JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and talked about the current tire issues, testing at Darlington, the new generation race car, expectations this weekend at Bristol and more. TALK ABOUT THE RACE THIS WEEKEND: "It's all about ...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and talked about the current tire issues, testing at Darlington, the new generation race car, expectations this weekend at Bristol and more.
TALK ABOUT THE RACE THIS WEEKEND: "It's all about tires these days. Yep, we've been busy for the last three weeks with a lot of testing for all the teams, the tire test, plus all the races. I'm looking forward to Bristol this weekend and having a week off next weekend. And then actually the three teams that were at Darlington this past week are going back for a half day because we feel like we learned a lot but coming out of there we feel like they could actually come back with something that's going to be even more suited, left-sides to right-sides, and they (Goodyear) feel confident in that too. So we're going to go back there and run a few more hours on Wednesday evening."
LOOKING BACK TO ATLANTA, YOU SAID IT WAS ONE OF THE HARDEST RACES YOU EVER DROVE. HOW EASY WOULD IT HAVE BEEN FOR YOU TO NOT DRIVE THAT HARD AND SETTLING FOR A LESSER FINISH? "In the situation that we had last week, if you were out on the track, you were working hard (laughs). It didn't matter where you were going to run. Obviously to run up front the set-up had to be decent. Track position was crucial so you wanted to push hard to maintain the track position and obviously it just wouldn't take it. So, it was very edgy. I would go through one lap and think, okay. If you looked at lap times, I know for me, and I like to think I'm pretty consistent lap to lap across the board, they were the most inconsistent of any race I've ever gone to. I would hit (Turns) 1 and 2 decent and I'd hit (Turns) 3 and 4 and I'd think, whew, man, I got both ends. The next lap, I'd be a half a second slower because I wouldn't hit it. And that's what I did all day long. And I told (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) several times since then, that if we ever get to a race like that again, comfort and consistency is worth way more than grip and speed. Because, what good does it do me to have a lot of speed and run half a second faster, and then be half a second or three-quarters of a second slower the next lap because it's so edgy. And some of that was the tire. Some of it was our set-up. But I think we could do some things in this car. It's just a weird combination at Atlanta. It was a lot of work. I'm thrilled that we came out of there with a top five. Those are the days when you earn your keep; when you have to fight like that every single lap."
SEEMS LIKE WE HAVE ONE OR TWO RACES EACH YEAR THAT HAVE CONTROVERSY OVER TIRES OR SPEED. DOES NASCAR NEED TO SLOW THESE CARS DOWN? ARE THEY SIMPLY GOING TOO FAST TO HAVE A 35OO-LB CAR GOING 200 MPH INTO TURN 3 AT DARLINGTON? "What would your recommendation be to slow the cars down?"
I DON'T KNOW. SMALLER ENGINES? "Here's the thing: When the speeds are like that, it's corner speeds that's making us go so fast. I always say let's have 1200 horsepower if you want to slow us down (laughs) because the less power we have, the faster we go through the corners. The restrictor plate or whatever that spacer-thing is on the Nationwide cars; they were 13 mph faster in the middle of the corner than we were in our cars, but yet the lap times were pretty close. So, you don't want to slow us down. You want to slow us down through the corners. That is why I asked that because a lot of people will go oh, put a restrictor plate on them or a smaller carburetor or less power, we are still going to go as faster or faster through the corners. More power is actually harder to control so it will sometimes slow you down. I am not saying we need more power, I am just saying, I think the fix if we were looking in that direction, is - and I think that the direction that this goes - if we had last year's car, we would be doing 210 mph at Darlington under these new conditions and Goodyear would be really challenged on the tire. This particular car, it is doing its job and we are going slower through the corners than we were before, the teams are getting better at figuring out how to make the cars better. But regardless of how much slower we are through the corners, this car the weight distribution of the car left side to right side, the higher center of gravity, while that is great, it slows us down, it wears tires out more. It makes it harder on right side tires in comparison to the older car. To answer your question, to me I don't the fix is. To me, I wish we could lighten the car up and add more pieces aerodynamically to take away downforce, put the grip in the mechanical side of it. Take less pressure off the tires and allow us to have a little more comfort underneath us. Build a little softer tire, but aerodynamically we slow the cars down some more.
