Atlanta: Press Conference Transcript
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with media and discussed racing at Atlanta, his teammates, the upcoming Chase to the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and more. Full Transcript:
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, hard to believe a year ago we were here for the 85th victory. Talk a little bit about coming back to Atlanta.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, time flies. Last year was an amazing experience. Atlanta in general this year celebrating 20 years of DuPont, 20 years in this sport, all the way back to that race in 1992 right here, I've been able to relive a lot of great moments and memories that I have from Atlanta. Right from the beginning, this was a special place for me, even in the Nationwide Series.
To get 85 last year here and have this 20th anniversary paint scheme with DuPont this weekend is very special. Can't wait to slide around like we do here at Atlanta Sunday night. It's such a fun racetrack. The surface is one that I think everyone really enjoys the challenges that come along with this track, its abrasiveness. I know we certainly look forward to it on Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Before the season, Jimmie Johnson was hinting he was going to change his approach and do things a little differently after reassessing his team, life, after not winning the championship last year. It seems like it's helped him this year. Have you noticed from him any outward changes from him in the way he's approaching racing, and if you went through anything similar?
JEFF GORDON: I don't know. I mean, five straight, you miss one year, I don't know if I'd change a whole lot.
You know, I think, if anything, by going through that year in the off-season not being the champion just gave him a little bit more time to sort of relax and look at life and family and racing and all those things, kind of put it in perspective.
I know for me, we won basically three out of four years, finished second that other year from '95 through '98. You're in this whirlwind. It just seems like at the speed of light, it's just all going by so fast.
Sometimes until you don't win that championship, you don't really look back on it or think about it, you just keep going to the next event. You stay very busy also when you're winning championships like that.
I can only imagine what Jimmie has gone through winning five in a row. I know he stepped up his training. He's doing triathalons and stuff like that, riding long bike rides, those types of things, plus being a dad, that commitment to parenting. He certainly seems content and happy.
I think that's the only thing that I see really different. But I'm not on his team with him. They're going through all the motions of everything they go through on the weekends and during the week. So there could be more to it.
I certainly don't think he needs to change a whole lot.
Q. With two races to go before the Chase field is set, are you nervous? Are you optimistic? What do you feel like your chances are? Are you stressed out over it?
JEFF GORDON: You know, you just go out there and do your job. We want it bad. We go out every practice trying to get the most out of the car. You have ups and downs. It's how you handle those ups and downs and minimize them from being big peaks and valleys that allow you to stay focused.
It's just like today, we know we want to go out as late as we possibly can qualifying, so we want to put a good number up there, so we stayed in qualifying trim the whole time. But we also know that the track's going to be totally different during qualifying than it is in the race.
It was frustrating we couldn't put a better lap time up there, but I still feel confident for how we're going to qualify tonight. But I feel like we're giving up a little bit by going out earlier than we had hoped that we were going to by focusing on qualifying as much as we did.
Those are things you go through in one practice. Those are things you go through multiple times throughout a weekend.
When you've had the type of season that we've had, it's a little hard to rebound from those. When you go through them, everybody goes through them, but the teams that are winning and are up in the top 10 in points, especially the guys that are top four or five, they're going through them and rebounding from them pretty easily.
For us, it's kind of hit-or-miss. Last weekend was a great weekend for us. We had a car we thought was capable of winning. Came home third. It was a solid weekend.
But that's the way our season has gone. We have those type of weekends, then we go to the next weekend and have a hard time building that momentum.
This is certainly a great track for us to build on from Bristol. We have confidence from being here last year. Our cars have been good this year. I'm confident right now that this could be a good weekend. But it's going to take a lot of hard work. It's a tricky track.
It's trying not to get frustrated when we have a practice like we just had.
Q. Jumping ahead a little bit to Talladega, what kind of wild card race is that when it's in the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: It's a big one. You never know what it's going to take to win on that type of race, whether you're going to be watching your temperatures, overheating, drafting, drafting partners, you know, going to be able to stay up in the front of the pack, stay in the back of the pack, miss the wrecks. There's so many variables. You can even try to play it safe at Talladega and still get caught up in something.
