Transcript: Jeff Gordon, Kevin Meendering – Press Conference – Richmond

THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and get started. We’re joined by tonight’s race winning crew chief of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Kevin Meendering and Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports. Open it up for questions.

Q. Kevin, first, what does this mean for you on a personal level getting a win as a crew chief?

KEVIN MEENDERING: It’s a big accomplishment, but like I said before, this isn’t about me, this is about this team. They’ve got a great group of guys here. They got a great leader in Cliff, and I was just happy to kind of fill a gap and help those guys out in a tough situation.

But this is a testament to all the hard work from those guys on that team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.

Q. For Jeff, this is Ricky Hendrick’s birthday, and I’m curious, what do you see in Hendrick Motorsports that still today he had an impact on?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think days like today makes you wonder, you know, what Ricky’s presence would do for us if he was here with us today and what his leadership… You know, he was so passionate about Hendrick Motorsports and racing.

So it’s nice, days like today, you know, when you do something special on his birthday. And I was talking to Rick, and he was emotional and excited, and so his presence is still here.

I think that, you know, certainly our folks try to do everything they can to make Rick Hendrick proud. But when you know what Ricky’s impact could have been on our company and the people and the 5 car and that paint scheme and what that means to the whole company, it’s very rewarding to know that we’re still kind of thinking of him and paying tribute to him as often as we can. Maybe he is looking down on us as well.

I do want to say one thing. He is going to shove all the credit to… To me what I love about seeing a guy like Kevin come in and do this is the depth of our people and our company.

We’ve been put under really, really difficult circumstances with all four crew chiefs being out, and just the job that I’ve watched them do, how they’ve communicated, you know.

I mean, we’re lucky we have people that have been crew chiefs that have a lot of experience, but at the same time with this car, with no practice, no qualifying there’s so much that has to be done to tie everything in together. Great job for Kevin for all the hard work that he has put in. He is still doing his other job too in that contribution.

Q. Kevin, with all that was going on in the last 30, 40, 50 laps with cautions and all, how are you dealing with the tire question? Was there any doubt that you would come in almost whenever you could to get new tires?

KEVIN MEENDERING: Actually, that last set of tires we put on was our last set, so we were starting to run out of tires, but the laps were running down.

We kind of planned it out, and we had a strategy going into the race, and it kind of worked out in our favor. With about 20 to go, we put our last set on, and that’s probably late enough in the race where we wouldn’t have to worry about having to put another set on.

So it just kind of fell in our favor.

Q. How dramatic was the fall-off?

KEVIN MEENDERING: You kind of saw with the 19, he didn’t have any stickers left at the at the end, and he dropped pretty quickly. There’s definitely a lot of fall-off especially the first five, 10 laps. It’s pretty considerable.

But we were kind of on the same strategy as the majority of the field, so tire-wise we were in a good spot.

Q. Jeff, this is for you. With Josh finishing second today, he has been in the car the last month or so in place of Chase. What’s the growth you’ve seen out of him when he has been in the 9 car?

JEFF GORDON: I feel like he has done a great job every time he has been in the car. You start to see a bit of a trend with him. Of course, we didn’t do him any favors by him starting 30th today.

We made one adjustment there early that didn’t seem to go the right direction. They got him further behind. So to see them climb up through there and the car come to life, and staying out there paid off and caught the caution.

But Josh, when you look at his lap times, he is a guy that he gets in there, he feels the car out, he doesn’t take too many risks or chances until he knows what he has. Then you just start to see the lap times come and build and the run start to come together.

And every time I’m scanning, I kept hearing by the end of the run, Hey, those lap times are really good. Hey, those lap times are similar to the leaders’.

So he clearly knows how to manage tires and manage a race well. It seems like the longer the race, the better he does. We’re really happy with the job that he has done.

Certainly everybody has known his talent watching him in other forms of racing, late models, and the Xfinity Series. You have to put him in other cars with other teams and other people to really see how far he could take it.

I think he’s got a future in the Cup Series.

Q. That was the question I was going to ask, but Jeff, for you as a driver to driver, what’s the significance of this young man at this point to have that level of success with an organization like Hendrick Motorsports?

JEFF GORDON: Most young guys, they come in and they have to build up their experience and their knowledge and the confidence and everything else, and hope you get the chance to be in quality equipment.

