JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 13TH
A YEAR AGO WHEN YOU RACED HERE AT THE BRICKYARD, WE ALL THOUGHT THAT WAS YOUR LAST HURRAH HERE. TODAY PROBABLY WAS. WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SAY GOODBYE TO THIS FACILITY?
“It was better than last year. It didn’t go very well and it was a fight. Wow. The challenges to be out there against the best, especially on those restarts; I got my butt kicked on those restarts. It was embarrassing. While I will fill-in for Dale Jr., and I hope he’s doing good, I needed a fill-in on those restarts. It was pretty bad. Other than that, I thought it went really well. I really liked working with Greg (Ives, crew chief) and this whole No. 88 team. It took us a little while to get the balance right and the adjustments came to us, he made an awesome pit call to come in early one time. And he called it right as I was going into Turn 4 and that made up a lot of spots for us because we had a fast race car. We just couldn’t get the track position. It was pretty tough to pass. And I didn’t want to see those cautions there at the end. But, I’m going to need some practice on restarts for Pocono anyway. We finally actually there on that last one, got the car where it was decent on the outside. It was so loose on the outside before that and made up a bunch of spots off of Turn 4. On one-hand I’m relieved that this is over and on the other hand I would have liked it to have gone a little bit better. I’m looking forward to going to Pocono. Thank you to Tony Stewart. What a class act he is. It meant a lot to me that he invited me to come and make that last lap with him. It was a special moment.”
WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
“Well, Tony and I have gone through a lot over the years. But, he and I have become really good friends. I was with him when he got hurt this year. And to see what he’s done and how tough he is as a competitor; I’ve always known what a great guy and what a great race car driver he is, and now I know more about who Tony Stewart really is. I’m just so proud that I was able to be here and race with him in his final race. Maybe, I don’t know! I thought last year was going to be my final race. You never know with Tony Stewart. But it meant a lot to me to be able to stand in front at the driver’s meeting and recognize him and then do that pace lap here at the end.”
IS NEXT WEEK YOUR FINAL RACE?
“Whew! If it’s this hot, I hope so! My thing is that I can’t wait to talk to Dale Jr. and debrief him on how today went and see how he’s doing. I want him in the car as soon as possible. I’m too old to be doing this stuff. But to come here and do this race and finish a decent 13th, I think I can do better next week for him and then we’ll just go from there.
“Oh, and I was glad I was in the Axalta Chevrolet; that was a lot of fun, and thank Rick (Hendrick) for calling me in France (laughs).”
DID YOU ENJOY TODAY?
“I enjoyed moments. When we were up in 12th and Greg (Ives, crew chief) made an excellent call to come in a little early. We got the car much better. I was having fun at that point. This is a challenging, challenging race track. Really hard to get all four corners. There were moments of fun. I didn’t want to see those restarts. I’m horrible on restarts. So those didn’t help us any, but I got a few back on that last one.”
HOW DID YOU WORK WITH THE TEAM?
“I thought that went really well. Their communication; their information they gave me to prepare for this race. I think there were many times when I was letting them down with some runs we made in practice, in qualifying, on the restarts today. But they never let me down. They did an excellent job. We had a little work to do in the beginning to get the car better. Greg made an awesome call to come in early that one time and that put us up there in 12th. We had a car that was capable of being up there. I just wish I was better on those restarts. “
ON THE LAST RESTART:
“It got hairy on a bunch of them. Seeing them wreck right in front of them, next to me, behind me. You have to understand part of it-the goal here today was not just to get a good finish, but to get points. Those are important. When you see all that chaos going on around you, you are trying to balance being aggressive, and being cautious. That last restart, my car felt pretty good and I was actually able to make a couple of moves. Then they started wrecking in turn three and I passed about four cars so that felt pretty good.”
A MESSAGE TO DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:
“Nobody wants to miss a race, especially the Brickyard 400. He is friends with Tony. I’m sure he would have liked to have been here for Tony’s last race as well. Most of all, I think he should be very proud of his race team. He has an amazing race team. They can’t wait to have him back when he is ready. And, we are all going to work together to do our best to continue to keep that excitement and momentum in the team there for when he is ready to come back, so he comes back and doesn’t miss a beat and can win some races.”
JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – Qualified 21st
ON HIS QUALIFYING EFFORT:
"Greg Ives and this Axalta Chevrolet team did a great job. We made some improvements in the car. It was a nice lap we put out there the first time. We hit all four corners like I was anticipating. We were just a little bit tight, so we wanted to free the car up. When we went out that second time, unfortunately it just freed me up in the wrong areas. I got in the corner and I was real loose getting in. Once I lost all the momentum in turn one, the whole lap was kind of over. It is disappointing, because I felt pretty good about it. I felt like I didn't get the best lap the first time out. I thought with the adjustments we could actually make some improvements. It is tough to make four corners here, let alone.... Some of these guys have to go and do it four more times. Really tricky to keep up with those conditions and the adjustments. Hey we have started in the back and won this thing before. Right now I feel real good about where we are at as a team, and the balance of the car in race trim to be able to move up through the field."
HOW WAS IT?
