JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DuPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: YOU ALWAYS SEEM TO RUN GOOD HERE. WHY? "We've had a pretty strong Martinsville package here, especially on qualifying day, for a number of years, but when we signed Robbie Loomis, I remember...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DuPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
YOU ALWAYS SEEM TO RUN GOOD HERE. WHY?
"We've had a pretty strong Martinsville package here, especially on qualifying day, for a number of years, but when we signed Robbie Loomis, I remember one of the things I was really excited about was going to Martinsville because of the success he had here with the Pettys. We hoped that we could take our package and his and blend them together and get even better here and we've been able to do that. We've been able to sit on poles and win, and we've led a lot of laps up here. We ran well here and won the race earlier in the season, but you know guys are going to come back and test. We didn't, but we hoped with a few little things we learned all year long that we could step it up a notch and it seems like it did. We were able to maintain a really good pace out there for qualifying."
IN 21 RACES HERE, YOU'VE NEVER HAD A DNF.
"I don't know how that could be possible at this place. We have certainly run into our obstacles at this place. I remember the day the power steering pump broke, and I wanted to pull out with a DNF. But we were able to fight through it and get a pretty decent finish out of that day. It's hard to explain, other than that our team just focuses hard in all different departments, whether it be the engines, chassis, bodies, everything, just trying to make a foolproof car that gets all the way to the finish whether it's a 500-mile race or a 500-lap race. That's how we've won championships over the years. If you look at how awful our August and part of September was and still to be in the top 10 in points I think is pretty amazing."
YOU'VE LED THE MOST LAPS ON SHORT TRACKS THIS YEAR WITH 711.
"Yeah, we've led the most laps overall, total. We've actually performed a lot better than our results show, and that's frustrating because I feel like we should be higher up in the points. We've had some trouble and the way the point system is now, if you have trouble you're not going to finish up there in the points. We're trying to get it back, with four or five top-fives in a row now and we're trying to do everything we can to finish out the season on a positive note and keep getting those top fives. Hopefully, with a great start like this, we can get a finish like we had here last time. A win would be awesome for us and continue to move our momentum forward in the right direction instead of the momentum we had in August."
YOU'VE ALWAYS QUALIFIED WELL HERE. WHY?
"Qualifying has become important everywhere we go. We talk about track position, pit stops, pit strategy being important, and I can honestly say as far as pit road is concerned, there's nowhere we go where that No. 1 pit stall is more important than here. This place, it's crucial. It's so narrow, so tight. I think we do focus a lot on qualifying here, but I can't say that we put any more effort here than we do anywhere else. It just seems like our car does the things I like it to do, and whatever it is that I do here seems to work for the car as well. You don't have to worry about aerodynamics and a lot of other things that we have to worry about at other tracks. You just worry about the chassis setup and how that car rolls through the corner and drives up off the corner. I always put my effort into my second lap. Some guys do it on the first lap, and it's paid off for us."
IS THE QUALIFYING SETUP HERE CLOSER TO A RACE SETUP?
"I think we're getting closer to our race setups at a lot of tracks. We used to have huge differences in setups from qualifying to the race and I don't see them changing near as much now as they used to. Most of it is just nose weight, things like that, air pressure. When you have the grip in the tires and you run that car hard into the corner and you get it to turn for a one-lap run, if you tried to do that five or six or seven laps in a row, the car would never turn. You're basing it off the grip level of the tires. We still do have to do some things different, but everywhere we go, the setups are getting closer and closer to the race setups because of the amount of downforce that we have in these cars, we're able to get away with it."
YOU USED TO WIN EVERY THREE RACES. HOW HARD IS IT TO HAVE JUST ONE VICTORY IN 2003?
"The thing you have to realize, all you guys are paying attention to is Winston Cup. I've been racing a lot longer than in Busch and Cup and I didn't win a lot of races then. I would go on streaks where we would win and then we would go on losing streaks, whether it would be quarter-midgets, sprint cars, midgets--I look back throughout my career at things that would happen and it's like you ride the wave when it carries you and keep your chin up when it's not going your way. To me, even though I wasn't sitting in a room with the media and had fans out in the grandstands and the sponsors and all that, racing is still racing. I know that we have been very fortunate to win the number of races we've won in this series and the championships and I try to respect and enjoy every bit of it. But I'm also realistic about it. You can't keep that kind of momentum up all the time, and sometimes you have to get knocked down a little bit before you can climb back up there and be on top. We showed that in 1999 and 2000 and proved it in 2001. Here we are a couple of years later, and we have to get back up on top. A year like this year is a great year to be able to give us what it takes to be hungry and get back out there and get the momentum back on our side. I think we've put good cars out there this year and we've put a team out there that's good enough to win the championship, but we just haven't had the results. We can't blame anyone but ourselves when that stuff happens, but there are little areas we can improve on, but as a whole we've been a pretty solid team this year other than a couple of things."
