Friday, September 17, 2021

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Jeff Gordon set to contend for championship with right team behind him

“This is definitely the highest elevation that I’ve ever done a press conference.” were the first words spoken by Jeff Gordon on Wednesday at the CN Tower.

The four-time Sprint Cup Champion was at the CN Tower in Toronto to discuss his chances for the 2014 Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship as part of NASCAR’s “Chase Across North America” tour.

“We’re certainly excited for this weekend at Chicago to kick off to kick off the Sprint Cup Championship Chase,” Gordon commented. “We’ve been having an amazing year. Just got a strong team that has been really focused in all areas this year, led by Alan Gustafson. Of course, Hendrick Motorsports gives us all the resources that has all four cars in the Chase this year – which is exciting, but we also feel like the 24 team is on top of our game more so than we have in a long time. Can’t wait to get it all started.”

It is evident that the confidence is there for Gordon and there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be as he was leading the standings before the Chase reset with three wins, nine top-fives and 17 top-10s in the first 26 races this year.

“I was just telling the guys – our engineers, Alan and others – that I’m so appreciative of the confidence that they’ve given me this year in my driving,” Gordon said. “It really is led by them. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to win a lot of races and championships, but it’s been awhile since that championship has happened. The way I feel this year, I feel very capable of bringing this championship to the 24 team because of these guys, of the cars they have given me and the team that we have and the confidence that we have going into each event. It’s been a lot of fun this year.”

In his 23rd season behind the wheel in the Sprint Cup Series, Gordon added that its “pretty refreshing rejuvenating” to have the season that he has been having. He admits that he has questioned whether he has still got it over recent years, but feels that with the year he’s had, there’s no questioning that anymore.

“I feel like I’m driving better than I have ever have and things are going extremely well. I believe in my team and most importantly, my team believes they have the right guy behind the wheel to get it done,” the 43-year-old commented. “It’s been a lot of fun this year. Highlights and moments that no matter what happens the rest of the season – like that Brickyard 400 win – something I’ll never forget and take with me for a long time as we move forward.”

While Gordon finished top-five in points on eight different occasions (with four championships) from 1995 to 2004, the more recent stretch hadn’t led to that success with Gordon sometimes either barely making the Chase. Part of that stretch was when NASCAR debuted the “Car of Tomorrow” and Gordon said that he wasn’t a big fan of that car as it was a challenging car to get a good feel for. However, with the new car under their belt, certainly the success has been there for Gordon.

“The cars are really good and they’re doing the things that I like to do. I can drive in the corner deep, the cars get off the corner really well – it’s just about getting them rolling through the center and luckily we have the tools to do it,” he said.

The California native also attributes the success to him and Alan Gustafson doing a good job at getting their communication working well and having that “chemistry” everyone craves for.

“I knew what a good crew chief he was when he was Kyle Busch’s crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports and then with Mark Martin, as well. When I found out that he could work with old guys, I was like, ‘He’s my man!’,” Gordon commented. “I just love his passion, his desire, his ethics, how hard he works and his engineering understanding, as well. I think it has just taken us a couple of years to click as crew chief and driver, and he’s done an amazing job with the engineers bringing the cars to the next level. They definitely got on top of this year’s rules with the lower ride heights and the bigger spoiler right away, and I think that has benefited me personally in a lot of ways.”

Now with everything the way he wants it, Gordon hopes to have the Chase for his life and score his fifth championship.

“I’d have to say that I have never wanted anything more than what I want right now, and that is to get that Sprint Cup under this format,” Gordon noted. “I feel like we’ve been close, but I also feel like that we haven’t had the team that we had in the mid, late 90s and 2001 when we won the championship. We’ve had good teams, but we haven’t had the best team and I believe that the best team always win the championship. In my career, I would say that 99.9% of the time the best team wins the championship that year and in that sense, I give the 48 team, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus a tremendous amount of credit. I feel like they’ve had the best team when they’ve won those championships. Unfortunately, we went up against that team in 2007 and had the lead with two races to go and couldn’t match up to them.

“This year, I feel like we have a team that can match up to any team out there. We’re consistent, but also winning races. We’re not just sneaking by and easing our way into it – we’re actually leading laps, qualifying up front, solid on pit road, solid in our pit strategy. I think that anything is possible with this new format. It is pretty wild and crazy with the whole knock-out format that we have now, but I still believe that we have what it takes and we’ll soon find out. I think it’ll be unique to go through this because when the Chase starts, it’s different than the old system.”

Gordon says the key will be being as consistent as they can under the next nine races before Homestead so tehrefore they are one of the final four – without letting the pressure get to them.

“The pressure of this being the playoffs seems to hyphen the intensity and forces you to elevate your game but also make more mistakes so that’s what we’re going to be balancing out the rest of the season,” he said. “Certainly, the next three weeks is just staying in our groove and keep doing what we’ve been doing, but recognizing the competition will be tougher.

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