JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his feelings about the Chase, the excitement it brings, the Hendrick Motorsports teams, his final career race at Richmond, the pressure he’s feeling, and more.
TALK ABOUT COMING TO RICHMOND FOR THE FINAL TIME, YOUR APPROACH TO THE WEEKEND, AND WHAT THIS TRACK HAS MEANT TO YOU OVER THE YEARS
“When I think of Richmond it’s a great short track and it’s one that I have always enjoyed. I haven’t always had great runs here, but some years we just nail it, really dominate and run up front and other years we struggle a little bit. It’s just the challenging nature of a short track like Richmond and the competition. All in all I have really enjoyed coming here, have for many years, and have been able to win some races here. I’ve had some great memories and great battles here. I look forward to that challenge again tomorrow night.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU PAY ATTENTION TO THE STATS OF HOW YOU GET IN THE CHASE AND DOES IT ALTER YOUR STRATEGY AT ALL?
“I have heard those stats and I haven’t paid that much attention to it because I am just coming in here like every other member of my team and focused on doing our job to try and win the race and get a solid night and finish. I really believe if we can execute, which has been one of our challenges this year, then I don’t think that is an issue. What I will tell you is that throughout my career every time I went into a race and someone said that I have to finish 17th or better we usually hovered around 18th all night. So we are trying to do everything we can to think of to be top-five or top-ten. It’s really challenging to go practice during the day when it’s hot and slick, just like we had in Darlington last week, and really know what you have got. So we are just working as usual and I feel like we have been pretty decent here the last few times we have been here and there is no reason why we can’t be a fast enough car. And if we execute, we can be a solid of enough team to where we don’t have to worry about that.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON TURNS 40 NEXT WEEK, ANY WORDS OF WISDOM FOR YOUR PROTÉGÉ THERE?
“Heck I thought he already turned 40. He had a birthday party. I don’t know if he can handle two birthday parties like the first one he had. You know, age in my opinion is just a number. I think of myself and through the years and what that meant and life, in my opinion, has only gotten better after 40. The way Jimmie is going, I can see that happening for him as well.”
YOU SAID LAST WEEK AT DARLINGTON YOU COULD FEEL THE PRESSURE, WHERE IS THE LEVEL OF PRESSURE NOW?
“Certainly there is no comfort in where we are at. It is so easy for things to go wrong and you are just trying to focus on doing everything right. And that is what we did today and just tried to focus on making our car better, how to plan for qualifying and get a good lap together there or hopefully three solid laps. Then, we will debrief and come up with a plan for the setup of the car. That is what we were just talking about and just were focusing on the speed in the car and making a really fast race car. That seems to solve a lot of problems. We can’t over-think it and stress too much about the pressure that is on us. We have dealt with pressure here before and so no matter what happens tomorrow night we have learned is to just fight. You just fight hard for every position on every lap. We have to be smart and not get too far outside our comfort zone and do things too crazy, but we also can’t be too conservative. And that is the downside of the position we are in. I would rather be in this position than like the ones on the outside looking in, but the advantage that they have is that they have nothing to lose and they can just go all out and not even worry about it. For us, we can’t necessarily do that and sometimes when you get conservative that is when you get yourself in trouble. So we are going to try and balance that out and I think we are very capable of doing that.”
THERE IS A CHANCE OF RAIN TOMORROW. IS THERE ANY CONCERN THAT IF IT’S PAST HALF-WAY, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO MAKE A CALL THAT COULD EITHER PUT YOU IN OR OUT OF THE CHASE?
“I was just talking about not being stressed out about this thing, here, Bob. Why do you have to stress me out, man? That’s the way you think?”
WELL YOU SEE PEOPLE STEAL WINS WHEN IT’S RAINING
“Bob, I’m going to give you some advice I’ve been using for a long time: Control the things that you can control (laughter). That’s all I can do; and just do my job and do it to the best of my ability and try to communicate with my team so they can do their job to the best of their ability and all we can do is try to make the best decisions and control the things we can control. We can’t make decisions for others; whether they come in and take risks and chances and all those things. Like I said, there are some that are going to be in a position to be able to take all the risk because they have no downside. And we’re going to have to weigh those decisions out as well.
“I thought you were going to say this could be a day race on Sunday and I was like, great, because I just got done practicing all day, for a night race. So, maybe that’ll help us for the day race. But, let’s hope we get it in tomorrow night.”
LAST YEAR, THE CHASE WAS PRETTY SPECTACULAR IN A LOT OF WAYS. IT WAS DRAMATIC, WITH GUYS WINNING TO MAKE THE NEXT ROUND. YOU HAD FIGHTS & ALTERCATIONS. HOW CAN THIS CHASE POSSIBLY LIVE UP TO WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR, OR CAN IT?
