Jeff Looks Ahead and Looks Back

CHARLOTTE, N.C.- - After eleven races in the 2001 season, the DuPont team has gone from rebuilding mode to championship contenders. A victory at Las Vegas and a string of consistent top five finishes have propelled Gordon to the runner-up spot in the Winston Cup points standings. Heading into Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, Gordon is just 14 points behind Dale Jarrett. Coming off a dramatic victory in The Winston, Gordon sat down for an interview to discuss the upcoming weekend.

Since you're from Indiana, are you interested in how Tony Stewart's going to pull off running both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 this weekend?

"Oh, sure. I think we're all interested in seeing how he does. Tony is a very talented racecar driver and he's got a good opportunity here to run well with Joe Gibbs and he's got a great opportunity up at Indy. For a guy who's tried to do it before and who used to run those types of cars, I think I understand why he wants to do it. For me, and maybe for some of these other guys - never really being in those IRL cars at Indy - it makes it a little harder for us to think about doing that. It's an awful lot of racing in one day. It's got to wear on you, I'm sure."

Is that something you'd ever like to do?

"If I had driven an IRL car and had gotten involved in that series a while back, I probably would be interested. Those cars are a lot different than what we're running. And when I do have a day off, I enjoy it and feel like it gets me rejuvenated to do my best in a Winston Cup car."

Are you so used to pacing yourself that you can run the 600 and win it without a problem?

"I tell you these days, there's not much pacing - even in a 600-mile race. The guys have the cars working so well, the engines work well, and there's really very little pacing. It's just go, go, go. I think what you do have to really consider in a 600-mile race is that we start with it being somewhat in the daytime and the track temperature's going to go down considerably by the end of the race. And the track is going to change on you. For me, the whole challenge of this race is staying up with the changing conditions."

Is that a big deal with the new tire this year?

"Well, this tire seems to be very consistent. We are seeing that it's pretty slick during the daytime, so that will make for some interesting daytime racing at the 600."

Does the heat affect you very much?

"Oh yeah, it does. I just have to make sure I stay hydrated and keep a lot of fluids in me. I drink a ton of water as it is, and I think that's one of the biggest keys. The weather looks like its going to be cooler this weekend, but if it's really hot like it was last weekend for The Winston, we'll probably run the air conditioning for the 600."

It's been said that a 600-mile race favors a veteran driver like you. Do you think it takes an experienced driver to win?

"I would agree that it takes somebody that's got experience and knows how to bring the car home. It's a long race. You've got to have patience, you've got to know when to take chances and when not to. I think it takes an experienced race team in general. You've got to make sure you don't make mistakes on pit stops because there are a lot of pit stops, and you've got to be able to stay up with the changing conditions of the racetrack. I think that's the biggest key to the 600-mile race."

After racing 500 miles, do you have to take a different mental approach for the last 100 miles?

"It's a long race, I can tell you that. The most frustrating part of the whole day (for me) is when they say, 'Halfway', because at the halfway point you're thinking it has got to be getting close to being over. Knowing it's only halfway doesn't set very well. There is a lot that you have to do to really make sure you don't put a whole lot into what lap you're on. It's a long race. You've got to be there for the entire distance. If you're there at the end, you're going to have a shot at winning - especially if you're on the lead lap."

What are the characteristics of a "winning" car at the Coca-Cola 600?

"Well the winning car means a winning team in my mind. A winning team can make that car do a lot of different things throughout the night. Certainly conditions are going to change a lot as the sun goes down and the night goes on and it gets cooler and the track temperature goes down, the track is definitely going to do something different. You've got to make sure you don't panic if the car's not right when they drop the green, and then you've got to be able to make sure you are adjustable and that you go the right direction with your adjustments. Communication among the team and those pit stops are very important."

Regarding the HANS device, did you made any changes to your headrest during the week between The Winston and the Coca-Cola 600?

"Yeah, I extended the right side headrest and brought it a little bit closer to me so that when I do take a hit at that angle, it helps guide my head and makes the HANS device work a little more efficiently."

Why do you think the Charlotte track is so popular?

"This track has a lot of unique characteristics that just make it a real challenging racetrack, but also a fun racetrack. This has just been one of those tracks that everyone really likes. You don't hear people complain. Even though there are bumps out there and cracks, and all these things, it is just a very forgiving racetrack where you can run the bottom, the middle, the top - it's one of the tracks that I enjoy the most."

Rumor has it that there are pots of gold underneath those "Humpy Bumps." What do you think is under there?

"I will say that I do think Humpy Wheeler plans bumps in his racetracks - even when they repaved this place, it kept certain characteristics that made this track unique and challenging and he kept them in it. It just makes us drivers and engineers and teams all work a little bit harder to get around 'em. There's no telling what he might have under there."

Has your season gone pretty much the way you've wanted it to so far?

"I'm real happy with the way things have gone. We've been battling for wins and that's all you can ask for is to be in the position to win. It's up to us to pull a victory through. We have gotten one (points-paying) win and we have to get some more, that's for sure. We need to get back in victory lane. That would do a lot for us right now because we are having a great season. We're right where we need to be in points. We've been very consistent. I couldn't be much happier other than having some more wins."

Do you think the elite drivers, the ones with more experience, are starting to rise again in NASCAR?

"No, I think what makes for a championship is the entire team. It's not just the drivers; it's not just the team, its everybody. They've all got to work together. We've showed exactly that this year. Last year we struggled. We weren't very strong. We weren't battling for wins. We didn't battle for the championship. We got our team together and started working together as a team. We started building better racecars and I feel like I've adjusted a little bit to the new tire and the new spring combination that we've got. And boom - all of a sudden we've become an entire unit. And most of the people on this team have a lot of experience. So once you get the things to click, that's when the experience really pays off."

The 600 broadcast will be carried on the Armed Services Radio Network and literally heard on every military base in the world. From that aspect, what does Memorial Day mean to you?

"We all live in a pretty good country and are pretty proud of it. If those guys hadn't done what they've done for us over the years in these wars, we wouldn't have the freedom and quality of life that we have today. So it's very important for us to recognize that. And I'll tell you what; it takes big man to do that. That's real. We think about our lives and how dangerous racing can be, but they are choosing to put themselves in those situations and we certainly should commend them every chance we get."

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Copyright 2001 Jeff Gordon Online.
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