JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with media and discussed the All-Star race and using it as a test, the challenges of the Coke 600, Brian Vickers and sitting out the rest of the season, and more. ON BRIAN VICKERS SITTING OUT THE BALANCE...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with media and discussed the All-Star race and using it as a test, the challenges of the Coke 600, Brian Vickers and sitting out the rest of the season, and more.
ON BRIAN VICKERS SITTING OUT THE BALANCE OF THE SEASON "I'm a good friend of Brian's. I feel for him and that team. When I heard about everything from the beginning, I was really concerned for him. I spoke to him the other day. He's handling it well. It's a tough thing to go through. He's smart enough and he's got good people around him that are giving him good advice that is helping. The most important thing is for him to get healthy. That race car and racing will be there for him."
HOW DO YOU KEEP DRIVER/CREW CHIEF CHEMISTRY? "You win (laughs)! Yeah, you've got to run good. You've got to lead laps. You've got to be up front. That's what builds confidence and chemistry in everybody. And that's what I'm loving this year. We're running good and leading a lot of laps and it's making race day a lot of fun, and going to each race a lot of fun. So, it was a little frustrating last week that we didn't run good because we've been running good and we've been getting used to it and then we go and have a rough weekend like we did in Dover. Even though we still finished 11th, it wasn't what we were looking for. We're excited about getting here this weekend. I think a lot of teams are in test mode to get ready for the 600, but this is a big event. Everybody wants to win it. You're going to have to really have your act together to go fast to do that."
BY USING THE ALL-STAR AS A TEST, DOES THAT SORT OF DIMINISH THE EVENT? "I think it makes it more exciting and interesting. You've got guys who are really willing to take more risks inside the race cars, the driver as well as the crew chief and the teams and the engineers are taking more risks in the set-ups. It's all for speed. They wouldn't be putting it out there if they didn't think it was going to make them go faster. And it goes back to when we brought T-Rex years ago. This is the event that you do that in because the points aren't on the line. And sometimes you fail and sometimes you succeed. But I think it's just another element that makes this event so exciting actually. That's what I love about the qualifying and the whole event really. It's a total team effort because we had the pit crew competition the other night and that was our pit stall pick location. Then tonight we incorporate them into qualifying so it doesn't matter if your car is the fastest car on the track, it's a total team effort. And then there are mandatory pit stops in the event tomorrow night. So it really shows which team is really strong. That's awesome to be able to have an event like that."
IS THE SHOWDOWN GOING TO BE AS EXCITING AS THE ALL-STAR RACE ITSELF? "Oh, I was walking in today and looking up on the board and you've got No. 31 (Jeff Burton) the No. 33 (Clint Bowyer), the No. 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya), the No. 16 (Greg Biffle). The list just keeps going on and on of guys who are really strong in this sport and in this series right now, and not in the All-Star event yet. We're all going to be anxiously watching qualifying tonight as well as that race tomorrow night."
WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT THE STATE OF THE SPORT? "It just shows how competitive the series is. It shows what kind of year you had prior to. I'm kind of in a unique situation because I've won the All-Star event in the past and we always come to the All-Star event to show that we're competitive. And so it's an important event It's an exciting event. I'm just glad I get to be in it."
HOW DOES THE 600 RANK AS FAR AS TOUGHER RACES DURING THE SEASON? "Well, this 600 is tough because it's long. This is a great track. It's a fun and exciting track to drive. There aren't many drivers who don't like this track. From that standpoint, it makes it a little easier to go run 600 miles. But still, 600 miles is a long way, especially when you go from day to night and you've got a lot of things that you've got to overcome. Cars are not going to be perfect. If you're perfect during the day, you've got to make some big adjustments to be ready to go at night. And to be perfect at night, you're going to have to be a little off or way off during the day. There are so many challenges, and that's what I think makes it such a tough event; the length of it, and the day to night. Charlotte Motor Speedway, being a track that everybody likes, means that a lot of guys run well here."
