JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PEPSI CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed this weekend’s race, if his looming final race is hitting him yet, his thoughts on racing in the championship finale next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway and many other topics. Full Transcript:
YOU’VE HAD A GREAT CAREER HERE. YOU ARE THE ONE DRIVER THAT HAS PUNCHED HIS TICKET TO HOMESTEAD, BUT A WIN HERE THIS WEEKEND WOULD BE GREAT WOULDN’T IT?
“Oh absolutely. Right now we are all about team building and momentum and confidence. Even though very little that we learn here this weekend, the tire is completely different, the track is completely different, the surface is completely different, it’s still an important race. This track really throughout my whole career has been one that I’ve been consistent at. I’ve never been great here until that last race before they repaved it. It’s a very fun, exciting, challenging racetrack. We are working really hard to try to get another win.”
DO YOU FEEL AS IF TEXAS WAS AN INDICATOR THAT YOU CAN RUN WELL AT HOMESTEAD?
“Well, I thought we learned some things that can make us a little bit better at Homestead. Homestead is different than what Texas is, but yeah, it didn’t go as well as we would have liked it to have gone. I still feel very confident about Homestead just because of the way that track is, but we’ve got to be a little bit better than we were at Texas.”
KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW ABOUT BOTH CHASE FORMATS IS THIS ONE HARDER TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP IN?
“I don’t know this is the best I’ve been in position in a very long time. I’m kind of liking it. I think the format prior to this those 10 racetracks are just so crucial if you are good at those 10 racetracks you have an excellent shot at winning the championship. In this format, if you can be solid through the tracks that maybe you are not as great at, but then really nail the ones that you are, like we did with Martinsville, then in that sense it could maybe somewhat be easier. But it still all comes down to Homestead. I think in that sense it’s harder because you are up against three other drivers and teams on equal terms and you have to finish ahead of those drivers. Especially it seems like we have already seen last year and I’m curious to see how it ends which three others are going to Homestead of just how competitive they are. I think they are all going to rise to the occasion in Homestead and in that sense, yeah, this I think it is somewhat harder. We have seen the last couple of years where basically to win it you had to win the race. That is a lot to ask. That is a lot of pressure.”
YOU’VE HAD A LIST OF GREAT CREW CHIEFS OVER THE YEARS. HOW IS ALAN (GUSTAFSON) DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS AND HOW DO YOU SEE HIM DOING IN THE WINNER TAKE ALL SITUATION NEXT WEEK?
“I think it suits him really well. I think what separates Alan is just his engineering background and understanding of the cars and the aerodynamics. He just has a really vast depth of knowledge with that. It allows him to, when he’s talking to, whether it be the body shop and how they are building the bodies or other engineers he is just on their level and connects with them. I think it earns a lot of respect, certainly, from my stand point is why I wanted to work with him so bad and why I’ve enjoyed working with him so much. It’s because he is just so good with the cars. I think he has definitely had to work and hone his skills on how to be that confident, powerful leader. He has become extremely good at it, but I do think that’s probably something that was not as natural to him as the engineering. He has got a tremendous work ethic and drive. That to me is what makes a great crew chief. When I think back to me and Ray (Evernham) or I look at other crew chiefs at Hendrick and in the garage, the ones that are just willing to sacrifice everything and put that kind of effort into it are the ones that are successful. That is what Alan does.”
HAS THE REALITY THAT THIS PHASE OF YOUR LIFE IS COMING TO AN END IS IT SINKING IN?
“It’s become a little more real. I think it’s all going to sink in next week. Although, I will say with everything now that has happened because of that Martinsville win, the schedule has gotten really hectic. So, it’s going to keep my mind off of everything up until race day. I don’t know if it’s going to hit me prior to the race or if it’s going to hit me after the race, but it’s going to hit me. It’s definitely going to hit me. We’ve just had so much still left to accomplish and business at hand that it has not hit me yet. We’ve just been in planning mode for trying to be in the Chase, planning mode for trying to make it to Homestead as a team. Been in planning mode for entertaining friends and family at Homestead, this is long before we were ever in the Chase. The cool thing is we are going there to celebrate regardless of that moment and that day and sharing that with the people that have supported me over the years and closest to me. When Martinsville happened it just made that much more exciting and of course the people that hadn’t RSVP’d all of a sudden started to RSVP. It did create a little more work for, luckily not me so much, but our team that is handling all that.”