"What do you do? Do you put more wickers on it? Do you add little flanges and pieces that can be distributed out to all the teams that are made of carbon fiber that just aerodynamically disturb the air over the car? I don't know all those fixes. I am not smart enough to figure it out, but I do feel like they went in the right direction with this car to slow us down through the corners but now we are starting to figure it out a little bit better and so we are going faster with this car which is pretty amazing in itself, the speeds we are going with this car as much different as it is. I do think that there is something we might be able to do to help the right side of the car.
"We are in this big, we're not making changes thing so I don't think you are going to see them happen. I think Goodyear is going to have to...Just like this Goodyear tire test we had in Darlington this week. The three teams that were there, the No 12 (Ryan Newman), the No. 24 and the No. 16 (Greg Biffle), we all worked really hard together to try and evaluate what was going on. We worked hard with Goodyear. John Darby and Robin Pemberton were down there. We had a group session, we talked about where we were at, what was taking place and came up with a plan. We ran through it the rest of that day. I thought it was really productive, well put together. And, we said, if we have to come back here to verify some of these things, then maybe that is the best thing we need to do. I was glad to be a part of it and I don't want drivers or anybody to be disappointed in the tire when we go back there. With the new re-pave, it is a very tough situation to be in, but I do think we made the best of it."
ARE YOU USED TO THAT SORT OF PERCEPTION BY OTHERS THAT THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS BAR HAS BEEN RAISED SO HIGH THAT WHENEVER OFF THEIR GAME A LITTLE BIT, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO SPECULATE WHAT IS WRONG. SECONDLY, IS IT SOMEWHAT AMUSING TO YOU GIVEN THIS YEAR IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE YOU HAVE HAD A CAR GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN ALL FOUR RACES? "No, I haven't actually. I feel like we had a car capable of winning at California. We have had really good cars, but I don't feel like we have had the car to beat yet. A few little things here and there, we could have maybe pulled one off. But we weren't the car to beat. To me, that is because we have done our homework with our team, we are doing good, but some other teams have stepped up. To me the Roush teams have really stepped up. I feel like Gibbs, I mean the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) was really strong last week. Toyota, especially Toyota Gibbs combination, has been strong for them. I feel like we are doing what we need to be doing right now. We are just going to keep trying to push it and be better.
"We certainly are not in a panic. I feel great about our race team. I hate that we have had two problems. I am all about percentages and things like that. Last year we were so consistent, had so few problems, those things weight themselves out over time. I am kind of happy to get these things out of the way early because maybe that means we can get our streak where it needs to be toward the second half of the season and we can get our speed where it needs to be. We are just this close this first half of the season.
"It depends what people we are talking about. If we are talking about media, fan, inside the garage? Everybody is like 'we can't wait to get out there and beat Hendrick.' I think that is everybody's goal. When you are a dominant team, then everybody's goal is to beat them. Whether it is Roush, Gibbs, Childress or whoever it may be. I know that is our goal every year. Right now, that is where we are at. We are like, the No. 99(Carl Edwards) is really fast, the No. 18 is fast, I feel like Dale, Jr. has been really good as well. So our goal is we need to beat those guys, we never come in to any season with the attitude we are the team to beat, they are all gunning for us. Never. Didn't know that last year, don't feel like that is the case this year. We just work hard. I think that is what makes us good is we don't focus on that, we don't think that way, we just try to be as competitive as we can. We evaluate where we are at versus the competition."
THOUGHTS ABOUT DALE JARRETT AND A FAVORITE MEMORY: "He has had a heck of a career and I have had a blast racing with him. I feel fortunate to have raced him for some great wins, great battles for wins as well as for championships. He is just one of the highest quality individuals and race car drivers that I have ever raced against. It is really odd to me when guys you have been racing with say they are retiring and are not going to be out there on the track with you any more. It definitely makes you think about where you are at in your career and those that you had racing with them. We have had our run-ins too. I remember one day looking up to him and we weren't real happy with one another. Dale has been a guy that I have always respected and admired for a very long time. Hate to see him go but you know what, he has had a heck of a career so he should be very proud of that.
