Jeff Gordon Qualifying Report

JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) NOTE: Gordon will be going for his fifth straight victory in the Food City 500. He talked about racing at Bristol, his accident at Texas and his outlook for the season at...

JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) NOTE: Gordon will be going for his fifth straight victory in the Food City 500. He talked about racing at Bristol, his accident at Texas and his outlook for the season at a press conference Thursday night in the Bristol Motor Speedway press box. "Thank goodness we had a week off because I don't think if we were running Bristol last weekend I would have been in too good a shape to try to win. I feel pretty good now. I'm still a little bit sore if I take a really deep breath in the back of my shoulder area. But I ran some laps yesterday (Wednesday) at Greenville-Pickens. We actually had that test scheduled anyway, so it was a great way for me to get back in the car. I hurt more getting in and out of the car than once I'm in the car, but we're in pretty good shape. Talk about some of the memorabilia we've won from this place and we need to do something about the size of these trophies because if you win four of these trophies, you run out of space to put these things. That's a good problem to have. We're real excited to come back here. I don't know why we've been so successful here in the day race compared to the night race, but we've always just worked hard on trying to get a good handle on the car during the day. For some reason, tires become a bigger issue during the daytime. Usually there's a lot of sun out or the higher temperatures. Hopefully we can get that same combination together this weekend and have another great run. "Physically, Bristol is the most demanding track on the circuit. I think mentally, Darlington is probably the toughest and also tough on equipment. This place isn't kind to equipment either because you're so close to the other competitors out there, but you can get caught up in a wreck real quick. This place and Darlington are tough places. It blows me away we've won four in a row here and we've done it at Darlington, but it would blow me away if we did it anywhere, really. That's really quite a feat. We don't always think of one track tougher than another. We think that they're all pretty tough and they all have different obstacles. "I'm looking just to be in the top five by the end of this race. I think that would be a good accomplishment for us. I'm not 100 percent. I feel like I'm 90 percent and to me at Bristol, even when you're 100 percent, it's not easy. I don't know what the deal is the last couple of times we've been here. The last time we were here at the night race I was sick. I was on antibiotics, and I didn't think I was going to make it through the race that night. I felt a lot worse then than I do now, and I finished fifth. I feel like we're going to be in pretty good shape. I think no matter what, Bristol is just one of those tracks that's demanding and any time you can get a top five out of it, you've got to be happy. Anything more than that, we'll be ecstatic. I look at the last four wins we've had here, they've all come pretty late in the race. We haven't really dominated every one of them, but we put ourselves in position either when other guys maybe wore their tires out or a nice little tap here going into turn three on the last lap. Any kind of situations like that, and that's what we need to do again. I'm hoping by Sunday I'll be physically right there able to do that because I feel like one of the advantages I have on the other competitors, except maybe a few like Mark Martin, is physical shape. I feel like when it comes to a physical race, I feel like at the end of those races I'm as good or better as anybody physically. It's not even a thought (relief driver on Sunday). I'm not even worried about that. I plan to go the whole way on Sunday. That's the plan. If I had some broken bones or some cracked bones or something like that and I was sorer than I am now. I can do all this stuff (moving his arms around his head). I'm fine. If I take a real deep breath or if I sneeze or something like that, and hopefully I won't be doing that in the car on Sunday. "I've had some serious wrecks, and I think because of my physical size it helps me come out of them a little better than some other guys who have a little more mass to them. When you hit a wall that hard, I'm 145 or 150 pounds, it depends on the time of the race. I sweat it off, but when you hit that hard you don't create as much force and usually don't do as much damage. A bigger guy will do a lot more damage to himself. I hit the wall a couple of years ago at Michigan really, really hard. I was pretty sore, but I was fine for the race. I flipped several times in the midgets and sprint cars and tried to tear my head off, but I've been very fortunate, knock on wood, that I haven't broken any bones. I've never had an injury that kept me out of a race car. I had a real bad case of poison ivy one time that kept me out of a race car. "I've had bad wrecks. I haven't had serious injuries. There's no doubt that when you hit walls, it slows you down. It makes you think twice about it, but I don't think that necessarily keeps you from winning races and winning championships. I think it just maybe makes you think twice about certain things and maybe be conservative at times and makes you be a little patient. There's certain areas that hitting walls can be good. You go to some of these really fast places and you've hit the wall before, you don't leave pit road the first time that car is unloaded off the truck and go wide open in the first couple of corners and see how it turns out. Some guys will do that because they haven't hit those walls. At Atlanta, I've hit that wall several times, so I'm usually much more cautious when I go there. I have to have the car really comfortable at Atlanta. I think that's why we've struggled there a few times. In that sense, it has affected me a little bit at Atlanta, but I hit the wall at Michigan that time. I was hurt, probably the sorest I'd ever been in a Winston Cup car going into a race on Sunday. I started at the tail end of the field, and I think we led some that day and finished in the top five. I think you hear a lot in the garage area. He's young and he hasn't hit