JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – Qualified 5th
HOW DID YOU PULL THAT OFF AFTER HAVING TO MAKE AN EXTRA RUN?
“Whew, it wasn’t easy. Man, that was a heck of an effort by this team. We’ve got a great race car. I just totally messed up. That first run, without making a qualifying run in practice, I just didn’t know how hard I could push it or how much the track had picked-up. And it cost me that first run, because I felt like I drove in deep and got back on the gas early, but I didn’t push it near hard enough to make it through. I hate we had to put that extra lap on the tires. I really believe we might have had a shot at this thing. I don’t know if I could have run what Joey (Logano) ran there, or the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin), but man, a top 5, are you kidding me? That’s awesome. I’m really proud of that.”
IN RETROSPECT, THE EXTRA RUN IN ROUND 1 MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST OF THE DAY. DID YOU THINK YOU COULD PICK UP A TENTH AND A HALF AFTER YOU HAD JUST RUN MOMENTS AGO?
“You know, I wasn’t sure. I was looking at everything and trying to figure out where I lost time. I felt like the balance of the car was good. I felt like the grip was good. I just obviously felt like I didn’t push it hard enough and wasn’t aggressive enough with it. So, I said well, I’m not going to leave anything on the table this time. And then we made that run, and the car was a little bit tight, but I was more aggressive and I got through (Turns) 1 and 2 good and that’s what kind of saved the lap or saved us to get to Round 2. And then from that point on it was just oh man, how are we going to keep advancing because I already had too much on the tires at that point and at this place, fall-off is huge. We have a very strong race car in this Axalta Chevrolet, obviously, because to be able to do that the next couple of runs; I’m pretty proud of those laps. I had to make up to this team what I did on the first run, so I was glad I was able to make it up. It’s pretty awesome to get Top 5. I’m really happy and proud of that.”
THAT WILL BE YOUR FINAL QUALIFYING EFFORT AND A PRETTY GOOD NOTE TO GO OUT ON, ISN’T IT AFTER ALL THE EFFORT BY YOU AND BY YOUR TEAM?
“Well again, you’re always looking for just confidence and momentum and the way our practice went earlier and then the rain hit and then that first lap on the track here in qualifying, it wasn’t looking good. But, that’s what this team has done all year long is find a way to claw and scrape and then get ourselves back into it; and those next three runs were huge. So, yeah, that’s what you’ve got to do if you’re going to win this thing.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 5TH
THE MODERATOR: Up next we will have Jeff Gordon. Jeff drives the No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Today's qualifying effort for Jeff, he was fifth fastest and second fastest among the Championship 4 drivers. Jeff, certainly you turned it on there in some of those laps here during the qualifying session. Just talk about how your car came alive.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I need three clutch laps like that to close this race out on Sunday. Just more disappointing in myself the first one. We had an interesting day. We rolled off first off pit road in race trim, and when I was making my good lap there on new tires, cars were getting up to speed on the back straightaway, so we were really far down the timesheet. The car actually felt like it had good speed. The second run I was really impressed with, and then we went to go into qualifying trim, and it rained.
That was disappointing, and I think that really affected me, that first run. I just didn't push the car hard enough, didn't realize how much more grip was going to be out there compared to practice, and I just wasn't aggressive enough. The car was fine. The car was good. I just needed to go faster mainly through 1 and 2.
I really did not think we could go faster than that. I didn't think the tires would have it in them. The fact that we were able to advance to the second round was huge. Kind of got me motivated and pumped up after that, and we made some adjustments, some big adjustments on the car which we felt like we needed to do as you advance through the round and get the tires hot and air pressures start changing you know you've got to adjust the balance. The team did an excellent, excellent job of that in those last couple laps. That last one could have been a tiny bit better, but knowing that we had one extra lap on the tires, I'm very, very proud and happy with that run.
Q. Rick Hendrick said if he had any advice left to give you, it's just have fun this weekend. Have you had to remind yourself to do that?