ARE YOU USED TO RUNNING 600 MILES HERE? 'No, I've just gotten to where I just go every weekend and we do the things that we do to prepare for the race and they drop the green and I don't even try to think about how long the race is. I try to take each run separately, whether it be to the caution or the fuel stop or to when you need tires. Usually, no matter what race it is, I don't really ask how many laps there are to go until I feel like we start coming down to win. Everything starts to really play a role in winning the race. When you get down to the last 150 laps or 150 miles, that's what the race is going to be won and lost. And we work on trying to position ourselves throughout the time prior to that, but at that point is usually when I say, okay, how many laps to go and where are we at? And that's when things start to heat up in a big way."
DO YOU NEED TO USE THE ALL-STAR RACE AS A TEST, OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE HIT A GOOD POINT OR ARE THERE STILL SOME THINGS YOU WANT TO TEST AND LOOK AT TOMORROW? "I can tell you that practice was basically useless for us today. When you practice during the day here, even though it was overcast, it was still 100 degree track temperature; it will be 80 degree track temperature at night. So we didn't learn anything out there today. But we're always gathering information. And I still feel like we're going to be in good shape for the race tomorrow night. But tomorrow night is a test session for us, no doubt. It's a test session that we hope still results in a win tomorrow, but it's a test session for us to really try some unique and different things for next week, qualifying as well as for the race."
WHAT IS THE HEALTH OF NASCAR AND THE INTEREST OF SPONSORS TO STAY IN? "I think the health of NASCAR is actually good. The racing has been fantastic. What we have to offer sponsors is still fantastic. The problem is the costs have gotten extremely high for the teams to operate as well as what we are asking out of the sponsors. It has gotten very expensive and with the economy the way the economy is, those two things, cost and economy are the two things that are expecting sponsors in making their decisions to com e in to the sport or stay in the sport or what they are willing to do to be with certain teams. That is what is making it really tough. If you are judging where the sport is based on that, then yes, we're in a tough position right now. I think from a fan loyalty and a demographic and what we are putting out there, I just don't think it gets any better for sponsors than what we have right now."
CAN YOU SHARE AN EARNHARDT SR. STORY WITH US? "I would probably tell some stories that would start off with "Man, he was a pain in my butt." He taught me a lot of lessons, usually the tougher ones are the ones I remember more than anything else. But, I would end it with something positive because of what he did for the sport. What he did for me in those lessons that I learned that were sometimes tough lesson. Then the business side of it, the things that he taught me. He didn't have to do that. I always admired what he did on the track, but I really admired what he did off the track equally as much. In my opinion, there has never been a better restrictor plate and superspeedway racer than Dale.
"I probably learned as much about anything I learned from him, probably learned more about restrictor plate racing and aerodynamics and using the cars around you and your mirrors and all of those things purely from watching him. Just from watching him and racing with him, trying to figure out he did things because he did things that just looked too easy and looked too extraordinary. I was always in awe of that going "How did he do that?" I started analyzing it and figured out a few things so I took that. He was always very gracious to me off the track. He treated me the same as anybody else, he'd knock you out of the way in two seconds and that just was the way dale raced. You didn't always like that side of it, but, you still respected it at the end of the day.
"We all miss him so much, wish he was still here and a part of this sport because he brought so much to it. You just can't imagine NASCAR Cup racing without Dale Earnhardt, Sr."
IF THERE WAS ONE QUALITY OF HIS THAT YOU WISH YOU COULD HAVE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "I guess it is how you can move a guy out of your way, spin a guy out, send him flying in the wall and look at the video from every angle and go "No, that wasn't Dale's fault, he didn't do that, it was the other guy, he just got loose." And, Dale's way of being able to grab you on the shoulder, smile about it and even though you are as mad as can be about it, and not be mad at him anymore. For some reason, he had that quality as well. I'd like to have both of those qualities."
ARE YOU INTERESTED IN FINDING OUT THE CAUSE OF BRIAN VICKER'S ILLNESS? "Absolutely. I think all of should be because if it is something that has to do with traveling and flying and anything that is contributed from the race cars. How our seats are molded. Anything like that. If it is racing related or lifestyle related, then I want to know about it because I don't want it to happen to me. So I am very interested to find out."
