JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: (Qualified 1st) TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE YOUR SHORT TRACK QUALIFYING SUCCESS? "It's hard to say. I did grow up running more on short tracks than anything else. I think that has a little...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: (Qualified 1st)
TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE YOUR SHORT TRACK QUALIFYING SUCCESS?
"It's hard to say. I did grow up running more on short tracks than anything else. I think that has a little something to do with it. Then, obviously, the race car and the race team. It's just awesome when you show up, you unload off the truck and you're close. Then, you've got guys that trust and believe in you that if you say it's pushing in one part of the corner and loose up off in another part of the corner, that they don't question one bit. They just go right to it and try something. It's hard to say over the past what has contributed all the success. I always say that no matter where we're at it's combination of things. But, I do like the short tracks. We came up here and tested - this was back in '94 or '95, something like that. I had struggled so much at this place. It just wasn't one of my favorite tracks. We came up here and tested. I made a long run one time and I hit on something. I found just a line that I liked or a feel that I was looking for and I started backing it up and backing it up. Ever since then it has been one of my favorite tracks to come to and one of my best tracks."
ON WINNING THE POLE BY A TENTH INSTEAD OF JUST A FEW HUNDREDTHS
"Now, I know how Ryan Newman feels at Bristol. I was in the same boat there where we put a pretty good lap out there and he just blew us away. The rest of the field was real tight. I was as surprised today by that lap as anybody else. With the cooler conditions, I had trouble all day long getting heat into the tires. That was my main goal out there was just to get heat in the tires. The balance of the car had been good all day. It was just lack of grip because of the temperature. The guys made a few adjustments. I don't know if it was a different air pressure that we ran in qualifying or what, but the grip came right on the first lap. We ran a pretty good lap the first lap, but I knew the grip was there and that's when I really charged for the second lap. It just did everything I wanted it to do. That's about as good of a lap as I think I've ever put around Martinsville. I was able to carry a good amount of speed into the corner and yet it still cut and turned in the middle. As I accelerated, it just had good grip up off. When it does all those things and you're aggressive with it, you're going to put up a heck of a lap and that's sort of what happened today.
"I saw Junior put up that lap. Once he put up that (20.17), I was like, 'Basically, I just need to get the first lap smooth, put up a decent lap and then go for it on the second lap because that was one heck of a lap that I didn't think could be beat.' I was pretty shocked when we beat it, but I was going for it."
IS 43 CARS TOO MANY HERE?
"Absolutely - without a doubt there are too many cars out there. You won't see this race really start to materialize until you get rid of 12 to 15 cars. I hope I'm not one of them. I don't want anybody to be one of them. But, that's just kind of the law of physics, I guess. Definitely 43 cars are way too many cars for this track. Anytime we go somewhere where it's this tight, this narrow, with basically a one-groove racetrack, when you put 43 cars on it you're going to have a lot of accidents and a lot of cautions until the field starts to dwindle down a little bit.
"We all know it and we all just hope we're not one of them early on. But, once you narrow it down a little bit that is when the race really starts coming into its own. You stop seeing cautions. You don't stop seeing cautions just because all of a sudden everybody woke up and started being smart. You stop seeing cautions because there aren't so many people bunched up, banging and trying to get from the back to the front to keep from getting a lap down.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF WINNING THE POLE FOR THE SAKE OF PIT SELECTION
"That is the number one thing about qualifying on the pole here is that number one pit stall. It really doesn't mean much other than that. It's nice to get it and it's nice to have that track position. But, I don't know if I've ever led the first lap here being on the pole. It seems like every time I've won the pole here I fall back to second or third at the beginning because it is so hard to get around the bottom and pinch the car off when there is not rubber laid down on the track. Track position is nice, but it's not like you're just going to get out there and drive away from the field. It's that number one pit stall that really makes it so worthwhile. We even had conversations about that today - Robbie and I did - 'We want that number one pit stall. We want that number one pit stall.' That's your goal.
"It's so tight here. The stalls are so small here, and I think there are maybe one of two other stalls here that have any type of opening. But, even where they're located is really not very good. To be able to drive around and get just kind of pointed in that pit stall and be able to drive out of there - you don't have to worry about getting in the stall perfect. You can come in sideways. You can do all kinds of things there and just get away with so many things that 39 or 40 other guys out there don't have that going for them - not to mention the traffic that occurs down in the middle of one and two and down in the middle of three and four, and then just the small stalls down the straightaway. It is a huge advantage to be able to get that number one stall. I think you can gain at least two or three spots every time you come in, if you're not the leader. When you are the leader, it's a huge advantage to be able to drive off there."
