Race Weekend Central

Running Their Mouth: 2011 5-Hour Energy 500

*Best Quote:*

“Man, I am just so excited to be a part of this sport. I mean, I am going to be 40 this year. To have Ella [daughter] here and say hi to Leo [son] at home and my wife Ingrid here, this is just an amazing experience to share this with my family. I haven’t had a chance to do that even when I won at Phoenix, the kids were missing so this is awesome.”- _Jeff Gordon, race winner, on how it felt to have his family present for the victory._

The theme of 2011 for Jeff Gordon should be titled “How Jeff Got His Groove Back.” Such pep and enthusiasm hasn’t been seen in Jeff Gordon in recent years, but the former perennial villain-turned-fan-favorite has had a bit of a career resurgence in 2011. After wins at Phoenix and Pocono, coupled with a strong run at Kansas, it looks like Jeff Gordon just might have punched his wild-card ticket to the Chase for the Cup, with two wins now on the season. However, at the rate Gordon is going, a wild-card berth may not be necessary; he now sits 11th in the standings, just a scant seven points behind Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart to crack the top-10.

*Worst Quote:*

“I’m not really sure to be honest with you. I was running my own race. It was another car I had to pass. Seemed like he [Kevin Harvick] was trying to make it awfully difficult on me. There’s a couple times where I just had to back off and wait, got back to him and tried to pass him again. Maybe [it] kind of shows his character and who he is, how he feels he needs to race on the race track. But, its not my fight. He’s trying to turn it into one.”- _Kyle Busch, third, on what the issue was between he and Kevin Harvick at the start of the race._

Post-race, Kyle Busch again couldn’t resist taking a subtle jab at a Richard Childress Racing’s most tenured driver. With comments and incidents such as these, the “New Kyle Busch” is dying as painful of a death as “New Coke.” To chide Harvick after the race was an absolutely petulant thing to do on Busch’s part. Of course, Kevin Harvick wasn’t totally innocent either, as he seemed to be goading Kyle into a confrontation. But for Kyle to attack Harvick’s character post-race was completely uncalled for. One has to wonder how the RCR/Kyle Busch feud will manifest going into Michigan next week.

*Most Controversial Quote:*

“I want to thank NASCAR for having us shift gears 700 times today. I really appreciate that.”- Tony Stewart, 21st, on losing his transmission.

The word of the day at Pocono was shifting. NASCAR made an optional change to the gear ratio teams had been running at Pocono, allowing them to shift more often. Some drivers didn’t quite get the hang of it, with Marcos Ambrose, Dave Blaney, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, and Stewart all getting bitten with transmission problems of some sort. Stewart, in particular, took out his frustration with NASCAR over the scanner. While some drivers didn’t mind the continuous shifting, drivers like Stewart among others found it to be particularly irksome, costing them potentially good finishes.

*Crew Chief Quote:*

Alan Gustafson has already returned the No. 24 car to victory lane twice in 2011.

“I have to catch my breath! I am really happy for DuPont first of all. They have stuck with us. We have had some terrible runs in their car, so it feels good to win one for them. They have always supported the No. 24 car. I’m real happy for them. Have to thank everybody at HMS for sticking behind us. We’ve had a terrible start to this season and a lot of work coming back. These in the No. 5/No. 24 shop have done an awesome job getting us here. I have to thank Mark Whitten in the chassis shop first and foremost. This is the clip of the week and it won a race so I have to give him a hard time.” – _Alan Gustafson, winning crew chief for Jeff Gordon, on how his day went._

For a crew-chief who had been in a bit of a swoon last year, 2011 has to be sweet vindication for Alan Gustafson. Its hard to say who benefited the most from the crew swap, whether it was Steve Letarte or Gustafson, but right now Gustafson has a couple of things that Letarte, despite how close he has come in recent weeks, does not have; two victories scarcely a third of the way into the 2011 season. Not only that, he has helped Jeff Gordon all but punch his wild-card ticket for the 2011 Chase. Gordon had a top-3 car all day and when the chips were down, Gustafson guided him to the win. The question now; does Gustafson rely on the wild-card to make the Chase? Or does he try to elbow his driver’s way in via points?

*Best Of The Rest:*

“It was a great run. The old boy Jeff Gordon had it in him today. We ran him strong, we ran him hard. I’m real proud of our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge today, our team, our teamwork. We were in a back-up car, so we didn’t know what to expect, but we ran it as hard as we could. I shifted every lap. I overworked it, but it made it through the 500 miles. This Dodge was great for us today.” – _Kurt Busch, runner-up, on his day._

“Today, some guys that were behind me finished in front of me. But I’ve got to go home and look at NASCAR.com and see what the finishes look like. But, I’m really happy to be running well and being up front. Its surely a difference from the last couple of years, so I feel fortunate and feel lucky to be able to compete.” – _Dale Earnhardt Jr., sixth, on how happy he is with the recent string of good finishes._

“A top-10 finish is okay. I guess that is what you want to do on your bad days. We had about a top-10 car really. We didn’t break anything and had decent pit stops and a good strategy and got a decent finish out of it.” – _Matt Kenseth, eighth, on his day._

“As long as there were long green flag runs and I was by myself, I may have gotten bored, but the shifting kept me entertained and it was fun. I enjoyed it — I wish we did that everywhere.” – _Joey Logano, 11th, on how it felt shifting during the race._

“We might have been a little better than 15th, but overall that’s pretty much what our Furniture Row Chevrolet had today. We lost some track position early, but thanks to our pit crew late in the race, we managed to make a pretty good gain. We’re just okay with top-15’s, and really want to those top-10’s and top-5’s. We’ve been a little inconsistent lately and hopefully today’s result will trigger a streak of solid finishes.” – _Regan Smith, 15th._

“We were just coasting there at the beginning and just nothing really went right. We struggled a little bit on pit road. We gave up about ten seconds for the first green flag stop to the 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya) and he short pitted so that made it look even worse. We were just a little bit off on sequence. Those guys would gain a lot while we were out there on older tires. Through the day, our car got a little bit tighter — we were still in contention. I felt like the front bump rubbers just gave up on us a little bit there at the end, possibly. But then when we left pit road and had a flat tire — that is just not your day. When it did that, it sheared the tire and wrapped it around the housing and broke the brakes lines so I had no brakes — it was just a slew of problems there at the end.” – _Denny Hamlin, 19th._

“The car was hard to drive, but it wasn’t too bad I guess. We were able to move it up through the field, but then I got too loose coming off of four and it got away from me and it spun. Unfortunately, NASCAR didn’t throw a caution there and that is what killed us there.” – _Greg Biffle, 27th_

“I had a vibration in third gear for about 25 laps and we tried to save it, but we lost third gear and then trying to leave the pits in fourth gear, we lost the clutch too. It is just a bad day.” – _Marcos Ambrose, 33rd._

“Obviously that’s not how we wanted our day to go. The car was loose, but we were working on trying to get it better when the oil line went. So, obviously we lost a bunch of time in the garage getting that repaired. Its disappointing, of course. But, it was good to be back in a Cup car this weekend and hopefully I’ll be back again soon.” – _Sam Hornish Jr., 35th._

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