anything yet. That's why he's so brave. There is a little bit of that that goes on, and when you hit walls, it can almost make you a little more patient and make you think about things a little bit more. "If I had no idea what happened or I felt like it was my fault that caused the wreck (at Texas), if I felt like it was Ray's fault that caused the wreck, or if it was a failure with the actual race car. I'm not blaming anybody for it. I think it's a combination of things for that wreck. If I didn't know exactly what happened, then I'd be much more worried about coming here. You can still hit hard here at Bristol. There's no doubt. This is a fast place, and I've done that, too. "Maybe to the media and to the competitors I'm racing against here (there's something to prove coming back from accident). Like I said, I've had bad wrecks that maybe people just didn't see or people I'm racing with today don't really know about. You don't get to this level without taking some bad shots along the way and having to learn from those wrecks and having to step back into it and it's just like being bucked off a horse. You get right back on. That's one thing that my step dad, again, one of the many things he taught me. I was like seven years old and slammed the wall, screaming, crying, never wanted to get back in that race car again. He didn't force me to get in it, but he said you need to get back in the car. You need to get back in the car. It took me a little while, and I got back in and everything was fine. I went out and probably won the next race. Those are things I learned at a young age. The only thing that's going to keep me from going back is if I feel a lot of pain, and based on yesterday, I don't feel any pain when I'm driving the car. "Every track has its obstacles and Bristol certainly has plenty. It's very fast. The toughest thing about Bristol is that it's about a one and a half groove race track. You can just get your fender underneath the guy in the middle of the corner and you get to the exit of the corner and he's coming down and going to cut you off. You have to be real careful about that. This track does different things at nighttime than it does in the day. We've been able to get a pretty good handle on it during the day. It's so fast, it's so demanding, you have to be right on your marks. You have to find a line that really works and you have to have a car that's really well balanced because if you're pushing you're going backwards. If you're loose you're going backwards. You have to have a really good balance. These corners look identical, but they're like night and day when you're driving them. You've got to run a little bit lower in some areas of the track and some areas of the track the front end slides a little bit more. There's certain areas of the track where the back end wants to come around a little more. You definitely treat the corners different. "I think luck has a lot to do with it at the short tracks. I think you can make a little bit of your luck by qualifying good and getting up front. That helps. If you've got to fight your way from the back to the front, you're going to be forced to have to make decisions and take chances, and that's going to possibly catch up to you. It's harder to be patient in the back, so I think qualifying up front helps. Then you've got to be lucky. The night race here two years ago, I was leading and got tapped. I got mad and cut down on Jeremy Mayfield and I was crashing on the back straightaway. I feel like there are certain areas where you make your own luck, but there's definitely a lot of luck involved at a place like Bristol. You're so tight, and there's so much going on and it's so fast. Anything can happen real quick. "We were testing for Martinsville. It's a totally different car that I'm running here. It was scheduled months ago. It just happened to work out well to get in a car and see if I was having any trouble. When I left there I flew to Charlotte and I did some extra things with the padding in my seat and did some things with the bracing in my seat to make me feel a little more comfortable just in case. "Ray's taken some pretty bad licks himself in a race car, and he's always been interested in driver safety. Of course I am because I am a driver. We've actually been looking into the seats a lot prior to this, trying to find a good combination. I've met with Randy (LaJoie) and I haven't had Randy make a seat for me yet. He made one for Wally Dallenbach and Wally had some issues with it that he wasn't crazy about. I don't think Randy's seat is perfect, but I definitely think the seat I'm currently in is too stiff in the rib area. I have all the head supports, the shoulder supports. I have a lot more than some other guys have, and this is the first time I've taken this hard of a shot with the right front. I've taken shots from the left rear and left side shots and right side, but not right front at this angle. I feel like that had a lot to do with the soreness and the injuries I had. I would like to find a way to soften that up, and that's what I've done this week with padding. I've used a lot of different types of absorbing padding. I don't know what they call it, but I've got different stages of it. There's about three or four different layers of it padded into my right side. My ribs don't hurt. It's the back of my shoulder that hurts more than anything, but only if I breathe real deep. I want to see us come up with something better than we have. Every guy can do basically what he wants if NASCAR is OK with it. I don't some guys have a softer side. I've always said I didn't want that. I like the real tight feel until you hit a wall as hard as I hit at Texas. I want something to support me, but I think I want to take the impact more in my shoulder. "I think you have to like any track if you're going to excel at it. Along the way, it there was a track I did not like, I always take North Wilkesboro for instance. The first couple of times I went there, I wasn't crazy about it and didn't enjoy going there. Not because it didn't have the big facility like we like to go to, but just the race track itself. I could never get a handle there, so I always dreaded going there. Finally, I just said forget it. I've got to make sure I find a way to like every track I go to. That's the only way I'm going to have the right attitude and get the car to work