JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS - POLE WINNER
“Oh gosh, I am so proud of this pole, and the effort the this Drive To End Hunger team put in this weekend, as well as that lap. Qualifying has really been what has been hurting us a Watkins Glen, and I blame myself really. I’m so happy that I got three shots at it today. I really think that made the big difference. The first lap I did okay, but I got held up a little coming back to the checkered. The second one was a really good lap and got us into the top-12. I just tried to do the same things in that last lap. Alan (Gustafson crew chief) made a slight adjustment. I thought it was about the same as what I ran before, I didn’t think it was going to be that much better. Wow what a lap. I’m so excited. Today is Leo’s (son) birthday and I told him on the phone earlier that I was going to go try to get a pole for him, not realistically thinking I had a shot at it. We were going for it and we got it done. Happy Birthday, buddy! I’m pumped, this gives us a lot of confidence. I think today does make a statement, We didn’t do too much in qualifying runs. Just the way we struggled here in the last couple years. This has been one of our toughest tracks, then to start the weekend off with a pole. Heck yes! Just like with AARP's real possibilities, we’ve got a real possibility with the Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. After today, I believe anything is possible.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – POLE WINNER
LOOKS LIKE THIS WEEKEND THIS NO. 24 TEAM IS READY TO ROLL:
“Yeah we are. I’m super excited. I think the type of year that we are having certainly has given all of us confidence in what we are doing and our race cars. I think Watkins Glen has kind of been a target on our radar because we have run so poorly here recently. You start to lose confidence in what you are doing, your team loses confidence in their car and you get off track and lost a little bit. That is the way it’s been for us the last few times we’ve been here. With the type of race cars we’ve been bringing to the race track this year we had hoped with all the effort put into it that it would pay off for us here. We were fast in race practice yesterday, but I will be honest we went into qualifying trim and it didn’t go very well. We were pretty concerned. We made a few changes over night, but didn’t know what to expect. The first lap I felt like I got through certain parts of the corner really good, but I also got blocked by a car coming back to the checkered. So, we almost got knocked out of that first round and then we went back out and put a really good lap together. I think right then that changed our whole qualifying session. Once I knew I could run that lap then that confidence came back and I was just able to go attack the race track. That last lap I have no idea where that came from. I will be honest. I did not think it was that good of a lap. I knew it was a good lap I didn’t know it was that good.”
WAS IT A CONSCIOUS PART OF YOUR TEAM’S STRATEGY TO GO OUT AS LATE AS YOU DID SO MARCOS AMBROSE WOULDN’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO COME BACK FOR ONE?
“No, we had to make two runs in the first session. When you make that second run and there were only a few minutes left in that session we just had to cool everything down. There were two factors into when we went. Cooling everything down tires and the water in the engines and then getting a clean lap. It just happened to work out that when we were done cooling that it was a great time to go as there were no cars on the track. There were two cars in front of me that rolled off and everybody that was on the track had just finished their lap. So there is a cool down period and there are a lot of guys rolling around slow so you really want to get them far around the race track before you go take off so you are not weaving in and out of cars. That is kind of the way it worked out for us. It was just a solid lap.”
1999 YOU STARTED ON THE POLE AND WON THE RACE IS THERE ANYTHING AT ALL FROM THAT ERA THAT YOU CAN BRING FORWARD TO THIS NEW CAR ON SUNDAY?
“Well the track hasn’t changed that much over the years, but the cars and the competition have. As I mentioned earlier we haven’t been bad in the race once we’ve gotten into the race, we’ve been pretty solid with our speed and how competitive we are, but we’ve been starting so far back that we haven’t been able to show that. Our real main goal this weekend was to try to qualify up in the top 10 or 12 because we have been further back than that to have a shot. Being in the top five was a plus and after being fourth that first session so we were just trying to kind of back that up. To be on the pole the one thing I know over the years is a good starting position, a good pit stall and as important as track position is these days that was huge. It’s going to be hard. There are some very aggressive drivers that are right behind us and beside me. They are going to be super aggressive. I was aggressive there qualifying and I’m going to be aggressive tomorrow and we are here to win. The only thing I can take from back in those days is just the things that we have done to win which is get the car dialed in the best you can and go make consistent laps keeping everything on track not making mistakes.”
