NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Chevy Rock & Roll 400
Topics: Chevy Rock & Roll 400
September 9, 2006
KERRY THARP: Ladies and gentlemen, we're pleased now to be joined by our eighth-place finisher in the points standing right now, driver of the number 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet, that's Jeff Burton. Jeff, congratulations on making the Chase. Tell us your emotions right now, talk a little bit about the race, but your emotions about getting into the Chase for the first time.
JEFF BURTON: Well, I'm relieved for sure. Today was a long day. The last two weeks have been pretty long. Glad to have this behind us. Now it's time to, you know, get focused and go again. I mean, the next ten weeks will be pretty pressure-filled all weeks, but I'm looking forward to it, excited about it. I think we need to step it up just a little bit. I've got to do a better job of explaining what the car is doing so we can make the car better during the race. But I feel good, we're in, we've done a nice job. 29 comes in with a tremendous amount of momentum, and feel really good about that. So proud to have two RCR cars in there and we're just going to go and do the best we can.
Q. You've contended in championships before. Compare this one with what you've done in the past, if you can.
JEFF BURTON: Well, these are really interesting. This is my first shot at being in one of these, and it is different. It's different because, you know, if you go to -- there's more finality in the other old points system with four or five to go, you know what I mean. There's like three or four to go, you kind of know you're out of the deal or you know you're still in it.
And this deal, I mean, it's like there was 11 -- well, there was seven people, maybe eight people, that were racing for a championship tonight. I mean, this was -- this is what we saw Alan Kulwicki and Bill Elliott, that deal in Atlanta years ago. That's what this was tonight, because although the champion wasn't crowned tonight, any one of us has a chance. So there was -- there wasn't two people. There's not three people, there was seven or eight that were racing for a championship tonight, and that's a hell of a lot of stuff going on out there.
It is different. I think it's better. I think it's more -- I said this a few weeks ago, I'm not so sure after tonight that I'm a big believer in what I said. What I said was the more pressure-filled and the more excitement and more tense it is, the better it is for the fans, but damn, I'm not sure I want that. Because it is pressure-filled, but you know, that's what it should be. I mean, that's what this race should be, and that's how it's shaked out.
Q. You talked about the pressure and sort of the -- does it ever turn into frustration like you're trying to cling to the end of a vine or the end of a rope? Can you just talk about the emotions you went through just waiting for this race to start at the end of a long day?
JEFF BURTON: Well, this was a long day. I thought it was a long day, anyway. Maybe these guys didn't, but I thought it was.
JEFF GORDON: If you'd been driving my car, it's been a long day.
JEFF BURTON: Three nights in a row and then the long afternoon there, it takes forever. We've had three night races in a row and it's a lot of waiting around. I don't like night races myself because of the waiting around, and then you add all the stress and the pressure of this deal, you end up spending a whole lot of time sitting in the motor home, walking around trying to find something to do to pass the time, and it's very difficult to pass the time and not think about it.
Again, that's what sports are about, and this -- as crazy as I thought this system was when I first heard it, it sure has produced a hell of a lot of excitement with ten races to go in the year.
KERRY THARP: We're pleased to be joined by our ninth-place finisher in points standing, Jeff Gordon, driver of the number 24 DuPont Chevrolet and he raced in tonight finishing tenth in the points standings; Kasey Kahne, driver of the number 9 Dodge Dealers UAW Dodge. Talk about getting into the Chase, you're not in it last year but you are this year, talk about your emotions.
JEFF GORDON: That's the king that's keeping me smiling right now is that we're in it. You know, we know what it feels like to not be in it from last year. You know, we've had to fight hard all year long, and we've really come together as a team. And tonight wasn't, you know, really a showing of that; we're struggling here and having gotten something figured out here at Richmond. So, you know, it was a long night for us.
But luckily, the last three, four weeks have been good for us, good enough to get us a little bit of padding in the points there to be able to, you know, fall back as far as we did tonight and still make it.
KERRY THARP: Kasey, you raced yourself into the Chase tonight, congratulations. Talk about your race, talk about what it feels like to get into the Chase.
