JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – POLE SITTER
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO GET THE POLE IN YOUR LAST RUN AT THE DAYTONA 500?
“The team at Hendrick Motorsports always puts so much effort into these restrictor plate races and every race. So much pride in the engine shop and the bodies and the engineering that goes into these cars. This year with this qualifying format the driver finally gets to play a role. With a fast race car and a lot of coordination between the spotter, Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and myself and our teammates that was pretty nerve racking. I didn’t think we were going to wait that long. I really wanted to go sooner than that, but that just feel very gratifying just as a total team effort to be able to have a 1-2 for Hendrick Motorsports and the front row.
“Whew, that feels good that is awesome. This is one of the most gratifying poles here at Daytona that I have ever had. Not just because my final Daytona 500, but because you have to try to plan it out and you have to try to play that chess match and we played it really well. I went to go off pit road pretty hard I knew I had Jimmie (Johnson) behind me and I saw the No. 20 and the No. 11 checking up and I said ‘nope, I want to be behind them’. It worked out perfect. I thought Jimmie (Johnson) was going to get it and right there on that last lap I got a little bit of a surge and sucked up to those guys. I thought ‘this might be enough’ and you knew you wanted to be in the back and that is part of the waiting game. At Talladega it bit us here it won the pole for the Daytona 500. Awesome job to my team, everybody back at Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick, this is pretty awesome to be on pole.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – POLE SITTER FOR THE DAYTONA 500
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our pole winner for the 57th annual Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon. Jeff is the first pole winner to eclipse 200 miles an hour since 1987. This is his 78th pole in 762 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts.
Jeff, congratulations. Obviously a big pole position for you here for obvious reasons. Tell us your thoughts.
JEFF GORDON: This is definitely huge for many reasons. This is one I've been stressing about for a while. This format is crazy and chaotic. It can be extremely rewarding when you have a day like we had.
To bring that kind of group effort together...
In the past, this has been one of the easiest days I've had all day long. Go out there, hold it wide open, run a couple laps. It's all about the team, the car, all the preparation they put into it. All that hard work still goes into this effort, but I play a bigger role, the spotter plays a bigger role. There's just so much more strategy in trying to play this chess match and the time game, the wait game. It just becomes really intense.
Yeah, this feels good for that reason alone. Then you add that it's the Daytona 500, the benefits that come along with that, as well as it just being the Daytona 500, the emotion of the announcement I made to start the season, this is my last Daytona 500, this is a very special day.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Was part of your trepidation stemming from what almost happened at Talladega in the fall?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, absolutely. I think the one thing we really learned from Talladega is that round one, you're going to make the top 24. The way I was approaching it, the way I waited as long as I did, that's what you should be doing for round three.
That's what made it so frustrating for Alan. I heard about it for a while after that, Man, all we need to do is make it to the top 24. We can roll out in the middle of the pack and probably have done that.
You learn from your mistakes. I felt prior to Talladega, and that was the first time we had the five‑minute clock, prior to that I feel like I had this format down fairly well. We had good results and success.
That was definitely a lot of the stress, is wanting to do it right. Then talking to our teammates, we had a meeting this morning, we were all over the place on what the right strategy is, how we want to do it, can we work together, should we work together. Is it better to get together, not get together. Who is wanting to get on to that. 30 seconds before you're getting ready to go it all goes out the window and changes because of what happened in round one, what's happening when you back out of pit road.
There's so much going on in your mind. It's literally like playing chess at 200 miles an hour. It's pretty crazy.
Q. Why were you so stressed? You have enough owner points to get in. A lot of people say it doesn't matter where you start the 500. It doesn't appear this type of qualifying really says exactly who has the best car.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, well, I understand where you're coming from. But when you saw two cars crash in the first round, that gives me enough to be stressed about right there. I mean, it's not out of the question that that can happen at any time. You're slicing through some cars that maybe are by themselves that aren't up to speed, slower cars, you have to draft off of them.
In the first round, I thought I was going to miss it because we came up on a car, I was pushing Matt, I believe, and I didn't see the run that was coming behind me. Kyle was pushing. I didn't know you could push. That was new to me. Kyle was pushing Vickers. They went shooting by me on the inside. I was like, Whoa, where did that come from?
It's wild and intense. It's not just what's on the line trying to win the pole for the Daytona 500. To me every time I'm on the racetrack, I want to win, but I also don't want to embarrass myself and not make it past round one.
We're Hendrick Motorsports, we're the 24 team, we have high expectations. That in itself is somewhat stressful. Once you make it past round one, your goal is to make it to round three after that.
That's where it all comes to me, is you're trying not to wreck, tear up your car, and you're trying to go faster than the other guys to make it there. Once you make it into the final round, it's either pole or nothing.
We were sitting there fourth after the second round. Jimmie was first. Jimmie was fine if nobody rolled off pit road. I was actually somewhat okay with that. Fourth still was pretty good. So when they were waiting, we were sitting there, Okay, we'll just wait with them.
