JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT NATIONAL GUARD YELLOW RIBBON IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the Chase, the fans, the format, winning at Texas, and more. ON STARTING THE CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP THIS WEEKEND "Yeah, it's good to get to the race...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT NATIONAL GUARD YELLOW RIBBON IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the Chase, the fans, the format, winning at Texas, and more.
ON STARTING THE CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP THIS WEEKEND "Yeah, it's good to get to the race track and get it all started and you can spend a lot of time trying to over think what you need to do. Until you get out there and get into your rhythm of what you do every weekend, and get ready for qualifying and the race, it's kind of refreshing. And of course we started off in practice really good and didn't end it as well as we were hoping in qualifying trim but I'm still pretty optimistic and anxious to see where we end up in qualifying."
HAVE YOU NOTICED AN UPSWING IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS WHERE THERE SEEMS TO BE MORE INTEREST IN NASCAR? COULD IT BE BECAUSE DRIVERS HAVE REACHED OUT MORE THIS YEAR AND RECONNECT WITH THE FANS? "Well, I hope that has played a role. I feel like I've seen a lot of effort when it comes to that. Atlanta was pretty eye-opening to a lot of us. We've seen a lot of empty seats at Atlanta in the past and to see the schedule change and go to the night race there and have that kind of a crowd at Atlanta was fantastic. That, to me, is a crowd that track deserves. I think it's one of the best races that we have. And to race there at night and to be in the south I would just think that it would be filled up like that. It was nice to see that.
"And then Richmond is always a good track. There is a lot of excitement and certainly we had a great crowd there. But I do know that the drivers have put a lot of effort into doing all we can to give back to the fans. We recognize that the economy has been tough and there's a lot of options for people out there and what they're entertained by and we just want to keep all the fans happy that we've had for so many years and also continue to grow the sport with new fans and the only way you're going to do that is to continue to be fan-friendly, which this sport is known for."
WHEN THIS FORMAT WAS INSTITUTED, DID YOU HAVE ANY MISGIVINGS ABOUT IT AND DO YOU FEEL IT OWES YOU A FEW? "I think any time that you make that drastic of a change, it's a bit of a shock. I can't say I was quite prepared for it. But when Nextel came along and everything was changed quite a bit, it gave it a good opportunity to make a big drastic change. Sprint has been able to really follow that up with a lot of excitement. I think it's the right thing to do for the sport. As a competitor, it took me a little while to adjust to that. I don't feel like anything owes me. The only thing that I really feel is that because it's such a drastic change that even if we win the championship this year, I don't think you can count it as five. I think you count it as one and you count the others as four, you know. It's separated.
"To me, the history has changed and how you go about the championship and who is crowned as the champion is totally different. And so I think it's more challenging than it's ever been. It's very competitive and extremely exciting to see 12 guys going for it over 10 races in a playoff type system; I think it's where our sport needs to be, especially to be able to compete with the other major sports. And it comes down to Homestead which is great for the fans and the competitors and everybody. But if I win a Sprint Cup, which I hope I do, and I want to really bad, I'm personally going to count it a little bit differently than maybe what the stats and record books are going to show."
"I think a little bit. I feel like we're really strong. I think that we've got a great team and I think we've shown that throughout the year, but I feel like the last couple of weeks we've really shown just how strong we are. We've led laps, we've competed strong, we've been great on pit road, I feel like we've communicated well and qualified pretty well. And I don't think there is anybody stronger than us at this point, but (laughs) that's what everybody is going to come in here (media center) and say. You know, it's about executing that week in and week out over 10 weeks and that's what's going to prove that. I'm fine with the bullseye or the target not being on us because it allows us just to focus on doing our job. But I also know that if we're going to win it, that bullseye is going to have to be on us eventually and hopefully we can put ourselves in that position to have it later in the Chase."
IS IT GOING TO TAKE MULTIPLE RACE WINS TO WIN THIS THING AND IF SO, CAN YOU GUYS DO THAT? "You never know what it is going to take. One year it takes a 10th place finish average. The next time it takes a five. You don't know. Winning is more of a premium these days because of the points gap between winning and second. Ever since they changed that, I think it has made winning that much more important because you can get down a little bit, win two or three races and you can make up a ton of points. Where in the past, there wasn't that big of a gap and you are fine with finishing second, third or fourth. You are like, hey, that is what I need to do. That is good, that will get me my average finish. I still think you don't have to win any races to win the deal. You can finish second, third or fourth every weekend and you will win the championship. I believe that. But who is going to do that? It is possible but it is not very likely. I think whoever wins the championship will win at least one race. I mean in the Chase."
CAN SOMEONE ACTUALLY WIN THIS THING WITHOUT WINNING A RACE? "It is very competitive. You have got 12 guys that are all capable of doing it. There is no perfect strategy to winning this championship. It changes every year. The one consistent strategy is to have the best average finish. The problem with that is, like I mentioned the points for winning, you could have the best average finish and still lose because somebody has three or four wins. I know our team is just going to go out there with the same goal in mind every week and that is to win and if you can't win, you get the absolute best finish you can and see where it plays out. That is really all you can do. I believe and know that the best team will win this championship. The best team is the one that puts together 10 of the strongest races in whichever way that is. You race yourself and each track. As the races go on, you start to focus on your competitors. Until them, you have got to just race your own race until you know who and what you have got to do to win it."
DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGY OR A NUMBER IN MIND? "I think that as a team, and me personally, we don't try to over-think it. We try to come prepared, do all of our homework during the week. When I get in the car, I try to make it go as fast as it can go every lap that I am on the track. That is all I do. That is what we try to do today for qualifying. We just did focus on qualifying and a little frustrated there at the end that we fell back to 14th because we were really good at the beginning and then when some of the other guys switched over, they went faster than we thought. This is a tricky track when it comes to qualifying so I am curious to where that plays out but we were trying as hard as we could to go as fast as we could for qualifying. Then tomorrow we will put it in race trim and then try and make it go as fast as we can in race trim. Then we will get in the race and we are going to try to do the same thing. We will do everything we can to make the best adjustments. Now strategy can certainly play a role. If we are a 15th place car, and if 10 or 11 of the guys ahead of us are guys we are racing in the Chase, I would imagine Steve (Letarte) is going to get pretty risky on the strategy and try two tires or gas only or whatever it might take. If we have one of the best cars and we are running up front, then the strategy is going to be a little bit more conservative and try to keep the fastest car toward the front. It changes as you go. But as far as I am concerned, go as hard as you can, try and be smart about and get the best finish as you can and see where you end up. I say that now sitting here, you get double-file restarts going on Sunday and they drop the green flag and it is slam, bam, you are diving three-wide, all of that might go out the window at that time. I just hope that my experience and what I have done over the years has worked well for me and the car that we have will sort of play it out for us. If it looks like it is a time to make a move and be aggressive, then we make an aggressive move. If it looks like a time that guys are getting a little crazy and out of control and seems like a time to be more conservative. But those sometimes are just at the split second that it is happening moment you make those decisions."
SO IT IS NOT JUST A MATH PROBLEM? "The thing is if you're trying to finish first every weekend, then your average finish in your mind is first. It's not seventh. You know you've got Talladega in there that can throw everything out the window. I feel like Phoenix is a track that we need to improve on. I feel like Dover is a track that we need to improve on. Last year I would have said that Texas is our Achilles Heel and this year we won there and I feel good about Texas. I feel good about the 1.5-mile tracks in general. I feel good about here. The thing is here we didn't qualify last time we were here we started second or third and we stayed up front all day long. That's why we came here in qualifying trim because I told them it's important to qualify up front because we didn't really have to get back there in traffic. We don't really know just how good our car is in race trim. I hope it's as good as it was last time in a way where we can drive through there if we don't qualify good but I still think we've got a shot at the top six or 10 in qualifying. I don't know if we have a shot at the pole."
AS A GUY WHO HAS RACED AS MANY TIMES AS YOU HAVE HERE, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHY THIS PLACE IS SO IMPORTANT IN THE SCHEDULE AND CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF YOUR MORE MEMORABLE MOMENTS HERE? "Well I raced here in the Nationwide Series before Cup. The reason this track is on the schedule is because of the fans. The fans that are in this region that support our series and racing in general will rival any on the circuit. I give the Bahre family a lot of credit too for building this facility. It's a flag one-mile race track. It's not a 1.5-mile d-shaped oval and yet it's one of the races in the Chase. Now the significance of it as a competitor is it's in the Chase. It's not like any other track that we go to. It's a very tough, challenging race track but it's one of the 10 so you put a lot of focus and effort into it."
STEVE LETARTE SAID HE THOUGHT THE KEY WAS NOT GIVING YOU THE MOST COMFORTABLE CAR BUT GIVING YOU A FAST CAR. "Well like Richmond last week, our car was not the most comfortable car but it was very fast. It was really good on the restarts. It went away a little bit on the longer runs and that's where Denny (Hamlin) really had us. But still the car turned in the middle really good but it was a little edgy getting in and off so I think that's a little bit of what Steve was referring to. There are just some places you are going to have to give up some edginess getting in or off the corner to get the car to get through the center of the corner the way you need to. We certainly felt like Richmond was a great step for us and a great effort and a fast race car so we'll utilize that for other tracks. Not so much here maybe a little bit at Phoenix."
YOU WON AT TEXAS, BUT ARE YOU STRONG ENOUGH TO DO IT AGAIN? "If we go back to Texas with the same set-up we'll run 15th. That's just the way this sport is. The competition gets better. Everybody is learning constantly week to week and so we're going to take what got us to the next step in Texas to be able to be competitive enough to win and then we've got to take it a step further. That's why we have our debriefs after the race to obtain what we could have done to be better and that's what they work on leading into the next time we go to that track. We were good there. Jimmie (Johnson) was catching us pretty fast at the end. We were really strong on the short runs but we could have been a little bit better on the longer runs so there's definitely some room for improvement there."
-credit: gm racing