Q: Obviously Saturday night, got to go for broke. Your thoughts about coming in here Saturday.
JEFF GORDON: Well, after last year, this is going to be easy. We went through so much last year that I think it allows us to be more relaxed, be more prepared knowing that you got to race as hard as you can till the final lap, till you cross that start/finish line. It can change every split second.
We’ve run good in recent weeks, which I’m excited about. We tested here. We didn’t have a great test, I’ll be honest. But I feel like we learned what not to do, made some big changes to improve the car as the test went on. That’s certainly going to benefit us this weekend.
This is certainly a track I enjoy. I think we’re up for the challenge. So looking forward to Saturday night.
Q. You mentioned the fact you were in a specific place last year. How can it help you that you were in the same spot last year and you did make the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: I’ll be honest, I think we were in a tougher spot last year than we are this year.
I think the way it prepared us was knowing no matter what happens, you can’t ever give up. You just have to put every bit of effort into every single moment, every lap. If the car’s off, you got to work on it. Sometimes take big swings at it. If your car’s perfect, don’t get complacent.
Pit strategy, as we saw, really played out huge here the last time. Of course, the rain, all that played a factor as well. It’s going to be crazy and intense. There’s so many factors that play into who’s going to make it in, who’s not, it’s certainly going to be an exciting race to watch and be a part of.
Q. How are you this race weekend? Are you any different?
JEFF GORDON: I’m a lot more relaxed this year than I was last year. Last year I’d never been through that before, so I was pretty nervous. Obviously the way the race went for us, it was probably one of the most stressful situations I’ve ever been through.
Kind of glad to have the rain, not only because it seemed like our car came to life after that, but also kind of breathe and relax. Things were going pretty bad up to that point, then it turned around in a big way for us.
To me, I feel very relaxed this week. I’m anxious to get the race started. I feel like our chances are good. I know that our team has been in this situation and knows how to fight and overcome this type of adversity.
I’m confident with the group we have going into it.
Q. How critical will your first practice session be?
JEFF GORDON: We’re practicing during the day for a night race. That’s why we tested here. We tested at night. That was huge for us. It’s not a typical thing that the track does here when you test. It was one of those things where we asked for it and they were able to, you know, pull that together and get us that valuable time on the track under more suitable race conditions. There were quite a few cars here, as well. I think the conditions were pretty much what we’re going to be expecting and better than what we’re going to practice in.
So I think the value that we are going to get out of our track time here is going to be able to compare what we had in the test if we continue to make improvements like we did in the test.
Q. How much will you want to know where Kurt Busch is on the track?
JEFF GORDON: I won’t ask. To me, even last year in the closing laps, it changes every single lap. I mean, you don’t really want to focus on that. You just want to focus on pushing as hard as you can.
I hope we’re in a similar situation as last year where we’ve got the tires, we’ve got the car, and I’m able to focus on go get that next car, go get that next car. That was the nice thing about last year was the way it ended. You never were thinking about what other guys were doing, you were only thinking about what you were doing. That’s something else we take from last year, try to incorporate into this weekend. Focus on what you’re doing, don’t focus on what anybody else is doing.
Q. How impressive is it what he’s done with a one‑car team this season?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it’s definitely been impressive. They’ve had a lot of speed this year. They’ve really come together. Any time you see that out of a smaller team,it’s a great story with Kurt, as well, with all that he’s been through, to be able to do it with that smaller team.
I look for them to have a lot of speed again Saturday night.
Q. The 78 has been fast all year. They’ve struggled a lot on pit road. You seem to be more consistent. Do you think you have an advantage on pit road?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think we have a slight advantage on pit road. I think the advantages kind of weigh out with the speed that they’ve had. If we can have one of our better‑performing racecars this weekend and the pit stops, definitely we’re going to have a good advantage.
But, I mean, the reason why we’re in this situation is we’ve had inconsistent speed this year with some other issues. They’ve had speed, but inconsistent pit stops, some other issues that have kept them from being higher up in the points.
I mean, there’s a lot of teams out there, more so than just Kurt, that we are going to have to deal with. Anybody can have that breakout race that you didn’t expect.
All I care about is we bring our A game and perform at a level we’re proud of when we leave here.
Q. You talk about not focusing in the race on Kurt or anybody else, just on your own program. This week have you looked at some of the stuff? NASCAR has put out different scenarios that have to happen for you positively or negatively.
JEFF GORDON: John Edwards shared some of it with me because we thought it was comical. I mean, it definitely put a smile on our face when we were starting to go through some of the scenarios. I think I stopped him about halfway through and said, Stop, I really don’t want to know any more. It gets too confusing. It’s going to change when the green flag drops anyway.
Q. FOX put out some quotes from their analysts. They were asked to analyze the contenders, what they thought. Darrell Waltrip commented on you and Brad. He said, Gordon is going through a tough time in his career personally. I think he doubts himself. It affects the race team. They feel it, see it and hear it. I wonder why he thinks you doubt yourself and you’re going through a tough time.
JEFF GORDON: That’s no revelation. I don’t see anything unique about that.
