Atlanta II: Jeff Gordon, Stewart post-race interview

JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Finished 2nd: TONY STEWART , NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Finished 9th: WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR YOUR TEAM'S CONFIDENCE? GORDON: "Today was fantastic. It's been a long time...

JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Finished 2nd:

TONY STEWART , NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Finished 9th:

WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR YOUR TEAM'S CONFIDENCE?

GORDON: "Today was fantastic. It's been a long time since we've had fun on a 1.5-mile race track. So it feels great. The truth for us on 1.5-mile tracks is going to be next week at Texas because the grip level is a lot different. It's a lot different here. This one really took the tires. That one doesn't really tear up the tires too bad. It's more about aerodynamics. But we had a lot of fun out there today. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) made some great calls with adjustments and getting the car better all day long. We had some great battles as well. We were catching 'em there for a little while, and then I just got too loose. We got a little bit behind on that pit stop. We had a tire come back out of the box and so we were fortunate just to be able to come out in the top five. The car was so good on new tires that we shot right up there. But unfortunately Carl (Edwards) drove a great race and that team obviously has their act together for him winning both races this year.

WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON'S RUN TODAY, HOW DO YOU THINK THE REST OF THE CHASE WILL GO?

GORDON: I'm not really sure where Jimmie ended up. I saw where he got the Lucky Dog that one time. Oh, 16th? He was up higher than that one time. I know that definitely wasn't the way they wanted to come out of here. The Roush cars are so tough on these 1.5-mile tracks. They're going to be tough for the next three weeks. Who knows? Maybe Phoenix will be the deciding race for these guys. It's still such a tight race, it's hard to say what's going to happen."

YOU HAVE SAID YOU ARE AIMING ON 2006, BUT YOU'RE LOOKING AT THE 11TH SPOT. WOULD YOU CONSIDER THAT A BONUS OR HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR GOALS IN 2005?

GORDON: "I haven't even paid attention to 11th place in points. In my opinion, we're not in the top 10 battling for the championship. It doesn't really matter to me where we finish. It's where we finish each race to get ourselves prepared for next year. I'm just so happy that we've been making gains and it feels like we're going in the right direction and giving me some cars that give me a good feel and I can get aggressive with. That's the difference in running up front or running in the middle of the pack like we've been for most of the year. So, yeah, I guess if you're running good you're going to move up in the points. If we could get to 11th, we'll know that's all we could do. But that's certainly not something that I've been looking at."

LAST WEEK YOU HAD A WIN; THIS WEEK A 2ND PLACE. TALK ABOUT 2006:

GORDON: "I feel like our 2006 started when this Chase started. By not making the Chase, we were able to really regroup and make a bunch of changes -- not just personnel changes, but with the race cars themselves as well. We've had a couple of tests come up since the Chase began, and those tests have been very valuable for us. When the season is going on, you can't make major changes because you've got too many guys that you're battling with for points and you don't want to make huge changes. Once we missed the Chase, we were able to just go out there and change all kinds of things. It's kind of a trial and error. We can try something major and if it's no good, it's not really going to affect us that much. But if we make gains, then we're moving in the right direction and I feel like we've really been making gains here lately. To me, next week is a much truer test for us. Texas is a real downforce track."

CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE RACE STEVE LETARTE CALLED TODAY?

GORDON: "Again, he just continues to impress the heck out of me. He's just doing a great job getting information from me and making great adjustments. He's keeping the guys pumped up. I don't know how to say more because obviously last week, I feel like he won us the race (at Martinsville). This week, we didn't have the track position there at the end like we did last week, but we had a car that got better all day long and that's as impressive to me as our win at Martinsville."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT CARL EDWARDS' DRIVING WHEN YOU WERE BEHIND HIM?

GORDON: "I never got close enough to his bumper to find out how good he was. I just saw that I wasn't ever gaining on him. There at the end we got loose and he drove away. But from what I could see from further back, he could take off on the restarts real good and then he just kept getting stronger and stronger as the run went on. At one time, I was pushing so hard. I had a great car and I was just pushing it so hard and was barely gaining on him. I was gaining and gaining and I couldn't push any harder and finally I started to get loose. And I felt like I wore the right rear tire out trying to catch him and get through some traffic. And then he just started to take off there at the end and there was not a chance for me to catch him. I thought he drove a great race. He knows how to get around this place good. He was smooth and fast and made some great moves out there."

FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHAT HAS THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP BROUGHT TO THIS SPORT?

GORDON: "I'm a big fan of it even though I'm on the outside looking in. I'm still a big fan. I think it draws a lot of excitement. I think it makes just being in the top 10 special. It makes winning the championship that much tougher. You're battling a lot of strong guys all the way down to the final race and that's a lot of pressure and intensity that goes all the way. I raced Mark (Martin) hard today. And I know in a normal race, you just race that hard. But in the back of my mind, I knew that these guys are racing in the Chase. But then I had to remind myself that we're racing to try to win and try to get ourselves in there for next year. So it's tough being on the outside, I can tell you that. It's not where you want to be. I'm looking forward to trying to get our program to where we can compete and not only be in the top 10 next year, but for that championship. These guys are out there having a lot of fun and I want to be a part of it."

ON HIS PERFORMANCE TODAY AND KEEPING THE POINT LEAD:

STEWART: "Well, it wasn't near as impressive as Jeff Gordon or Mark Martin. But in the big picture, it was a solid day for us. We got the lead once and got five points early and that was a huge goal for us. As the race went on, we just kept fighting -- trying to get the balance right. But we stayed in the top 10 all day. Most of the beginning of the race we stayed in the top five until we got a little behind and we just never could really get caught up. But we were able to maintain all day. So it wasn't by any means a disastrous day, but with the big picture I would have liked it to be better."

WHAT'S YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVEL GOING TO TEXAS AND WHAT CAR WILL YOU BE TAKING THERE?

STEWART: I don't know which car we're taking. Texas is a l.5-mile like this but the personalities of the tracks are totally different. Next week will be more of a style like Kansas and Chicago. I'm not too upset about it by any means. I'm actually looking forward to next week. I think our cars have been good on those types of tracks and I think we'll be good there next week."

ON GRIP AND TIRES AT THIS TRACK:

STEWART: "As fast as we're running here, if you lose just a little bit of momentum, it shows up huge. That's why running eighth today, I couldn't even see the leaders after about 15 or 20 laps. At times we were probably three-quarters of a lap down compared to the leaders. So it's real critical. If you have any part of your car that's off -- whether you're a little too tight or too free, that's going to cost you time. We were all over the board today. We were tight; we were loose. But at the same time, Zippy and the crew had great pit stops and had good calls in the pits and made good changes. That's what you have to do to overcome a day like we had today."

DO YOU APPROACH EACH RACE AS IT COMES, OR THE OVERALL PICTURE OF WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP?

STEWART: "I'd like to just win the next three races and know for sure that I'm the champion that way. You just don't know what's going to happen. If it was just a deal where the top 10 guys were getting points, it would be a little different. But just the fact that you can run 43rd and get 43rd place points, one race could take us to fifth place in the points probably. There is a lot that can still happen. I think it's a too early to get too excited. I'm excited for the next three weeks. They are tracks that I like and tracks I think we'll run really well at. But we still just have to take it one day at a time. We'll go to Friday and then Saturday and the Sunday. And then there will be two weeks to do. You just don't know until after the race and you see the points sheet and you can assess the situation. It's a little too early to get eager about it right now."

TIRES WEREN'T AN ISSUE TODAY. HOW MUCH DID THE MANDATORY PRESSURES AFFECT YOUR RACE?

STEWART: "It didn't really affect us. Historically, we're not one of those teams that typically has tire problems. The deal at Charlotte wasn't our problem like everybody else was having. We just cut a tire down there. So, that was just one of those freak things that happens every now and then. I don't know how much it changed our set-up. Like everybody else, we just had to work around it. But you've got to give NASCAR and Goodyear credit. That's something they're doing to try and keep us from having problems. The good thing is the rules are the same for everybody and that makes it fair. Nobody should really be upset about it."

GIVEN CARL EDWARDS' EXPERIENCE LEVEL, DO YOU EXPECT HIM TO HANG IN THERE FOR THREE WEEKS AND BE A CONTENDER AT HOMESTEAD?

STEWART: "He hung in there today, didn't he? He's a short track driver. He's not one of those kids who is going to give up. When you ask how many guys are in there, you guys (the media) are smart enough and have calculators to do the math. If they're mathematically in the Chase, and in the hunt, they're in it still, for sure. So you can't count anybody out right now."

-gm racing-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon