Jeff Gordon ...
Jeff Gordon #24 DuPont Chevrolet
HOW IS PRACTICE GOING TODAY? YOU ARE FAST ON THE CHARTS Yeah, things are going well. This is a brand new car. The guys are doing a great job with it. You know, it's showing out there on the race track.
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN HERE AND TIE DALE EARNHARDT'S RECORD AT RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES? I mean, that would be fantastic. That's not our primary.I guess it is our goal but it's not our mindset going into this weekend. This is a track where we know we're good at and we're capable of winning. The way this season's been-started off so good and went downhill from there. A win right now is something that would be fantastic for us. We know this is a track where we can win at. When it's all said and done and you get that win and you do something great like Dale Earnhardt did, then it makes the win that much sweeter.
HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THIS RACE? I like the rules that we have right now. I feel like safety wise, being able to maneuver and make passes. I feel it's the best overall package that we've had. But no matter what, when you're at Talladega, you're going to be four wide. There are going to be times when things are going to happen that could cause a wreck, but might not. There is still is that big one. There is that factor. You know that going into it. You hope that you make all the right decisions and you stay out of trouble and pull off a good finish.
RE: HOW DOES IT FEEL NOT BEING IN THE CHASE? Yeah, it's different because I don't feel like there's as much pressure to go out there and have to have a certain finish to be a threat in the championship. At the same time, there's still a pressure because we're still trying to get things turned around and we still have high expectations for ourselves to go out there and perform and win races.
DID YOU HAVE THE SAME SHOCKS AND JIMMIE AND KYLE HAD LAST WEEK? Yes
DID YOU ALL JUST OUTSMART EVERYBODY? Outsmart everybody? What do you mean?
THERE WAS SOME TALK ABOUT TEAMS EXPECTING TO SEE A BULLETIN ABOUT A RULE CHANGE FOR THOSE TYPE OF SHOCKS Yeah, I don't know. I don't know all the details about that. I just know we had the same ones. You know, trust me-there's no magic to them. I was sitting back there in 17th. I think that you've got to put that right combination together. These days it's all about getting the rear spoiler up in the air as much as you can. You can do it in a lot of different ways. That's been the best way for us to do it. They'll keep coming up with rules and we'll just try to figure out what we learned from that and how to get it some other way.
HOW IS THE CREW CHIEF CHANGE GOING FOR YOU? It's been really great because Steve's been phenomenal and I think he's just done a great job of stepping up and being a leader. I think he's learned a lot. Great crew chief. I miss Robbie. Robbie's just such a good guy. Just seeing him there in the garage today, smiling, laughing. I really enjoyed seeing him at the window and talking to him for these last several years. But, I think Steve brings a lot of great things to our race team. It's going very well.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO DO THE CHANGE RIGHT NOW? I think everybody recognized it was important to do it now. When you don't make the Chase, then it's easy to make changes and hope that you can learn something for next year.
WHEN THERE ARE FIVE CARS FROM THE SAME TEAM IN THE CHASE, IS THAT GOOD FOR THE SPORT? I've never looked at it that way. I've always looked at it as, wow, that's pretty phenomenal to know that one organization has put five cars out there in that Chase. I think that there's a lot to be said about that. That's a great thing for them. And it's not easy to do. We've got four teams and only one of them are in there. You've got to take your hats off to their accomplishment. I haven't really looked at it as being a negative for the sport. There are still five different drivers that any of them, plus the other five, can win the championship.
COMMENT ON HOW JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS BEEN RUNNING Yeah, that was a great, great victory last week. I think they knew that New Hampshire was one of those days where they had to dig and fight and get all they could out of it. And they did-they pulled off a top 10. And then, capitalize on a great car and great effort at Dover and come out of there with a win and lead in the points. So, they've got to keep putting that effort out there every weekend. They've got a great shot at this championship.
