Richmond II: Jeff Gordon media visit, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q. You hear drivers talk about how I wasn't ready to win a championship those early years of a career. Jimmie said it before, too. Is Kyle Busch ready to win one, and why? JEFF GORDON: Well, I will say this: I...

Continued from part 1

Q. You hear drivers talk about how I wasn't ready to win a championship those early years of a career. Jimmie said it before, too. Is Kyle Busch ready to win one, and why?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I will say this: I think Carl is more ready than Kyle. I think Kyle has -- he has the ability to go really hard, really fast, and he's made big improvements in my opinion this year over last year. Last year when he drove for us, there wasn't a single practice that they didn't have to knock out the right side on the car. This year it seems to be like every fifth race that happens.

So he's still doing it a little bit, which isn't a bad thing he's pushing that hard; that's why he runs fast and they've won a bunch of races so he's gotten more comfortable. He's close. He's as good as anybody out there right now. I'd certainly put him at the top or in the top three or four guys in my opinion of who really has a shot this championship or the best shot at it.

But I would put Carl ahead of him as far as being ready experience-wise, and I'd put Jimmie ahead of both of those guys with just his experience of winning the last two.

Q. And one more thing: Do you still think the Chase is harder to win than winning the title under the old format?

JEFF GORDON: I do. I think that right now I think Kyle would have a lock on this thing. I think there's a very good chance he's not going to win this championship just because of the Chase format. In my opinion it really comes down, except for those bonus points, it really comes down to ten races, those specific ten races.

I guess maybe it's more for me. I feel like I focused so hard for so many years that, okay, you had to be good at a short track, at a superspeedway, at a road course, at the mile-and-a-halfs, and we didn't have as many mile-and-a-halfs, but that was my goal. I looked at the guys who won championships and they were good everywhere and they were great at some places. So that's what I focused on was trying to be good everywhere that I possibly could.

And now I don't think it's -- now it's you'd better be good at those ten races, and you've got to get yourself into the Chase so your team has got to be solid. But to be on your game for those specific ten races, not have any problems, there's just a lot of factors in there, and to win it I think is very, very challenging. That's why I respect it and why I want one really bad.

You know, maybe it being easier or harder is not the right terminology for it. Certainly you can't compare history of the old championship versus the new one.

Q. Do you think with so much focus being spent on the last ten races, if you're up there running for the championship like you and Jimmie were last year, do you think we're going to see a trend sort of like we did this year where those guys running for the top spots are going to remain focused where everybody else kind of has the leeway to focus on getting ready for next year? Do you think that's something we're going to see as years go past with the Chase, or is that something with the development of the new car that was a fluke?

JEFF GORDON: I think any time you introduce a new car, I think you maybe are going to see more of that. But I think it's always going to be the case -- I think anybody that doesn't make the Chase, their goal is get ready for next year. That doesn't mean that they throw away those last ten races. They might hit on some things and really think outside the box that works where they win a race or a couple races, who knows.

But I think that for us, I know when we didn't make the Chase, that was definitely our goal was we use these ten -- you can't find a better testing session than those final ten races. You know, next year if we're able to go to more tracks like they're saying with the possible testing schedule, then those ten races as a test are still important but maybe not as important because we can actually go to the racetracks now.

Q. (Inaudible.)

JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I think the strong teams are the strong teams, and they're going to always be the guys to beat year in and year out. I think that what can happen is as a team -- if you've got a teammate that's outside the Chase or let's say you get into the Chase a little bit and they're outside the chance of winning the championship, then any of those thoughts that have been going through the crew chiefs' and the engineers' minds of things that they really want to try.

Just like today, we came here with a setup that we put it in our simulation on our computer, we put it on the seven post. All these things. Okay, we got it. We come here, and in the first 45 minutes we couldn't get the heights worked out, the speed wasn't there, and we had to abandon it. We had two hours to figure that out, get us ready to race, and then have to make sure we can qualify with it.

If you are trying to make the Chase or trying to win a championship, you can't afford to do that. And that's the advantage. If you're outside of it, you can spend this whole two hours working on something if you want and then take it into the race and play with it for the whole race. You really in some ways have nothing to lose, unless it's a sponsor situation where you've got a sponsor that's bearing down on you or you're in the final year of a contract and need to renegotiate or whatever, then you'd better get out there and shine. So all those factors play into it.

Q. At the risk of being overly simplistic and realizing that all sportswriters know just enough to be dangerous, isn't it true that if you're having a season like you did in '98 or like you did last year where after 24 races you were 507 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, it's a lot harder to win the championship under this format, but if you don't have any wins or you're Clint Bowyer, it's easier to win the championship? So as far as whether it's harder to win, it depends on where you are, because many people -- the reason it's harder for the guy at the top is many more people are thrown into the mix.

JEFF GORDON: Here's what I say: I think it's harder to win it, but I think more people have an opportunity to win it, which is, I think, what you were saying. That's what I've always felt like the Chase -- you know, the excitement about the Chase is that if you're not having a great year -- let's say your first half of the year is not very good, but you really start to get into your rhythm in the second half. Then the Chase is phenomenal for you because now you've gotten the opportunity to win the championship, where in the past you would have never had the opportunity. You were gone. You were too far behind.

There's certainly plenty of pluses with the Chase. You know, I think you've got 12 guys that can win it, you've got people that haven't had a great first half that can win it, you've got a lot of different factors that play out. You've closed the gap, so if one guy had a big lead, the guy in second, third or fourth, now, they've got a shot to win it. I mean, those are all big pluses of the Chase and why I support the Chase even though I won my championships under the old format and maybe would have, could have, should have had a couple more if we were still under the old format.

But I still am a big supporter of it because I think it's the best show for the fans. I think it's fantastic for the competitors all the way around I think it's a good format for our sport.

But I still think that to win it, it's seriously challenging because of those final ten races. Maybe I'm just saying that because -- you bring Jimmie Johnson in here and he could tell you the exact opposite, because he didn't win a championship under the old format. So he looks at last year, how far behind he would have been and wouldn't have won the championship if the format had been -- so for some guys, they might think it's easier. For me I think it's tougher.

Q. (Inaudible.)

JEFF GORDON: You're taking the words right out of my mouth.

Q. You had a good season, didn't you?

JEFF GORDON: I had a great season, we just didn't win the championship, which is really what we're all here to do anyway. But I certainly look at last year as a great season for me, and we were just lacking that one position, which is a big one, but still, a very good year for us.

Q. You kind of alluded to this earlier with a question about Joey Logano, but what do you remember about the weekend when you made your debut, because since you've started racing, no one has won more championships, no one has won more races than you, but you really came in super low profile that weekend in Atlanta. What do you think about when you think about that coming in?

JEFF GORDON: Two things stand out to me from that weekend, maybe three. One is that we were fast in practice, went to qualify, and I blew the lap. We used to have second-round qualifying then and I was fastest second day, started at 21st, went to the drivers' meeting, and Richard Petty's final race, he hands out -- I've told this story, I know. It was like a money clip, had his symbol, like his face and hat on it. I don't know what it was made of, like silver or something like that, had 21 on it with my starting position, handed it out to every driver there. I still have it.

The other thing, the most important thing I remember, is crashing. I don't remember what lap it was, I just remember backing into the wall pretty hard down in turns 1 and 2, which are now 3 and 4. That's what I remember.

Q. So no media memories?

JEFF GORDON: Not at all. To me, Richard Petty -- that was his weekend. He was swarmed by media and fans, and I was nonexistent and happy about that. I wish that was the case every weekend. Just to come in here and do your job is what I like to do. But I also know that the sport wouldn't be what it is and we wouldn't have the sponsors that we have if you didn't have that attention.

So that's my point is that those are the things that you really don't -- even in the Nationwide series, it's just not the same, the media attention, the fan base, the pressures, the competition. It's just a lot more to deal with when you get to the Cup series and nothing can prepare you for that until you get right here and get into it, and then you'd better have a really strong upbringing, good people surrounding you, and people recognizing when it's too much, when you're doing too much.

A kid like him, especially if he does well, then they're going to want to use him even more. I won my first championship my third season in, and until 1994 when I won the Brickyard, I really didn't have a lot of things that I had to do, you know, like -- I had a contract that said I was committed to do a lot of things, but I didn't have a lot of demand. So I didn't find myself constantly being pulled left and right, until I won the Brickyard. It was the 600 first in May and then the Brickyard, and that's when all of a sudden things started changing for me, then we went and won the championship in 1995, and it's literally never been the same for me. Every weekend is slam-packed full of stuff, every week is slammed full of things, and now it's just part of life. But for those first couple years it was a huge, huge adjustment for me.

Q. I notice that six of the 12 Chase drivers are in tonight's Nationwide race, including the two guys at the top and the two guys trying to stay in. It doesn't apply to you, so maybe you have a good feel for it.

JEFF GORDON: You couldn't -- I can't tell you how happy I am not to be in that race.

Q. I was going to ask you, why would a guy run a Nationwide race when he's on the bubble for making the Chase? Would it be just too much to deal with?

JEFF GORDON: It's called commitment. They made a commitment that they wish they could all get out of (laughter). Or they're needing to buy new bikes or they want a little bit nicer airplane. I can't tell you. All I can tell you is that there's not one driver I've talked to this year that said that they've enjoyed running the Nationwide races. With that spacer on them, they said they're terrible, and they cannot compare the cars at all to the Cup cars.

You know, I think that the future of what they're going to do with those cars is -- I'm going to be curious to watch. I love sitting in my bus watching those races. You know, it's a great place to be. Nothing is going to change that. I mean, who knows, I might run one or two somewhere down the road, I'm not going to say never, but to do it week in and week out the way some of those guys do and to do it on a big weekend like this one or in the next ten races in the Chase, I just don't see where it makes any sense.

So I'm joking about why guys are doing it. You'd have to ask them.

Q. But you wouldn't do it?

JEFF GORDON: Did I not speak clearly? I'm sorry, let me say it louder. Absolutely not. I have no desire to run back and forth -- you know, I did the five or six races or whatever a few years back, and to me it was just -- it took the fun right out of it. I mean, you'd go from one car, you run over to the other one. And it's like being Rick Hendrick; he's got four cars and two or three of them might be awesome but one of them is not going to be some days, so you can be in victory lane celebrating, and as soon as victory lane is over, you're over there trying to figure out how to get that other car and team -- that's how it was for me, I'd maybe have one car running good and one car not running good. I didn't feel like I was doing either job well. I felt like I did both of them mediocre. So I prefer to just focus on the one I think that I need to focus on the most and do the best job that I can.

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Clint Bowyer