JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 2ND
ON THE SPEEDS:
“Oh my gosh. It’s so fast; so much grip and so much commitment. Luckily, our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet had a lot of grip, too. In (Turns) 1 and 2, the last two runs, I just nailed 1 and 2. But the run before that last one, I got into (Turn) 3 a little bit too hard. Tried to get a little too aggressive through there and washed out the front. So, the guys made an adjustment and I drove in there and it just was a little bit too much. I should have been a little bit more committed because the front end finally, it cut; and I was like ‘No!’ That’s all right. That’s a great effort. Practicing here during the day and qualifying and racing at night is tough. We struggled through a few things today but I’m so proud of this team. That’s certainly a good place to start this race.
“We won’t be quite going this fast on Saturday night. But you definitely get to see the difference between how the car turns and how it sticks and what it does under cooler conditions with the track temps coming down versus what’s happening during the day. We’ll take that into consideration tomorrow when we are going through practice.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 2ND
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS LEADING INTO SATURDAY NIGHT’S EVENT?
“I’m very pleased. Looking back on it certainly felt like we have a car that could have been on the pole tonight. I’m a little bit let down that I didn’t get it for this team because I do feel like the car was fast enough to do it. Got through (turns) one and two extremely good just like I did through the second segment and in the second segment I over drove (turn) three and four and pushed the front. I was so nervous about doing that this time I just thought ‘man if I can just get it to turn the middle and get off there really good and clean it will be a good lap, maybe good enough for the pole’. That just wasn’t the case. I think maybe I didn’t get through (turns) one and two quite as good as I did the run before that. When I got down to (turn) three I think I was just a little bit too conservative. I got through there really clean and the car turned really good and I didn’t expect it to do that. Still a really good effort and really good position to start this race on Saturday.”
DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR BRAKES TODAY EARLIER?
“Yeah, we had some kind of brake line, I don’t know if it got hit by something when we were making the adjustment prior to that run or somehow it got rubbed on something. We just know that it was in that line and we fixed it and then it’s about preventative measures to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I feel confident that it won’t.”
HOW UNORTHODOX IS THIS CHASE WHERE YOU HAVE THE TWO DOMINANT TEAMS HAVE FOUR CARS NOW OUTSIDE THE POINTS AND SOME OF THE TEAMS THAT HAVEN’T BEEN RUNNING WELL ARE AT THE TOP OF THE BOARD? DO YOU THINK THAT WILL CONTINUE?
“I mean I think it’s incredibly intense and certainly makes for a very exciting storyline. That is for sure. I think this actually gets you more like – in a lot of ways like other sports where you can have a perfect record and lose the first game of the playoffs. I think the only thing that really impacts this format differently and same in the past, but I’m just saying versus other sports is that things outside of your control as your team – not only other teams you are racing in the Chase, but other teams that aren’t in the Chase can impact your day. That is tough to swallow some days. You’ve got to not only go out there and perform you’ve got to avoid those incidences the best that you possibly can. I still believe that if your team is good enough, you have three races to get yourself to that next round. If you are as good as you think you are then you will go through to that next round by a lot of hard work and commitment that you have had all year long. We didn’t have the best of days last week, but it wasn’t a terrible day either. It could have been a lot worse. We fought hard and now we are off to a good start this weekend if we can come out of here with a really solid finish if not a win. That makes Talladega hopefully a little bit easier.”
ARE YOU SURPRISED TO SEE THE NO. 48 STRUGGLING OR NOT EXCELLING ESPECIALLY HERE?
“Yeah, I have just seen too many times these guys pull it out and do extraordinary things when they seem to be down and out. I’m probably the one that is going to hold onto that maybe even more than them at times, because I’ve been up against it where we felt like we had them down and they came back and beat us. Those guys are tough. They are a good team. I don’t know exactly what is going on right now. I feel for them in some ways because I’ve been there. I’ve been there where my teammates are running really solid and I drive it down in the corner and it just doesn’t feel the way I want it to feel or doesn’t stick or a little thing happens here or there that causes you to lose a little time or get the position. Then all of a sudden you are behind and it catches up with you. I also know that those guys are incredibly good and put up a heck of a fight. I won’t be surprised if they still make it to the next round or are a major threat for this championship.”
HOW DIFFERENT OR SIMILAR DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE TWO RACES ARE IN MAY AND OCTOBER IN CHARLOTTE?
“They are very similar except for you start a little bit later at night so the conditions right away have the grip and the cool track temperature. In May you have to start off with a track that is still a little bit warm and lacks a little bit of grip and make sure you don’t get too far behind and then really be able to tune your car to those conditions as they cool. That is one and just the difference in length which can put you into a different pit strategy on fuel mileage and can definitely change the outcome. 600 miles is such a long way around this place. I kind of like 500, but all that matters is that we are out front when they waive the checkered flag.”
IN YOUR ROOKIE YEAR THE POLE SPEED HERE WAS 177 (MPH) TODAY IT WAS 197 (MPH) KURT (BUSCH) RAN A LAP THAT IS THE FASTEST EVER AT A 1.5-MILE TRACK. CAN YOU ACTUALLY FEEL THAT DIFFERENCE?