IS IT AN UNUSUAL FEELING FOR YOU TO BE IN A SUPPORTING ROLE TO THE #48 CAR? It's not a typical situation for me to be in, but I can say I'm comfortable in it. I am really happy for those guys. I'm happy that we've got a team that's in the Chase and has a really legitimate shot and never won the championship and I've been a part of seeing them work from the ground up. So, yeah, I want to be in it, I want our team to be in it, but you know, I'm definitely very happy for those guys and everything they've accomplished and supportive of them winning that championship.
ARE YOU STILL AS HUNGRY? My priority is still to win races and win championships. You know, it's one of those things where you can't help it. When you get to the race track, you get to the car, that competitiveness takes over. And I'm definitely still very hungry. Right now we're in a mode of being able to evaluate things like you said and have got to get some momentum going to shift towards us so we can come out next year and be excited about it. It's hard to be as excited about it when you're wherever we're at in the points, we're not in the Chase and you haven't been winning, you haven't been competitive. Right now, I'm not as excited about things. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop putting out the effort. You know, I want the effort to be there. We've got too many guys that have worked too hard, sponsors and I'm too competitive to not want to put that effort out there. And I don't see that stopping any time soon. I know I've got a lot on my plate and there's some times that I need to adjust that to make sure that the racing is always the first priority and continues to stay that way and that other things don't get in the way. But other than that, I'm definitely still wanting it. Yeah, I have a great life. The difference is I don't have to go out there and win. I don't have to go out to win championships to get a better plane or a better bus or a bigger house. It's not what it's about for me. When I'm out there, it's about winning. It's about competition.
WHEN YOU COME TO TALLADEGA, DO YOU FALL BACK INTO THE MODE THAT YOU'RE REALLY ONE OF THE GUYS TO BEAT HERE? Oh yeah. Absolutely. You look at tracks that you go to, whether they be short tracks, road courses or restrictor plate tracks for us this year. You have comments and you go into them going, I don't care what has happened throughout the year, these are places we can go to and be a threat for the win.
DO YOU WORRY ABOUT QUALIFYING HERE, KNOWING THAT YOU KNOW HOW TO GET TO THE FRONT? Yes and no. Right now, we're running good so we've got a shot at it and we want to qualify as high up as possible. It would be disappointing as good as we've been in practice and as good as we've been this year if we don't qualify well. But, we also know that it is Talladega and you don't have to qualify up front.
Tony Stewart #20 The Home Depot Chevrolet
WERE YOU AND (CREW CHIEF) GREG ZIPADELLI HAVING WORDS DURING THE RACE LAST WEEKEND AT DOVER? No, actually it was just the opposite. I think our whole team was probably more pumped about how we ended the day versus how we ran the week before (Loudon, 2nd). Attitude-wise, everybody was excited because we worked hard with a bad-handling car all day. We kept each other pumped up. It the pit strategy thing would have worked out by theory it would have, or should have, we would have been a Top 10 car. So for the most part, we were all excited about as bad as the car was at the beginning, how we all worked through it to get through at the end.
DID THEY FIGURE ANYTHING OUT ABOUT THE CAR AT THE SHOP? No, nothing. They didn't. That's the bad thing. I asked Zippy when we were at Charlotte on Tuesday what they found and he said, 'Nothing, so far'. So they're still working through it. I haven't heard anything different today as far as them finding anything, but I think the best thing for us is not to worry about it right now. We're not going back there any more the rest of the year. It just must have been something in the package. Overnight, going from cloudy conditions to sunny conditions, it changed. But there is nothing we can do about it now, so we'll focus on the next eight weeks.
WHAT DID YOU FIND DURING YOUR TEST AT CHARLOTTE AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RUNNING RESTRICTOR PLATES THERE? We were running unbelievable speeds there. The Busch car ran within two hundredths of a second of my fastest speed in the Cup car and I think we were the fastest Cup car there in testing so far. Jimmie Johnson ran faster in his Busch car than we ran in our Cup car there. So with that, we know when we go back it's going to be even faster yet for the Cup cars. Humpy did a really good job. None of us wanted him to change it in the first place. But with that, Humpy is not one of those guys who is just going to sit there and say well tough -- that's what it is and deal with it. He has re-ground the rest of the track. But after a couple of us suggested dragging some tires about it, he dragged truck tires around it for four days and got a lot of rubber in the track and it seemed to have helped it quite a bit. As far as the track being real sensitive to groove and this and that, I don't think it's near as bad as what it was when the Cup cars were there. It's a lot better. But with that, we're running wicked fast speeds there right now. So I don't know what they're going to do. I've never been excited about restrictor plates in the first place, but if we run them, we'll probably just run wide-open all the way around and we'll be running Daytona and Talladega on a 1.5-mile track instead.
