NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Bojangles' Southern 500
Topics: Bojangles' Southern 500
May 11, 2013
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
KERRY THARP: We're going to roll into our post‑race press conference. Our third‑place finisher is Jeff Gordon. His 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and his 300th career top‑five finish in the Sprint Cup Series. Only four drivers in total have done that. Next up for him to join would be David Pearson.
JEFF GORDON: Is he 100 ahead of me?
KERRY THARP: I think he's 1 ahead of you. I think you'll probably get that.
But talk about your run tonight and the race here this evening at Darlington.
JEFF GORDON: It was a great result for us. Just a great battle by this team. We had a decent car before the sun really went down, the track cooled down, then we started battles between the balance from one end to the other, which is not uncommon here. Seems like you don't fight that as much during the day when the pace drops a lot more. At night, that's what you deal with. Pace picks up, the balance changes.
We started freeing the car up, then the track started freeing up, then we tightened up. We bounced back and forth. I'm most proud that we kept battling. We had good pit stops, the last one being a great one. Great calls by Alan, staying out when we needed to stay out, coming in when we needed to come in.
The last run was the best the car had been. We got a good restart. Fortunate to come home with a third‑place finish. Very happy with it.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now for Jeff Gordon.
Q. Jeff, it seemed as though the low line in three and four tonight really was paying off for some of the cars. Were you able to get down there at all? Did it work for you?
JEFF GORDON: That's called the apron (laughter).
Yeah, I mean, early on in the race, Harvick went by me down there and I tried it and it didn't work that well for me. Later in the run it started working for me. I started using it a lot more throughout the night.
It just depended on how my car was balanced out. If I was tight, I couldn't get down there. You know, you try to go wherever the car in front of you isn't. At this track, that's hard to do in one and two. But in three and four, it's nice to have that option.
Sometimes it worked well for me and we got by some cars. It's nice in lap traffic to be able to have that option.
I mean, I don't know if it's this car or this track or whatever it is, but guys were using the apron off of four, into one, all the way through three and four. Pretty crazy when you think of what parts of the track we're starting to utilize.
KERRY THARP: Let's hear now from your race runner‑up, Denny Hamlin.
Denny, congratulations on an outstanding showing here tonight coming off of about a four‑week absence. To go the entire 500 miles here tonight at Darlington, first of all, how do you feel? Second, maybe talk about your run tonight.
DENNY HAMLIN: We ran good. We didn't run as strong as what I hoped throughout the day. We were kind of mired in the fifth to eighth for most of the day. Track position was so key. You had two to three laps on restarts to get your positions, and after that you were in defense mode.
For me, we kept grinding away. Pit crew picked us up some stops obviously throughout the night. It was one of those days where we got our car better, pit crew picked us up positions, took us to the most optimum spot we could get to, and that was second.
KERRY THARP: How you feeling?
DENNY HAMLIN: Good. I'm sore and I'm tired. But, you know, it just takes a while. Really it's like starting your season over with. To start it back over at Darlington for 500 miles, I mean, there's some muscles that have gotten weak. I've gotten pretty sore and tired, mentally tired as well.
We'll have a couple weeks really to rest until the next long event and we'll be good to go then.
JEFF GORDON: Wait till you're 41.
DENNY HAMLIN: I have the back of a 60‑year‑old (laughter).
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Jeff and Denny.
Q. How special is it to have your 700th consecutive start here at Darlington, then come off with such a great finish?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, no, we've known for sometime that this should be where it should happen. I thought that was very cool. I think, looking back throughout my career, this track has been one of the best for me, a very special place. Holds so much history for this sport.
To have the seven wins here that I have, I couldn't think of a better place to come to and get the 700th start here. Then to go out there and have a strong performance, it felt great.
I wanted the 700th to be a memorable one, and I'm glad it wasn't like last year's memory where we blew two left rear tires back‑to‑back. This was much better than that. Top three, that's fantastic. I mean, we needed this kind of performance, a gutsy performance, for the points as well as to make this one memorable.