KASEY KAHNE: It feels great getting in. We fought really hard all year long, and I had some mistakes here a couple -- you know, a month ago, two weeks ago and lost a lot of points for our team. That's something that's really been on my mind. If I was to miss it, that would be the thing that I would think about it all winter long.
It was definitely big to make it in, and to have the run we had tonight, you know, battle for the lead, lead one lap, be close to Busch and Harvick was big.
So I'm proud of everybody on my whole team. They did a great job. We've had two great weekend and look forward to being in the Chase now. It's exciting. It's my first time.
KERRY THARP: We're also pleased to be joined up here, he's fourth in the points, he finished second in to night's race, driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet, Kyle Busch. Your first time in the Chase. Talk about it, talk about your race tonight.
KYLE BUSCH: Well, for us, it's definitely exciting to be not only in the Chase, but to have the kind of run that we did tonight with the Kellogg's Chevrolet was very strong, led a lot of laps there. Knowing how Kevin Harvick felt in the spring race, leading so many laps and wasn't able to come away with a win, just shows these guys keep preparing great race cars for me and I'm excited to drive them. Looking forward to the final ten, seven of the ten, one is a crapshoot and the other two we need to work on. See how we do with it. Overall tonight's race, it was pretty much a dominant car but not quite enough there in the last lap.
Q. Jeff Burton, did you ever feel, it seemed pretty smooth ride for you in some respects, did you ever feel precarious in any moment during the race, and the other question, considering where you've been in recent, last few years, how much does it mean to you to crack this Top-10 and what would it have meant if you had?
JEFF BURTON: Well, it always looks smoother than it really is. You know, we had a bad pit stop there one time and we lost a bunch of spots, and that was pretty stressful because the 6 got in front of me and I knew Kasey was running really well. I didn't understand what Tony's situation was. I was pretty nervous about that.
And the points were really close. If you look at them, good God, it's really close. But you know, I've run like crap for three years in a row, and it's been embarrassing to be quite honest. You know, I care a great deal what my peers think about me from a competition standpoint and from a personal standpoint. It's kind of hard to walk through the garage when you're running 20th and look Jeff Gordon in the eye and expect him to respect you for what you can do on the racetrack.
Over the last three years, I haven't been able to get it done and that's not felt very good. This year, we've been able to step it up. Certainly, from where we've been over the last three years. You know, it feels good. I went to RCR, a lot of people thought I was crazy when I went to RCR, I went there not because I was trying to finish my career but because I was trying to start it over again. Hopefully we've been able to do that.
Q. Jeff Gordon, you were kind much plummeting there at the end and it looks like you just made it in by three points; were you at all panicking there? (Laughter)?
JEFF GORDON: Thank you.
Q. And I have a second question, too.
JEFF GORDON: You're only getting one for sure with that one. (Laughter).
Yeah, it was pretty obvious to me and everybody else, we were struggling. We had two problems, I mean, one, the handling, we really tried about five different combinations here the last five times we've been here, and none of them have worked.
So, you know, certainly have to look at what I'm doing versus what we're doing set-up wise, and then we had a brake issue there at the end. I was just concerned, the weight, I felt a little grinding in the brake pedal and steering wheel and I wasn't sure we were going to make it to the end. I probably slowed the car down a little bit more there at the end than I actually had to. But luckily, you know, there wasn't really anybody around me those last ten -- well, I was racing Joe Nemechek one time but something happened to him and he faded. I mean, I couldn't keep cars from passing me, so, you know, it's a very helpless feeling when you're in that situation. You know, they are going by you left and right and you're just holding on, hoping that you've got enough to make it to the end.
Q. My second question; you were a champion and you missed the Chase last year; can you sympathize at all with Tony now, who didn't make it tonight?
JEFF GORDON: I can absolutely sympathize with Tony. I mean, you know, we experienced what that was like last year. It was a tremendous amount of pressure and, you know, I think for us because we were on the outside looking in for several weeks leading to this race last year, you know, it was just a constant burden and it was tough. It only made it tougher when we didn't make it.
But at the same time for us last year, it's somewhat of a relief to just start focusing on the next year. I really believe those ten races of last year are what turned this team around to get us in this year.
