Jeff Gordon Interview

JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) "It was an unbelievable finish for us. We thought we were on the verge of getting back into victory lane. We've had some good runs, Bristol, Martinsville, but we thought it was going...

JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo)

"It was an unbelievable finish for us. We thought we were on the verge of getting back into victory lane. We've had some good runs, Bristol, Martinsville, but we thought it was going to happen at a short track like Richmond. We never dreamed it would happen at Talladega, especially the way we qualified, but we had a great car in the draft and had a lot of things really go our way all day for the pit crew and for the calls that Robbie (crew chief Loomis) and Brian (Whitesell) were making and just the way the car ran, the moves I was able to make. They just all really worked out for us.

"I'm not saying that just one win is going to turn things around for us, but I think it's definitely going to be a boost. I think any time you can go get in victory lane, as hard and tough as it is to get there these days, especially this year if you look at who's won. Nobody has won twice. I think it's definitely a huge confidence builder for the team. I think one of the things that I'm very proud of is that even though we've struggled a little bit this year, my guys have stayed up. They haven't gotten down. They haven't started blaming or pointing fingers at one another. They knew with time it would come, with hard work and dedication it would come. I think they proved that on this past Sunday.

"I can't say that I took them (wins) for granted. I think the whole time we knew how special of a season we were having, but I've got to be honest with you. When you pull into victory lane the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th time, it's not the same feeling. I think when you work hard and you don't go to victory lane and time goes by, I think you do start to respect it a lot more and realize how hard it is and how competitive it is to get into victory lane. I think this has been a great test for all of us. It's really been a test for our faith in one another, our faith in God and I think we've done good up against this test, but we still have a lot of things left to accomplish and I definitely know how excited I was on Sunday and how great that felt and how I'd love to get there again some day.

"I'm real happy with the way the team is structured right now. There still might need to be a few minor changes that need to be done, and I think that Robbie is great to work with. I really enjoy having him as crew chief. He has a different type of intensity. He still has a lot of intensity, but it's a different type than Ray (former crew chief Evernham). I like the fact that Robbie is able to smile and laugh and enjoy himself, but also work extremely hard and know how to get the most out of the team. It's hard to say not winning in 13 races is a drought. I felt like through the changes, through a lot of things we're doing that it was going to take some time and that we were planning for the future and not necessarily expecting just to come out and start winning races and be a threat for the championship because of those changes.

"I think what was going through my mind (during final laps at Talladega) was, 'all right, don't blow this. This is an opportunity of a lifetime right now because it had been 13 races.' It is hard to win these days, and you want to take advantage of every opportunity. I was so disappointed with myself at Bristol when I hit the tire on pit road because that took away any shot we had that day of winning. I just did not want to take away any chance or any shot we had. I really felt like once I got the lead I was sitting exactly where I wanted to and if I just did everything right and everything I learned on these restrictor plates that I could win. I've had some experience leading at the superspeedways and it's really paid off. It paid off again on Sunday, and that's all I was thinking. I knew that I was going to have to run (Mike) Skinner all over the race track and that he was probably going to bump and bang me a little bit at times, but as long as I kept him behind me we could get to victory lane.

"We know why we weren't fast on qualifying day and that's because we're not able to get our spoiler out of the air on our Monte Carlo. Some other guys are doing a better job hiding their spoiler. We've got the power. We've got a good body on the car. It's just that it's got a lot of drag in the rear with that rear spoiler. It's just not fast by itself. As soon as we got in the draft, and I either had a car behind me or a car in front of me, particularly behind me, my car was just as fast as any other car out there. You could come, if you stayed out of trouble and didn't get caught up in a wreck, you could come from anywhere in the field. There's a lot of good guys that were in the back that worked their way to the front. Jeff Burton got up there faster than anybody. At other race tracks, I can't say that it's quite like Talladega or Daytona where the draft means so much. There are some guys that maybe make a mistake on qualifying day that have an extremely strong car that are able to come from the back to the front, but most places, especially these days, it seems like track position is so important. I think you've got to start toward the front.

"It's not looking like it this year, is it? I think it's still possible (to win 13 races in a season), but you've got to have extreme confidence throughout the whole team. You've really got to do everything right. The car has got to be perfect, not just the speed of the car but everything has to go

your way. It is possible. I don't know if it's going to be possible this year with the way things are looking. Every year it gets more and more competitive, even in '98 when we won those 13 races, I think we were pretty amazed with it because how competitive it was in '98 and we were able to do it. I look at last year. I can't believe we won seven races. We were not the fastest car a lot of times and yet we were pulling into victory lane. I don't know. I think each year it's going to get tougher and tougher, and this year seems to be one of those years where it's going to be extremely hard to see somebody get into double digit wins. It's nice to get back into victory lane, especially for No. 50."