“What is amazing to me is we qualified here at night in May and the pole was a 28.70 and tonight we are down there at a 27.16. That is unbelievable to me. You definitely feel it when you go through one and two I think I feel the speed and the grip more in one and two than I did in three and four. Of course I had a few little issues down in three and four, but in one and two I mean you are just barely even out of the gas. Some guys probably weren’t out of it all the way. You are just back wide open so early in the corner. Back in 1994 and 1993 that was just unimaginable to be able to go through there so fast. I remember always coming to Charlotte and when the sun goes down and you go to qualify and they tape up the grill how you just had to hold your breath and really push the limits and go for it. It seemed like back then I was pushing just as hard, but we weren’t going as fast. Now the cars don’t go faster because they are on the edge and wrecking they go faster because they are stuck really well. You still have to push the limits of the car. To do that there is a lot of throttle and very little brake and carrying a lot of speed. Tonight for me it was one of the easier qualifying sessions I have had here in a while. We fought so many more things here in May and tonight our car was really close and one and two was really easy because it stuck so good even though I was having to push the limits of it really hard. It doesn’t feel like it’s that fast, but it definitely feels fast.”
WAS THERE EVER ANY QUESTION IN YOUR MIND THAT AGE WAS A FACTOR IN YOUR PERFORMANCE AND DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE ANSWERED THAT QUESTION IN YOUR MIND WITH WHAT YOU HAVE DONE THIS YEAR?
“I’ve never felt like age had anything to do with it. It’s your body and your mind and your race team and your race car. That is what it has always come down to. I raced with competitors when I first came into the sport that were in their mid to late 40’s and had plenty of speed. To me when you have all the right ingredients I think that as long as you still have that aggressiveness in you, as long as the car is performing and the team is there I think the experience can actually be very beneficial. That is what has happened for me this year is that certainly a little bit of added downforce hasn’t hurt us at all. Our cars have been really good. I’m able to be a little bit more aggressive, but most of our cars are just extremely competitive and it’s built my confidence and when I drive down in the corner hard it sticks and when it does that it makes you more confident in what you are doing and you are more aggressive on the restarts and on qualifying laps. When you are leading and trying to make passes for me it’s more just having confidence in what the car is doing more than anything. It’s so nice to have guys when you pull into Victory Lane and they are saying ‘you are the best, man, you are the best.’ That is so cool to know that your team believes in what you are doing out there too. That is that whole total team effort.”
WHICH OF THE TWO PRACTICE SESSIONS TOMORROW WILL BE THE MOST CRITICAL AS TO HOW YOU THINK YOU’LL PERFORM ON SATURDAY? HOW FAR OFF OF THE QUALIFYING SET-UP DO YOU THINK YOU’LL HAVE TO COME TO BE ABLE TO RACE COMFORTABLY?
“I like the 5:00 p.m. practice. If it were up to me every weekend, our practice would be at race time. Whatever time that race starts, I want to have a practice the day before at that same time. The ultimate is to have the Nationwide cars with the exact same tire on the track right before that; because that’s the truest race conditions that we could ask for. So, we know weather is iffy right now for tomorrow and for Saturday, so right now it’s just about getting on the track and getting some solid laps. Yeah, it will be a lot different than that qualifying. That’s one lap. You put a bunch of nose weight in it and the car can turn and stick and do a bunch of things that feel really good for one lap. But if I continued one more lap, I would be half a second slower; and then a half a second slower than that. I’d be so much slower at the end; with that car set up the way it is, than I would if we put a race set-up in it. That’s just because those are the things you do to make it go fast for one lap. So, maybe not as different as it used to be back in the early ‘90’s, but quite a bit different than what we would think it would be.”
YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS WITH ALAN GUSTAFSON IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS AS YOUR CREW CHIEF. HOW DO YOU COMPARE HIM AND HOW HE IS TO WORK WITH COMPARED TO STEVE LETARTE?
“Well, he’s a lot different than Steve in personality and the things that he really focuses on. He really is an engineer. Steve was really good at knowing how to utilize the engineers and he’s great with chassis and understands the cars very well. But Alan gets really into the details of the engineering side of it from the aero platform of the car and the wind tunnel testing and computer simulation. He eats that stuff up. And he knows it as well as our engineers do. I think he’s had to really learn the craft of the other things, the pit calls and Steve is a great poker player. And, I’ve played poker with him. He’s great at applying that to pit stops and pit strategies as well. He’s not afraid to roll the dice. And sometimes Alan, in our first couple of years, would when I would say oh, the car’s pushing here or it’s loose here, he would get a little bit caught up in trying to make sure that he made the adjustments to the car; get the car on pit road and get the car better and then we’ll worry about pit strategy. And now, I think he’s realized just how important that track position truly is in making sure you don’t get out of those cycles. I think it’s just taken Alan and I a couple of years to really get the chemistry; but we’ve had it from the beginning. I think we expected to have a little bit more success earlier on, just because of how well we get along and his belief in me and mine in him. And it was a little frustrating when we weren’t running good, but it’s been awesome getting to know one another and challenge one another and then come out this year and have the success that we’re having. I contribute much of our success this year, to him and his efforts and what he’s built.”
ON GETTING HIS FIRST CAREER WIN AT CHARLOTTE. DOES THIS TRACK LEND ITSELF TO A YOUNG DRIVER IN GETTING HIS FIRST WIN?
“I don’t know. You might ask Kyle Larson here on Saturday night. As well as he’s been running, he could very easily get himself a win here. I don’t know what that is. I think it’s a very likable track. The banking, the transitions; certainly lends itself to being aggressive. It’s a driver-friendly track where you like to attach the track, but yet you can overdrive it, too. So drivers that have a good feel and don’t mind searching around the race track and having that kind of knack of giving good feedback back to the team and searching the race track, are going to be successful here. That list of guys are names are some of the top names in this sport. I would see those guys winning at any type of track that’s like that.”