INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, July 31, 2002 -- As Jeff Gordon prepares to defend his Brickyard 400 title from last year, he is also attempting to become the first driver to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a...
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, July 31, 2002 -- As Jeff Gordon prepares to defend his Brickyard 400 title from last year, he is also attempting to become the first driver to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a fourth time.
Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, recently sat down to discuss a variety of topics heading into this year's Brickyard 400, Aug. 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
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Q: In your first two Brickyard 400 victories, you went to victory lane with Ray Evernham as your crew chief. How important was it to take Robbie Loomis there as your crew chief last year?
Gordon: "It was awesome. The whole team, everything we do now is a new experience, it's different, and it's like experiencing it for the first time. There is no greater thrill than to go to places like that. I look forward to some day taking Robbie and Brian Whitesell and these guys to victory lane at Daytona because it will be like doing it again for the first time. That would be awesome."
Q: You were the points leader at the time when you won the Brickyard 400, and it allowed you to break away from the competition and win the title. How important is winning that race to winning the championship?
Gordon: "It shows which teams are strong at that point in the season. The teams that are a real threat for the championship and are on top of their game at that point in the season are usually teams that are going to go on and win the championship. We were on top of our game at that day, and we were on top of our game at that point in the season to win the championship."
Q: In the closing stages of the race, how concerned were you about Sterling Marlin being in second place?
Gordon: "Anybody that is in front of me, I'm concerned that they are going to be tough to beat. Sterling and that team were strong all year last year. I knew that restart would be extremely important. His car stumbled a little bit, and I got a great restart and got in front of him. Even when I got in front of him, I knew it wasn't over because that Dodge was real strong at that point in the season. He made a little bit of a charge back at me. It's not over until you cross that line. I brushed the wall there coming off Turn 3 and 4 and I had to tell myself, don't lose that thing by making a mistake."
Q: Despite the aero push, how well were you able to pass on that track?
Gordon: "Not too well, which is why that restart was so important. I knew that before the air pressures got built up, it was important to get by as fast as possible. Once those pressures got built up in the tires, it's almost impossible to make the pass. I was charging hard right from the drop of that restart. I was going to put a lot of pressure on him, whether I got by him going into Turn 1 or coming off 1 or 2, I was going to be working hard."
Q: When you go by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, do you get the same feeling there as you did when you asked Rick Mears to autograph your T-shirt?
Gordon: "Yes. Every time I got there, I think of taking that bus the day after the Indy 500 and seeing the names of the drivers that competed -- names like Unser and Foyt and Rutherford and Mears. I always thought that was so awesome to visit that place. There is no doubt I have memories of the Indy 500s that I went and watched, and Rick is a huge part of that."
Q: Do you still consider yourself an Indianapolis 500 fan?
Gordon: "The Indy 500 is a big race. I'm a race fan. I enjoy watching other types of motorsports, and that is one of the biggest ones. I'll watch that because the way our schedule works out, we are able to watch it, and I like that. I watch a lot of races, but I usually don't get to watch CART or Formula One because it conflicts with our schedule. If it's a Saturday-night race, I'll absolutely watch it. It's not the Indy 500, but it's still a neat event to watch."
Q: In last year's Brickyard 400, at what point in the day did you figure it might not be too bad of a day?
Gordon: "I think once we got up to fifth or sixth place. I knew when we were 26th that if we got track position, things could change for us. Soon as we got that track position, we had to fight and hold onto it, and we did. Once we held onto that, I thought we had a shot at that thing. All we had to do was stay after it, and it could be our day."
Q: For whatever reason, do you believe you have a knack for that race?
Gordon: "It's funny because I go there at times, and I think I don't know my way around there at all. When I go to qualify, I wonder why I can't seem to get it done there. Then there are times when you are running for the race, you think the same thing. When you are racing there and your car is setup for the race and you are doing your line for the race setup, it's different. It is something that I do feel comfortable with. I know what I'm looking for in the car, and I just keep working on these guys to help me get the feel that I'm working for. As a team, we come together, and we typically find it. You do have some confidence if you have won there before to know what to look for the next time you go back."
Q: Each win has had special meaning. Now, you are a three-time winner. Is the one challenge to be the first back-to-back winner?
Gordon: "It's such an awesome event; we want to win it any way we can. We don't really look at statistics and be a four-time winner. I just say let's go there and win."
Q: Does a win in the Brickyard 400 stay with you longer than a win at almost any other race?
Gordon: "A win there or a win at Daytona, those can make your whole season. Those can make it all worthwhile. There is no doubt that it sticks out as something very special. When you pull into victory lane, you feel the adrenaline and the rush of winning and the excitement of the team and everybody. But when you back and think about it afterward, hours later -- man, that's a big race."
Q: All the past winners that have won at the Brickyard 400 are among the best drivers in NASCAR. Why is it that the only winners there have been of the elite caliber?
Gordon: "It's a very challenging track. It's not an easy track to get around. It takes a good package. You have to be good through the corners, good down the straightaways, you have to be good everywhere there. It's a driver's track. You have to hit four different corners every single lap. It's not an easy track to get around. I think the strong teams and strong drivers rise to the top there."
Q: What are some of the unique characteristics of driving around that track in a stock car?
Gordon: "Some guys downshift, but I don't. It's a lot of 90-degree turns. I don't approach it like a road course because I'm not on the brakes and downshifting like on a road course; it's not as tight in the corners, but all four corners are different. Even though they all look alike, you do have to drive them each a little bit different. The car is never really perfect in every one of the corners."
Q: How special is the atmosphere there on Race Day?
Gordon: "It's awesome. One Race Day, the place is packed, and it changes. You have to focus that out because if you start looking around and thinking about it, this really is a big deal, and there are a lot of eyes on me. A lot of people say that front straightaway really narrows down into Turn 1, and it does in some ways, but once you get in your groove, you put that out of your mind."
Q: The way the community embraces the race, is it a highlight of the season?
Gordon: "It is for me because I do have a lot of people that support me, and that is awesome, especially these days for me because I go to a lot of places and don't get that kind of support. Anywhere we go where people are pulling for you, it's awesome. But it's also one of the places where we've had success at, love the racetrack; love the whole part of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The whole town is geared up around it. They accept it and love it. It's a part of life, and you have to like that."