But I know that, you know, you don't think Tony Stewart's not going to be in it. He's one of many guys that I would have thought would have definitely be in there.
Q. Jeff Gordon and Kyle, last year we saw Roush get five in and I see Hendrick get three; what does that mean for Hendrick, and is there any big picture difference from last year?
KYLE BUSCH: I was looking for the expert to answer that one for you guys. You know, I think the biggest thing for us is that as an organization is the team meetings that we've been having. You know, I think they have really paid dividends. Jimmie Johnson came up with the concept, I think he heard it from Casey Mears in the Ganassi organization. After happy hour and all that stuff we would get together in Rick's motor coach and talk, the crew chiefs, engineers and drivers and just talk about how the things were going through the weekends and about how different -- know our cars, what are what kind of changes we made and what kind of changes they made and put it all together.
As far as having three cars in the Chase, we've just been working all that much closer together and it proved dividends there.
JEFF GORDON: I'll just add, I know Rick's really proud of that effort. I think he was as nervous as anybody else. I saw him before the race, and, you know, I know it was a real goal, after seeing Roush do that last year. He takes a lot of pride in the teams he has and for them to be able to perform at a level for all four to be able to make it in the Chase and to have three of the four is really a great accomplishment, and I know how excited and proud he is to have them in there.
Q. Seven Chevrolets in the Top-10, does that mean that Chevy can dominate? What are your thoughts on that?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think that, I mean, the rules aren't really different this year from last year. I think, you know, last year Roush did a great job with what Ford gave them and this year Hendrick and RCR have done a nice job with what Chevy has been able to give us.
You know, I think that the manufacturers have a huge influence on how well we perform, but it's more I think what matters here most is how the teams use what the manufacturers have available to us. I think that Chevrolet does a tremendous amount of good stuff to help us and a lot of tools but at the end of the day, it's up to us to use them. Hendrick stepped up their program this year, RCR stepped up their programs this year and the teams show it.
Q. Talk about your mindset during the race and knowing what you had to do and was there a point where you knew that your chances ever making the Chase were good, and how much radio communication was there about that, if at all?
KASEY KAHNE: I was really, just the whole race, all I wanted to do was pass cars and get up to close to the front as possible and try to lead a lap. It was really tough to lead a lap with Kyle and Harvick up front. They were good. You know, we were able to -- we had one run where we were really fast and led one lap there. Then the caution came out, so it was definitely good to lead a lap.
I didn't ask one time where the points were. I definitely knew we had to run up front if we wanted to make the Chase, and if I was going to ask where the points were, I didn't know what I would do to go any faster.
I just kind of raced my race and when it was over, Kenny told me we were in and I was happy. I didn't realize Tony Stewart was the one that was out at the time. I thought he was running better than that but I didn't know who was running good or bad.
JEFF GORDON: You thought it was me, didn't you. (Laughter) Lapped me twice. "Oh, it must be Jeff." (Laughter).
Q. For anybody, were any of you surprised about how relatively clean of a race this was with so much at stake, a la Bristol, too, a pretty clean race?
JEFF GORDON: It certainly was for me. I'm going to go talk to Clint Bowyer, that guy, he gave me like way too much room. He could have passed me ten times, I swear we ran side-by-side for 20 laps because he had a car width between me and him every time we came off the corner and he was on the inside. I was like, wow, that's pretty generous right there.
I know the guys raced me pretty clean, and obviously there were not many cautions. That tells you something.
I think that, you know, the guys that weren't in it seem to be pretty respectful for the guys who are battling to be in it, and the guys that were in it knew that they didn't want to take one another out of it; they had to race for it. So maybe guys were being a little extra cautious tonight.
KYLE BUSCH: Ask Jimmie Johnson how clean it was. He got knocked up twice. (Laughter).
Q. Kyle you mentioned earlier just about the Chase upcoming, you like seven of the tracks and one is a toss-up, obviously Talladega; what are the tracks you feel are a concern and what can you do between now and then?
KYLE BUSCH: Texas and Atlanta are two concerning tracks. We always tend to finish 12th at Atlanta, been there three times and finished 12th three times. We can run well in the middle part of the race and pass for the lead and do all of the great stuff that we can normally do at Charlotte or whatever, but at the end of the race for some reason we just fall off and can't be as good at the end.
