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November 19, 2015

Jeff Gordon

JEFF GORDON: I just love this racetrack. It's a great track for us to finalize not only my career but this championship battle, multiple grooves, tire wear and falloff, just creates some great racing, and plus it's a great town to have a good post‑party. I'm just thrilled to be going for my‑‑ into my final race knowing that I've got a shot at the championship. It's amazing to be in that position and thinking of what could be on Sunday for us.

Q. When you said it hasn't hit you yet, when do you think it will hit you, right before?
JEFF GORDON: Well, when I made the announcement in January, it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I had been thinking about it for several years, and for maybe a month or two, knowing it was coming, and in that moment it hit me. So that could be pre‑race, during the race, after the race, a week after. I don't know. There's definitely going to be some‑‑ a lot of emotions flowing on Sunday for sure.

Q. You said several times you think you're playing with house money at this stage, but now that you're here and you're at the main table, how badly do you really want this?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, just because you're playing with house money doesn't mean you don't want it bad. I real it really, really bad. Our team wants it really, really bad. Yeah, I think of course all four of these guys know what they're capable of doing, knowing anything can happen on Sunday, and everyone feels the confidence of I'm going to do this. And I'm no different than the other three.
For us, we're going to stick to what we've done really well, especially over the last, I think, 10 races, and that's executing and being very consistent, and then I'm hoping that we can find a little bit more within ourselves like we did here last year, like we've done here in the past, where it's Homestead and we find that speed that we need to not just go out and execute well and get the most out of it, but to be the one to control the race.

Q. You've won four championships; where would this one rank?
JEFF GORDON: You know, I didn't think anything could top the Brickyard 400 in 1994, that win, until Martinsville. I didn't think anything could top that 1998 championship where we won 13 races‑‑ I've always had a tough time trying to balance out which one is the most meaningful, because '95 was the first one. It was going against Earnhardt; that was huge. '98 was big because of the wins, the 13‑win season and how we dominated that season. But '01 was extremely personally gratifying to me, to do it with Robby Loomis, and again, I got a lot of respect in the garage area by doing it with someone other than Ray.
But this one is so much different because my final year, my final race, Ingrid and the kids. Kids motivate you in a whole new way, and no matter what we're going to go out and be happy and celebrate, but to do it as a champion, oh, my gosh, I just can't imagine anything that would be more emotional and more exciting and more gratifying than to look at my wife in the eyes and see that reaction from her when that race is over if we win it.

Q. Homestead‑Miami Speedway is a track that changes every year thanks to the sundown here. What can be used from your previous win in 2012 that may still apply to the track?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I thought we learned a lot throughout the testing, the practice sessions that we had last year, so we have a lot of data. But the cars have changed a lot. A lot less power now, less downforce in the car and balance, so what we're really going off of a lot right now is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. tested here and has data, and so we can compare the data and the setups from last year to this year and get some pretty good information that gives us a good direction for where we need to go for Friday, for Saturday and for Sunday.

Q. Kevin said that he didn't want to be the one to be a jackass. Where is the line between stepping over playing mind games and just being plain rude?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I also think that you have to look at your competitors. If you think that your competitors, if there's a weakness that playing mind games can give you an edge, then I think that you would go that route. I don't know if that works with these four. Some years that might work. Other years it might not.
Certainly Kevin is good at it. You know, he's got a good sarcastic sense of humor that plays out well and plays to his favor a lot of times. So yeah, I'm a little bit surprised. But at the same time, I think that just shows you the respect level on the stage and that we all want to go out and just race for it on Sunday.

Q. Is there a little part of you that because you're at the top of the mountain it's hard to step away now?
JEFF GORDON: Nope, no. That win in Martinsville, solidifying our chance to come here as a championship contender, that just sealed it for me. I was more disappointed of how earlier in the season we weren't getting the results. We weren't putting the performances together. We weren't running as good as we wanted to. I was making some mistakes. I was thinking to myself, man, I don't want to go out like this, I want to go out being competitive, battling for wins. That's what would make me happy.
And we did‑‑ all through the Chase we've been able to step up and perform the way I was hoping that we would, and then of course the Martinsville win, and now here we are with that same opportunity. That's how you want to go out, and that's how I hope I can.

