Bristol: Jeff Gordon - GM top ten interview

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS - Currently ranked 6th in points WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CARL EDWARDS? "I don't think there's anything negative you can say. It's only positive things about Carl. I think he's got a lot of excitement...

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS - Currently ranked 6th in points

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CARL EDWARDS? "I don't think there's anything negative you can say. It's only positive things about Carl. I think he's got a lot of excitement for the sport. I think he's a great talent and he's got a great personality as well. If I was a team owner over there at Roush Racing, I'd be very happy to have him on board."

AFTER THE POINTS OUTCOME IN 2005, HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THE START OF THIS YEAR? "I'm happy with the start (of the season). I want our momentum to really be going strong this summer. I want that to be where we really start to just get to our full potential. Yeah, I wanted to win the Daytona 500 but in a way I'm kind of glad that we've started the way we have where we've just built on our performance every week. We've learned from things. We've had adversity thrown at us and we've had to react to that. All the things that we're going right now are building blocks and lessons that are going to make us a better race team and by the summer and by the time that Chase starts. Obviously the last two weeks have been rewarding. We haven't shown all we've got yet. We still have more to go. I'm looking forward to these next two weeks of short tracks."

HOW STRONG ARE YOU IN COMPARISON TO LAST YEAR? "I think that we're a stronger team effort. We've got everybody on the same page feeling good. We also know we've got room to grow with me driving some new set-ups and feel like I'm getting that comfort and that excitement going to the race track, even the mile and a half's, and I'm starting to feel what it is we need to Steve Letarte (crew chief) and engineers and all the guys. We know how to set-up the cars and what we really need to compete with the top guys. Our pit crew saying the same thing saying 'we're getting better every week. We're going to compete with these guys.' I guess it's one of those things where we're OK with admitting we're not the best team on the race track right now. But knowing that, I think we have a chance at being the best race team before this season is out and hopefully as we're leading into that Chase."

HOW IMPORTANT IS PRACTICE IF WE DON'T GET ONE IN HERE? "I always like to get practice in. We've been very strong here in the past. Because of things that we've been learning that since Steve Letarte came onboard, we've got some ideas and some things we want to try out there. We'd like to get out there on the race track. I think that if you want to look at percentages, I'd say we're in the top 10 percent of cars that would be OK if we didn't have practice."

ARE THINGS ANY DIFFERENT AT HENDRICK WITH CHAD KNAUS BEING BACK? "I wasn't in Charlotte this week. I think there's excitement, nervousness, all the questions of getting Chad back at the race track. It's better for it to happen at this point in the season than happen at another time in the season. Those guys have time to really build back on chemistry that they really have and take what they've learned over the last three or four weeks that have been successful for them and incorporate those things into Chad being back. I know there's a lot of anxiousness. I think we all recognize where the focus is going to be this week. I'm surprised you guys are even standing here right now."

IN LIGHT OF 2005, HOW WOULD YOU MEASURE YOUR DESIRE THIS YEAR? "My level of desire has been incredible ever since we had to refocus things. Last year when the Chase was happening, by being able to change cars and bodies and go do some tests, we were able to learn some things and get me more comfortable. Ever since then, we've run good at Homestead and Phoenix and (we) won at Martinsville. I've been excited about getting this season started. I think Steve Letarte brings a lot of that excitement to the table and a lot of the newness that we have in the race team. I guess it's getting 2005 behind us and focusing on 2006 has been something that's kept me excited for a while. It's hard to be motivated and excited when you're not a car capable of being in the Chase and you're not a team that's capable of winning the championship. It's easy to get down. Once this season starts back over and you feel like you've made positive changes or improvements, it's also easy to get excited again."

HOW MUCH ARE YOU IN CHARGE OF YOUR OWN DESTINY AT THIS TRACK? "I would say it's 60-40. Sixty percent of it you're in control and 40 percent you're not. You've got to have a good race car. You've got to have a car that's capable of running the speeds that you need to run up front. That doesn't guarantee you're going to stay out of trouble. We've seen things happen anywhere in the field from being the leader in lap traffic to being in the middle or back of the pack as well. There's no place that's necessarily safe here. I will say that your chances are a whole lot better if you have a good race car."

