JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – POLE WINNER
“We had a great Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet but the bottom just wasn’t the perfect place for us to run. I could feel the tires going away and then we needed to move up. So when we saw some of those guys running fast laps a little bit higher up, I was looking forward to making that last lap. The guys made some great adjustments. We unfortunately had a tire going down on the left front, so I don’t know if that helped us or hurt us, but it was pretty nice to get that pole. That’s awesome.”
WHICH LANE WORKED THE BEST IN THE FINAL SEGMENT?
“Certainly the top lane worked in the final segment. What we see with this tire, with this track, with this car is that you can run around the bottom for a lap or two when the tires have good grip in them, but you’ve got to move up the race track and I almost made a mistake in the second round by not moving up top and we got knocked back to seventh. But that run I was fully committed to it and it stuck really good.
IS THIS A STATEMENT RACE FOR YOUR TEAM?
"Yes and no. I don't think that is how we are approaching this weekend or looking at this weekend. I'm really excited about that pole with our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. I don't know if I've ever been on the pole here before, and to be the 200th pole for Hendrick Motorsports is really cool. I think the way we are looking at this weekend is we want to close out the season the absolute best we can. It has been a tremendous season. The No. 24 team has been incredible this year. We are disappointed that we aren't in this thing for the championship, but that's not going to stop us from trying to go out to win the pole and win the race."
QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS:
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – POLE WINNER
KERRY THARP: Our Coors Light pole award winner for Sunday's 16th annual 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway is Jeff Gordon, and he drives the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. This is the 200th career pole for Hendrick Motorsports. Congratulations on that milestone, and certainly you've won this race down here before, and I know you'd like to win it again. Just talk about your preparation here this weekend, your practice, the pole, and then your outlook for Sunday.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I'm just blown away right now. To me this has been one of the toughest places for qualifying for me over the years, and that's why we've never sat on a pole. I think having the three rounds of qualifying actually helped me a lot, and the team did an excellent job with the tuning to get it ready for that last round. And I knew we had a pretty good race car when we ended practice today because we made a qualifying run, and it was pretty decent during the day like that. Backed that up during qualifying.
The second round I tried to do the same thing I did during the first round and it didn't stick, and I kind of got a little nervous at that point what was going to happen. Luckily, we were seventh, I think, and then the team made a good adjustment and we saw some guys moving up the racetrack, and I just committed to the top, and it really stuck well, and it's great to be on the pole.
KERRY THARP: What about the 200th pole for Hendrick Motorsports, just another milestone in that great organization.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, and I think today's pole just proves and shows why they have 200 poles. It's a great organization. We just never quit. We always are bringing great race cars and great power to the racetrack and just surrounded by good people, and that's what contributes to wins and to poles. We take poles very seriously. They're hard to get. It's a lot of work. It's a great reward, as well, because we all know how important it is to have good pit stops, and a good pit stall makes a big difference there as well as that all‑important track position.
Q. How long did it take you to kind of get over last week? I saw you had a busy week. You were in New York and took the kids to the zoo. Do you just move on?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, it hit me hard when I crossed the line at Phoenix. I think I was just really in disbelief for a good 24 hours that we did everything so right and didn't make it. You know, that disappointment was definitely there throughout the week, and then of course I go up to New York and I'm around people that are asking me about it, so you get these constant reminders.
You know, I think even if we win this race on Sunday, that's only going to make it hurt a little bit more in some ways because we could have won the championship if we were here. I think it's not that I'm over it yet, but I've definitely ‑‑ getting to the racetrack, it allows all of us to focus on what we do best, which is go and compete, and when you're fine‑tuning the setup of the car and making laps, especially at this place, right up an inch off the wall every lap, that takes your mind off of it. That part has been nice, and this is certainly a great achievement for us to start the weekend and something that's positive that we can smile about and be proud of.
Q. A little bit along the same lines, what would it mean to you personally to finish ahead of those four guys that are in the Chase here on Sunday?
