JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DU PONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Highlights of Q&A's with the media: ON HIS EXPERIENCE GUEST-HOSTING SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: "It was awesome. It was a neat opportunity to be able to do that. They'd asked me to do it one other...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DU PONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Highlights of Q&A's with the media:
ON HIS EXPERIENCE GUEST-HOSTING SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: "It was awesome. It was a neat opportunity to be able to do that. They'd asked me to do it one other time, but I didn't have the guts to do it. I didn't have the time in the schedule to do it. They asked me when we were up there at the banquet. The only way I wanted to do it was to go through the entire six-day routine and rehearse and go through the skits and all that. They made it an awesome experience and treated me like gold. They allowed me to have input in everything. When you see all that's put into that show, it's pretty impressive. It's something I'll never forget. I was able to do things I never thought I'd do in front of a mirror - let alone on TV. It's pretty neat when you put a wig on and some facial hair and a costume - it allows you to be somebody else for a change. It was fun. I enjoyed it."
WHAT WAS THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT? "It was something you're nervous about but excited about at the same time. There was a skit that I read for the first time and I just laughed. I said no way was I going to do that. Just doing the Ricky Funk thing was probably the most fun thing I had a chance to do."
IS IT HARD NOT TO LAUGH? "Well, you rehearse things a couple of times so you kind of know what's going to happen. It just depends on the reaction of the other actors. There were times they were really cutting up during rehearsals that you would just die laughing at when they start ad-libbing and doing things. I had such a blast, but I didn't want to screw-up too bad. There were times when I was laughing on the inside a lot and just trying to remember what my cue was and my lines and all that stuff. There were plenty of laughs, that's for sure."
AFTER FINISHING IN THE TOP 10 LAST YEAR WHILE THINKING IT WAS AN OFF YEAR, WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS YEAR: "That's why I'm excited about this year. I look at things that we did last year. To come on strong toward the end of the year and finish fourth.... There was one point there - at Talladega -- where we went from leading the race with a chance at taking over the points lead to falling back to fourth in points by the time we left Talladega shows what an up and down season it was. There were so many little things that I think really kept us out of it that are fairly easy to fix or prevent from happening this year. But you're going to have those things. If it's your year, it's your year.
"We made some improvements in our pit crew to speed them up a little bit. Track position is everything and we're focusing on that. We've got a great new race car in the Monte Carlo. I don't know how well we're going to be able to qualify here. We seem to be struggling a little bit with speed here, but we've got a long way to go before we come back here to qualify. We've been here before where we haven't qualified well, and we've raced real well. I'm not too worried about that. I'm extremely excited. We've had a great off-season. I've gotten a lot of rest. The team carried some momentum from the end of last year in knowing that we finished fourth in points and really didn't have the best of years. And yet I think we're still a championship caliber team with a few minor things that we could have done different. We have a lot of things to look forward to this year."
DO YOU THINK THE 2003 CHAMPION WILL HAVE SIX DNF'S AS PART OF HIS RECORD? "You never know. Some years are like Bobby LaBonte years where you are so consistent with very few dnf's and maybe not a ton of wins. And then you've got some years that are like mine in '98 where you've got a ton of wins and the guy doesn't win the championship. It's hard to say. These days, it's so much harder to win races because track position is so important that it gives a lot of different teams that opportunity to pull off that win by not coming in and taking tires - or by taking two (tires) - so consistency is still important. Getting those top fives or top 10's is extremely important. Last year, Tony Stewart was bound to win the championship. He's talented. He's got a great team. You look at his first half of the season and nobody took advantage of that. Everybody went into the season knowing Tony was a threat to win the championship and when he was basically out of it, nobody capitalized on it.
"During the second half of the season when he started putting races together, nobody could answer back and really do anything spectacular. Each championship - even mine - have been won differently. You still approach it the same way. The results can sometimes come different than you expected."
