 80% of the time he got in better than I've seen anybody get around a car that's in there. There were a couple times it was sticking out there. Did he do that on purpose (laughter)?
Hey, that's just part of racing.
KERRY THARP: Thank you.
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