Long Pond, Pa., July 26, 2003 -- Jeff Gordon, who trails point leader Matt Kenseth by 234 entering Sunday's Pocono 500, took time out after the pre-qualifying practice session Friday to speak on several topics. Among them are his recovery from...
Long Pond, Pa., July 26, 2003 -- Jeff Gordon, who trails point leader Matt Kenseth by 234 entering Sunday's Pocono 500, took time out after the pre-qualifying practice session Friday to speak on several topics. Among them are his recovery from last week's disappointing finish at New Hampshire, his altercation with Greg Biffle there and his hopes for a fifth NASCAR Winston Cup championship. He also talked about the gentlemen's agreement in NASCAR and the way the racing has been this season.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DuPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
WAS IT TOUGH FOR YOU TO PUT LAST WEEK (24th place finish at New Hampshire after leading 133 of 300 laps) OUT OF YOUR MIND? "Yeah. It was a very frustrating end to the day. Most of the day was awesome. The car was incredible. Looking back, it's nice to take a few days to let it all sink in. On Monday, when the points came out, that really came to mind and that hurt. At the time I was more disappointed that we put the four tires on [on the final pit stop]. But looking back on it, the four tires didn't have much to do with it, because we didn't feel like we could have made it when all the other guys came in and stopped. I'm still shocked that all those guys did make it, and in hindsight we probably should have risked it as well and stayed with the lead pack."
YOU'VE RACED WITH A BIG LEAD IN THE POINTS, LIKE THE ONE MATT KENSETH HAS NOW. WHAT IS THE MINDSET FROM WEEK TO WEEK? "It's difficult. Things are going well and you have a big point lead and you want to keep that cushion. Sometimes, even though you don't intentionally do it, you start thinking, 'save, save, save, conserve, conserve, conserve' or do things that are a little less risky. Sometimes that can get you in trouble. We basically are looking at the points last year, and look where Tony Stewart was in the points at this time in the season last year. Anything is possible in this Winston Cup Series and the way the points are structured, anything can happen."
IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT POCONO IS A VERY HARD PLACE TO PASS. DO YOU AGREE? "The problem with this place is the cars get spread out. It's hard to make up a lot of positions and run guys down that are way out front without a few cautions. You can pass here, for sure. If your car is working right, you can pass here. There are a couple of different grooves here, down in Turn 1. It is a fast track, so track position and that aero push we talk about all the time, is also pretty tough to get past in the Tunnel Turn and in Turn 3."
HOW MUCH MORE AWARE OF MATT KENSETH HAVE YOU BECOME IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS? "It doesn't have anything to do with the last few weeks. I thought when he first came into the series, I thought he was a real talented driver, and that team has just jelled. They've got the chemistry and they're doing everything right. It's no surprise to me that they are where they are at this point in the season. There's a lot of racing left to go and it's going to be interesting to see where we all end up at the end of the season."
DO YOU SENSE THAT HE IS POINT RACING RIGHT NOW? "No, I don't think so. I just think they're just being really smart and doing a great job. You have to admit that they've had a lot of breaks go their way as well, and that's part of what it takes to be leading the Winston Cup points at this point in the season. We certainly need some breaks to go our way and we've been hit-and-miss. We haven't been as consistent as those guys have been. We've outrun them at a lot of tracks, but we haven't always had the finishes to show for it. That's what we've got to do the rest of the year."
GREG BIFFLE WAS NOT REAL HAPPY WITH YOU AFTER THE RACE LAST WEEK. ANY COMMENT? "It should be the opposite. It should be that I wasn't real happy with him. I didn't say much, but he was very sadly mistaken if he thought there was any deal. I don't know where the line of communication came to him that somebody had talked and told him there was a deal. Greg's a rookie and he's got a lot to learn. I think no matter whether you think you've got a deal or not, you don't try to take the leader out going into Turn 1. That was probably the biggest mistake that he made, and hopefully he learned from that. Other than that there's not much I can say, other than there was no deal."
ALL DEALS COME THROUGH YOU, RIGHT? "No deal is made without me asking for it. If somebody comes to me and says they want to make a deal, I'll make the decision there whether we need to do that or not. That's not the point during the race where you make a deal anyway. You make a deal at the end of the race when you really need to get that clear track. I was so much better than him anyway I didn't need to make a deal with him. I think what happened was, Jimmie Johnson was leading the race and he didn't let him get his lap back, and he was mad about that. Then we went green again and I didn't let him get his lap back, and then he was upset again. He allowed his emotion and frustration to get the best of him."
HOW DO YOU CORRECT THAT SITUATION? IT USED TO BE THE GENTLEMEN'S AGFREEMENT, BUT NOW IT SEEMS LIKE IT'S EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF. "We're not talking about the gentlemen's agreement. This is where everyone gets confused. The gentlemen's agreement is you don't pass for position when the caution comes out. It has nothing to do with whether a guy getting his lap back or not. It has always been up to that leader to decide if he wants to let that guy get his lap back. There are some guys that help you out along the way and you give them their lap back. Honestly, these days, I don't give anybody their lap back except for maybe my teammates and that's about it. Nobody ever gives me my lap back, so why should I do anything any different? I can't remember when the last time somebody gave me a lap back besides my teammates. Sometimes they tend to forget that."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO GREG SINCE THEN? "No. I move on. I go to the next race and start focusing on that race. If something occurs out there, I'll deal with it then. I certainly have moved past that."
HAVE WE MOVED TOO FAR AWAY FROM WHERE IT WAS 'MY CAR IS FASTER THAN YOUR CAR?' "I'm certainly concerned about that. The aerodynamics, the way they have really evolved, you can have a car that's faster than another guy and be behind him and not be able to make that spot up. We can pass as long as we are on race tracks that have more than one groove. When we get to a track that only has one groove, it's almost impossible to pass on, and that's when it's frustrating. It takes the racing out of it, and that's when the racing starts to become in your strategy and more on pit road.
DO YOU MISS THE SHORT-TRACK DAYS WHEN IT WAS THAT WAY? "I miss the days in Winston Cup when it was that way too. Of course, I miss the days when I was winning 13 races a year, too. Racing always changes and it always evolves. Competition gets better, and it makes the racing really exciting. It makes you work that much harder. I don't necessarily think it takes away from it. It's just something that you work with."