"Here you have a guy that comes from a racing family. With Ned Jarrett and his legacy in this sport, I think it has been able to be carried down to Dale. To go out there and be a championship-winning driver is great. I have always respected him as a competitor, but he person that he is off the track and away from the race car to me is as good of a person as you are ever going to meet. I like the way he handles himself. To me, he is just one of the great guys that you will ever meet. His legacy is going to be very broad because it performance, he has performed at a high level, he has won a championship, the Daytona 500 and he is just one of the greatest people you will ever meet."
WAS IT SHORT-SIGHTED AT ALL THAT MORE TESTING WASN'T DONE WITH THE TIRES ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS? "The one thing that I questioned Goodyear when we were there at Darlington this week, we had time to talk, was about their tire tests in Atlanta. Their final tire test, they had one Cup car there and one truck. In my opinion, that wasn't enough, it wasn't enough cars to put rubber on the track. It wasn't enough information. Heck, this week at Darlington, had Biffle not been there, I don't know if we would have realized some of the issues we had on the re-pave at Darlington that we needed to come back for a second test. And this is why you have to have multiple drivers and teams there is because you have one guy that is going to run off the right rear and one guy that is running off the right front. You are going to have one guy that is running 90% and one guy that is going to be running 100%. I am a guy that until we get in to competition, I am going to run, consistent. I am going to try and get them consistency, I am going to try and give them a really good feel and give them good feedback. But I am not going to put the car out on the edge, to where either we tear up a race car. But the down side to that is that we might not see exactly what this tire could do when we come back. Biffle did that. I felt like Ryan was right in the middle between Biffle and me. I thought it was crucial to have us three guys and those types of teams and drivers there. I thought it was awesome. So I thought back to the Atlanta test, and I just don't think they had enough information to really make a good evaluation. I will be honest with you; I question what they did here at Bristol. They have a new left side, right side. New left side construction compound; right side compound that has never been tested here. They are going off last years race, but we have made our cars better and we are seeing some high wear. Now the track was green, but we have different characteristics, high wear and if this rain keeps up, Sunday is going to be an issue. Not trying to throw Goodyear under the bus here, it is just that testing these tires is crucial. I don't know what we have to do to get the proper amount of teams and dates for that to happen."
DID DARLINGTON TIRE TEST GIVE YOU ANY SENSE HOW THE RACING WILL BE WITH THE NEW PAVEMENT? "We all know that when the speeds pickup through the corners like that, it takes away from the racing a little bit. The cool thing is...I mean, I had a blast. That track is unreal right now. It is smooth, super fast but it is the same Darlington other than the track is really black right now from the new pavement. But you run the same line, have the same characteristics, you just don't have the bumps and you get going a lot faster. The Darlington we all love is still there. Now with that said, because we are going to be so fast there, it is going to be hard to pass. It is going to be hard to run side-by-side. I think that the grip is certainly there so, if we can work in a couple of different grooves, then that might be able to change, but right now it is just so quick that I think that this first race is going to be a little tough."
WHAT IS UP WITH THE NO. 48? "As far as I am concerned, the No. 88 and me have been running real good and things aren't really off track that much. We are all kind of scratching our heads trying to figure out what is going on with the No. 48. I will say it is early, it is a new car and they have been so good, I can't really tell you other than they have been trying some different things that haven't been working out for them. At California, they had my setup because they had been struggling. Jimmie just wasn't getting the feel and wasn't comfortable. They put our setup in or something very close to it, and then they were fast and very happy with it. I think those are the better guys to go to ask.
"I just know they have been the same things that they always do. Those guys are solid, they are a great team and it just hasn't been working for them. To me, you never count those guys out. They may be struggling right now, but it...our organization is strong, those guys are strong. That team is strong, they will get it."
