Tuesday, Aug. 31, 1999. Advance material for Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Chevrolet notes and quotes. JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) "I thought we started thinking about points at Daytona. It's so ...
Tuesday, Aug. 31, 1999. Advance material for Pepsi Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Chevrolet notes and quotes.
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo)
"I thought we started thinking about points at Daytona. It's so competitive these days. There isn't a time anymore when you stop thinking about it. Look at a guy like Dale Jarrett or look at the type of season we had last year. It is possible to go out and run good every week and finish all the races and win a lot of races. These days, you start thinking about it right away, but for some reason it seems like Darlington kind of is the finish line type of situation. After Darlington, I don't know how many races are left after that (10 in '99), but you kind of start to get to that point where you say, 'all right, this is where the championship is going to be won or lost.'
"I guess I am racing for wins. We're really more just trying to get on track at where we should have been at the beginning of the season. It's more important to us right now to get back in that rhythm and that mode we wish we could have been in at the beginning of the year, the same way we were last year at the end of the season. Our main focus is not how do we catch Dale Jarrett right now. I think the championship is up to him right now. It's how well they react if they have a problem. It's how well they live up to the pressure of being at the top. Right now, I'd say they're doing a pretty awesome job. I don't think anybody can catch 'em as long as they keep doing what they're doing. Our job is just to try to get as high up the points as we can.
"I would certainly focus on those DNFs and say what a shame, but right now, I've only won five races. That's just the way it is. You deal with what's happened and where you're at. I'm not disappointed with this season at all. It's been a good year for us. I think we're capable of winning championships still and that's what sticks out the most in my mind.
"I've fallen out of five races. That's the way it should be. It would be ridiculous for a guy like me to have that many bad finishes and still win the championship in my mind. I think there's some room for improvement. Nobody should be able to finish second and get the same amount of points as the guy that won. I think it'd be neat to see a little bit bigger gap between the guy who wins and second and third and fourth and fifth. I do like the way the system it. It makes it very, very challenging and when you do win, it's a big thing.
"It was pretty much a frenzy. It was crazy the way it (million-dollar bonus) was before. I remember when Dale Jarrett was going for it. It was just so much drawn away from the race. It was so hard to stay focused on trying to win that million because there was so much going on. Even though I think that one drew a lot of attention. Maybe with the five out there, there's maybe a little bit less pressure and maybe not so much emphasis on each one. Still, there's a lot on the whole deal. I like it better the way it is now because we all have an opportunity to win $5 million. It's not quite as much pressure because you've got five guys going for it. It was pretty extreme. It's great to be able to win it under those conditions.
"I don't know if I can compare it. Winning Daytona this year and winning the Brickyard last year with those million bonuses. I think it just made the most prestigious races we have that much more prestigious.
"We've got the (Darlington) Record Club banquet coming up and you see a lot of the history and that kind of tells you about the prestige of Darlington. It's just one of those places you go to, and it's more than just a race track. It's where a lot of things got started. I think everybody recognizes that.
"Seeing the walls is pretty important. If we put Darlington stripes up on the walls at night, that should be pretty interesting. I've been pretty amazed at the lighting systems. Most places we go now we see better at night than we do during the day. I'm for it, but I also think I heard somebody else say they'd rather see one pit road there before we see lights. I don't think that's a bad idea, although we usually qualify good enough to be on the pit road up front. I still think that those are things that change the outcome of the race right now. It's pretty fair to have one pit road.
"It's a tough, tough race track. Anybody who's ever won at Darlington or people who haven't won will tell you that it's one of those race tracks that no matter how perfect your day has gone you're always going to run into some type of situation where it's 'wow, we just barely made it past that.' It's one of those tracks where you respect it a lot. It can reach right out and bite you. I think when you throw the history and prestige of the race track and that event and on top of that how tough a race track that is, to finish without hitting the wall just makes it that special. I'm looking forward to going there. It's turned into one of my favorite race tracks. When I ran there the first couple of times, I don't think I would have ever thought that it could have been one of my favorite race tracks, but it is.