WAS THAT A REAL SNAKE ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE? "Yeah, that sucker was real. I hate to admit this but I used to have a snake when I was in Busch. I had a boa constrictor. I don't have a problem with snakes. I love animals. When I read the script and it said a snake, we debated whether it was a real snake or a rubber snake. We went out there and saw the box and saw the person grabbing it out and I thought, 'Real snake.'
"I threw it around my neck. The first time was weird because it was pretty strong in moving around. But for the show, if a snake is cool it moves slower. So they know how to do things with snakes for television. I guess it must not have moved much because everybody thought it was fake."
ON HIS CONVERSATION WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON AFTER LAST WEEK'S TEST SESSION: "I tried to tell Jimmie that I've been coming down here a long time. I've been the fastest car and I've been one of the slowest cars. Both times I felt like I've had a shot at winning the race. You can't put that much into testing. Even though we put a lot into preparing for testing, you can't put too much into it if you don't have the time and speed that you really want because you've still got to race. Getting the car to drive good and draft good is still important.
"But we did take a lot from that test and took notes and they made some suggestions at Hendrick Motorsports. We know how good Chad (Knaus) and Jimmie are at the speedways and with them not running well, we certainly had some concerns. We tried to incorporate that into some stuff we have here. We're still not much better. I think we had a better first day than their first day. But overall, they were still a little bit faster at the end of the session. We'll see what happens over the last couple of days. We're certainly not as fast as we'd like to be here. We did not cut up any cars, but we made up some new pieces to try out."
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE THINGS UNDER CONTRL FOR 2003? "I think you go into every year thinking that you have everything under control. I feel like at Hendrick Motorsports one thing we do very well is look back at previous seasons and try to work on things during the off seasons. I feel like we've paid attention to those details and made gains in a lot of those areas. I'm certainly excited about getting the season started. I always look at the new season as that you never know who is going to break out and come to life.
"There are about five or six guys that you know are solid drivers and that these guys are going to be a threat for the championship. And then you've got to throw in the five or six that maybe weren't a factor last year. And then you've got to think about the guys that maybe came on strong last year like a Kurt Busch or a Ryan Newman or a Jimmie Johnson. It's always an interesting time of year. Anybody who says they can predict the championship I think is just crazy. There's no way you can predict." CHEVROLET and PONTIAC Notes Contact: Nancy Wager
DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE ANOTHER ROOKIE BATTLE THIS YEAR LIKE WE HAD IN 2002 BETWEEN RYAN NEWMAN AND JIMMIE JOHNSON? "Absolutely. There are some good solid teams behind them (rookies for '03). The more downforce you put in these cars, the more strong talent you're going to see. It makes a guy like me have to work harder. The more aggressive you are and the harder you drive in the corners, the better that car goes. It doesn't fall off. It used to be that you could charge really hard like that for a few laps and then it started to fall off but you'd better hold on tight and learn how to control a car that's not stuck to the race track. That's why I think we can see these young guys showcase their talents - especially when they're with good teams. The harder they charge, the better they go."
ON STRIKING A GOOD BALANCE BETWEEN HIS PERSONAL AND BUSINESS LIFE: "Racing is such a big part of my life that it's probably the main constant that I have been able to sink my teeth into and get involved with and have fun with. I'm dedicated about that and I need to stay focused on it. I love that. It's challenging, I'm dedicated and it's rewarding and frustrating - it offers a lot of good things. I've had my first Christmas I've had in years with just me and my family - my mom and my dad and my sister and my step-brother and their kids - it was wonderful. I enjoyed that a lot. Between those things, it's allowed me to find a lot of happiness in my life. I've been able to not been as reserved in some ways. I think that Saturday Night Live certainly proves that. I would never have done that two or three years ago. I'm enjoying life. I'm having a great life. I feel like I'm finally in a position to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that I've been given and to enjoy them. Sometimes, instead of taking those opportunities and enjoying them, I've found myself sheltering myself or hiding from them."