JEFF GORDON: No, I'm having a blast. Just seeing people that I grew up racing quarter midgets with, family and friends, and I mean, it's a win‑win for me this weekend, no matter what happens. Obviously with our effort today in qualifying, I think we showed how bad we all want it, to be better than just being here battling for the championship and it being my final race. When I'm in the car, when I'm in the garage, I'm very focused and I can't say it's about fun at that time, but when it goes the way it went in qualifying, man, that's a lot of fun, and then just all the other interactions with the media, a few presentations, seeing those crew guys today, past crew members, I mean, that was awesome. How could I not be having the time of my life?
Q. Have you gotten to kind of the insane part of the weekend just as far as so much just going on around you, or has it seemed manageable?
JEFF GORDON: I'm anticipating Sunday being truly insane. I'm going to take some advice from a six‑time champion and play some music and tune it out. The good thing is that there's a schedule, and I like a regimented schedule, and Jon Edwards has always done a great job. He knows what keeps me focusing and keeps me from kind of getting agitated or allowing some of that stuff to get to me.
I mean, listen, I love the fans and I love the media, and I mean, again, I'm having the time of my life. So to me, yeah, there's going to be some insanity and I'm just taking it all in and being really calm and cool about it all. As long as I get to do my job and find some ways in between that to block some things out, get my mind in the right place, I think the key is getting plenty of sleep. I think that's going to be really important. I'm staying here at the track each night and getting good rest, and just got an incredible support system.
Yeah, I mean, things are good.
Q. Music of choice?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I've got a lot of music of choice. I have a playlist that I enjoy and I'll hop around to some different playlists, but it's all over the place. It's all over the place. I'll share it with you one day. Happy to do that. I'm sure there's some social media thing to put it on there and give it to you. I'm sure you'll listen to it a lot. You might have to learn how to breakdance a little bit with that.
Q. If you win the championship on Sunday, is it possible to say where your championship on Sunday would rank in comparison to your other four on the totem pole?
JEFF GORDON: Is that even a question? That's crazy. I mean, that's life‑changing. It's something that ‑‑ I mean, I'm sure it's been done in some sport, but I don't think it's ever been done in this sport. You know, right now I'm not even thinking and fathoming that. I'm just really happy about how we qualified, so I'm hoping that we can take that fast race car and do some more with it tomorrow and Sunday, and we'll see what happens.
But that's too much for me to think about. I have no idea. It would be the best one I ever did. I can tell you that.
Q. With rain a possibility during practice, did you consider doing a mock qualifying run earlier in the session?
JEFF GORDON: No, we didn't. I mean, that rain popped up ‑‑ I know the forecast showed it, but then you looked at the radar and it wasn't there, and then it just kind of came out of nowhere. I talked to my team about it afterwards and they were monitoring the radar and said, one second it looked fine, and then the next second, boom, it was right on top of us. Yeah, that was unfortunate.
That could have ‑‑ if we didn't get qualified ‑‑ I disagree with Kyle. I think qualifying here is important. There's nice multiple grooves, but I started on the pole here last year and I know that that kept us in the game and up front in a big way. Of course pit selection has a lot to do with that. But once the groove moves up top, it's kind of hard to pass. Even though there are multiple grooves, you've got to do it in the first couple laps. I think that that would not have been good had we not gotten qualifying in, but we did, and I'm happy about it. Now we can say what could have, should have happened there.
Q. Jeff, with Kevin qualifying last among the four of you, does that give you a little extra hope that maybe he's beatable on Sunday?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I don't think right now we're in that place where we're just focused on Kevin. We've got Kyle ahead of us. I mean, we're trying to do everything we can right now to win the race, not just focus on the other three. And then you get in the race and you see what you have to do to win not only the race, but the championship. I'm a little surprised, I'll be honest with you. As fast as he was in that first round, I thought for sure he was going to be the guy to beat throughout all the rounds. So yeah, I was a little bit surprised with that.
But I mean, I think because he is the favorite going into this and how good he's been running, it's nice to have him behind us. I certainly don't mind that. But I don't think he'll be there long.
Q. Jeff, without the other three guys in the room, how aggressive do you plan to race those guys? Brian France talked today a little bit about blocking and some of those things. Did you put yourself in a scenario where you might race a little bit more aggressively being your final race and being in a position to win a title?
