JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. He discussed his approach to Sunday’s final race of the Contender round, his history and best memories at Talladega, his season to date and other topics. Full transcript:
YOU HAVE A LONG HISTORY AT TALLADEGA WITH SIX WINS HERE. IT IS A MUST-WIN SITUATION FOR YOU AND SEVERAL OTHER CHASE DRIVERS. WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO THE WEEKEND?
“In the position we’re in with most people besides Joey (Logano), the approach is the same whether you’re trying to win it, get a top-five, top-10, top-15 or top-20. We’re here to race a for a win. I feel like we’ve put together three pretty good restrictor plate races this year but we’ve not always ended up with the results we were looking for. We learned a tremendous amount in how we executed in those races and the mistakes we made that are easily fixed so we can hopefully get the result we need this weekend.”
THIS TRACK IS PROBABLY NOT ONE OF YOUR TOP-TWO OR TOP-THREE FAVORITES, BUT YOU HAVE DONE WELL HERE. IS THERE ONE PARTICULAR MEMORY YOU’LL TAKE AWAY FROM THIS TRACK?
“It seems like it’s been awhile since we’ve had that kind of success where we were battling for wins like we did in the mid- and late-90s. The one where me and (Dale Earnhardt) Junior were racing side-by-side and had a great battle. One of the races that stands out the most to me is where we came from about 10th or 12th with only a few laps to go; I think Jimmie and I battled for a win, and we were either second or third. One of the other ones that stands out is when (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.) came from 18th or wherever it was and beat all of us. Watching him maneuver through traffic and doing what he did so well was very inspiring and very impressive.”
DOES LAST WEEKEND KIND OF SUM UP HOW YOUR SEASON HAS BEEN? TAKE A CAR LIKE THAT INTO THE TOP-10 AND KEEP HANGING AROUND?
“I feel like earlier in the year we were taking 10th-place cars and turning them into 15ths. Ever since the Chase started – other than Chicago – we’ve been executing very well and getting a little bit more out of what we had on the track. I think Charlotte proved that. Did we have a car that if you put us in seventh or eighth could we have run there? Yes, but I thought we executed very well. We were at our best in the final run to finish eighth. Last week you could have put us in 20th and we would have finished 20th. We really struggled except in qualifying. That’s really a combination of the tire at that track. It felt really hit-or-miss to me. But, I thought we executed very well. That’s kind of what we’ve done since the start of the Chase. We’re getting more out of the car. We keep doing what we talked about all year long, and that’s execute. That’s what we were working on earlier in the season.”
I UNDERSTAND YOU WERE IN THE BIG ONE ON THE BOULEVARD IN THE SPRING AND YOU’LL BE PART OF IT AGAIN. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE?
“The Boulevard is something I haven’t been out to in years. You hear it from the bus lot, and you hear all the excitement and fun that the fans are having. We hear that a lot throughout the season but I don’t know if any place compares to what goes out on there at Talladega. I decided to check it out earlier this year; it was really cool and fun to get up close and personal with the fans and see them have an amazing time. It was such a great experience that I wanted to be part of it again tonight. I look forward to it. I have some friends here that I went to high school with, and I’m looking forward to showing them what goes on. I won’t be out there late, but I’ll be out there watching everyone enjoy themselves. That’s one of the things I wanted to do this year – enjoy myself and take it all in. This is one of the experiences that stands out this year.
AND HOW AGGRESSIVE CAN YOU BE IN SUNDAY’S RACE KNOWING THAT THIS IS AN ELIMINATION RACE?
“It’s a balance. You have to take each moment and experience to make the most out of it. If you have a car that qualifies up front like we did last time we were here, you want to try and maintain that track position. You have to be a little more aggressive. I watched Dale Jr., and a few other guys who protect their position when they’re up front aggressively. There’s a fine line that can get you in trouble really easily as well. But I can tell you that it’s a lot harder when you get shuffled back to work your way toward the front than it used to be. People are smarter, cars are more equal, and the draft and aerodynamics are different than they used to be. It’s hard to make that work if you get behind. Hopefully, we qualify up front. The last time, I made a mistake getting on pit road and got on the splitter and locked up the tires and was speeding on pit road; we never recovered. So that’s what’s more on my mind. We have a very fast race car. We have to execute and I have to execute and not make mistakes. If we do that and have a little luck on our side, there’s no doubt that we can not only win this race, but move on.”
