JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed the Chase format, the No. 24 teams strengths for winning the title, his current level of confidence, and more. Full Transcript:
IS THIS CHASE FORMAT WHAT FANS WANT? WHAT DO THE FANS REALLY WANT TO SEE IN RACING? IS IT WRECKING? IS IT PASSING? WHAT DO THEY WANT?
“I wish I knew. It seems like whenever I think I know what they want, they seem to ask for something different. I would think they want exciting racing and great tight battles down to the finish. Obviously, fans have their favorites and those that they pull for and they want to see them in the mix. So, I love this format. I think this format is amazing. I hope that they like it. I don’t know how you make it any more interesting or any more exciting or tense than what they have. We feel it here in the garage area. I would think that they would sense and feel it. And from a lot of fans that I’ve spoken to, they do. Like at Talladega. They felt that intensity and nervousness. That’s going to happen again as we go through Phoenix coming up here in a couple of weeks.”
IS YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVEL THE HIGHEST IT’S BEEN IN A LONG TIME?
“It is. And it’s just been this team and the cars that I’ve been driving this year that have helped build that. We’ve been really strong and we started early on in the season running well. And we’ve just been able to fine-tune on that as the year has gone on. And that builds chemistry and communication. You back that up with good performances and wins and getting in the position that we’re in now and yeah, you’re confidence is high. And mine is. It’s awesome. It feels good to be feeling this good in this position at this stage of the season.”
WITH SUCH A SMALL POINTS LEAD, HOW MUCH PRESSURE ARE YOU FEELING THIS WEEKEND?
“To me, our focus is about going out there and winning the race. We’re not really thinking about anything else other than doing that. Last week was a good performance. Obviously we would be very comfortable right now if we’d gotten that win. But we didn’t. And so now, it’s all about coming here and executing and doing what we’ve been doing all year long which is approaching each race working on the details and trying to get the job done. Whether that’s a 5th or that’s a 1st or whatever we end up with out of here, we’ve got to come out of here with a solid finish. Whether we win or not, there is definitely added pressure than what we’ve seen in the past. But I think if we just execute and do our jobs the way we are capable of, then that will take a lot of the pressure off.”
WE’VE SEEN MORE MISTAKES BY CREWS, TEAMS, AND DRIVERS WITH THIS NEW FORMAT. IS THAT JUST BECAUSE OF THE NO REAL MARGIN OF ERROR?
“Absolutely. Yeah, the added pressure; you’re just trying to do everything right. And when you try to do everything right, you’re searching for perfection; and we all know none of us are perfect. If you push too hard in too many areas and you have too much to think about, then it makes it easier to make a mistake. And I made that mistake last week. Sometimes it’s good to get that mistake out of the way early in a round, because it allows you to just sort of take a deep breath and go okay. Luckily, we survived that. It happened. It seems to me like the first race of each round has this incredible intensity. And then you sort of get calmed down. You go through the second race. And then that last race, the intensity ramps back up again. And all those things, when there is that kind of intensity, forces you to be in a more pressured position that could cause mistakes. And that’s for everybody; driver, pit crew, and everybody.”
IT HAS BEEN MORE THAN A DECADE SINCE YOU WON A CHAMPIONSHIP. HOW HUNGRY ARE YOU TO GET BACK TO THAT POINT?
“I’m extremely hungry. What I’m hungry the most about is just knowing that I’ve got a great car and a great team that’s capable of winning this championship. And being in the position we’re in, and knowing that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) has never had a championship. He came close with Mark Martin. And how hard he works and how good this team is. Not winning a championship since 2001 and never under this format. All those things are just motivation. But the primary motivation is just to know that we’re good enough to do it and having that confidence to go out there and execute.”
WAS THERE A CERTAIN MOMENT WHEN YOU KNEW THAT YOUR TEAM COULD CONTEND FOR A TITLE?
“Well, I knew earlier in the year at California that we had a car capable of winning the race. And even though we didn’t win it, I knew that we had a fast race car. Luckily, we’ve been able to follow that up since then with fast race cars. But once we took the points lead and were able to maintain it for several weeks, I knew that we had a team that was special. Then, you follow that up with a Brickyard 400 win. I think ever since we won the Brickyard 400, I think this team has had the confidence and been on the mission to know that we could get it done this year.”
WERE YOU SOLD ON THE NEW CHASE FORMAT RIGHT AWAY? OR DID IT EVOLVE AS YOU WENT ALONG?
“Well, I still feel like you have to wait to see what happens after Homestead for us to really evaluate it and be able to understand it. I knew that it was going to add intensity and make it tougher and that there would be some surprises of those that make it in, and make it through, and those that don’t. It’s certainly, to me, lived up to expectations in my mind.”
WHAT WILL THE PRESSURE BE LIKE GOING TO PHOENIX NEXT WEEK?
“It depends on where we are in the points. We had a great test at Phoenix two weeks ago. I’m excited about that because I feel like no matter what position we’re in, we’ve got a great opportunity to go to Phoenix and be a factor for the win and advance our way forward if that’s what it takes. But at the same time, that’s going to bring on a lot of pressure. The only way you can go to that race and not have pressure is to have a big enough points lead on the guys that you’re racing against or have a win.”
WHAT IS BIG ENOUGH? LIKE 10 OR 15 POINTS?
“No, that’s not big enough (laughs). What I worry about the most is getting in a wreck or having a failure. It could be a tire issue, and engine problem, a shifter knob, or anything. It could be anything. It could be a lapped car. You don’t know. You want to factor out all those if’s, and’s or but’s. And so there is nothing comfortable enough. To me, anything where I don’t have to finish like 35th or better (laughs); that’s the only thing that’s comfortable.”
DO YOU TAKE CHANCES? YOU ARE A TWO-TO-ONE FAVORITE IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP RIGHT NOW.
“Who makes up these odds?”
LAS VEGAS, MAN
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE THE FAVORITE, OR AT LEAST THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE WITH THE FANS?
“Maybe sentimental certainly to the No. 24 fans I know we are. I think a lot of people would look at it as oh he is 43 and he hasn’t won a championship since 2001. It is all about how you feel about what you are bringing to the track every weekend; and I feel really good about that. I think people have recognized how competitive our team has been this year. I think those things make us one of the favorites. But I don’t know how you can have a clear-cut favorite. I mean, (Kevin) Harvick has been super strong this year. He’s been running good everywhere; leading laps. If they can eliminate some of the problems they’ve had, I would look at them as the favorite. But also, Penske has been rock solid too. That is what I love about this format is each round has unique and different tracks that play to people’s favor; to their strengths and weaknesses. This round could make things totally different. But one thing is for sure, we get to Homestead if the right teams are there, Homestead is going to be extremely interesting. I think they will be.”
CAN YOU COUNT ON HELP FROM YOU THREE HENDRICK TEAMMATES?
“I don’t know what kind of help there is. Mostly what we are looking for as far as help is dissecting down the information we learn here in practice, through qualifying, throughout the race weekend to prepare for the race. Once the race starts, we’re not looking to them to help us. We’re just looking for them to not make it harder on us.”
DOES PHOENIX FEEL LIKE A POSSIBLE WILD CARD?
“Yes. Those double-file restarts at Phoenix are extremely intense and wild and crazy and a lot of things can happen. That’s again where I say there is no lead safe enough because Phoenix to me can definitely be a wild card. It’s not a Talladega wild card. You still have some control over what is going on, but there’s plenty of things that can happen there that can take you out of contention.”
HOW MUCH PRESSURE DO YOU FEEL TO GET THE FIFTH CHAMPIONSHIP KNOWING JIMMIE (JOHNSON) ISN’T RUNNING (FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP) AND HE IS GOING FOR HIS SEVENTH, BUT WILL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR NOW?
