Team Monte Carlo - Jeff Gordon interview

The Winston. Today's NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference announced a new format dubbed "Survival of the Fastest" for The Winston. This year, the number of laps will increase from 70 to 90 (20 laps or 30 miles) for the total event. The top 20 ...

The Winston.

Today's NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference announced a new format dubbed "Survival of the Fastest" for The Winston. This year, the number of laps will increase from 70 to 90 (20 laps or 30 miles) for the total event. The top 20 finishers in segment one will advance to segment two. The top 10 finishers in segment two will compete for the victory in segment three, in an inverted field format. The total purse has been increased from $2 to $3 million. The winners of the first two segments will earn $50,000 each. The winner of the final 20-lap shootout will earn $750,000. Details of the complete format are available from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

The guests included H.A. Humpy Wheeler, president of Lowe's Motor Speedway, Ned Leary, president of Sports Marketing Enterprises at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Rich Habegger, director of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series for Sports Marketing Enterprises.

Joining the teleconference was four-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, Team Monte Carlo's Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet and three-time winner of The Winston (1995, '97, and '01).

Jeff Gordon:

On the new format for The Winston:

"This is exciting - not just the numbers, but the format. This is an event that all the drivers and teams really get excited about. There's not a better place to have it than here in Charlotte. For some reason, this racetrack really offers a great venue for this type of event and the fans seem to come out. Right before that green flag comes out, you can see the flashbulbs going off in the grandstands - seeing the enthusiasm and the excitement of the fans and the drivers - and it's just an awesome event to be a part of. We've been very fortunate to have pulled into Victory Lane three times in The Winston.

"Last year, I would have never thought I'd pull into Victory Lane with the way that one started. But this event offers so many angles and ways to bring excitement and enthusiasm to such an all-star event for the race teams as well as the drivers. If you were down in the garage area (last year) you saw all these race teams putting those back-cars together and fixing the cars that were damaged. It was an awesome display of teamwork. Our team obviously did a great job of bringing out a back-up car in to be able to win that event.

"We're very excited. This is going to be a great format. Eliminating the cars and other drivers through each segment is certainly going to keep things exciting. The last 20 laps now (instead of 10) are going to do much more than you can imagine. You can run pretty hard here for 10 laps before the handling starts to go away. Sometimes you'll see a guy break away and once that leader gets out there, nobody can catch him. But when you start adding 10 more laps to that event, he's going to have to be careful how hard he pushes that car because the handling will go away and somebody can run him down. So, I think it's a great format. I'm excited about it and the purse is incredible. I know a lot of the other drivers and teams would say the same thing. I can't wait to see it all happen in May."

Given in the change for the last segment of this race, do you have a preference as to where you would like to start?

"They might as well just invert 10. I don't always know the fans that well, but I think I know them well enough to know that they want to see as many inverted as possible. I think that's what is really changing this event. If you remember last year, you wanted to win the second segment because it started straight up for the last segment and you wanted to be on that front row. If you were outside of the first two rows in that last segment in the past, you didn't have a shot at winning. Now, all ten of those cars in the event have a shot at winning. I want to win every segment. So I'm going to go out there and run as hard as I can to get the best finish I possibly can no matter where or how they're going to invert. But I would guess that they'll invert ten spots."

Will this new format favor any style of driver or team?

"I think it still goes back to the same type of style that we've always seen for The Winston. It's an all-start event and you still have to be aggressive. You have to run hard because you don't know where you're going to start in that first segment. There are 26 cars and you've got to work your way up to the front of that race to get yourself into any type of position to get yourself into that last 10. You're going to have to run hard because you've got to be in the top 10. So you've got to race hard just to put yourself into position. This is for the same type of guys that have that aggressive attitude and teams that love to go all out. At Hendrick Motorsports, we put the most horsepower we possibly can under the hood and hope that it makes it 90 laps. Ninety-one laps. As long as it's not 89 1/2 laps, it's got to be 90 laps. I don't care if it makes it past 90 or not. That's the way our guys work. They put every effort out there to be as aggressive and to go as fast as possible. I do the same thing. You've got some young guys out there too - guys like Kurt Busch. I think it could be a very exciting Winston."

Does the inversion keep people from trying to sandbag their way into the next segment?

"The elimination of cars is going to promote the drivers to run as hard as they can to get the best finish they can. Even though we're pretty sure that they're going to want to invert all 10 (cars) in that last segment, we really don't know. The fans are going to be the ones to decide that. This is really a race for the fans and they get to interact and get involved.

"But it goes back to what happened to Bobby Labonte last year. If you're trying to be in that 10th place spot, and you've got guys that know that they have to be in that 10th spot to make that next event, there's going to be a lot of action going on right then and there. That's going to make things very interesting. I don't think you can decide where you need to finish. You basically have got to run hard. Other than that $50,000 on the line, I don't know if you're going to want to win that second segment. A guy who is up towards the front and that has a strong car in the last segment is going to have an advantage, but if you've got a strong enough car, why not try to win all three?"

A couple years ago, you and a couple other teams brought cars that NASCAR preferred not to see again. Since this isn't a points race, is this an opportunity for the teams to play in the gray area of the rule book with the cars?

"Last year was an interesting time for us. We brought a couple new people into our R&D and chassis departments and they read the rulebook word-for-word. They basically built a racecar that was built around the rulebook. Now the rulebook is a little different. But it did get us The Winston win. We've realized what it takes to run a 400 or 500 or 600-mile race. There are certain things we have to do. There are things in the rulebook that we know we have to live by for The Winston. But you can push the limits. You can put a racecar out there that's a little more edgy. Sometimes you show up with a car that you're not sure is going to make it through inspection. That's up to NASCAR. But you're going to push the limits as far as you can within those gray areas. If it doesn't make it through (inspection), at least it's not a points event. And then you just pull out the other one (car). That hasn't happened, but we've all certainly seen some wild and crazy stuff when they come out here and sometimes you feel like we're racing ASA cars instead of Winston Cup cars."

Since you're talking about it, what was so different about that car?

"A lot of it was fuel cell location and just the way some of the structure of the tubing and the way it was built. But a lot of it was just the center of gravity type thing and where things were placed. That car was a bear to work on. You couldn't even change the rear end gear without practically pulling the fuel cell out of it. So it wasn't a very fun car for our guys to work on, but it worked great for that event. If it did well - which it did - we were going to try to figure out ways to make it more.....umm.....(legal?) It was legal! NASCAR knew about that car before we ever brought it here. They said it was fine, they just didn't want to see it come back. No, we just tried to make it a little more (user) friendly for the guys who were working on it. Actually, we've incorporated a lot of things that we learned from that car to the cars that we race today. But we just put them in there in a way that fits with the rule book."

What happens if Humpy doesn't predict you to win?

"I think we all have fun just like Humpy does with his predictions. He's pretty close most of the time, but we were glad to be able to spoil his parade last year. And he kind of spoiled our racecar's parade there in Turn 1 when that rain came. We are always looking for ways to just keep this race exciting and fun. Any way you can pull into Victory Lane is awesome, but when you do it the way we did it last year (in a backup car), that's something I never forget."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Kurt Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports