NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Air Guard 400
Topics: Air Guard 400
September 11, 2010
KERRY THARP: Jeff Gordon has joined us. He drives the number 24 DuPont Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, he is seated eighth in the Chase.
Jeff, talk about your outlook in the Chase going for a fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
JEFF GORDON: We have a shot and we had a great regular season, and I know we are missing the bonus points but I still think we have an awesome team that can do an awful lot in these last ten races.
Being up in the points, you know, like we have been allowed us to think ahead a little bit more and put a good game plan together. I feel like we have been doing that. So hopefully that all shows when we get to New Hampshire and get this Chase started. But yeah, I'm looking forward to getting it all started and seeing what we can do.
Q. I'll ask you the same thing I've asked everybody else. The playing field seems to be more level going into the Chase this year. You are looking for your fifth as well as Jimmie is looking for his fifth. What opportunities do you think you have this year that may not have been available last year due to the uneven playing field, where this year it seems to be a little more equal?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I don't even remember what was going on at this point in the season last year. I just know that we got in the Chase and the three Hendricks cars kind of were battling it out among the three of us.
Most of that starts to show itself four or five races into the Chase, and that's kind of the way I feel about it right now. Yeah, maybe there's no clear-cut favorite right now, the way the past 26 races have gone. But I've seen how the team that really is going to go win this championship seems to be pretty clear in the past, anyway, four or five races into the Chase, and I wouldn't be surprised if that happens again this year.
But certainly right now, the thing that is exciting is that it's really hard to predict who that is going to be. You know, I think it's exciting for the sport right now of how competitive and close the competition is.
Right now. I'm only focused on making sure that we are a part of that factor when we get down to Homestead. Right now, it's kind of hard to get excited about that when you are sitting here being eighth after being seeded second all year long. The only way we are going to go see what we have got is get through the first three or four races. You know, there's a lot of tracks that I think we are really good at and there's a couple that we have to get better at. You know, I think that we'll just have to wait and see.
Q. You look at the way the season has gone for you and some of the other drivers out there, how much importance is there -- is there more of an emphasis this year, or just in the Chase in general, on consistency, as opposed to winning? How do you balance those two factors?
JEFF GORDON: I think that consistency is always very important. You know, because if you run consistently up towards the front, then you give yourself a better chance at winning races.
You know, I think really, the only thing I'm disappointed in this year so far is just that we have had three or four opportunities to win and we didn't get it done. Had we done that, I think that we would be as much of a favorite as anybody else or I think that we would be talking a totally different tune right now.
And so you know, for us, we have got to go now and have ten spectacular weeks. We can't just go be consistent. That's not going to win the championship for us unless we are consistently second.
You know, I think that we are looking at we realize we have to step it up and we have to step it up big and we have to put ten incredible weeks together to make up that deficit.
But, you know, if you're Jimmie, if you're Denny, I think those guys can go be consistent. They don't have to win, but I expect those guys will win. But if they are consistent, they are going to be really, really tough to beat.
Q. Tonight you had a heck of a battle to get back up to 12th where you finished. Give us some insight as to how the night went and how you got back up to 12th.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it was definitely a heck of a battle for us. I was talking to Harvick and talking to Kyle Busch, and we all kind of started back there. It was unbelievable, when the green flag dropped, we all went backwards, because there was just -- it was just mayhem in the middle of the field.
I really thought that even starting where we started, that once we got going green, that we were going to drive up through the field, at least to the Top-10 or 15, and boy, we really struggled doing that and we needed to make some big adjustments. We made those adjustments and by the end of the race, we actually had a very fast race car. So that was very promising, and feels good that we ended things on a good note driving forward. But at the same time, you know, it was frustrating that we didn't qualify better than we did, and you know, I think that had we -- even as far off as we were at the beginning of the race, I think had we started up front, we could have adjusted and really, I don't know if we could have battled the Gibbs cars; they were in another league, but we could have been up in the Top-5.
Yeah, it was not a fun night for quite a while there, but I was actually having fun there at the end driving by guys.
Q. Five of the drivers in the Chase failed to win a race this year, including yourself. Four drivers who won races didn't make the Chase. How important do you think it's going to be to your chances and to any of the others to make sure that you do get into victory lane throughout the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: You know, all week do is go to New Hampshire and try to win the race, just like we do every weekend. But we hope that by being prepared, thinking really solidly through our setup, our race car that we are taking, our process through practice and race procedures and all of those things and things that we learned from earlier in the season, that it gives us the opportunities to go win.
First we start at New Hampshire and then we get through New Hampshire and we do all of those same things, what is it, Dover, for the next race. We realize it's important for us to win, you know, but it's not like we haven't been trying (chuckling). We have been trying hard and we have come close this year.
I think I wish that we were as close to some victories here in the last five or six races. I mean, Michigan, I think we had a car capable of winning. But I wish that we had been closer to some victories like we were in the first ten races. You know, it seems like -- and I don't know if it's Hendrick as a whole or just us; we seem to have lost a little bit, and I'm hoping that the things that we have in store coming up in the final ten get that back.
With this car these days, you can be off the tiniest bit and it can look like a lot; and you can find a little thing and all of a sudden, it looks like you've gained a ton. So that's why you just never count yourself out even when things aren't going well.
Q. The last few weeks, you've been running towards the front and then seems like in the middle of the race, you have a struggle that sets you back. Heading into the final ten races, what do you think is the biggest thing that the entire team has to improve upon entering the race?
JEFF GORDON: You know, you can't predict some of those things that -- like happened to us at Atlanta. We have had those things happen to us a few times this year, and it's just kind of the way racing works. You just hope that if it's going to happen, it happens early in the race, instead of happening -- like at Atlanta, it happened towards the end and we couldn't recover.
