JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway and discussed Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson, and going to the Congo along with other topics.
TALK ABOUT THE PLANE CRASH INVOLVING MR. HENDRICK THIS PAST WEEK: “Obviously, a lot of us in disbelief and shock in what happened, a lot of questions, I was able to talk to Rick and see Rick this week and he is cutting up and in good spirits, so that was great to see, he is recovering well.”
AS YOU LOOK AT THE PEOPLE AT THE TOP OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP, WHO WOULD YOU PICK? “It is getting interesting; it is tough to say, I think Tony (Stewart) has surprised so many of us. You look at the season that he has had and coming into the Chase, really not showing a lot of strength, but getting in and being on fire in the Chase. The thing I look at what Tony has done is, there are certain tracks you are strong at and certain tracks you are not strong at, he has done exceptionally well at the tracks he is strong at and lived up to his full potential. He has done a great job stepping it up, that whole team has, at the other tracks. All along, I feel like Carl (Edwards) was the guy to beat this whole season, even going back to last season. I think they are going to be tough to beat. Between Tony and (Kevin) Harvick, looks like Tony is putting up a heck of a fight and a Two-Time champion, you can’t count him out.”
COMING INTO THE CHASE TONY (STEWART) WAS SAYING, HE HAD NO SHOT, DO YOU TAKE THINGS LIKE THAT SERIOUSLY OR WAS HE TRYING TO TAKE ATTENTION OFF HIS TEAM? “No, I think he really believed that and meant that, I mean they were struggling, they were not doing well. The thing that the media and the fans have to be careful of, especially of the talent of Tony Stewart, when frustration kicks in you say things like that but, it doesn’t stop your fight, it doesn’t stop how hard you work to still go out there and win races and battle for great finishes and I think that Tony and that team have proven that. Sometimes words like that can motivate. Looks like that is the case here.”
HOW DIFFERENT WILL IT BE BEING IN THE GARAGE WITH KASEY KAHNE INSTEAD OF MARK MARTIN NEXT YEAR? “I am going to miss Mark; I have had a blast being teammates with Mark. I don’t know Kasey real well, but I really like what he and Kenny Francis bring to the table and I am excited about working with Kasey. We get along well, he is a quiet guy, so we try to crack that shell and see what it is going to take for us to communicate well and be great teammates and get the most out of our organization, our racecars and the race teams.”
WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS ON THE NEW LAYOUT AT PHOENIX, AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN COMPARE PHOENIX TO? “The way I look at it is three and four really did not change a whole lot, other than the surface and the tires. It is going to be tricky conditions. It is dusty and sandy out there in that part of the country. It is hard to get the track cleaned off and get the rubber laid down but one and two has changed quite a bit, as you exit turn two. The back straightaway is completely different, there is definitely no comparison to what goes on back there to any other track. It is going to be challenging, there is no doubt about it. These conditions, I am interested to see, not what it does for all for all the competitors in the race, but what it does for the championship, because it could shake things up in a big way.”
IF THAT SECOND GROVE AT PHOENIX DOES NOT COME IN WHAT TYPE OF RACING ARE WE GOING TO SEE? “It is going to be important for the track, for NASCAR, everybody to work together to try to create a second grove. I am hoping they take some measures that we talked about at the test to help clean off that second grove before we get there. I think that is going to be very important, because it is not just that there was not a second grove, it was if you got a foot outside of that groove, you were either in the wall or you were going to lose a lap, it took that long to get back in the groove and clean the tires off and get back up to speed. That is the part where I say things could be very interesting and challenging.
“Once we get out there and get a couple of different series running at the same time, I think that groove is going to widen out and it won’t be quite as treacherous as it was in the test, hopefully.”
DO YOU GUYS NOW CONSIDER PHOENIX TO BE A WILD CARD IN THE CHASE JUST BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN? “Absolutely, it is an unknown for all of us, a new surface, new tire; it is basically like a new race track. If we do not get that groove widened out then it makes for very tricky conditions and you are on a fine line between having great track position and maintaining speed and making it hard for other guys to pass, to if you get a foot outside that groove it could ruin your entire day. That is not something as a championship contender you want to go into with those types of conditions, you don’t want those variables to factor in. You want the safest condition you can be in, you want to control your own destiny and that is what is going to change things this year at Phoenix.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE CONSISTENT AND KEEP THAT THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE YEAR? “That is a good question, I wish I had the answers because if we did, we would not be sitting in the position that we are sitting in. You just have to work hard, pay attention to details, I was joking with Carl ( Edwards) last week in the media center that I would be his driver coach for Martinsville, for the future, but this week I am going to ask him to be my driver coach here at Texas. When I think of tracks where we are inconsistent, Texas comes to mind. This place, it really challenges, the tire that Goodyear brings here, this track and the configuration of it, challenges every weakness that I have as a race car driver and I really struggle here. When we look at this season, one of the things that have been constant is this tire, we struggle on this tire, and I struggle on this tire.
“That is something we are going to have to overcome for next year, is to get better with this tire. It has a different construction, different compound and it doesn’t suit my driving very well, so I think that other than that, we had to improve our mile-and-a-half program this year, we have. We need to be a little more consistent with that. Our short track stuff is great, I can’t wait to get back to Bristol and I have not said that for a number of years. I am certainly looking forward to that. I think that every year you try to capitalize on your strengths and improve on your weaknesses and that is what we are going to have to do for next year and hopefully get ourselves back in Chase and when the Chase starts we can make those improvements and make them stick when the time counts the most.”
