Jeff Gordon qualifying Richmond II press conference

Monte Carlo 400 Qualifying Friday, September 07, 2001 Richmond International Raceway Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo (pole-sitter) "Well the first lap was better than I thought it was going to be. I really was expecting to...

Monte Carlo 400 Qualifying
Friday, September 07, 2001
Richmond International Raceway

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo (pole-sitter)

"Well the first lap was better than I thought it was going to be. I really was expecting to just try to do it for the second lap and give up the first lap. But it felt so good on the first lap, I hoped I had something left in the tires for the second lap and it was there. The guys did just an unbelievable job today. We didn't start out too good. We were back in practice, but as the day went on we just kept getting better and better. We just kept making great adjustments. That thing was just incredible right there, the way it went through the corners."

Why have a lot of the drivers given up that first lap to the second?

"Well, that's just the way I've always done it here. I just think this is a tough place to get a hold of on the first lap. Instead of pushing it real hard trying to do it on the first lap, I always try to save a little bit for that second lap. I just get my momentum up and get some good heat in the tires and it's always worked well for me here. It's worked good for me today.

"We certainly hadn't gone that fast in practice. The adjustments we made to the car certainly turned out to be the right ones. I take my hat off to Robbie (Loomis, crew chief) and all the guys on this Dupont Chevrolet. Maybe that silly rabbit (Bugs Bunny) helped us out there. We're really excited about having the Looney Tunes characters on board for the Monte Carlo 400 this weekend. It's going to be a fun weekend for us."

Is the most important thing getting into turns one and two at this track?

"I do think that getting in the corners here is pretty important. I just don't know if we're going to see the groove tonight in practice that we're going to see in the race tomorrow. We'll just get the car working the best we can in the line that's working in practice, but we'll also be thinking about whether or not that groove is going to move up in the race tomorrow night. And we'll keep a close eye on the Busch race tonight. But I've got the best team and crew in the bunch. We're going to throw a bunch of stuff at it and see what it does. We hope to have something for 'em tomorrow."

Has the track changed very much today?

"I saw the track get a little bit of grip early in practice. As we got some rubber down on it, it got a little bit better. I thought it stayed pretty consistent the rest of the day."

This is your 6th pole of the year, your 5th pole at Richmond. What makes this place so special for you?

"I've always loved this racetrack. I don't know when the last time was that we had a pole here. It seems like it's been a little while. We always seem to qualify pretty good here, but that was an awesome effort today. We started way down the list in practice. We just didn't have the grip when we first went out. We worked real hard. We threw a lot of things at this racecar today. We changed gears three times. We changed shocks and springs. It's just awesome to see that kind of effort turn out with the results of being on the pole.

"It's a big weekend for us because of the special paint scheme - the ChromaLusion paint and the Looney Tune characters on board. I hope they're chasing the rabbit (in the race). I think they will be - at least going into turn one. So that's a good thing."

Since you've put forth quite an effort recently, how do you put forth an effort to challenge yourself?

"Sometimes your biggest competition can be yourself. You can help yourself or the team can help put you further ahead or further behind. But we've always tried to approach the championship by not necessarily focusing on any one competitor, but by focusing on how we can get our cars to handle the best we can and by qualifying well, and by getting the best track position. We just really focus on our own program. I think that helped us get out of the hole we were in last year and helped us continue to get better as this year has gone one. Instead of just trying to be faster than another car, we just focus on the combination that we need to go faster - whether at a test or at a race. We don't pay a lot of attention to the times that are up on the board. I just know what I need to go faster and I try to communicate those things to Robbie and the team.

"Right now I think we have a lot of confidence in each other. There's no second-guessing anybody on the team. When you get that type of momentum going on your side, it's hard to bring it down. We were certainly able to continue that today."

Is the last five or six-race stretch the best momentum of the season so far?

"It's certainly a great stretch. It's one of those situations where we've had good racecars but we've also had good luck. Those two can be great combinations or they can be bad combinations for the other guys. I know it can also turn around and be the opposite. The one factor that I think we do have control over is how well the cars are running, how good I'm driving, how good the communication is. If we do run into some bad luck, I think we'll be able to bounce back with good performances because things are running real well for us. It's not like we've just had good luck and finished in the top five or top 10 real consistently. We've run good, we've led a lot of laps, and we've won some races in the meantime."

On seeming to have a pretty good handle on the tires compared to the competitors

"That's a mystery to me too, because we have hit on it right away. Now, I'll tell you something that happens a lot. Let's go back to last year. Guys that were really good last year have thought they would be r ight for this year by just fine-tuning. For us, we were way off so we made a lot of changes. We were searching and doing all kinds of things.

"It's kind of like Ward Burton last week at Darlington. He was further back in the pack and they needed to make some big adjustments. Well, they can make those adjustments because he didn't have a lot to lose because he was already back there. For myself, I needed to make some adjustments. But we couldn't give up that track position. We just tried to fine-tune on it. Well, Ward is a rocket-ship - fastest car out there - and he wins the race. We ended up falling back. We finished second but we probably shouldn't have.

"I think it's the same way with guys maybe losing out on the tires. For us, we had so many things to overcome, and were working on so many things to get better, that when we showed up this year our cars were really good. We hadn't fought the tire really at all. We're starting to see guys like Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton coming on strong now, so they're obviously starting to figure it out. But we did get a jump on them early in the season."

Is the track any different now than it was earlier in the season?

"This is a great sealer they put on. We found out that in New Hampshire when they put it up there. I lean towards doing it just one time and then leaving it alone for the rest of the season because it does change things. When you get rubber down on it, it gets a lot of grip and it's very comfortable. But they made some improvements to the track that made it tricky for us. They ground it down going into (turn) one and made it real smooth. There used to be a dip there. All of us used to drive in and let up before you got to the bump or you were going to wreck. Now there's no bump there, so we're driving in real deep and we're all about to wreck. The little patches of sealer can change the grip. As the day's gone on, it's actually been pretty good. After the Busch race tonight, I think you're going to see another great race like we always do here at Richmond.

"But it would be interesting to see what would happen if they could just seal it one time before the season starts and leave it alone and see how high the groove gets and how well we can get some two or three groove racing going by the Winston Cup race in the fall."

Is there a rivalry between you and Rusty Wallace?

"Our relationship has been pretty interesting. I don't know if we got along very well early on, but recently we've had some really good conversations and have joked around quite a bit. I think we have a better understanding of what happens on the racetrack and the fact that we are both very competitive people. I don't think Rusty likes to get beaten by anybody, but I can guarantee you that he doesn't like to get beat by me. We've had some serious battles. I know that wasn't necessarily my goal today to go out and beat Rusty Wallace for the pole. But he just happened to be the guy sitting up there when we went out. I thought we had a shot at it. But if anything, it's a fun rivalry. We've had some heated discussions and battles, but we've laughed about it later. I try to leave what happens on the racetrack, on the racetrack and let it roll off my back."

-Team Monte Carlo

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Rusty Wallace