HOW FAST WERE YOU GOING? I ran a 29.00 flat with the Busch car. I ran a 28.98 with the Cup car and Jimmie Johnson ran in the 28.00's in his Busch car. So it definitely picked up speed from the Cup week to the Busch week.
HOW WAS THE CAR IN PRACTICE TODAY? What are you going to do? It's not like we're going to throw springs and shocks and sway bars and all that on it. It kind of is what it is. This format is a waste of time. Today is an extremely big waste of time for everybody. To sit there and have two hours of practice for two laps is.. That's what NASCAR is trying get away from anyway and that's why the impound deal is a better deal. There were only so many things that we had on our list. We had only one thing that we wanted to try different than we unloaded with, so that's what we did. We just made a few runs and quit.
IS THE TALLADEGA RACE THE BIGGEST WORRY IN THE CHASE? I don't know. All of them are because you never know exactly what's going to happen. But this one leads you to believe it's more susceptible to being the one that you worry about just because of the big one (crash) and knowing you have to rely on everybody else and who you're around to help you too. I'm not real worried about it -- probably because we ran so good at Daytona and that we practiced good today. Hopefully we're going to be a car that can stay up front all day and we won't have to worry about it.
BECAUSE YOU RUN WELL ON RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACKS, IS THIS A GOOD OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO GET BACK UP IN THE POINTS? We'd like to believe so, but we've always run really good at Dover, historically, too. So it's what I've told everybody from day one. There are no guarantees. Each week is a different week. If we have a bad pit stop and we get caught mid-pack and then a wreck happens and we're caught up in it, well then we say, 'No, it' wasn't a good week.' But if we go out there and we lead all the laps and can get the maximum points for the weekend, we'll say, 'Yeah, it was great'. So, it's hard to say whether it's good or bad.
TALK ABOUT RACING IN A CATCH-UP MODE: I don't feel like we're really in a catch-up mode. We had our bad week and even with that, we're only 23 points behind. We could take the point lead back this weekend very easily. I don't think it's anything you have to really worry about or be concerned about. Guys like Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch are in catch-up mode. We're not. We're all right there together. One spot here or there changes you two or three spots in the point standings right now.
IS THERE A TIME YOU GO INTO CATCH-UP MODE? Yeah, Homestead (laughs). You can ask me that question after we run Sunday and the answer may be totally different. It's strictly a week-to-week deal. The thing that amazed me is that most of the questions I'm answering today are all theoretical questions. Well, I'm not a philosopher. None of us can predict this. If we could, we'd be bookies in Las Vegas making millions of dollars betting on these racing instead of driving in them. And it's a heck of a lot safer sitting in a chair in that dark room letting cocktail waitresses bring you drinks (laughs). Think about it. You know what I mean? I don't have the answers. Nobody has the answers. All we can do it speculate on what's going to happen until each week happens. So, we can all guess on what's going to happen. If any of us can predict the top 10 positions in the race on Sunday, you're a genius -- let alone figuring out how the next eight weeks are going to do.
WHAT HAS MADE YOU SO GOOD AT THIS TYPE OF RACING? It beats me. I don't know.
A HANDFUL OF YOU GUYS ARE IN A DIFFERENT CLASS IN THIS TYPE OF RACING: I think we know when to go. We watch guys beat themselves up all day trying to get to the front and stay up front. They run three-wide. Dale Jarrett and Kenny Schrader and I sit back at the back and I put one had on the roll bar and drive with one had for half the race. I get my drink bottle out when I get thirsty driving down the backstretch and drive with my knee until I get the straw in my mouth. You know, it doesn't matter where you're at until the end anyway. I think we've got a good sense of when it's time to go and then it's just a matter of getting with the right people. I think we normally figure out when the right runs are at the right times and know which lines to get in at the right times.
