Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jeff Gordon at Atlanta


JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT/JEFF GORDON FOUNDATION CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Atlanta, his special paint scheme designed by his daughter Ella, making the Chase, Chase strategy and other topics. Full transcript:

YOU ARE SECOND IN POINTS HEADING IN TO ATLANTA, YOU HAVE WON HERE FOUR TIMES AND AM SURE YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE IT A FIFTH TIME: “That is for sure. It has been a great track for us over the years going all the way back to running our first race here. It is a special place for me and this weekend especially having the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation car. Making it even more special is having Ella design it. It is something I’ve been looking forward to. Ella came with me this weekend. It is just me and her and we are having a really fun weekend. She can’t wait to see the car. She’s been talking about it for a while. We had a great weekend off. There is no doubt that this is an opportunity for us this weekend as good as we run here to get that first win of the season and get those bonus points before the Chase gets started.”

THE CHASE GROUP IS GOING TO BE MADE UP OF GUYS WHO WON CHAMPIONSHIPS BEFORE THE CHASE STARTED; GUYS WHO HAVE WON IN THE CHASE FORMAT AND PEOPLE WHO ARE HAVING THEIR FIRST SHOT AT IT, ANY ONE OF THOSE GROUPS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE? “When it comes to championships, I always like to lean toward experience. We talked a little bit about this in Bristol. It is hard to go away from the No. 48 as being the ones I would put at the top of the list even if they are not having the type of year we have seen them have in the past. Once that Chase starts, they’re still very strong at those 10 tracks; they are very strong at elevating up their game when the Chase starts. I think Harvick is just having one of those years. It seems like Childress has gotten their program much stronger. I don’t want to say he is owed one or due or anything like that. He is just a solid driver with a solid organization and they have got their act together this year. I think they are going to be really tough to beat. I’m just looking at the favorites right now. I think that we are really solid. I think we’ve got an awesome shot at the championship. What I don’t like is us spotting the No. 11 and the No. 48 50 points going into it. That is what I don’t like. If we could cut into that these next couple of weeks; I think that we have got as good a shot as anybody.”

TWO QUESTIONS - WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT ELLA’S DESIGN AND SECOND QUESTION, IS THE YEAR JIMMIE’S (JOHNSON) IS HAVING, THE SLUMP HE SEEMS TO BE IN, DOES IT FEEL DIFFERENT THIS YEAR? “The design with Ella-it was just fun going to Sam Bass’ office with her. Getting her to see all the cars that were there. She got really excited about that. We were trying to explain what she was doing and I didn’t think she really kind of grasped the concept, but, you lay some paper down in front of her with an outline sketch of a race car and give her a bunch of paint brushes and things, that is all it takes. That is pretty much what she did. She kept wanting to put her hands in the paint, so finally we let her do that. That is what you see on the paint scheme is a bunch of different mixtures of colors and brush strokes and hand prints. Of course Sam Bass putting the finishing touches on it, bringing it all together. The guys in the shop were telling me we better run really really fast with this car because it has a lot of pink on it. It is really bright and it is not a car you want to run in the back with. If that’s the inspiration that we need, then I’m fine with that. On the flip side, can’t wreck this car because she isn’t going to want to see me wreck the car she designed. So a lot of pressure this weekend (SMILES).

“As far as Jimmie, you know, with the Chase format, I’ve really not put a whole lot into what goes on during the regular season. Right now, two races to go, they could go win these next two races and I’d say they are the absolute favorite. It’s just that momentum can come so quick and so late. Yes, they are having things happen to them that we haven’t seen in the past, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get all out of the way and they go into the last 10 and just tear it up. It is only because they have won the last four that you can say that. If they hadn’t won the last four, then you could say ‘oh yea, I don’t think they are going to do it this year.’ You can never count those guys out. Until they don’t win one, you can’t count them out. Are we seeing things that are different? Yes, definitely. But we’ve seen different things for them and other teams happen and still go on to win the championship. That is the exciting thing about the Chase, you just can’t really predict who and how and what is going to happen. I like that aspect of it.”

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE RACING CHANGE HERE AT ATLANTA OVER THE YEARS AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU LIKE ABOUT IT AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DON’T PARTICULARLY CARE FOR? “The only thing that I saw different was when they reconfigured it and repaved the track, it was so fast. It just had so much grip that you ran right around the bottom. The think that I have always loved about Atlanta is how wide the grove it. Running up against the wall. Down on the bottom. That only lasted a year or two with the new pavement. After that, it went right back to the old Atlanta that everybody loved. Even that first year, it was still a pretty spectacular race; it was just really, really fast. Going back to the old configuration-that is what I loved about it was the big sweeping corners. All the different groves that you could run on. When they reconfigured it, once that grip went away in the pavement, it went back to being the same old Atlanta; it is just that the front straightaway is over here with a double dog-leg front stretch. Other than that, it is pretty much the same old really fast, hard to get a hold of…sort of like a Darlington-type race track. It is certainly one of the things I love about it.”

YOU SOUND PRETTY CONFIDENT ABOUT YOUR RACE PACKAGE HERE AT ATLANTA, NEXT WEEK GOING TO RICHMOND, YOU HAVE WON THERE, DO YOU ANTICIPATE HEADING TO RICHMOND WITH THAT SAME AMOUNT OF CONFIDENCE AND DO YOU FEEL THAT RICHMOND IS A TRACK THAT DOESN’T GET ENOUGH CREDIT FOR BEING A TOUGHER TRACK TO RUN? “Richmond is a very tough race track. The reason that I have confidence, not only here, but next weekend is we have run so well here so many times. We had a tire problem the last time we were here that we feel like we have addressed for this time plus Goodyear has maybe changed the tire up a little bit for us as well. At Richmond, I felt like we had a real legitimate shot at winning that race the last time we were there. I felt like Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) run really really strong there but we definitely cut into that gap tremendously the last time we were there. It is a tough race track. It is a short track. It is not easy to get a hold of. You go from day to night because the race starts sort of in the evening but you still slip and slide around a little bit until the sun goes down. Then you have double-file restarts which at any short track, but especially a multiple groove track like Richmond really makes it challenging and that is one of the reasons we lost the race last time we were there.”

EVERY HIGH PROFILE TEAM WANTS TO MAKE THE CHASE, BUT WHEN YOU MISS THE CHASE LIKE YOU DID IN ‘05, HOW MUCH DOES THAT HELP YOU REEVALUATE AND HOW MUCH DID IT HELP TO LAY THE GROUNDWORK FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS? “There is no doubt about it. It is very hard during the season especially if you, it depends on where you are in the Chase, if you are on, let’s say sixth through 12th and it is a tight gap, all you can do is go to the race track and put the best equipment that you have and the best setups that you know of in those race cars and go to the race track and just try to perform at your best knowing that you might be a top-10 car or maybe every once in a while, slide a top-five in there. But maybe not really with what it takes to win. You can’t test at that time; all you can do is make it in the Chase and hope that you get things turned around once the Chase starts. But, you are kind of at a disadvantage. If you are in the top-three, four or five and you‘ve locked yourself in early; you’ve got that points gap, then you have the advantage of really testing and trying new things. Even if you miss it, at least you know that doesn’t work. But, you might hit on something that does work. If you miss the Chase, then those final 10 races are basically nothing but a test. It is nothing but getting yourself ready for the next year. Trying to make sure you don’t miss the Chase because you are embarrassed. You are frustrated of the type of season that you have had. That’s what we went through. We were just angry that we weren’t running any better. We didn’t deserve to be in the Chase because we just didn’t perform well enough. It is a little bit different that you have other teammates that are in the Chase. It allows you to tap into their setups and see what they are doing and learn from it and say ‘ok, why have we not been able to make those setups work and how can we get more toward that direction and make our cars go faster or make it drive more comfortable.’ And, that’s what is constantly going on with everybody out there. It depends on what position they are in as to how they approach races and how they approach what they are going to do for the upcoming season. Right now we aren’t doing a lot of testing for next year. We’re just focused on how we can win this championship.”

LOOKING BACK TO 2001, YOU FINISHED BY JUST A BUMPER TO KEVIN HARVICK, HIS FIRST WIN, CAN YOU GIVE US YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THAT RACE? “At the time, I was really wanting to be the spoiler of that victory because we wanted to win and you see the checkered flag and you just want to go for it. But looking back on it, it was a special moment for our sport with the loss of Dale (Earnhardt, Sr.) bringing Kevin on; it was just meant to be for those guys. Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad we didn’t win that race that day. It certainly made for an even better story and great highlights to see just how close we did come to getting that victory that day.”

IS IT PRETTY MUCH A GIVEN HERE NOW THAT IF YOU RUN JUST A HANDFUL OF LAPS AND GET A CAUTION YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO COME IN AND GET FOUR NEW TIRES? WHAT ARE THE THOUGHTS ON THE TRACK AND THE TIRE BECAUSE THE SPEEDS FALL OFF PRETTY QUICKLY? “This track right now is very very abrasive. It wears tires very quickly. You are taking a real gamble by staying out there. The only thing that can work in your favor is if it is going to be a green-white-checkered and the caution comes out. Otherwise, if you stay out on tires, you are going to get beat. I just don’t think there is anyway around it. There are only a few things that are going to pop us that are going to prevent you from getting beat if you don’t come in. This is a place you almost absolutely have to have tires. I don’t think it is a gamble worth taking by staying out. Maybe, maybe, if you only have one or two laps on the tires, you might, but even then I think you are a disadvantage to guys that come out on sticker tires. Just seems like just that little bit of heat, little bit of build up you get on the tires versus the cold stickers. When you take off, the brand-new tires are just able to run wide open through one and two (turns) and just about wide open through three and four (turns) coming to the first lap and that is just such a huge advantage.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW NERVE WRACKING TO BE ON THE BUBBLE TRYING TO MAKE THE CHASE? “Oh man, I’ll tell you, being in that position it is not a fun position to be in. Every week you are just focusing on each position, each point. There is just a tremendous amount of stress. To me, there is as much stress right now for the guy that is trying to make the Chase as there are at the end of the season when it comes down to a couple of guys trying to win the championship. It is really that intense. It’s that important to be in the Chase. When you are that close to it, especially if you have been in it before or if the expectations are that you should be in it, that intensity and that kind of pressure is hard to deal with because it is the intensity of what’s going on within the team. You are already putting a lot of pressure on yourself but then it is the added pressure of the media and the fans and all the expectations from outside.”

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