JEFF GORDON: Yes. That would be ‑‑ I mean, I think everybody ‑‑ no matter what kind of format there is, everybody's goal is to come in here and sort of spoil the championship by winning this race. This is one of my favorite races to win, and that's because you have the longest stretch between when the next race is, so you can enjoy it probably longer than any other race that we have because you end the season with it. This is a tough place to win at. Yeah, there's a lot on the line for those guys, and we want to be the spoiler. There's no doubt about that.
Q. How would you characterize the mood or attitude of the team? Are they still a little bit bewildered or are they frustrated?
JEFF GORDON: This week was tough on them. You know, the last two weeks have been tough because we lost crew members from the Texas incident, guys that are a part of our race team that have been there all year long that aren't at the racetrack. I mean, just that mood in itself at Phoenix was unique and different, and it's still there. But I will say that as the week has gone on and you get closer to going to the racetrack, I think then you start switching your mindset and your focus.
Today I've not noticed anything but positive energy from the team, and I'm excited to be here and excited to go out there and compete and try to win this race.
Q. On the flipside of this not being in the Chase, how do you feel, though, you're just allowed to go out and go for a win? As a driver, how does that make you feel?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, I feel like that's kind of what we do every weekend. I mean, really to me, our goal was to get to fifth in points, so we're still racing extremely hard. I mean, we're not going to race the points necessarily in that instance. We're going to try to win the race and hope that we can get to fifth.
I think that there's no doubt that in some ways throughout this week there was definitely some relief, as well, that ‑‑ these last rounds, like especially at Talladega, the immense amount of pressure on our team to move on to the next round was intense. It was ‑‑ one of the toughest races I've ever run was at Talladega this year from a stress standpoint, and then Phoenix, you know, there was definitely some stress there, too. It's a tough racetrack. I felt like we did the best we possibly could to come home second. Kevin was just unbeatable that day. So there's a lot of stress there, too.
The only difference is this weekend, while we wish we had stress on us, there's just a lot less stress, and so we can just go focus on competing and competing at a high level. But I can tell you, if we come out of here with a bad finish, it's going to sting. It's going to hurt. That's not the way you want to go into the off‑season. With everything that's happened for us the last couple weeks, we need to have something really good to carry into this off‑season to think about for next year.
Q. How do you approach racing the four guys in the Chase on Sunday? Are you more aware of them? Are you more careful around them? What's the balance between racing them hard and being fair and not affecting the championship?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think it depends. I think if you're racing for a win, if you're leading the race or you're second and trying to win the race, you're going to race hard because they have a responsibility and you have a responsibility, and you have to share that load. That means that if you know the guy behind you is hungry for that win, doesn't have a role in the championship, and that position is not the position that's going to cost you the championship, then take into consideration that guy might race you really hard, and it might be too risky for you to race hard back.
On the flipside, I'm not going to go out there and do anything silly and stupid and just make an over‑aggressive move to get a position when it could be for tenth or for eighth or 20th or something like that on one of those guys.
Q. This morning Brian France left the door open slightly for a possible tweak maybe for the Chase next year, and Dale Jarrett was in here earlier and said maybe they could consider that you have to win Homestead if you don't have a win prior to this race. During your week of reflection after Phoenix, are there any thoughts that you might have, ways they could improve it or tweaks they could make?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think it's a good system, number one. I like how important it is to win, how that moves you from one round to the next. I would say that the one thing that I thought about ‑‑ and this would not have moved me to the final round, but I think it's the right thing to do ‑‑ and that's you have a separate points system just for the 16 and then for the 8 ‑‑ or the 12 and then the 8. I just think there's so many factors with all the other competitors out there that you should be racing those guys. You should be racing them in points, not necessarily racing them and all the other competitors out there. I think you've earned that right.
So I would like to see a few of the highest finishing, then you get 16, 15, 14, 13, but it doesn't matter if you finish 25th. And that just allows you to kind of throw out one of those bad races. I think you've still got to be consistent, winning is still going to get you through, but it allows you to race those guys, not necessarily go race everybody else.
When I think of our rounds that didn't go well for us, besides the one in Texas, they really had more to do with the guys outside the Chase that kind of cost us some spots and some points.
KERRY THARP: Jeff Gordon, congratulations on the Coors Light Pole Award, and good luck Sunday here at Homestead‑Miami.