HAVE YOU GIVEN YOURSELF AN OPPORTUNITY OF HOW SATISFYING IT WILL BE TO WIN THE RACE AT HOMESTEAD AND CAP OFF A TREMENDOUS CAREER?
“I haven’t and I won’t. I’m a person that lives in the moment. Just like in Martinsville, I didn’t go into that race expecting us to win or think about what that was going to be like if we did win. But you saw the raw emotion of what that win meant to me. That is nothing compared to what you will see in Homestead if we do that. I literally will be climbing the fences. I will be down with a bad back for the next week, but it will all be worth it.”
CAN YOU GIVE US AN UPDATE ON THE PONIES AND IF YOU STILL HATE EDDIE GOSSAGE?
“I think he hates me. No, I am joking. Ingrid and the kids got there the next day and we immediately went out to the stables where they were at and visited with them. And of course, immediately, my daughter fell in love. They were the cutest things and we had a lot of fun with them. Ever since then and right after they were given to us, we were trying to figure out how to get them to North Carolina, where to put them, who is going to take care of them, how often we were going to visit with them. That’s where we are at right now.”
IN THE FUTURE IS TEAM OWNERSHIP AN OPTION FOR YOU?
“Yeah, the one that currently exists, with a great partner, Rick Hendrick. I will never see myself expanding further than that.”
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT COMING HERE AND RACING IN THE SILVER CROWN CARS AND WINNING THE COPPER WORLD CLASSIC?
“Yeah, that was huge. Without boring you with too many details and going too in depth on it, it really all started with the midget the year before. And all of a sudden it brought me back to my pavement days in quarter midgets and go carts. I realized that I just took to it very, very well. Plus, I had great cars. That led to the car that I drove here for the Eads. It was a Beast chassis and at that time, we were winning everything in those cars on the pavement. That was a big year for us to do some great things in a level of USAC that was being recognized. It was 1990 and that was also the same year that I was pursuing NASCAR. It was a huge year for me and all those wins like that meant the world to me. I was getting to race against Ken Schrader and other guys that were big time race car drivers and I wanted race against them, I wanted to beat them, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. In moments like this, that happened here, led to that moment happening.”
HAVE YOU CURSED THE CHASE OVER THE YEARS AND WOULD IT BE POETIC JUSTICE IF YOU WIN IT HERE?
“That would be the ultimate, most poetic justice ever. (laughs) Well, the one thing that I will never forget is the moment that I was standing on the dock in Key West, Florida on a NASCAR boat trip with Brian France and Mike Helton and they told me what they were planning on doing with the Chase format and I laughed in their faces, because I thought that was the most hilarious thing I had ever heard of. Because I thought it was a joke, then I quickly realized that was not a joke and I was pulling the laughs back into my mouth. I was like, ‘are you serious?’, and they said ‘yes’. Of course, I didn’t like it. I felt like the point system was just fine for me. I don’t think you can go back and look at accumulating points in the old system in the new system. Everybody races differently under each point system and does what it takes. So, I don’t know if we can all sit here and speculate and talk about things and wonder what could have been if the old point system would have stayed the same. There is no doubt in my mind that it suited my driving style. The reason I was able to win at so many different tracks was the consistency that our team had and that I had at all the different tracks. That paid off when you were trying to win the championship under a 36-race schedule. I didn’t want to see it come down to that final 10, because some of those final 10 were not all tracks that suited me. It actually suited others pretty well and so I felt like it was not benefiting me. So of course I wish it hadn’t changed. But when I look at the sport from 10,000 feet I love it and think it is exciting. And with this new format, I think it is even better. I will continue to support it, always have, even when it hasn’t suited me. I think that I try and not be that selfish and think of what is best for the sport. At the end of the day, what is best for the sport is best for me, best for the team, best for all teams. And best for you guys too.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PEPSI CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 11TH
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN:
“I’m pretty optimistic. We had a good race run in practice and we struggled in qualifying trim, but we made it better. That last run wasn’t our best, just got too tight there. So, we will start 11th, but still definitely an improvement from practice.”