BUT HAVEN'T YOU ABANDONED THAT HANG-BACK THEORY? It just depends on where we're at. At Daytona, if you get out front you want to stay there, obviously. But if you get shuffled out and you get mid-pack sometimes, if the car feels unstable and it doesn't feel exactly the way you want, handling-wise, there's no point in pushing it to stay up there or try to get back to the front. Just drop back to the back and let them work on it on pit stops. You can gain a bunch or lose a bunch on the stops, so it really doesn't matter where you're at as long as you stay with that lead group.
DO YOU HAVE A SET STRATEGY ANYMORE OR DO YOU JUST ROLL WITH IT? I just assess it as it happens really. If you see guys who are being real aggressive and guys who are getting themselves in compromising positions, it's better just to get out of it and let the rest of the pack go and get back in the back and that way if it does happen, you've given yourself the opportunity to get away. So it's as much defense here as it is offense most of the time.
WHY DO OTHER DRIVERS LIKE TO RUN WITH YOU HERE? I don't know. I think we've learned a lot about restrictor plate racing. Obviously Dale Jr. and I have worked really well together. Dale has run a lot of races and we've run second in a lot of races. We've figured out how to get in those top three spots. But when you do it week in and week out like that, I think guys have figured out those are the guys you want to be around because eventually they're going get to where you want to be.
CAN DRIVERS AFFORD TO HAVE A MULLIGAN IN THE CHASE OR ARE DRIVERS DRIVING SO WELL THAT NOBODY CAN AFFORD TO FINISH 20TH OR HIGHER? Okay, I'm going to go back to my 80 percent thing here. If everybody has a bad week, then everybody can afford to have a Mulligan, I guess. But if half the field has a bad week and the other five guys stay in the top five every race, you can't afford it. You just don't know. It's hard to say. At the end of the year you can evaluate it. But it's so unpredictable right now. You just don't know what's going to happen with the guys in the front of the pack. If they don't have any problems, you're not going to be able to afford it. But, if by theory, if everybody has one bad week, then everybody can afford one. That way it sets everybody even again.
DO YOU CONSIDER LAST WEEK (18TH FINISH AT DOVER) YOUR MULLIGAN? No, I consider last week just a bad week and it took us out of the point lead. We need to keep weeks like that from happening. Mulligans are in golf. This is racing. We don't have mulligans here. You have what you have. A mulligan is when you don't have to count what you did. So if last week was a mulligan, then we don't have to count last week's points and we should be back in the point lead, right? So there are no such things as mulligans in auto racing.
SHOULD KYLE BUSCH AND JIMMIE JOHNSON HAVE BEEN PENALIZED WHEN THEIR CARS APPARENTLY DIDN'T MEET POST RACE INSPECTION AT DOVER? I don't know exactly what happened. But if something was bad enough that they felt they needed to impound parts, normally there is something that goes along with that. But I don't know what the situation is so I'm no sure I'm accurate in saying what should or shouldn't have happened. I just found out yesterday that something was wrong.
ON THE RADIO, THE DRIVERS WERE NOTICING THEY WERE JACKED UP IN THE BACK. DO YOU NOTICE THAT WHEN YOU'RE DRIVING? I was never close enough to them to see it. I was trying to stay on the lead lap all day. I don't know to be honest. Guys who are that conscious of what's going on normally have cars that are driving good. I was trying to stay off the apron and trying to stay off the concrete wall and anywhere in between was fair game at that point.
IN THE POST INSPECTION PROCESS, IS IT NORMAL TO LET SHOCKS SETTLE LIKE THAT? I don't know. I'll be honest; I've never been through inspection. I've never been through pre-race or post-race inspection with a car so I don't know exactly how that process goes through. As long as they do it every week for all the guys -- if that's they're normal process, I'm fine with that.