JEFF GORDON: I didn't hear or know anything about what Brian said in here, but I can tell you how I'm going to race, and it's going to be whatever you feel like you need to do to win the race. That doesn't mean that ‑‑ yeah, if you can take some air off the guy behind you by running a little bit wider line, that's kind of part of the sport right now with the way aerodynamics are. But to me, again, that's not where I'm focused ‑‑ that's not even what I'm thinking right now. I'm thinking how do I make my car go as fast as I can make it; what can I do from inside the car with my tools, with my brake points and throttle points, you know, the wall, the seams, the middle, the bottom lane; what can I do to not only make the car go faster but to be able to make passes, and I don't know that. All those things, in the race, in that environment, in working that car in front of me or I have somebody behind me, I don't know. I'm just going to do everything I know possible and that I've done for 23 years to try to go win a race and get the best finish that I can.
I mean, I saw that truck race video from last year, a couple years ago, whatever it was, where you just hope that you get that opportunity to come off Turn 4 for the win side by side, and if it's for the championship, how amazing would that be, and just like in Darlington, my good buddy Ricky Craven taught me, man, just turn right and grind into them down the front straightaway and hope you're there by a nose. We can sit here and talk all these scenarios out all day long if you want.
Q. You've talked about just everything that's taken place the last few weeks, but I'm just curious, what's it been like from the perspective of your children having seen this? Obviously they've been around it, but just to see even more of this, more of the insanity or more of the celebration? Are you super cool dad now? Are you still dad? How have you noticed kind of how they're taking this?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I'm super cool dad until I don't let them do what they want to do. Then, I'm mean dad.
You know, they really get most of the excitement and emotion from their mom, from Ingrid. They're watching the race usually from the bus, and I know Alan made a comment to me at Martinsville how loud it was inside the bus when we won that race and all the screaming and yelling and jumping up and down and tears and all those things. They feed off of that.
Ella is old enough to know what the difference is between winning and finishing fifth and finishing 10th and on back. Leo, he just kind of is game for about anything until they start spraying Gatorade around victory lane, and then he's not real happy.
You know, to me they know when that moment is ‑‑ when they're in it and when it's happening and when it's good, and when it's bad, and there's no greater feeling than getting out of the car and seeing the look in their eyes and on their faces when things go good. It's awesome, and even when things go bad, they're the ones that are hugging and kissing to remind you that it doesn't matter as much as you think.
Q. Do they truly recognize this is the end? This is all they know.
JEFF GORDON: Gosh, the end. It's like, the end, man. Let's see. Yeah, I mean, I don't know if they truly understand exactly what that means. They know this is my last race and there's lots of family and friends and people that are here that aren't typically at a race. They've heard us talk about it certainly, but I don't know if they truly know and understand what that means and how it's going to change life. I hope they realize that one of the reasons I'm doing it is to spend more time with them.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS
TELL US HOW PRACTICE WENT, YOU WERE FASTEST OF THE FOUR:
“The very first run that final practice was great. I felt really good about it. We’ve got a few things on the longer run that I felt like we can work on. The second run was so/so. The track definitely lost some grip. I think we have a good indication what the track conditions are going to be like in the race, so that is all really valuable information that we can put into our database and make adjustments and hopefully good decisions for tomorrow.”
HOW DO YOU UNWIND THIS EVENING?
“I am just looking forward to getting some good rest here at the track. I’m going to go to dinner with Ingrid (wife) and some friends.”
ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS
“It was good. The car has been pretty good the whole time. We just needed some time on the track and time to figure it out. We have gotten better every practice. The last practice was the best we have been. We still need to get better, but I think we are heading the right direction. That was really the first time we were able, since the first practice, we were able to make a sticker run, which is a big deal here. That helps also.”
WHAT ABOUT WEATHER?
“It’s going to be pretty volatile. I don’t really know what to do about it. We will have to play it by ear and see what happens. It’s going to be tough for everybody involved, all the competitors, the Chaser’s, NASCAR, we will just work through it. It’s South Florida, it could clear up and we could have no problem, but right now it looks like there will be some weather in the area.”
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF WORK YOU HAVE TO DO THIS EVENING?
“Yeah, always going through everything we can go through. All of our last nut and bolt preparations to make the car as perfect as we can get it. We will look through all the notes and debrief with our teammates and try to get ourselves in the best position possible.”