Atlanta: Pole winner's interview

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS: QUALIFIED 1ST NOTE: This marked Gordon's 64th career pole in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and his second Coors Light pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway. ON HIS RUN: "This is my first Coors Light pole is how...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS: QUALIFIED 1ST

NOTE: This marked Gordon's 64th career pole in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and his second Coors Light pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

ON HIS RUN: "This is my first Coors Light pole is how I'm looking at it (laughs). You know what? This is a tough place to sit on the pole. I'm extremely excited about this. This is a very fast race track and it's tough to get around here quick. Today we got out there and practiced and I thought something was wrong with the car. It was that out of control. And we were pretty far down on the time sheet. And so to work with (crew chief) Steve Letarte and the team the way we did, we just kept making progress throughout practice and to go out there and put down that kind of lap feels great. I'm impressed with this team. I feel like we really owe the No. 5 (Casey Mears) and the No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) teams a lot of credit because they were here back in late last year (for the test). They got the data and information and it really allowed us, because we didn't test, to be able to come here and be able to work through a lot of the challenges that this car and this tire have at this track. I'm pretty excited about the fact that we're on the pole today."

YOU BOUNCED BACK PRETTY GOOD FROM LAST SUNDAY'S CRASH AT LAS VEGAS. TALK ABOUT PUTTING THAT BEHIND YOU AND MOVING FORWARD

"That pretty much went away right away because we were at Phoenix testing for two days. Sometimes testing can be as grueling as a race weekend. I was just very thankful of the fact that I was able to (one) walk away from that; and (two) go to Phoenix and test for two days. I was sore. But none of the soreness affected me in the race car. Weird stuff, like my stomach and my elbow was banged up and some things like that, but on the race track I was able to put that out of the way. To be able to come here and get the weekend started off right like this definitely puts a smile on our faces and hopefully can build that momentum back that was lost from last week. So we're looking forward to that. It's time for us to get ourselves where we need to be up in the points. We've been running so good and we just need to follow that up and make sure those runs turn into good finishes, which at the end of the day will turn into points."

DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD OF A HIT IT WAS? TALK ABOUT THE NEW TIRES AND IF THAT MIGHT CHANGE THE WAY YOU APPROACH THE TRACK

"They do things a little bit different now in the type of information they put out or go over with you. They used to just have a G-load, or a maximum G-load. Now they look at it over time because the more spread out it is (the better). You could take a higher load if it's spread out. I think they said it was a 50, which is still really, really high. But they liked the fact that it was spread out and I liked the fact that it was spread out. Obviously the angle that I hit the wall was a bad angle, but the fact that the car spun and kept moving was dissipating the energy, which was good. It was the hardest I've ever hit in that direction. And I go through it and think about what happened during the wreck and between the seat belt and the Hans; a lot of wrecks it's about the head support, the padding, the seat and how it's bolted in the car and the crush zones around the car. But in this situation, it was the way you hit and it's all in the seat belts and the Hans device. They did their job and I'm very thankful for that.

"The tires here? I didn't test here. According to the guys that did test, they said it's quite a bit different than the tire they tested because those tires were wearing too much. So Goodyear came back with a different package here. It's not the best. I think that it's going to be a tire that probably stays on the cars. We're not going to have the wear issues that we had, but we're going to be equally as challenged just trying to keep the car going in a straight line. I went out there today and I felt like I had 25 or 30 laps on the tires on brand new sticker tires. It cooled down this evening and had pretty good grip, but still you saw all the cars were out of control. So I just don't think right now we're matched great for qualifying this car, this tire, at this track. I'm hoping tomorrow when we get into race runs that this tire will really pay off in that comfort and that drivability will start coming back to us a little bit."

DOES IT SPEAK TO THE STANDARD THAT YOU SET LAST YEAR THAT PEOPLE ARE ALREADY ASKING WHAT'S WRONG WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? WHAT DID YOU SAY WHEN YOU GOT OUT OF THE CAR, THIS THING IS EVIL?

"Today? Yeah, it is (laughs). It's just a handful; I mean a real handful. I've been really impressed with this car at Daytona and California, and Vegas. It's been impressive to me of how good and comfortable and how good our teams have been. But I've got to tell you that there's not a single comment you're going to get like that this weekend. It's just that this car and this tire; this is a tough race track, and it's not matching up too well right now. We are all going to have our hands full. I think all of us are really struggling with that.