WITH THIS BEING YOUR FINAL PLATE RACE, DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS?
“When the race is over, I’ll give you my thoughts (laughs). Right now I want my mindset to be excited and positive about coming in here to win this race and move on to the next round of the Chase.”
WHEN CERTAIN GUYS GO TO ICONIC PLACES FOR THE LAST TIME – WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT – THEY DO SOMETHING TO COMMEMORATE THAT VISIT. DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING LIKE THAT PLANNED FOR THIS WEEKEND?
“This place has been really good to me and also really bad. I’m coming in with a positive attitude – excited at how fast our race car is and how good our team is. It’s a great opportunity we have in front of us. So I’m not thinking about it from a historic standpoint or even letting it sink in that it’s my final race here. We have too much of a job at hand here. Our focus is on this round, continuing in the Chase and moving on. I really believe that if we can make it through this round, we have three great tracks coming up that we can move on all the way to Homestead and do something we didn’t do last year and possibly something I’ve never done before, and that’s win a Sprint Cup Championship. I know that we’re not running the way that some others are. But if we get through this one, I’m telling you there are four tracks where we can surprise some people. That’s all that’s on my mind. In this type of racing, you have to accept it. You can’t fight against it; it is what it is. There are times where I’ve enjoyed restrictor plate racing more than any other race I’ve ever been a part of. When things go right, it can’t be more fun than this. But when you’re stuck in the middle of three-wide on a green-white-checkered and playing bumper cars at 200 mph, you look forward to it being over. To me, it gets me excited about going up into the (TV) booth next year and talking about all the things that are going on from the driver’s perspective.”
DO YOU THINK THIS RACE AND THE DYNAMICS OF IT WILL BE MUCH DIFFERENT THAN TALLADEGA EVER IS?
“The only difference is the drama and storylines – what’s at stake, who’s on the outside looking in? No one is safe other than Joey. Just the Chase format itself is what heightens the intensity of each race, especially this one. You have to run it just like you would any other restrictor plate and Talladega race. When you know what’s on the line, what could go wrong and what that could cost you – and on the flip side if everything goes right – it’s a huge race. That just adds intensity and pressure that is on everyone within the Chase. Then there is everyone outside the Chase that wants to win because they feel they can. I don’t think there is a car in this field that doesn’t feel like they can win. It’s a track where everyone says they can do it and spoil the Chase.”
WERE YOU HAPPY THAT THERE WON’T BE THREE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED ON SUNDAY. SHOULD THAT BE THE RULE GOING FORWARD FOR PLATE RACES?
“Is there a way to get a rule where there’s none? I’d be in favor that, too. Come February, I want there to be 10 green-white-checkereds! I’ll be on your side then (laughs). There is a balance between the excitement and entertainment to give the fans what they came here for and putting drivers at risk. When we look at these tracks and what is involved in those restarts – especially when you’re coming to the checkered flag… If anyone in this room rode was inside one of these cars on a green-white-checkered, there’s no doubt in my mind that every single one of you would say they really shouldn’t do that. It’s insane. It’s a white-knuckle experience. If anyone in the garage says it’s not, then they’re not telling the truth. It just is. You’re holding your breath. It can make for some amazing moments and highlights. I don’t know if you need to put any added risk out there to do more than one.”
WHAT’S THE CRAZIEST THING YOU’VE SEEN IN THE TALLADEGA INFIELD?
“I don’t remember. It’s all kind of foggy (laughs). There’s a lot of stuff going on out there. I’ve probably heard more stories than I’ve seen. Earlier in May, I had some friends out here who had never been to Talladega and some of them were new to NASCAR. To hear them tell the stories of their experiences, I love that. I love hearing people go, ‘Man, I had no idea that this is what goes on in the infield and that the fans are this crazy and have a good time.’ One of the guys who had been with me in May has been all over the world at some of the biggest parties, and he told me it was something he’ll never forget that experience at Talladega. That goes to show you what a great time can be had here as a fan, and for some of us drivers too.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS – POLE WINNER
HOW DEEP DOES THIS EFFORT GO?
