JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed the strengths of his team, the race tracks he likes coming up in the Chase, different winners at New Hampshire, and more. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
TALK ABOUT THE CHASE-OPENER AT CHICAGO, AND YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
“It felt great to get the Chase started off right with a strong finish last week. It gives us confidence and momentum coming into New Hampshire, a very good track for us. You have to really look at the performance when you were at the track the time before because now that we get to come back for the second time that season; we performed pretty well here and qualified in the top 10 and were running in the top 5 when we had a slow leak in the right rear on a restart earlier in the race. We got ourselves back up to second and ran out of fuel there at the end. So, we had a strong performance and I’m hoping we can learn from some of those things that we went through and perform even better this time around.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON SAID EARLIER THAT HE HOPES THE NO. 48 WILL HEAT UP AS THE CHASE CONTINUES. WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOUR STYLE IN THE CHASE THAT IS FITTING THAT MAYBE JIMMIE IS NOT EXPERIENCING RIGHT NOW?
“The success that they’ve had over the years all contributes to a great team. And I think that right now we have those ingredients of a great team. Alan (Gustafson) has done a great job leading us on the engineering side of this car to give us good set-ups and good speed as well as building momentum early in the season with some good runs and solid runs to put us up front in the points and put us in position to win races as well as win races. And then from that point on, it’s been fine-tuning and working on the details, and those details have helped us to continue to be a very strong team; a team that’s very consistent and that has confidence and momentum. We go off of what the No. 48 has done (laughs) in the past and how they’ve been so successful. And that’s what we have right now. I’ve been on both sides of that, when things aren’t clicking and the chemistry is not there and the cars just aren’t doing what you want them to do to get the performance, or when you do have the performance, you can’t get all the other moving pieces to fall in place.
“I can’t really comment on how that has been working for them, but I just know how it has been working for us this year. And it starts with a fast race car. But it’s a lot more than that. It’s more than that. It’s more than just a feel. Unfortunately, I feel like I haven’t had this strong of a team and an opportunity for many years and it just feels good to have that. It gives me confidence in what I’m doing because they believe in me, and the same thing for the team; and I believe in them. That’s what allows you to go to the next race and perform well.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE TRACKS IN THE CHASE, WHICH ONES SUIT YOU BETTER THAN OTHERS?
“Obviously Martinsville is the first track that stands out for us in the Chase. It’s just a strong track for us, in general. It’s a track where we’ve had great success. We tested there recently as well, so I certainly look at that as a track that we’re strong at and I think some of our competitors aren’t, which makes it an even added bonus to hopefully go in and perform well there. But Kansas, we won there earlier in the year, so I think that’s a track that I look at that can be really good for us. Homestead is a great track for us, as well. Obviously, the goal is to get to Homestead and make that your strongest track of the Chase in that particular race. I think we’ve seen where the Penske cars are very strong on short runs and restarts and at certain tracks, and this is one of them. I really anticipate them, especially Brad (Keselowski), to be the team to beat this weekend again. Last week I feel like he won because of all those restarts there at the end. And they did a great job. But I didn’t think that was really their strongest track.
“But when I look at what’s so different now, (Kevin) Harvick has been so strong at so many places. He looks good again today too. But what’s different now is that you’ve just got to make it through to the next round, right? Somebody could win all three of these first races and as long as you go through the next round, it’s looking at different tracks that, as you get closer and closer to Homestead, that’s where you’ve got to perform. And then if you make it to Homestead, it doesn’t matter if somebody won the first nine races in the Chase. If you beat them in that final one, you win the championship. But you’ve got to be there and it’s not going to be easy to be there. And I’m excited about our chances; I’ll be honest. I think that we might let some other guys steal the thunder here early on, but I think that when it really comes down to it, I think our team has the ability to take the championship.”
“I do. But we’ve got a lot of work to do before we get there. So, we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. Right now it’s about what we do this weekend. We’re off to a great start from Chicago. That feels good. We’ve got to follow that up with another good finish this weekend. If we can get a win, then we can start thinking about the next round. Then your goal is to get a win early in a round so that you can start focusing for the next one. I would love to be into the next round and in a similar position that we’re in right now so we could start thinking about Martinsville. And I think the other part of that is anything you can do to not having to be thinking about Talladega; that’s a motivating factor for so many right now. If you start looking ahead, nobody wants to go to Talladega needing a win or a top 5 finish to move on because that place is so unpredictable and so wild and so crazy. It’s going to make for a very wild and crazy race. It’s going to be that way no matter what. But, you want to be that driver that it’s a calm race. And the only way that’s going to happen is if you’ve won the race before that.”
