Jeff Gordon wins at Homestead for second victory of 2012;
Jimmie Johnson finishes 3rd in Sprint Cup Series points
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jeff Gordon won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2012 season finale’ at Homestead-Miami Speedway to lead five Team Chevy drivers in the top 10. It was Gordon’s second victory of the season, and 87th since making his series debut on Nov. 15, 1992.
“I knew we had a great race car going into the race,” said Gordon, driver of the DuPont 20 Years Celebratory Chevrolet. “At times I didn't think we had a winning car, but you know what, we played the strategy perfectly, and we had a really good car. … This is a great way for us to end this season.”
Gordon’s previous best finish at Homestead was third in 2004.
More blog entries from this writer:
• Angel in Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt Sr. (a book of great stories)
• Then Junior Said to Jeff... (the book of great NASCAR stories)
“Congratulations to Jeff Gordon on his first victory at Homestead and the 87th of his career,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “It was a strong finish to the season for Jeff and Hendrick Motorsports, who are such great partners with Chevrolet.”
Jimmie Johnson, who went into the race 20 points behind Brad Keselowski in pursuit of his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver’s championship in seven years, encountered problems on pit road and on the track and finished in 36th-place at Homestead, ending up 43 laps off the pace. Johnson, a five-time series champion, dropped from second to third in the standings, 40 points behind Keselowski and one point behind Clint Bowyer.
“Congratulations to Brad Keselowski and team owner Roger Penske on winning the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship,” said Campbell. “Roger is a long-time racer and champion, and the performance of the No. 2 team this season is certainly worthy of a championship.
“We are proud of Jimmie and the No. 48 Chevrolet team that never gave up this year, and all of our Chevrolet teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. We are looking forward to starting the 2013 season strong at Daytona.”
Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, had been running near the front of the field when he had to return to pit road on lap 212 because of a loose lugnut, losing a lap, and then 13 laps later, a mechanical issue sent the No. 48 to the garage.
“Definitely a disappointing finish to it all,” said Johnson, who led three times for 25 laps. “We were putting the pressure on like we needed to. We had strategy on our side. Really in position to make it interesting there at the end. A couple of little problems; well, one problem then a fatal issue got us at the end.”
Kasey Kahne, in his first season in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, ended up in fourth place in the standings, following a 21st-place showing at Homestead.
Ryan Newman (No. 39 US Army Chevrolet, third), Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, eighth), Kurt Busch (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, ninth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, 10th) also finished in the top-10 for Team Chevy.
Chevrolet earlier clinched the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturers’ Championship for the 10th consecutive season, and 36th time overall.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET – FINISHED 36TH IN RACE; 3RD IN FINAL NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES STANDINGS:
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
KERRY THARP: Five‑time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion joins us, finished third in the points.
Jimmie, certainly disappointing finish to the event here this evening. Maybe take us through what happened.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we were in position and putting the pressure on the No. 2 car (Brad Keselowski) like we needed to. I said at the beginning of the week, 15th isn't a lay‑up, and I certainly had him in position. He made it really interesting here at the end of this thing. It we could have not had the mistake on pitted road and then the gear failure at the end. Didn't really catch exactly what happened but I know there was oil under the back of the car.
So there was oil under the back of the car. I'm not sure if a fitting busted or was hit by debris or line but something back there allowed the car to puke out gear oil. So as I was saying, there was oil all over under the back of the car, so something happened from either a line failure or a fitting was hit by debris or something and it puked all the gear oil out and burned up the gear. So again, disappointing, and we were right there in position and putting pressure on like we needed to.
But I have a lot to be proud of this year and so does this race team, and I can't thank everybody ‑‑I need to thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. Every man and woman there put in countless hours giving me great equipment, the support from Lowe's, my fan base, Chevrolet and my family. We did all we could and came up a little short.
Q. Do you have any idea whether the oil line, or whatever damage occurred, occurred after you had to come back in? Was it something that could have been related to the missing lug nut?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. When I returned to the track, I could smell gear oil, and my experience is you never smell your own, you smell someone else's. But clearly, I was smelling mine. And maybe something coming down pit road like a loose lug nut or some debris on the apron as I was getting on the track could have. But again, that's just speculation. I don't know if a line failed or exactly what went on. But putting a lug nut back on like we had to come down for would not create the problem.
Q. So maybe the mistake on the pit road was irrelevant, maybe your situation was doomed anyway?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I guess if we find out if a line broke, that could be the case.
Q. You came into this thing with people not giving you much of a chance. Would it have been easier to take if you had just never had a chance all day long? Does it hurt worse when you surge and you can almost taste it again?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: In a lot of ways, yes, but ‑‑ I would have hated to come out here and do the trash talking I did to start the week and run 25th all night long. You know, I'm proud of the fact that we went out there and backed up what we said we could do and we put the pressure on. It doesn't take the sting away from losing the championship. It helps in some ways and stings in others, so it balances out, I guess.
Q. If you could just talk, all of this happened within what felt like a five‑minute period. You were leading, Brad had his trouble, you were ahead in the points, and then boom, the lug nut, and then boom, this. If you could just speak to your emotions, because this all went down in a very tight time frame.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes, it all unraveled pretty quick. You know, the pit road thing, I was just kind of dealing with it, the first two or three laps I got on the track and trying to think through what was going on. Chad had some optimism left in his voice. I wasn't sure why or what. Maybe he was just doing a good job of being a cheerleader.
But I ran a handful of laps and then I could smell some oil. And when the gear failed, I mean, there was a lot of shaking in the car. I knew it was big and going to be fatal.