I think this year I’ve admitted there’s been times when I’ve lacked in confidence when qualifying poorly. I’ve lacked in confidence many times throughout my career, but that’s because the car speaks to you. If you go through, let’s say three weeks in a row, where the car is not speaking to you, you’re not getting the speed out of it, things aren’t going well, I question everything.
I question our setups, I question my driving, I’ll question tires, engines, everything. That’s just normal for me, and I would say most people.
The one thing I also agree with, when that green flag drops, if that car sticks in turns, stops, then there’s nobody that’s going to have more confidence thanme. Same with my team.
You know, Pocono, I love Pocono, because after the Pocono race, my team is high‑fiving, fired up, Yeah, that was awesome. That’s because I was making passes on restarts, and we drove to the front. We haven’t done enough of that this year.
There’s no doubt that our confidence has been tested, mine personally. There’s no doubt that this team is not riding high like some of the other teams that are out there. That’s why we’re 11th or wherever we’re at in points right now.
So I don’t dispute any of those things. That doesn’t change what our mission is on Saturday night, though.
Q. When it takes all you’ve got to get into the Chase, how much does that set you back?
JEFF GORDON: I’ll be honest. For us, it didn’t set us back at all. What set us back was the throttle issue that we had in Chicago. I mean, we came out of this race, went to Chicago, I think we had a car capable of winning, butcertainly top 5. If you would have matched that up with some of our other performances, take out Phoenix, I mean, I think we were capable of being in the top 3 or 4 in points, maybe even a slight contender.
If we just sneak our way in through the race where we do the bare minimum, but it actually gets us in, that’s different. When we did it like we did it last year, Whoa, that was awesome.
The track, it’s all about your car at that track, at that moment. You could have the worst year you’ve ever had and hit it. We’ve seen that happen this year with different teams, where they just hit it. All of a sudden it’s like, Where did they come from? How did they win that race? It can happen to anybody, and it certainly can happen to us.
Once we get in it, I feel we’re stronger at this point now than earlier in the season when things happened that kept us out of being a championship and Chase contender. But I do think we’re much stronger right now if we make it in, our chances of being in the top 5 in points are actually pretty good.
Q. So much racing now is determined on pit road and who wins on the last restart. Has that worked against your driving style?
JEFF GORDON: At some tracks it has. I mean, restarts have definitely not been my strong suit this year. I think it depends on the track, it depends on the tire. This past weekend in Atlanta, our restarts were really good. I mean, you can look at some of the spin in the tires at the start/finish. Some of it’s the line. Now that we’re double‑file restarts, that leader controls a lot of things. To me, 1st and 3rd, a lot of times have more of an advantage over 2nd than we’ve ever seen before.
Pit strategy and pit stops and track position just continue to increasingly get more and more important. That’s just the way technology and aerodynamics are these days.
For me Saturday night, it’s going to be crucial for me to have good restarts. That’s been a thing that I’ve criticized in myself. I would say definitely my team, you know, recognizes that hasn’t been our strong suit. But I like to surprise them and everybody else. You know, this is a track where I feel like we’re actually pretty good on restarts.
Q. With the experience of going through the year here where you didn’t make the Chase, is that something that has come to mind or just now that you mention it to you? Is that something you think about?
JEFF GORDON: Every experience you go through is valuable, positives and negatives. I can tell you not making the Chase is tough. I mean, you’re always looking for something to get behind and build momentum, step it up. When you don’t make the Chase, that’s tough. It’s hard to rebound from that.
Yet we’re motivated by it, as well, in the last 10 races to get whatever it was we were lacking turned around. I think that it proved to be good for us because we went into the next season much stronger.
Q. Is it a motivator now?
JEFF GORDON: It is slightly a motivator. At this point you don’t accept not making it. You’re only focused on what you have to do. I think if we do our job, this is a great track for us, we can make it in.
Try not to really think too much about that until that time came, if it does come.
Q. You’re in a situation where you have a teammate in Kasey Kahne, but he’s guaranteed a wild card spot. If it came down to itSaturday night where you were on the cusp of being in the top 10, but Kasey was there, team orders?
JEFF GORDON: The thing is we’re in a unique situation where we all have something on the line. I mean, it’s forcing us really to just go out and race as hard as we can and all get the best finishes.
There are still scenarios, though, in the right situation could play out to help us if we needed it.
But Kasey, from our meetings we had this week, he wants to be in the top 10, utilize those wins that he has. Jimmie knows that right now he’s not leading the points when they start the Chase. Dale knows that there’s an outside chance that they wouldn’t make it in.
We all have a lot to push hard for and not take into consideration too much about how we’re going to help our teammates in those situations.
But if we get into it, all right, Kasey is not going to win the race or get into the top 10 in points, there’s a chance I can, then that would certainly be an open option. For other teammates as well. If Jimmie is not going to win the race, is there a situation that would help me or Kasey or Junior even?
You have to consider all options. When we left our meeting this week, talking about just preparing for this race and everything else going on, I think it was pretty clear we all felt like we got to go race hard and not overthink that.
Q. You don’t expect Kasey to give up those six points in the Chase to get you in?
JEFF GORDON: Of course not. Who would? Now, you know, unless Rick Hendrick has a different agenda… He’s the boss so I listen to what he says (laughter).
Q. Out of the first 25, is there one race you would like to have back?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, several, several. First Bristol, Texas. Those two seem to stand out to me. Martinsville. I think we had a shot at winning that race.
Yeah, I mean, we’re in the position we’re in because a lot of bad things have happened to us this year. There’s been some reason we just ran poorly. I’d like to have those races back, too.
But the ones that we were running good at, little things happened that cost us big in the points as well as a shot at winning, love to have those back.
Q. Anxiety the next 48 hours? Is it tough being in the position you’re at, where you just want to see how it plays out, period?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I said this last year. You don’t really know until you’re getting ready to go out for the first practice session. And last year I was feeling calm. In the first practice session, I was a little nervous. You know from hour, two hours you have on track, you want to get the most out of it, you want to be productive and get you prepared. Same thing with qualifying.
I feel very relaxed right now. Over the next, you know, 24 hours, till we get on track tomorrow at noon, I don’t think I’ll be anxious. But at noon when we get on track, I’ll be a little anxious the first couple laps.
Then the car, again, will speak to me. If the car is feeling good, I’m going to feel good, the team is going to feel good. You start to build on it in that way.
Q. A couple weeks ago Kasey had a chance to move Kenseth out of the way for a win at Bristol. He didn’t do it. A lot of people applaud that. If you were in a situation where you could drive through somebody to make the Chase on Saturday night, what do you do in that situation? Is that fair game?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it all comes down to who it is, how they raced you, how you’ve raced them in the past. It’s one of those things where you stick your nose in there. You’re not going to give anybody an inch. If you’re leading and they stick their nose in there, you’re not going to give them that. You’re going to force them not to wreck you.
On the flipside, if you dive in there, you feel you have a fender inside of them, they don’t give it up, you’re going to take it.
You know, the intensity of this race, being in this situation, is very high. It forces people to make more aggressive moves. So I think you understand that and your competitors understand that. That’s a part of it.
That’s certainly not the way I’d want to do it. I probably won’t do that. I had the opportunity to do that at Atlanta last year. A lot of people said, Oh, you could have made it in the Chase right then and there, all you had to do was wreck the 11.
I’m not going to wreck a guy by just running straight in the back of him. That’s not racing. But if you’re racing the guy, you guys make contact, then that’s where you can start to draw the line or kind of understand the situation.
Kasey, that’s the kind of guy I want to have as a teammate and who I want to race out there, is a guy that’s going to race hard, race clean, take chances, but he’s not just going to go out there and wreck you.
Could he have roughed him up a little bit more? Maybe. I thought Kenseth was tough. I don’t know their history. It worked out the way it did.
Chase, that’s a totally different situation. Two young, very aggressive drivers. Certainly Chase being the younger. He didn’t go into that corner going, I’m going to take him out to win this race. He said, I see an opportunity and he went for it. That’s what young guys do.
You can sit there and criticize him if you want, but I think we all want to see young guys be aggressive. We want to see old guys be more aggressive, right? Either way it’s going to give somebody things to talk about.
Q. Roughing up somebody is acceptable. If whoever is racing you for a spot, comes down to you or them, regardless of who it is, how they’ve raced you, don’t you expect if they get to your bumper that you arefair game, and understandably something is likely to happen?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely.
Q. To be honest, to get in the Chase, if you have to block somebody or hit somebody, you’ve got to do it. How do you not go back to your team or your owner and say, I wasn’t going to wreck ‘em, we’re not in the Chase this year? I’ve denied us the opportunity for a championship because I have higher morals. At the end of the day this is about winning.
JEFF GORDON: Well, yeah, wow. Good thing you’re not out there racing (laughter). You’d have a lot of enemies.
You know, again, I look at every scenario, every situation different. For me to just right now sit here and say, I don’t care who is in front of me, if I can get to his bumper, I’m turning him to win the race, to get in the Chase, is not very realistic.
In the heat of the moment, with the intensity that’s going to be in this race, you don’t always know what you’re going to do. Sometimes that’s the driving force behind you making those choices and decisions.
In a better scenario for me to think about, I want to feel like I’m running the guy down, I’ve tried him on the outside, I’ve tried him on the inside, he’s blocked everything I have and left me no other option, kind of made the choice for me.
Let’s say the guy passes me, I just go in there and knock him out of the way. When you hit somebody, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know if he’s going to back into the fence, move up the track a lane or two, or not even go up the track at all. He might be able to get back to you and wreck you. You don’t know what’s going on behind you.
This is the thing about this race. You could hit that guy, he collects you, you fall back to 3rd, somebody else does something on the last lap, and you might be out. You might even win the race and something happens on the last lap and you might not make it.
You have to race as hard as you can, make the best choices you can, be smart about it. If you decide to make that big, aggressive move that ticks somebody off, do it and be ready for the consequences because you still got 10 weeks ahead of you.
This is not the last race of the year.