Jeff Gordon wins Talladega pole
It was good enough to bump AJ Allmendinger, who was on top of the board for most of the session with a lap of 191.111. Marcos Ambrose qualified third.
Gordon went out with only four cars left in the session. This is the 71st pole of Gordon's career, third on the career list. It's also his first since this race last year.
POLE WINNER’S PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET, POLE WINNER:
VERY ENCOURAGING SIGN FOR TOMORROW’S RACE: “We all know that sitting on a pole at Talladega doesn’t really guarantee anything for the race. Track position is probably least important at this track as any other. Although, with cooling being at a premium, starting the race with some nice fresh air, hopefully we can maintain that for a while. That would definitely be a positive. But, to me, the biggest positive is just the fact that we’ve had a rough start to the season. Not a lot has gone our way other than we have had fast race cars, but not a lot of results to prove and show for it. To me, right now we will take any kind of positive boost that we possibly can, and this is a good one. This was a great effort. There is a lot of hard work that goes into every race, but especially qualifying here at Talladega. To see some results the way we did today, is a great thing for this team. We’re going to take that, and take it into tomorrow’s race, and hopefully come out here with as much positiveness as we have got right now.”
HAS THE HENDRICK 200TH WIN THING ALMOST BECOME KIND OF A BURDEN TO THIS TEAM? WOULD A WIN FOR YOU OR ANY OF YOUR TEAMMATES TOMORROW TURN A CORNER FOR BOTH YOUR TEAM AND HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? “One win isn’t going to turn our entire season around, but it is definitely something that we would welcome. Anything positive would be a great thing for us. To kind of kill two birds with one stone and get that 200 out of the way….I mean, everybody at our organization wants it; is working hard to get it. Every weekend I feel like one of us has an opportunity of getting it, and why it hasn’t happened yet is a little bit of a mystery, for whatever reason. Things just haven’t worked out to get that 200th. But I know we are on the brink of it. Tomorrow any one of us can get it done. And, I can just tell you that while every team and Hendrick Motorsports wants it for Rick (Hendrick) and knows that there is a lot on the line for it, the rest of us, we’ll all be relieved. We can say ‘Thank goodness we got the 200th’; and we can take the focus off of that. Our focus just needs to be on going and performing and getting the best results we can. And, getting geared up for a championship.”
AT THE MEDIA TOUR, RICK SAID HE WOULD BE VERY DISAPPOINTED IF ALL FOUR CARS WEREN’T IN THE CHASE AND SOMEONE DIDN’T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. WHEN YOU LOOK BACK, WAS THAT A TALL ORDER? “Rick can say those things and get away with it because we know that there’s a part of him that is smiling when he says it. But, at the same time, he knows what our organization is capable of, and when you’ve had the success that our organization has had, you constantly are held up to high expectations. Not only internally, but from outside. We totally understand that going into every season.”
WITHOUT GIVING AWAY ANYTHING, TALK ABOUT YOUR APPROACH TO QUALIFYING TODAY WITH THE DIFFERENT APPROACH THAT IT SEEMED YOU TOOK: “We talked about it yesterday, and to me, every time we come to Talladega, especially now because just trying to cool the system down, we’ve got the pressure relief valve, all those things that we are trying to deal with; this is an impound, so you are trying to mange those temperatures. Those temperatures are being managed from the moment that car went on the track yesterday until the end of the race tomorrow. So, even in qualifying we were trying to manage them and not get them too hot.
“We chose to do that bottom lane because we feel like it saves about three seconds of time, which is how much longer the engines run in building temperatures. We feel like it’s not that we could run more tape; it’s just that sometimes when the temperature gets too hot, the engine loses power. So, we were just trying to maintain maximum power all the way to the end. Plus I feel like this track is big enough, you don’t have to run up high like Daytona. It’s a different beast than Daytona. I don’t know if it would have made a big difference, but I felt like the temps were just right, and obviously, we sat on the pole. I also knew it would give D.W. (Darrell Waltrip, Fox TV commentator) and them something to talk about up there. They were all talking about somebody who ran like a .59 ‘oh, that’s the fastest lap’. So I said ‘oh boy, what are they going to say when we run our lap’. (LAUGHS)”
ARE YOU SAYING THAT YOU DIDN’T RUN FULLY TAPED? DID THE DRAW MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE? “I don’t know anybody that ran fully taped. I will say the No. 22 (A.J. Allmendinger) and the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) were the two that were taped up the most that I saw. When the No. 22 ran as fast as he did, I looked at it and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) talked about it. We were sitting there on the grid trying to figure out if we’re too far open; not open enough. It’s hard to really….we were paying attention to our teammates and their temps as well. Even on the line we were debating moments before I went out, whether I run the high line or the bottom line. We weren’t taped up solid. I don’t know anybody who could tape up solid. These are long laps; big track. Everybody knows the opening is like one by eight or something like that.”
DOES IT SURPRISE YOU AT ALL THAT NASCAR DIDN’T MAKE ANY CHANGES WITH REGARDS TO THE COOLING AT ALL? DO YOU THINK IT IS GOING TO HAVE A BIG EFFECT TOMORROW? DO YOU THINK THAT IT IS GOING TO HAVE A BIGGER IMPACT THAN AT DAYTONA? “I definitely think it is going to have a big effect. The one thing I am a little bit concerned about is that we didn’t run in big packs yesterday. Across the board there weren’t a lot of guys complaining about temperature, including ourselves. But, we never were ever really in a big pack like we’re going to be in tomorrow. I don’t think we really saw just how difficult it is going to be to maintain those temps. The guys that were pushing, they definitely saw it, and there’s some big concerns. Basically our entire race for 498 or whatever miles is going to be managing temperatures the best that we possibly can. I think it is going to be….the last thing you can do, you cannot pop that valve off. You pop that valve off, you start losing water, and you’re in trouble. You are going to have to come in and put water in it and all those things. So, you have to stay below that cutoff line. Sometimes it catches up to you in a matter of seconds. You are watching, I just watch the water pressure because that’s the most important gauge now where the pop-off happens is around 30 pounds I think. When that happens, you better get out into some clean air as fast as you can.”
