Kevin Harvick Wins at RIR; Team Chevy Places Six Drivers in 2011 Chase
RICHMOND, Va. (September 10, 2011) – Kevin Harvick won the Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday to earn the second seed in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads six Team Chevy drivers in the ’11 Chase field.
Harvick, who finished third in last year’s standings, is joined by four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet (third seed); five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Power of Pride Chevrolet (sixth); Ryan Newman, No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet (eighth); two-time champion Tony Stewart, No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet (ninth); and Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet (10th). Stewart needed to finish 18th or better, and Earnhardt Jr. needed to finish 20th or better to clinch spots in the Chase. Stewart was seventh at RIR; Earnhardt Jr. was 16th. The other four Team Chevy drivers had previously secured positions.
Johnson is the only driver to qualify for each of the eight Chases (2004-10). Both Gordon and Stewart qualified for the seventh time. Johnson (2006-10) and Stewart (2005) have combined to win the last six driver’s championships.
Harvick now has four victories in 2011, one short of his career best. He was joined in the top 10 at Richmond by Gordon (third), Stewart (seventh), Newman (eighth) and Mark Martin, No. 5 Chevrolet (10th).
The 10-race Chase opens next Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway and concludes November 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
WONDERFUL PISTACHIOS 400
RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
SEPTEMBER 10, 2011
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET – FINISHED 3RD – 3RD SEED IN CHASE FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP:
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Joining us now up on the podium is Jeff Gordon. He drives the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He comes into the Chase seeded third with 2009 points based on those three wins.
Jeff, talk about getting into the Chase and the three wins, you’re seeded third. Talk about that as you look forward to getting your fifth championship.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I’m really excited about our race team right now. I look back at our season, all the changes that were made with basically me going to a whole different team and getting to know these guys, getting an opportunity to work with them and learning how to communicate and how to get more competitive week in and week out. We had some great things happening at the beginning. We won the Phoenix race, but we struggled, as well, and we were way back in points at one time, 16th; 17th in points. To come all the way back up to I don’t know where we ended, probably 6th in the regular season with Harvick winning the race today, but to win three races, to run the way we have and just gain the momentum, have a shot at winning that race tonight, man, this team could not be more pumped and excited about getting this Chase started next week, and Chicago is a great track for us. So look forward to the next ten weeks.
Q. 2007 was a really, really strong year for you, Jeff. Do you think at this point your championship chances are better than that year maybe at this point?
JEFF GORDON: I do. You know, I feel like we’ve got more momentum going into the Chase. I feel like our team is really, really strong. I feel like in ’07, while we gave Jimmie a great run and a great battle, I still feel like they had the momentum. And were outrunning us just by a little bit on a regular basis. We’re competing with everybody out there right now, and lately I feel like we’ve been better than most on a lot of different types of racetracks, short tracks, superspeedways, intermediates. We’ve got an awesome race team right now. I’m extremely excited.
’07, like you said, was a good year, but I think with the; I’m not taking for granted where we’re at, the way we’ve run. We’ve had to work really, really hard to make the improvements that we’ve made in our cars and in our team this year, and we know we’re going to have to work equally as hard to maintain that and step up when the Chase starts.
But the way that this team has performed this year, you know, there’s not one track in these ten, next ten weeks; that scares me, because I think that we just really have done a great job dissecting down our issues and addressing them and making our cars better as we go to those tracks.
Q. With this new points system, some people say that you get penalized more for a poor finish, track position being even more important, the gambling that takes place on pit road. How is all that going to factor in, alter the Chase potentially this year compared to previous years? Do you have to do anything differently or is it challenging not thinking you have to do something differently?
JEFF GORDON: I think that you still race as hard as you can to get the best finish that you possibly can. I think it depends on as you get into the Chase, I think you have to start the Chase with the same mentality of fast race cars and be smart. You know, I don’t think you can take huge risks at the beginning of the Chase. But if you find yourself in a position to win the championship, then I think you have to start looking at your competitors and who you’re racing, and you might have to address it that way.
But I think if you’re talking about finishes outside the top 10, you’re not going to win it anyway. You’re going to have to be in the top 10 pretty much every weekend, and you’re going to have to win races. There’s a lot of great teams that are in this Chase that are going to step it up, and it’s; if you’re worried about a couple 20th or 25th place finishes, then you might as well count yourself out.
