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Looking Down The Barrel


With a stretch of 20 consecutive races without an off-weekend to conclude the NASCAR season, Jeff Gordon knows that week-to-week consistency is vital to capturing the championship. After qualifying on the front row for the Chicago race, he sat down for an extended chat. He looks ahead to the upcoming races on the schedule and discusses his chances for Sunday at Chicagoland. In addition, he gives a viewpoint on the NASCAR points system.


JG: "Track position is really important here and we're really happy to be on that front row right now. The car has been awesome all day long. What a great effort this team has put in here. I know we're going to be a little bit disappointed because we were real fast in practice and we thought we had a shot at them. Coming into the day, I didn't know what to expect. But the way practice went for us I knew we had a shot at the pole. That was very exciting. The car was just unreal all day today. The power was good. Everything was really lining up for us to have a good day and we did. I thought my first lap could have been a little bit better. I drove down into (turn) 1 and drove down in there real deep. The car turned for me so I was pretty happy about that. I got back on the gas real hard and got a push and got me up just a half a lane and that cost me some time on the first lap. I regrouped and took my time a little bit more on the second lap and made sure I could keep it on the bottom and came back and ran a decent lap. The guys wanted that pole today because they knew how good our car was. Second is the next best thing. To be up there on the front row and to have track position is good. We'll take that."

How are you feeling today?
JG: "I'm on the upslope of getting better. I don't know what I caught, but I was in bad shape Tuesday and Wednesday-- today's a lot better. I had a high fever. I'm on a decongestant and an antibiotic."

Discuss the amount of bumps in the race track.
JG:"I don't think they're the type of bumps that guys can't find a way to stay down there (on the bottom). It's just going to make it a bit more challenging for our springs and shock packages. The fast line still seems to be around the bottom. These new tracks, as we get through the weekend with the Busch race, the groove seems to get a little bit wider. I see it here. You can really unwind the steering wheel up off the corner here. So if there is somebody who can keep it right on that white line - say in the middle part of the corner and off - you might be able to get an advantage on a guy and get up and at least get a fender up underneath the guy. I think you can run two wide here, we just haven't seen it work a whole lot in the past. We're hoping that we will this time. I just noticed the bumps being a little bit more drastic this time than the last time we were here. A lot of that comes from the way the cars unload in the corners like going into turn 1-- it's real ripplely there-- and then also just past the entry going into (turn) 3 is a pretty good bump. If this track stays tight like it has in the past, and you have to free the car up, you're going to have to be a little bit careful on new tires so those bumps won't upset you."

Did you test here?
JG: "We did not test here. A couple of guys did. We tested at New Hampshire last week. We're hoping that it pays off for us there. We weren't very good there. They've really changed the track a lot over the last couple of years. We need to get better there and that track can maybe help us for some other flat tracks - even Indianapolis. Even though it's not a big track like Indy, it's still a flat track."

Is Chicagoland Speedway better now that it has been for the past two years?
JG: "It's coming into it's own personality and character. It's a fast race track. It has good banking and grip, but there are a few new bumps out there that are definitely going to challenge us all throughout the weekend. It creates it's own character."

Is Chicago (Joliet) a good area for racing?
JG: "Absolutely. I still consider it to be in the mid-west, which is a huge racing area in general whether it's NASCAR or Sprint Cars or whatever it may be. But being this close to Chicago and Milwaukee really opens up some markets that can be very good for us."

Considering the changes, is Chicagoland a speed track or a handling track or a little bit of everything?
JG: "Each time we come back here, handling becomes more of an issue as the grip in the pavement starts to go away a little bit. Now with these bumps, it's a little bit more drastic. The shock package is going to be that much more important. But it's still a really fast track and I think track position is probably the most important part and then to have a good handling car is good."

Are two tires or four tires going to be a factor in the end, or is this a place where fuel milage is how to win a race?
JG: "These days, tires aren't nearly as important. I think you could get away with no tires or two tires, but you have to have that track position."

