JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE POSSIBILITY OF FINISHING UNDER THE LIGHTS AT DARLINGTON? "I ran under the lights a while back when they first put them up and it changes this track drastically. We...
JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE POSSIBILITY OF FINISHING UNDER THE LIGHTS AT DARLINGTON?
"I ran under the lights a while back when they first put them up and it changes this track drastically. We should be pretty comfortable with the race track and when the lights come on we'll have enough time to really adapt to it and it shouldn't change things too much. It's going to be cool here already on Sunday, so that shouldn't change things too much."
WHAT ABOUT SHADOWS ON THE TRACK?
"There are very few tracks we run on that have lights that we run right up against the wall in the corners. Having banking and being up close to the wall and with the soft wall creates challenges on how you light it. After I was here, I talked with the lighting guys and gave them some of my thoughts and as far as I know they made some adjustments on the lights and we'll find out Sunday night."
IS IT GOOD THAT DARLINGTON IS IN THE FINAL 10 RACES?
"It's good it's in the mix because it's a track I run good at. I don't think about too many other things other than that. If you look at the tracks, some of them have a lot of history. Some of them are new. They're all challenging in their own way. I think this is definitely one of the most challenging tracks."
DOES YOUR SUCCESS AT DARLINGTON GIVE YOU A PSYCHOLOGICAL ADVANTAGE OVER THE OTHER GUYS ATOP THE POINT STANDINGS?
"If anything, it gives ourselves some advantages because we know how good we've been here. We have a good idea on the combination we're looking for and how to set the car up. But right now, I think everybody is just focusing on getting the most out of their own car and their own team. Some run horrible here and some run good. We don't focus on anybody else buy ourselves. When it comes down to the final race, we've got a shot at the championship and we've got to finish one or two positions ahead of somebody or win it or something like that, then we start thinking about the competition and the points. But right now, as tight as it is, I still don't think we're thinking about points, we're just thinking about coming out of here with a strong finish. Phoenix was a must for us. We had to have a good finish there. I was glad we pulled it off. If we hadn't, we would have come in here in a big hole and with our momentum going the wrong way. Even thought Junior won the race, we still gained some momentum."
ON THE POINTS SYSTEM
"This points system is very exciting. It's keeping the interest level up. Whoever wins this championship this year should be very honored and proud of what they've accomplished because this is one of the toughest championships I've ever been a part of. Since I've been in this sport, I've never seen it this competitive with this many people going for it all the way down to the finish like this."
DOES IT FEEL DIFFERENT THAN OTHER CHAMPIONSHIP RACES YOU'VE BEEN A PART OF?
"Oh, yes. Absolutely, it's more intense."
HAS IT TURNED OUT TO BE MORE LEGITIMATE THAN YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE IN THE BEGINNING?
"Yeah, but my concerns weren't that. I always knew it was going to be exciting and entertaining and close and difficult to win. My problem was that I felt like it was leaning more toward the excitement and entertainment side instead of the actual competitor side. I could easily sit here and say where we'd be if the old points system was in place.
"I'm just saying that when it's all said and done, as much as we like or dislike it right now, whoever gets that trophy has really done something."
WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU MAKE TO THE SYSTEM?
"I don't know. I want to think about it some when it's all said and done. If we win it, I would tell them what a great job they did (grin). I'll pat Brian France on the back and say what a genius he is."
"I say this honestly. I don't think this championship could come down to a better place or a better race track than Homestead. They have done a phenomenal job with that race track. Give it to the computer wizards or whoever that have designed that race track and the third time is the charm. They've been trying to get that place right and they finally did. You're going to see side-by-side racing, you're going to see a superspeedway, and you're going to see some dicing and some great racing to decide this championship. I think you couldn't ask for a better end to the season or a better end to the championship."
HOW DID YOU TEST GO AT HOMESTEAD? HAS THE TRACK AGED?
"It did age. When tracks change and they age like that, it's usually for the better. And as good as that track was when the pavement was brand new, we all new knew it was only going to get better and it did. I thought our test went well."
WHO HAS THE MOST PRESSURE RIGHT NOW? KURT BUSCH OR YOU?
"Man, I think it's on all of us. We all have really the same at stake here. Yeah, he's got a lead but he doesn't have a big enough lead to protect it or pad it. He knows he's got to go out there and win. We all know we've got to win as well. We've got to run up front and finish ahead of those guys. And those guys are winning, so basically you have to win to beat them in the points championship. I think Kurt feels that and Jimmie and Junior and Mark feel that. That's what makes this thing so intense right now. It's not about getting a top 10. It's about getting wins."
HOW HAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ROBBIE LOOMIS GROWN?
"Robbie and I have grown to be better friends and we've gotten to communicate better about the race car. I think we can all be ourselves a little bit more. When it gets intense, he's got to step up and say what's on his mind and he says it. It's the same for me. We care about one another and respect one another a lot and we know we can pretty much get through anything - no matter how good or bad things get at times. We never give up on it. At the end of the day, we pat one another on the back and go to the next one."