BRIAN TALKED ABOUT WHAT HE WAS FEELING WITH THE DISCOMFORT AND PAIN BEFORE HE WENT TO GO SEE A DOCTOR. HE SAID THAT HE WAS AFRAID TO CALL A DOCTOR BECAUSE HE FIGURED THAT THE DOCTOR WAS GOING TO TELL HIM THAT HE COULDN'T RACE AT DOVER. AS A COMPETITOR CAN YOU RELATE TO THE IDEA OF BEING AFRAID OR CAUTIOUS OF CALLING A DOCTOR WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL WELL? "I guess so. I mean, I wouldn't want to miss a race. I can tell you that. I've felt ill many times, but I've never felt so ill that I thought that I needed to miss a race, so I never thought that if I called a doctor that it could make me miss a race. If I feel like I'm in that kind of pain and a doctor tells me that I shouldn't be in the race, well then I shouldn't be in the race. I've been doing this long enough and I've been able to have the success that missing a race or missing six months of racing is not going to be the end of the world for me. But for a young guy that is making his mark and is really wanting to be a champion in this series, this time in his life is really crucial and you don't want to miss out on that."
DO YOU HAVE ANY UNIQUE STORIES ABOUT YOUR FIRST WIN HERE AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY? ARE THERE ANY LITTLE THINGS THAT STICK OUT IN YOUR MIND WHEN YOU THINK BACK TO THAT RACE? "I can tell you that if I win the 600 next week, I think I'll be about as emotional because it seems like it has been that long since I won a race. Winning that first race--there's nothing like it in the world. You have such a feeling of accomplishment. I don't remember any real stories that go along with it; that's just not me. I'm terrible at remembering details like that. I'll remember what it was like looking through the windshield in the closing laps when I found that I was leading and we had the pace to get to the end and the laps were winding down and what I was feeling."
DID YOU FEEL NERVOUS OR ANY PRESSURE WHEN YOU WERE RACING FOR THAT WIN? "You feel that way just because you want it so bad, and you realize how hard it is to accomplish that. It means so much to you and your team. So when you want something that bad, it's hard for you not to go through your mind about how much it means to you, or how not to screw it up, or all of the bad things that could go wrong and thinking please don't let that happen. When you've won eight or nine races that season, when you're in that position you're like 'here we go again' or 'yeah I know where going to win this race.' That's totally different. When you've got for a period of time and you haven't won especially if you've been knocking on the door and you've just been working hard for it and it hasn't happened, then those emotions of that first win start to come back. You feel the same thrill, have the same thoughts and feel all the same things. There's nothing like the first one. The first one is definitely more special because you got there, but you aren't sure of yourself or your team or you just don't know if you have what it takes to pull into victory lane at that level."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO BRIAN OR HAVE YOU OFFERED HIM ANY ADVICE? "I did talk to him. I just support him. I know it's a tough thing that he's going through, and I can't imagine getting that news if that was me. I know how much racing means to him. He's also a guy that enjoys a lot of things outside of racing, and I think that's as tough on him right now as anything else is. I just remind him that racing can go on for a long time and his health is the most important thing. Hopefully he can find things during this time to turn something positive out of it, and to enjoy things that maybe he couldn't do because of racing. The biggest thing is that you just hope that they find out what caused it, so it doesn't come back and that he gets himself healthy so he can come back and race for a long time and not have to deal with this again."
WHEN YOU WERE DEALING WITH YOUR BACK ISSUES, DID ANY OF THIS PASS THROUGH YOUR HEAD--WORRYING THAT YOU MAY HAVE TO SIT OUT? "Yeah. My whole thing was that I wanted to get to a doctor and find out what the heck was going on, and why I was feeling like that. If they told me, 'hey, you need surgery tomorrow and you're going to be out for six months.' I would have done it in a heartbeat. I don't like feeling what I feel. Again, that is why I said that I'm in a different position in my career and in my life than Brian is. I might think of it a little different than he would."
-source: gm racing