“It’s very deep. These guys work extremely hard. I know everybody does for these restrictor plate tracks. To be able to get the results like that and they have been doing it all year long on these tracks. That is just a complete credit to all the details that come from the top down. Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) he really does a phenomenal job at every track, but especially these tracks with these cars. Hendrick engines, Hendrick chassis, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, 1, 2, 3 and 5 that is an awesome day for Hendrick Motorsports.”
DID YOU KNOW IN PRACTICE YOU HAD A FAST CAR?
“I did know we had a fast car, but I wasn’t sure. This is a different car than what we had here earlier this year. I mean everybody felt confident in the car and it was really fast in the drafting sessions, but we weren’t exactly sure when we made a mock qualifying run if we had what it took for the pole, but after that first run I knew the boys did what they do. They just are so good at all the details and it goes all the way back to the engine shop, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and everybody at the 24/5 shop and even our teammates 48 and 88 everybody is contributing to make this happen that is why we are 1-2-3 and 5. It’s a great day for Hendrick Motorsports.”
YOU HAD WHAT IT TAKES TO GET THE POLE DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO GET THE CHECKERED FLAG?
“Well, we really feel like we were dominant here in May. I made a mistake getting too aggressive to pit road. Hopefully, we will learn from our mistakes and we can take advantage of that No. 1 pit stall or selection anyway, as well as, a very fast race car and try to keep it up front.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS – POLE WINNER
POST QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
TALK ABOUT LEADING THE FIELD TO GREEN IN YOUR FINAL START AT TALLADEGA:
“This team has just done an amazing job this year on restrictor plate tracks. Just the preparation of the cars… I mean I’ve had some of the fastest restrictor plate cars this year, because of their hard work. When we’ve gotten the opportunity to qualify we have been on the pole each time. That is not an easy thing to do and they have pulled that off. So, yeah, this is a great way to get us started. We have really run well. I’ve been excited about the restrictor plate (tracks) this year and how well we have performed in the race. But, just haven’t quite gotten the results that we have needed and hopefully we execute tomorrow and can learn from some of the mistakes. For me specifically, getting to pit road, we worked on that a lot yesterday. Other than that I feel really good about things.”
THREE POLES THIS YEAR THE ONLY POLE YOU DIDN’T GET ON A PLATE TRACK WAS AT DAYTONA WHEN IT RAINED OUT. HAS HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS BEEN FOCUSING ON THE PLATE RACE? OR IS THAT JUST HOW IT IS BECAUSE YOU GUYS ARE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?
“Well, yeah, it’s just part of our culture. It was that way before I came to Hendrick Motorsports, really being fast on restrictor plates or the superspeedways. I think it’s just not only the attention to detail with the cars, but in the engine department as well. Our engines showed a lot of strength today, as well as, just the effort that everyone at Hendrick Motorsports puts in. Especially Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) he is an engineer. He loves the wind tunnel and the details that it takes to make these cars qualify on the pole like that. He should be really proud of the effort he and his group of guys put together and the effort that they put out here this entire year on the restrictor plate races.”
ALL FOUR HENDRICK DRIVERS ARE AT THE FRONT. HOW REALISTIC IS IT THAT YOU GUYS CAN HOOK-UP AND STAY TOGETHER AT THE FRONT FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME?
“Yeah, that would certainly be nice. I think we all understand what’s at stake and what our goal and our mission is and how we can work together to better our chances. We know what (Dale Earnhardt) Junior has to do. We know what we have to do. And we’ve got four excellent race cars and race teams that can definitely work together and help to make that happen. But, you can’t control everything out there. And we’ll just get the green and go racing and just see how it’s working out and how the lines are forming and choosing the right lines. We have to do our job first and then hopefully we can put ourselves in position to either help Junior or have those guys helping both of us to make sure we secure our way to the next round.” Join thousands of fans in signing up for the Jeff Gordon newsletter where you'll automatically be eligible for free giveaways, receive the latest info & more.