"Oh, whatever. We don't pay attention to that (what's wrong with Hendrick Motorsports?). We know what we are capable of doing and we're three races in. I think it's kind of silly to even think about that. When there is a lot of hype and expectations, those things happen. And other than the Roush cars outrunning us, I feel like we've been the best car. The 99 and the 17 last week and the 16; those guys have been really strong. Other than them, I feel like we've been the best. And so I'm not really concerned with that. I think if we keep running the way we're running and if we can get to the finish line, we're going to get our share of wins."

DO YOU SEE ANY HAZARDS ON THIS TRACK THAT CONCERN YOU LIKE THE HOLE YOU HIT AT LAS VEGAS?

"Any place that there is not a soft wall concerns me. I think one thing we've learned is that if there are race cars going close to 200 mph on a race track, anything is possible. So, I'll be honest. I haven't looked in depth, but I know there are some areas where there aren't a soft wall here, but I can't say that there are as many things that stand out to me as like that particular wall at Las Vegas. And I will say this that between Bruton (Smith) and Chris Powell there at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I've been really impressed with the way they've handled it. They called right away checking on me and telling me what their plans were and everything they want to do going forward and I'm impressed with that. It's unfortunate that what happened, happened. It's unfortunate we weren't ahead of what happened and could anticipate that. You just can't always do that. But it's how you handle it from this day forward at not just his tracks, but at all the tracks. So I hope that everybody takes notice of that and that we can make progress from this point on."

AS A NEW FATHER, DOES A HARD HIT LIKE THAT PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE?

"She (Ingrid) was pretty upset about that. I think her reaction, which then I reacted to as well. I'm a race car driver until I walk into the bus after the race and see Ingrid and (daughter) Ella and you switch over to father and you see the look on her face and you get the big hug and squeeze and the reaction. Then it sinks in that it does affect you and it affects them. Ingrid has always known that I'm committed to what I'm doing here. As a race car driver all I can do it push as hard as I can to try to win races and be competitive until the day I decide not to do it or I can't do it. That's always going to be my mindset. And while its certainly brought family much closer to me and the thought of it and all that more so than ever, it also made me more thankful of how safe my race cars are and the fact that I was able to walk away from that in one of the nastiest wrecks I've ever had. So yeah, it definitely weighs on your mind. But at the same time, I guess I'm a positive thinker. I've always tried to think of the positives. It's not going to change how I'm going to race. Tonight showed that. I think its just part of my nature. I get in the race car and I put the helmet on and I flip the switch and all other things pretty much go out of my mind (laughs)."

GREG BIFFLE SAID TODAY THAT YOUR WRECK SHOULD BE IN ITS OWN CONTEXT AS MUCH OF A WAKE UP CALL AS DALE EARNHARDT'S WAS. AFTER EARNHARDT'S WRECK AND WE LOST HIM, A LOT OF SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS WERE MADE, WHICH ENABLED YOU TO WALK AWAY. IS IT TIME FOR A SECOND WAVE OF THE SAFETY REVOLUTION?

"That's kind of what I was saying. I think every track should have soft walls or safer barriers on all outside and inside walls. That's just my opinion. If there is any possible way for you to get to the wall, then we should be looking at that. That was a nasty wreck and it's gotten a lot of attention. I only hope that something positive can come out of that. I already know from Bruton's side that it's going to come. I've got that word and I believe him. I just hope that it also transfers over to all the tracks out there. We saw it at Kentucky a few years back. That was nasty. And unfortunately more than one incident happened there. But I believe they fixed it now. And so this is an incident that happened at Las Vegas and sometimes they are isolated. It's important for the safety vehicles to get out on the track. We've got to have those openings. I saw on ESPN the other day Rusty describing that they have it at Iowa and I think if they can incorporate that into their facility at every track, it's the best way to go about it. Not everybody has the ability to go about it that way. But I certainly hope that this is a light bulb going of that we need to look at this. I hope that Monday morning, every race track was thinking about what do we have that could be like that, that we need to work on and fix. And we're going to find out. We're going to see what tracks react and which ones don't. And I'm going to come down hard on the ones that don't, I'll tell you that."

GREG BIFFLE SAID IT'S NOT JUST THE TRACK AND THE SANCTIONING BODY, BUT ITS ALSO THE DRIVER. WOULD YOU HAVE GONE TO THEM IN ADVANCE AND SAID HEY I SEE THIS AND IT'S NOT RIGHT?

