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Jeff Gordon never dreamed of winning at Indy, but now wants win 5 at The Brickyard

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET met with media and discussed past wins at IMS, good luck charms sent to him by fans, his charity bowling tournament, and more.

Jeff Gordon, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

YOU’VE WON FOUR TIMES AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY. WHAT WOULD WIN NUMBER FIVE MEAN TO YOU? “I never dreamed of winning one, let along four. So five would only just be unimaginable, really. Yet I look at last year (when) we were so close to getting number five. And that’s the way you have to focus on it. You don’t focus on a number. You focus on getting your car to the front and leading the lap that counts the most; that last one. It’s still just such a special place to drive into to experience. Even just flying over when we come in and fly into Indianapolis, I’m always excited and eager to look out the window and find the track. I can remember the first time that happened when I was probably ten or 11 years old coming to Indianapolis for the first time racing Quarter Midgets.

“And it’s still that same way even though I get a chance to race here and we’ve won here four times. It’s just a very special place and I love just competing here. It’s a very challenging race track to compete on in our cars. I like that challenge. I think it suits my driving style as well and our team has give me great race cars over the years so I always come in here with confidence knowing we have a shot at winning. And we’ve been fortunate to win four of them and get close to five last year. And I hope we get closer to five this year.”

YOU WERE IN THE TOP 10 IN SPEEDS IN BOTH PRACTICE SESSIONS THIS MORNING. DO YOU THINK YOU’VE GOT A SHOT AT THE POLE? “Oh, with a few adjustments yeah, I think so. I’m real pleased with the car. We probably made a few more qualifying runs in that first practice than some other teams, trying to get ourselves to go out later in qualifying and that paid off. That last run was pretty good. I felt like we learned some things in the second practice. We were primarily looking at race runs but I feel like we learned some things that made our car a little bit better and we made one last qualifying run and the car was quite a bit tighter than I anticipated. So if we can free it up just the right amount then I definitely think we have a shot at the pole.”

COULD YOU TALK ABOUT THOSE FIRST TWO BRICKYARDS? DALE EARNHARDT JR. WAS TALKING ABOUT HOW BADLY HIS DAD WANTED TO WIN THAT FIRST ONE. TALK ABOUT THE ONE YOU ONE AND THE ONE HE WON. AND THAT FIRST TIME IN ’94, DID YOU EVEN KNOW HIM WELL ENOUGH FOR HIM TO PICK ON YOU GOING INTO THAT RACE? “No, I think we got to know one another a lot better in 1995 obviously when we were battling for the championship. Everyone knew wherever our relationship/friendship was at that time; everyone knew how bad Dale (Earnhardt) wanted it. He made it very clear to the media, I think; that got spread throughout the garage. He knew how special this race was, that inaugural race, and he knew that if you were going to win a race and could just pick one, that was the one you wanted to win. And I found it very interesting because I was watching the TV monitors in the garage area today and they were showing past races and wins and I even had a conversation with (crew chief) Alan Gustafson about how bad he (Earnhardt Sr.) wanted it in ’94. And I thought it was very interesting that they weren’t really competitive enough or they had some issues in ’94; and how hard they worked to come back and be competitive enough to win it in ’95. That was his mission. He was seriously on a mission and it showed in ’95 with the results.”

2004 WAS THE LAST TIME YOU’VE WON HERE; BUT WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THE NAMES THAT ARE ALONGSIDE WITH FOUR OR MORE WINS AT THIS RACE TRACK, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT? “Because I’m such a huge fan of the Indy 500 and Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt and Unser and all those guys, I really don’t put myself in that category. I don’t put the Brickyard 400 in that category of the Indy 500. The race started here in 1911 and the history is just unbelievable. I had a chance to go through the museum and the secret layer beneath it yesterday.

“And still, to me, there is just no comparing any other race here to the Indy 500. I’m still amazed at our accomplishment and the fact that we’ve only been racing here since 1994 and we have four wins. It’s an incredible accomplishment and something I’m very proud of. It’s no Indy 500, but it’s right up there with it in my book; especially that 1994 race. So, I really just more compare myself against the other NASCAR winners of this race and it’s something I’m very proud of.”

