Multiple NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon has admitted that being held winless in the 2008 Sprint Cup campaign hurt more than he realised, and has vowed to make the most of an improved team to ensure that there is no repeat this season.

The veteran finished seventh overall after the now familiar Chase for the Championship had shuffled the regular season order, and had four poles to go with 13 top five and 19 top ten finishes, but the trip to victory lane managed to elude the #24 Hendrick Chevrolet.

"It was a big deal last year - the season starts in February and ends in November and your goal is to win races and win the championship," he reflected ahead of the 2009-opening Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, "This is a humbling sport and last year was a humbling year for us. It made us realise just how bad we want to win and how bad we don't want to lose - and I think we can show that this year.

"Last year was a big deal, but it's behind us and we learned from it. We grow from it and make ourselves better and try to make sure it doesn't happen this year - and I don't think it's going to. I think we're a stronger, better team. I think we're taking that experience and we're making the most of it."

Asked to pinpoint reasons for his lack of ultimate success in 2008, Gordon counted the switch to the Car of Tomorrow as among the main contenders.

"You've got to understand that one of the biggest things is the car was just totally different last year," he reasoned, "When you've been in the sport as long as I have, it's harder to adapt to changes. The longer you're in it the harder it is to adapt to changes, so some of it is me adjusting my driving. I can't change how I drive, but I can make some small adjustments.

*Guys drive their cars fast - they don't drive them loose, they don't drive them tight. Your goal is to get the car balanced perfectly front to rear but this car, because it doesn't turn in the middle very good, you've got to get it to rotate - and sometimes you've got to get it to rotate a little bit sooner.

"I had very few issues on entry to corners, so most of my issues were on middle and exit, the transition getting onto the bump stops under braking. I just like to drive into the corner so deep that, when I get on the brakes, it just transitions a bit too abrupt and too fast, so that's probably one of the biggest things I had to deal with. But it wasn't making the car loose.

"I think that we've got to compromise some of our bump stops and spring combinations to be able to allow me to drive that way, just because I do drive that way, and I've got to make a few adjustments to be a little bit smoother with those transitions as well. I saw guys that had their cars turning, but they were driving forward. That's not loose, it's not pushing, it's that car has grip. There's a big difference.

"These bump stops are just a thing that drive drivers, crew chiefs and engineers up the wall and they're somewhat unpredictable, so we battled with that. But we really made improvements toward the end of the year that I don't think really got noticed because of the championship battle that was going on - and that's certainly fair.

"While we weren't the top three, I felt like we were fourth or fifth best out there in that Chase and that's not too shabby, especially with where we started. So, to me, we took momentum into the off-season because of that."

Despite the optimism, however, Gordon knows that he can't simply rely on end-of-year performances - unseen or otherwise - to elevate himself back into title contention.

"Obviously, to compete with Jimmie [Johnson] and Carl [Edwards], we've got to step it up a whole lot, but you've got to walk before you can run and you can't take '07 and compare it to '08," he accepted, "We had the old car dialled in on 1.5-mile tracks, and we were going to Texas and being competitive. That's how good we had the old car. The new car is a whole different animal, and that's the biggest challenge, figuring that out."

The lack of laurels in 2008 might not have mattered to some drivers, especially one as successful as Gordon, but he admits that having a taste for winning meant that he missed more than even he might have realised.

"I think I'm more motivated to win now because, when you're coming up and you're young, you just don't know what your future holds - you're just driving and not thinking about it," he explained, "But now I know what it is like to win, and I appreciate it so much and worked so hard for all these years, nothing is driving me more than the desire to win - and the fact that we didn't win last year."



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