Are you going to test at Indianapolis next week?
JG: "We're not. We've decided to test at some other places (Loudon, Watkins Glen) where we've struggled at the last couple of years. We're going to hope that we can get some good information out of our teammates who are going to be testing there. There are other tracks that are maybe a little higher on the list where we need to make gains."

How special is it for you to race at Indianapolis?
JG: "Every time I drive through into the track and see the museum and the grandstands and the garage area and the whole place, it still brings back incredible memories for me. I'm still just as in awe racing there today as I've ever been. It has everything to do with that 1994 inaugural win. I'll never forget it, that's for sure. I get asked on a daily basis what my favorite win is and I say time and time again it was winning that inaugural Brickyard 400."

Even more so than winning at Daytona?
JG: "For me, yeah. I grew up around Indiana and I know how special Indianapolis Motor Speedway is how big of a deal it was to race another race for the very first time at Indianapolis."

Overall on the NASCAR circuit, is the Brickyard 400 still as big of a deal as it was in the beginning?
JG: "Heck yeah. We're racers. We know how big Indianapolis Motor Speedway is to motorsports and the history that's gong on there. While we're at Charlotte, we're watching the Indy 500 all day long to see what's going on. And I think we're all just huge race fans. And if you're a race fan, you can't help but be excited about racing at Indianapolis."

Do you want to have Juan Montoya's F1 car at the Brickyard?
JG: "I'd like to have Montoya's car. That would be a breeze. I could win that race with one hand" (laughs).

How important are the special paint schemes to the fans?
JG: "It's obviously important because they buy up the diecast cars (cha-ching) and they get excited about it and keep responding to it and wanting more. So we try to come up with creative and fun ideas that are good. It's got to be good for the sponsors and the fans."

What's your favorite special paint scheme you've ever had?
JG: "I'd say the best-looking one we ever had was the Bugs Bunny car."

Kevin Harvick is going for a three-peat at Chicagoland Speedway. How tough is it to win three consecutive races these days?
JG: "Each time you win, it gets more and more difficult. The set-ups do change, but at a track like this they change very little. If you had a good car one year, you should be able to come back and have a good car again. But at the same time, the competition is going to step it up. It does get tougher and tougher every year. Just look at the pit strategy. It's not just having the fastest car. It's whether you take two tires or four tires, or figuring out how you're going to get that track position and how you keep it."

Discuss the NASCAR point system beyond 30th place and having to go back out on the track with a damaged car.
JG: "I was just throwing out some suggestions. You hear people talk about if they could do anything to the points, what they would do. In my thinking and in things I've experienced over the years, I think it's crazy for us to go out there and repair these cars. A perfect example is what happened with Robby Gordon last week. There's no reason to be out there-- not really gaining anything. But yet you feel like you have to be out there because the way the rules and point system is right now. Those three points or five points that you might gain could make the difference. I just think it would be nice to not have to do that. The points were created that way because they needed cars out there on the track. And now we've got very few guys that are having problems staying out there on the track. The problem then (though) is what to do with ties that are way back there.

Do you mean in the top 30 a lot of drivers are going to have the same amount of points?
JG: "Yeah, a lot of guys have the same amount of points. I didn't say it was perfect. I just said it would be nice to figure out a way to do that where you do not have to repair these race cars and go back out there just so we can finish 40th instead of 43rd."

You were good in practice today but how do you translate that into success on Sunday?
JG: "One step at a time. Our car is good. All the Hendrick cars seem to be good today. We hope we can carry that through qualifying and then start working on the race. We've got a fast race car and that's great, but that's only half the battle. When we get here on Sunday, it's going to be (a question of) how do we run fast and maintain track position at the same time."

There are only a few tracks on the circuit where you haven't won. Do you think about that a lot?
JG: "I'm aware of it. It's nice to win at a track I haven't won at. I think that's cool. But that's not my goal in the year. My goal is to get better everywhere we go and to try and win everywhere we go and to win the championship. But that's not something that if it doesn't happen, I'm going to feel like I didn't accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. It's more of the icing on the cake type of thing."



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