Jeff Gordon -- ...
-- #24 DuPont Chevrolet
Well, obviously really good. Big pickup for us from yesterday. We did come here and test and we made one qualifying run in testing and felt good about and thought we could go pull a top 5 off but then yesterday we were pretty far off. So, just loose. Asked the guys if they could tighten the car up and we drew and early number which on these impound races are usually good because you have a noon start so it's better to go early so we had great conditions. I was really nervous when that rain came that we were going to have that same thing happen to us as what happened at Watkins Glen. You know, I'm thankful that NASCAR decided to run those last five cars and here we are sitting on the front row.
IS QUALIFYING SO WELL AN INDICATION OF BOTH HOW GOOD YOUR CAR IS IN RACE AND QUALIFYING TRIM?
I hope so. I didn't think we were really that good yesterday in race conditions or qualifying conditions, but you know, the test that we had I felt we were really good there. So, the team made quite a few changes and felt like we made improvements and then for qualifying, I felt that we had a good car yesterday, we just were way too loose. So the guys got the car tightened up enough and like I said, that early (draw) number. So, I'm not really sure what it's necessarily going to be like tomorrow. I hear the conditions are supposed to be cooler, which I would be happy with because we were a little bit loose. Maybe it would give us a little bit more grip. I think we've got a good plan, a good car, a good team. Tomorrow I think just having good track position is going to be important. This isn't one of the most tracks you go to for track position, but good pit stall. Just kind of a confidence builder is how I'm kind of looking at it moreso than anything else. I don't think because we qualify good--really I'm not putting too much into that, I'm just happy we qualified where we did.
DO YOU THINK TODAY'S QUALIFYING WILL MAKE A STATEMENT TO THE OTHER DRIVERS THAT YOU'RE READY TO GET INTO THE TOP 10?
I hope so. I think it's a statement for our team and a statement for others. We are very serious about it and we just need some good things to go our way and we had that happen today by the rain going away, the track drying off and able to qualify where we ran instead of going back to a points position, so I'm certainly looking at that as a positive and we did come here and test and usually when you test it's going to pay off and we tested a Bristol--hope it pays off there too. We'll be testing at Richmond. I think that the guys that we're racing against know that if we put a string of races together we're a major threat to get back in the top 10. All those expectations come along with one that should be up there in the points, I think those same things apply to being outside the top 10 and knowing you can't count us out.
YOU NEVER GAVE UP AT WATKINS GLEN. IS IT THAT KIND OF ATTITUDE THAT WILL DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF FROM OTHER GUYS ON THE BUBBLE?
I think that everybody has that kind of attitude. When you're out there and you're on this level and this level of pressure and the quality of teams behind you, you're going to step it up. You're going to push as hard as you can. It comes down to preparation of cars, setups, pit crew and the driver communication between the team and then a little bit good fortune. It's taken the same things to get into the top 10 as it is guys at the end of the year to run for the championship.
YOU ARE ANSWERING A LOT OF QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHASE ALL THE TIME--HOW IS THAT PRESSURE?
Well, I feel like no matter where you're at in the points, what your situation is, there is always pressure. If you're outside the top 35, those guys have a ton of pressure on them trying to qualify in the race. If you're outside the top 10, there's pressure to get in. If you're in the points, the pressure is there to stay there and win the championship. So, I don't think the pressure increases for anybody out there. It's really big on everybody. Maybe just a little bit different type of pressure. It has been a bit tiring to get--it's more frustrating than anything else, not to get the questions, it's that we're not able to get ourselves out of this whole. It just seems that every weekend something bites us and at the end of the race I'm getting asked, you know, what do you think your chances are? Here's another race--what do you think your chances are? And that's frustrating. But, we've put ourselves in that position and we have to get ourselves out of it. I just look at it like it could be a great story if we get ourselves back in that top 10 and go get that championship.
