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Chevy NSCS at Sonoma: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Post Race Press Conference Transcripts and Casey Mears Quote

JUNE 22, 2014

Jeff Gordon Maintains Points Lead with Second Place Finish

SONOMA, Calif. – June 22, 2014 – Jeff Gordon came within 0.591 seconds of earning his sixth win at Sonoma Raceway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Save Mart 350, but crossed the finish line in second. The driver of the No. 24 Panasonic Chevrolet SS led a contingent of Chevrolet power in the top-10, seven teams strong.  Gordon led three laps in the 110-lap race to capture his 18th top 10 finish in 22-races at the 1.99-mile road course in Napa Valley.  The strong run extended the four-time champion’s lead in the 2014 point standings to 20 markers over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

“I was making some ground up on (race winner) Carl (Edwards),” Gordon said following the race. “I was good in the fast sections and he was pretty good in the slow sections. So, I was having to hit everything so perfect. And I just overdrove it into (Turn) 4 one time and went real wide off and that gave him enough of a gap that I had to close it back in and I just couldn’t put enough pressure on him. And I think had I put some more pressure on him; I saw him really struggling with the grip level. He drove a clean race and he did everything you need to do.

“But of course, on that last lap, I gave it my best effort and closed up on him, but I just drove into (Turn) 11 as hard as I could,” Gordon continued. “We weren’t good in 11 anyway. He didn’t overdrive it. I was hoping he might slide up and I’d get a run underneath him. But all in all, it was a great weekend for this Panasonic Chevy and I could have been more proud of the calls made and everything the team did. We didn’t qualify good, but we had a great car in the race.”

Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. piloting the No. 88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet SS, earned his best career finish at Sonoma Raceway in the third position.  Pole sitter Jamie McMurray had a solid day in his No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet SS by finishing fourth.  Paul Menard, aboard the No. 27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet SS, rounded out the Chevy power in the top-five with a fifth place run.

Kasey Kahne came back from mid-race contact with Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS) to take his No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet inside the top-10 to finish sixth.  Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Johnson had a solid day at Sonoma and navigated his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS up through the field from a 22nd-place starting spot to a seventh-place finish.

The day ended in disappointment for AJ Allmendinger in the No. 47 Kingsford/Clorox Chevrolet SS.  He led a race high 35 laps, but was involved in an on-track incident with 24 laps remaining and was relegated to a 37th-place finish.

Carl Edwards (Ford) was the race winner, his second victory of the season.

The Sprint Cup Series heads to Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky next week to compete under the lights on Saturday night June 28th.


“We had a pretty good day.  We started out real strong.  We got bottled up with the No. 5 and No. 15 ran into the back of us and it knocked our hood up.  I think we were running seventh at the time and it put us out of sequence.  The guys did a good job putting us with an option to get good track position there at the end.  We were able to kind of catch back up to I think around 25th or 24th and got new tires and had a good run all the way up to about 10th.  With about 13 (laps) to go I was passing the No. 41 and he kind of pinched me into the tires and it knocked the tow out of the right-front really bad.  The car just didn’t turn as well from there on out.  But we had an eventful day and after everything that happened we ended up with a pretty good result and it turned out pretty good.”




KRISTI KING:  We’ll get started with our post‑race press conference following today’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 here at Sonoma Raceway.  We are joined by Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet who finished third in today’s race.  Your best finish at Sonoma Raceway, third in points.  Talk about your race out there today.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I had a fast car all weekend, and we figured that our best opportunity to run well here would be to pit and get newer tires more often than everybody else, so having the two wins in the season, it allowed us to really kind of gamble and go ahead and get back there in the mess and have newer tires, and it paid off.  We were able to drive up through there.

The two leaders, Jeff and Carl, didn’t fall off as much as the 1 did, so I was hoping they might, but they were strong right at the end, all the way up until the end there.