DID YOU KNOW IT WAS INEVITABLE YEARS LIKE THIS WERE GOING TO HAPPEN?
"I saw you guys building the expectations up and I was trying to push them back down. I won my 50th race and everybody was like, 'OK, when are you going to pass 200?' I'm like, 'come on guys, give me a break.' Throughout history, there are teams that have gone on rolls and we are one of them. I'm proud to be one of those teams because not a lot of them do it, where they go for a couple of years and do double-digit numbers or championships or whatever.
From 1995 through 1998 and you add in 2001--we won seven in 1999--we won a bunch of races. I think that just because we haven't won as many races, we've still been top-5 in points and still done a lot of good things, but we haven't been as spectacular as we were in that stretch. We were one of those teams in history that went on a roll and won a bunch of races and it's hard to maintain that, especially these days. It's just hard to win that many races and when you do, how do you keep it going year after year? I'm more in amazement that we did it as many years as we did, and I fully expected that we weren't going to be able to maintain it. But that doesn't mean I don't expect for us to continue to challenge for championships and continue to win races, but not 10, 12 or 13 races. Ever since 1998, when we won 13, I've always been all about the championship. I don't care if I don't win any races, it's all about the championship, and as long as the points stay the way they are, you can win one race, no races or a couple and still win the championship,"
DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE THE PEOPLE TO GET BACK TO THE TOP OR ARE YOU CONSIDERING A MAJOR CHANGE FOR 2004?
"I'm not sure what you think is a big change. I think everybody thinks there's a major change coming, but I know there aren't from what I see. If I evaluate this year or even last year, I can't put blame on any one person or point a finger at any one thing that has kept us from winning the championship. I can tell you that we were second, 135 points out in June, so there's no reason to make a major change when you go into August and all of a sudden you're backing into the fence a couple weeks in a row. Yeah, if we made some mistakes, maybe our fuel mileage and some of our gambles on fuel mileage has hurt us. That's the major change I'm thinking of, how I get better fuel mileage. It's not necessarily personnel changes. We do need a pit crew member. We have a fill-in guy in that role, and we need to find one that's not just good, solid and fast but who jells with the other guys out there. Does that mean we're going to change all the guys? Who knows? We're looking at it right now as we need one guy. Other than that, I just want to keep putting solid, fast race cars out there on the track. We put top-five race cars on the track almost every weekend, and we're in contention for the title in June going into July and then we had our troubles. Look at the last four or five weeks. We've been solid enough to win the championship, Just because we're not winning five or six races is what's got people's attention. That's not coming from me or the team."
WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO CHANGE THE CURRENT POINT SYSTEM?
"I don't remember ever saying I wanted it to be changed. I'm just saying if they did make changes, it might not be a bad idea to spread out the top five or 10 positions, spread those points out a little bit more in between them, so that a win or a top-five means a lot more so that we can throw out some of these 30th and on back positions. One thing I don't like is that we come in and wreck a car and we patch it back up and go back out and ride around to finish 35th. At one time, that was necessary because not as many cars finished the race or finished on the lead lap. We don't have that problem any more and I think it's unnecessary and I think as close as the points are right now, it really is about consistency. If consistency is an issue, if people say we want the guy that wins the most races to win, that might be a way to go about it where you can throw out some of those bad finishes and the wins mean more. I'm going to race the series however the points are and I'm very proud to have won Winston Cup championships the way it is because I think it's more difficult."
HAS THE TRACK HERE NOT GOTTEN BETTER OFF THE CORNERS AFTER THE GRINDING?
"When I'm out there, it doesn't look like they ground the track, they grooved it. It's two totally different things to me. It looks like there are grooves in the track, not necessarily grinding. What happens is, the rubber gets put into those grooves and the car really sticks good on certain directions of that grooving. It has taken away any forward grip off the corner and any braking into the corner, but it has helped the cars turn in the middle of the corner. If you think about it, the grooving is adding side bite in the middle of the corner. It's almost like an airport runway thing, and what it has done is taken surface away from the track, so it actually has less grip down there, believe it or not. It grinds tires up a little more and has less grip, so it forces you to start running a higher line and opens up the bottom lane. Anybody can drive down there, but to pass a car you have to be a lot better than the car in front of you. It makes for great side-by-side racing, but not necessarily side-by-side passing."