"I think we do very good on the long runs on saving tires. That has a lot to do with the setup of the race car and my driving style. We seem to have found a pretty good combination. It reminded me a lot of Winchester in a sprint car, not necessarily the size of the track or anything like that, but people basically try to scare you to death before you go there. I remember they'd tell me when you go to Bristol, the banking is so high that you can't even look through the roll cage. You've got to look up the top of the roll cage. You get there and it's so fast you can't hold your head up. Then you go there and you're like, 'what in the world were they talking about?' It's a fast, awesome race track that you run right up close to the wall. That's the same way Darlington was.
"People would say, 'you're going to hit the wall two or three times.' That can happen, but it was one of those tracks where maybe because I was scared before I got there, I had a little more respect for it. Through that respect I learned to like it a lot. I like tracks like that that are real challenging that you've got to be on your toes all day long. I think the surface of that race track brings the driver back into it more so than anything because it's so abrasive and it wears the tires so fast. It has a lot of grip but the grip only lasts for a short period of time. You have a choice of going real, real fast for five or 10 laps and then slowing down for the rest of the run or you have the choice of being kind of there at the beginning and being the guy to beat at the end of the run. That takes a lot of patience and discipline from a driver. I like that.
"I'm the most focused when I'm battling with somebody, like I was battling with Earnhardt at Michigan. You could have shot me in the foot and I wouldn't have known it. You're that focused. You're not thinking about anything else. If you're out there leading or you're fifth and you've got nobody that you're really racing close to you, you start to wander, you start to look up in the crowd. You'll lose time when you do that. That takes a lot of discipline. I don't know if that's as much patience as it is discipline to make sure you keep yourself focused. It's just something I have to tell myself. I usually can tell when I'm in that situation. It happened to me at Indy this year. My car was handling OK, but it wasn't the fastest car. I was sitting there third or fourth and had no one around me. Indy is one of those tracks where even if your car is handling perfect it's a tough place to get around. My car wasn't handling as good as I'd like it to. It's almost like you get bored. Luckily, I was able to say I've just got to figure out what this thing is doing, relay it back to the guys and see if we can get better."
DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo)
"The fans are great race fans. They like drivers and they dislike drivers. They're great critics, and I'm sure we're going to hear both sides of the coin. I'll apologize to Terry (Labonte) and do what we've got to do. If he sees he's got to stretch my neck like Sterling Marlin says, we'll just have to do it. I don't know if they're going to make a rule or try to come down harder on people or make some kind of decision on it. They try to have some kind of level playing field whether it's in the competition of the cars or the competition of the drivers. Bristol is a tough place to go around there side by side and not touch. If it's somebody going after somebody intentionally, trying to wreck somebody, that's one thing. But a guy bumping somebody or the Nadeau thing, I didn't see that. I don't know what went on. That's hard for me to call. You put 43 of us in a place like Bristol and expect no cars to be tore up, with a rough race track and tight and hard to pass on, it's really a tough race track to compete on. I've heard them (boos) before, not really liking to hear them, but there was about 140,000 people there (at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night). It's hard for me to believe that 140,000 of them were booing."
2000 MONTE CARLO TEST AT GATEWAY -- Chevrolet teams tested the 2000 Monte Carlo race car at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis on Monday and Tuesday. Team Monte Carlo drivers Steve Park, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Hamilton, Mike Skinner, Sterling Marlin, David Green, Ken Schrader, Jerry Nadeau in the No. 25 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Geoffrey Bodine participated in the two-day test.
"We used the two days as a session to shake down the car and see if there was any major problem," Ken Van Every, Chevrolet NASCAR Winston Cup Series Program Manager, said. "It seems like everything went fine. We've got two more tests planned at Talladega and Homestead, but we got a lot of good baseline information at Gateway.
"The weather was great in St. Louis. It was around 80 degrees and sunny. Everybody was working on race setups. Nobody was taping up trying for the real fast laps.
"Some of the drivers and Earnhardt had a press conference on Monday, and all the press wanted to talk about was Saturday night at Bristol. Earnhardt said he hated it happened, but he didn't back down from any questions.
"It's too early to say much about the 2000 Monte Carlo. We're just going to wait and see how things work out. We've got some good teams, and I'm sure they'll be working hard on the new car between now and next year's Daytona 500."