JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed strategy for the Chase, short track racing, racing his teammates, Mark Martin's 1000th NASCAR start, and more. LOOKING BACK AT LAST YEAR, THE WORK YOU PUT INTO FEELING COMFORTABLE...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed strategy for the Chase, short track racing, racing his teammates, Mark Martin's 1000th NASCAR start, and more.
LOOKING BACK AT LAST YEAR, THE WORK YOU PUT INTO FEELING COMFORTABLE IN THE CAR WHAT WERE THE THINGS YOU HAD TO DO, HOW WERE YOU CHALLENGED AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME LAST YEAR TO GET THAT COMFORT? "You know when I say comfort I mean the performance of the car where I can drive the car and push the limits of the car and not just reach the edge and just go right over. When I say comfort it's the comfort of the grip level of the car. We saw that there were teams out there that their car would be rolling through the corner and be sideways but they were still in the gas and moved forward so you know that somebody out there is doing it. Through inspection you can look at their shocks and springs and different things they are doing to the set up. You don't know exactly what they're doing and how they're doing it but it gives you some direction and the team goes back, the engineers and Steve (Letarte) and they go to their computer and put it into simulation or they just go to work on it from an engineering standpoint and usually incorporate into our seven post testing that we do and start mathing it all out. As the new season came around they said hey we think we've got a pretty good idea on some things. We got California and some of the places early and it started working for us. We just picked a direction and went down that path. Once it starts working you get better at it because you've worked with it more."
IS THAT EXACTLY WHAT DALE (EARNHARDT, JR.) IS HAVING TO GO THROUGH NOW? "I don't know. You have to ask him. That's just what we chose to do. Every driver has a different driving style we've mentioned before so just one set-up that looks good is not always going to work. Plus sometimes it's the small little details that are left out of the set-ups that can make the difference so they're not always exact. I just know what we're doing right now and I can't give you the details of it, it's something that's really improved our 1.5-mile program. That's where I think we've made the biggest gains is on the bigger tracks."
YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO CHANGE THE TEAM JUST HAD TO ADJUST TO YOU? "You know I put up with things that maybe in the past I would work on to try to alleviate but that's just the nature of this car. This car a lot of times you've got to give up a loose entry in order to get the car to roll through the middle. Sometimes you even give up the exit to get it to roll through the middle because there aren't enough tools with this car to get it to do all the things you want it to do. We had some of that with the old car but not near to this level so you have to go outside of your comfort level and that's what we did. So there is a little bit from my side but not a whole lot I can do to change my driving style. Very little."
A BACK UPDATE, ARE THERE ANY MORE CONCERNS ABOUT THIS? "No. If there's an issue I will tell you. There's no issue, I'm fine."
WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE CHASE LOOKING IN AT THIS POINT OF THE SEASON? "Not fun. I think some of the most stress that you go through as a team and a driver is on the bubble. It's not the guys outside, it's the guys inside. To me the guys that are in ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth and maybe even eighth those guys are just sweating every lap, every qualifying session, every practice, every race because they can make or break them. You come to a place like Bristol and this place can be really stressful. I don't envy those guys. I'm glad we're in the position we're in but I've been in that position before and it's not a lot of fun."
DOES GOING THROUGH THE TOUGHER TIMES MAKE YOU STRONGER? "I mean any time you go through the tougher times in life or in racing it's going to make you stronger. Depends on how you survive through it. If you don't make it into the Chase it can be rough but it can also be motivating for you for next year. If you do make it through I think it can make you stronger and make you a contender in the Chase."
THERE ARE ONLY 30 MORE BONUS POINTS LEFT, ARE YOU ALMOST IN A CONTROLLED DESPERATION MODE IN TRYING TO GET SOME WINS? "Yeah, that's really all we have to gain right now other than maybe a little momentum. I think that obviously wins get you huge momentum but consistent finishing like we had last week, we've got to build on that second-place finish. We were a strong car, we did a great job getting ourselves to the end with the fuel mileage and finishing second so it was a great team effort. We need to build on that. We need to do that for the next couple of races to really prove to ourselves and everyone else that we're going to be a threat in this championship. The wins would be great because we don't want to go into the Chase at a deficit in points and have to make up those points."
WHAT DID IT MEAN TO FINALLY GET TEXAS OFF THE LIST OF TRACKS THAT YOU'VE YET TO CONQUER? "It was huge. That was a big, big win for us. I think it said a lot about the improvements we made over the off season from last year to this year. It's something that we've been working on and trying for so long and it was just one of those things that kind of got settled in to thinking it's probably never going to happen. That we probably were never going to win at that race and to finally accomplish it was huge. Huge for me and huge for the team. It's really kind of set the tone for our season."
DID YOU AND STEVE (LETARTE) KIND OF LOOK AT IT AND FIGURE OUT WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO ATTACK THE TRACK? "Yeah, I've always felt like Texas is one of the most challenging 1.5-mile tracks that we go to. We've been good enough to win there at times and in position to win and whether it was a mistake by me or electrical problem or crash, whatever it is we've been there. I knew we could do it but I felt like we were getting further and further away of the last few races so it was something that we put a lot of effort into. I talked earlier about the direction that we went in over the off season and that's been working for us. We knew that if it worked at Texas it would work anywhere and it really paid off for us at Texas probably more so than anywhere else."