HOW CRITICAL IS RESPECT?
"I think as soon as you lose respect for any member of your team - your crew chief especially - then the confidence level goes away and communication goes away and everything is gone."
THIS GROUP OF TOP FOUR DRIVERS DOESN'T APPEAR TO BE PLAYING ANY MIND GAMES WITH ONE ANOTHER. ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THAT?
"I've never been one to play mind games. It's not been my thing. Some guys do that. I think if you look at the group of guys who are battling for the championship, they want to leave any mind games on the race track and how you perform. That's the bottom line anyway. Even when I was racing Earnhardt for the championship in '95, and he wanted to get involved in mind games, all we did was go out there and perform and it put a lot of that stuff to rest. I think it just has to do with the personalities that are battling for the championship right now. There are a couple of guys in this garage area that would be doing that if they were in the battle."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT THE CHASE - PREPARATION OR OTHERWISE -- THAT YOU MIGHT DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
"I've been surprised that we've been able to maintain where we are with the lack of performance. I felt like 10 races were a lot of racing and consistency was still going to be important. You talk about the Mulligan and I thought at one time that if you had one bad race you'd be out of it. I think maybe two - if you can back it up. Jimmie has had probably had more than two and then has just gone on and dominated three races and put himself right back into it. So, I still think we've got to be consistent. And that's the only thing about maybe changing the points system.
"Right now, the way it is for a 10 race battle, consistency is playing too much of a role. It just goes back to the points system that I would like to see put in place. And that it more points for the winner and the top five and really just even the points out toward the end of the field so you can get rid of some of those bad races and go forward and get the points back on some of a win."
ON DARLINGTON BEING ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT TRACKS IN THE FINAL 10
"Nobody argues that. It's definite. This is a tough race track. They only made it tougher when they put the soft walls in here and took away 30 inches of racing room that we didn't have to begin with. And so this is a track where you've got to stay out of the wall. As you can see in practice, it's not easy. You can tell yourself over and over to stay out of the wall, but you're trying to stay out of the wall and put the limits on the car and those two don't mix. That's what makes this track, without a doubt, the most difficult track on the circuit."
HOW WILL IT CHANGE NEXT YEAR'S CHASE BY TAKING DARLINGTON OUT AND PUTTING TEXAS IN?
"On a personal level, I think it's a mistake because I like this race track and we run good at this race track. If you could pick this race track up and put it in New York City or Texas or Miami, we'd be racing here. The bottom line is that decisions have to be made for the better of the sport. I don't know how ticket sales are or ratings are but history of a race track is good but it only can take you so far. Hey, I'd want a road course in there too. I think this is a track that belongs in the Chase. It's a driver's championship they way they award it even though we know it's a team thing. But this is a driver's track and I think it belongs in the Chase. As good as I've run at Texas the last couple of times, I'm not minding too much being in Texas. I can selfishly say I want tracks in there that I run good at, but I do think they have to be good markets and a variety of race tracks and that would be the truest test for a champion."
ON A POSSIBLE NEW SYSTEM OF QUALFIYING?
"I don't know all the details about it so I'm unclear on how it would be structured. But if I take my driver hat off and put my owner hat on, and say that we need to franchise. But it's a very tricky thing to pull off in this sport. It's not like any other sport.
"There's a uniqueness about it that's very hard to structure that. But I believe the teams need to have value in the organization. If you look at the investment, you need to have one security with your sponsors. And by knowing you're going to be in every race is one way to do that. Franchising is a way that, if there are only so many teams out there that are available then if somebody wants to sell a team or buy a team they've got to go through that type of a system. When you look at teams that have folded or others that have tried to come in, it's very easy to get started and very difficult to leave."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON NASCAR ALLOWING LIQUOR SPONSORSHIPS NOW?
"Well, they're going to market their products. They're going to be out there. I think we've got to be careful because you don't want that to take over. But they're out there marketing anyway and spending a lot of money. The sport is getting very expensive and we're asking a lot out of our sponsors. They are giving it and they ask for a lot in return. We're starting to reach the limit of that. If there are other companies that want to get involved in our sport and support a team and promote a product, it's kind of hard to tell them they can't."
ON HAVING KIDS AS FANS AND ALIGNING WITH THE IMAGE OF LIQUOR?
"Well, look at Dale Jr. and his sponsorship with a beer company and they've figured out ways around it. And he's got a lot of fans spread around a lot of ages. It's very important for these companies when they come in here to put a positive spin on it. They've got to find a way to market heavily around not drinking and driving and trying to promote safety with alcohol. I think that's got to be extremely important."
WHEN YOU HAVE ILL-HANDLING RACE CARS, IS IT HARD FOR YOU AND ROBBIE LOOMIS NOT TO POINT FINGERS?
"Oh, we're back to that respect thing. There's a way to handle things. Don't think we don't have those conversations. It might go the other way. He might wonder what the heck I'm doing driving the thing. You have to be open enough to have those conversations to make sure you do better. You've also got to have enough respect with one another to know how to go about having that conversation with one another."