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NASCAR WCUP: Jeff Gordon Interview: Winning at Michigan

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
June 11, 2001

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo - race winner Note: Gordon takes his second win in-a-row, scores the 100th win for Hendrick Motorsports, and takes over the Winston Cup Series point lead by 21 points.

Jeff Gordon
(When Ricky Rudd took you there near the end, were you nervous?) "Heck yeah. I saw he had a run on me and he was really strong down the straightaways. When he got down inside me, I just hoped I could get down beside me and slow his momentum down. He almost had me cleared. He was just inches away from getting up in front of me. If he had gotten up in front of me it would have been all over. When I did start to slow his momentum down, I started coming back beside him going into (turn) one. I knew I had to drive in there deep and I'd been able to drive in pretty deep all day long, and I've never drove so deep into turn one and it stuck. We wiggled. I know we both wiggled a little bit going in there. When I looked in my mirror and saw he was back there, I just jumped on the gas. And man, I knew I had to run like crazy then 'cause I knew he'd have another run on me coming off of (turn) four just like he did that one. He had the car to beat there

at the end. He was strong. If he'd have gotten ahead of me, really, I had nothing for him. I think all day Ricky struggled a little bit with track position. He had good track position, but we had better. I think had he gotten ahead of me throughout the day, he would have been extremely tough to hold off."

(Considering how strong you were all day long, were you surprised by how quickly Ricky Rudd was able to get to you?) "I wasn't surprised because I know how strong Robert Yates's engines are and I know how strong a driver Ricky is. He knows how to get around this place. We made a few adjustments to be good on a short run and I don't feel like they were quite as good as we hoped they would be. But Ricky could really get up off the corner and I was pushing a little bit up off. Knowing that, I was really trying to run his line and take some air off his nose and allow him not to be able to get on the gas quite as hard. But he was still able to do it. After California, we had a great run and finished second and we are always taking notes on how we can be better. All I said was that it felt like we were getting beat on the straights a little bit. And man, they went to work and we were really strong down the straightaways today. But you get, that No. 28 car and let him get a sniff of you and you get a draft going, and you'd better make that car extra wide. So I wasn't really surprised. And I actually was surprised that I was able to get back by him. I really thought he had me."

(Have you had a chance to talk to Rick Hendrick?) "I did talk to Rick in Victory Lane by phone. And the only thing that takes away from this win right now is that we couldn't have Rick and Pop here. That's what makes Rick such a special person because his family means more to him than anything - especially his dad. And he wants to be right there for him. And he's going through a tough time and he's going to go through some surgery tomorrow and we're praying for him. We hope that a win like this can maybe get his spirits up a little bit more. I know Rick was excited. He was thrilled and he would have loved to have been here. But that's more important."

(Up until the last couple of cautions, did you have something to catch Sterling Marlin?) "We did there at the end. He lost a little something. He wasn't quite as good at the end. But when he was behind me, there was a time when he just wouldn't let up. He was relentless. I was doing everything I could to hold him off. And I actually used the car up trying to keep him behind me. The tires really fell off and that's why he and Rudd got by me before we came into pit that one time. I was pretty nervous about Sterling. For him to not only be that strong, but to be that strong right behind me said a lot about that racecar today. It came down to a pit stop at that time. My guys cranked out another good stop. We got to pit road good, got off pit road good. Once we got into clean air, we were really able to stretch it out - especially on new tires. I think you saw there when Ricky hung with us. But on those last couple of stops, Sterling seemed to lose it a little bit. We were running them down pretty good there even though we had to go through a lot of that traffic. It would have been interesting, but I think we had something to catch him. Even at that time, I was worried about Rudd. He passed me one time when we were in all that traffic and I didn't want him to get in front of me because I knew he'd be tough to get by. Luckily, some things happened and I was able to get back by him. I made some pretty incredible moves that got me through a lot of cars and I'd look up and Rudd was right there. I couldn't shake him. He was tough."

(When you and Ricky Rudd had to pit there at the end together and then come back in a second time, did you try to work together?) "We were working real hard to get ahead of one another. I think he knew how strong my car was; I knew how strong his car was. It's funny how things happen. When we had our problem, I was just thinking we needed to get everything we could to see if we could make some moves and get up there. If Ricky hadn't had problems also, he would have checked out. I mean it was over. For us both to have trouble was pretty ironic. And for us both to have to come back up through there was kind of strange. I kept a close eye on him and was just trying to work my way through traffic.

(What do you think of Robbie's comment that this team is on the edge of wrecking?) "I only know one way and that's to go for it. When I've got a car that's capable of winning, I want to win. People always ask me what I like about racing and what keeps bringing me back. And I always say, 'Winning'. And when I've got the car and the team and the pit stops to do it, I'm going to get everything out of it that I can. You don't take a car that's that good and not put it on the edge when you've got to, to make up some spots like that. We've got some momentum, but we have to stay focused. We can't get over-confident. We've got to keep working together, keep communicating well, and just keep the teamwork and unity that we've had to get us to this point.

"Ricky is a hard-charger. He knows how to get the most out of the car and he knows how to win. That can be a dangerous combination with that Yates car here. But yet he races you hard, but he races you clean. He kind of reminds me of a guy like Bill Elliott who you have a lot of respect for the way he goes about his job. Most guys know that if you try to wreck somebody, you take the chance of getting yourself getting involved in it too. That's why I've never tried to wreck anybody on purpose because I know I'll be the one who'll get wrecked and they'll go on. So I don't think it came down to anybody trying to wreck one another. It was just really good hard racing. Ricky knows when it comes down to the final lap that I'm going to run him hard but I'm going to try to run him clean. I expect the same from him and that's what I got."

(Re: The team's turnaround in 2001) "About half way through the season, we got together and said, 'What do we got to do to be better?' This is not why Robbie came to work here and this was not what Hendrick Motorsports was capable and I knew I was capable of more. We just really went to work and started trying some new things set-up wise and we learned some things about what some of the other teams were doing - especially our own teams at Hendrick Motorsports. I give a lot of credit to Robbie. He wasn't afraid to make some big changes and to go away from what had traditionally worked for the No. 24 car. And that's what we've had to do. In '99 we had pretty good running cars but too many DNF's. In 2000 we just needed to cut back on the DNF's; I forgot about the performance. We didn't perform well enough, but we cut back on the DNF's. This year, we've got to do both. So far we're doing a good job. I've seen this team get stronger and stronger. We just have to be sure we don't beat ourselves.

"At this point in the season, we've got to keep approaching each other race the same way. The way this sport is, you have to run hard every weekend. You never stop trying until it's over. Every championship season I've been in has been approached different. I think we just have to ride the wave and keep focused. We aren't worried so much about what other people are doing right now, we're just doing our own thing."

(Which give you the most satisfaction, dominating a race or a close race like today?) "There's some thrill and something just fires you up to make those fans stand up and go wild no matter who won the race. Anytime it's a nail biter right down to the finish and a guy passes you taking the white flag and you get back ahead of him, that's something. I certainly do enjoy that. But I'm (also) impressed with our race team and their effort if we go out there and dominate the win. I'm equally impressed with them if we go there and take it on the last lap."

Text provided by Nancy Wager

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