You know, it's probably one of the most frustrating races, always has been, to have when you're battling for a championship because there's just so many unknowns and unpredictable.
Q. There was a recent NASCAR report that came out a few days ago. It shows the paint scheme for the late Dale Earnhardt ranked first overall and another paint scheme ranks fourth. Is it amazing after all these years to still see his presence in the NASCAR fan base?
JEFF GORDON: Yes and no. I mean, he's a legend. He's a guy that you're never going to forget. I don't know the specifics of those cars, if there was something special that they did to create something more collectible than others, or if it's just a basic Earnhardt car that the fans are just still reacting to because they loved him.
I mean, to me, it's not that surprising because I got firsthand experience of seeing how loyal and avid his fans were when we raced together. You know, you still see Earnhardt shirts and hats. So he still has an incredible fan base.
So overall I think the collectible business has suffered. But as far as the rankings when it comes to sales, Earnhardt Sr. or Earnhardt Jr. are still strong. It's pretty awesome to see.
Q. Dale Jr. was in here earlier and was asked about you and Kasey, what could he do, would he be willing to help get you into the Chase. He said he'd be willing to do anything in good taste to get you into the Chase. What can a teammate do for you for the next couple weeks?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, that's good to know. But I think realistically we don't expect anything more than what we were already getting from our teammates this year, which is just trying to get valuable information so that we can make the best choices for setting up the car, whether it be for qualifying, whether it be for the race, to put the racecar out there.
When it all comes down to it, our team has to step up and do all the things necessary to get the job done to make it into the Chase.
You certainly don't want to be in a position where your teammate is in front of you, you're running second or third, and that one position is what's going to get you in. I find it hard to believe that anybody would move over to take away a win from themselves to get you in the Chase.
Those wishes might get challenged here in the next couple weeks, and we'll see. We know our teammates are there for us. We feel like it's our job to utilize them, to make sure that we are competitive enough to not only win races but to get the finishes that we need to get to make it in.
I mean, I really think this thing is going to come down to the last lap of Richmond. I've been saying it for weeks. I still believe that. No matter what happens this weekend, I really believe so many things can change in an instant and that it truly can come down to that final lap at Richmond.
It's going to be exciting to watch and be a part of. Certainly, as Bob was alluding to, a lot of pressure. I wouldn't say I'm nervous, but it's certainly intense. When it's that intense, it makes you have to step your game up, be mindful of not making mistakes.
Q. This is the 20th anniversary of your first race essentially. It was year, a little later in the year of course, but what do you take away from that? What is your dominant memory of that?
JEFF GORDON: That day?
Q. Yes, that first race in Atlanta, the first weekend here.
JEFF GORDON: Boy, I mean, so many things. Back then you could go and test at the track before you raced at the track. I remember coming here and testing, running really fast, qualifying not going well for us, but yet they had second-round qualifying back then on the Saturday. We were fastest second round. We had a fast racecar. You know, just my inexperience got the best of me, getting loose, backing into the wall, which is now three and four. I certainly remember the drivers meeting being very different, even to this day. It was a different type of drivers meeting.
I'm very proud I was able to be a part of it. Here is a legend of our sport that will never be topped, nobody is ever going to win 200 races, yet I was able to be a part of a fairly intimate setting and hear him speak at that drivers meeting of what his career meant to him, how much he appreciated so many things and the fans and the competitors. That was very, very cool to be a part of that. So I certainly remember that.
But, you know, I also remember my day not ending too well.
Q. Can you draw any parallels between 2005 and this year as far as your emotions, where you are at this point trying to get into the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: Compared to what?
JEFF GORDON: Did we miss it that year?