Q. Jeff, you went into the last pit with the read, you came out of it scrapping for third place. What was going through your mind at that point?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I wasn’t real happy I had to start that last restart on the outside. My car all night was not good on the outside, and I to know with 20 laps to go you’re driving away with the lead, I was feeling pretty good about that. I didn’t want to see a caution. I thought it was interesting when I saw a Childress car sitting down this in the grass.
But we dealt with it. We didn’t have the best of pit stops. I didn’t do them any favor. I didn’t get into the box as good as I needed to. We got beat off pit road, plain and simple. And Kevin had the inside preferred lane, and I don’t know, our car just didn’t take off there at the end. Plus Carl was really strong so he got into my inside. Kyle got by me, as well, so I was happy to get back by Kyle and get back to third. I thought it was our race to win. When the caution came out, I knew we were going to have to battle it out to get back up to the front. We just didn’t have it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET – FINISHED 16TH – 10TH SEED IN CHASE FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Joining us up here right now, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who drives the No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. And we’ve got Dale Earnhardt 10th in points, 2,000 is the number that he will start with.
Let’s hear from Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale, you persevered, that car got beat around but you handled some things and you’re in the Chase.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, thanks, man. We had a pretty good year. Tonight didn’t start off too good. We got in a little bit of a crash there. The 33 spun out early, and I think everybody back there behind him was alerted of the accident except for one or two guys, and they come through there and drove a few of us into it. Bent up a bunch of stuff on my car. I could run good for about ten laps until the tires would go away, and then we had too much canvas and it was wearing out the right front tire. We got lucky, got the lucky dog a bunch, and ended up finishing 15th somehow. I felt like I was disappointed we didn’t get to show how good a car we had because I thought we had a good one yesterday in practice, and it’s all over with now. We’ll just go see how we can do in the Chase.
Q. Dale, was there any point there early where you were just kind of sitting there thinking, man, my world is about to crumble if we’re not careful?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, I wouldn’t be worried at all. I had seen race cars run good at short tracks before and I figured we had all night to fix it. I felt like if we were a good enough team, we’d get the job done. Brad had to run his ass off to win the race, to run in the top 5 to make it tough on us. He almost did that, but I felt good. I knew my team could fix the car good enough, and if everything felt the right way for us as far as them cautions and getting them lucky dogs, getting an opportunity to work on the car, we’d be fine.
Q. Dale, just talk about being back in the Chase. I know that this is big for you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I’m proud to be in the Chase. I feel like I’m a good enough driver to be in the Chase, my team is good enough to be there. As a group, I think we’re good enough to be in the top 10, and I can look back over the season and just easily think of several instances where we cost ourselves 10 or 15 points and made this situation difficult this weekend. Had we been more conscious and smarter at certain times we wouldn’t have had to even worry about it this weekend. But we’re a good team, and I’m proud to carry my sponsors and HMS in the Chase and represent them in the Chase, and hopefully we’re going to work real hard, hopefully we do a good job.
Q. You talked yesterday about having more bullets in the gun when the Chase starts. What do you think you have for them over the final ten races?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We’ve got to run a different setup than what we ran tonight in the last six weeks frankly. But we had a pretty good run at it going the first 15 races, and for whatever reason we sort of fell off and forgot some things or over engineered something. But we need to look hard at what we’re doing, what we’ve been doing, sort of a pattern, find something within what we’re trying to maybe harness or hampering our ability to drive the cars as well as I want to drive them.
But Steve (Letarte, crew chief) has told me he’s been kind of conservative, but we’ve been conservative on the motor and a couple other things the last several weeks to make sure we don’t have any problems like engine failure, and there’s some other things on the engineer’s side. We’ll just see. I don’t think that any of that stuff is really going to make us faster, but we’ll go in there with a good attitude.
