Jeff Gordon Qualifies on the Front Row for the Daytona 500
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS - QUALIFIED 2ND
GREAT LAP. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TODAY'S QUALIFYING SESSION?
"I'm excited about seeing all of those Chevys up front there, certainly those Hendrick engines as well. This is a bit of a surprise we have not been as good as I was hoping in practice. Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and our team they work so hard and they know how to qualify here at Daytona and on these restrictor plate tracks and they proved it again today."
I KNOW YOU DIDN'T HAVE AS MANY LAPS LAST NIGHT AS YOU WANTED TO, BUT DID YOU LEARN ENOUGH TO SEE HOW YOU THINK THURSDAY IS GOING TO SHAKE OUT IN THE DUELS?
"I don't really feel like we learned much. There was a couple laps where I was back in traffic and feeling the car move around and seeing some things that were happening handling wise. I think that the conditions are going to be so much different. There is not going to be a night race and it's going to be warmer. I think the handling is going to be a bit more of a factor for Thursday and for Sunday."
HOW WOULD YOU JUDGE THIS AS A START?
"Anytime you come down here and you put down a good lap, everybody puts in an extreme amount of work for Daytona, but not everybody gets the rewards. That is a great lap. It would be awesome to be on the front row. We will see what happens, the No. 5 car is going to be tough and a couple of others there too. No matter what that is a lot better than I was anticipating after testing and practice yesterday. Great job to the team, the just continue to do impressive things that build confidence with me and with themselves and make for a great combination."
HOW MUCH OF A BOOST IS WINNING THE LAST RACE OF LAST SEASON? DOES IT KIND OF INSPIRE THE GUYS BACK AT THE SHOP AND YOURSELF TO GET OFF THE GROUND RUNNING?
"It's been a long time since I've done that. I can honestly tell you it's been big. The guys are just fired up all winter long. It's the little perks sometimes. When you call into Hendrick Motorsports there is a hold radio communication and broadcast from whoever won whatever last race they won. Every time I called into talk to somebody at Hendrick Motorsports or my dad or somebody I was listening to the final five laps of Homestead all winter long. That was pretty cool. The team I think with this new car all the hard work that is going into getting them built we needed as much energy boost as we possibly could to get us through the winter. It's been great."
HOW BIG A DEAL WOULD IT BE IF DANICA (PATRICK) IS ON THE POLE?
"I think it would be huge. I think between (Dale Earnhardt) Junior and Danica that is about as much exposure as this sport could possibly get. In this case being history making I think this is about as big of a deal exposure wise as you could possibly get. I'm not surprised they have been fast in testing, fast in practice and that is a heck of a lap."
SHE HAS LIMITED CUP EXPERIENCE WOULD EVERYBODY BE COMFORTABLE WITH HER LEADING THE FIELD TO THE GREEN FLAG?
"Yeah, I think that everybody exploits inexperience and disadvantages in this race as it progresses. It might happen on lap one, it might happen in turn one, and it might happen on lap 170. It's just to me you've got to take advantage of any opportunity that you have. If somebody has a lack of experience then they leave that door open somebody is going to exploit it and take advantage of it."
An interview with:
KERRY THARP: Starting second, the outside pole position, will be Jeff Gordon. This is the fourth time that Jeff will be starting on the front row for the Daytona 500. He won the pole in 1999 and started second in 2006 and 2011.
Jeff, congratulations. Got to feel really good about the performance coming out of the gates that quick and being up front for next Sunday's race.
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. This is big, to be on the front row at Daytona. It's an accomplishment in itself just because of how many people put so much hard work into it, not just from our team but all the teams that are out here.
When you have all winter long to prepare, you have the biggest race of the year as your first race, there's a lot of effort that goes into those two laps.
I'm very proud of my team. Very proud of Hendrick engines, to see how well the new Chevy SS and Hendrick engines performed today was fantastic.
We're here to win the Daytona 500. Sitting on the front row is a great step towards accomplishing that goal.
It's great to be a part of history with Danica being on the pole. I think we all know how popular she is, what this will do for our sport. Congratulations to her. Proud to be on there with her.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions.
Q. Jeff, do you come away feeling a bit surprised with that lap, thinking, I could have gotten the pole, or do you come away pleasantly surprised?
JEFF GORDON: When it's Daytona qualifying, I should never question Alan Gustafson and this team. With the way testing went, we were so‑so. The way yesterday went, I didn't feel like we had a shot at the pole. So my expectations were kind of low.
When I started the lap, the car definitely carried good momentum and rpms. I thought this is going to be certainly better than where we were yesterday. I thought the wind was in our favor. The gusts were huge today. If you got a big gust, it could really affect your lap. I really think that's what happened to Tony. When he came around to the back straightaway, he had a pretty big headwind.
So, yeah, I'm surprised. I didn't expect to be that close. I told Alan, if I had known we might havebeen that close, I might have driven across the apron to win the pole (laughter).
Listen, I'm thrilled. This team is thrilled. It's a great accomplishment just being on the front row.
Q. Some of the TV commentators indicated they thought that you might have caught some kind of a puff or gust of headwind yourself somewhere that maybe left you a little bit short. You're saying the wind was totally in your favor.
JEFF GORDON: Until we go back and look at all the stats, we can look at what I call Dartfish, the TV calls it ghost imaging, we'll be able to run our lap and see exactly what the wind did during that lap, see if it did affect us. But, yeah, then you'd be a little disappointed.
But, hey, that's the luck of the draw. That's just kind of the way it goes qualifying here at Daytona and Talladega, that you always understand.
Like I said, I didn't have high expectations going into it 'cause I just didn't think, based on practice times, we had a shot at the front row. I'm sitting here happy regardless of what any of those stats may show.
Q. You've been around the sport a while. Danica is a rookie. Can you rank what this means to our sport to see the first female ever in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series score a pole, especially at the Daytona 500?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, as popular as she is, too. She comes into this with racing background, with a tremendous amount of exposure, momentum, just popularity that we've never seen before, especially from a female driver.
For her to then follow that up or start the season off with a pole, it's huge. It's big. Surprised you're even talking to me right now, right (laughter)? I'm glad I didn't win the pole, we would have messed that story all up (smiling).
I've always been a big believer in what's good for the sport is good for all of us. So this is great for the sport. The rest of us will benefit from that, as well. I'm proud to be on the front row this year side‑by‑side with Danica.
Q. Jeff, you jokingly referred to yourself as the fastest guy today. Do you allow yourself to step back and savor the moment, the historic magnitude of this feat, allow her to have her moment in the spotlight? When you came away yesterday, having seen the way she performed, did you get a sense she was going to be a strong contender for the pole?
JEFF GORDON: I didn't think anybody else had a shot. I was surprised we got as close as we did. They were fast yesterday, put down a very good lap today. When she made her lap, I was pretty sure that no one was going to beat that.
Yeah, you know, I always think that you never really quite grasp history in the making at the moment. Everybody maybe understands it and captures it in different ways. For me, it's easy to recognize looking at the media surrounding her, the hype that's been built into the Daytona 500 as well as the last day of her being so fast in practice, then all day today.
To back that up and for her to pull it off, I think we won't really know until you guys write all your stories and we see what's on the front page, the headlines in the news, on the Internet, everything else. But I think it's obviously a big moment in history and, like I said, a great boost for the sport. It's awesome.
Q. You mentioned drama earlier this morning. Talking about going through inspection.
JEFF GORDON: Our car fell off the jack onto the jack stand and completely tore our rocker panel off as we were getting ready to pull the car out of the garage. I came in with my kids this morning just keeping them busy. My car was the only one in the garage area of all the other cars that were going through inspection. I went over and Alan was covered in dust. He was like, You don't want to come over here right now. We had that to start our day.
Then they got all that fixed, then we had to go through inspection. I don't even know, I didn't even talk to him, but I don't know what kind of issues we had, but I knew the car was late getting out to pit road.
Q. As the years wind down, what is going to be a good year for Jeff Gordon with everything you've accomplished in this sport? What do you still have left to accomplish?
JEFF GORDON: I've never won a Sprint Cup ever since they've gone to this format. I've come close in '07, but we got beat. Obviously to me there's only one thing left, and that's to win the Sprint Cup championship.
What I've realized as I get older, the things that matter to me, I like to make other people proud, people that put a lot of effort into our race team, my parents along the way, crew chiefs like Ray Evernham, my wife, my kids. Those are the things that motivate me, drive me to work harder and accomplish goals that I haven't been able to accomplish.
So I think Alan is one of the best if not the best crew chiefs out there right now. I think he deserves to be a championship‑caliber crew chief or recognized crew chief. I love taking my kids and family to Victory Lane and experience the spoils of great accomplishments like that.
Q. Jeff, it's probably likely that Danica is going to be a little nervous come next Sunday at the green flag. As someone who has started up front, when you were really young, will you say anything to her about it? I know there's no gamesmanship, but are you okay with how that could go?
JEFF GORDON: There's a lot of things that are going to happen prior to next Sunday. We've already seen what can happen in 15 laps of the race last night, testing.