Even when I came in, it was at Hendrick, but it was a whole new team and brand new people. So it took us a while to build that.

To truly measure somebody’s talent, you plug them into an existing top-caliber team, and that’s what’s taken place here. Then you say, Let’s see what you can do. Clearly he has been proving that he has the talent and the ability as well as the work ethic.

That’s what you don’t see behind the scenes. He is a quiet guy, but behind the scenes he is doing all the things that he needs to do to get prepared. And he still is running Xfinity too and trying to win a championship over there.

So, yeah, great job by him.

Q. Jeff, given this week and how the points penalty got rescinded, you get the 10 playoff points back, and you end up winning the race. What are the emotions kind of as a team? You get three cars in the top ten. William led a bunch of laps today. It has to feel good kind of. You have four cars theoretically earning the most points this week because they got 100 back, and they had a really good day.

JEFF GORDON: Well, I’m probably looking at it a little bit different than you are because I don’t know that we should have ever had the points taken away to begin with.

But, yeah, it’s been a good week. It’s been really stressful trying to prep for an appeal and not knowing what the outcome is going to be. We’re certainly happy with what the appeals committee came to that conclusion, but at the same time we feel like we laid out enough information there that it shouldn’t have ever happened, or even the monetary side of it and the crew chief side of it.

We were really hoping we were going to get all of that back. But we’re going to move on from that. Then we come in here obviously with qualifying raining out, that paid off in more ways than one. Good track position and then fast race cars.

I mean, once the green flag dropped, it’s all about those teams execute and doing their job. But certainly quite a few smiles around campus this day. They’ve been down with what happened. So that definitely re-energized our folks this week and coming into this weekend’s race.

Certainly this win will do a lot for us as we move forward and go to Bristol.

Q. For either of you guys or both. Have you heard from Cliff yet? Was he in contact with you throughout the day or, Jeff, with you? Have you heard from him yet?

JEFF GORDON: I’m not seen or heard from Cliff. I don’t know if Kevin has.

KEVIN MEENDERING: I haven’t either. Obviously we’ve been in contact with him throughout the weekend and remotely. So this is a big win for him as well as all of us.

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I guarantee he is jumping up and down and excited.

I was thinking about Cliff, though, during the race when Kyle made the contact with Suarez. I was seeing Cliff throw things wherever he was. Then I could see him jumping up and down, screaming and yelling when the win happened.

Q. You guys, you’ve got three wins for the team and five for the Chevy camp in seven races so far. Are we on the cusp of a historic season for Chevy and for Hendrick?

JEFF GORDON: Well, it’s too early to tell. I mean, certainly we’re off to a great start. Our folks at Chevy are doing an amazing job with not only the design of this car starting last year, but also some of the new things that have been brought to all the OEMs and opportunities that they’ve had. I think Chevy did an excellent job with that as well.

Then the job that the teams do collaborating together, sharing information, and trying to prepare for each and every race. They’ve done an amazing job.

You know, you could have looked a little that race today, and there were times where the Gibbs Toyotas were the best cars on the long run. You had times when I thought the 22 was really, really good, the 4 was good.

So I think there is a lot of parity out there. But right now I just like the way that I’m seeing our teams execute and our teams come prepared and the speed that are in our race cars.

It doesn’t seem like we’re the only Chevy team seeing that, so that’s good.

Q. Jeff, you’re a guy that’s won at Richmond before. We saw you come up to Josh and congratulate him after the race. How have you seen him grow in the races he has done with Hendrick, and what did you guys talk about Richmond at all in preparation for this?

JEFF GORDON: I’ve been pretty tied up this week, I’ll be honest. That’s been with Tom Gray and with Alan Gustafson and that whole team. All I know is them bragging on him a lot about the effort that he is putting in, the things he is focused on. And even watching video from last year when maybe they didn’t even ask him to, and he just kind of took the initiative to do that.

I think every race gets his confidence up. But you go into a new track, different track every time, so it’s, Okay, what’s the car going to be like this weekend? Okay, what’s is it going to be like this weekend?

You threw Atlanta in there on him too, and that’s a pretty unique one.

It’s a much different car than what he is used to racing every weekend, and so there’s a lot of things that you have to adapt completely different to.

