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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Running Their Mouth: 2009 Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix

Welcome to Running Their Mouth! Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all of our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members, and car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what they all were thinking following Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway:

Best Quote:

“Are you kidding me? Pinch me man, pinch me.” – race winner Jeff Gordon

While all the talk of Friday and Saturday was whether or not Kyle Busch would sweep the weekend festivities at Phoenix after the out-right spanking he put on the Truck and Nationwide Series, it was Jeff Gordon that emerged the victor at the end of the day, breaking a nearly two-year winless streak in dominating fashion. After eight second-place finishes, fans knew Gordon was knocking on the door for that 83rd career Cup win. He very clearly had the car to beat on this afternoon, even after being caught up in Carl Edwards’ early-race problems. Gordon has just served notice to the rest of the Sprint Cup Series, in particular to Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson, that he is back, and just might have something to say about Jimmie’s quest for six championships in a row.

Worst Quote:

“The [No.] 17 [Matt Kenseth] ran us into the wall, door slammed us into the corner coming out of turn two, just 67 laps into a very, very long race. I felt like it was unnecessary and I’m sure it will come back to him.” – Brian Vickers, finished 30th

While one can understand the frustration and anger in Vickers after crashing while running in the top three, replays clearly showed that Vickers had become loose before his contact with Matt Kenseth. Was the racing early on a bit hectic? Yes, it was. But Vickers had no one to blame but himself for the incident with Kenseth. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that for two weeks in a row, Vickers had ended Sunday with totaled race cars. But the accident was more a product of unnecessarily hard racing in the early laps on the part of several drivers, and not so much a product of anything Kenseth intentionally did.

Funniest Quote:

“They were driving like it was the last lap! Man, if we keep this up we’ll only about four cars to end all these races. I have no idea what happened. Everybody was checked-up all over the place and running into the back of us and we got crashed. But it’s just stupid. To be racing this hard this early in a race; we’re all smarter than this.” – Clint Bowyer, finished 27th

Okay, this wasn’t really intended to be a funny quote, but Bowyer’s exasperation over the situation did put some humor on a bit of a frustrating situation. It was clear in the early stages of the race that with the different strategies each team were relying on, there seemed to be much bolder and riskier racing than anticipated. Unfortunately, for Bowyer, now for two weeks in a row, he was caught up in a frustrating multi-car pile-up. Now, he’s in a pretty sizable early season hole. Surely Bowyer will manage to overcome this, but two torn-up cars in two consecutive weeks can not be good for the psyche of his No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper crew.

Hard-Luck Quote:

“I’m not exactly sure what happened. I’ll have to talk to Kyle [Busch] about it. I thought at first he was just frustrated and he turned left to get back in line and he didn’t know I was there, but I watched the tape and I think he really did get loose. He hit me hard and I was left with nothing. I got rammed to the infield. If I would have turned right, I don’t think I could have made the corner to clear that curb, so that’s just the way it is. That is the fastest car at the race track. It’s just a shame it’s on jack stands. We’ll get it put back together, though, and we’ll get all the points we can. We can win this championship. I’ve never had a run like this where our cars are this fast. We’ve just got to keep digging.” – Carl Edwards, finished 28th

Talk about going from the highest-of-highs to the lowest-of-lows, all in the span of a few days. After setting a track record in qualifying, Edwards got caught up in an incident that took his car out of contention, through no fault of his own. While it’s still hard to tell, judging by replays, whether Kyle intentionally rammed Edwards or whether it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the destruction of a pole-winning race car a mere 59 laps in was still a bit of a morale-blow to Edwards’ team. On the bright side, Edwards managed to accumulate what he could, limping through the rest of the race and finishing 28th. Even this early on, those points could really pay off come Chase-time.

Crew-Chief Quote Of The Week:

“Whew, I’m speechless! That was a tough day, man. The guys on this Drive to End Hunger Chevy did an unbelievable job getting wrecked early and all kinds of problems. We lost the gauges half-way through the race and Jeff [Gordon] just drove the wheels off it. Kyle [Busch] got in front of us and Jeff ran him down, man. That was Jeff Gordon right there. So we’ve got to thank Drive to End Hunger, AARP, DuPont, Pepsi, Chevrolet of course; the best cars in the world man. What an awesome day!” – Alan Gustafson, No. 24 DuPont Crew Chief, after winning the race

As much credit as Gordon deserves for breaking his 66-race winless streak, new crew chief Alan Gustafson has, thus far, made Rick Hendrick’s decision to swap crews for three of his four teams look like a stroke of genius. As many lumps as Gustafson had to take last year in a hard-luck campaign with Mark Martin, this win with Jeff Gordon definitely has to be some form of vindication for him. If this race is any indicator for the rest of 2011, Gustafson and Gordon just might be the team that topples King Jimmie and Chad Knaus from their half-decade of dominance.

