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Return To The Rainbow


CHARLOTTE, N.C.- - The 2000 NASCAR season concluded on a chilly Georgia afternoon in mid-November. It was ESPN's final broadcast of a NASCAR race. It was Darrell Waltrip's final race in NASCAR's elite series. And it was the last time that Jeff Gordon drove the rainbow-painted DuPont Chevrolet in a televised race. Gordon was concluding his first full season with Robbie Loomis as his crew chief. He won three times, but could only muster a ninth place finish in the points standings. Gordon captured the pole position at Atlanta and finished fourth in the race. Jerry Nadeau scored his first career victory by holding off the late Dale Earnhardt. A lot has changed in less than four years. After amassing 52 victories, 33 poles, and three championships, Gordon began anew with a "fire and flames" paint scheme in 2001. He captured the championship that season and has been driving the flames car ever since. But for one evening, he'll go back to the future to drive the rainbow-painted DuPont car in Saturday night's Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Before taking to the track in the familiar paint scheme, Gordon participated in a Q&A session with the racing media.


DOES THE INTENSITY AND THE STYLE OF THIS RACE CHANGE AT ALL?
JG: "No, not at all. It's an All Star event. That name fits this race. It's every thing that your team can throw together and put together the most awesome car, engine and package out there. I love this race, it's a lot of fun."

HOW DOES THIS ALL-STAR EVENT COMPARE TO ALL-STAR EVENTS IN OTHER SPORTS?
JG: "Our sport is so unique in itself that it's hard to have the same type of event. As far as I'm concerned there's not a race that we run all year that's more exciting than this one. I would say it ranks up there with the best All Star events of any sport."

IS IT EASY TO GET CAUGHT UP IN THE HYPE OF THE EVENT?
JG: "Today I'm just focused on getting the car running as best we can. I'm a little disappointed. We had a day practice and we're not practicing at night since it's a night race. There is a lot of build up and there should be, but from the competitor side it's just all about getting the car dialed in and going out there and racing hard. The intensity is there from the start of the race and builds as the night goes on. You get in to that last 20 lapper and that's when things really get intense."

ON THE MEMORIES OF DRIVING WITH THE OLD PAINT SCHEME
JG: "I can't really see what it looks like from where I'm sitting. You're certainly not going to miss that car. It's bright and always has been. I'm having a lot of fun being in it again. It's cool to bring it back and it symbolizes a lot of success for our race team and Hendrick Motorsports with the 20th anniversary celebration. It's been ten years since I won my first race. I think it's awesome to have it back out. I just wish I had the mustache and mullet to go with it."

ON THE $1 MILLION AT STAKE AFFECTING A DRIVER'S MINDSET
JG: "I think it makes this race that much more important. That's why things are more intense around here than it normally is. All Star event, no points, you think it'd be more relaxed but it's really not. This race is a big one. It's very prestigious. It pays a tremendous amount of money to win. Pretty much all the money is on top. You don't want to come out of here second or anywhere else. You want to be number one. We're working hard on that right now. Tomorrow the butterflies will definitely be there. There's not many races where you have the nervousness and the butterflies but this is definitely one of them."

ON MOVING THE ALL-STAR RACE AWAY FROM CHARLOTTE
JG: "I don't know how everybody feels. I think it depends on where we put it. I like it here. I love Charlotte. It's nice to be home for a couple of weeks. My preference would be to have this is an off-weekend and for us to do All Star race during the week leading up to the (Coke) 600. Other than that, I think it should always stay in Charlotte."

ON DARLINGTON LOSING A RACE IN 2005
JG: "No matter what the schedule is, I'm going to focus a couple of weeks ahead and that's it. It's a much bigger deal for our teams, our truck drivers, preparation of race cars and trying to get cars to events. That's where it becomes a big deal. Where we go and when we go, I don't put as much emphasis on it. As far as I'm concerned all the races are important. I just want to keep Darlington on the schedule. I'm a big fan of Darlington. I wish it was a Southern 500. As long as we have one event I'll be happy."

ON DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY AT THE ALL-STAR RACE
JG: "I definitely think you're going to take some risks. When it comes down to the closing laps of any event you're willing to take risks to get that victory. Knowing the points aren't on the line, you might step that up a little. I'm not the type that wants to win anything by knocking a guy out of the way and putting him in the wall. I'm going to do everything I can to race hard and race clean and hope that I get into victory lane that way. You race people the way they race you, if you race a guy hard and clean and you don't feel like you're not getting the same courtesy back, you have to take things to a different level."

IS TONY STEWART RACING CLEAN?
JG: "He's been making some mistakes out there. I don't know if it's from aggressive driving or frustration. You have to ask him that. As far as I'm concerned I haven't seen anything that's like dirty driving. [Last week] he got loose and got up into me. I wasn't happy about it and I'm still not happy about it. I can't necessarily say that was from him being overly aggressive. I think it's a mistake he made. I think it's in his best interest not to make too many mistakes."

ARE DRIVERS CONCERNED ABOUT RACING NEAR HIM ON THE TRACK?
JG: "I think he's one of the best drivers out there. I think we're all concerned about guys making mistakes when you are around them. Some you can trust some you can't. I think he has dropped stuff down a notch in terms of the comfort level some of us have. I have all the confidence in the world he'll step that back up."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT TWO RACE DATES AT TEXAS NEXT YEAR?
JG: "It doesn't have as much to do with the race track as it does the race car. I'm looking forward to going there twice. It's a big event. The fans in that area or the people that like to travel to that race track to watch NASCAR racing is big and they deserve a second date. I think that's been a case for a few years now. I'd like to see more side- by- side racing there. The only thing they could do to the race track is do what Homestead did and put some variable banking in there."

ON THE INDY 500
JG: "I watched a little bit of pole day before we raced the past weekend. I'll keep my ears open to what's going on. On Sunday we'll watch up to the last minute until we have to go to the driver's meeting."

ON THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN RAY EVERNHAM AND CHAD KNAUS AS CREW CHIEFS
JG: "They're still two different people. I think Chad learned a lot from Ray. I'm sure some of the qualities that he learned from Ray he still carries with him now. I think its more personality than anything else. Chad does have some personality traits that are similar to Ray. What I like about Chad is that the guy had to really work hard to work his way up through the ranks. The guy was a fabricator in our body shop and now a crew chief. He was obviously paying a lot more attention than we gave him credit for."

ON MAKING THE MOST OF HIS SPARE TIME REGARDING TV APPEARANCES
JG: "I rely on Jon Edwards (public relations rep) to research a lot of that information and background. We get a lot of requests by newspaper, radio and television. We try to get our biggest bang for our buck. It's not importance, its impact for our sponsors. We know every year we're going to do something Totally NASCAR and we try to fit in our schedule what's going to be best. We love to do things like the Regis & Kelly show and certain interviews with magazines. You know you want to put it in on the schedule and you try to figure the best way to do it that doesn't take away from racing."

IS IT EASY FOR YOU TO BE IN FRONT OF THE TV CAMERA?
JG: "I've had experience reading tele-prompters through commercials. We do a lot of videos for sponsors and different people. You have to have a comfort level on the other side of the camera. I do and I enjoy that. It wasn't always like that. Ask my parents about the first time I had cameras around, I was the shyest guy that there was. I've come a long way from that. I do enjoy it. I think over the years I've been able to get comfortable in front of it and have fun with it."




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