ADDITIONAL POST-RACE COMMENTS FROM TALLADEGA JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo)

"I think a lot of people compare everything to previous years, and I think they've been comparing our performance to previous years, but I think you've got to look at the overall picture of the whole sport and where it's at and how competitive it is today and how people continue to get better and better. Any time you go through the changes that we've gone through, you may take a few steps back, but in order to take those giant leaps forward I think sometimes you've got to do that. I can't say there was any urgency to go out there and win. We always want to, and from the start of the season or off-season, we felt like we could come in this season and win races. I think there were some times that were frustrating for us along the way. We'd either miss on the setup or were kind of caught off guard with the balance of this Monte Carlo. I think that we were expecting it to be a little bit different."

"A lot of those things play a small role in your performance. We've been learning a lot about the team and working together and going forward and a lot about these race cars, but there was never any doubt in my mind if we were patient and we if we stuck together and didn't get down on ourselves and lose confidence, there was no doubt we could get back to victory lane. This is a big confidence booster for us going forward. We're really excited about California and Richmond, a lot of different race tracks. The best part of what we've done is not get overly frustrated and start pointing fingers and start getting mad. The guys really stuck together well. I think a lot of that credit, I know he mentioned me, but a lot of that credit goes to him (Robbie Loomis). He's very good with people and seeing what they need to stick together, like he was saying, the glue that holds it together.

"I had respect in the garage area prior to that and knew he was a good guy and made good calls. You look at what he did with the 43 car and the 44 car. Anybody The King respects, I respect, but once I got in touch with him and talked to him on the phone, I started to realize not just how good a person he is but how well he can do at what he needed, being somebody that works well with people, with the team and his knowledge of the race cars and running a race team from that standpoint. I knew it was a perfect mix for our race team. We're trying things a little bit different this year with the way we've got Brian (Whitesell) and with Robbie as the crew chief. It's taken a little bit of time, but I don't think it would come together the way it has had it not been for Robbie and his attitude and the way he works the floor and the people at the race shop. I see a lot of great things that can come out of this relationship. I think the better he (Loomis) gets to know me, the better job he does, and the more I get to know him, the more confidence I have in him and the better I become as a driver.

"As much as they didn't seem to like it when one guy was winning too many races, then I'd say it's a good thing for the sport. No doubt, I think the more competitive the sport is the more guys we have coming into the sport winning races like Dale Jr., the better off it is for the fans who get to watch from home or the race track. It makes it tougher on Robbie and the guys at the shop because every little thing means so much more than just putting a great race car out there. It's everybody clicking and working in the same direction together and getting along well and every little decision you make seems to be a crucial one. It makes it tougher, but I think it's definitely a good thing.

"I think everybody likes a winner, but nobody likes somebody that wins too much. I understand that. I really do. When the boos started coming I'd sit back and say, 'I don't blame 'em.' You win 13 races in a season or 10 races in a season and it's unheard of and I was just as baffled with it myself as other people were. Certain baseball, football, basketball teams along the way that I would watch and sit back and say, 'wow, that team just wins all the time.' Then sometimes you start pulling for the underdog and go, 'man, I hope they beat 'em. I'd like to see 'em get beat.' I was sitting there being one of these fans sitting out here in the grandstands and knowing exactly why at times they'd pull against us. I think that there's a lot of sense with what Richard was saying. I think it showed what we're made of when we're down and how we handle ourselves and then can we come back from that. Everybody says it's much easier at the top. Sometimes that's true, but a lot of people try to tear you down when you're at the top. I can tell you when you get knocked down a notch, it's very tough. There's a lot of hard work, and I think you just earn a little more respect, especially in this garage area and from the fans when you're not winning and you go in there and slides some wins in there. I don't know the reception I got here. I really don't. I couldn't hear them, but the reception I got when I came in this door was pretty unbelievable. I don't remember that the last time I won here.

