JEFF GORDON, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed track conditions at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Chase and other topics. HOW SLICK IS THE RACE TRACK? DO YOU THINK IT'S THE TIRES OR IS...
JEFF GORDON, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed track conditions at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Chase and other topics.
HOW SLICK IS THE RACE TRACK? DO YOU THINK IT'S THE TIRES OR IS THE TRACK JUST REALLY SLICK?: "I was pretty happy with the tire actually. I thought the tire was good. I think these conditions are very, very slick. That was a pretty tricky practice session where we're having to do mock qualifying runs where the track is 115 degrees. That made it pretty challenging. Normally we have the night qualifying where it's super fast, you're wide open, picking up a ton of speed from practice. I don't think we're going to see that today just because we're qualifying late afternoon."
WHAT CAN DALE EARNHARDT JR. DO OR THE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT GROUP AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS DO TO HELP YOU IN THE CHASE?: "What's the most important to us from our teammates and it's always the case whether we're battling for a championship or not, is just really good, valuable information. That usually comes from teams that are competitive and battling for wins. That's the information you value the most. If they can continue to improve their performance and be able to give us really solid information, that's going to help us be more competitive against the other competitors out there. That's all we ever ask for from any of our teammates and that would be fantastic if all of us elevate up our game during those last 10 races to be able to share that really good information back and forth."
ARE YOU FEELING ANY PRESSURE AT THIS POINT?: "Not much pressure right now other than a normal race weekend to win. Our goal is the same every race weekend -- to go out there to win and so that pressure is there. You want to lay down a good qualifying lap. Every lap on the track is important to give to the team to get the car right for the race and for qualifying. There's always pressure with that, but if you're talking about to win the championship -- that really will start in a couple weeks when we get to New Hampshire."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT RACING AT RICHMOND?: "It's a great track, multiple grooves and a short track. For the drivers, the crews and the fans, it seems to be one of the best tracks and we always like going there. Racing under the lights, it seems to be a very competitive race and a few surprises, a lot of action and then you throw in there the guys that are trying to make it in the Chase -- there's going to be a lot of exciting things to watch."
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT RUNNING AT ATLANTA AT NIGHT?: "That's the biggest challenge I see, it's great that we're here two days, but the challenge that comes along with that two-day schedule is the fact that we're practicing during the day and we're racing at night. This place, as we've seen with qualifying in the last several years, changes dramatically. It gains a lot of grip as that track temperature cools down. I expect it to do the same, but none of us really know because none of us -- I mean, when we ran before it wasn't with this car at night so a totally different situation, different tires, track is more worn. It's a guessing game for all of us. I think we all know that as the track cools, it will gain grip. But how is the tire wear going to be, how is the fall off going to be, what's the balance of the car going to be -- it's all a guessing game."
DO YOU THINK THE FORMULA FOR WINNING THE CHASE HAS CHANGED IN RECENT YEARS?: "I think the formula has changed since they changed how many points there are for first versus second. I think that it put a premium on winning races because you can't just have the best average finish, you have to have those extra points that come along with a win. I do certainly think it puts a premium on winning and I think those 12 guys that are going for the championship are the 12 best teams and cars out there, pretty much. They seem to be the ones that dominate those final 10 races more often than not. Somebody is going to win and somebody that is going to battle for the championship and win the championship is going to win races. You can pretty much feel like you have to win races as well, but I'll take a fourth-place average over the 10 races without a win -- I'll take that."
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE ONE PLACE YOUR TEAM NEEDS TO IMPROVE GOING INTO THE CHASE IN ORDER TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?: "I think what I'm excited about in the Chase is that the mile-and-a-halves have been really good for us this year. We've really improved over last year on the mile-and-a-halves and I think that's where we were lacking. I think that we have to continue to push that to make sure that we out-perform the 14 (Tony Stewart), the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and who knows who else, the 99 (Carl Edwards) and 5 (Mark Martin) -- any of these guys I think in this Chase can be championship caliber if they get it right. I feel like that's where we have improved and where we can still continue to improve slightly. Phoenix is certainly on our radar as a track that can be hit or miss for us. Talladega is what it is -- other than that we are really confident about all the other tracks. Then it is about eliminating the mistakes, just when it comes to coming to pit road, leaving pit road, on-track instances as well as the pit stops. All those calls that are going to be made are going to be extremely important and making the right ones and not making a mistake is going to be crucial."
DO YOU STILL FEEL LIKE THE TEAM TO BEAT LIKE YOU DID EARLIER THIS YEAR?: "We've lost a little bit of that momentum. I think some other guys have gained a little bit and I think that we fell off a little bit, but I still feel like we're capable of getting that back for the Chase. I feel like as far as the strength of our team, it's there. I think that what I do see that is so much different now about championships versus when I won my championships before or this team did is that it's 10 races. It's 10 tracks and you have to optimize those 10 tracks. It doesn't matter what you did prior to that at all and I think that when I look at the tracks that are in those final 10, those are tracks that we can do very much like we did earlier in the season."