"I'll just tell you my frame of mind with the Vegas incident. Clint Bowyer wrecked on Saturday and as he hit the outside wall and slid and he just barely got the same part of the wall that I hit. But he was going pretty slow and just touched it. At that time, I said why is that wall like that? It shouldn't be like that. And while I wouldn't have just run out to NASCAR and said hey, what are you going to do about that? Because there is nothing you could do about it for that weekend. I was probably going to say something to them this weekend and just bring it up. Now I don't know where that would have gone, but that would have been my usual normal way of doing things. And it may have been two weeks, I don't know. But I would have said something eventually. Now that this has happened, obviously it's gotten it out there a little more mainstream. To me, we don't have the ability to walk and drive slowly around every race track. We do put a lot of faith in the safety from the race tracks, from the NASCAR side of it of them watching and looking for those things. We do heavily look into what we do inside our race cars and with our race cars and I feel like it's a team effort. I really do. Maybe the ball got dropped there at Las Vegas. Whatever. There is no reason looking back on it; let's look forward. And let's just hope that the ball doesn't get dropped anywhere else. It takes time to rectify those things. So we're going to give it a certain period of time and see what happens. I do wish I could go around every race track and go around it and maybe I should. But I haven't in the past."

ON THE CAR BEING EVIL AND THE HANDLING OF THE CAR, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO SEE ON SUNDAY?

"I can't answer that until I get out there tomorrow and make longer runs. But I can tell you that if it's that much of a handful on brand new tires, it's going to be a real handful on Sunday. Or, it might be that the pace drops down enough that maybe the control and comfort maybe comes back to us. I don't know until I get out there."

DO YOU THINK BECAUSE YOU WERE IN THIS ACCIDENT AS OPPOSED TO ANOTHER DRIVER, PEOPLE ARE LOOKING AT THIS MORE SERIOUSLY? WHEN YOU SAY SOMETHING, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO LISTEN BUT THEY MIGHT NOT LISTEN TO A DRIVER WHO IS NOT JEFF GORDON

"Well you never hope that's the situation. You hope a bad accident is a bad accident and that it gets looked at seriously no matter who is driving the car or what happens. But I will say that if it takes me going through that and stepping up and saying something to get it fixed, then I'm just going to play my part. I can't control how anybody else handles it. But if a bigger name driver gets more attention through something like this, then let's take advantage of it. I don't look at it that way. I don't focus on it that way. I think we all wonder and question those things across the board all the time, but who knows? I put faith in our sanctioning body and our race tracks that they do the best they possibly can. Sometimes things get overlooked. It happens for us too. When it comes to speed and safety and different things as we're dealing with our race car, sometimes we overlook things. So I've internally just been looking inside my race car of things that I can do; looking at every bruise that I have and every bit of pain that I have, I go okay, how can I work on this? How can I work on that? I just hope that's the same thing happening with the race tracks. And it goes all the way to Nebraska and those folks too, which have been great in creating the Safer barrier. So I don't know the answer to your question but we'll see what happens."

YOU'VE GOT SOME GUYS DOWN THERE THAT OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS ARE REALLY GOING TO BE BATTLING TO GET IN THE TOP 35. SOME OF THEM ARE FORMER INDY 500 WINNERS. TALK ABOUT ATLANTA AND BRISTOL AND THE DIFFICULTY OF STAYING ALIVE IN THE TOP 35. WHAT ABOUT THAT STRUGGLE?

"Bruce, I'm just trying to keep myself inside the top 35 right now, man (laughs). Yeah, you know there are some interesting little things going around the garage area right now about who is in the top 35 and who is trying to protect and help other people stay in the top 35. You know what? This business has turned into just that. It's big business. And these sponsors pay a lot of money and you can't afford to lose them. And we've seen that's the thing that keeps the team afloat. And being in the top 35 and being in the race every week and not having to qualify in, what risk are you willing to take to do that? And that's what we're going to find out. Some guys are going to play it cool and smart and hope that that gets them in. Other guys are going to take big risks and hope that gets them in. So it's an interesting story to watch, just like it's interesting to watch qualifying when those guys are all qualifying at the back."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Casey Mears , Clint Bowyer
Teams Hendrick Motorsports