IF THERE'S NO PRACTICE, NO QUALIFYING AND NO PREVIOUS TESTING HERE, HOW DOES THAT AFFECT THE START OF THE RACE ESPECIALLY WITH SO MANY DRIVERS THAT HAVEN'T BEEN HERE BEFORE FOR A CUP RACE? "As long as they've had some laps here in a Busch car or have run races here in a Busch car, I think they'll be fine. Here a Busch car and a Cup car are probably closer to one another than they are anywhere else that we go to. I think that just having laps is important. Obviously those guys would like to get all the laps they possibly could but you also have to understand that while they're getting laps, so are we. I think it really doesn't make a big difference."

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BEEN FRUSTRATED AT THIS TRACK WITH PEOPLE THAT ARE EDGING OTHER PEOPLE? "At a place like this, I feel like aerodynamics doesn't play as big of a role. It's usually somebody using their bumper more so than anything else. I'll be honest. At a place like this, every situation is an isolated situation. But here if you're not fast enough to stay ahead of the guy and you run about five or six laps and you're in his way and he moves you out of the way, then you deserve it. That's my opinion. If a guy moves me because I hadn't gotten out of his way and I've been holding him up, then I'm expecting it to come. I'm usually trying to let that guy go before it happens. The situation that happened in Vegas is totally different. There wasn't even a one lap. It was a half of lap and Kasey Kahne had just passed me and I felt like it was a lack patience. I showed by displeasure by getting him loose (Greg Biffle) as well.

WHEN YOU COME TO A TRACK LIKE THIS, WILL WE SEE SOME SHORT TEMPERS? "We're going to see a lot of it. Not everybody shares that same philosophy that I do. Some guys think that that's your real estate on the race track and that you own that and if somebody else takes it away, then shame on them. Ever since I've been coming to Bristol, and I've been fortunate to win five races here, I must have something that's gone right over the years or we wouldn't have had those victories. I try to live by that every time we come here. You avoid incident at all cost until it comes down to time to go. If you're not good enough to pull away from the guy behind you, then you might want to consider giving that position up to be there at the end and make adjustments and have other pit stops and put yourself in the position to win later."

WITH RUSTY WALLACE GONE, WHO ARE SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS THAT ARE STRONG HERE? "Matt Kenseth was incredible the last time we were here. I'm looking at him as the guy to beat. I think Tony Stewart runs well here. I've seen (Dale) Junior run well here at times. Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick - there's a bunch of guys, it's hard to pick one or two."

ON KURT BUSCH AND RACING FOR THE PENSKE ORGANIZATION: "I guess I did expect for them to (be strong). I'm not saying they're not. It's still early to tell. Anytime you go to a new team, it's going to take some time for you to adjust. I think they're going to be good and successful this year. If there's any surprises that Ryan Newman has to deal with. His experience in being with the team. At times they've shown a lot of strength. I guess the biggest surprise is that they haven't come out of the box better than they have."

DO YOU PUT PRESSURE ON YOURSELF TO BE THE DOMINANT GUY? "I would love more than anything to live up to those expectations and numbers. All I know is that we just try to make our team the best we can. I try to drive the hardest and best that I can and the smartest that I can. The results they come because we put that effort out there to make those results happen. There were times we were setting numbers and statistics that are hard to live up to every single year. I don't put those type of expectations on us. I look at what we're capable of, what the competition is capable of and how strong our team is."

ON TRANSITION POINTS IN HIS CAREER: "The good thing is that I feel like I've experienced transitions throughout my career. You go through highs and lows. You don't regret any of them. You just learn from them and try to get back to where you know where you can be. You can only know that there is light at the end of the tunnel if you've been through the good times. If you experience what it's like to win, then you know what it feels like and what it takes to be there. You know that you have to put all those ingredients back together. When you go through the tough times, that's what pulls you through it. I've been fortunate to experience a lot of good times. But I've also experienced enough of the down moments to only make us better and learn from them. I think 2000 was the year that went through a lot of that. I'm going to look at 2005 as another one of those years that reminds me a lot of 2000."