Q. That's the year you missed it. I believe so.
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, the difference that I see this year versus '05 is I feel we're competitive enough to be in the Chase this year. I felt like '05 we weren't. In '05, the only way we were going to make it is to put a bunch of top 10s together. This year we're very capable. That's been the most frustrating thing about this season is that, I mean, we are definitely, from a performance standpoint, a team that's capable of being in the top 10, you know, winning more races than we have, more top fives than we have, less DNFs. That's been the frustrating part, not getting the results you're capable of.
That's been one thing I feel like has gone in my favor throughout my career, is when we're capable of the results, maybe we don't get them immediately, but eventually we start to build that momentum and get those results put together. This year has been one of those up-and-down years when it comes to that.
Pressure-wise I think is about the same. You know, you want to be in it. You don't want to be on the outside looking in. We had to step up in a big way then. That was a big challenge for us. We recognize it's going to be a big challenge for us this year, as well.
But I've got more confidence in our performance this year but yet not so much because we just haven't had things go the way we need them to.
Who knows, these next two weeks could be just unbelievable or these next two weeks could be just disastrous. You just don't know.
I try not to go into races with too many expectations, I just go in trying to do the best job I can and support my team and give them the tools that they need to give me the car and what I can do to give them the ability to have that great pit stop, make that good adjustment so that we can be up front, bound for the win.
Q. You've seen 20 years of championships. I know Tony Stewart came out of nowhere last year. To be brutally honest, this championship is Jimmie Johnson's to lose. You can crunch the numbers, see the momentum. You know who has what.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I agree. But I thought that was Carl Edwards' position last year, too. After last year, it's all very unpredictable.
But I agree. They've shown the signs and the strengths of being able to really strike and put the speed up when they need to, and we're not even in the Chase yet. They seem to be able to find another gear when it comes to the Chase when it all truly is really on the line.
You got to recognize where your strengths are. The 48 has so many strengths, it just seems they got a bag of tricks that they can constantly take things out of, weapons they can go after. They're either fast at this particular track or they just know how to battle back. Doesn't matter where they start, they're always capable of pulling out the weapons that they need to.
Other teams are consistent. Other teams can kind of come and go, come and go.
So I don't know. I'm interested to see how those final 10 races go because it's been a bit unpredictable this season, as well as the last couple of seasons, at least last year, the way like Tony stepped up when you least expected it.
Q. You opened by talking about how drivers have such an affinity for the Atlanta surface. Carl Edwards said if we haven't had a racetrack, this would be it. As more get resurfaced, this place becomes more of an original, unique, do you think drivers will have more of a fondness for this place? If it was up to you, would you prefer to run two races here rather than other races?
JEFF GORDON: I really think so. I think we're hurting the sport by doing all these repaves. I really try to always see all the different sides of the business side of the sport, whether it be from the team standpoint, the driving standpoint, sponsorship, tracks, NASCAR, you know, and give the benefit of the doubt. So I understand a lot of these tracks, especially after Daytona, right, the surface has an issue, comes apart, they've got to repave, and they start looking at all these tracks, we cannot let that happen again.
I think they've really missed it on what they're repaving the surfaces with. It's extremely disappointing to me. I feel like it's challenging Goodyear in ways that's got to be frustrating to them. It challenges the teams, everybody. I think it takes away from putting the best race out there, as well.
We come here. This place is old, worn out, cracks everywhere, and yet every driver loves it. We're slipping and sliding around. The racing is pretty spectacular. So from a surface and pure driving on the track standpoint, I'd like to come here five times a year. But the business side of it's got to match up, as well, the dates, everything else.
Unfortunately, eventually they're going to have to repave here, too. I just hope more tracks start looking at how they repave, how you accomplish what's out there right now with a repave because we're paving these racetracks with what we're trying to pave highways with, and this is not a highway, this is a racetrack.
I think that the whole model of repaving needs to be rethought out, readjusted. I know we can come up with better surfaces. Not more longer-lasting surfaces. They're making surfaces that are lasting forever, but one that's better for racing, what we're looking for as drivers and teams and fans.
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