YOU HAVE A LOT OF FANS. ONE OF YOUR INDIANA FANS SENT YOU A BOX OF GOOD LUCK CHARMS VIA YOUR HAULER DRIVER. DID THAT BOX GET TO YOU? IF SO, WHAT WERE SOME OF THE THINGS IN IT? “Oh, I’ve been getting so many good luck 9 (charms); I’ve never had anybody give me so may good luck charms as I have this year, whether they are rubbing my back or pinching areas as well sometimes (laughter) and doing whatever they feel like is going to get our season turned around and get us some luck. I appreciate it. It’s great that our fans are that passionate and that they are that much. Sometimes they take these losses harder than we do. We’re more in control of our destiny and as frustrating as it’s been this year because our cars have been so good, it’s I think sometimes more frustrating for somebody like our big fans because they can’t get in there and control it and they want to. So yeah, I’ve been getting plenty of good luck charms. And we’ve tried a few of them, I’ll admit (laughs). I’m not too ashamed to see it turn around (but) so far my theory holds true that it’s not about luck and good luck charms. It’s about going out there and performing and doing what you have to do as a team.”

WHAT IS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THIS “SUPER WEEKEND” CONCEPT AND ALL THE EXTRA ACTIVITY ON THE RACE TRACK AND DO YOU THINK THE EXTRA RUBBER WILL HAVE ANY AFFECT ON THE RACE COME SUNDAY? “I love seeing all the different racing. I enjoyed watching the Grand-Am race yesterday. It was very interesting with the rain and then the sun, rain and sun. I wouldn’t want to be a driver or a crew chief in that situation. It was fun to watch. I think it’s great the Nationwide Series is here. It certainly makes for an interesting schedule for all of us. I have been here since Thursday because I had the bowling tournament and went to Riley Hospital for Children yesterday. I have been very busy, hanging out with Ron Howard; it’s cool to have him here this weekend as well. It was nice to finally get on the track today and be able to focus on the race. I like it. I think it’s great. I know it’s a lot of work for the speedway to convert the track to the road course and back to the oval. I appreciate that effort. For me it’s a lot of fun I hope the fans enjoy it as well.”

WILL THE RUBBER MAKE A DIFFERENCE? “I don’t know. I guess it could. We won’t know until Sunday because until the Nationwide race happens and they put all that rubber down we won’t really know because today it was like a green track when we got out there with all the rain and everything yesterday. I will let you know on Sunday. This place typically the way it lays rubber is strange here it’s so course that the rubber really doesn’t usually have as much of an effect on this track as it does others, but it might.”

THE OPPORTUNITY TO USE THE PIT SIDE GARAGES THIS WEEKEND, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT THAT HAS BEEN LIKE BOTH FROM A LOGISTICAL STAND POINT AND MAYBE A COOLNESS FACTOR? “I love it. It’s awesome. Every guy in the garage area is thankful. There is a breeze moving through there. This place can get very hot. Those other garage stalls are so tight trying to get in and out of them. It just makes it so convenient, yeah; it’s a long walk from the hauler so you kind of just make camp out there. The only thing is I didn’t see a bathroom anywhere near by so that’s a long haul. Other than that I love it I think it’s very cool. I wish we would have started sooner.”

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT OF YOUR FIRST WIN (IN 1994), THE RACE, SOME STRUGGLES YOU MIGHT HAVE HAD A LONG THE WAY? “The biggest struggles were the battle that I had with Ernie Irvan. He was putting up a heck of a fight. I look at that race as a battle of horsepower. That year we didn’t know all the aerodynamics and things about trying to get these cars stuck in the corners the way that we do today.

