Jeff Gordon -- ...
Jeff Gordon -- #24 DuPont Chevrolet -- 3rd position
Like at a lot of tracks, track position is really important and pit strategy is really important. I think we had about a fifth or sixth place car for most of the day and then we made it better. We just needed the track position. When we got it and we were out front, the car was spectacular and running great. Obviously the No. 16 was extremely strong. He had a little bit better tires than us. So we were pretty content hanging in there in second at one time. We came in because we knew we could make it on fuel and so we decided to go ahead and come in and hoped that the other guys who didn't come in would pit after that and give us our track position, which it did. And then we took two tires. Unfortunately those guys who were on four tires were able to get to us a little bit faster than what we hoped. And then we got into third and I was pretty happy to be settled in there. I thought somebody would be running us down. I looked in my mirror and we were holding my own, so I was real happy with that.
YOU'VE BEEN THROUGH A CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE OF YOUR OWN. DO YOU SEE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WAY TONY STEWART IS ACTING AND REACTING TO THE PRESSURE THIS YEAR?
The first time around is always tough. I think everybody will agree that Tony has matured and I don't know whether the therapy is finally working or what (laughs), who knows, but I think he's come a long way. And that makes him a real threat for this championship this year and for future ones. That first one is always tough. You feel an extreme amount of pressure from the competition -- from the media and every direction -- and it's hard to handle that. The second time around is always sweeter. He's doing a fantastic job of it. I'm still pulling for Jimmie (Johnson). I think anything can happen down in Homestead, which is what you guys (the media) are going to be writing this week to keep it interesting. But Jimmie has to perform. The pressure is on. They are capable of doing that. The guys are so close and he's going to get him one (title) one of these times. We hope it's this year. We'll go down there and see what we can do to help him do that.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING THROUGH KYLE BUSCH'S HEAD RIGHT NOW WITH HIS BROTHER KURT?
I'm not sure what he's thinking. I know he's happy about winning the race. I thought he did an awesome job. I couldn't believe he won the race today, to be honest. I didn't think anybody had anything for the No. 16 car. I was shocked. He just drove a great race. When you're out there, you're not thinking about anything else but driving the race car and trying to get the position to get the win.
WHAT'S GOING ON IN YOUR MIND ABOUT YOUR SEASON RIGHT NOW?
We didn't have the performances and we had some bad luck, which happens, and we didn't make the Chase. As soon as we missed the Chase, we did a bunch of restructuring and changed how we were setting up race cars. We did drastic things that you can't do when you're in the middle of the season trying to make the Chase or in the Chase. It's so easy to do it when you basically have nothing to lose. We just made a decision after we missed the Chase that these last 10 races we were just going to start trying things out and experimenting and putting different people in places and getting ourselves ready for 2006. The neat thing is that philosophy has been working for us and that gives us some momentum to end the season and that's what we really need so when we go into the off season, the guys in the shop are pumped up and excited about building cars and all the hard work that's going to come getting ready for Daytona and the rest of the season.
DO YOU THINK 2006 IS AN IMPORTANT YEAR FOR YOU AND FOR YOUR TEAM?
Maybe. I think every year is an important year. We go into every one trying to win the championship and thinking we can. At one time this year, I thought we were a real contender. So you just have to approach it that way. I think we have a little bit of new life in the team, which happens sometimes. Sometimes you need to get a spark going and get some excitement. Sometimes it takes changes. We've got that right now. I like working with Steve Letarte. He's exceeded my expectations. He's been making some great calls. I'm looking forward to next season. We don't like finishing outside the top 10 in points. We want to make sure next year we're battling for the championship.
WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING A DRIVER CONTENDING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP WHEN A GUY IS PULLING AWAY FROM YOU? HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM GETTING DOWN ABOUT THAT GOING INTO THE NEXT WEEK?
Yeah, it's hard. It doesn't matter if Jimmie had won the race this week or not. Come Monday, or maybe Thursday, you've got to put the win behind you and go into the next race thinking all about that race. When you don't have a good race or you get down a little bit because the guy you're racing in the championship gets by you -- and that takes wind out of your sails. There's no doubt about it. I've been saying for the past couple of weeks, you don't need to finish 15 positions ahead, you just need to stay ahead of him or stay a couple of positions ahead of him to put that pressure on him. Tony has kind of been doing the opposite. I saw a little bit of that life in them last week when Jimmie finished ahead of Tony. I hoped they could pull that off again this week. It definitely took some wind out of the sail when that happened. A little bit of frustration probably kicked in. But they have to put that behind them and focus on next week. Like Tony said, he's going to do everything he knows to do no matter where they are in points. And that's what Jimmie needs to do too.
CAN HE MAKE UP 52 POINTS?
Usually when you make up 52 points it's easy. It's not difficult. It's because something happens. You don't make it up because a guy ran bad and you went out there and led every lap and won the race. It's usually that they have a blown motor or a cut tire or a wrecked race car. The championship is going to come down to the team that deserves it. None of those guys who are still in contention are going to give up until the checkered flag waves next weekend.
IS IT HARDER TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP NOW THAN IT WAS BEFORE THE CHASE?
Yes. I do. I think when you're battling nine or more guys, it's going to make it tougher. In the past, with 10 to go, you were still in a tough battle, but it was between two or three guys. It's still winding down to the final race among a couple of guys, so that's working itself out in that same way. But I still think there is more pressure. Right now there's more media exposure and a lot of different types of pressures that make it tougher to win today. I'd be extremely proud to win in this points system and feel like it was an unbelievable accomplishment because it's not just about consistency.
IS FINISHING 11TH ON YOUR MIND AT ALL?
No. I'd like to get it, but I just don't think it's our focus right now. If we do what we're supposed to do on the race track, it will work itself out.