A Conversation With Jeff In New England

(September 14)- - Jeff Gordon sat down for a conversation with the media on Friday afternooon at New Hampshire International Speedway. He discussed the tight points race, the winless drought he recently broke, fans in the garage area, Jimmie Johnson's performance, and off-track issues that he currently faces.

Discuss the tight points race:
"It seems like nobody is really taking control of it and walking away with it. It seems like that's going to keep it pretty interesting all the way to the last race of the season. I think if anybody can get on any kind of a roll here in the next five or six races, they'll get some momentum and be able to take control of it. But we'll just have to see."

Now that you've won two races, do you have a better shot at the championship?
"Absolutely. We're still carrying momentum and excitement and confidence from those two wins. This place wasn't real kind to us the last time we were here. With the track problems, we really struggled. We really weren't that good this morning, either. We want to qualify up front. This is a place where track position is real important - especially if the track has any problems. Hopefully with the adjustments we're making now, we can pick it up for qualifying and come out of here with a strong finish. It's been a good track for us in the past and hopefully it will be again on Sunday."

On the New Hampshire track conditions this weekend:
"Well, they didn't do anything to it that I know of. It's got good grip, but it's pretty much the same. If they put some sealer down, that's certainly a good thing. I hope that the temperatures are cool because that will certainly help. But the potential is there (for the track to break up) until they do something different."

Do you think there should be fewer racefans allowed in the garage area?
"I don't know. There needs to be a time and place for when to do interviews and when to sign autographs and when to work on the car. We want everybody to continue to have access and everything, and yet respect the time that we have with the team and the car. I don't know how you balance all that out. We all just try to do the best we can. We walk and sign and go in the trucks to talk to the team. But it seems like the number of people in the garage area has really grown. It makes it more difficult for them to get autographs and it makes it more difficult for us to do our job. We just all have to find a balance. I don't have a solution for it."

How difficult was it to go through the 11 month stretch without winning a race?
"It was very difficult to go through. There was a lot of pressure from outside. There was a lot of pressure from inside because we all want to win and we all want to be a threat each weekend. It was very frustrating. The greatest thing about that win at Bristol was how it gave us some relief. We finally got it off our backs and don't have to worry so much about getting a win and now we've got two. All we really need to do now is just focus on this championship and on being as good as we possibly can every weekend. The burden is gone now. It's like we had extra things going on. We were trying to stay in the championship and win races, but you're also trying to shut everybody up (the media) from talking about the losing streak. The more they talked about it, the bigger story it became with each race that went by. We were asked more questions about it and got more frustrated about it."

What would you do to improve this race track?
"I don't think we'd really complain a whole lot about it if the pavement hadn't come up that last time. That was a real issue the last time we were here. Whatever they do to it, the pavement should not come up. If they have to put a sealer on it or whatever they have to do, it shouldn't crumble up or come apart. That's a real dangerous situation. If it were up to me, I'd want to see ten degrees more banking in the track. I love the efforts that Bob Bahre and his group have put into this place. They want to please everybody and put the best facility out there. I hope they can find a solution. All I really care about is that this pavement doesn't come up."

Should they just bulldoze the place and start from scratch?
"I don't know. That's not my money. I think the fans want to see a good race. In order to put on a good race, there are more ways they can work with this track like more banking. It's just way too flat as far as I'm concerned."

Discuss Jimmie Johnson's 2002 season thus far:
"He's been amazing. He's done a great job. I love having him as a teammate and as my driver of that car. It's been neat to see the team's chemistry come together that fast and keep it strong all year. They're real fighters."

Have you taught him a lot?
"Not necessarily on the race track. He does a good job on his own. I've probably learned as much from him as he's learned from me. But off the race track, there are a lot of experiences I've been through like championships and just the business of racing as a whole and dealing with the sponsors and all. I've kind of been there for him when he has questions or needs help."

How do you spend time away from the track?
"With friends and family. Motorcycling and boating help me to step away from it all. I find a lot of things to do, but spending time with friends and family is probably the biggest thing."

Are you focused on any one driver as your biggest challenge for the Winston Cup title?
"To me, it's just all about focusing on our own program and fighting for every position, every lap, every race and making sure you're there at the finish and getting the points. I'm not really looking at any one competitor out there-- especially as tight as it is right now. We're just focused on our own thing. We try to capitalize on race tracks that are good for us and try to get better on tracks where we've struggled. We have to be smart."

Discuss the timing of misfortune at Richmond that hit both you and Sterling Marlin:
"I went up to him today and told him to stop having bad luck. I told him he's messing my deal up. It's been weird how every time he's had back luck, and we've had an opportunity to really gain in the points, something happens to us too. I think that's just coincidence. That's why we've got to focus on our own program. And that's kind of why the points are they way they are right now."

Can personal difficulties away from the track affect a driver at the race track?
"I know what I've gone through and it hasn't been fun and it hasn't been easy. I feel like I've been able to deal with it and get through it and put that aside when it's time to go to work. That's what makes us professionals. You've got to put that stuff off to the side when it's time to do your job. I know that what Tony Stewart is going through right now is no fun and is difficult. It doesn't matter how difficult it is. We've all got to find a way to get through it and not let it affect our performances."

(From Team Monte Carlo)

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