THE MODERATOR: We have two of our Chase drivers joining us now at the podium. Our defending champion is Tony Stewart. He’ll come into the 2012 Chase seated third. And Jeff Gordon races his way into the Chase. Congratulations, Jeff.
Let’s hear from you, Tony. Third seed, you have three wins on the year, defending your championship. Your thoughts.
TONY STEWART: Definitely after last year, you realize next week is kind of the start of the second part of the season for us. Excited to get that going. Had a strong night tonight. Just didn’t have enough to finish it off at the end.
Man, it was a heck of a race and really fun watching Jeff and Mark there at the end. It would have been nice to be up in the middle of it with them. Man, what a race to watch at the end.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff Gordon, congratulations getting into this Chase. Your thoughts now that you will be competing for a championship.
JEFF GORDON: Went from last week to being the most disappointed I’ve ever been to finish second to the most excited I’ve ever been to finish second.
Wow, what a race for us. We just flat out missed the setup at the beginning. Luckily Alan and the engineers got together and found the tools that we could utilize to make the car better. The biggest thing is that rear bar, we just had to get rid of it. We did that. We cut the chain. Our car really started coming to us right then. We finally got some drive-off.
You can look at this race. All the things that have gone for us this year, everything went right for us tonight. We had some guys stay out there on tires on basically that last caution that really cost them good finishing positions. We came in and got tires at that time. We were able to drive up through there. Had a good racecar.
Alan called a great timing for that last pit stop because Tony was ahead of us. We short-pitted it, and it worked us getting out ahead of Tony and run Mark down at the end.
It was amazing. I still can’t believe we actually did it. I know how proud Rick is to have all four teams into this Chase. That was a big goal of ours. Pretty amazing to know we accomplished that.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take a couple questions.
Q. Tony, you set the standard for the new way to get through the Chase last year where you kind of ran the table. Even you were surprised you got in. Now it seems like anybody can come in from behind and win. What do you think your chances are to defend this year and who do you think your biggest challengers are?
TONY STEWART: I think you kind of answered your own question a little bit to a certain degree. I mean, everybody is a factor, obviously.
I obviously couldn’t predict it last year. I wasn’t good enough to predict it then. I’m not sure I’m going to be any better at predicting it now.
It just showed all 12 of them are capable of doing it now. You look at the run that Jeff had tonight, raced his way in. That’s the kind of drive you have to have to win a championship.
All 12 guys have a shot, and a good shot I think.
Q. Did you have anybody on your team calculating right down to the position where you needed to be?
JEFF GORDON: I’m sure there was. We discussed prior to the race that we weren’t going to talk about it till that final run. Even in that final run, they just kept saying, Go get that next one, all right, go get that next one. We were going through a bunch of cars there because there were guys on old tires. We were passing cars.
I didn’t know what position we were in. I didn’t know what was going on. I knew that it looked like some guys were staying out because of how slow they were running. Alan got pretty animated when he said, You got to get the 55, you have to get the 55, and there was 10 to go.
I kind of had an idea that that would get us in, but he didn’t ever say it.
I’m assuming, yes, they were calculating it some way, somehow.
Q. Jeff, you seemed to be smiling and at ease during the rain delay. Were you confident this could happen? Was it Alan at the end that said (indiscernible)?
JEFF GORDON: You weren’t standing at the car when I got out of the car obviously because I was not very smiling and happy at that rain delay, the one red flag. I was pretty ticked off that we got that far behind.
I’ll be honest. I don’t know about Tony, but for me as a racecar driver, when you have that kind of start to the race, you don’t have a lot of hope you’re going to get it turned around.
I went to Alan. He never wavered. He was confident. They were looking at the data from what we had, to our teammates, even Tony. We had just done the rear bar. They were pretty confident that was going to get us close to our teammates. He was right. I still had a little doubt in him, though.
I felt like I won the race tonight. When that was over, they told me I was in the Chase, we made it, I mean, I was ecstatic. I was going nuts. To me, after you have that kind of effort, fall back, then come up there and finish second, almost win the race, make it in by one point, man, I don’t see any reason why we can’t go over these next 10 races and be a real threat for the championship.
Q. Tony, having just said how wide open the championship is, can you speak to how big it was that you were able to have the race you did tonight and get the 10th place so you do have the bonus points? That could turn out to be very big at the end.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, especially knowing that it came down to one point at the end of the year last year. Those nine points are huge right now.
Nine points doesn’t sound like a lot, three points doesn’t, but when it came down to it, one point was the biggest you’ve ever seen in your life.
It was a big deal for us tonight to make sure we stayed in the top 10 and make sure we got those bonus points and didn’t lose them.
THE MODERATOR: Tony and Jeff, congratulations. Thank you.