Q. Dale, do you feel that making the Chase kind of validates the extension you signed, and could you imagine what life would be like if you didn’t make the Chase after being in the top 10 virtually all year?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I mean, I’d have a lot less to do over the next ten weeks. That’s about all, I guess. I’m in the Chase, and I’ve got an opportunity to run for the championship. I’ve got an opportunity to compete and improve my points position and improve the overall payout. I’ve still got a race to run. When you’re not in the Chase, it’s a consolation to finish 13th or whatever your opportunity is, the best you can do, but that’s not all that exciting.
You basically just kind of hold it together the last ten races and don’t do anything stupid and settle some scores. But we’ll just I think it does validate our team. I think it says a lot about our team, and I’ve always felt like this team was good enough to be in the top 10, and I feel like tonight we always gave it away. We got outrun all year long several different times, but we always gave it away a few times, too. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve been able to do all year.
RICHARD CHILDRESS, OWNER OF RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING, KEVIN HARVICK, DRIVER OF THE NO. 29 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET, AND GIL MARTIN, CREW CHIEF – RACE WINNER
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Our winning team in tonight’s 54th Annual Wonderful Pistachios 400 is Kevin Harvick. He drives the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress. He’s joined by Richard Childress and also Gil Martin, crew chief. This is Kevin’s fourth win of the year. He comes in with 2012 points now in the Chase, which points wise is tied with Kyle Busch. He’s seeded second based on the tiebreaker.
But Kevin, talk about your win here tonight and getting that extra bonus win I’m sure was very, very pleasing to you.
KEVIN HARVICK: Absolutely. Everybody did a great job, and the guys on pit road had just a great last pit stop and were able to get us the track position. I struggled on the restarts getting going with the races that we had, so to be in control of that last restart I felt like that was pretty important to get going. Our car was really good all night on the restarts, and that last run there we were actually too tight and Carl was actually a little bit better, and then with about three or four laps to go, I just locked it on the bottom and hoped for the best there, so it all worked out.
THE MODERATOR: Richard, talk about this win tonight.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: It was great. Like Kevin said, the pit crew come alive when we needed them, and the momentum, you start building into the Chase and get those extra points to put us right up there. Last year that was one thing we were short in the Chase was some wins, and now we’re right up there with them. So it’s up to us to keep it up.
I couldn’t be prouder of Gil Martin and his guys, and Kevin. We’ve had a few tough races and that’s what championship teams are built of. When you do have a tough day you’ve got to go back and work on finding out what was wrong and get it fixed, so I couldn’t be prouder of them and proud of this Chevy to win tonight. It was a big win tonight for all of us.
THE MODERATOR: Gil Martin, crew chief. Talk about how this team really has performed very, very well all season. Certainly has got to be a team to contend with for the championship.
GIL MARTIN: It really has. We started off the season really well. We had good consistency, good runs, and we were able to put together good runs all day long. But during the middle of the summer, to be quite frank, we’ve run like crap. We got off our game trying to do some things to just win races because I think after we won the three races and kind of thought we were locked into the Chase, we kind of got off our game some trying some things that probably we shouldn’t have. I think that taught us a valuable lesson through the summer and going into Atlanta we had a huge team meeting on a Sunday after Bristol because we had such a horrendous Bristol race for the whole company, and I think that we had a great meeting and the whole company came together, and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, I think, in the last month.
But to go to Atlanta and run like we did and come in tonight and winning the race on pit road basically, but Kevin did a great job on the track, but it’s been a solid two races for us.
Q. Kevin, what’s more important, being able to match Kyle Busch as far as the points go, or just the momentum that you’re going to take from this win into the Chase?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think last year we felt like, as Richard said earlier, felt like we were a little behind on the win total, so to be even on the bonus points and the win total is a good accomplishment for us. I think the momentum is just as important. Obviously, like Gil said, the Sunday morning meeting wasn’t pretty. Most of the meetings haven’t been pretty the last month or so, but we went back and found a lot of things that we felt like we had done a little bit different. We went back and looked at the races that we felt like we were the fastest at the beginning of the year and we put that stuff in at Atlanta and we ran in the top 5 all day and come here and did the things we traditionally do and had a solid weekend from the time the car unloaded off the lift gate. It’s been stressful the last month, but I think as you see the last two weeks it’s paid off.
Q. You guys seemed to be in this cycle that you couldn’t snap out of and Bristol was so bad all around. What was said that just snapped it that way and sent you back in the right direction?