Controversial Quote Of The Week:

“To be honest with you, I didn’t know there was an incident. I was surprised when I got out of the car and everybody said he was mad at me. I’m not sure for what. Maybe I’ll watch the replay and see something different, but from where I was he kind of held me close to the middle of the corner on the restart, which you should, and I came off the corner and I never even felt us touch. I know I left plenty of room to the wall and I looked in my mirror and saw everybody crashing. I really don’t have any idea. Maybe I’ll watch it and see something else, but I really don’t know what he’s talking about.” – Matt Kenseth, finished 12th

These remarks definitely will cause some controversy, because Vickers is adamant that Kenseth intentionally wrecked him. Kenseth, for his part, maintains that he did nothing wrong. While the incident wasn’t so much the fault of Kenseth as it was a by-product of racing too hard, too soon, Kenseth’s attitude of complete and total denial is likely to draw some ire. It will be interesting to see if, in the weeks to come, this manifests into something larger between he and Vickers.

Best Of The Rest:

“Oh, my gosh. I’m such a huge fan of Cale’s. And one of the first conversations I ever had with anybody when they came to the Cup series was Cale Yarborough. He wanted me to drive his car and I actually tested his car. A lot of people don’t realize way, way, way back. He’s just an amazing race car driver. I’ll be honest. I didn’t know if we were ever going to get past 82 [wins]. The way things have been going the past couple of years you lose a little bit of that spark and you wonder what it’s going to take to get to victory lane. But I can tell you after today that it takes a team like this and a race car like that and we’re having a blast man. I cannot wait. We qualified 20th and I thought we were in trouble. But boy after today, I am really excited about this season. We are going to enjoy the season and savor this one because of anybody out there, we’ve won a lot of races over the years but it’s been a while and when you go through that kind of a run without winning, it makes you appreciate it that much more.” – Jeff Gordon, race winner, on tying Cale Yarborough’s NASCAR Sprint Cup all-time wins record

“He was mad, for sure, and he was frustrated, definitely. You can see that entirely out there the whole rest of the race — any time I got within five car lengths of his rear bumper he would start checking up early, getting into the corners and slowing down and getting more space between me and the other guys. Finally after about 20 laps of that, he let me go. It was weird. He just — he was playing. You know, it didn’t cost me anything at the end of the day so, it didn’t hurt anything on our side, you know, but again, from what happened with us yesterday and how we raced each other, I thought that was great. And I made a mistake today. I’ve admitted that, time over again and again. Hopefully we can get past this and go on. I know it’s early in the year and all that stuff, but it doesn’t matter even if was late in the year. It was just a mistake on my part.” – Kyle Busch, finished second

“I was nine spots behind him. That is about how close we are. (LAUGHS) I don’t really know, you know. We need to keep doing this. We need to do this a little bit better, we have to keep making up big ground. We have to keep this up. I haven’t run good here for awhile, I really haven’t. So I was pretty happy with the way the car worked. The car can always better. We ran a little bit different than the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) so we will look at what he did and talk to him all week and see what’s up. We really studied hard trying to do good and we had a result. We will try again next week.” – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., finished 10th

“No, no, no, no, no. The No. 18 – that wasn’t intentional. He was just really really loose before all that happened. The back of the car was around and he was trying to get it saved up. To me, I don’t think it was anything intentional at all.” – Jeff Burton, finished 26th

“I have no idea. Like I said, we’re all smarter than this. We’re all better race car drivers than this. We’re driving like idiots. Everybody is taking two tires, four tires; everybody is on complete different agendas right there and we never could get going. It’s just stupid.” – Clint Bowyer, finished 27th

“Yeah, it’s just typical. Normally you get those long runs and it gets calmed down. But when you get different pit strategies and guys on different sets of tires or two tires or four tires or no tires, there’s a big discrepancy in speed. The restarts are when you get all your passing done. But that was just one of those deals where the No. 56 (Martin Truex, Jr.) and the No. 83 got together and cut the No. 83’s tire down and they were in the first four or five cars and it’s just a big wreck. But I don’t know that it was people being over-aggressive. You had guys on new tires, some of them two, some of them four. Normally at Phoenix we get long runs and it kind of settles in. With the way the cautions the way they fell, everybody was on different strategies. There were guys at the front that weren’t quite as quick as guys at the rear. When I saw the replay of the wreck, it just looked like the No. 56 [Truex] and the No. 83 [Vickers] touched and cut the No. 83’s tire down and that isn’t really anyone’s fault. Just kind of one of those deals. There is nothing you can do about. It is so early you didn’t even really break a sweat. It is frustrating but there is not a lot you can do about it. We are going to try and get our car fixed and get back out there. The only fortunate part is that there are a lot of really good cars sitting in here [garage] and so when you view the points you got guys in here you will be racing for the Chase.” – Jamie McMurray, finished 35th

“I don’t know what happened. We were battling with the No. 13 car a little bit and I don’t know if it was the No. 38 car behind us or who, but something happened. Either I came up or he poked his nose in there at the last second on the top of us getting into one. After that, there was nothing we could do. I tried to stay in the gas and keep it turning, but it just backed into the wall. That’s tough coming off of our high at Daytona to come to this, but we’ve got a great race team behind us. We’ll be back at Vegas. I hate it ended this way this weekend, but we’ll be back.” – Trevor Bayne, finished 40th