HOW CLOSE DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN ON THE VERGE OF WINNING A ROAD COURSE RACE SINCE YOUR LAST ONE IN 2006?
“Here not very close. Sonoma we have been close. The last time I think we were close was the time I spun out going into turn one in front of Tony (Stewart). Wheel hopped getting in there and lost that race. I mean I don’t know if we were going to win it. Regardless, Tony was running me down and faster than us that day, but it doesn’t matter because I was going the wrong direction in turn one. It’s been awhile since we’ve really been in contention to win here. But I feel like every year at Sonoma we have been pretty close.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE KNOCK-OUT QUALIFYING AT THE ROAD COURSES?
“I love it. I mean today really honestly I needed three shots at it. So in the past I feel like, just like that first run that we made that is kind of the laps that I’ve done here in the past when we only had one lap. There is a very fine line here between being too conservative and being too aggressive. In order to make a good lap on a road course you’ve got to find those perfect brake marks and carry the right speed through the corners and then obviously the car has got to work well too. There are so many marks that you have to hit to get it all right. When you have this big of a track with that many corners all it takes is one little mistake and it ruins your whole lap. To me today to be able to do – from a fan stand point and how people were able to follow it I couldn’t’ tell you because I am only in there watching it on the lap times, but when I’m looking at the timer I thought it was amazing how many guys got knocked out in that first session. Where guys kept going faster, I thought that was very entertaining. We were a part of that and jumped up there. But from a driver’s stand point it was a huge benefit to me to go get three shots at it. Each time I was able to increase our speed which was huge.”
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE THIS YEAR FOR YOU AT THE GLEN? THE PAST FEW YEARS MARCOS AMBROSE AND KYLE BUSCH HAVE EMERGED AS FAVORITES, NOW YOU LOOK TO HAVE REJOINED THAT GROUP.
“I still wouldn’t consider ourselves a favorite for tomorrow, but I think we have now put our name in the mix anyway. The biggest difference is I think our race cars are definitely improved. I think the area that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and our engineers and our engine builders all the areas we work in from a chassis set-up, aerodynamics, horsepower all those things have really paid off. Hendrick Motorsports has got some amazing equipment this year, especially with Alan and the No. 24 team. I just think that they have really attacked the right areas and it’s really been working well for me. It’s given me that comfort and confidence to really just push the car harder and harder and know it’s going to stay underneath me and find the limit of the car and run it on that limit. Each time we go to a race track where we do that and get good results it builds our confidence in all of us to what we are doing. There is no doubt that coming in here this weekend, even though Watkins Glen hasn’t been the best for us we still came in here with confidence of what we have been carrying at the other tracks to come in here and run good. It was pretty awesome to back that up. I can say that all weekend long even, we were running good and then we didn’t run good in our qualifying runs and I could see the look on Alan’s face of ‘man what do we have to do, what are we missing’ and today to go out and get that pole the way that he looks at me and believes in me just went to another level. That is pretty awesome. It’s hard to get that.”
HOW PHYSICALLY DEMANDING IS THIS TRACK COMPARED TO AN OVAL? HOW IS YOUR BACK GOING TO HOLD UP TO IT?
“Yeah I don’t seem to have too many issues with my back here. I think it has to do with turning right. My back needs to turn right every once in a while. It’s very physically demanding. You are working really hard with the wheel, with the shifting. I feel it in my elbow, my shoulder when this race is over this is probably the only race we have all year where you have to actually ice your shoulder and your elbow down just from all the demands and how physically aggressive you have to be with shifting to not miss a shift here. I mean I feel good and I’m ready for the challenge.”
IS YOUR FAMILY HERE? IS LEO HERE I KNOW TODAY IS HIS BIRTHDAY? ALSO LOOKING AT TOMORROW HOW DOES STRATEGY FACTOR IN TO DETERMINE A WINNER? WILL YOU TALK WITH ALAN ABOUT THAT?
“Yeah, it is Leo’s birthday today. I spoke to him on the phone. They are not here this weekend. They are in New York, but not here in Watkins Glen. I mean they will be here tomorrow. But yeah it was pretty cool to wish him a happy birthday this morning right as I was getting up and say ‘alright I’m going to try to go get you that pole.’ I wasn’t real confident in that statement, but I said it anyway. Now I really can’t wait to talk to him. I can’t wait to get to my phone. I know it’s going to be lit up from Ingrid and the kids so that is pretty cool.