“The cars really were loose out in clean air, pretty good in behind other cars, which is funny because now we are all quite the opposite. The Yates power, Hendrick power went head to head so we swapped the lead back and forth many times just because the way that my car would get too loose when I got in front of Ernie (Irvan) and he could really get a run on me and draft and pass me down the straight-a-way. Then he would get out front, get loose and I would get a run off of him and do the same thing. It was really coming down to who was going to position themselves to make that sling shot or could they maintain the lead on that last lap and then he had the right-front tire problem. Initially, I was kind of relieved because I didn’t want to have to battle with Ernie (Irvan) all the way to the finish because I wanted to win it. I didn’t know if I could with him out there. I was pretty relieved and I said ‘okay we’ve got this thing now no cautions.’ The Brett Bodine came on like gangbusters the last two laps and just was running us down. I think I just used up my tires battling with Ernie (Irvan) so much that I just didn’t have anything left. Brett (Bodine) had been back there just kind of cruising and he was coming fast. I was glad there weren’t too many more laps.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE MEETING RON HOWARD? WHAT WAS HE ASKING YOU ABOUT? WHAT KINDS OF THINGS DID HE WANT TO KNOW? HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO SEE HIS MOVIE WHEN IT EVENTUALLY COMES OUT? “This kind of came through my request. We talked to NASCAR Images about doing some things and they had asked me if there was somebody out there that might be kind of off the radar that you wouldn’t necessarily say okay this is who you want to bring to the race track. I really thought long and hard about it. I’ve been such a huge fan of his movies and his career and how he has gone from being an actor to a director, producer. I think that whole process is interesting, but then to know that he is making a racing movie right now, even though it’s a Formula 1 movie. I’m a big Formula 1 fan. I kind of threw that name out there and they made it happen. Here he is. He is very interested in what is going on now that he is doing a racing movie; he is interested in all forms of motorsports. He is very eager to learn and also share his thoughts about the process. It’s like a two year process to make this movie that he’s making. I think that the story that he’s telling is very interesting between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. I actually watched a documentary several years ago on an airplane going somewhere about James Hunt. He is quite a character. I am looking forward to seeing how they tell that story. He is in there taking pictures and asking questions, listening on the radio. It’s been a really fun experience. He’s a real down to earth guy.”

HOW DID THE BOWLING TOURNAMENT GO ON THURSDAY? “Bowling is always good. It was great. I don’t know what the final number was, but I think we raised close to three hundred thousand dollars. It’s always a lot of fun. We had a cool band that was playing some disco music, so we were getting after it and having fun all for a great cause. It went very well.”

DID YOU BREAK DANCE? “No break dancing. I don’t break dance to disco music (laughs)”

HOW GOOD A BOWLER ARE YOU AND WHAT IS YOUR HIGH GAME? “There was a time when I did a lot of bowling. There was this brand new state-of-the-art bowling alley down the road from me when I lived in Florida. I went there a lot. I bowled a 215 one time, that was a huge moment for me. I think I had like seven or eight strikes in that game. I cannot bowl anywhere near that today. I’m lucky if I bowl a 115. It just shows you what practice will do. This tournament or event that we have is not really about bowling a 300 or anything even though we have some pros that could do it. It’s really just interacting and how you can have some fun, bowl some strikes; which I did bowl one strike, it’s a fun game. It’s not like your typical type of bowling. You interact with your teammates and then we have the celebrities that come out. They move from lane to lane. Everybody seems to like it. It’s fast paced and a good time. That is the most important part have a good time and be able to raise money for a great cause.”

WHAT WAS THE MOST HEART WARMING MOMENT YOU HAD IN RWANDA? “Just going over there and seeing what is happening over there. I’m really excited about the growth that is happening in that country and that is why I’m getting involved over there because they have a government and a structure that is eager to grow and support their people. They want to help those that are sick. The toughest part was that there was a little boy probably about 10 years-old that came to the hospital in Butare which is the hospital that we opened the cancer center at. Unfortunately, he got to us too late. It was basically we couldn’t do anything for him.

“The state-of-the-art treatment for Rwanda that we are giving is unbelievable. When people and children come there they are going to get chemotherapy. They are going to get things that don’t exist in other parts of the country for cancer. When they get there too late there is only so much that you can do. This boy was in a lot of pain. Luckily he actually did find that hospital because at least they have morphine. The other hospital he was at they were giving him Tylenol. That is the reason why we are there is to give that kind of care and do it for free. That doesn’t happen in most hospitals in eastern Africa.”

Source: Team Chevy Racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Niki Lauda , Brett Bodine , James Hunt , Ernie Irvan , Rick Mears
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