“That does not play a factor for me. It’s really just taking advantage of the opportunity that I see in front of us, and we’ve got a great opportunity. It is not really even about No. 5. It’s not about keeping somebody else from winning their first, or their seventh. It’s really just all about us trying to go out there and do what I think we are capable of doing. If we do that, the end result should be something very, very special.”
DOES THE CHASE FORMAT FAVOR A DRIVER WHO ULTIMATELY SHOULD BE AWARDED TO BE THE MASTER OF ALL THE DISCIPLINES OF TRACKS?
“Yes, it does. All the tracks are still in there. I think in some ways it is adding a new discipline in there because you only have three races to get it done in. I think we all saw what Brad Keselowski did at Talladega. That was incredible. I think we can all agree on that. Under that kind of pressure, at that type of a track, to pull off the win to transfer through was amazing. That is something that we’ve really never seen happen before to put yourself in position to become a champion. But you have every track except for a road course in these final 10. To me you have ever type of discipline that it takes, and you’ve got to have some luck in there, too; which has been a factor in the past. I think this more than ever because it resets every three (races). That’s what really has changed how you view this championship, and how hard it is to accomplish. To me it has taken it to a whole other level.”
WHO DO YOU THINK IS RUNNING WELL RIGHT NOW THAT IS A NON CHASER THAT NEXT YEAR COULD BE IN THE CHASE?
“Well, both Ganassi cars have really stepped up in my opinion. It’s been pretty impressive. (Jamie) McMurray has done a good job, but I think Kyle Larson is the future of this sport in so many ways. If Ganassi can continue to step up their program, and he gets that experience of one year under his belt, I think Kyle can certainly step up there and certainly be a factor. We’ve seen Childress’ team really step up here late in the season. So if they can continue that in to the start of next season, then more of their teams can be a factor in there. I just can’t see Roush struggling the way they have this year. Even though Carl (Edwards) is still in it, which is pretty amazing to me, he’s done a great job. But Roush has really struggled this year, so I would certainly think they would find a way to step up as well.”
DO YOU WISH YOU COULD HOP OVER TO AUSTIN TO SEE A LITTLE F1 ACTION?
“Yes, heck yes. I would love that. It is exciting that both series are in Texas, but it is unfortunate that schedules don’t allow to work out that either they can come over here, or we can over there. The last time I was here, I went to the Super Cross race in Houston because the schedules did work out. I love other types of racing, and Formula One is one of my favorites outside of our sport. I would love to be there watching it. I am friends with and a fan of Lewis Hamilton. I would love to be supporting him as well. I think a lot of those guys are the same. They like to be over here watching what we do too.”
IS THAT GOOD OR BAD THAT BOTH SERIES ARE IN THE SAME STATE AT THE SAME TIME?
“I don’t think it is good. I don’t like it. I don’t understand it. Somebody made that choice. They have a tough schedule just like we have a tough schedule. Maybe they felt like there were no other options, just like there were really no other options for us. I don’t see how that is a good thing when you are taking two of the top racing series in the world and putting them up against one another in the same state.
“I think a lot of our fans are unique and different from their fans, so I don’t think it is competing at the ultimate level. But I think that it is still people that are probably being here to there and from there to here. I would think it would take away from both instead of adding to both.”
“That’s awesome, because the F1 races that I’ve raced over the years, I’ve been him many a time. Yes. I think he is awesome. I think he is one of the best out there.”
HOW DO YOU TACKLE THIS TEXAS TRACK?
“I love this track. This is my kind of track. It is a track where it has a lot of grip, but it falls off and you have to search around the race track. Reminds me somewhat of Atlanta, and believe it or not, the setups are not that far from Atlanta as well. All I can tell you is I love this track. I’m excited about our car, how it is handling so far. I like our chances for this weekend.”