“I will be honest I haven’t even talked about the strategy and the plan for this weekend. I know Alan and those guys came in here with a plan. We did a debrief this week. But we were really more talking about performance and qualifying more than anything else. They have a plan and I look forward to hearing what it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be about running the strategy like a road course since we are at a road course.”
HOW DOES IT CHANGE THINGS TO NOW HAVE CHILDREN THAT YOU CAN GO OUT AND RACE FOR? AND HAVE SOMETHING THAT YOUR KIDS AND YOUR FAMILY CAN ENJOY AND CELEBRATE WHAT YOU ARE DOING?
“Well it works both ways. When your kids come to the race track and you don’t perform very well and they say what happened? Well how come you didn’t win the race? And Jimmie Johnson won the race; Evie’s dad won the race (laughs) those kinds of things you smile and laugh about it on one hand. But you can’t help but take that personal. So on the flip side is when you are able to win the race and they get to see that excitement and be a part of it and that bond that you have with your family and the ups and the downs you go through. To get to experience that moment there is just nothing better. That is why this year has just been phenomenal. This has just been one of the best years I’ve ever had because of how good things are at home and how good things are at the race track and just life is good. I’m enjoying the heck out of it and I don’t know how many more years I have racing in this series. Certainly to be this late in my career and be this competitive is something I didn’t know whether it would happen, but the timing couldn’t be better because Ella appreciates and understands it at seven and Leo is just kind of starting to. Even Ingrid has never really experienced the type of success that we are having this year. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”
WHEN NASCAR CHANGED TO THE COT THE COMMUNICATION BETWEEN YOURSELF AND THE CAR SEEMED TO GO WAY. IS THIS GEN-6 CAR IS THIS A SITUATION WHERE YOU ARE JUST COMMUNICATING FAR BETTER WHAT YOU ARE FEELING IN THE CAR AND THAT IS HELPING TO ADD TO YOUR SUCCESS?
“Yes, absolutely I wasn’t a fan of the COT the first time I drove it and I wasn’t a fan of it the last time I drove it. I was certainly pretty happy to see a change in the direction that they went in where it became a real race car again. This car drives well it does the things that you want it to do and looks good doing it. Yeah, I’m a fan definitely and I’m a fan of the lower ride heights too. I think it’s a combination of what it’s doing, the feedback that the car is giving me and the way that I drive. When a car sticks and does the things you want it to do it’s a little more forgiving on some of your weaknesses, but it also can enhance the strong suits that you have. That is just what I’m seeing and feeling, but I think a lot of credit goes to the team too. There are plenty of guys out there that have the same ride heights and spoiler and cars that we have, but I think our cars are really superior right now to a lot of the teams out there.”
WHEN NASCAR INTRODUCED THE KNOCK-OUT QUALIFYING SYSTEM EVERYONE BELIEVED THAT AS THE ROUNDS PROGRESSED DRIVERS WOULD SLOW DOWN DUE TO TIRE FALL OFF AND OTHER THINGS, BUT THAT HASN’T BEEN THE CASE. WHY IS THAT?
“That is a great question. I have no idea. I honestly thought especially even today I thought for sure that we would drop off, Pocono last week the same thing. It’s really incredible to see the lap times get better. I think that is just a credit to the teams and to the drivers of when you make a lap you are always making slight little mistakes whether you are under driving it or over driving it or turning in too late or too early and so when you get a second chance at it you have that in your memory of okay the last time I went through here I needed to do something different and you apply that and it works. I think at a lot of these tracks now, Richmond, I don’t necessarily know if that would be the case at Richmond. There are just certain tracks where it is going to fall off. I have been amazed at how we have been able to do it. I think that is the key to keeping it exciting. If you went out and you only had one lap on your tires that was worth anything then you are never going to see guys go back out and advance and knock people out. That to me is what makes it so exciting. I was one that was really pushing NASCAR to give us another set of tires because I thought we were going to need that set of tires and how we managed the second set of tires to really keep it exciting and interesting. There still might be a couple of tracks where that is need, but yeah, I’ve been shocked by the same thing.