ON PRAISING KYLE LARSON AFTER THE RACE IN CHICAGO LAST WEEK
“I’ve been saying this about him for two years. So this is not new for me; maybe it is in the media center. But I’ve had my eye on him for a long time and yeah, he’s the real deal. So it’s exciting for the sport. We’ve seen young guys throughout the years come along that can separate themselves from the others and do exciting things that make people want to watch the races more and find a new driver to pull for. I’ve heard a lot of people say that about me over the years when they first started watching the sport or when I first came into the sport and now I get it because now I see what he’s doing and I see how people are reacting to it and I think it’s very exciting for him and the sport.”
THIS RACE TRACK HAS HAD 13 DIFFERENT WINNERS IN A ROW, TRYING TO SET A RECORD WITH 14. BRAD KESELOWSKI HAS WON THE LAST TWO RACES. IS HE THE ODDS-ON FAVORITE? DO THE HENDRICK CARS HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BEAT HIM?
“Well, as a team we definitely have what it takes to beat him. I think we’ve got a little work to do on the car to make the car perform at a level to beat him. They’re going to be really good; don’t get me wrong. We knew that coming in here. It’s no surprise. I thought (Kevin) Harvick looked really strong today. I think the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) has a great shot at winning the pole based on his performance earlier in the year and how he was in practice. But Brad was very strong. Again, this is New Hampshire. This is not Phoenix or Homestead. So, you’ve got to get all that you can out of it every single weekend. Under this new format, you can approach things differently looking at your strong races and your strong portions of the race and your strengths as a team, and go try to attack those things and take advantage of them. So, right now I sit here and say do we have the best car out there? I’m not so sure that we do. But is our team strong enough to win this race? Absolutely.”
BACK TO THE TEAM CONCEPT, WHAT IS IN THE FABRIC OF YOUR TEAM THAT GIVES YOU SUCH CONFIDENCE GOING FORWARD?
“Well, all year long they’ve just been performing so well and giving me race cars that are really strong. Consistently we come to the race track with a strong car where we’re just fine-tuning. Just as early as last year, I can remember coming to the race track and trying to reinvent the wheel. And you can’t do that at the race track. You have to show up and you have to be close and then you have to communicate and work as a team and believe in one another to be able to make the difference to get yourselves to that next level where you’re competing for top 5’s and wins. And that’s what we have this year. It’s hard to really pinpoint one specific thing that we’ve done, but all I can say is as this season has progressed, that confidence in one another and the performance of the cars have just given us all the ingredients it takes to believe we can go to the next track and be a factor.”
THERE HAVE BEEN 13 DIFFERENT CONSECUTIVE WINNERS HERE. IS THERE ONE CONTRIBUTING FACTOR THAT WOULD LEND ITSELF TO THAT TREND?
“Hard work is one. When you get beat, you go to work and you try to improve your car and improve your performance. But at this track, you can get away with some interesting track position strategy that can get you that win. And so sometimes it comes down to a long run, and a car on a long run could be the one to beat; it could come down to some short run restarts and the car with good short run speed could win. Fuel mileage. So, I think there is very little consistency in the trends here as to how this race finishes. And I think that in itself can contribute to different teams and drivers being a factor or being in position to be in the right place at the right time to get that win. I’m kind of surprised in that stat. I’m almost encouraged by that stat because it tells me that a lot of different cars and teams and drivers can win at this track at any time. That’s why you never give up. That’s why you fight all the way to the checkered flag.”
YOU ARE ONE OF ONLY SIX ACTIVE CHAMPIONS WITH THE MOST WINS OF ANY OF THEM, BY FAR. YOUR OPINION IS VERY HIGHLY THOUGHT OF. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE LATEST TONY STEWART DEVELOPMENT? DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING WE DON’T KNOW? DO YOU TALK TO HIM? DO YOU HAVE A FEEL FOR WHAT’S GOING ON?
“Oh, man; you are completely out of my thought process right now. I’ve not kept up with everything and all those details of what has transpired this week. I’ve heard about something went to a grand jury. That’s all I know. And that’s not enough information for me to comment on it at all.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 13TH
WHAT STANDS OUT THE MOST ON THIS SESSION?
“I’d say I was a little bit loose on that first run out, but I felt like I got everything out of it. We just don’t have enough speed. That’s the bottom line. I think we’ll be a lot better in the race. We kind of went through this same process earlier in the year here. We took two tries to get in and just snuck our way in and ended up ninth or 10th. I think that’s about where we are now. I overdrove it a little bit there trying to make up for something; trying to sneak our way into it, and I overdrove it and I just got a little bit wide in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2 and the lap was over. But, not from a lack of effort, that’s for sure. We’re excited about having the orange colors on our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet for Hunger Action Month and we hope everybody takes action.”