JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO MENTALLY, DO YOU HAVE TO PREPARE FOR EACH RACE TRACK DIFFERENTLY? "Most of the differences are in the set-ups and in the race cars. As a driver, we just push the limits of the car and try to...
JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO
MENTALLY, DO YOU HAVE TO PREPARE FOR EACH RACE TRACK DIFFERENTLY?
"Most of the differences are in the set-ups and in the race cars. As a driver, we just push the limits of the car and try to find a balance the car works well with. But I would definitely say that you go to Atlanta that's a super fast race track, you've got to mentally get your mind in the qualifying mode and then in the race mode. It's like two different races in one weekend. We find that in a lot of place. At Darlington, there is no bigger difference on any track on new tires than here. On new tires, the car has a lot of grip and then they go away fast. You somewhat hang onto it and slide your car through the turns. The 10 tracks we've had in the Chase are all awesome. They add a great variety that bring the team and driver aspect into it. It really is making for a great championship. This race here, is certainly going to be a finesse race track and next week is going to be charging hard getting the aero advantage as much as you can out of the race car."
HOW DOES THE INTENSITY OF THE CHASE AND BRINGING MORE GUYS INTO IT CHANGE YOUR FOCUS?
"Right now, it's so close among so many guys. In the past, even if you're behind you were only focused on one guy if you had a shot at it. If you were leading it, you were only focused on one guy and all you really had to do was go out there and get decent finishes. I compare this to '97 when I was with Mark and DJ and that was extreme and intense pressure. In some ways it was even greater because you really had 10 races to do it in and you were battling with more guys. At the beginning of it, you were dealing with nine other guys who were within the 45 or 50 points. The intensity has been taken away a little bit, but still greater than I've ever seen it. The focus on the Chase seems to be greater. The stakes of the accomplishment and what it's worth - not just monetarily - but what it means to be the first NEXTEL Cup champion. So there are a lot of things on the line that are adding pressure to it. But for the most part, it's those other guys that you race with and they'll be more guys. I don't think you're really able to focus on those guys as much as you've really got to focus on your own deal and just get the best effort you possibly can out of it. When we get to Homestead, hopefully we're in that battle, then maybe we'll focus on those guys. But I don't think you can focus on anybody else until you get to that last race - even the closing laps of the last race."
IF YOU LOOK AT THE WHOLE SEASON TO DATE, HOW HAS THE CHASE CHANGED THE ENTIRE COMPLEXION OF THE SEASON?
"Oh, it's definitely changed. You guys write about what the points would have been if we were in the old system - and I appreciate that (grin). It's changed it tremendously. We saw the intensity level as it came into Richmond and went out of Richmond for just making the top 10. We've never seen that much focus in the sport - ever. Yeah, you got to go to New York and go on stage. But they really made you feel special just to be in it - not to mention that you know you have a shot at the championship. I was never against it, I felt like maybe it was a little bit too drastic of a change. But I will say it's been exciting from inside the car and outside the car. It's given the media a lot to talk about which is good for the sport. The fans have gotten closer and deeper into it and that's good. How you race these last 10 is totally different - other than in '97.
"You've got two different races. You've got to get yourself in the top 10 and then you've got to come out strong and race extremely hard for those last 10. I was surprised that everybody talked about the Mulligan. I really thought that if somebody had trouble, they'd be out of it. And that was happening until Kurt had his trouble in Atlanta. That really has changed this whole thing. I haven't done anything stellar other than Charlotte and I'm sitting in second. So, I'm shocked by that. I didn't think that would get it done. And I know that in order to win the championship, we've got to do something really stellar during these last two races. "
HOW DID CAR FEEL AND THOUGHTS FOR SUNDAY'S RACE
"It is really hard to tell because we were only out there for two runs and the tires are gone in one lap. We made basically two runs. The first time out I was real loose and we tightened the car up and I was really good and we climbed up to ninth or tenth on the board then some other guys knocked us back to fourteenth. We had felt pretty comfortable and confident about qualifying today had it come off. I don't know whether we would have qualified second so starting by points certainly worked in our favor today. We are excited about this weekend at Darlington. We just got done testing at Homestead and had a good test there. These next two races are definitely good ones for us but just like what happened to us here earlier in the year, we have to put it all together, stay out of trouble and finish ahead of those guys we are racing for the championship."
