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NASCAR WCUP: A conversation with the Champ: Jeff Gordon

5 August 1999

INDIANAPOLIS -- During July testing for Saturday's Brickyard 400, defending champion Jeff Gordon, who celebrated his 28th birthday Wednesday, talked about a variety of racing subjects with Dick Mittman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway public relations department:

About possibly becoming the first three-time winner of the Brickyard 400: "We're going to work hard. That's why we're here testing. Hopefully, we find the combination that could get us to Victory Lane on Saturday when we come back here.

"But, hey, this is a big event. We want to run well, and we want to win it."

About the rest of the season: "I think really our thought process right now is to try not to have failures and problems that have kept us behind and put us where we are now. It's not that one or two positions are going to make a difference, it's 20 or 30 positions. And that's really what we're trying to do. Once we get in the top five and we're capable of being there at the end of the race, we do what we normally do, which is try to win and get the best finish that we can.

"But I think the things that have happened to us this year are those crazy, awkward things that haven't happened to us. That's what has gotten us behind. We're more concerned making sure those things don't happen than we are battling with one guy for one position."

Can points leader Dale Jarrett be caught?: "Not if he keeps running the way he's running and finishing there."

About crowd reaction to his success: "When I came all the way around and took the checker (in last year's Brickyard 400), I came down pit road. As fast as we were going under caution if I had shut off at the start-finish line I'd never been there. I shut off coming down pit road. Last year I had a lot of boos, you know, in a lot of places, and it was really good to hear that (cheers).

"Pretty much, for the most part (I hear cheers at Indy). I have a lot of people who pull for us here. That's one of the things that makes it fun to come here to Indy. It's just because if I had a home track or a hometown maybe that supported me, it probably would be here.

"When they're cheering them, you miss them. When they're not, you just don't pay any attention. You ignore it. You know, it's hard to ignore it. It's out there. It doesn't really bother me, though. It's one of those situations where I don't take it personally."

About NASCAR's growth: "You could never guess it is going to take off the way it has. And I certainly never knew when I was heading down south to run Busch and hoping to get in Winston Cup someday. I never dreamed it would be as popular as it's been. I never knew I would have this type of success.

It's great to see. There's a lot of people that work hard to make this sport bigger and better. And I think when you have that many people, the sponsors, the organization, the teams, drivers everybody, the fans, when you get that many people working together and try to make something better, you usually get results, and we certainly have."

Would you move to Formula One?: "No, not right now I wouldn't. I haven't had any calls ... not lately. I maybe at one time would have considered it if it was the right opportunity.

"But I love where I'm at. I don't know why I would want to go anywhere else. I think this is where it's at, and I don't want to live in Europe. I like it over there. I like to vacation there. I want to live here. Things are going real well for me, and I can't imagine doing anything different."

About the possibility of an American team and driver racing in Formula One in 2000: "I think it would be great. I wish the opportunity would arise for an American driver. It's not possible. It's not possible, because it's two-car teams that have to run every race, two cars and two drivers. And unless there is a driver who gets hurt and cannot make the race, there's no way you could just run a third team for a one-race deal. Can't do it."

Is the NASCAR Winston Cup the toughest racing championship to win?: "I know one thing, there's no harder championship to win. Look at the way the points are structured. If you don't run well every single weekend and finish well every weekend, you're not going to win the championship. It is the most competitive series that there is. And I think the way the points are structured, when you win a championship it's a big deal. When you win more than one, you have really done something. And that's what blows me away about (Richard) Petty and (Dale) Earnhardt that these guys have won seven. I mean, I'm blown away that I've won three. To think these guys have gone on to win seven is truly amazing."

About open-wheel drivers competing in NASCAR: "Seems to me it's like an opportunity. For whatever reason, when people are looking for drivers in stock car they're looking for a guy with some talent, and sprint cars is a good area to go search, because it takes a lot of smart talent to run a sprint car, especially if you run it good.

"I mean, you're talking about a front-engine, open-wheel car and a rear-engine, high-downforce open-wheel car. There's no comparison in those cars whatsoever. So to me, it's so much different today. You don't think, sprint cars, OK, this prepares me for Indy. If I was going to prepare myself for Indy I'd go run F2000, I'd run rear-engine with wings and all that stuff, tubs, all that stuff. I don't know. It's hard to say why they're doing it.

"I'm glad that they are, because there's some real talent there. It just makes our sport more competitive."

About big purses in NASCAR compared to his early days in racing: "Two-hundred dollar purses (in sprints and midgets). Man, I hope I made more than that. They used to pay a thousand to win. "Yeah, pretty unbelievable ($1.6 million for winning the Brickyard 400, $9 million overall in 1998).

"In a lot of ways, that hasn't changed much, because it's not just about the money. It's a big, big win. To me, I had the same feeling when I won the Brickyard as I did, let's say, when I won the Night Before the 500. Same feeling. It's just when you go to the bank on Monday, you've got a whole lot more. You get to be happier longer, maybe."

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