IS THERE A DANGER THAT YOU WILL OVERHEAT JUST RUNNING CLOSE AND NOT BEING IN FRONT? SO, IT’S NOT JUST PACK RACING? “That’s what we are talking about. Here’s the difficult situation NASCAR is in. In order to keep us from tandem drafting, we have to cut down those openings to where they are now. Now, this is Daytona. Because, that prevents us from tandem drafting. So, that’s why we are where we are at and the pop-off valve being at the level it is at, and all those things. At Daytona, We were able to manage the temperatures pretty well in the pack, because it was cooler.
“It ended up being a night race, but it was just cooler in general. But we come here and it’s warmer, and it is a big track where we can get three-wide very easily. And when you get a couple rows back, very little air is moving through that radiator. So, the opening is really is at the proper width and height for tandem drafting. But, it’s not at the proper width and height for just regular drafting.”
DON’T YOU THINK IT IS SORT OF ODD IF THE BASIC POLICY FROM THE GOVERNING BODY IS EITHER RACE THE WAY WE WANT YOU TO OR YOUR ENGINES WILL FAIL? “I feel like every rule in the rulebook challenges us to push the limits, and to race within the rules, and plan our strategy, and how I drive the car, and everything else to figure out how to finish first at the end of the day. I think the second that one rule started being enforced was a step in that direction. So, I don’t feel like this is any different than the last 60-plus years of NASCAR racing.”
WHEN YOU ARE OFF TO A START LIKE YOU’VE HAD THIS YEAR, DO YOU QUESTION EVERYTHING? YOURSELF; THE TEAM? OR, ARE YOU ABLE TO PINPOINT WHAT HAS GOT TO GET BETTER? “Like I’ve said, we’ve run good. We’ve had great race cars this year, so to me, that is step one. When your cars are running good, it’s nice to check that off your box because that is the hardest thing there is to do in this sport is have race cars. I think, sure you question things. It’s frustrating. You wonder ‘Gosh, what do we have to do? What do I personally have to do?’ You question the entire commitment and direction. But, that’s why it tests you as to who you are as an individual as well as a team. The nice thing, and I credit Alan a lot for this, he is a great leader, and he is a positive guy. He’s keeping it glued together to keep this team upbeat and positive through what we’ve been through. You don’t always have the answer as to why you struggle and why things don’t come together. But, I will say, surviving this is going to make us a lot better and stronger. Thankfully, because of the Chase…you have to remember, going back eight years or whatever, and it was said that the Chase cost me a championship or two. Now you can say the Chase is what is keeping us in this championship. We’re going to try and take advantage of the flip side of it right and focus on wins and getting ourselves. Getting in the top-10 is a tall task. It’s not insurmountable, but it is a tough one. But, getting two to three wins, I think we are capable of doing it. I think a lot of people would go ‘WHAT?, You’re crazy. Look at where you are at in points the way you’ve been finishing’. But, the results for our team have not…the performance has not added up to the results. We are very capable of winning races. If we were running bad, then I would be sitting here underneath this table right now. If we were that far back in points because that’s where we are running every week, oh my goodness. We’d be cutting our wrists. That’s when you really start questioning everything that you are doing. That is when you go ‘Oh my gosh, do I have what it even takes. What are we doing as a team’. Everything. I’d rather have this issue where we are running good. We’ve just got to put the races together.”
IS IT BAD LUCK? “I don’t believe in bad luck. I don’t. I feel like you make your own luck. I feel like…because if that were the case, that means that when you win races, you’re doing it because you are lucky. I don’t think people win races because they are lucky. They put themselves in positions. They had to have good pit stops. Good strategy. Maybe the fastest car doesn’t always win, but maybe it’s the guy that took the risk and put himself in position to do it on fuel mileage and he won.
“That’s not luck. There was enough fuel in the tank to make it. That’s just being risky. Sometimes you have to be risky. Some days you have to rely on the speed. Other days you have to rely on the pit crew. Some days you’ve got to rely on the driver. But, on most days, it’s all those things together that win races. That’s why I don’t believe in just being…I guess if there were 43 cars driving along and I drove over a little pinhead that poked a little hole in my tire, then I would say that was pretty unlucky. But the stuff that has been happening to us is not luck.”
DALE JUNIOR IS OFF TO A GREAT START THIS SEASON. WHAT PART DO YOU THINK THE CREW CHIEF CHANGE HAS HELPED WITH THAT? “I think they make a good combination. (Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Steve Letarte). I felt that from the beginning of this move. I felt like universally, this was a positive move for the organization. With Junior…Steve and I have been friends for a long time. I loved working with him. I knew if you look at Junior’s personality, that Steve could really…because Steve is just this outgoing talkative guy, very positive. He can go and build that relationship that it takes with Junior, which I think a lot of times can be very intimidating. Can be very difficult to kind of break through that shell that he has. I think Steve has the kind of personality that can break through. I think it is really starting to pay off now and how they built that relationship up. Now they are following up with good race cars, good pit stops. Now building on that, good results. That is what it takes.”
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