“Well, I think the format provides that. When you have eliminations and you have to win, or be in a must-win situation to move on, it puts so much more stress and pressure on the teams and that creates drama right there in itself. So, as excited as I am about the format, I also am equally just stressed-out just thinking about being in it. I hope we’re in that position that we can be stressed out and we can go do something spectacular in the final 10 races that nobody expected us to do. Do like what Newman did last year. And so, I don’t know if it can live up to last year. That was pretty spectacular. But, it has been done before. (Tony) Stewart did it, not in this format, with him and Carl (Edwards). Kevin (Harvick) did it last year and I think it has the makings of that happening again. But, certainly when you take four all the way down to Homestead, re-set, just that in itself, I think, ‘Wow, what drama.’ It’s going to be amazing again and I love this format because of that.”
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH LAST YEAR DURING THE CHASE? YOU’VE BEEN IN PRESSURE SITUATIONS BEFORE. YOU’VE BEEN IN CHAMPIONSHIP CHASES. SO, HOW WAS IT ANY DIFFERENT OR HOW DID IT IMPACT YOU OR LEAD YOU TO DO THINGS THAT YOU DID OR DIDN’T DO LAST YEAR?
“I mean it starts right in Chicago. Before, you go okay, I’d like to get this first race off to a good start. But if it’s not in a good start, we’ve got several races to sort of get ourselves in sync and we can maybe have one Mulligan. But when you know that you don’t have that many races before they start eliminating, you don’t have time. And so, it just adds more pressure. You’ve got to be on you’re A-game from the beginning. And it doesn’t mean that you have to win. You’ve got to be solid. So, there’s a couple of different strategies. I think when the Chase starts, I think it’s everybody’s intention that it feels like they have a shot at the championship; at least they’re real contenders. Man, we want to come out of the gate showing everybody who they’re going to have to beat for this championship.
“So, you’ve got that mentality and thought process. And then you’ve got others who are saying you know what? We have the ability to just be super-consistent and make our way all the way to Homestead by being really solid. Maybe we’re not the fastest team or the best one out there, but watch what we can do. And again, I think those create all the makings of a great storyline and a lot of drama. But it adds a tremendous amount of stress to you. I just remember last year, starting off at Chicago, being maybe it’s because I did feel like we had a shot at the championship, but just carrying more load on my shoulders and feeling the tension in the garage area with those that were in the Chase and with my team, more so than I ever had before. And I just felt like it was because it seemed like with that format, you just can’t really afford to make any mistakes.”
OVER THE LAST EIGHT RACES, THERE ARE THREE TOP-FIVES BETWEEN THE FOUR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS CARS. YOU GUYS SEEMED TO STRUGGLE RIGHT OFF THE TRUCK, BUT YOU FOUND IT WHEN YOU GOT INTO QUALIFYING TRIM. HOW DO YOU CHARACTERIZE YOUR COMPETITIVENESS BETWEEN ALL OF THE HENDRICK CARS RIGHT NOW, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU STACK YOURSELF UP AGAINST THOSE THAT WE EXPECT TO BE FAVORITES TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
‘Yeah, there’s no secret that we’re off right now, as an organization. And we’re searching a little bit. We’re working extremely hard, I can tell you that. We had some great meetings this week led by Rick (Hendrick). This is where he shines as a leader in motivating all of us in the messaging he gives us. It’s not like we’ve never been down before. We have. And I think that in so many ways it makes us stronger. And I don’t know if we’re going to be able to find it through the Chase this year, but I guarantee you that we’re not going to stop working hard until we get back on top. And the competition has done an amazing job with the work that they’ve done in getting an edge. And I give them nothing but credit for it. And just like they’ve used us as motivation in the past of how good our teams have been and how we’ve worked together and have dominated, they’ve utilized that and now we’re utilizing it, as well as motivation.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 23RD
HOW CHALLENGING WAS THAT SESSION WHEN ONE END OF THE TRACK WAS IN THE SUN AND THE OTHER IN THE SHADE?
“Yeah, this is a tough place anyway. A short track doing multiple runs the fall off in the tires, but we are better than that. I hate it for our 3M Chevrolet team that we are going to be starting there, because I know we are better than that. I went for it on the first lap of that last run. I knew I had given up a little bit on entry on the previous run and we were a little bit free, but we tried to tighten it up. I drove in there a little deeper and it about came around on me. I had to give that lap up and the second lap the grip is just not quite there, at least it wasn’t for us. I put whatever lap I could together there and it just wasn’t enough. That is frustrating and we will start working on the race.”