Q.  Dale, could you talk a little bit about the race that you had, an eventful day I guess it would be fair to say, and also I heard you saying on pit road to Stevie, drive every time like this is your last.  It seems to be working.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I told Steve I think I figured out what the trick is to being a really, really good crew chief is to run every ‑‑ to call the season like it’s your last because his strategy is aggressive and a little bit out of the box, and that pays off in most cases because if you do everything everybody else is doing, you kind of fall into ‑‑ you’re racing a lot more people trying to do everything else they’re doing.  So when you do something different and get off the pattern pit‑wise, get off the strategy and stuff, it allows you to be a lot more aggressive.

My car had the tires and I was able to drive by those guys at the end, but I had an eventful race, and I tore Matt Kenseth’s car up pretty bad jumping that curb.  I was racing him a little hard there coming out of Turn 7.  He probably had the preferred line and I probably should have yielded to him, but I was ‑‑ I thought I was a little bit faster than him and didn’t want to be stuck behind him.  I straddled a curb, and it just lost my car in the air right into his car.  I hope he’s not too sore today.

Other than that, we got tangled up with the 47 somehow.  He wheel‑hopped my left rear tire and that spun him out.  Other than that we beat and banged a little bit, everything that you normally see here.  I had a lot of fun other than the deal with Matt made me pretty sick.  But other than that it was a fun day.

KRISTI KING:  Joining Dale, our second place finisher, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Panasonic Chevrolet, who is our all‑time winningest driver here at Sonoma Raceway.  Talk a little bit about the race out there today and your second place finish.

JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, it was a fun race, a tough one, certainly tough for the guys making the calls in the pits.  You know, tire strategy as well as us on the track, because the cars just drove unbelievable on new tires, and you just felt like King Kong.  You could just drive it so aggressively.

And then eight laps later, it was where did all the grip go, and you were on ice.  There was some tire management, which I love.  I think that’s really cool to have that kind of a race and all the different strategies, and I mean, Carl, me and Dale were all on different tires as far as laps on them, and it made for a very interesting race.

Gosh, I wish I could have had those last five or six laps to do over again.  I started overdriving it a little bit trying to catch him a making a few mistakes, and I made one in particular that really cost me, and I think if I had just stayed smooth and stuck with it ‑‑ looked like his car really started falling off those last couple laps and I might have had a shot at least putting more pressure on Carl to force him to make a mistake or maybe get a run inside of him.

Our car was great today.  I felt confident it was going to be in the race, and it was exciting when they dropped the green that we did have a car like that.

Q.  Is the strategy now for the road courses to stay away from VIR and Road Atlanta?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I think even on Friday practice was going so well, Steve said we weren’t going to do anything preparing for Watkins Glen since we were so good, or since it was going so well.  We weren’t the best car, but…

Yeah, I mean, I’ve been doing this a long, long time.  If you know what you’re doing driving these cars on a road course, you can go places and test and learn, but if you’re not a great road course driver, if you’re just kind of run‑of‑the‑mill going over there to Road Atlanta, you’re just going to work your guts out for nothing.  We sort of relied on our teammates a little bit that tested, and all that helped the most, really leaning on Jeff and those guys and what everybody learned when they came out here, and anybody that went to Road Atlanta or Kershaw, kind of leaning on that and just trusting what we were seeing in the data.

We went through ‑‑ it really gave us a bit of a better attitude when we got here, and I think that helped us be more productive on Friday, which that’s really important during those two practices to get everything you can, and if I get frustrated, Steve gets frustrated, we just don’t really figure anything out.  We stayed calm and I felt like we put a good car on the racetrack today.

Q.  Jeff, watching on the TV, it looks like friends or enemies, you were banging around pretty good.  You and Jimmie had a couple of tussles towards the middle of that race.

JEFF GORDON:  Those restarts when you’re double‑file like that, the first few corners get pretty hairy, and there’s not really enough room to go side by side, and so if you’re on the outside you’ve got to squeeze the guy on inside; if you’re on the inside you’ve got to push the guy on the outside.

I got a run off of 4, and I went to go to the outside of Ambrose, and I don’t know if Jimmie dove in there or if he was protecting from somebody else trying to dive in there on him, but as I made the corner, he got into my right rear pretty hard, and I almost went around.  At the moment you’re just mad that it happened, so I took it out on my right front fender, but it did more damage to my car than it did to his.