First I thought it was the engine, but it was the gear. It was still running. We came in the pits and I fired up the engine and the engine was running.
Definitely disappointing, but again, I feel that we had the speed; we had 80 percent of the Chase that we needed to have. So it's hard to be real down on myself or real down on where we finished. These championships are special, and it takes an entire 10‑race ‑‑ clean 10 races to win one of these things. We hurt ourselves in Phoenix, and then today didn't help.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I felt so calm and relaxed all day long because I didn't have anything to protect. But it was as much like a normal race for me as ever. And that's something that I enjoyed, it allowed me to stay loose in the car and communicate what I needed and we made the car better.
I didn't see Brad, but I wasn't ‑‑ I didn't have the tingles of a championship feeling. I didn't even know where Brad finished and had to ask Jamie before we went on the air, and at first she said 21st, and about lost my lunch when I heard that. She said, Well, he got to 15th. I said, well, it would have been interesting.
Q. You guys, the crew even after you went to the garage worked until the very end and you wouldn't get out of the car. Kind of go through what's going through your mind at that point and what's that say about the team that they just wanted to get the car back out on the track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's just one of those things that teams do, and certainly the 48 team does, to get back out there and try not to have a DNF. In the event that somebody has a problem or if the 2 did, we could capitalize on it. But our troubles were pretty big, and there weren't many laps left.
It was more about going through the motions and trying from a pride standpoint to get out on the track and run the final lap of the season.
Q. In Brad's earliest introduction to this sport, did you have any run‑ins with him at all, and can you talk about the progress he's made over his three years and just your impression of what he's done this year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I haven't had any run‑ins with him. We were teammates for a handful of years. He was in Jr.'s car, and when you're teammates with someone you get to know someone on a different level and your guard is down and it's much more friendly than meeting somebody out on the racetrack door to door for the first time. We had a good relationship then, and I can't go without saying congratulations to Brad and the entire team. I've known Paul for a lot of years, and through my disappointment, I'm happy for him. I'm happy for Brad, and very good friends with Roger and happy that he was able to come out with the championship.
Q. Assuming career‑wise seven or eight championships is something you want to achieve, how tough is it to finish so close this year and come short?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, to be close is just ‑‑ it sucks to be close and not get it. That's just the way it is. The statement I made about the eight championships is on that big wish list that ‑‑ we all have a wish list. The reality of that isn't something that motivates me, and I'm not focused on it or think about that number. It was really to give everybody an answer because everybody would ask me, What next?
So I thought it would bide me some time to have to come up with some type of answer.
But I'm just disappointed that we came so close. We had 80 percent of the Chase that we wanted to have, a ton of momentum late in the season, and then those final two races bit us.
Q. You said you almost lost your lunch when Jamie (Little) told you Brad had finished what she thought was 21st. How did you feel when you had the lug nut issue, and is there any sort of consolation that even if you didn't have that issue that that gear would have broken anyway?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's hard to say on the gear. We lost the oil, so until I understand why we lost the oil or the gear grease, I don't know. But we were in position to win the race. We were ahead of the 24, and the 24 won the race. We had a great strategy, called me to pit road to top off, and it seemed like we were definitely in the catbird seat.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I was eerily calm for whatever reason. Flat lined. Had the lug nut on, came back out and then we had our other problem.
Q. The same strategy that you were on ended up winning Jeff the race, and just wondered if you were surprised or Chad was surprised that Brad didn't cover your move when you came to pit road to top off.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I was surprised, and they I think were trying for track position and probably a little frustrated with being stuck in the middle of the pack. You know, it's tough to really race hard when you come down here and you have something to protect. I've been through it enough, and I definitely think those guys were feeling it today.
Maybe outside of their game a little bit and going for the fuel mileage perspective, and it gave us an opportunity. It was definitely going to make things interesting. Unfortunately we couldn't execute at the end.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie, thank you so much. You've had a good season, five‑time champion. Thank you for coming in.
RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 39 U.S. ARMY CHEVROLET – FINISHED 3RD IN RACE
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
KERRY THARP: Our third place finisher in today's race here at Homestead Miami Speedway is Ryan Newman. Let's hear from Ryan, third place finish out there today. It's got to be a good way to finish out the 2012 season for the No. 39 Chevrolet.
RYAN NEWMAN: Yeah, just a really great team effort today. We were probably one of the worst cars when it came to the short run and one of the best cars when it came to the long run, and we knew that going into the race.
But just really proud of Matt Borland and all the guys. These last four races have been a lot of fun. They did an awesome job tonight in getting the right strategy and track position. Still really proud to represent the U.S. Army, to get them a top 5 in their last race. At least for a while in NASCAR, I think we did them pretty proud tonight.
Just a good way for us to end the season, and we get to stay home for the week when everybody is in Vegas, which is entirely fine with me because I'll be having fun back home and enjoying time with the family.
Q. Ryan, I just wanted to ask you about Roger Penske. You obviously know him well, just thoughts on his winning the championship and why it maybe took so long.
RYAN NEWMAN: Why it took so long? That's a very good question. I'm proud to have driven for Roger. I know what this championship means to him. Why it took so long is not even close to a fair question. That's asking a guy that's won multiple championships and all the things he's accomplished in racing. It's tough. It doesn't need to be any more difficult than that to answer your question. It's tough.
He deserves this probably as much as anybody else if not more because of what he's done for motor racing in general, NASCAR, his dedication to all forms of race cars is probably more than anybody else in the history of auto racing.
So I know this is probably one of the sweetest moments in his racing career.
KERRY THARP: Clint, Ryan, thank you very much for coming in, and have a great week.