Chevy Racing–Darlington Post Race

DARLINGTON, S.C. – May 11, 2013 – In his 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career start, Jeff Gordon took the lead for Team Chevy by scoring a third-place finish at the Bojangles’ Southern 500 in his No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet SS.  A seven-time winner at Darlington, this marked Gordon’s 300th top-five finish in the sport; which recognizes him as becoming the fourth driver to accomplish this feat (joining David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Richard Petty).
“We all wanted this 700th start to be a memorable one and not one like we had last year,” said Gordon following the 367-lap contest. “So, it was a great effort by this Cromax Pro Chevrolet team. Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) made great calls and the pit stops were fantastic; especially when it counted the most there at the end. We were just bouncing between tight and loose and right there at the end, it was about the best that it had been all night.”
Last year’s Darlington race winner, and five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, brought his No. 48 Lowe’s Emerald Green Chevrolet SS home in fourth.  With his top-five finish, Johnson maintained his position as the current Series point leader.
A stout fifth-place finish by Kevin Harvick in his No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, not only boosted him to 10th-place in the standings, but also gave Team Chevy three of the top-five spots in the finishing order.
Three other members of the Bowtie Brigade posted strong runs at ‘The Track too Tough to Tame’, giving Team Chevy six of the top-10 finishing spots:  Juan Pablo Montoya, in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS finished eighth, boosting himself three slots in the standings to 22nd overall.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished ninth, and is fourth in the rankings.  Ryan Newman, aboard his No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, was 10th in the 500-mile race, and is 17th overall.
Matt Kenseth (Toyota) was the race winner and Denny Hamlin (Toyota) finished second to round out the top five.
Next stop on the tour will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 18th for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
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, congratulations.
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 and 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 and 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, (Kevin) 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.
Q.  How special is it to have your 700th consecutive start here at Darlington and then come off with such a great finish?
JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, no, we’ve known for some time 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 starthere.  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?
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. 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 wa
s 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.