IT'S THE ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF INTRODUCING THIS CHASSIS, CAN YOU GIVE US YOUR VIEW OF THE LAST YEAR WITH IT? WHAT BEEN GOOD ABOUT IT WHAT MAYBE NEEDS A LITTLE MORE WORK. "The one thing I really give NASCAR a lot of credit on is that a lot of teams and drivers said we need to change this, we need to change that, we need to do this, we need to do that, everybody was giving their opinions on what needed to happen with this car and they stuck to their guns saying we believe the more time that the teams spend in competition and testing, seven post, wind tunnel all those things that they are going to get this car to do what they need it to do. I think that we've gotten about 80, 90% of that out of it. That they were right on that. But there's that other 10, 15, 20% that I think we are kind of strapped and limited on and one of them is the right side weight. We couldn't even make the minimum right side weight. They had to raise it. I just think there's a way to get some of the mechanical grip back in these cars with tires, but the only way we can do it is to lighten the car up. I think that's the only thing I don't like about the car, it's too heavy. Of course you don't like the center of gravity being higher once you go from a car that has a lower center of gravity but we're getting used to that. I think we can make the car a little sexier looking, but I'm getting used to that too. I think the wing and the splitter is very cool. The car is safer I feel in a structure standpoint, in side impact, as well as the amount of room inside the car. I feel safer and I think they are safer. Didn't really change my impact that I had at Vegas much, that impact with the old car would have been similar I believe. There's good things that come out, I think the racing has been surprisingly good because I thought this car aerodynamically wouldn't really be able to make as many passes. The first time I drove this car at Michigan I was like oh boy, we got our hands full here. Just by working on the car, driving the car more we've made big improvements so hopefully we can continue down that same path and continue to make this car what it needs to be. All I care about is putting good racing on out there. If it drives great, doesn't drive great, if we're putting good racing on and we're competitive that's what matters most to me."
ON HIS THOUGHTS OF THE NO SMOKING POLICY IN THE STANDS DUE TO A CHANGE IN THE STATE LAW AND IF IT SURPRISES HIM ON HOW QUICKLY THE CHANGE HAPPENED WITH THE SPORT HAVING SUCH A PRODUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH TOBACCO AND NOW THE WORLD AND THE SPORT ARE DIFFERENT. "I think you hit it right there, the world is different. Things are changing. The whole tobacco industry and people focusing more on trying to be healthy whether it's what they eat or things like smoking. I think it's just kind of a change that's happening abroad and in other sports as well as NASCAR being included in that. I think that you've got family sections out there, I don't know how the smoking thing worked but if I was sitting in the grandstands and I was in the non-smoking section they were in the smoking section, I don't think there would be a whole lot difference. I think it's a smart thing for long term and certainly with my involvement with Nicorette I realize just how dangerous smoking is. The only reason we can really talk about this today is because the way things are changing in our world. RJ Reynolds, they were a huge part of this sport for many years and nobody knocks at it. Everybody is very thankful for what they did to bring this sport to this level but that doesn't necessarily mean we're all smokers. I was proud to say I wasn't. If they had a brand choice and they wanted to smoke cigarettes then at that time I was saying okay well maybe Winston being a part of our sport, they'll choose Winston and they'll continue to sponsor our series. And that's always the thing you have, you know we have so many conflicts with sponsors throughout the years. There's series sponsors, there's track sponsors, there's Victory Lane sponsors, then there's team sponsors and then there's driver endorsement sponsors, so we go through those conflicts constantly and try to balance it out. It's very, very tricky. I think it is a good thing that they're doing here and hope to see it happen in many more places."
ON HIS THOUGHTS ABOUT A UNION AND HAVING AN OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON IN THE GARAGE. "Oh boy. BREATHE. Yeah, breathe, think. My opinion on this is that I believe that a group coming together to make good decisions is a positive thing. I've seen Unions run things into the ground. It bugs the heck out of me when I think of the strikes that have happened in baseball. Look at the strike that just happened you know the writer's strike in Hollywood and while there are positives for the people that are representing, sometimes as a whole if you look at the sport or the industry I've seen where it's done a lot of damage. I see it happening right now with General Motors. So to me a Union can be a good thing if the right people are managing it, the people have the right intent but you don't know that going into it or when it gets formed. You don't know that's going to happen properly. I think that we all have so many different agendas and ideas that to see them all try to come together as one can be tough. What I would like to do, I would like to see NASCAR have like a quarterly meeting where they bring all the drivers into a room and bring up hot topics and talk about things and allow us to vent, or allow us to share our opinions and just listen to us. This going up into the trailer one at a time and one guy says the exact opposite of what the next guy comes in, I think all it does is confuse them and so we're not going anywhere. I believe communication is key in every business and every team and we're together with them, we're partners in this whole thing and I would love to work with them further on that but I'm out of breath doing it individually because it doesn't go anywhere."
