NASCAR Transcript: Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon & Rudy Fugle – Press Conference – 02.19.24

Q. Rick, William said before the season that he had a Chip on his shoulder because he felt they hadn’t gotten the credit they deserved last year. Did you see that and do you want him to have a Chip on his shoulder?

RICK HENDRICK: Absolutely. He won more races than anyone last year, and I think this guy right here helps him with the chip (indicating Rudy). But I like the way he’s approaching this year. He’s done a lot in the short time he’s been in the sport, so winning the Daytona 500 now, that’s something that he’ll always carry with him.

It’s exciting to see and think about the future with he and Rudy together because he’s just done an awesome job everywhere.

Q. Jeff and Rick, it’s often said that this is the Super Bowl of NASCAR and that drivers will give up anything to win this race. In your experience, why is that?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, because of how big this race is. It’s the biggest single event that you’re going to race in stock car racing and in a driver’s career and one of the biggest races in the world.

What today has reminded me of, it’s been a decade since Hendrick Motorsports has won the Daytona 500, and through those years, I think what we’ve gained an appreciation more so than ever is how difficult this race is to win and all the different things that have to line up in order for you to win it, then also how exciting and fun and amazing it is to win it.

To see these guys celebrate, that’s what it’s all about. So when you know those things, and William has been around the sport long enough to see it not go that way, then yeah, you’re hungry for it.

You’re trying to make all the right moves, all the right decisions to put yourself in position. The team, as well. They did all that.

But at the same time, at the end of these races, the way they unfold, especially the speedway races and the way the draft works, you just put your foot on the floor and wait for the checkered flag or the white flag to wave, and whatever comes in between that, that’s your role and your job.

Q. Rudy, William said that was a really long lap and a half. He didn’t know that he won, but you came over the radio and indicated otherwise. How did you know?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, just heard it pretty much behind us from I think it was the MRN on the radio on the loudspeaker is how I heard it first —

Q. You just took their word for it?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, for sure. (Laughter.)

Q. Jimmie Johnson said after the race how William used to trick or treat at his house. Did he trick or treat at your houses, as well?

RICK HENDRICK: I don’t remember him coming to my house, but I do remember when we signed him. Jimmie said he showed up with a pillowcase at trick or treating. It’s pretty special to see him win this.

Tonight he told me, he said, I never thought I’d race here, and now I’ve won the Daytona 500. So pretty special.

It was funny seeing Jimmie out there tonight and not being in one of our cars. That felt really weird.

Q. Rudy, what does it mean to be a Daytona 500 winner coming from Livonia, New York?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, it’s amazing. I’ve got a great family. I grew up in a salvage yard working on cars and that’s all I’ve ever done. Tiny little town. I don’t know that there’s many Daytona 500 champions in western New York, let alone Livonia, Rochester New York.

I’m blessed ed to work with these gentlemen next to me and with William, so I’m just proud and can’t wait to get home some day and show it off.

Q. How does this compare to the three times that you won as a driver? Are there similarities and differences you can point to?

JEFF GORDON: I think Rick will tell you that it’s certainly not the same as being in the driver seat, but we’ve been able to celebrate some big wins and championships together, and I think our excitement and my excitement being on this side of it and seeing these folks, how hard they work, and just seeing our people, how they rally around the teamwork that goes on, it just makes you appreciate it so much more when you know that, that this is a company win, this is a team effort.

I might not have been driving the car tonight, but I felt like I made every lap with our guys, especially with the 24 and with William in those closing laps when he was out front.

To me, when I found out that they had won, I honestly was about as excited as I was when I was driving.

Q. Does the fact that it was the 24 out of all the four cars make it more special for you?

JEFF GORDON: I try not to be biased, but William is making it hard on me. It is 2024, and the 24 is always going to be very, very special to me. But what I loved the most is seeing him make it his number and building that fan base not only — 24 fans have been around for a long time, but his own fans.

A win like this, my gosh, this is going to elevate that up to the next level and bring a whole lot more new fans to the sport and for William. That’s what I get excited and look forward to.

Q. Alex seemed to think that you guys may have put a little bit more effort in terms of race speed in you guys’ four cars as opposed to qualifying speed given that you guys were on the pole for six straight years, whatever it was. Is there anything to that? Can you speak to the preparation that you guys had coming into this week, not just for you guys but for the entire organization?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, we’ve been working really since pretty much I’ve gotten to Hendrick. This is the start of year four. But that’s been the key is how do we race better. Sometimes it take a little while because you only do it six times a year if you count Atlanta but really four times a year.

We’ve been picking at it a little bit here and there, and Talladega at the end of the year last year in the playoffs, there was four Hendrick cars up front at the end. We didn’t get the win at the end, but that’s showing off.

It’s the whole company working toward winning the Daytona 500, and we’d like to get the pole, as well, but the 500 was the No. 1 goal for sure.

