JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS:
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Jeff Gordon. Gordon is currently sixth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and has one win and a top‑five finish.
Jeff, going into the final races, what is your approach to finish off your season strong like you did last year with a win at Homestead.
JEFF GORDON: That's certainly one of our goals. We tested in Homestead last week. Had a fantastic test. I'm very excited about that race.
Certainly disappointing to have the race we just had in Texas. So doesn't change really our approach, how we go through these next two weeks. Just takes us back, you know, in points. Certainly kind of takes that momentum away that we had.
But the confidence is still high. The car was fantastic again this past weekend, felt like we were going to have a great weekend. We take that confidence in the cars that we've been bringing to the racetrack into Phoenix this weekend, on to Homestead. Finish out the season the best we can and hopefully move up in points again.
THE MODERATOR: We will now go to the media for questions.
Q. Jeff, could you talk a little bit about the overall importance of physical fitness to what you do as a racecar driver and just talk a little bit about what you do to stay in shape.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, physical fitness is definitely important. Getting more and more important all the time as the speeds of the cars increase. The demands on the driver, the competition in general, just getting tighter. I think being fit is going to help you be more focused throughout the race weekend, through a long schedule that we have with 38 races.
So, you know, it's something that I probably haven't put as much effort into as some other guys out there. I think there's some that may take it even a little bit further than it needs to. But if that is what keeps them focused and enjoying the week or helping prepare for the race, then I think it's a great routine.
For me, I've had some back issues over the years, so a lot of my routine is just mixing in cardio with stretching, just staying as loose as I can, building up my core to help strengthen my back and stomach to try to keep the pain that I deal with in my back to a minimum. That's really helped me get through the races and not really be thinking about my back, so I can just think about driving the car.
But from a fitness standpoint, other than maybe road courses in the summer months, some of these hot races are more demanding. I feel like fitness is always something that I've been really good at.
Q. Jeff, did you guys ever find out what happened to the tire?
JEFF GORDON: I know the team was having a meeting with Goodyear today. I don't have all the details from that. I'm planning on meeting with them tomorrow. I was out in Las Vegas yesterday. We didn't get to do our normal debrief. Plan on getting with them tomorrow to get more detail. Wish I had more to share.
Q. Do you look at that as bad luck?
JEFF GORDON: No. I think that everything happens for a reason. It's unfortunate that it happened. I think there's a cause behind it. The question is whether we caused it or did it run over something. If I ran over something, then I guess you could maybe call that bad luck.
Until I know more details, I don't want to say it's bad luck. We've certainly had our share of that this year. In order to get up there and be a threat for the championship, you can't have things like that happen. It's unfortunate. Certainly sort of took the wind out of our sails, the momentum we had.
But we also know that we came into this thing 13th and we still have a great shot at being third or fourth, and that's our goal.
Q. Jeff, the question I get a lot after a race like Texas where Jimmie dominates so much, with the cars and drivers being so close, how can he be that much better than everybody else? It happens so consistently with him. If everybody could figure it out, they would be doing what they're doing. I wonder what it's like to race against the 48 team when they're running like this.
JEFF GORDON: Well, it's tough. I think sometimes a lot of people don't put enough credit into the overall team in our sport. Jimmie is a great driver. Chad is a great crew chief. But they're also surrounded by incredible people and resources at Hendrick Motorsports.
Not that the rest of the Hendrick teams aren't, but you have to understand, this is a group that's been together a long time. They've won championships, they've lost championships, they've won and lost a lot of races. These guys know how to step up and win at the right time.
I would say Texas is one of Jimmie's best tracks as well. He has a lot of confidence. Went to the test there, he had us beat by a 10th, 10th and a half during the entire test. I felt like we closed that gap slightly over the race weekend.
But everybody was kind of playing catch‑up. Especially you let those guys get out front, they had the track position. They had the one little issue on a green‑flag pit stop that put them behind. But they had such better tires against everybody else they were up against, everybody was short‑pitting. It made it that much easier for him to drive up through that.
I think Matt was the one guy, one team that had something for him. I think that's why they're 1‑2. He was the only one that could run lap times that Jimmie could. Once they got behind on the mistake they made on pit road, they never were in a position on those final caution restarts to battle it out and try to get in front of Jimmie.
So you have to give a lot of credit to the 48. Other than that one little issue, they were flawless all weekend.
Q. Jeff, you're someone who has raced against Matt Kenseth for a long time. His numbers rank up there among some of the best in the series, some of the best of all time. I don't think that people recognize that about him. Why do you think that he goes so under the radar and is so underrated?