Texas is a place that's always hindered my performance, especially in the Cup series. The Busch Series I had that one strong run of second place earlier this year, finished fourth, but have not quite been able to get the run in the Cup series yet. Hopefully that will turn around at the end of the year. Not sure what it is about that place to not run so well. Maybe just the banking falls off too much after throughout the exit of corners, but all in all, we'll just see how it goes and hopefully we can run well at the seven others where we can take care of just a finish with those two.
Q. Kasey, I know yesterday after qualifying, you didn't seem to be real happy; wondering what happened between now and then and did you kind of feel like the car was going to come around and you weren't that wired maybe. And at one point you were running so well and I know Kenny told you, "We can make it even better." Were you at all like, don't mess with this, we're doing so well?
KASEY KAHNE: Actually yesterday, I knew we had a good car in practice. We had done some things and made it better. It felt like it could race for a long time and, you know, for a lot of laps in a row. When we went out and qualified we just had the same problem that we had qualifying here in the string, and after thinking about it, we figured out exactly what it was, and, you know, so that held us back from a good pit stall and from starting up front. But I knew we had a good car and I actually slept good last night and was fine all day today. Just watched college football and got ready for the race. It was good, I knew we were going to have a pretty good car. Kenny just kept making the car better all night.
Later in the race we didn't make quite enough adjustments to keep up with Kevin and Kyle, but other than that, we were really good.
KERRY THARP: We are also pleased to be joined by our race winner, driver of the number 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick. Take us through your run tonight and you're also third in the points, talk about that.
KEVIN HARVICK: Obviously we had a good car all night and kind of lost the handling a little bit, third or fourth run there and made some good adjustments and were able to get the forward drive there back in the last run. Everything worked out there toward the end and we were able to get position off Kyle and get up off of four and get to the white flag. It's a last minute but in the end it all works and we're excited to go into the Chase third where we came in. That was our goal tonight, was to leave here ten points behind and going into the Chase as close as we could.
Q. Kasey, this is the third straight year your organization has kind of slipped into the Chase right at the end, the last two years were not really much of a factor; this year, what can make this year different?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, I think it's pretty awesome that Evernham Motorsports has made it three years, with three cars this year, it's pretty cool. It's my first year, and I'm excited about it. I know Ray was really excited to get in again. It was big for our organization. I think the biggest thing is we're running good. I mean, we ran first, we won last week, third tonight, you know, feel like even the races we fell out in the last month we've been out front.
It's been good and I don't think Jeremy going into the Chase the last two years was running near as well as we are now. Hopefully we just go out there, run good, be consistent and finish all the races and see where it puts us. But I think we can definitely do better than what they have in the past.
Q. Jeff Burton a minute ago was talking about not expecting you to sort of reciprocate with as much respect because he wasn't running well in recent years. Had your perception of him as a competitor changed at all and has it possibly changed again this year because he is sort of back?
JEFF GORDON: Well, there's no doubt that, you know, the thought goes through everybody's mind, you guys included that, you remember the times when he was with the number 99, and I remember battling with him for a lot of race wins, championships, you know, and it just seemed to fall off. They had some members of their team sort of shuffle around and all of a sudden the performance wasn't there. I never doubted for a second that it was Jeff Burton. I always thought he was one of the top drivers. You know, it just seemed like it was there and they were just, you know, right on the edge of winning the championship, and then it was gone and then you didn't even hear about him.
You know, I think it's a bold move on his part to make the move to RCR and obviously that's paid off. I never had a lack of respect for Jeff, because I've battled too hard with him over the years so I know what kind of a competitor he is. I think it's refreshing to see a guy go through those types of times and be able to come back the way he has.
Q. For Kasey, based on last weekends and now tonight, do you feel like you get through the Chase at the level you ran at the first third of the season?
KASEY KAHNE: Well, that level was pretty good. I would never have expected to win four races that early in the year. To expect to win four in the final ten is not something that I'm going to do for sure. I think that we can race competitive, consistently in the Top-10, you know, throughout the rest of the year if we do everything that we need to do.