First you have to get through the Duels. For me, we're locked in the front row. I'm not going to be able to breathe until we're looking at the green flag waving, sitting on the front row.
The good thing about being on the front row is that you're locked into the Daytona 500. The downside is you don't want to put your mind into protection mode that I don't want to mess this car up because I want this car to be our car for the Daytona 500. If you want to win the Daytona 500, you have to practice like you'regoing to win the Daytona 500, race in the Duels like you're going to win the Daytona 500, do everything to prepare yourself and your team to win the Daytona 500. Sometimes being in the front row can be a hindrance to that mindset.
We're going to put a lot of effort in, Alan, me, the team, Rick, myself, are going to put a lot of effort into how we approach the Duels. Once you get through that, we'll start thinking about how we're going to approach the Daytona 500.
If I were going to talk to Danica about anything, I'd say what I just said. A lot left to do and how you want to approach the Duels.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the man of the hour, which would be Tony Stewart. He drove well last night in the race.
JEFF GORDON: I don't even get to be the man of the hour. Shoot. I thought I at least had that part accomplished (smiling).
Q. We'll give you the fastest guy.
JEFF GORDON: I'll take that, but that's not always a good thing (laughter). I couldn't resist. What were you saying (smiling)?
Q. Tony Stewart, man of the hour. Three of the top five cars in qualifying. Showed again last night how good he can be in the draft. Seems like there's an Earnhardt quality here. He's never won the race. Do you look at him and wonder how he hasn't won it?
JEFF GORDON: Just like Earnhardt, give him time. The greats of motorsports, of this sport, find a way to win the big races. He's so good on the restrictor plates.
To me, I thought they were shining last night, the 14 team. I thought he looked to me like he had the car to beat. Yeah, you know, he went to the inside lane and probably should have stayed on the outside lane. But odds are more in favor that he's going to make the right moves and be in position to win the Daytona 500 before his career is over if not this coming up week. I look for him to be very, very strong.
Q. If this wasn't a brand‑new car, if you could just park on Thursday, would it even be considered to make sure you made it to Sunday? Also, how important is the next practice going to be in everything you do?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, every moment you can get on the track and learn something is important. I don't think you're going to see us getting ourselves into a large pack of cars on Wednesday practice.
But Thursday, you know, it's a race. When you go into a race, you're racing to win. I think on Thursday ‑ and this is what we have to talk about ‑ it is a very good opportunity to learn what we need to do to win the Daytona 500. But it's also very risky to put yourself in some of those positions.
You have to go in approaching it to learn all that you can, build momentum and confidence. You do that by winning that race. You're not just sitting on the front row, but you go and win that race. That's the best thing you can do.
But you got to be smart about it, too. You get shuffled back, find yourself in a bad situation, you try to fight through it, stick your nose somewhere it probably doesn't belong, tear the racecar up, that just wasn't very smart. It's a fine line between those.
Honestly, if we didn't have to go out onto the racetrack other than practice, go out there and sit on the front row on Sunday, I'd be fine with that. Like any other race, I would be totally fine with that. But that's not the way Daytona works.
Q. You mentioned about the uncertainty of the Daytona 500. Does starting up front take away any of the worries at all?
JEFF GORDON: Starting up front in the Duels as well as the Daytona 500 is a great thing. When you look at how the race unfolded last night, I think the way that the drafting and races are going to unfold on restrictor plates just in general this year, Ithink being up front is a premium. I think it always is, but I think possibly even more so this year with this aero package.
Q. Janet Guthrie wrote about the icy reception she received from drivers when she tried to break in in the '70s. What do you think has led to some of the changes in attitude toward having a female driver, minority drivers? What's led to this change over the last 20 years?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I think that question can be answered throughout sports and throughout history, our culture, what's accepted, unexpected over the years. Not just unexpected, but accepted.
I think for me it's not about the color of your skin or your gender, it's about your abilities. You have to prove that. I think Danica's a talented racecar driver. She proved that by getting herself into IndyCar, doing what she did in IndyCar. She has taken on quite a task to take on stockcars that are completely foreign to her. I kind of admire somebody that's willing to take that leap.
No different than the way I look at Sam Hornish, Juan Pablo Montoya, any of the guys that have been driving open‑wheel cars most of their career and then get in a stockcar. It's completely different. But I love people that are willing to take chances and challenge themselves.
That's more of the way that I look at Danica, not just accepting a female.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Jeff Gordon. Congratulations on a great showing today. Look forward to seeing you the remainder of Speedweeks.
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