I’m not even sure if Saturday is not hurting him for the Sunday races because the cars are so much different. The sidewall, tires, the rear input… Just from me going from an H-pattern transmission to sequential would throw me off.

You know, big brakes. Car doesn’t have a lot of downforce. You can’t put the skew in it. There’s a lot of things that are different about what he is doing.

So I love his approach, and it’s turning into results, which I’m sure it’s turning into confidence for him as he continues to go to each track that he is going to be behind the wheel of the car.

Q. What do you think was the reason you guys were successful with the appeal on Wednesday?

JEFF GORDON: I just think we were very transparent from the beginning of why we believed there was a miscommunication and what happened.

I said this in Atlanta. It should have never even come to that. I don’t want to give too much information because I want to respect the process, but it’s also a little frustrating that nothing gets shared from what determines whether there’s points given back or whether there’s money not given back and crew chief suspensions.

I just feel like there was enough there that it’s not clear-cut. It’s not just a black-and-white situation because there was enough communication to justify why we showed up to the racetrack in Phoenix the way we did.

I think that had it been handled in a situation more like the wheels at Daytona with RFK and Penske, I think that’s the way it should have been handled. It’s I understand it, there’s a reason why you did this, and there’s also a reason why you need to take them off the car.

But it should never to me have elevated up to the level that it did. Clearly, the panel felt very similar to that.

Q. Jeff, you’re shuffling papers now and writing budgets and things and running the show, but how different are the emotions for you with these wins from when you were driving?

JEFF GORDON: It’s much different. I mean, when you are in the car, the adrenaline and working with these guys and seeing what they put into it, you’re a part of the effort that’s on the racetrack, and there’s an emotion that you’ll never be able to compare to.

But I can tell you when we win a championship like we did in ’20 and ’21, to me those are very, very exciting moments for me where I felt like I was driving.

Today it’s exciting, and it’s emotional. But it’s mainly just seeing these guys do their job and do it well and do it at a high level and stepping up when the pressure is on. Whether it’s a pit call or whether it’s a restart or it’s a pit stop, whatever it may be, you just feel pride. You feel pride in the organization because you see how they work throughout the week, over the offseason, and what they’re focused on and then seeing that turn into results.

I know everybody works hard in this garage area and probably deserves to have great results, but when you do did get it, you just feel extremely fortunate to work with such great people and have such great people on the race teams as well as behind the wheel.

Q. There’s been a lot of talk earlier this season about the new Next Gen cars and more vent holes for more breathing into the car for safety. How did you feel any of that had an affect on your strategy for this year’s race versus previous races?

JEFF GORDON: You want to take that one? Not sure I completely understand the question.

Q. There’s a lot of changes with the Next Gen cars, and how did that affect…

JEFF GORDON: For this year you mean?

Q. Yes.

JEFF GORDON: I think it was the 15 car backed into the wall earlier, and you saw the rear of the car collapse. That’s I think what the drivers are asking, right, is to have it absorb more.

We’re still not seeing any real progress when you are at places like COTA or earlier in the year when we were at the Clash with guys just running straight into their bumpers.

So at low impacts I don’t think that there’s been significant progress there, but there’s a lot of discussions happening to fix that, and I’m happy about that.

But if that’s the changes that you are talking about, then I did at least see something good happen there.

Q. What would be the next set of changes you would like to see for you and your team?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I think there’s a lot of technology in head support foam padding and absorption. So they have to do these drop tests where they kind of — the helmet design, inner padding, the headrest itself.

And then I think — and Kevin should be answering it because he knows about structures of cars. He is an engineer.

I just know from a race car driver I’m seeing these guys. They’re taking these small hits, and their head is whiplashing inside the car, and that’s not good.

So I think the rear bumper structure and the front bumper structure is far too stiff still. So I would like to see them find a way to make that a little bit more — it kind of gives a little bit more. I don’t know if it’s in the foam or if it’s in the metal structure because it’s all aluminum structure. That’s very, very stiff.

But today we at least saw some collapse in the chassis, which I think needs — I really think that the fuel cell needs to move further forward. That’s what’s going to probably help.

The Garage 56 car has that, so I think some of the things that we’re seeing on the Garage 56 car, we might be able to see that into the future in our cars that we’re racing as well.