HOW MUCH DOES THIS TRACK TEST THE TEMPERMENT OF A DRIVER? THERE'S GOT TO BE A TIME OUT THERE THAT YOU WOULD JUST LOVE TO STUFF SOMEBODY INTO THE FENCE. "Okay, Bruce. Glad you're not out there (laughing)."
SECONDLY YOUR FIRST EASTER AS A FATHER, HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT GOING TO BE FOR YOU. "We'll cover the track thing here first. Yeah, it's a tight, fast race track and a lot is happening and it can be very frustrating if you feel like you have a good car and you can't pass. The last time we were here we had two or three different groups so that's the thing I liked about what they did here but tempers flare, sure. It's not so much that you just think I want to go wreck the guy, it's just that you get frustrated. You're a competitor, you want to win and sometimes other people take the brunt of that. I will say that your patience runs much thinner here than it does at most tracks. That when somebody chops you off, you might give them one more opportunity where at other places you might give them three or four opportunities to kind of make it work.
I'm very excited! I'm just excited to have a week with of just being with Ingrid and Ella as a family. The thing is I don't really get to be a dad as much as I really want to when I'm testing and racing even though they might travel with me and I get to see them it's just for short periods of time. So I feel like I miss a lot of things. Those moments when I'm there solid every single day, my favorite days are when I go Ingrid you go and just let us hang out. Those are the coolest moments because I love seeing how she acts and reacts and especially now she's doing so many new things. She's trying to walk, she's trying to talk, just all these things. I know they are going to take a long time before they actually happen, but just seeing the effort in there it's just really, really cool. I don't want to miss any of it. So being able to spend 24 hours a day for a whole week, that's the ultimate. Now I might be ready to get back to the race track (laughing) after that week. Next week I'm looking forward to very much."
ON HOW THE NEW CAR HAS CHANGED THE SPORT AND THE IMPACT IT HAS HAD IN REGARDS TO COMPETITION. "It's closed the competition up much tighter for sure. If you look at just lap times, you look at a much tighter group of cars. It's just made the crew chiefs have to go to whole different area of tuning. We're doing a lot of our set ups in simulation now and they're spending so much more time trying to develop these bump stops. I think that's, you hear me talking about bump stops, the biggest change in our sport over the last year is bump stops. We're trying to find manufacturers in Dubai, I don't know I'm just joking, but trying to figure out how to recreate rubber and plastics and things to make spring rate in the right front. To make it act somewhat like a spring or better than a spring. And there's so much money, technology and development going into these things it's ridiculous. It's mainly because we're having to do it over 3 ½ inches of travel and so it's challenging us more so than we've ever been challenged. That's why the seven-post rig that a lot of the teams have or all the teams have to at least get access to is crucial. That thing is basically running 24 hours a day for us and thank God we have them. That's an area where Childress I felt, remember when Childress got really good, they were the first ones to have one in their shop, first ones to understand how to use it and get the information and it really got them ahead of a lot of people. That had to do with coil-bound springs when we were doing that, then the bump stop as well. But I think now teams have learned a lot more and they caught up. I just think this car is very equal among all the teams out there. I think we've seen the potential to have some really good racing, we've seen some really good races but at the same time I'm still concerned because the aero-push behind cars is really, really bad. If you don't have a multiple-groove race track, thank God that they re-did this race track because the fact that we have three or four different lanes to move up to now is so much better for this car. If we had the old track with this car we would be follow the leader with gaps in between each and every one of us because it's so hard to one get this car around the track with the bumps but the aerodynamics really affect it."
YOU MENTIONED ABOUT THE CLOSE COMPETITION, OF THE 20 RACES RUN WITH THE NEW CAR TWO GUYS HAVE WON NINE OF THOSE RACES. ARE YOU SURPRISED TWO GUYS HAVE WON HALF THE RACES? "You're looking at the winners. I'm looking at the field as a whole. I'm looking at the fact that if I come out of the pits second at Atlanta and that caution doesn't come out I've got a shot at either winning or finishing second because we had to me a second or third-place car and that whole scenario didn't play out and we end up fifth and it was a battle for fifth there on the last lap. To me, that just shows how tight everything is and everybody is but also shows that track position is very, very important. That's the only thing that makes me nervous about this car, I think track position is a little too crucial with this car. As long as you have big, wide race tracks and lots of areas to maneuver around then we're in good shape."
-credit: gm racing