DOES ALL THE CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS STARTING UP FRONT TOMORROW CHANGE ANYTHING IN YOUR TEAM'S STRATEGY FOR THE RACE?
"It will definitely be different because I will be able to keep my eye on all of those guys. We will be able to know right away who is good and who isn't of the guys you are really racing in the championship. The only thing that really comes out of qualifying is if one of the guys in the chase doesn't qualify well and everyone wonders if maybe they are struggling or maybe they are in trouble or they have gotten themselves farther back and have their work cut out for themselves. The good teams, the guys that are fast and the guys in the championship chase usually find their way to the front no matter what. So we will all start up front.
"I think it is a good thing, I think it will be exciting for the fans. We will just kind of have our eyes on those guys we are really racing against for the championship. It is kinda nice to have the chance to know exactly where they are in the beginning instead of having guys up front that aren't in the chase. There is certainly some unpredictability to that scenario at times. I am more focused on a front row starting spot and a good spot on pit road, that was the main thing for us."
IS IT FAIR TO SAY YOU'VE CHANGED YOUR OPINION ABOUT THE CHASE?
"I still think there are maybe some adjustments that could be made with the points system - especially when you get down to the last 10. But I've changed my mind in some ways. I was pretty disappointed that what you did in these first 26 races was being taken away from you as drastically as it was. I felt like it was cool to have 10 guys in there but should that 10th place guy be that close in the points? I still don't know if that is necessarily the way in my mind it ought to be. But it's exciting and entertaining and the ratings are good. When I put my owner hat on, I say that it's very good for the sport. When you're dealing with sponsors and you're asking the kind of money that we do these days to sponsor these race cars, it's important for the sport to be exciting and be drawing a lot of attention. I definitely think that this is going to be exciting and entertaining. I just hoped it would keep the competitors in mind. But now that I'm a part of it, I see that whoever wins this championship should be very proud because it's a heck of an accomplishment. It's very difficult to win this championship - more so than any I've ever been a part of because there are so many guys you're racing and there are 10 different race tracks as well."
TALK ABOUT HOW KURT BUSCH MIGHT BE FEELING LEADING
I am sure there is some nervousness but when you strap in a race car and you fire up that engine and they drop the green flag, you aren't really thinking about being nervous. It is actually one of the most comfortable moments for a driver. You are waiting to see how the race is going to unfold and what your car feels like. You start thinking about the race and your racecar.
"Now, one of the things that I think is key from my position and key from an experienced team is if things start to go wrong it is critical not to panic. If you see an opportunity to win the race, you can't make a mistake trying to do it. From an experienced team perspective, I think they advantage we may have if we have one, is there is less tendency to panic when things don't go right and we will get a strong finish out of it if we are in that position and we can weigh out how important it is too push it is we get that very small window of opportunity to win the race. We are here to win the championship and you have to finish before you can win the championship. How if we are battling with a guy who we are battling for in the chase, it might take the risk. But I think for younger guy like Kurt, those may be a few of the things that are weighing on him in terms of how to evaluate making those decisions. And sometimes you can't, it is in the heat of the moment, the adrenaline is flowing and you just have to make it. He has done an excellent job in my opinion this entire year, so I don't see why that would be something that would catch up with him in these last two races unless that pressure gets him.
"I will say for all of us, this is the most intensive championship battle I have ever seen. There is more pressure that all of us have and certainly have a little edgyness knowing that every lap and position is absolutely crucial and trying not to outweigh our thought process is important for everyone