ON THE COMPETITION: "I think people constantly underestimate the competition and how competitive it is. I don't. I never have. When we won 13 races in 1998 and I was shaking my head every time we pulled into victory lane not believing it. You guys laughed at us like 'yeah right, like they can't believe they're in victory lane.' But it's true. You have to really appreciate a year like that and you have to appreciate wins because they're not easy to come by. Whether you have the fastest car or the best team, it doesn't guarantee anything."

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS WEEKEND? "I'm excited. I think our expectations are pretty high. We run well at Bristol. Obviously I like to qualify because we qualify very well here. But Bristol was not a highlight for us last year even though we had glimpses of being really strong. We want to rebound and get back to our Bristol style that we've experienced in the past and being one of the cars to beat every single lap you're out there."

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO RUN BETTER AT TRACKS THAT YOU STRUGGLED AT LAST YEAR? "Everything is relative. If you go to a track like Texas and you've never won there before and only had a few top fives and you finish 15th or 20th, then that's a bad day. When you go to Bristol and you've won five races and you know you're capable of top fives and you feel like you're capable of top fives just about every time you go there and you don't finish in the top five, that's equally as disappointing. We're making huge gains in a lot areas. I'm actually really looking forward to going to Texas. Not because I think we're going to be awesome, but because we have things that we're really anxious to try that I think are going to be improvements. Here in Bristol we have some areas we can improve on as well that we learned from last year. Those are small things that we're going to learn. Those tracks like Texas, Chicago, Kansas - those are big and we're obviously still putting most of our effort into."

A"No, definitely no. Until we go and win one of those races, I don't feel like we are. I think we've made big gains. I think we're much better and I think as a team we're together more than we've ever been. If we're not great, we're able to fight through some of those moments to at least pull off a decent finish. Right now what I like is the consistency. I think we finished on the lead lap in every race. We've been able to finish every race. When we do have trouble, we fight and get back into the hunt. That's got me more excited than anything else not to mention the two top fives back to back."

HOW DIFFERENT ARE THESE CARS TO DRIVE SINCE THE EARLY 90's? "Some guys drive off the right rear tire. I've never been one to really like to drive off the right rear tire. I think that's been some of our downfall the last couple of years. We tried to adapt to what other people are doing or other driving styles instead of sticking with what I know, what's comfortable with me and trying to get the cars to work around that. That's the thing that I really commend Steve Letarte and this DuPont team on is that's what they're focused on. (They're focused on) what does Jeff need to go fast. They still believe in me. You've got to have that. They believe in finding the ingredients that work for our driver. It's been fantastic. I think that's one of the reasons why we really picked up. Yeah, the cars drive different. We're a lot faster through the corners than we've ever been. With the downforce, you can be a lot more aggressive. Not so much here as the mile and a half tracks."

DO YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON HAVE A SIMILAR DRIVING STYLE AND SET-UPS? "We've taken a different path this year. I honestly can say that I'm not sure if we can give as good as information this year as we've been able to in the past because we're doing things different. Not only are our set-ups different, our bodies are different. Just because we followed a trend and it got us in trouble. I think we finally came to the realization that we have to get out of that and get back to what we know and what makes me comfortable. I think that's where some of our biggest improvements have come from. We still have good information because we know what we're going and we give that to the teams. I don't know if that works for them as well as it did in the past. I would say '03 was the last year when we were doing it our way. A lot of it was because young, new driver Jimmie Johnson came on and was doing some things and Chad Knaus being new. They started trying some different things that were working for them. We said 'they're going to fast. It's working for them. We have to do the same thing.' I just don't think that really worked for us."

ON DOING IT YOUR OWN WAY AT BRISTOL: "I think that's why we still excel at the short tracks and the road course tracks. Those tracks that's not a direction you feel you really go into at those tracks. We know and we're comfortable enough with our set-ups in our cars for those types of tracks where we haven't gone off in a different direction. We pretty much have been close to what we've always had here. Those tracks where you need the body, attitude, angles and front air dam sealed to ground and big rear springs and all that. That's what I'm excited about this year. We're getting the car to do those things but we're going them in a little bit different way than what our teammates are doing. That's just because I'm old and I can't do it that way."

ON CARL EDWARDS AND THE ESPN MAGAZINE COVER: "I was at a news stand and I did come across that. The first thing I said was 'Wow, he's brave.'

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin