JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO qualified 1st: Highlights from the pole winner's press conference: "When you're in the car you feel like you have your hands full a little bit more than what it looks like on TV. I felt like ...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO qualified 1st:
Highlights from the pole winner's press conference:
"When you're in the car you feel like you have your hands full a little bit more than what it looks like on TV. I felt like we did everything right today. It was a good day for us. The car was fast when it unloaded. Junior knocked out some quick laps early in practice. I knew we had to step it up. I didn't know if we were capable of getting in the .10s, but it was a little loose in practice and we tightened it up, and it really paid off. The car really stuck good for me everywhere. To really attack the racetrack you've got to have control of the car. These guys build such great race cars. When we come to a road course, it just seems that everything's right there smooth for me. It allows me to really focus on driving the car and helps me not to make mistakes. Obviously I felt like there were a few bobbles out there, but overall it was a real solid lap."
WHY DO YOU THINK SO MANY CARS BETTERED THE TRACK RECORD?
"We're about a second faster than last year, and for us, I think we're about two seconds faster because we were pretty far off here last year, but we made a lot of gains. Cars get better, transmissions get better, power gets better. I think we just improve everywhere. But it's probably in Goodyear's hands more than anybody else. Usually when we pick up speed by that much, it usually has something to do with the tires, although I don't know if they've changed that much."
WHAT'S THE SECRET TO RUNNING A FAST LAP HERE AT WATKINS GLEN?
You attack it under braking. It's really just how hard you drive into the corners. That's the places that you really get in trouble. If you drive in really, really deep you have a shot of maybe overbraking or overdriving in there and missing the corner, or you have a chance of wheel-hopping, especially going into (Turn) 1. You've got to make up your mind right away and decide how fast and how hard you're going to hit it. I got in there pretty hard and the car stuck for me, so I think the crucial part of my lap was getting into (Turn) 1 and getting through the esses. From there on out it was about the same laps that I had run all day long. When the car handled good through there, I knew I had a shot at it. I had to be aggressive and smooth at the same time, and then it was just a nail-biter, the drama of the rain possibly coming and cars that still had a chance of beating us. We were just sitting in the lounge running all of these scenarios through our minds. Last week we were praying for rain because we were so far off, but this week I was doing the non-rain dance."
WITH THE CARS GOING AS FAST AS THEY ARE IN QUALIFYING, WILL THAT CHANGE THE PIT STRATEGY?
"It always comes down to pit strategy, but I don't think it will be any different as far as fuel mileage. On a road course a lot of times you'll see, where, say a caution comes out or something, and guys will have to decide whether to come in or not. But if you can't make it on fuel on a road course, you almost just stay out and just come in under green. You really can't go a lap down unless you just make a huge mistake. Pit strategy on a road course is a lot different than most places because you have to run your own strategy and run your own fuel windows. But I don't think the speeds are really going to change that. I think another reason we were so fast today is just the cooler temperatures. The temperatures were perfect today for fast, fast speeds. We won't know all of the answers to that until tomorrow. We did test, so we probably have more information than team's that didn't test. Hopefully we'll get that practice in tomorrow, make some longer runs and we'll have a real good idea what our fuel window is and how the tires hold up under a longer run."
YOU'RE STRARTING NEXT TO A ROOKIE, GREG BIFFLE. AFTER YOUR DUST-UP IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, WILL YOU TALK TO HIM BEFORE THE RACE?
"We talked about it the following weekend. It's long gone. Stuff like that happens sometimes and in the heat of the moment, it gets the best of you. I respect Greg a lot and I was impressed with his lap he ran today. It wouldn't matter who it was that was outside of me, you always have to be concerned going down into Turn 1 because the inside lane is the placed to be, but the outside lane can sometimes carry momentum and actually get the spot. It's one of those things where you really have to be heads up about running in there hard. You have to make sure that you get in there deep, but not too deep, and then make sure nobody's coming from behind you as well. It's certainly going to make things interesting for the start of the race, but it really doesn't have anything to do with what happened in New Hampshire. We're definitely pass that.
IF THE SPEEDS HOLD FOR SUNDAY, WILL THERE BE ANY OVERTAKING?
"If the sun comes out and the track gets slicker, it will make for a better race because there will be more passing. If it's fast and cool like this, it is going to take a lot more to pass. We saw the pace drop off pretty decent when we were here, but it was sunnier. But if it stays cool like this, it will definitely make it harder to pass, but I still think you'll see a fair amount. This track has some really good opportunities to pass, and it's always been a great racetrack for our cars to be able to pass on. I think as much as the cool temperatures, the brakes that we have on these cars have improved also, so that's maybe taking away a little bit of overtaking. We'll see - and here comes the rain! I actually had some luck today."
WHAT KIND OF THINGS DO YOU LEARN WHEN YOU COME HERE TO TEST BESIDES THE RAW QUANTITATIVE DATA?
"It's a combination, for sure. Getting laps for me was very beneficial. I had a lot of trouble getting into (Turn) one here during our test. It really took me about a day and a half to really get comfortable going into Turn 1. So if we hadn't tested and we just came here, I probably wouldn't have been able to drive into Turn 1 the way I did in qualifying, so I think the test paid off a lot for me as well - and in some other areas. Where it really pays off is getting current data from the computers. We can go back to two or threeyears ago, but the springs have changed, shocks have changed, everything's changed. The body, aerodynamics, horsepower, so many things have changed. And now we have current information so when I tell them what the car's doing, we look at a map, we pinpoint that area and I say this is where I'm having trouble. Then they go to all of the maps that we have that have the shock travel, spring rates and all of those things, and we know exactly where to focus on. And I think that benefited me there for qualifying. Right before qualifying I got loose in two areas on the track, and I pinpointed it on the map, I showed them what the car was doing and we made adjustments in those areas and it definitely helped the car."
HOW SATISFYING IS IT TO GET THE POLE AFTER STRUGGLING HERE LAST YEAR?
"After last year I was pretty intense on the fact that we were coming back here and testing. Sears Point, or Infineon, and Watkins Glen, even though they are road courses, they are as night and day as Bristol is to Martinsville. What worked out there doesn't necessarily work here. That's what we found out. We won out at Sears Point and came here and thought we were going to be good, but we were getting beat really hard, and I was driving the wheels off of the car. I just told Robbie (Loomis) that we're just missing it somewhere. Jimmie Johnson tested up here last year and tested some things, and we applied that plus some other new things. This is a brand new race car, by the way, that we tested at VIR but did not race at Sears Point. We decided to bring it here and test it, and we decided to bring it back. I think there's a few new things on it as well that have certainly paid off. Our goal each year is to go to tracks that we struggle at and get better. This is one that, even though we've been good on road courses and won a lot of races here, we've struggled here the last few years. After we left here last year, we said we're going to go test there. It's nice when it pays of like it has so far. But this is only half the battle. This is an important part because track position is so important here, so that was big. Now we really need to get it hooked up for the race setup."
WITH THE WAY THE CARS ARE CHANGING, IS THE DRIVER MORE IMPORTANT OR LESS IMPORTANT THAN IN YEARS PAST?
"What I like about the short tracks and the road courses is I think the driver does play a bigger role. When we start getting to the mile-and-a-half or two-mile ovals where aerodynamics are so important, I think we are seeing the driver be less important than the horsepower and the aerodynamics. That is the technology. The only way we are able to get away with the tires being so hard is because there's so much downforce on these cars. You take downforce and a hard tire, it will last forever and you don't see the speeds drop off which really changes how you drive these cars. We not only have a lot of talented young drivers in the garage, we have a lot of talented engineers too. It's exciting in some ways, and it's taken away from the racing in some ways. But the cars are pretty awesome to drive now."
YOU HAD A CHANCE TO RUN THE FORMULA 1 CAR AT INDY. WHEN YOU COME TO A ROAD COURSE, DO YOU EVER WONDER WHAT THAT CAR WOULD'VE DONE HERE?
"I would've been scared. If we ran a 1:10.7, I'm guessing that thing would've been under a minute pretty easily. That's scary. This is not a track for a Formula 1 car. Formula 1 cars need the opposite of what we need - really flat tracks. We like tracks with a lot of banking. To me Watkins Glen is the perfect road course because it's fast, it has great braking zones, but it has good banking and elevation changes. But for a Formula 1 car, the cars really wouldn't have to slow down here much at all. I don't even know if you would have to use brakes in the F1 car. That would be scary."
YOU HAD A HARD-FOUGHT FOURTH-PLACE FINISH LAST WEEK AT THE BRICKYARD. DOES IT FEEL GOOD TO COME OUT HERE AND GET THE BUD POLE AND GET ONE UP ON THE REST OF THE GUYS?
"I was really proud of that effort, even if we didn't make any points on Matt (Kenseth). The last two weeks prior to that had started to affect the team a little bit. And as goods as this team is at not allowing things to affect them, those two weekends did hurt. They hurt in the points and they hurt mentally as well. I think more than anything, the way Friday and Saturday went at Indy, Sunday elevated us up to a whole new level, even though we didn't make up points. To come out of there with a top five the way our weekend had been going was just amazing. You can't knock what Matt Kenseth and that team is doing right now. They're doing a great job, performing at a high level and not making any mistakes, and they have cars that last until the finish. That's championship-caliber right there. But it is nice to put some pressure on them. Today you're not really one-upping them because you're not gaining on them in points, but hopefully we can do that to them on Sunday. I think we do need to put some pressure on those guys. I saw an interview that Matt did last week, and they're not really feeling any heat. They've got a really good grasp of things. But I think if we can put some pressure on them and make them think about things, and make some gains there, that will certainly help us out a lot."
CHANGES TO THE CURRENT POINTS SYSTEM HAVE BEEN KICKED AROUND. ANY THOUGHTS ON GETTING POINTS FOR THE POLE?
"I like that today. I don't know about qualifying, but I do think there should be more points to the winner, and if you finish like 40th or something like that, not have those points go against you so much. But we run the system the way it is, and I think the points system in Winston Cup racing is one of the most difficult to win. One, it's very competitive. Two, it pays consistency. And when you get your hands around that trophy, you know you've earned it and worked really hard at it. It's very prestigious and I don't want to do anything to tarnish it."
HOW MANY MORE POINTS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE FOR THE RACE?
"What bothers me is, say you win the race, and the second place guy who leads the most points gets the same amount of points. I think there needs to be some separation there. I think if you win the race, regardless if the guy in second led the most laps, you should make more points than him. Five, ten, I don't know. Not more than that, not the way the points are structured in increments now. It shouldn't be a significant amount, just more than it is."