WHEN YOU WON HERE, WHAT WAS IT THAT CAME TOGETHER? “I guess it was pure luck, because it didn’t have anything to do with my driving skills. We have had moments and again I say the tire. The last time we ran good here, it was a different tire, Goodyear changes tires for reliability and certain reasons and those little small changes sometimes can make a big difference in how you drive it, what you feel and the set-up of the car. I don’t know all Hendrick cars seem to struggle here, today. We obviously as a group need to get better, but I was the worst of all of them. I know that there are some things that I need to do better here as well.”
WHAT WAS JIMMIE JOHNSON’S REPUTATION BEFORE HE WENT ON HIS CURRENT STREAK OF CHAMPIONSHIPS? “I can only speak to what I thought of Jimmie and that was boy, when he finally wins a championship, watch out he is going to go on a heck of a streak, look what happened. He is just a strong driver, in so many different ways. Very versatile, I think what makes him so good is that he can adapt, and I think the struggles and challenges and the way he had to work to get himself to this level, made an incredible work ethic and it shows up in his physical fitness and it shows up in his driving. When you surround a driver like that with good people and good equipment, like what we have at Hendrick Motorsports on that 48 team, it is a dangerous combination.”
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS IN ADAPTING TO ALL THE CHANGES NASCAR HAS MADE OVER THE YEARS, THE COT, EVERYTHING CHANGING CONSTANTLY, THE 48 TEAM JUST SEEMS TO KEEP GOING AND PLUGGING ALONG: “Exactly, I take it several steps further than that, he can look at data from other drivers and see where he can improve and he can adapt his driving style, how he works the brake and the throttle, and the steering wheel, he does a great job at that as well as, I think Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and that team are very good. They are great at communicating. You know the key to success is communication. Getting really detailed and accurate information from the driver and applying that to the car. Leading into that weekend, it is what the team does, the engineers, the crew chief, aerodynamicist, everybody working together to put the best race car out there for that race track and that is what I think they have done so well at and it was interesting, I was just watching on TV before I came out here and Jimmie said it best, he really didn’t have the speed to beat the No. 11 car last year, but yet they won the championship and that is a sign of a great team.”
A LOT OF DRIVERS HAVE SAID TODAY THE COMPETITION HAS GOTTEN STIFFER THIS YEAR, DO YOU THINK WE WILL EVER SEE ANOTHER DRIVER TO COME ALONG TO WIN FIVE IN A ROW? “NO, I don’t, I think you are seeing history in the making right here and I don’t think you are going to see that happen for a very long time. I have always said, and people ask this all the time, going back to the number of wins and the dominance we had in the mid to late 90’s, people said will you see that kind of dominance again, it is certainly possible and every once in a while, a rare combination comes together but they made it look easy and it is not that easy. That is why it will be a long time before we see it again.
THERE IS ANOTHER EFI TEST COMING UP AT DAYTONA, HAVE YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY OF THE ONES RECENTLY AND WHAT IS YOUR OVER ALL IMPRESSION OF THE EFI ENGINE “Are you sure that is an EFI test? YES, Oh ok good, so they won’t be doing any aerodynamic testing? THEY MIGHT AS WELL Oh that’s good to know, we participated in the Charlotte test with me driving the car. Obviously Hendrick Motorsports has been very involved with all the EFI testing that has gone on and all I can say is I was very pleased with the results that we had at Charlotte, I think that is contributed to the work that Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR have put into it. I think once we get to Daytona, in February, it is basically going to be seem less, you are not going to know the difference from a fan or from a driver and that is a good thing.”
WHAT WERE IMPRESSIONS OF YOUR TRIP, YOU WENT TO THE CONGO ON YOUR TRIP FOR THE JEFF GORDON FOUNDATION, WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THAT TRIP, HOW DID IT EFFECT YOU? “Oh my gosh, you know jaw dropping at moments but certainly very inspiring to get a chance to go see what it is like in other parts of the world and how people live and the resiliency through struggles of a country like the DRC is, it is unbelievable. I came away from it a new person in a lot of ways. Not taking for granted that things that I get to enjoy every day , the luxuries that I have and try to be more mindful of how I can give back more, to others and not waste things like so many of us do especially in this great country because we are afforded those luxuries and so I think it is a great experience for me personally, I can’t wait to take Ingrid and Ella, actually they just got their shots this week to go to Rwanda, which we will be going to in early December, soon as the banquet is over and going to visit some hospitals, mainly children dealing with cancer. I am really excited to get them there and experience it as a family and I know it is going to be tremendous for Ella, to be able to see with their own eyes. She already had so many questions and interest in people when they are ill or have injuries and I think that is a great thing for a young child to see and experience especially from this country and going to other countries and see what is going on. I can’t wait to come back and share that with other parts of my family and friends, of what it was like.”
WITH JIMMIE’S STREAK OF FIVE, HAS IT CHANGED HOW DRIVERS AND TEAMS GO ABOUT DOING THINGS NOW? “No, I mean there is a target out there and I think it motivates you, especially when somebody dominates in a sport that is so equal and so tough to dominate in, I think it just motivates the competition maybe a little bit more. Other than that I think it is business as usual, people are just working really hard to try to get an edge and that is what you are always trying to do. When someone dominates the way that 48 team has recently it gives a little bit of extra motivation to dig deep down inside yourself and figure out how you can find that edge and utilize it and keep them from winning.”