Monday, May 23

Interview with Rudy Fugle and Jeff Gordon -- Martinsville Speedway

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the crew chief of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by William Byron; we have Rudy Fugle. We also have team owner Jeff Gordon here for the race-winning team.

Q. Rudy, can you give me an idea with the shifting we saw today, what was the strategy that NASCAR had in setting those gear ratios and the competition they were trying to create? Why did we have that dynamic today?

RUDY FUGLE: First of all, who won Pensacola?

Q. Bubba got the SRX ride. Actually Thorne won the race and Bubba got the SRX ride.

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, so back to your question about shifting, I think with this car, the ratios are really close together is the thing. I think some would argue that a different gear could have put us in fourth a little longer and might not have shifted as much or every lap.

But I don't know, I think this car has just tended to be that way and the ratios are a little closer between gears, and it's easier to shift to be honest. Everything just happens a little easier, and anytime the driver can find some lap time and affect his handling with it, it's just going to drive that way.

Q. It was a track position race in a lot of ways. Was that part of it or was it just the weather and the tire?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I think it was the weather really. If it was 55, 65, would have laid some rubber down, you would have seen some different things, and definitely would have had some more falloff, and you would have seen the normal clumping and moving up a little bit in the center and just seeing a little maneuverability, but with the rain and it being so cold, just couldn't help it; that's just the kind of race it was, I think.

Q. Jeff, you've been with William as he's won races in the 24 before but obviously this place was so special and so important for your career. Does it mean anything extra to you and the organization to have William get a grandfather clock?

JEFF GORDON: Well, he got two this week. You know, I've been seeing him progress. I think all of us have, and I think when Rudy came on board, his confidence in William, their history, and the confidence that William has in Rudy, I've just seen this team evolving. They've been bringing great race cars. They've been leading laps. Now they've won two races already this year, and I think more are going to come.

When you start to get that momentum on your side and the confidence is building, that's a powerful combination. I think all of us were a little bit skeptical about what kind of season we were going to start off with with this new car. I think a lot of people with the unknowns, but I couldn't be more proud of these guys and having so many differences and changes like the shifting and just the setups and how to race these cars, the brakes, all those things around a place like this, and yet they came here really strong and maintained that track position you talked about.

I'm really excited to see William progressing so fast this season already, but you've been seeing it build for the last couple years.

Q. Jeff, did it feel weird seeing the 24 car win here and you were not driving it?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I've only known what that's like to be inside the car, I've never seen it from the outside. The 24 car has always had a special place in my heart. When I stepped out of the car from the first time when Chase was driving the 24 at Daytona, I was in the TV booth and it pulled out on pit road, and that was kind of strange to me, I'll be honest.

But since then I've gotten used to it and comfortable, and I think William is a great fit for the sponsors, for the team, and certainly he's get being the job done behind the wheel. So that's exciting. That's fun to see the 24 back in Victory Lane anytime.

Q. Rudy, I know you were on the pit box with Bono on Thursday. Did that help you any tonight to translate anything that you may have learned that night over to today?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I think anytime you're involved in a race, especially at the same kind of track and as unique as this place is, you learn and you take those experiences and get a little better. It's a totally different type of race and everything, but you'll take everything you can get, and it was fun.

Q. William has two clocks now; are you going to beg him for one?

RUDY FUGLE: No, he's got to put some in each room. We'll keep stacking some up hopefully and we'll get everybody on the team one hopefully soon.

Q. Jeff, four wins, first eight races. You talked about, hey, they came here and shifting is different and all that, but overall this season to be batting .500 after eight races, is that more than you could have anticipated with a new car?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, definitely. Testing, you're trying to evaluate where you're at as a team, listening to these guys and their debriefs and talking to them over the off-season and through some of the testing last year, everybody had no idea who was going to come out strong. I will say that I thought that William looked very good in this car from the very beginning. He tested this car pretty early on in the process, and I just think his driving skills and the way he approaches things, and he works really hard at it, too, he studies a lot, and they give him a lot of information and he can retain it.

I think that a young guy with that ability to get on the simulator as much as -- right now William is all in. He's doing other races, he's constantly taking in new information from these guys, working with his teammates, learning from them.

As an organization, yeah, I think that it just goes to show the quality of people and the depth that we have and the details that we pay attention to. We did that with the old car, and these guys are continuing to do that with the new car, and working with Chevrolet, I think they've been working really hard with us to provide all the information and technology and a great race car.

Q. Can you just talk about the maturing of William to a guy that you have potential and you've got to make that pay off, you've got to win a race, now it looks like he is lining up to go, okay, this is going to be my first serious run at a championship and somebody that's going to have to be thought of at the end of the year. Can you talk about where he was and where he is right now?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I think last year the playoffs were huge for us, just that experience, and if you look at our average running position probably in the entirety of the playoffs, it was really, really good. That's when I noticed that confidence really, really there and growing.

Then all off-season with the testing, whether it was good or bad, just growing and budding, deciding to run different kinds of cars and racing all the time, and he's just been successful, winning trucks, winning late model races, and it's just trending into something new.

