JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Comments after Thursday's first practice ON THE TRACK "The track has a lot of grip. There aren't any issues out there at all other than it's just really, really fast. We're just trying to push...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
Comments after Thursday's first practice
ON THE TRACK "The track has a lot of grip. There aren't any issues out there at all other than it's just really, really fast. We're just trying to push the limits of the car and the tire and experience the grip. We're not quite as fast as some of the guys, but we're pretty good."
HOW MUCH HAS THE TRACK IMPROVED SINCE RACING HERE IN MAY? "There are very small changes in my opinion. Basically they just never really finished grinding the bottom of the race track in Turns 1 and 2 and that's the biggest difference that I've seen. They may have done some down the straightaway, but it hasn't changed things much. But there's a consistent grip level from the bottom to the top through Turns 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 now."
DOES THAT GIVE YOU MORE COMFORT OR MORE CONFIDENCE "Yeah, it does for me. The only problem with it is that the last time we were here, you kind of had to run a lane up in Turns 1 and 2. You couldn't really run right on the bottom. Now you can run right on the bottom. So I don't know if you're going to see many people go a lane up. It might take away a little bit of side-by-side racing."
WHAT EDGE DOES JIMMIE JOHNSON HAVE OVER THE FIELD AT THIS RACE TRACK? "Sometimes your driving style versus the set-up your team gives you really works for you. He's obviously got that because he just excels at this place."
IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES AT MARTINSVILLE THE TIGHT PIT ROAD? "Yeah, that's why qualifying is such a premium. There aren't that many good pit stalls available. I love Martinsville and we run well there, but you've got to have a good pit stall. It's very narrow and tight there. To me, it's the tightest one we have -- even though the stalls aren't quite as small as Bristol, the pit road itself is narrower."
YOU CAN'T REALLY COMPARE MARTINSVILLE AND BRISTOL, CAN YOU? "No, Bristol seems to be hit or miss for us. Martinsville is pretty consistent. It's a good race track for us. It's not that I've got any real love for Martinsville, we just run good there."
WHAT IS THE DRIVER/CREW CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS CHALLENGE THIS WEEK AND NEXT AT CHARLOTTE AND MARTINSVILLE RELATIVE TO THE TRACK CHANGES? "With the grinding or levigating, I don't think the track changes as much as it used to. We'll find out a little bit more tonight. But we're not really working with the surface anymore. It used to be a smooth surface and temperature is going to affect that grip level. Now, we've got so much grip because of the way they ground it down, you're riding on top of the surface in the groove. So I don't think it's as temperature-sensitive as it used to be. I don't think it's going to change as much from day to night as it used to either."
AT MARTINSVILLE, IT'S NOT AS MUCH ABOUT AERO AS IT IS ABOUT MAKING THE DRIVER FEEL COMFORTABLE. HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU THAT STEVE LETARTE GIVES YOU WHAT YOU NEED WHEN YOU NEED IT? "Obviously we have a good baseline to go from. We won the last race there. I feel like Martinsville is one of those tracks where we don't have to worry about aerodynamics -- just worry about the set-up and getting the feel. You don't see us going through all these extremes that we do at these other tracks. I'm trying to get back to old school basics for me, and maybe that's why I do well there, I don't know."
ALTHOUGH YOU'VE WORKED WITH LETARTE FOR A LONG TIME, WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING IN THESE LAST RACES OF THE SEASON? "I think right now we're not afraid of change. We're changing thing whether they're good or bad. We're just trying to learn from them, but we're not afraid to really throw some things out there that are a lot different than what we've been doing because obviously what we've been doing hasn't been working. We're not in the Chase so we're in a position to be able to do that. If we had made the Chase, we'd be in real trouble right now. Honestly, we would. I don't think we'd be good enough to win the championship, but we'd be in a position where we wouldn't feel like we could really make any changes. And so we're in that position to do it. Working with Steve has been fantastic. I think he's got so much potential. I've known that for a long time, but it's finally come to the point where he's got that opportunity and he's already exceeding that in my opinion. I think the future is very exciting."
THERE IS ALWAYS SOME TRAUMA ABOUT THE TRACK SURFACE AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY. HOW MUCH OF THAT IS JUST CIRCUMSTANCE, AND HOW MUCH OF THAT IS HUMPY'S EFFORT TO CREATE BUZZ AND DRAMA -- AND IS IT GOOD OR BAD? "I think Humpy's intentions are always good. I think that he wants to create a good race for the fans. But no matter what you do, you're not going to make everybody happy. When he first did this, I don't think Goodyear was happy. And I don't know if the race was quite what he thought it would be. It was very fair -- a lot of grip -- but I don't think it was a lot of side-by-side racing. I think as he shared his ideas with more competitors, he may have heard those reactions a little bit more and may have thought twice about it. For the bumps on a rough race track, levigating is good --- (but) to make the racing better, it doesn't necessarily do that. We need to find ways to make the outside groove faster than the inside groove. If you grind the entire race track, it's not going to do that. It's going to make the bottom groove the fastest way around the race track. I think as fast as we're going these days and as much as we've learned about aerodynamics, we're all concerned about abusing tires. And so I think that's our biggest concern here is that you're so fast, that you're afraid of what you're going to do to the tires. I think Humpy doesn't mind creating some buzz, which is good for him. He's a promoter -- the ultimate promoter, in a lot of ways. I don't think any of us mind that. That's Humpy and we enjoy that."