"We need to just continue being consistent. Even though we've had some bad finishes, we haven't, knock on wood, had that 43rd place finish. We've had very few failures, just really that one thing that happened to us at Daytona which was kind of a fluke. We came back pretty good from that to finish where we did. I was pretty happy with that. At Texas, we got in a wreck and came back to 25th. You've got to do that, and you've got to keep working hard not to get those 40th-place finishes and then sneak those top fives and top 10s and a win in there. That's where that consistency starts to come, and we're starting to get that. I think we're certainly capable of being in the top 10 and there's just certain days when some guys have their problems and lose a lot of points and sometimes you gain a lot of points. The higher you get in the points, and when you win, it just puts more pressure on you to keep doing it and stay up there in the points and keep advancing forward. I think today we were ready to win, and I also think we're ready to be up there in the top of the points and battle with these guys week in and week out.

"I go into a race thinking I can win and I'd like to win. That's the way I was today. When they dropped the green flag and I was 36th, I never had a doubt in my mind that we were capable of getting to the front and then I knew if we got to the front we were capable of racing with those guys for the win. There's so many things going on in the closing laps, I never knew from one lap to another who was going to win the race or if it was going to be me. I never lost faith and I never stopped trying to get that car to the front. As long as we can put ourselves in that position and be in these races at the finish, a lot of that has to do with track position and strategy in the pits, then we can win races.

"I think there's still some steps that need to be made. We're coming together, but I don't think we're there 100 percent. We're in the 90 percent range, but a lot of that has to do with learning about this new Monte Carlo and then a lot of it has to do with getting everybody to gel. People are working together for the first time, and it's just all the personalities working together and getting to know one another. I think things have come a long way the last three or four weeks, but they still have a little ways to go.

"We're seventh in points and we're still a ways off of being a championship contender, but I'm not saying we can't be. We've got some things we've got to do. Again, we've got to be a consistent top 10, top five car every weekend. If you do that, you're going to win races. It's one of those things. If you ride around the top five enough times, and you're going to do the right things and get in victory lane, no matter how many winners there are doing the season. I can't say that all of a sudden we're seventh in points and we're going to go out and win the championship. I think that we're still building, so we've still got a little bit left to do before we're a perfect team or as close to that as you can be. This is one way to build on it, and this is going to be a big confidence booster for us. Who knows what's going to happen from here forward? Amazing things happen with wins. Wins can do a lot for race teams and can get you that momentum you need. I certainly look forward to going to California and seeing what this does for us.

"I'm playing more of a role, but I'm still the driver and that's what I want to be. I set myself into a position to play a larger role and be more involved, especially in the future as the years come. I may not always be a driver. I had to think about the future some there. At the same time, when you've got a guy like Ray Evernham who goes to do something, he had some inspirations to go do things. A lot of the things we do are based on our experiences from those years. Robbie is a guy he spoke really highly of. I don't see where I'm the person making decisions. I'm just a person trying to get as much information as I can from my experiences and from a driver that will help this race team. I think the key to that is having a guy like Robbie, having a guy Brian Whitesell and some of the other experience guys we have on our team and bringing some new guys in and teaching them our way of doing it. It might be a little bit different from the way they were used to having things done. That's what we've got to work on. It's going to take a little bit of time, but I see it coming together."

ROBBIE LOOMIS (Crew chief No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) NOTE: Sunday post-race win comments.

"Rick and John Hendrick have been very patient with me. Jeff has really been the one who has stepped up and has been the glue to keep this thing together and keep it working. He's talked to us week after week. Some weeks I shake my head like how's he going to keep doing it? It's been a lot of urgency on my part. I know Jeff has been through this a lot. He's won a lot. He's been through some tough times, and I think he really showed his championship qualities to help keep this thing glued together until we got here (victory lane).

"On the outside looking in, always watching him drive and watching him race, he was the guy I always wanted in my corner. To be able to see him as a person, you look from the outside and say, 'can this guy be that nice? Can he be that good?' Now to get to know him and be around him and (Gordon's wife) Brooke, it's really been a pleasure to see somebody who carries himself the way he does and know that's really the Jeff Gordon you see.

"When that caution came out, I told him we were very fortunate to get that. A lot of times you get a caution and it goes against you. But it's like Jeff said, today (Sunday at Talladega) was one of those days that everything lined up right and it worked out.

"I've been saying since I took over this job that it's like we're building a new building. Throughout the year, I feel like we're starting to lay some foundation. By winning today, we've still got a lot of work to do. We're not completed with the building we're building, that's just a way to look at it. Things are coming together, people are working well. We've just always got to look for ways to improve. The competition is getting tighter and tighter and every decision we make is going to affect the outcome of each week and the championship at the end of the year."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Ray Evernham