If you look at I've been trying to get in for the last three or four weeks, and it's been so hard to gain points on these guys because the Top-12 in points are set from 24, 23, 25 races and that's the same guys that are up front right now, is the same guys that are going to be up front the rest of the season. It's big to be consistent and it's going to be really big to be up front and just battle as hard as we can.
Q. Kevin, really, what this is looking like, as well as you've been running, you could conceivably win both series, and I know you've been asked about this but it's really looking a lot more legitimate for you now. Do you just not even think about that at this point or do you take the success you're having in both of them?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think you have to take the success and just kind of be happy. It's something where we're fortunate to be in the position that we're in, with the way our Cup car is in, we have a realistic shot of doing what we need to do to run for the Cup championship. But it's going to come down to, you know, not having a bad break or something going wrong and the guy that wins it is going to have ten good weeks. If we can keep the momentum up, obviously we have a chance.
We understand it's reality and compared to where we were the last couple of years, just to be in that position, we're really fortunate to have turned everything around and just excited to have the opportunity to race for both of them.
Q. You mentioned momentum. Do you feel it when you go back to the garage and also, since you made the decision to renew with Richard, can you talk about that a little?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think all year everything has gone really well, even in the middle of all the contracting stuff and everything that we had going on. Richard and I were on the same page pretty much throughout the whole process, and understood where each other were coming from.
It's nice for everybody to be on the same page and pulling in the same directions. I have two great teammates that I get along really well with. You know, we respect each other and push each other and try to make each other better. So it's something to where the guys, they are pumped up and we feel like -- we feel like, you know, we can race for the championship and feel like we're capable of being able to compete for that.
So if we can keep the momentum up and not have the bottom fall out one week and something go wrong, I feel like we have as good a chance as anybody.
Q. Why not just ride at the end? I mean, you had the Chase won, I know everybody is going to ask you that -- why not just take what you had?
KEVIN HARVICK: I'd rather flip over and run tenth in the Chase than give up a chance to win a race. You know, with five to go, I started dialing a bunch of rear braking. We were pretty much even, and Todd and I and Richard and everybody - we've talked about it before - if you have a chance to win the race, you have to win the race. They are too hard to come by. You know, everything else is secondary at that point.
You'll suffer the circumstances if something goes wrong, but it's too hard to put yourself in that position to go out and try to win. So like I say, I'd rather flip over backwards and start tenth in the Chase than give up a chance to try to win.
Q. Kevin, in the past when you've talked about trying to make it in the Chase, you had said before that you thought that the last ten races were good races for you if you get in. Now that you're in, can you just talk about what you like about these last ten races and then how you typically run pretty well in them?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think our results in the past probably don't show up as well as we feel like we can perform at those particular racetracks. You know, I think Dover is probably a question mark for us just for the fact that, you know, we've kind of been up and down there, but we had a chance to win a race there at the beginning of the year. It's all going to come down to circumstances. I don't feel like we have a weak point. I think you're going to show up and have an off-weekend, that's going to be the weekends -- everybody is going to have an off-weekend but those are the weekends that dictate who is going to win the championship just for the fact of recovery and making something out of those bad weekends.
Q. Having a teammate with you in this Chase, how important is that, or is that any kind of advantage for you?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think it's definitely something to where Jeff and I communicate well and help each other as much as possible. I think it's definitely good for the company. I think that's the most important thing is it's great for RCR to have both of our cars in there. I feel like both of us have run well enough to be in the Chase this year and earned that.
You know, we're going to give it everything we have. I know we've got a pretty good plan going in as far as cars and engines and things like that as far as what we're going to race. We'll just let it all hang out and see where it all winds up.
Q. You were discussing how you and the 31 have run so well. You guys seem to be able to sustain that throughout an entire race. They are very fast early and sometimes towards the middle of races, but they seem to fade at the end. Do you have any sort of explanation for that?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think sometimes when you're as fast as they have been at the beginning of races, I think sometimes you get behind on your car because you're out in clean air and you're out in front.
I think when you're able to run in a little bit of traffic and make the adjustments, you need to make the run better, I think that's somewhat of an advantage toward the end of the race.