HOW DOES AN INJURY AFFECT YOU MENTALLY IN THE RACE CAR?: "You would be surprised when you are in the race car, the engine is loud, there's a lot of vibration and your focus on driving the car can really eliminate a lot of pain and discomforts that are going on and take your mind off of it. It truly is the perfect example of mind over matter. To me, the worst I ever was in a car was when I cracked some ribs or bruised some ribs after the Texas crash way, way back and had to go to Bristol. That was the most uncomfortable race that I ever had to go through because it's Bristol and you're putting a lot of pressure on those ribs. I got in the race and the worst part was the cautions because I would think about it. During the green flag runs, it was no problem, but I have never broken my foot. I've never run in a race with a cracked or fractured or whatever Carl (Edwards) has. I think he's a pretty physically fit guy so I think he'll be fine."
DO YOU SEE BRIAN VICKERS OR KYLE BUSCH HAVING ANY ADVANTAGE OVER EACH OTHER TO GET INTO THE CHASE?: "I think that Kyle (Busch) is so explosive in the way where he can win at any moment and he can go on a hot streak and be as dangerous from a standpoint of putting wins together and racking up a lot of points. This is a good track for him and Richmond is a good track for him. Brian (Vickers), that team has really gained momentum and I think his maturity level has really shown, his patience and his talent -- that team is on a roll. I don't know, it's hard to say. I think Brian (Vickers) runs really well here and he qualified well at Richmond, but they struggled at Richmond. I would put the upper hand with Kyle (Busch) just a slight bit, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brian (Vickers) pulls it off."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO HAVE TEAMMATES IN THE CHASE WITH YOU?: "It's good and it's bad. If your teammates are the guys you have to beat for the championship, then you're up against them and your own equipment and your own information sharing, which has it's own challenges. It's a good problem to have, especially for Rick Hendrick, but even for the drivers and the teams. Where I see it so valuable is that you want to bring the championship back to your organization, regardless of which one of you win. Obviously, you want to be the one to do it, but you don't want it to slip away from your organization. By having teammates in the Chase, you push one another, you're constantly sharing information and seeing what's going on day to day in the shop and I think it elevates up your competition level if you're one of the top organizations out there. That's what I've seen Hendrick do. Or, if you're having a really bad weekend and things aren't going well, it's nice to have a teammate that's competitive that is having a good weekend that you can go and grab some information from and some set-ups to possibly turn your weekend around to keep you from having that one really bad week."
DO YOU THINK DRIVERS DO BETTER WHEN THEY ARE INJURED?: "I don't know, maybe. People persevere in all different circumstances, but I have no idea."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE FACT THAT THE TAMPA BAY BUCANEERS BELIEVE THAT DRIVERS ARE ATHLETES?: "We're athletes, we're just not the same type of athletes as those guys. We're sitting down, we're in a very hot environment. Mentally, we're more focused than anybody else out there in a major sport. Our hits don't come as often, but when they do, they're big. There's no doubt in my mind and never has been that it takes an athleticism to do what we do, but you can't compare it to a football player, a basketball player, tennis player, golf player -- they're all different."
WHAT DOES MENTAL TOUGHNESS MEAN TO YOU?: "Mental toughness is what separates the winners from the guys that finish 10th and 15th and battle for a championship. At this level of this sport, there is so much more than just driving the race car and dealing with what goes on when you're on the race track. There's the media, the fans, sponsors -- there's constant distractions and things that your mind is on. To me, mental toughness is about being able to put yourself in that moment when it counts the most, which is when you have a shot to win the race and it all comes down to you making a good restart or the pit crew making a great pit stop. All those things are in my mind the definition of what makes mental toughness so important."
DO YOU THINK CHAMPIONS HAVE TO DIG DEEPER?: "I think so. In racing there's days where the car is so superior that is what makes you stand out. Then there's other times when the individual driving the car makes the difference. It is a team sport and there is no one person that is making it all happen. It's a group of people that make it happen."
IS THERE ONE PERSON BEHIND THE SCENES THAT HAS STOOD OUT THIS SEASON?: Steve Letarte (crew chief) has been the one that has turned our program around this year. I think that he learned so much from last year's experience and the last two years. I think that he really took it upon himself to become more of a leader with this team and say, 'Listen, we have to make our cars better, we have to be stronger in these areas, be faster on the mile-and-a-halves.' He just really dug down deep to make this team stronger and what transpired from that was a lot of work from a lot of different people, but it takes him to orchestrate that and push that and get that going throughout the shop and our organization. We're still a team capable of battling for championships."
HAS STEVE LETARTE GOTTEN MORE COMFORTABLE AT DELEGATING?: "I think he's always been good at delegating because he'll be the first one to tell you, 'Hey, I don't think I'm the smartest guy here, but I feel like I'm very good at what I do.' That's what I like about Steve (Letarte, crew chief), he's got a lot of confidence in what he does and he's very good at utilizing the resources around him. I don't think that's ever really been a problem for him."
DO YOU EVER PLAY FRISBEE?: "Not recently. I think I might think twice about it now the next time I go out and play Frisbee."
HAVE YOU EVER HURT YOURSELF PLAYING SOMETHING LIKE THAT?: "One thing that I've learned is that you can be riding a bike, walking down the street -- I could go up these steps and twist my ankle. It really can happen at any time and it's unfortunate when it does happen and you try to think twice about some of the things that you do. You still have to live your life and do the things that are important to you away from the track whether it be spending time with my family or whether it be exercising or hanging out with friends, whatever those activities are. You could have injuries that can happen and it sounds to me that's what happened with Carl (Edwards) and it's unfortunate."
-credit: gm racing