MARTINSVILLE BRINGS US FULL CIRCLE FROM ONE YEAR AGO AND THE AIRPLANE ACCIDENT. HOW DIFFERENT IS HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS NOW? "I think we're united in a lot more ways. I feel like we were always a family, but I feel like we have a tighter bond with the family. We've all experienced a loss. We've lose people very close to us, but we all came together in a way that we've stepped up to another level because of it. I think in some ways we're stronger, even though we've lost key people. More people have really seen the impact of how it felt and how it can bring you to another level by coming together."
IS RICK HENDRICK THE SAME GUY HE WAS A YEAR AGO? HAS HE RECOVERED? "I don't know if you ever recover from that. He's an amazing individual and the strongest person I've ever met. But I don't know if anybody is ever the same one year to the next, but I think that Rick has experienced a lot. And I would say that he tries to learn from all those experiences. But when you lose your son, I don't think you're ever the same."
ARE THE HENDRICK TEAMS AS STRONG AS THEY WERE A YEAR AGO? "Well obviously mine's not. But our organization is. I think in a lot of ways our organization is stronger. If you look at the No. 5 (Kyle Busch) and the No. 25 (Brian Vickers) and how well they've been running -- and the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) is up there battling for the championship. I think that next year is going to be a really interesting year to see where all four of us fall and how we do."
WILL GOING BACK TO MARTINSVILLE BRING CLOSURE TO THE LOSS? "Everybody has closure in different ways and different time periods. Some will never get past it or forget about it and I hope that's the case with me. I want it always to be a constant reminder of how precious life is and not take it for granted."
ON GOING BACK TO TEXAS FOR A SECOND DATE: "It's a pretty spectacular place that's done very well. I think that of any track out there that deserves a second date, Texas is a pretty good one."
YOU'D LIKE TO WIN ANYWHERE RIGHT NOW, BUT HOW NICE WOULD IT BE TO TAKE TEXAS OFF THAT SHORT LIST OF PLACES YOU HAVEN'T WON YET? "I would love to. We've been close there quite a few times -- recently, we haven't been but last year we were. The track has grown on me where I like it. I wasn't a big fan of it when we first went there, but it's a great place with a huge fan base and I want to win everywhere. So right now, it's not about checking off a track for me, it's about getting a win. But if I could do two things there, that would make me real happy."
WITH JUST A FEW RACES LEFT IN THIS SEASON, HOW MUCH ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR? "Well, I'm definitely looking forward to the remaining races this year because I feel like we've got some work to do and I'd like to end it on a positive note going into the off season, and go into it with something to look forward to. And then I always look forward to the off-season just to relax and get geared up. And I always look forward to gearing up again when everybody is on a level playing field and we start from scratch and we see what kind of season we can start with."
WILL THE TIRES BE A PROBLEM WITH THE NEW SURFACE HERE? "There is no new surface. I don't know why everybody thinks that. A couple of cars crashed in practice (test) and it had nothing to do with the surface. They just crashed -- like most tracks we go to, somebody crashes."
SO WE SHOULDN'T BE LOOKING FOR A DEMOLITION DERBY RACE SATURDAY NIGHT LIKE IT WAS IN MAY? "Well, it's going to be similar to the way it was in May. "If there's a demolition derby, it has nothing to do with what they've done, other than levigating in itself. And that's creating less passing. The track is really fast and there's not much of an outside groove. So I don't know if that's going to contribute to wrecks or not. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't."
SOME PEOPLE SAY A LOT OF THINGS CAME TOGETHER TO CAUSE SO MANY CRASHES IN MAY LIKE TIRES AND THAT EVERYBODY RACING TO BEAT THE RAIN. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT? "I only know about the final wreck that I was involved with. Brian Vickers -- he's my teammate and I love him -- but he just got too impatient. We all got shuffled back because of a caution and it caught us more than that it caught anybody else. And so we had bad track position but we all had the best cars. We were further back in the field and just ran out of patience. That happens no matter where you're at."
DID YOU BRUSH THE WALL TODAY IN PRACTICE? "No. I was told on the radio that somebody brushed the wall, so I slowed down."