Sometimes you get out there and lead and think, "I don't want to touch my car," and everybody else is making adjustments, and I think they have just kind of been in that position a couple of times and haven't had the chance to make their car better when everybody else was.
Q. Your teams is just overflowing with confidence right now, a lot of momentum. Was there a race you could think of or a time during the race where everything kind of changed, the momentum changed, the level of confidence changed?
KEVIN HARVICK: I'd have to go back and really think about that. I know the first part of the season was kind of filled with some bumps in the road. At Daytona we had some carburetor trouble and then wound up crashing.
You know, Atlanta, we got into a little wreck and wound up going several laps down. I don't think that there's one particular spot. We really have been pretty relaxed and just kind of taking it one week at a time and really not worrying about what happened last week or whether it was good or bad. You have to get over that and go on to the next race.
So you know, Todd and myself have been together for the most part of seven years and a lot of our team has been together for, you know, a fair amount of that time as well.
You know, from our original Busch team, all of the guys that came out of that shop are still in the shop. So it's a pretty close-knit bunch of people and we're all good influences on each other to help pick each other up. That's what it's all about, team morale and keeping everybody moving in the right direction.
Q. What is the journey been like over the last couple years to get back to this platform for this organization; people are going to look at two years happen quickly but what was it like for you?
KEVIN HARVICK: I've left competition meetings before with everybody looking at me like I was the biggest butt in the whole entire world because they didn't like what I had to say. But I think in the end, I may not know how to express it the correct way, but I think they all heard where I was coming from and it wasn't just me. You know, at some point you have to stop and reevaluate everything that's going on and nobody was pointing fingers and everybody just stopped and Richard said, "Here is what we're going to do. We're going to come up with a new plan."
We stopped about halfway through last year and built all brand new cars, redid a lot of things in our engine shop, reorganized personnel and reorganized personnel through the whole shop.
Jeff came in about a year and a half ago, and there's just been a lot of things that have taken place that Richard is so into it, it's not even funny. He's excited to be at the racetrack. He's at the shop too many hours during the day. He drives himself crazy over every situation, but I mean, that's what it takes. I mean, this is a full-time business. I always tell the guys, they go on vacation, there's no time for vacation during the year. That's not how it's supposed to be. I give them a lot of grief over that but it should go to where there's not just one thing you can point out, just a whole bunch of things come together.
Q. You said a lot of reevaluation; what did you reevaluate about yourself?
KEVIN HARVICK: I'll be honest with you. I would have fired my butt three or four years ago. (Laughter) But, you know, Richard is the type of person that he gives you a chance and let's you explore the world and try to realize who you are.
As you get older - I think a lot of people in this room understand - as you get older you become more mature and you understand situations. I think understanding my race team has helped me understand a lot of situations in different circumstances with Richard and where he's coming from and understanding how important the personnel are on your teams and how hard those people are to come by and you just can't go out and scream and yell and make them mad every week. Eventually you're going to run out of good people, but when you have good people, you need to hang on to them and treat them right.
Q. You raced with Kyle for about 60, 70 laps towards the end; describe racing with Kyle and tell me how you timed your move.
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, we were pretty even. You know, I got up under him a couple times and spun the tires up off the corner. As the run went on there with about ten to go, I said, "Man, I just really am out of things to try here." His car was tight, I could see that but my car was as tight as his. Todd came on the radio and said, "Try to put some rear break in the thing and get to rotate a little sooner." I put a couple rounds in back and I started catching him. At that point I was winding him in as fast as I could wind him in coming down the straightaway and the thing would slide getting into the corner and pulled across the center about two laps, I was on his bumper. Got to him one and two, rolled the center pretty good, kind of got up against his back bumper, got up underneath him going down the back straightaway and at that point I knew we were coming to the white flag. So it was either going to be -- how should I put this -- it was going into turn one as far as I needed to go to take the position, so it was one of those deals where you see the light and you just do whatever you have to do at that point.
Q. Did the decals (ph) help you win tonight?
KEVIN HARVICK: I had that extra second that those Bare Naked Ladies gave me with their decals (ph), they were really worth it. (Laughter)
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