Q. Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, you list them, after a couple years they started getting that hunger again.
JEFF GORDON: Well, that's the beautiful thing about racing. It doesn't mean that I won't ever drive a race car again. There's a lot of different types of series and cars out there that I maybe have never driven before and may have an interest in doing that. But currently, you know, I'm very content with the decision. I don't plan on doing any Cup races in the future. I know what a disruption that is to Hendrick Motorsports and the team that I'm still going to be involved with, and I've got enough things on my plate that are going to keep me very, very busy.

Q. You left the door open to contact on the final lap for the championship. Can you elaborate on that? Obviously you have one lap remaining, the white flag is out, do you feel like you can rub somebody and win?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you're going to do what you need to do to win the race and win the championship if that's what it takes, but nobody wants to go out and wreck a person for that win. Rubbing is a little bit different. You know, pushing and shoving and rubbing, I think everybody understands what's on the line, and if I'm leading the race and one of these guys is behind me, I know my job is to get clear of them so they can't get to my bumper, they can't get inside of me or outside of me to create contact, to lose the race. It's the same way for them if I'm in second. They're going to be thinking the same thing. That's their job, and they're going to know and expect, just like I would, if they can get to me, if they can get me sideways, take the air off me or push me up the racetrack, pull a Ryan Newman move like Phoenix, then that's going to be expected. There's a lot on the line.

Q. You've been such a major influence on a lot of younger drivers' lives. You've kind of changed the sport and made it all possible for them. Has that been a big influence for you?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I was influenced by other big names and competitive drivers, and that goes all the way back to early days of racing, not just in NASCAR. I think it's sort of a pay‑it‑forward type of mentality that you have as a race car driver. As you get later into your years as a person, as a race car driver, you realize, and I think a lot of athletes probably feel this way, that you realize the opportunity that you were given and that you know others helped you get there, and when you see a talent that you know has the ability to go a long way, you want to help them maybe cut out a few steps or make it big because when you're a part of the sport you're just passionate about seeing the sport drive, and it takes young, aggressive, talented drivers to take the sport to the next level, and I love being an influence on them in any way that I can.

Q. Do you think that your foundation (inaudible)?
JEFF GORDON: I would say being a parent and my foundation certainly is something I'm very, very proud of. We've worked hard at it and we've had great success, and we've saved a lot of lives.

Q. Homestead has been good to you in the past. How do you approach this weekend with the championship on the line?
JEFF GORDON: Well, that's what I love about this. Just being here, being a part of the Championship 4 in Homestead is special, but this is a track that I really like. I like this track. I like our chances. I don't think you can look at any other race that we've had this year and really compare‑‑ maybe Chicago, of a surface of a racetrack that maybe has a little bit of similarities to what you're going to experience here at Homestead, and we ran extremely well at Chicago. We ran really well here last year, and I think our team is really well‑prepared to go do what it takes to get this championship, and to me this is a perfect track for us to go pull that off and surprise some people.

Q. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, has your final season lived up to what you hoped it would be?
JEFF GORDON: I'll tell you, it didn't right up until the Chase started. I was pretty disappointed. I mean, it wasn't that we ever stopped working hard on it and trying to improve our cars, improve our team, improve our communication, and we had some rough patches along the way, but when we got close to Chicago, I started seeing pieces fall together that really showed the strength of our race team, and then of course we kicked it off with a really fast car and solid run at Chicago, and that gave us all confidence in what we were bringing to the racetrack. And at the same time what we've done very well most of the year is bring that car home in the position that it needs to be. We've been very consistent, we just haven't been as fast as what we need to be. That's steadily been improving, and the execution and consistency has stayed there throughout the whole Chase.

Q. Is there any one thing you can point to that turned it around for you?
JEFF GORDON: No. It's not one, it's just a lot of things, a lot of hard work, believing in one another. Luckily I have a team that has confidence in me and believes in me, and no matter what happens, even if we kind of get at one another, we always come back to those debriefs, those meetings, and just working on the job at hand, and you can only do that if you have confidence in one another.
Alan has done an excellent job keeping that glue together, working extremely hard, being committed to improving things, and that's in all areas. I would attribute it to his leadership, really.

Q. There's been a lot of weird things that have happened in this Chase, weird endings to races, strange incidents. Do you almost go into this race expecting something strange to happen, or do you approach it like a normal race? Do you have to anticipate some weirdness?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, yeah, I never anticipate weirdness. I just go into it just open‑minded to whatever happens is a part of the race that you have to be ready and adjust. I never go into a race with an absolute solid game plan, this is how it's going to go down, I'm going to run this lane and then I'm going to do this. I go into it with working on everything I possibly can with the team to give them the most information I can, to drive the car the best I can, to communicate with them, and then they do their job, and on race day, they drop the green flag and I take it lap by lap, and that's how I do every race. It's no different.

Q. Jeff, Kevin's success in the last two years, is he a different driver on the track?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, Kevin to me has always been a really talented race car driver, a very smart race car driver. I think he in a way kind of reminds me of Jimmie Johnson, where Jimmie was so competitive and just coming up short to championships, and then all of a sudden it clicked and they got that first one. I was like, oh, boy, when they get that first one, watch out. Now, of course there was a change of team with Kevin, and that change and the way they've put that team together I think has really showcased what kind of a caliber driver he truly is and championship caliber driver he is.

Q. With this Sunday being the last race in your illustrious career, at this point are you more nervous or more excited?
JEFF GORDON: I'm more excited. Sure there's some nerves because there's a lot on the line. But I'm more excited because I can't believe that all that we've worked for, all that we've done all year long to try to figure out how we're going to close out this career and this final race, and here we get to do it in a way where we get to battle for the championship, I mean, you couldn't ask for more. That's all we could hope for, but it was almost too far of a lofty goal to even be realistic, and now it is.
But because we're here, we didn't get here just because of Martinsville. I mean, we've been knocking on the door of getting better and better and better and being a team that could race our way here as well as win that race in Martinsville, and that gives me a lot of confidence for what we've got for Sunday.

Q. Can you put into words what Rick Hendrick has meant to you as an owner?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, my gosh. For Rick to want to hire me, number one, and then all that we've accomplished together, to get him his first championship, to contribute to Hendrick Motorsports in the way I have, I'm just so thankful because I got an opportunity to drive for the best owner, the best organization, work with the best people, and I wouldn't have 93 wins and four championships and have a shot at a fifth if it weren't for Rick, as well as what he's taught me off the track as a businessman, as a person, as a father. I mean, he's been so, so much to me.

Q. It might rain Sunday, Jeff. How does Homestead handle differently than other tracks on the circuit?
JEFF GORDON: Well, one thing about Homestead is it's an abrasive track. The groove moves around a lot, and if it does rain, it dries very fast, so that's the good news. We look at the forecast, but we can't control the weather, and so we deal with it the best way that we possibly can. We're really more concerned with track temperature, air temperature, humidity levels and things like that for tuning and for cooling and for what we'll do with air pressures on the tires, but we won't really adjust the setup based on weather, we'll adjusted the setup based on going out and running a race, a full race.

Q. You're a four‑time champion, but you always talk you haven't won a Sprint Cup title yet. What have you learned from the system and your teammates that will help you this weekend?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, obviously I'm very fortunate to have three great teammates that all are very competitive, great drivers, great teams. All that is very valuable information throughout a race weekend to tap into. As I mentioned earlier, Dale Jr. tested here. That's valuable information. And then you've got six‑time champion Jimmie Johnson, who has been a great friend over the years, a great teammate, and I've been tapping into‑‑ he asked me to. He's like, man, whatever you need, whatever you need. He's been incredible to me, to our team, to the whole organization, and that's the kind of person that Jimmie is, and I'm going to do my best to take advantage of it.

Q. In regards to preparation, how much of an advantage do you think it was winning Martinsville?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think it was definitely an advantage for us, and it's one that we needed because we've been behind. What we were able to do was take a car out of rotation that was going to go to Texas and look at what our competitors are doing, and we're analyzing things all the time from our competitors to try to figure out where we're getting beat. We're also looking internally at what we can do to just make everything better and faster, and so that was a nice luxury to be able to have a nice position to be in because we needed it. And now I can honestly say that I feel like we've improved our chances on Sunday because of it.

Q. Can you talk about South Boston, the couple races you raced up there a long time ago?
JEFF GORDON: Man, I mean, I'll be honest, I don't have a lot of memories of South Boston. I don't think I ever won a race there. I maybe won a pole in the Busch Grand National Series. Yeah, I don't have much for you, sorry.

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