I think that if your cars are fast enough, your team is good enough -- I tell you, our pit stops have been amazing lately. I feel like the communication between me and Steve has been really good, but there's things that we can improve on. I think right now, we need to qualify better. We have not qualified good recently. We have not qualified good since Pocono and not really sure what's going on with that, because we qualified good earlier in the season and we are known for being good qualifiers.
That's something that we have to really step up in the Chase, get better pit stall picks and get better track position at the start of the races and when we do that, we seem to perform better, things like that. Trust me, nobody knows better the things we have done good or bad than me or Steve and the rest of the guys on our team.
Q. Earlier in the year, you ticked off a few people during some races, and I think a few weeks ago, you said you were trying to be nice to some people. Do you worry about that and the have-at-it-boys in the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: Sure, definitely, but there's nothing I can do about it. I made choices and things happened, and you know, that's part of racing. It's happened to me, and I've been on both sides of it. We'll just kind of see -- you hope that over time that maybe guys are thinking a little bit different about it. But I don't know. I can't predict that. Every time I'm around those guys, they race me really, really hard to make life difficult, and I expect that. But they haven't tried to wreck me yet, and I don't know if they are waiting for the Chase or not, but all I can do is go out there and race them the same. I still have to be nice to them, you know. That's not going to change, because you know that if you rub them the wrong way, they have got more than one reason to get back to you. That's not how you're going to win a championship.
Q. You just mentioned a little while ago about the season and how you don't know if it's the 24, maybe the Hendrick organization as a whole, that seems to have lost a little something here. But on the flipside of that, how much has your competition gained on Hendrick? You look at Childress, you look at Roush, Gibbs, it seems like all of those teams have ramped it up now; and to what extent, do you look at that as a very real threat now going into the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: You know, every year, you look at your own organization and how do you continue to step it up; how do you continue to stay on top when things have been going so well.
You know, we knew going into the season it was going to be hard to top what we did last year, and we knew that teams like Gibbs -- Denny Hamlin, I thought, was extremely strong the end of last year. I've actually been surprised at times this year that they haven't been stronger. But they are really coming into their own, showing their strength, and I think they are going to be really, really tough in the championship in these final ten.
I mean, Childress, they have been getting their butt kicked the past couple of years and they have ramped it up -- that's what happens, you get beat down and you go to work and start analyzing what your competition is doing and what you're missing and you realize that when you're an organization like Richard has there, you've got to make some big changes; and whether it's in their chassis, their simulation, I don't know what it is, but they have obviously found some things and they are much better.
You know, we look every season as -- we have to push ourselves very hard just to try to still be one of the top teams out there, knowing that the competition is only -- every championship that gets won, they just gun for you that much harder.
I'm not saying that we are not still championship-caliber for these final ten, but I do feel like we don't have, you know, the capabilities that we have had at this point like last year. I mean, at this point going into last year, you know, we were feeling more confident than we are now. But I've been around racing long enough to know that so many things are going to happen over the next couple weeks that's going to surprise people, that's going to really start to paint the picture. We might be a major factor in that, or we might not. Just anything's possible. We'll have to go and see.
Q. Is it particularly disheartening for you 11 other Chase contenders to have a guy that already had five wins win the race tonight and start off things? Is that a super-strong statement from Denny, or just, he was already strong and everything starts over next week?
JEFF GORDON: Well, ten more points, what the heck. You know, I think that everybody knew that, you know, Denny was going to be strong here. It's one of his best tracks. They have found something lately. I don't know what it is, but they have found something. If they can keep that going into the Chase, they are going to be very, very tough. I mean, look at all three of their cars are in the Top-5 tonight and Denny was the dominant car. I felt like last week at Atlanta. So you have a short track and a big track; and so whatever they found, we hope that we can find something, too.
But I think that -- I knew they were going to be tough, the Gibbs cars; they run good here. But definitely, on the inside you want somebody that, one, is maybe not one of the guys you think is the best guy out there, and also, somebody that's already got 50 points, you don't necessarily want them to make any gains on you.
I was kind of hoping that -- I don't know, Casey Mears won tonight or something, you know.
Q. Jimmie in his four championships, he's never led the points at the end of the regular season. His last ten races, he has an average finish this year that's better than last year. Yet, there's this perception that he's somehow vulnerable. Does it seem like anything is different to you?
JEFF GORDON: A little. You know, I mean, I still think that those guys are the favorites just because of what they have done in the past. I think these final ten tracks are great tracks for them. They are very capable of just stepping it up a notch. And maybe it's like Mike said, you know, that the competition just seems to be a little bit stronger. Maybe it's not that they are missing anything but just that the competition seems to be a little bit tougher.
And is that accurate to say that he's never -- if he's had the most wins when he was leading; so I think it depends on how you look at leading the regular season.
Q. I mean in points at the end of the regular season.
JEFF GORDON: Well, that doesn't mean anything anyway.
Q. The Chase is determined by those points.
JEFF GORDON: It is?
Q. The ten races, you go back to the same points at the beginning of it.
JEFF GORDON: But you start the Chase with the bonus points, so I think the bonus points are what really factor in there.
But I hear what you're saying. The thing is, it doesn't matter what you did the last ten races. You could have fallen on your face the last ten races for silly little dumb things that happened and still go through these next ten and be on fire.
Racing is a cycle. Sometimes you go through your cycles and that's why I never count those guys out, the 48, and I don't sit here and say, yeah, Denny Hamlin has been the strongest car, won tonight and he's going to go wear us out in the Chase. You just -- you never know.
KERRY THARP: Jeff, thank you so much.
JEFF GORDON: That pretty much settled it? All right. Thank you. Have a good night.
KERRY THARP: Jeff, thanks a lot. Good luck in the championship race.
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