right. The next thing I know, I'm winning races at North Wilkesboro. I try to like every track, but there are tracks you like a little bit more than others. A lot of it is performance related. Bristol and Darlington are tracks I've like right from the beginning, the very first time I ever went there. Bristol obviously reminds me a lot of the sprint car, midget days at Winchester and Salem, very fast, very high-banked. You're hard into the throttle in the middle of the corner and I've always like that. I guess I've always liked this place. "Long before I was stopped I knew. I think there's a little hesitation between the initial shock. The tire didn't just blow. It went down. I think it just pulled apart and it was probably doing that for a few laps prior to that, but it just didn't go pop. The right front went down, and I wasn't even sure if it was a tire or not. It just didn't take off straight. It sort of did it slowly because it probably went down on the inner liner. I thought I could get it slowed down. Seconds before I hit the wall, I realized I was still going pretty fast. You just hold on to the steering wheel and kind of hold your breath. That's probably the worst thing you can do because it knocks the wind out of you. When I hit, I couldn't believe how far and how much of an impact it was. As soon as I hit, I came off the wall and I was in pain. It knocked the wind out of me, and I was kind of grunting, trying to hold on for how ever long it was going to take to get stopped. Then when I came across the track, I was hoping nobody was going to hit me. The wind was already knocked out of me. It would have just knocked me flat out if somebody hit me in the door. I kind tumbled through the grass there a little bit and bumped through the grass and every one of those little bumps was hurting. As soon as I got stopped I was just trying to catch my breath. I looked down and the steering wheel was over here and the headrest was laid over and the seat was laid over. I have a little sunglass case that I keep my Ray-Bans in, and that thing was just mashed flat. I was just trying to get my bearings. I wasn't knocked out or anything. The adrenaline was flowing at that time. I didn't realize I was hurt and sore until I got out of the car and then I started to feel the soreness. "I knew I wasn't getting back in the car. I knew the car wouldn't be able to make another lap. There's no doubt there's a couple of different emotions going through your mind. The first one was I just hoped I didn't break anything. The second thing I was going to have a really bad finish, and I knew that. The third thing was championship. The first thing was health, just thinking about whether physically I could get in the race car again in two weeks. That was probably my biggest concern. Then you look at how the point situation shapes up. "I was a little disappointed at Texas (with Busch car). We were basically a third-place car and had another solid run going. With the caution and things, it just happened where we got shuffled back. They got sideways in front of me. I did everything I could to stay out of it. We're real excited about this program. All the sponsors have really stepped up to make this a fun program for us. We're excited about the people we've put in place, and I'm real excited about what we've been able to accomplish in a short period of time. "I'm certainly not into it like Mark is. In the offseason when I've got more time, I try to work out. I've got a small gym in my house. I used to have a trainer, and I usually do during the off season. During the season, the car keeps me in shape. I watch what I eat, and I try to exercise when I get a chance. Once that season starts, it's so hard to get into a routine, and I'm big about not being sore from working out and trying to get into a car. Mark is so adamant about it, he gets up at 5 o'clock in the morning and he works out so much he doesn't get sore anymore. I'm certainly not at that level. I feel like being 27 years old, I can get away with a little bit. As I get older, I want to work out more and more. The better your muscles are developed, the better you can handle a crash like that. I've got a pretty strong back. That's one area I feel pretty good about. "We are early in the season, you don't let it affect you as much, but I was more surprised when I got home and we only feel to fourth in the points. It wasn't as bad as I thought. Even though we lost a lot of ground points wise, I was expecting us to fall much further back. Still, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, those are all very tight. I don't tend to focus too much on the points until probably halfway in the season and see where everybody is shaking out. I want to finish up front. I want to win races and let the points kind of fall where they may. We can't get too discouraged. We've got a little work to do now. "I got on the track probably 10:30 and we stopped about 2:30 (at Greenville-Pickens) and we never stopped for lunch. We had two cars there. It was hot. I did practice a pit stop there for two reasons. One, because the pits are really tight here. Ray sat out a trash can and a cone and he wanted me to try to get in and out of a very small box. With me turning the wheel that much, trying to get in a tight place like that, he wanted to make sure I could. It was no problem. "I don't think I can express the way I really feel about it because I personally feel like the Indianapolis 500 is a great race. To me, if it doesn't have Andretti, Unser, to me the top guys in all forms of IndyCar racing, it doesn't have as much prestige as it did four or five years ago. I guess I'm pretty much giving my opinion. I didn't want to. I'll have Tony George on the phone with me, not that I haven't talked to him about this before. That's just my personal opinion. It's still a great race. I'll still be watching it on TV until I have to get in the race car or go to the driver's meeting. Not just the names, but it's to me the best there are. Great drivers and good teams are currently there, but not as good as it could be, and to me, that takes away from it. The only thing, I've won two Brickyard 400s and that pretty much takes care of me for Indianapolis. I'm pretty happy with that."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Jeff Gordon , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony George