An Afternoon Chat In Georgia

HAMPTON, GA.- - Jeff Gordon sat down for a chat following the final practice session for the MBNA America 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

How was the final practice run?
"It was good. We should have qualified so much better than we did yesterday. We've got a really good car. It was showing up out there in practice. The car felt great."

With Atlanta being so important with the one-engine rule, do you have a special strategy regarding your motor?
"No. We felt like Las Vegas was a real test also. This race is just a little bit longer. We're actually out of the gas more here than we are at Las Vegas. Our guys are confident and feel good about the engine program. I haven't heard anything different."

On Kevin Harvick's comment that he was tired of running with Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon for 25th place:
"Well, maybe 15th position. I feel like we have to get our cars absolutely perfect which is extremely hard to do - especially throughout the whole race. But that's what we're working at until they do something different. They're going to have to take the cars to the wind tunnel and reap for themselves what the numbers are. Until then, we'll just have to get everything out of our Chevys that we can."

If the Chevrolets struggle at Atlanta, which is such a good track for them, will that necessitate a change?
"A fast, high-banked track like this is like a crutch. It allows you to do things with your car as a driver and search around the racetrack and it doesn't show the true downforce numbers. So I feel good about this track and this weekend for us, as Chevys. We're not the best aerodynamic car out there, but that doesn't mean we can't win the race."

Will Darlington be more of a test for the Chevrolets?
"When you get to flatter tracks like Indianapolis, Michigan, Pocono, Homestead, the aerodynamics really play a role."

What did you concentrate on during final practice?
"Just getting the car to turn in the middle and just getting comfortable. This is a comfort racetrack. You can get out of whack real easily here. The one thing that didn't happen today which I wish would have was the upper grove. It didn't come in. None of us really pushed that groove up high. So you'll see it come in right away on Sunday and the track is going to change a lot from the kind of conditions we had today."

On Steve Park's return to racing at Darlington next week:
"I think Steve is a real talent, a great guy, and a hard worker. He's shown how bad he wants to get back by his dedication to rehabilitating himself. It think it's pretty ironic that he's coming back to the where he got hurt. I wish him all the best."

Do you think that some of the calls that NASCAR has made recently affect their credibility?
"I was certainly a little concerned over the pit road incident that happened last weekend in Las Vegas. The red flag situation is not that big of a deal. At Rockingham, it wasn't really a good time to throw a red and I think they made a good call there. I definitely think that if somebody is speeding on pit road and NASCAR doesn't enforce it, that's pretty ridiculous. I think there was some way that NASCAR could have enforced it by the end of the race - whether it be the same penalty or a lesser penalty because of their mistake. I still think some penalty should have been enforced there. But Sterling (Marlin) had the best car and it was his day and he won the race fair and square. But, yeah, I certainly think they've certainly been under a microscope here recently and they're going to make mistakes just like the rest of us."

As far as the Chevrolets go, would you lobby for change or would you just cope with what you have?
"Well, I think what happened is we saw how much complaining went on at Daytona and how much it did. They got changes right away. So that the precedent for everybody else. I you feel like you're behind, you need to shout and say what you think and hope that they make changes as fast as they did for them. NASCAR and Ford and Dodge set that precedent so if we don't say something, then if we feel like we're behind we'll never get back where we need to be."

Have you said anything or would you?
"I always say something. I say it no matter where we're at. When I say it, it's behind closed doors and I just give my honest opinion of where I think we're at."

What can we make the conditions on pit road safer?
"Robbie Loomis and I have talked about that a lot lately. We think that if somebody hits an individual or a crew member during a pit stop - whether he meant to do it or not - that NASCAR should enforce a penalty. The only way we're going to keep these guys safe and it we're going to keep these guys from being a little careless out there, is to make sure they enforce some of these things. We need to have wider pit roads, too. Some of these pit roads give us no room to maneuver and get into line. And you see accidents happen. Pit road is now a place where time is so important to be able to gain or lose it, so guys are trying to get every little inch on pit road. The race on pit road is as important as the one out there on the racetrack. If you see a guy peeling off to try to get an advantage, you want to block him. I think that's another thing. NASCAR needs to find a better road to enforce pit road speed. I don't think they do a very good job of that myself because I've sped several times and never gotten caught. And then I've seen other guys do the same thing. There needs to be better standard for what is considered speeding and how they're clocking that."

Is there anything that's making you go out there and push a little harder this season?
"I think the competition pushes that. When you see younger guys pushing the limits then all the competitors step it up. I'm just trying to do the same thing. Anytime you try to step things up, you have to get a little more aggressive to get the positions."

Why was your qualifying off?
"I made a mistake and got into turn three and turned in there a little bit too early and got down on the apron. It cost us some time."

Are you good for the race on Sunday?
"We've got a good car and we've got to do everything right. We've got to work our way up from 19th. I think we're capable of being up front at the end and I think we've got a shot at this thing."

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