ON RACING WITH DALE JR.
"I enjoy racing with Dale. He charges hard and he's not afraid to bump and rub, and the fans certainly stand up and enjoy it. We've gotten to be friends and I enjoy racing with him. But, their program - whether it be Junior or his team, I'm not really sure which - they've had weaknesses in the past, whether it be road courses, short tracks, whatever it may be. This year they seem to really have their act together. I think he started coming into that a little bit last year. He started qualifying better on the short tracks. To be championship contenders, you've got to be able to be good pretty much be good everywhere we got. They've certainly proved that this year. They've been good pretty much everywhere they've gone this year. If he continues that and I can keep up with what I've done in the past, then there might be something to talk about. But, rivals - you know what my opinion is on rivalries. To me there is a different rivalry every weekend. It's whoever I'm trying to pass, it's whoever I'm racing that given weekend.
"If it happens to be Dale, Jr., week in and week out, then the fans and the media are going to take it upon themselves to create that. It's not as if we're really rivals. It's just we're competing out there bumper to bumper or wheel to wheel - week in and week out."
"It is fun racing with him. Texas was fun. We were bumping and banging there. I love racing anybody when it's for a win. I certainly love racing guys when it's for the lead. There are just those certain guys out there - whether it be Rusty or Junior or Stewart or whoever - where you make a pass for the lead the fans go wild. That's out of our control. It's whatever they like. I think it has to do with popularity more than anything else."
HAS SOME OF THE FAN POPULARITY SWITCHED TO DALE, JR., A LITTLE BIT?) "A little bit? I'd say more than a little bit. I don't know if I ever had that kind of popularity. He has certainly earned it over the last couple years. If he wins the championship - game over for anybody else. We're not even going to exist out there.
"But, as far as the call that was made last week, you're going to get some that go your way sometimes and you're going to get some that don't. Chalk that one up for him that went his way. I don't think that NASCAR necessarily did anything wrong. Based off their interpretation of that rule in the past, I would have thought somebody would have gotten a penalty there. If you go below the yellow line, there is either somebody pushing you there and you're doing it on your own. In the past, they've said, 'Well, we're going to look at both individuals and determine who is responsible,' and they didn't do anything, which I think is what has gotten so much attention this week. To me, he had the momentum, he was making the pass, he was inside of Kenseth when he went below the yellow line. I don't think him going below the yellow line actually made him take the lead, so maybe that is the way they looked at it."
ON BEING FIFTH IN THE POINTS RIGHT NOW
"I'm pretty happy to be fifth in points right now, looking at the way our season started. The performance is incredible. We've led the most laps. We've qualified great. We're doing all the things that we wanted to improve on from last year. But, we have had a few mishaps that have put us back in the 30s, as far as some finishes. I hope we just continue to gain momentum and continue to stay strong and finish strong. I'm not real concerned with where we're at right now and how many points back we are. We're in no hurry and I'm not going to push the issue on trying to win races. We're going to just do everything that we know how to do, work as hard as we can, just try to do everything right, just like today. We've gotten knocked off poles, we've had a couple seconds, a couple top fives. But, we didn't let it eat us up. We'd just go on to the next one, go on to the next one and boom - all of a sudden, here we are today - not really doing anything different than we have been every weekend and we're on the pole. I think that is the same way the wins are going to happen. But, when we're not winning I want to make sure that we're getting those top fives and top 10s and not these disastrous finishes.
"That's what we've doing here recently and I couldn't be more happy with that. I want to keep that effort, keep that going. We've made gains on the guys up front in the last three or four races and I hope we keep it going in that direction. We're typically a team that the second half of the season is our strongest. We proved that last year. With where we're at right now versus where we were at this point last year, I'm happy."
ON HAVING 11 DIFFERENT WINNERS HERE IN THE LAST 11 RACES
"I think there are just so many different ways to win here. You can risk it by not taking tires. You can take two tires and sometimes in the past four tires have won. There are just so many ways to get that lead. Then, at the same time, track position is extremely important here. It seems like here lately on the short tracks that you're almost better running fifth or sixth all day long and kind of watching what the leaders do and do the opposite of whatever they do and get the track position. Sometimes being the leader can get you in more trouble. That's kind of what happened to us at Bristol.
"I think we've been seeing a trend of that at a lot of tracks, not just here."