Although his losing streak stretched to 38 races Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Jeff Gordon seems to have a new purpose this season. He's running up front and is more willing to be aggressive -- even against his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.
Gordon, 38, talked about trying to win his fifth championship -- and first since the 2001 season -- at Talladega. Here are excerpts from that interview:
Question: You seem to be hungrier than ever to win again. Is that a product of having a good race car again?
Gordon: Having a race car that feels so good. I feel like our race team has just really turned a corner. The commitment that they've shown over the off-season - it's evident with Steve (Letarte, crew chief) from a physical standpoint but even mentally how much into it he is and how he's really leading this team is awesome. It makes me want to give that much more, and I feel like I have been. I've been working out in the gym, I've been really working with them at our de-briefs; I'm just doing everything I can. On the racetrack, when I've got a race car that's as strong as these cars have been this year, I have to get everything out of it that I can. I'm going to be more aggressive when we have those opportunities.
Question: You and Jimmie Johnson tangled at Texas. It happened again at Talladega. Is there a problem?
Gordon: Yeah, it's disappointing. I don't think it was a very smart move. These cars sometimes get such a shove and sometimes you get so much momentum it's just more of a coincidence that it was him. But I mean you turn the wheel left like that when a car is coming and somebody's going to have a problem. I did everything I could to keep from wrecking him. I did. I saw what he was doing and I know I couldn't go underneath the yellow line to pass him so I did everything I could to check up but somebody was still pushing me and turned me and I actually got into him. But he's been testing my patience and it's about reached its boiling point.
Question: You also have a history of racing hard against Matt Kenseth. What is the difference between racing Jimmie hard or Matt hard?
Gordon: I'm not really sure. No, it's not the same. I feel like at Texas, Jimmie and I were racing hard for position and I never touched him. Kenseth he just ran in the back of me, so I ran into him. The frustration levels can maybe the same and correlate, but you're talking short-track versus mile-and-a-half as well; that's different.
Question: Are you racing harder now than you have in the past couple years?
Gordon: I've always raced hard, there is no doubt about that. I feel like as things have evolved and track position has become more important, all of us have had to be more aggressive and protecting those positions or trying to get those positions. I'll be honest, in the past, I felt like in '07 we were pretty strong that year and we showed for it. We won bunch of races. I don't feel like I'm driving that much different from how I did then, but we just the last couple of years, we just haven't quite had it like we do this year. I feel like my pit crew is working hard, my crew chief is working hard, the engineers, everybody and so that inspires me to work hard. That means on the racetrack, there is going to be times where you've got to push harder.
Question: Is there a rivalry between you and Jimmie Johnson?
Gordon: Well there's no doubt that there's a rivalry. I think people talk about rivalries in this sport all the time, and they think that it has to come from another organization. I haven't won a championship since 2001. Jimmie's team, Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and those guys came on in 2002, and I think that's the last time that I finished ahead of them in points, in 2002. Those guys have set the standard and set the benchmark in the sport as well as our organization. It's no different than when we went up against the No. 5 team in '96. In '95 we won the championship with the DuPont Chevrolet, and in '96 those guys were bound and determined to win that championship and take it away from us. They knew that we had the team to beat for it. We had our own rivalry within the sport. The difference was at that time, we had rivalries outside of our organization. We had rivalries with (Dale) Earnhardt, and with (Rusty) Wallace, and a bunch of other guys. Right now, it just doesn't seem like that's there.
Question: In the era of green-white-checkered finishes, how gut-wrenching have the races become?
Gordon: I'm not sure if it's more gut wrenching on me or my wife. For the last three races, I've had a lot of texts and phone calls from family and friends saying, "Man, I don't know how you take this anymore." So, they've obviously created a lot of excitement and I think that's great. If you think it's exciting watching, you can only imagine what it's like for me inside the car. It's very nerve-wracking. You don't want to spin the tires, you don't want to make a mistake, and you don't want to give a win away. If you get four tires and you get shuffled back, you gotta go back and get after it, you've got to be aggressive. There's a lot of different ways to win races these days; the best car doesn't always win. You can be running sixth or seventh and you can have a shot at winning. That's why you just never give up. I tell you it's intense, for sure.