JEFF GORDON: I think he's kind of an under‑the‑radar kind of guy. He's a great racecar driver. He probably hasn't won as many races as he could have.
I think this move to Gibbs is just showing his talent, how good that team is. You might start to see a lot more attention be put on him if they can keep these kind of stats and numbers and this kind of consistency up, especially if they win this championship this year.
But Matt is just one of those drivers where he's really good at a lot of tracks. So you give him the right car and team, this is a guy that can be a major threat for the championship every single year.
I think he sort of is more quiet and reserved in front of the cameras, and even the way he goes about his racing. You don't see him knocking guys out of the way or doing anything over the top. He's just solid, always there, knows how to put himself in position when it matters most at the end of the race.
I don't know. I think he'd kind of prefer it that way as well, as long as he's getting the job done when that checkered flag flies.
Q. Would you have been surprised if people said he would win second in the championship race?
JEFF GORDON: Yes and no. I mean, you never know how somebody's going to transition into a new team. You look at that team in past years, they certainly haven't shown to be a threat for the championship. But at the same time, I feel like from Matt's talents and capabilities, while they might have been diminished slightly with his results at Roush, I think that a lot of us within the sport knew just how good he was.
Again, you put him with the right equipment, the right team, the crew chief that he gels with, he can put up some great numbers, and that's what he's doing this year.
So a little bit of a surprise just because they're new together. But not so much of a surprise, in my opinion, from what Matt's capable of.
Q. Jeff, this has been a particularly turbulent Chase for you. You're in, you're out, you're sneaking back into it, then Sunday the letdown. Talk about the emotions that hit in that very moment you're in the wall and you know another year has gone by without a championship.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I remember sitting in the hauler while the team was fixing the car, watching the race, watching the lap times, sort of in disbelief. We've been through so much, not just this year, but the last couple years as a team, just clawing and fighting our way to get in the Chase, ups and downs, trying to win races, sometimes just trying to finish races.
We get in this year, things start to go well for us, we find ourselves in a great position. It's all over in a split second. It's pretty devastating for the whole team. You work so hard to get to that point, it's definitely a letdown.
Yeah, I was just sitting there going, I can't believe this. I felt like I was in a bad dream and I was going to wake up any second. The longer the time went by, the more and more I realized this is reality. You have to face it, deal with it, put it behind you as fast as you can and move on.
Q. Every year there's somebody that surfaces and they're either a contender, win a championship, like Brad. Next year they're way out of it or don't even make the Chase. Can you maybe discuss just how difficult this is. Obviously Jimmie makes it look easy because he's the guy that's inevitable. Discuss the level of competition that makes it difficult for anybody to sustain a long run.
JEFF GORDON: It's extremely difficult. You're right, Jimmie and the 48 team, they make it look easy. That just shows you how in tune they are with one another, how confident they are, how good of an organization Hendrick Motorsports is. They're setting the bar.
I think the bigger question is what happened with the 2 car? Is it just the change from last year's rules package over to the new Gen‑6 car that got them off track? Is it some of the issues that went on earlier in the year that took a little speed out of the car that they had to search and find? Seems like they're getting it back now.
It's hard to say what takes a team from being so good, on top of the sport, winning the championship, a real threat for the championship, like the 99 a couple years ago, and those things that change. Sometimes they're internal, teams don't want to talk about it. Sometimes they just put everything together in that year and have an amazing year.
The 48 team, where they separate themselves, you know they are capable of doing that every single year. I mean, heck, last year I think if they hadn't have had the issue at Phoenix with I think it was a blown tire, I think they would have won the championship last year, too. That's just how good they are. We're all playing catch‑up, trying to be that good.
As long as those guys stay together, stay confident, are able to continue to bring competitive cars to the racetrack, it's going to be very, very tough to stop them.
Q. Jeff, despite the disappointment at Texas, what do you take from the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: We did the same thing last year in the Chase. We were really solid from Chicago all the way to Phoenix. Obviously we had our issues there that took Bowyer and myself out of being more competitive, higher up in the points. That was pretty disappointing to us, to have a shot at the top five, you know, not be able to pull that off.
The same types of things have happened this year where we've been really solid, fast racecars. We've come on stronger at the end of the year. Those 10 races in the Chase have been very good for us up until Texas, and up until Phoenix last year.
I think it just shows what kind of quality team we are. We never give up. It's a long season. You want to be at your best in those final 10 races. That's what we've done the last two seasons. But we're still just missing those final little ingredients to get us on top and stay there.