Q. Were you surprised to see it go green as long as it did at the start of the race? Kyle Busch mentioned to Dave Rogers a couple of times he was struggling with lap cars. Did you find it more difficult than normal trips here to Darlington to battle around lap cars?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think it didn't matter if it was a lap car or a position car. If you got within five, six car lengths of someone, you really struggled to make the pass, even get up to the guy.
I know literally I could pass a lap car, then have a clean track about half a straightaway, be the fastest car by a long ways, three or 4/10ths every lap. As soon as I reel somebody in, I'm a 20th‑place car.
It's tough when you can't get around some guys. But the lap cars, it's tough 'cause they don't have anywhere to go. This track is very narrow. They're trying to predict whether you're running the bottom, middle or top. All that is only three cars wide.
It's tough for lap cars to get out of the way. They try to do the best they can.
JEFF GORDON: Only thing I'll add to that, I see every position being challenged, people racing one another far harder than they ever used to.
I heard Jeff Burton on the telecast last night during the Nationwide race talking about the give‑and‑take. There used to be a lot of give‑and‑take here because you could let a guy go, let him wear his tires out, you could run him back down if you conserved. That's not the case anymore.
Even if you're a lap car, especially the leader, you're going to fight that leader as hard as you can to keep those positions. When you're the leader, you don't like coming up on lap cars because you know they're going to fight you more, then they let the guy behind you go as soon as they get to you, and it's frustrating.
Q. Denny, knowing Kyle the way you do, will it be tougher for him, knowing that Matt is the guy that was able to take the lead from him at the end and pull away? How strong is Joe Gibbs Racing, that 20 team, right now?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, he definitely won't be happy, that's for sure. But it's tough when you have a car that was as dominant as his, then the last run whatever happens happens.
But it's part of the game of racing. I mean, I know that I don't run as hard for the first 400 miles as I did the last 100. It's once you get track position, you never know what your car can do.
The 20 didn't look like he had a winning car all race long until he got the track position, then he took off. Whether it was holding back and saving, whatever he was doing, he found an extra gear in the last run.
It is always tough when it's a team car that overtakes you at the end. It's always more difficult.
Q. Denny, how did the 60‑year‑old back hold up tonight? Any pain at all? Also, did this performance give you confidence knowing that you have to have a miracle run to make the Chase?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, it feels good to just be competitive again. Watching the races from the sidelines for really five weeks, it's tough. You know you can change things. You can do things to change your outcome. But you're not in the racecar.
My back held up good. I'm more sore, shoulders, neck, things like that. I got to get back in racing shape. It will take time to get back to where I need to be.
The season for us is always pretty easy because we start off with Daytona, which is not too grueling, then a pretty easy race in Phoenix.
For us, it was good. I definitely didn't feel any back pain. It was just more stamina that I had issues with.
Q. 301 laps with one caution break. How mentally taxing is it knowing you're running that close to the wall, to run that many laps without the three or four caution laps you had in the middle of that?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, I like getting into a rhythm. The only thing that was different is the track conditions were changing each time you came out of the pits on new tires because the sun was going down, the track was cooling down.
I think it depends on how the race is going. If you feel like you need to make up time on guys, you want a caution. If you're running up front, you don't want to see a caution.
I don't know. I just kind of got into a rhythm. It felt good to me. I was enjoying it. I feel like green‑flag stops kind of separate the good pit crews and teams, and you can get yourself in a position, where as a competitor, you want to race against the least amount of guys as possible.
For the fans, you want to see cautions, restarts, sparks flying, things like what happened with Kasey and Kyle. I hated to see that for Kasey. I loved seeing him dive up there and take the lead.
The first portion of the race, it was surprising. I didn't expect us to go that long. But I was kind of enjoying it actually.
KERRY THARP: Guys, thanks for putting on a great show this weekend. We'll see you at the All‑Star race.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|