Comments from Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo who is paired with NASCAR Winston Cup fan, Marlene Schillinger of Bradford, Pa. for Sunday's Winston No Bull 5 event, the Coca-Cola 600. Notes: Gordon has taken the million-dollar...
Comments from Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo who is paired with NASCAR Winston Cup fan, Marlene Schillinger of Bradford, Pa. for Sunday's Winston No Bull 5 event, the Coca-Cola 600.
Notes: Gordon has taken the million-dollar bonus four times in eight previous attempts. His prior wins were at the 1998 Brickyard 400, the 1998 Pepsi Southern 500, the 1999 Daytona 500, and the 2001 UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400.
Questions for Gordon
Your average is pretty good - 4 wins - how do you feel about another chance to win a million dollars?
"We're real excited about it and just really thrilled with what RJReynolds and their Winston brand does - not only for our sport, but to give the opportunity to someone like Marlene and four others (fans) to win a million dollars. That's so awesome. I think I get as much enjoyment out of seeing these people become millionaires as I do in receiving that check. It's really exciting. It's a great opportunity. We certainly have what it takes to do it this weekend. We have a great car and we qualified well. Things are going well for us. We're optimistic, but we also know this is 600 miles and this is Charlotte and it takes a lot to get to victory lane."
Do you think your Monte Carlo is one of the cars to beat?
"Well like I said, this is a long race no matter who is favored or who has the car to beat. There's a lot that has to happen. But yes, I think so. We certainly should be. I hate to say this, but it's a lot better than that car we had the other night (the winning back-up car in The Winston), but I say that in a different way. I don't know if this car would have gone faster in that last 10-lap segment. In those 30-lap segments, this car is better. That's why we brought it here because we've got to go 50 or 60 or more laps under green. You've got to have a car that's comfortable and that has a lot of adjustment to it. It is definitely giving me the feel I want.
How does it feel to be on an upswing now compared to a year ago?
"It's amazing what just that one win at The Winston will do for you. Friday of last week, nobody wanted to interview me, nobody even wanted an autograph. After Saturday all of a sudden now we're like we were in '98. We're not, but people are getting that perception. And that's great. I want that. We have felt like that all year. We've had the team; we've had the cars. But we just haven't put all the pieces in place at one time. A confidence-booster like that win we had Saturday night (The Winston), and the way we went about it, is sometimes what you need to get those final few pieces together. That's what feels so good right now. I'm optimistic. Things are going well. The confidence is there. The cars are driving great. But I don't want to get over-optimistic or over-confident. It is a 600-mile race. We know what it takes to win this race. It's keeping up with the constant changes of this track and being there at the end of this race that is easier said than done."
What other cars, even dark horses; will you be keeping your eyes on during the race?
"It's a little hard to tell when you're practicing during the day versus the race being run at night. You've got to throw those names in there that you always think about: Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton, and Rusty Wallace. But I'll tell you, Ryan Newman (pole-sitter) was fast during that last practice. I don't know. The competition is so close these days that you can't just pick one or two other guys out there. You've got to go off of who has run well there in the past and of who has a strong team for a 600-mile race. Those guys that I mentioned are the ones that rise to the top in my mind - and I'm throwing us in there too because I think we're capable of that. It's anybody's race. Look at last year when we saw Matt Kenseth run real well and win this race. I remember when I won my first race here in the 600 and I don't think too many people picked us to win that day. Rusty had us all beat but we threw a two-tire (pit) stop in there and won the race. Anything can happen in this race."
For a driver, what is the most difficult thing about making the transition from day to night in this race?
"Just keeping up with the track. That last practice was probably pretty close to what it's going to be like at 5:30p.m. (Sunday); maybe a little bit warmer track temperature than what we'll start this race with. The track temperature is the biggest difference. It'll cool down a lot - especially as cool as it's been getting here at night lately. So we have a pretty good idea of how to start the race. But as he night goes on, the grip is going to get better and the cars are going to get faster. I think your balance will stay the same. You've just got to keep up with the changing speeds, and sometimes we feel like that makes the cars tighter. I told Robbie (Loomis, crew chief) that I thought we had a good balance and that maybe we needed to free it up more to start the race, but to make sure we have plenty of options in there. You try to put adjustments in there that are quick. These days, pulling spring rubbers out is almost not fast enough. Unless those guys have it down to a science to really get it in there and get it out fast, I just don't think it's a fast enough adjustment. So you've got to go your track bar and your wedge adjustments and your air pressure adjustments."
Who's your pick for the Indy 500?
"Tony Stewart. Scott Sharp looks like he's been fast. But I'll tell you, unless I can see lap times over a 20 or 30-lap run like we can see here by going to our computer. I can track everybody's lap times and I can tell you who is going to be good on the long run and who's not. Until I see that for the Indy 500, it's hard to say. I haven't been keeping up a lot since they've gotten qualified in, other than I saw Scott Sharp looking pretty good. It's one of those things where you would typically think you'd throw in an IRL regular that knows those cars and has been running those cars for the last couple of years, but then Juan Montoya threw that all out the window last year. I think Chip Ganassi knows how to put a good strong effort out there and that Tony Stewart is as good as anybody out there to get that car around there. If the race starts on time, and he doesn't have to pull out with 10 laps to go leading the race, I think he might have 'em. I think the only way he's going to get out of the car if he's leading and they say you've got to go --- it's 10 to go or 20 to go - is if Joe Gibbs has a kill button on that car."
Question for Marlene Schillinger
When you found out you were paired with Jeff Gordon, what did you think?
"All week long, I thought if I could pick a driver, his name kept popping into my head. It worked out pretty good."
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