Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo (qualified 2nd): "I tell you, these guys are on a roll. They're bringing some incredible equipment to the race track. You can just see the team gelling just by the way they work together at the...
No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo (qualified 2nd):
"I tell you, these guys are on a roll. They're bringing some incredible equipment to the race track. You can just see the team gelling just by the way they work together at the track and at the shop. And it's paying off. Right there. Good horsepower under the hood and good handling racecars. It was just a little bit tight off, and I knew it was going to be real close, but I didn't think it was going to be that close. But we gave it a heck of a shot. I knew the 88 car was going to be tough and he (Jarrett) put up a good lap. We made some adjustments. We're real good. We're right there. Sitting on the outside front row, you know the team has got the momentum. I'm real happy with that."
What are your thoughts on the speeds here at Atlanta?
"Well, they drop off pretty quick once we go into our race set-up and take the tape off the front and the tire wear starts to go away - especially with the tire that Goodyear has here. It's harder. The speeds are definitely down. You saw them already down a little bit from qualifying and they'll be down for the race. But qualifying is definitely the hairiest part of it. It's extremely fast. There's no other place where you can carry that kind of speed in the corner and have the car stick like it does here. It just has a lot to do with how well these teams are building the bodies on these cars and the horsepower that's underneath the hood. I look forward to getting into race conditions because the speeds will slow down a little bit and it gets a little more in control I guess."
With the new tire, were you able to hold it wide open like you did last
"No I wasn't. And I'm sure that's probably where the three or four-tenths are. Getting in the corners, you had to give up a little bit of speed getting in. And even when I got back full throttle, the car seemed to be pushing the front a little bit up off the corner. So no, I wasn't able to go wide open. I think that has everything to do with the tires, because this car here - we just got it out of the wind tunnel - and it's better than any car we've brought here before. I'm happy with the tire Goodyear brought here and I think it'll be real good for the race."
Talk about your momentum that you've collected over the past three weeks:
"I feel real good. It's easy to say, because I was saying this over the off-season, just how focused this team is. You can see it in their eyes. They have a whole new attitude. It's easy to say it then, but now it's nice to come to the race track and see those results come into place. This is a strong crew. We probably have probably too many people at our shop right now because we're building up people for the team that we're going to be doing later in the year with Jimmie Johnson and then start full time next year. So we've got a lot of great people that are building super racecars. It's just nice when you get to the race track and things work like they're supposed to. Last year it wasn't like that. We had to struggle a lot at times last year. And I guess I'm glad in a way that we did because it's helped us to dig that much deeper and find out just how good of a team we really are. But things are going well for us. You just want to keep it going and you don't know how long it will l ast. But you know that to win a championship, you've got to have it every week."
With Robbie Loomis being under the microscope last season, do you feel more
satisfaction for what you've accomplished?
"I think so. Last year, he had plenty of expectations just going into the season. And then when we got out there and we weren't performing as well as we have in the past, of course you know people are going to talk and wonder if its Robbie or is it Jeff or is this team just not what it was when Ray (Evernham) was there. And so of course those things are going to be pointed out. And that's why we didn't say a whole lot. We know what we have to do to win races. We know what we' ve got to do to get this team in championship form. A lot of these guys that are on this team have been a part of a championship caliber team. You know it's not any one person that makes the magic. It's the group. And we have a strong group. It took us a while to find what we have and make it work. I feel real happy for the team, and also for Robbie and for all the hard work and the things he had to hear. I told him to stop listening to people, to stop watching TV, stop reading the papers because we just had to keep working hard. It's starting to come back to us right now."
Can you talk about winning in Las Vegas and wearing the HANS device?
"I think what happened was after the situation with Dale (Earnhardt) that everyone just pointed to the HANS device and asked why aren't these guys wearing these things. I've been working since last year trying to get that device in my car and get it to work. I know that we ought to get it in there right away, but it takes time. There is a lot of work to be done to get the driver comfortable. When it first came around, it was here it is. You take this. But that piece didn't fit me. Can I have one made to fit? Well, we can change the padding. But now, it's in such demand that they can specialize them to fit. Everything is working for good reason in order to get these things right. I've got a seat in the car that I wish every media person here could go see it. I really like it. NASCAR's seen it. It's impressive. Other people have been looking at it. It's what I've been running for quite a while, but it's taking it to the next level and incorporating it in the back where you can run the HANS device.
"I think it was only time before somebody was going to win a race (while) wearing one. Each week, there's more and more guys wearing them. I don't know if you're going to see us wear them on the road courses. We might not wear it at Martinsville or Bristol. There's a lot of things that go on the car that the driver has got to be able to do, and incorporating it into a stock car it hard to do. I'm glad that I went with it (in Las Vegas) because it definitely gave me more confidence, even though I was in a lot of pain the next day. My collarbone still hurts because of it. I'm one that I believe in what it does, but I also know that it needs work. It's not perfect. I do plan on doing whatever I can to make it perfect."
Do you have any fear about speaking your mind on safety issues?
"No, I think there's a way of going about it that is smart, and a way that's not smart. The problem lies within the nucleus of our sport - with the teams, the drivers, NASCAR, safety engineers. For us just to go out there and start voicing our opinion is not going to make it better or happen any faster. I think it's who you're voicing your opinion to, and I want to voice my opinion to my team and make sure that we're getting things done right and as fast as we can, and to NASCAR, and to guys like John Melvin, the GM safety guy that is very sharp. For some reason, my picture's been put on every article about safety. I want people to know that I think it's a safe sport, but it can be safer. And if that's my comment to be in the paper, well that's great. I don't feel like I should be afraid to speak my opinion, but I think there's a way you can go about it to make everybody happy."
No. 29 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet Monte Carlo (top
"Every lap in Atlanta is in the seat, and you know how fast you're going. The GM Goodwrench car's been good since we unloaded it. I actually probably tried to get a little too much out of it, but if you don 't try, you never know. Getting just a little bit more out of the car here in Atlanta is tough to tell yourself to do. All in all, this will be a good place for us to start. It could be a whole lot worse. This should keep us out of trouble early in the race. I probably tried to get a little too much out of the car, but when you've got a 70-something, you've got to go see what you can get. We're pretty happy with the lap."
Is this getting easier each week?
"I don't know that it's ever going to get any easier. There's 43 good race cars that you have to race against each week instead of 20 or 30. About the time you think you can let down or that it's getting any easier is just about the time you're going to get your butt whipped. It's better to just keep digging and just keep doing what we're doing. It's still a different situation, but I think that with every week I think it eases up a bit. We understand what the Winston Cup car wants. Kevin Hamlin is making my job real easy because every time we've unloaded it off the truck it's fast and easy to drive. Just going back and forth between the garages and waking up on time and figuring out what time the rookie meetings are and all that has been the hardest part to get used to. I've had to manage my time much better."
No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo:
"Wow, four races, no provisionals, and three top-10 starts. My team has given me a car up for the task each week. We not only made the race, we made it solidly. Today was big. The car wasn't exactly what I wanted, so I held my breath. We made it - just like my cake says (team gave him a cake that said "Congratulations, Michael. We made it.""
No. 33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet Monte Carlo:
"It was a pretty good lap. Our Oakwood Homes Chevy has been running pretty good since we unloaded it. We've been right there in the top 10 all day. I was hoping I'd go faster than that but it really cooled off quite a bit. My first lap, I was pretty loose. So I had to run two. I wasn't planning on it. I think the second lap was a little bit better. We'll take it. We've got a good racecar - same car we run here at the last race. And once we got the chassis tuned, it ran good. I've got to thank all the guys for a good motor, and I think we're going to have a good racecar."