The confidence I've seen in him a long time ago when we were racing trucks and when I first met him after racing K&N, he's really, really confident in himself.

JEFF GORDON: I would just add that leading laps, just mixing it up with the best in the business, and then having a restart, like a green-white-checkered like he had tonight up against Logano who's very aggressive, so is Austin Dillon, and to be able to pull that off, now you believe in yourself that -- in any scenario, if you've got the car and you're in the position that you can get it done and people around you believe that you can get it done.

That's a game changer, right? Sometimes people never get that opportunity. But right now with William, it's happening early in the season, which makes you kind of anxious to see what's next.

Q. How important is it for William just now you guys -- he has multiple wins for the first time in a season, and I think that was something that he wouldn't admit but I feel like that was weighing on him, that he had one win but then it was sporadic after that.

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I think anytime you can add that to your list of your repertoire, your resume, whatever, it helps. I don't think we look at that, we don't talk about it, but sure, it matters to all of us to be able to go out there. We just want to win on a regular basis. You want to have a shot to go win every weekend, and like Jeff said, leading laps and running in the top 5, top 3 consistently is what it takes. That's a huge step.

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I don't know if I can add much more.

Q. Rudy, William came in here yesterday and talked about how at the end of last year is when everything really started as far as like consistency and everything started to kind of come together in that regard, and he used the phrase that the team is "just clicking right now." What have you seen from your guys in that regard, maybe confidence and attitude going into the racetrack every weekend?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, this team has done an amazing job. We have great engineers, great car chief who leads a group of mechanics, and really a huge depth at HMS, period. But the quality of race car that they're putting out and the details, that has bled over to this car because everybody has got the same to start with, so the very minute details make a huge difference.

To be able to trust in each other that all those details are getting met is what makes a big difference in the pace of the car most of the time, and then so we all believe in each other, we get along, we have a good time, and we all want to win just as bad. We're not here just to show up and Cup race; we're here to win.

Q. This maybe didn't look like a typical Martinsville race that we see with a ton of cautions, a ton of wrecks, lead changes. What do you attribute that to? Was it the car? Was it the temperature?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I was surprised. I'll be honest, we were trying to speculate what was going to happen. I was talking to all the crew chiefs and kind of getting their thoughts, and I don't think anybody would have guessed that it would have gone -- especially because it's a new car, right, and they're shifting every lap and it's easy to lock the left front tire up, and there's just a lot of things -- I think we all knew it would be deeper in the braking zone, lap times were faster. There wasn't a lot of falloff.

Typically in that situation you would say, oh, well then people are going to get more desperate to make these banzai moves and then the cautions are going to come, or hey, what do we not know about this car that could kind of bite us today. Didn't see any of that.

I think -- and I think Rudy has already said this, too. Track temperature, when the track is this cold and it doesn't lay rubber, the tires just don't give up. I'd almost say Goodyear has too good of a tire here right now because I think the racers want to see the falloff and be able to see line changes, setup matter over a long run. They're running qualifying laps almost every lap. It just did not fall off near as much as anybody thought it would. That's night racing, and especially a cold night race.

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, most of it was temperature. It was even during practice just a little bit warmer. We saw way more falloff and the tires were gummier. You were going to see a different kind of race. So I think we just got bit by the cold weather.

Also we noticed the cars holding up better, also, so they absorb the hit, the bump-and-run better, you don't hit and spin out. It doesn't seem to happen right now. The good part about not having damage also creates not getting spun out it seems like.

Q. Following up on that, Rudy, on the intermediate tracks it seems like these cars are more wicked to drive. How come on an intermediate does it seem if you start spinning you're toast, but here you can get bumped and save it?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I mean, intermediates it's the speed, the lack of sideforce from what we have, the lack of downforce from what we had and we're up on power from what we had. And then the tire wears out pretty quick. It's pretty soft.

Then we come here and we have similar downforce to what we've had recently. We've got a little bit less power actually from 750 to 670, and the sideforce doesn't matter as much. It ends up being a little bit easier to drive. The tires are wider. You have all those advantages of this car that the tire grip and mechanical grip kind of shows up.

Q. William mentioned his mom in Victory Lane, and this was the place where she had her stroke-like event, and I'm wondering during the time that she was in the hospital, how do you feel William handled it? Were you concerned about any sort of focus? How much do you think that impacted him, if at all, last season?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I mean, it was a traumatic event. It happened during the race here last year. William has got a tight-knit family with his sister and his mom and his dad. Yeah, of course it affects him. He's a professional, and he doesn't really wear a bunch of his emotions on his sleeve, but you know it affects you. We've all gone through different things in our lives, and as much as we want to block it out, it affects us and what we do.

He did an awesome job of trying to -- getting through all that and still being successful and racing, but it's amazing. Just so happy that a year anniversary for that to get a win. It's pretty awesome.

JEFF GORDON: I was going to say, she's here in the back, so a year later it's pretty awesome to come back and have a win.

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