Q. I guess throughout the course of a Chase, the ever‑shifting goals that your teams have. You might come out one week and you're contending for the championship like you were after Martinsville, or now where you sit here after Texas. Talk about the way your goals constantly shift throughout the 10 weeks.
JEFF GORDON: I mean, our primary goal always stays the same: that's that you go to the race to win the pole, win the race, accumulate the most points. It doesn't change your thought process throughout the week, how you're going to execute as you get to that next race.
A lot of these races are planned out weeks in advance. Some of it comes from testing, simulation, building the cars. Maybe it's a new car. All these things lead up to a race. That doesn't really change. It's really what are we capable of accomplishing if we do our absolute best.
And that's the thing that's shifted and changed so much for us after this past weekend in Texas, is that we knew we had an outside shot at making some gains on those guys. We knew they were both going to be tough at Texas. A part of it was just trying to maintain as much as we could or maybe make a gain on one of those guys if they didn't have any issues at all, just go put the best race we can together to show we're capable of it, show everybody else we're capable of it.
I think our best track in the Chase is Homestead. I really just wanted to get to Homestead with a shot, you know, with a mathematical shot at this championship because I think we could put some pressure on them, have a shot at winning that race.
Now, yeah, it's, Okay, how high up in points can we get? You're still dealing with the same thing. It's just one is the championship and the other one is maybe a third or fourth in points. That will all be reevaluated after we go through this next weekend's race in Phoenix.
Q. You talked about how at the Texas test you had an idea how fast Jimmie would be. After the Homestead test, who should we be looking out for?
JEFF GORDON: I felt pretty good about our chances and our car there. We had a great test there.
Q. Does having a pretty successful 2013 season serve as motivation at all going forward for 2014?
JEFF GORDON: I wouldn't call it a 2013 season. I'd call it a 2013 Chase. The majority of the races that we've run this year, I don't think we've even come close to living up to our full potential. Maybe Pocono stands out. That's a race I feel like second and almost winning was a great accomplishment for us at a crucial time in the season.
But we had a disappointing season on so many levels that, you know, to just be able to step it up to this next level during the Chase has been probably the best motivating thing we could have.
Again, we went through the same thing last year, by ending the season, by winning the race in Homestead, really pulled our team together, got us excited for 2013.
The car and some of the changes threw us off a little bit, threw me off a little bit, took us a while to start to make gains on that. With some of the issues and failures we had earlier in the year...
We never stopped trying to make our cars better, getting me the feel that I need to go out there and have confidence in the car and have the speed. We've done a great job of that.
That's what we're going to take out of this year's Chase as well, is that depending on how many changes happen for 2014, that we have a team that can fight, that can find a way to get where we need to be by the end of the season.
I'm hoping that next year we can get it a little sooner in the season so we don't have to go through all the drama we had to go through this year and last year.
Q. Jeff, consistency is probably one of the most desirable goals in motorsports. Can you identify the important factors that build confidence leading up to consistency or the lacking that causes a slump.
JEFF GORDON: Well, consistency is important when you're battling for a championship or a place in the Chase. I say that because you can consistently run 15th, and while you might not be extremely happy with that, that will get you into the Chase.
At some point you've got to turn that consistency and what you're doing into gains. You've got to continue to progress forward and stay a consistent 15th, make it a consistent 10th. If you're running a consistent 10th, you have to move it to a top 5, and then wins. That's the only way you're going to battle for a championship. You have to start somewhere.
When you have consistency, it does allow you to fine tune, look to find out where your team is weak, where can you make gains, you as a driver, you as a team, performance, pit crew, pit strategy, everything that's involved nowadays. If you can do that consistently, you're more than likely going to start making gains.
If you don't, you're just a consistent driver, not a winning driver, the frustration is going to start to kick in and you're actually going to start losing a little confidence instead of gaining that confidence.
Q. Can you identify that in your team when that starts to slip away? Is there anything you can do to stop that, teams going up and down?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, for me, I've been fortunate to have a lot of success, especially the first 10 years of my career, where I can fall back on that success. I know what I'm looking for in the car to push the limits of the tires, push the limits of the car, to be more competitive out there on the racetrack.
While that's been challenged at times and questioned by myself and probably even by my team, you know, I never stop believing that I can do it, and never stop believing in the team that has the answers. The engineering that goes into these cars these days is so important. So you've got to work together.
They've got to believe in you and you have to believe in them. I think that's what turned the corner for us this year. While we were frustrated, not performing the way we wanted to at times, we never stopped believing in one another, eventually started getting the results, coming together, making big gains. The way the cars were driving, the speeds we had, how we were qualifying, so on.
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