We were in a good position where if everybody missed the clock or even if like four or five of them made it, then it wasn't the end of the world. But once they all started to roll, then obviously we were pretty happy.
I thought halfway through the lap, I was going to miss the clock at the line. They were counting it down coming off of turn four. I was like, I think we're good here. Once we made it, I thought we were in a really good position to get the pole or maybe second. I thought maybe Jimmie was probably going to get it.
Q. How confident were you when the session started that you could take the pole? How soon after taking the flag saying qualifying was over did you know you had the pole?
JEFF GORDON: I was confident my car was fast enough. It was just really about jockeying for position. Like that first round, we took off, Matt had a little bit of a gap in front of me, then I was behind him. There were some cars behind me, another group back there and stuff.
At one point I was sitting there going, Uh‑oh, I'm too far behind, I'm a sitting duck. Oh, man, this isn't going to work.
Then the rpms came up, we started getting a tow. Vickers came from the backside, I was like, Oh, no. Then I was able to tuck in behind Edwards. The second lap wasn't bad, the third lap was a tiny bit better.
I can't say I was super confident because you just don't know how it's all going to work out.
Round two I thought went pretty smooth. I think I got behind the 11 and I felt like we were in a pretty good position there. The cars were a little further back behind us. There was an intense moment, we ran our second or third lap I think, I actually saw the rpms creep up even more as we went through one and two. This is going to be an even better lap.
Alan is on the radio saying, We're good, we're good. I saw we were going faster. He said, Don't let them get a tow from behind you. I felt like we were good enough. Then as we got to three, Denny started waving because they were all checking up. It was chaos. They were all over the place.
That's something that needs to be worked on on this format, something that needs to be improved. I don't know what happened with Bowyer. I saw where he dove to the inside and they came together. You certainly can't block in this format. That's just uncalled for. But when you wave off, there's got to be a better way to wave off.
I don't know if it's all cars have to go high, all cars have to go low, but all the cars have to go in one place. You can't have them three‑ and four‑wide where cars are coming through there doing 20 miles per hour faster than the cars running there. That's something we need to do better at. By communicating with NASCAR and other drivers, we can do that.
In the last run, when we rolled off there, I was in the position I was in, behind the 11, the 20, he had the 18 in front of him, I had Jimmie behind me, at that moment I thought, if we cross the line and make it, I felt like I had a 50/50 chance.
I thought Jimmie had the best chance. I thought I had as equal or maybe not quite as good a chance. It just happened to work out that he closed up on me, gave me a little bit of a push. Those guys got a little bit of a tow. I felt like I was really good. That was by hundredths of a second.
Q. You said you felt fairly comfortable with the time that you had. How much does it go against your instincts from Sprint Cup racing to sit in the car not moving while the clock is counting down?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it's not fun. It's not the part of it that I like. But I do like the fact that there's strategy involved. I think that's a pretty cool aspect to it.
I mean, of course all of us wish that when we were driving around any track that you're actually having to drive it, the handling playing a role, how hard you push the car. That's not the case here anyway.
If you compare it to what we used to do, which is really boring, this is probably the extreme the other way, where it's extremely intense. But when it turns out the way it did for me, then you like it. When it turns out the way it did for Bowyer, you hate it.
Q. Jeff, you have been pretty clear you don't want this to be a farewell tour or anything like that. You just won the pole for the Daytona 500. You're going to be in the spotlight the whole week. Are you ready for this?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, at this moment I'm not treating it any different than I would a pole. The pole for the Daytona 500 I know is a big deal. To me I'm approaching it the same way. My schedule is not changing other than the little bit of work I have to do today when I leave here. Other than that, it's business as usual.
I mean, I'm not saying I've been at the top of the limelight and attention in the sport, but I've gotten enough of it over the years to be somewhat adjusted to it.
When it's all fun and cool, you got fans saying positive things, other competitors saying positive things, then it's kind of hard not to enjoy that. I mean, so far I'm just enjoying the ride.
What I'm finding unique about this, and Alan told me this before the season started when I told him this was happening, even after I announced to the team, he was like, I love it because you're going to have a unique mindset that you've probably never had before.
He's right. I felt it last night and I feel it right now. That's the way I'm looking at it going into these next couple races here this week. It's kind of all or nothing for me. I got one last chance. I can take chances.
I mean, yeah, I want to win the championship. I want points. But right now it's the Daytona 500. All I want to focus on is winning the Daytona 500. I'm just enjoying the ride, enjoying the moment.
It's cool. I'm way less stressed than I've been in the past. Now that's going to intensify a little bit in the race. That's just me and my nature. But still there's just something about it where if you don't win, Oh, well, it's not the end of the world. But, boy, if you can win it, what a storybook type of beginning to the season it would be.
Q. Is it fitting to you at all that you will lead the field in your final 500?
JEFF GORDON: We got to get through the 150s first. I'm looking forward to talking to the team and Alan about what our approach should be on that.
But, I mean, I can't think of anything cooler than to start this season, the Daytona 500, my final Daytona 500, final full season on the pole.
It's going to be pretty important for me to be on that pole when it all starts.