Then I calmed down and we just went back to racing, and I was able to get ‑‑ he kind of got into it with whoever, Ambrose in front of him, and I got a run on him, but I was able to make a clean pass.

You know, I don’t like to make judgment until you see the video, but we raced hard, and we had a great race and banged with a bunch of guys, but I thought it was all just in good racing.

Q.  Jeff, it looked like that last lap, Turn 11, you made it pretty close, got a little close to him.  Did it feel like a possible pass or was there just too much ground to make up at that point?

JEFF GORDON:  I mean, that particular area, my car was really good.  I could really get into Turn 11.  I was just trying to get him to overdrive the corner and get up off the bottom.  There’s such an advantage to hook around those tires that had he missed it, which he did about two laps before that, I thought that I might be able to make it interesting.  But no, he did lock up going in there, but he made the corner, and that was it.  At that point it’s a desperate move.  It’s not one worth wrecking the guy on because hey, if you’re racing the guy and you get a couple runs on him, he blocks you and he blocks you here and he blocks you there and you’re faster, then you might not give an inch.  You might go in there and you might use the bumper.

But I really had just caught him, and so that’s why I wish I could have had those last five laps to do over again because I think if I could have not made a couple mistakes, I would have been on him with more like two laps to go, and I think I would have had a shot.  But hey, that’s the way it goes, and we finished second.

Q.  Dale, you mentioned the incident with the 47 here at 11.  Is that just one of those things that happened and the hairpin as far as the contact there?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I thought I gave him enough room on the outside.  He had a lot of wheel, we’re coming out of that corner and his right front poking out like that jumped the left rear of my car, and I felt it yank on the car real hard and looked in the mirror, and I thought he and about 10 other cars were wrecking, and I thought the caution was coming out.  I don’t know how bad it was for him, but I had just got around him and we got down into that corner and I ran low protecting my line, he shot to the outside and that’s his prerogative.  But I thought I gave him enough room.  I didn’t think I ran him in the fence.

Q.  Jeff, we’ve been seeing you in here a lot lately.  Is this the most optimistic maybe you’ve been about how you’ve been running maybe the last five, six years?

JEFF GORDON:  Absolutely.  It’s certainly the most consistent, great cars that I’ve had going week in and week out, to have cars that are capable of either winning or running up front.  I’m very confident in what I’m getting behind the wheel of every weekend, and that just is because of all the hard work that’s going on at Hendrick and all the data and work that everybody behind the scenes is doing as well as Alan and our engineers.  I’m just working really well with them, clicking with them, but the cars are just really, really good, and that’s making a lot of fun for me.

Q.  Dale, just the meaning of getting a top 5, is that beyond the expectations coming into this weekend, and what does it mean for you and your team to get this type of performance at this type of track?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Well, aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us.  We came in here and knew we had a good car throughout practice, and I’ve been in the top 10 in a lot of these races with two or three laps to go, but we’ve just never been able to finish.  So to be clear of the mess and just have an advantage with the tires at the end, there was a lot of confidence, and knowing we were going to be able to wrap it up or feel like we were in good position to wrap it up and really good.  The car was fun to drive all weekend, had a great time in practice, qualifying was fun, a little frustrating to get hung up there.  I thought we could have qualified a lot better, but still, the cars have been fun to drive.  We’ve been one of the better cars, and that certainly makes it fun with me not having to be defensive and root and gouge for every little spot.

Whatever the guys learned throughout testing and trying to prepare for this race really, I think, helped out the whole organization.  All the cars were real quick today.

Q.  For both of you, the tire testing here got rained out in March, and since tires were a big issue this race, I was wondering if you could tell me how you made up for that.  Second question is for Jeff Gordon:  It’s about when you got a chance to test over at New Smyrna Beach.  I was wondering what you learned at some of these short tracks.