“The first lap was good. The car was a little bit tight. I felt like put four corners together to get us through to the second round, which is part of the goal. Then based on that I thought we could make some slight adjustments and improve it for that second round. Unfortunately, I got loose going into Turn 1 and the car just kind of did something I didn’t anticipate. It wasn’t like that in the first round. So, that kind of got me off and lost the momentum and from that point on I knew it wasn’t going to be a good lap. A little disappointed with that, but I’m having fun working with Greg (Ives, crew chief) and all the guys on this No. 88 team. I feel really good about the things that we learned yesterday at the end of practice. I would have liked to have been starting further forward, but you know we have some work to do. I look forward to the challenge tomorrow.”
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE IN THE CAR?
“I felt really comfortable right there. I feel like today I’m much calmer than I was yesterday. Usually, my heart is beating more for qualifying than it is for practice, but that wasn’t the case yesterday. So, today I feel more relaxed and comfortable in the car. I hope to feel the same way tomorrow. Tomorrow’s challenge is going to be being around traffic and also trying to get the balance of the car right and do that when you are by yourself as well as when you are around other cars.”
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS NOW LEADING UP TO THE RACE?
“I mean for the most part all the work is done. We did all of our practice yesterday. We did our debrief with all the drivers and crew chiefs last night. Then, we qualified here today. Every time we are on track we are gathering information and learning. I am certain we will continue to talk about it, but that is about all we can do is talk about it and make the best guesses moving forward as to how we are going to set this car up for tomorrow. When you know where you qualify it can change things a little bit about where you are going to be at in traffic and on pit road. It will also – those guys will be working hard on their pit strategy for the race. For me for the most part the work is done other than me thinking about some things I can tell Greg and the engineers. But the work all begins when the green flag drops tomorrow.”
JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – FINAL PRACTICE QUOTES
LIKE RIDING A BIKE?
“No, I mean yes and no. When you get to drive a race car like this it certainly just helps you focus on what you need to do out there. Being out of the car that long and not really having a lot of experience with this package it was a tall task, I will be honest. It was one of the most challenging days I’ve had in a race car to try to get comfortable, be consistent, have the speed and give good feedback. I mean I still love this track and I’m glad that we are doing this this weekend, because I think that helps me have the confidence to be able to learn faster, but it’s tough. It was tough. That first run I was like ‘wow’ I forgot how hard of work this is.”
IS THE SIMULATOR AS CLOSE AS YOU HAD HOPED? ARE YOU IN SHAPE?
“I feel good on being in shape. I mean they have come a long way on cooling the cars. I feel pretty good there. I mean I sweated it out pretty good today and feel good. I’m sure my back will be hurting when the day is over. Yeah, the simulator was great. Visually and the brake marks and the way you drive the track and the way the car handled was very, very similar which I was very impressed with that. Obviously, real life is a lot tougher than in a simulator, because you can scrape the wall, you can make mistakes and it’s not going to cost you a race car. Just knowing that is on the back of your mind and knowing that there is a lot of pressure out there that I put on myself to go out there and make the most out of the laps that we had which is a lot more challenging than the simulator.”
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN QUALIFYING TOMORROW?
“Well, I will just walk you through our day a little bit. The first lap on the track was a good one. That was nice, but at the same time we were off on pace after that and needed a few tenths I felt like. Which when we went to make a qualifying or two qualifying runs, unfortunately we missed it a little bit so that didn’t go so well. But, I felt like here in Happy Hour we made some really good gains in the car in race trim. I think that there are some of those things that will translate over to qualifying. The nice thing is the car has good speed and I actually ran the fastest lap of the day on that last run. That will help me, I think, for tomorrow’s qualifying session.”
ARE YOU HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS? WOULD YOU RATHER BE IN FRANCE?
“France is good, but no this is very rewarding to be here to be a part of this race. To fulfill this position that … I will tell you what I’ve got a lot of appreciation for Alex Bowman. Whether you are a four-time champion and a five-time Brickyard 400 winner or the accomplishments that Alex has, I can’t imagine what he was going through at New Hampshire, because I know what I was going through today and it was a tremendous amount of pressure and anxiety. I’m glad we got through day one clean and looking forward to day two.”
GIVEN THE IRONY OF THE SITUATION OF A GORDON IN AN EARNHARDT CAR HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THAT AT ALL?
“Yeah, how can you not think about that? I think that is what makes the story so appealing and just the whole set of circumstances being here at Indianapolis on the 24th, I think I was 24th fastest too. It’s kind of crazy when you start doing the numbers games and the scenario and everything. It’s a pretty crazy set of circumstances that I could of never have imagined happening.”
DO YOU CARE IF THIS EXTENDS YOUR NASCAR HALL OF FAME ELIGIBILITY DATE?
“I’m in no hurry. I mean first of all I think there are plenty of big names and personalities in our sport that belong in that Hall of Fame. I’m not even thinking about that right now. When that day comes it’s going to be a very proud moment and right now I’m just living life and taking what comes at me next and this was a curveball. Taking that one and all of it one step at a time.”
NOBODY HAS ASKED FOR THEIR RETIREMENT GIFT BACK HAVE THEY?
“No, this is not a Mark Martin moment. It’s not like ‘okay I think I’m going to come back full-time and run a whole season.’ That is not happening, not happening at all.”