RE: YOUR PRESENCE IN THE CHASE AND HOW THAT MIGHT INTIMIDATE OTHER DRIVERS
Well, I don't know. We've had one of those crazy years and I haven't thought a whole lot about what other guys are thinking other than what we've got to do to get ourselves in there. I do know that the Hendrick Motorsports organization, our team, our past history. There's a reason why those expectations are on us and it's because when it's on the line, we're very capable of stepping it up. We tell ourselves this, but I think other people recognize it as well, that you can't count us out and we could strike at any moment. You know, the way I look at it is our performances haven't been as bad as our finishes. I think we're certainly a top 10 team and car but I don't know if up until this point in the season we could say we're championship-caliber. But also know that the season has gone in cycles. You've seen guys that ran really strong in the beginning of the year that maybe haven't run as strong in the middle. You've got Tony Stewart who has been phenomenal recently but he wasn't that spectacular in the beginning and there's no reason that cycle can't come to us as well and I'm sure that there are teams out there that would prefer not to find out if that cycle comes our way.
DOES BEING BITTEN SO MANY TIMES THIS SUMMER CHIP ON YOUR OPTIMISM?
Yes and no. To me, I've always been a realist and whether we were having a phenomenal season and went out there and qualified on the front row, I would still be sitting there and saying, well that's qualifying and doesn't mean as much for the race. You know, at Phoenix we were on the pole and it was an impound race and we weren't that good in the race. I'm just saying that I'm excited about qualifying where we did, but I'm not really sure what the race is going to be like until we take the green flag. And I don't build things up. That's just always been my approach. With the way the season has gone I'm certainly not going to build things up. I'm just going to play it as it goes along and give 100% of everything I've got and know my team is giving it everything they've got and just hope that it works out the way we want it to.
WHERE HAVE YOU TESTED RECENTLY AND BECAUSE OF YOUR POSITION IN THE POINTS HAS IT CHANGED THAT?
It has changed things for us. Last year we saved a lot of our tests for the end of the season and we modified that a bit this year because we felt like we overloaded ourselves, even though we got good information we felt we wore the team out when we got to the race track. It was just too much traveling and work. So, we weren't going to load it up quite as heavy this year. But, when we found ourselves struggling outside the top 10 the way we were, we came here and tested two weeks ago a week ago. We tested in Bristol this past week and I don't think we were planning on doing that. And we're testing at Richmond and I don't know if we were planning on testing at Richmond either. And the team took David Green with the car. They went to Milwaukee and tested. There's definitely been a heavy load put on the guys to make the Chase and know that it's not only to make the Chase but it's trying to figure out where we're off and how we need to get better. And I think it's good--whether it is just the attitude of the guys, just finding things out when we go test. But I think the performance of our cars has definitely gotten better over the last month. I'm definitely happy about that. I felt like we ran great at Indy. I felt we ran a little bit better at the last Pocono. We ran great at Watkins Glen and we had a pretty good test here and great test at Bristol, so I think we've got some good things in store for us. And the thing is that all those were one day tests, so we've got more dates left if we need them. We didn't do two day tests.
WHAT IF ONE OF THE DRIVERS WHO HASN'T WON A RACE ENDS UP WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? DOES THAT TARNISH THE TITLE?
Well, it tarnishes what they tried to do with the Chase. I think the Chase is really based on trying to build excitement and push guys to be more aggressive and win more races. But, that's the only about is that we've got a points system that's built on consistency and then we change how it's structured to make this exciting 10-race stretch but then it's still about consistency and the guy could finish top 5 every weekend in those last 10 races and still win that championship. It's very possible that it could happen. But I think just know that there is 10 races on the line, guys are really pushing and being on the line and chances are the guy who wins the championship is at least going to have one win under his belt. Either sometime in the season or those last 10.
I'm really curious to see--the guys who haven't won a race yet who have been consistent and are in the top 10--I'm curious to see, if once they get into the Chase if they step it up a notch. Is it they're playing that card because they just want to secure their position the top 10 and they know their consistency over 26 races will do that, and then they start pushing the limits of getting aggressive. They know the worse they can be is 10th. I'm curious to see it unfold because it could be really interesting.
RE: BRISTOL -- HAS THE TRACK CHANGED DRAMATICALLY FROM WHEN YOU WERE THERE IN THE SPRING?
I think they changed the tire a little bit--they changed the right side tire I believe. They've got a little bit better tire. The track is the same old Bristol. You know, it's fast, rough and we've never done a night test. And it wasn't so much a night test, we ran til 8:00pm. The lights never came on, but the sun was down so we were trying to read the conditions and how the track changes when the sun goes down because we've been so good during the day race, but not quite as good during the night race, so we're trying to learn some things there.