JEFF GORDON:  I’ll take the first one since Dale wasn’t here during the tire test.  It was just the 24 and the 14 and a couple other guys.  It only rained out the first day.  The second day we actually pretty much got the full day in.  So we were able to learn something anyway, and even though we didn’t actually test on the tire that they brought here, we tested on similar ones, and maybe the 14 tested on this exact one.  But it was close to the one that I liked the most that had good grip at the beginning and it did fall off.  We knew it was going to fall off, but it seemed like some of the other ones fell off just as much or more.

You know, I like this tire.  I think it’s not easy to drive at the end, which can be good and bad.  But it’s got a lot of grip at the beginning.  I think it switches up the pit strategy where it’s not always just about fuel mileage.  We’ve been racing fuel mileage races out here for the last several years, and I think it’s nice that tires make a difference.  I like it.  I wish we had tires like this more places.

New Smyrna, I mean, we’re just short track testing stuff, just seeing what we can learn.  We go to all the tracks that we can’t race on, and if there’s someplace that’s close to Charlotte with good weather that might be able to teach us a little bit, then we’ll go there.

I thought that it was more for fun than learning anything, I’ll be honest.  There’s not another track that we go to that’s anything like that.  Not to mention that there was water seeping out of the track that we were driving on.  It was a fun day, but I don’t know if ‑‑ maybe Dale and those guys learned some things, but I didn’t think that we did.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  It’s a fun track, to be able to go run somewhere.  We’re going to have to test.  The drivers don’t line the tests up, the crew chiefs do.  So when you go somewhere fun, at least it makes it go by a little quicker.

Q.  Jeff, I seem to recall a conversation yesterday with you after qualifying and you said to me, you weren’t really one bit worried and I should talk to you today when all the Hendrick cars finish, and you had four in the top eight.  Is that how much confidence you have right now in the team and the program?  And Dale, you improved your finish here by quite a substantial deal, and you were running fast in practice and looking at your Twitter account it looked like you may have even surprised yourself a little bit how well you were running on Friday.  How big a boost is this for you personally in how you feel about road courses?  Are you starting to love them a little bit more now?

JEFF GORDON:  You like them when the cars are working good.  I’ve had some good cars over the years.

Yeah, I mean, you always say that when you qualify 15th.  You always say, hey, talk to me tomorrow when it’s all over.  I mean, I had confidence that we were much better than that, and that was just based on how our car drove in practice.  And I think that’s kind of what Dale is alluding to, as well.  You have a certain feel that you’re looking for and you look at the lap times and I thought our lap times were competitive and the car had a pretty good feel.  I didn’t feel like we were going to stay back there all day long, and I was hoping that all the Hendrick cars would ‑‑ that didn’t qualify good would come to the front, and I thought that they would.  It wasn’t being like so confident just in everything.  I mean, things are going well for us, but it was really just solely looking at the lap times and how my car felt.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  I really enjoy running at Watkins Glen, and I feel like that I understand what I need to do, not whether I do it every lap but what I need to do to get around there and what I’m looking for in the car to be competitive.  This is a real technical track where the corners are lined up one after the other, and if you make a mistake in Turn 2, you really don’t clean it up until Turn 4.  So everything sort of has to line up and the really need to put the corners together in succession, and that takes a certain mentality and a certain understanding of road course racing that guys like myself don’t have coming from late models and oval tracks and stuff like that.

You have to go to school.  You have to study.  You have to listen to people.  You have to run as many laps as you can at practices and tests and stuff like that early in your career to adapt and understand.  You know, just certain guys have certain backgrounds.  McMurray ran all those CART races and I think that paid off for him.  He’s very competitive at the road courses, especially this place, but the Glen has always kind of been fun.  It’s an equalizer because it has so many long straightaways.  You run down a straightaway and get through a turn and run down a straightaway and get through a turn.  Pretty much everybody can kind of figure that out.  But this place is really technical, and if the car is just a little bit off, I sort of get lost as to what I need and what I want the car to do and how I need the car to drive and what I’m looking for in the car.  We sort of ‑‑ when we get off the path in practice, we really never recover throughout the weekend, but we were fast all weekend and just kind of put it together.

KRISTI KING:  Jeff, Dale, congratulations on your run today.  Thank you very much for your time.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

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