REGARDING THIS CAR YOU TALKED ABOUT COMFORT ZONE BUT I'M NOT HEARING FUN. "Yeah but at this level it's no different than any other profession. Once it becomes a profession the fun gets taken out of it unless you are winning. That's the fun part of it is raising your level of competitiveness. If you typically run 10th to 15th and you start moving back between fifth and 10th that's fun. If you're expected to finish in the top-five and you're not that takes the fun out of it. When you start winning that's the fun part of it. So this car is very challenging. What's frustrating and not fun about this car is that it seems like you can work all day long and never get the car to really do what you'd like it to do. No adjustment helps it so that definitely I think has taken the fun out of it for the crew chiefs, engineers and the drivers are just doing all that they can. When you win it's still fun. So I don't know it depends on who you talk to. It's the same for everybody. It's very competitive out there. It's very tight, very close and this car is a big, huge challenge. I still think it needs work but that's not up to me and right now with the economy I don't think there's some big changes that we can make either from a cost standpoint. So I think we're kind of stuck with it so we might as well just deal with it the best we can."
HAVE YOU EVER HAD IT DIALED IN TO THE POINT WHERE IT WAS FUN? "I've never had that feeling with this car. I don't think it's attainable. As long as you're better than the competition that's all that really matters. Even with the old car you were always searching for the car that could just be perfect. That's what we're all searching for. I will say there were times with the old car that I felt like we had it pretty close to perfect and with this car you know if you're out front and you're pulling away it might not always be doing exactly what you want it to do but you're happy. You're like hey, we got this thing dialed in. You can change absolutely nothing and drop back 10 spots because of a lug nut on a pit stop or you get blocked in or blocked out and all of a sudden you're driving the worse car out there just from track position. You're not comparing apples to apples."
WITH A 10-RACE SHOOTOUT, HOW MUCH STRATEGY CAN YOU PUT INTO IT, OR DO YOU JUST HAVE TO RUN AS HARD AS YOU CAN EVERY RACE? "Well, I think you've got to run as hard as you can but you've got to be smart. You can't just be out there being stupid, you know. I think that you've got to take a fifth place car and finish fifth with it. That's the bottom line because you never know what's going to happen next week. Just because one team has dominated the first 26 races doesn't mean they're going to dominate the last ten. They could, but it doesn't guarantee that. I think you've just got to get all that you can get out of it from a driver's standpoint and from the team as well. Try to minimize your mistakes and elevate your level of competition just a slight bit; dig a little deeper and see if you can get a little bit more out of it, but you don't want to push so far as to get over the edge and get caught up in a wreck or make mistakes. That's the thing. If you make mistakes, you're out of it. And if you're good enough to win a lot of races, you can make more mistakes. So I think I'm just looking at it from our standpoint. I feel like we've got to raise the level, a little bit of speed, and I think we've got to maintain the consistency that we've had this year. That's our strong point. At those 10 races we've got a lot of tracks that we're much stronger at this year than we were last year."
OF THE 12 GUYS IN THE CHASE, HOW MANY OF THEM HAVE A REALISTIC CHANCE AT WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "Eleven others besides me. I really do because we saw last year the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) car was so strong and then we got in the Chase and he made mistakes and they had problems and they were out of it. Nothing's guaranteed. And then you get (Greg) Biffle who really didn't show much. He won the first two races and we saw that same thing with Clint Bowyer the year before that. I don't think you can count anybody out. I look at this year and you've got Juan Pablo Montoya who has steadily been coming on strong and I think when the Chase starts, I don't think there is somebody you can count out even thought they haven't been the strongest team out there. If I was going to put money down, I would say that Tony (Stewart) and Jimmie (Johnson) are going to be two of the toughest guys out there to beat. But I do think that the No. 24 team or any other team out there can surprise you. It's only 10 races."
SPEAKING OF YOU AND JIMMIE, DO YOU HAVE TO RACE YOUR TEAMMATE DIFFERENTLY SINCE AT THE END OF THE DAY YOU ANSWER TO RICK HENDRICK? "I race him just like I would any other teammate. I mean I race him pretty much as hard as I would anybody else out there. It just really comes down to the best overall team effort. Whoever puts the best race car out there on the track week in and week out, is pretty much going to be the one who comes out on top. And that's just the way I race. I don't race anybody really any different than that."
IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND ARE YOU THINKING YOU CAN'T WRECK ONE OF MY TEAMMATES? YOU WERE UP THERE BEATING & BANGING AT MARTINSVILLE "Martinsville is a little different; if I had to do Martinsville over again, I think I might have won the race. But (laughs) and it would have ruffled a few more feathers. But that was Martinsville. But we had ourselves in position to win the championship that year and we didn't capitalize on it. They out-performed us. We got out-performed then, bottom line. We know our teammates this year, especially with Mark (Martin) are two guys that are going to be tough to beat. But I don't go out there thinking any different about anybody else. I'm not going to try to go out there and wreck anybody or race anybody any harder than I race those guys when it comes down for the championship."
ON MARK MARTIN'S 1000TH NASCAR START "It's pretty impressive any way you look at it. Mark is just an extraordinary individual. He transcends the sport. He's just one of those guys who is so talented and so committed and there are just very few people that come along, ever, especially in this sport that are like Mark Martin and who are able to do what he's doing right now, and has been doing for a long time."
WITH BRISTOL BEING SO JARRING, WILL YOU DO ANYTHING TO MAKE YOURSELF MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE CAR? "No. I can't do anything different. It's going to be a challenge. This is a challenging race track for everybody. But I'm fine from the Watkins Glen incident. I feel like I'm fully recovered from that and ready to go this weekend. So far, in the car, no issues."
WHICH SHORT TRACK PUTS ON THE BEST SHOW NOW? "Well, I used to say Richmond I thought was the best show, but we haven't really seen much of an outside groove there recently for whatever reason. This place (Bristol) is pretty darn good here. I personally think it's better now than it used to be because there's not as many cautions and people using their bumpers to move guys out of the way. Some people feel different."
-credit: gm racing