Q. Rudy, you were telling us that you guys want to be champions of more than just the championship this year. Daytona 500 champions, Coke 600 champions, big races, big events. Does that come from the gentleman sitting next to you? Is that an internal goal with you and the 24 team?

RUDY FUGLE: I think that’s William and I, and obviously it’s leadership from above, as well. Last year we proved that I think — I think we proved year after year that we’re winners now, but now it’s time to be champions, so Daytona 500 champions, and like I said, the World 600 champions, those big races, we’re setting our eyes on those and winning the championship at the end of the year.

Q. A lot of people watch that race that don’t normally watch NASCAR racing, and they’re going to go that guy was involved in that crash earlier and he ended up winning the race. How do you explain that to people that don’t normally watch NASCAR racing?

JEFF GORDON: There was a lot of things taking place at that moment. You had what was happening up there the first two with Ross and with Keselowski kind of trying to battle to get position for the lead, and everybody behind them is just pushing and shoving, and it was time to go, honestly.

I think you watch this race, and throughout the whole race you go, well, these guys are minding their P’s and Q’s and doing everything the way they should, and that’s because it’s not time to go yet. It’s time to make the strategy play out. It’s time to put yourself in a safe position but also in as good a track position as you possibly can and execute the pit stops.

Then when you get past that final pit stop, then it’s time that you’re just going to make all the best decisions using every amount of information from your spotter and your team that you possibly can and just instinctively — I think to me what I saw was our teams — our guys, our drivers, all the Chevy guys I thought worked well together, but it was great to see Alex pushing William to try to get him to that lead, and that’s exactly what you want those guys to do.

Unfortunately at that time there’s just a lot of movement, and so William is trying to make that move of that one little gap, and when Alex gave him a little nudge, that’s all it took to turn him and make contact with those guys.

To me, that’s just racing. That’s just a product of this type of racing that happens.

Q. Jeff, on Wednesday you said that you really wanted the four current guys to be able to experience a win like this. To see William in Victory Lane, what did you see him doing? Was he soaking it in? What’s the excitement level of a guy like him being able to celebrate a moment as big as this one?

JEFF GORDON: Well, Rick beat me out to the start-finish line. I think the whole team —

RICK HENDRICK: And I’ve got a bad leg. (Laughter.)

JEFF GORDON: I’ve never seen him look so young as the way he was just jumping up and down and excited. I kind of missed that first moment with Rudy and the guys and Rick out there at the start-finish line and William, but when I finally did get to William, just the youthfulness and excitement and exuberance was just off the charts.

It’s funny, it reminds me so much of these moments that I’ve been able to experience, but to see it through him and through the team is so cool to me because I see him like just super excited, and then you’re going through the motions. You’ve got certain things you have to do, interviews and pictures, and then all of a sudden you could just see him go, oh, my gosh, like I just won the Daytona 500, and then the excitement just ramps right back up.

Q. Rick, William’s success last year speaks for itself, and now he’s adding Daytona 500 winner to this resume. As he continues to etch his name in the NASCAR history books, what is it you notice about him, not just his success on the track, that’s making him a star for this sport?

RICK HENDRICK: I think when you look at his work ethic and this guy sitting beside me, they’re a lethal combination. The confidence level between both of them, it’s amazing.

William puts in the work. That’s all he thinks about. He’s in the simulator. He’s watching tapes. He has worked so hard. People don’t realize how much time he puts in.

But bringing Rudy on gave him that confidence because they were so successful in the Truck Series, and man, they just picked up and clicked. And when you think about his age and how smart he is and how he races like a guy that’s been doing it for a long time, doesn’t make many mistakes, but he just eats and drinks and sleeps winning. He puts in the work.

I think Rudy can attest to that. But the guy is — I’ve never seen anyone any more dedicated putting in the work than he does.

Q. Rick, last week you had your personal private flight over to one of the events here and then the rains fall yesterday to push the race to today for your 40th anniversary of the first race of Hendrick Motorsports. Everything seems to be going really right for you today. Can you just comment on how everything came together?

RICK HENDRICK: You know, I guess it’s been a drought winning this race. We’ve led a lot of laps. I just refused to get excited.

I was standing there when it was over wondering did we win it, was it one more lap, did a caution catch us. When we were lined up I thought we had a great shot.

When I think back 40 years and coming down here and feeling like I didn’t belong, seeing Junior Johnson and the Pettys and Wood Brothers, and man, here we were with five full-time people and no sponsor, and finished in the top 10.

But to win this race, I guess since it’s been 10 years — 10 years, Jeff?


RICK HENDRICK: I forgot how thrilling it really is because the disappointment of coming off of 4, leading and getting crashed, it’s hard to put into words how I feel about NASCAR the sport and being able to participate in it, and now tying, I guess, the all-time record for wins here in the 500, I think it’s going to sink in next week a little bit more, but yeah, the flyover was pretty cool the other night.

But I’m in awe of how hard it is to win this race. I’m just so happy for William and Rudy and the organization and to see Alex finish second. That was great.

THE MODERATOR: A big thank you to all three of you for joining us.