GIL MARTIN: He’s always smiles at the racetrack. A Sunday morning meeting, it’ll snap you out of a lot of things. You can jump over Godzilla after you have a meeting with him. It was a pretty inspirational meeting for everybody no kidding because I think we went to all of our people and our people stepped up and they started saying, hey, these are some things that we’ve changed. Even though they’re very subtle we’ve changed them. I think all the managers plus all the people in the shop just got together and decided that we had to put everybody’s feelings aside and just do what was best for the company, and that’s what we’ve done. The last couple of weeks I don’t think our company has worked any closer together than I’ve been there for ten years, and for the last two or three weeks, this company has worked closer together with everybody and each individual team than we ever have.
Q. Gil, certainly there’s been a lot of talk about how strategy has played a big role in some of these races with track position being critical, with the tires not falling off. How much more pressure is on your shoulders going into this Chase? How do you approach it? What kind of challenges are out there for you the next ten weeks?
GIL MARTIN: I think a tremendous amount is going to be on us just because of the simple fact of throughout the summer we’ve been able to do some, I would say, off the wall things during the race because the consequences weren’t so bad. But now when you make a decision on pit road, if a caution comes out like it did tonight or if you try to pit early on the field and it goes bad for you, it’s going to be a lot worse because now that you’re in the Chase you can’t afford to have one of those decisions go bad and finish 14th or 20th trying to gamble to win. I think you’re going to see some of the guys in the Chase not be so strung out on trying to make a decision that’s going to just win the race because it’s going to be too much on the line.
RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 39 U.S. ARMY CHEVROLET – FINISHED 8TH – 8TH SEED IN CHASE FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 24 LOWE’S POWER OF PRIDE CHEVROLET – FINISHED 31ST – 6TH SEED IN THE CHASE FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT – FINISHED 7TH = 9TH SEED IN THE CHASE FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS:
THE MODERATOR: We’ve got a host of guys up here: Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart. I think we’ll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Jimmie, are we going to see a raised level of payback let’s say in the Chase after some of these incidents leading up to the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I mean, I think that we’ve seen it from the start of the season, and even last year and in other times. When someone feels wronged, a lot of times people are going to take that opportunity to get even and settle it then and go on with it.
So it seems to be turning that way, absolutely. I can remember an instance at Homestead last year, I can remember stuff, a lot of different places, a lot of things going on. The boys have at it, certain things are in effect.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about your thoughts getting into the Chase, Tony. I know you’ve got to be pleased about how you run tonight and secured that spot.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, really proud. I think I’m probably most proud leaving here of Stewart Haas Racing and the fact that we’ve had six opportunities to be in the Chase and we’ve made it five out of the six opportunities. Proud of our organization, proud of everyone at Hendrick Engines and Chassis and just excited about the year that we’ve had. We’re able to sit up here tonight and say we’ve made this thing. I wouldn’t have predicted it halfway through the year with the way our season was going, but real appreciative our guys have kept their heads up and kept working really hard.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, five time champion, you’re set to try to get that sixth straight championship. Certainly a dynasty that you’ve had already in this sport. Just talk about now your mindset over the next ten weeks.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, excited for it. I think it’s going to be a great Chase for the fans, exciting ones for the drivers this year. I think it’s real difficult to pick a clear favorite. You look at the momentum that each driver really there’s probably seven or eight drivers that have had momentum at some point that are getting warm at the right time.
Q. Ryan Newman, talk about getting into the Chase. You’ve got those bonus points based on that one win and talk about both you and Tony secured another spot in the Chase?
RYAN NEWMAN: I’m proud most of how we rebounded. I suppose we weren’t expected to make it the first year and we did and Tony had a better run of it than we did. To miss it last year and rebound and have a really good team performance this year, really thankful for everything that Tony Gibbs and all the guys have done, pit stops have been much better, communication has been much better, we just really have to shine up everything and sharpen our pencils and make sure we’ve got everything ready to go for the next ten races. As a team and an organization, I feel like we’ve made really big improvements and just really proud to get the U.S. Army have a chance to win the championship. We’ve won a battle, now we have to win the war.
Q. This is for Tony. You’ve had two good race weeks going into the Chase. How do you feel about that momentum wise, and do the teams who are starting without the points, 12 points down, what’s their is that an overcomable deficit for those teams?
TONY STEWART: If you’re a good enough, yeah, you can overcome 12 points. But I think the last two weeks have been awesome for us. Tonight was the best that we’ve run here in a long time. I think we ran 9th here in the spring but it was because we put four tires on at the end. Tonight we were on an even keel with everybody tire wise and ended up with a solid top 10 run. It’s definitely been a good two weeks for us. But we’ve got a lot ten week stretch ahead of us and we’ve got to be better than we’ve been the last 26 weeks. I’m proud of our guys. I mean, our guys have kept their heads up. But it’s going to be a long ten weeks, but every Friday when we show up at the track we start with a clean slate and just do the best we can. So we’ll keep digging.
Q. Kind of along those lines, Tony, you were in a bit of a precarious position coming in tonight. You had to do certain things to make it. A couple guys around you, Dale Earnhardt and Denny (Hamlin) had very eventful nights. You were under the radar and got it done. Speak about that. Secondly, you’re in the Chase now. How competitive do you feel you will be to actually run for the championship?
TONY STEWART: You know, when they had that caution early when Clint (Bowyer) spun, you kind of looked behind us and there wasn’t very many cars left behind us. Everybody about three or four cars behind us kind of got jammed up in that deal. I was glad that we kind of got through that segment of it. We really had an uneventful race. There was a lot of stuff going on, on the racetrack, and we just were kind of able to be clear of it every time and not really even be around it other than the incident with Bowyer.
From that side, it was nice to not have drama and have to overcome something. There were a lot of teams that had to overcome some sort of a problem at certain stages of the race tonight. But as far as where we’re at, I think we’re kind of the underdogs with the 14 car. I feel like Ryan’s guys have done a great job this year and we’re definitely pretty strong right now in my opinion. It’s kind of nice for us I guess to a certain degree to be the underdogs going into it, and we’ve got nowhere else to go but up. It’s the least amount of pressure for us than any other teams out there right now. I feel like the last two weeks it’s kind of shown what this team is capable of and the strength behind it to be in this kind of a clutch situation and get ourselves in here.
But we’ve got ten weeks that we’re up against 11 great organizations and teams, so we’re going to have to rise to the occasion now.
Q. After the race on pit road when you and Kurt (Busch) were both asked to discuss what happened, Kurt said that he thought he’s in your head. You’ve been pretty good –
(Kurt Busch was in the room also and said, “I didn’t say that tonight. Did not.”)
Q. You said, “we’re in his head.” It was on TV. You did a good job of not letting anyone sort of bother you along the lines. Is there an incident or a feud or something that could disrupt your bid this time around?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, competition is competition, and there’s been plenty of rivalries. Maybe it hasn’t been to this level, but racing Jeff, racing Mark, racing Carl, the ’06 deal, Kevin and I had a little rub going and I had some issues that I had to deal with. So I’ve been through a lot of it. The bottom line is we can race out there without running into each other, and that’s where it goes. And unfortunately we have had a history over the years. We spoke a few minutes ago up on the stage, and I certainly hope it’s behind us. I have no intentions to run people over.
The incidents that have happened have been accidental in the past when he was in the 2 car. He knows that, and moving forward, I’m just not going to let people run our race car over. There’s been a lot of contact going on, and that’s why I retaliated tonight. It was a good time to do it. Moving forward, I think we’ve raced together the last two weeks, three weeks and been just fine on the racetrack. We can do it. It can be done. We had eight, nine years before that where everything was fine. It’s possible, and I think it’s in both of our best interests to get it behind us and go forward.
Q. I think you were three of only ten drivers that finished the race without being untouched. Was there a secret to staying out of trouble tonight?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think a lot of it was just situational. Like Tony said, there were times it was close around you. When the 42 I don’t know what triggered all the events but the 42 got turned sideways right in front of me and I had to take a hard right and I was lucky there was no one next to me and I didn’t get hit from behind. It was a pretty uneventful race for me but it was a chaotic race for certain other people at parts on the racetrack at certain times.
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