This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Robbie Loomis. The series moves to Darlington Raceway next weekend for the Southern 500, Round 25 of 36 ...
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Robbie Loomis.
The series moves to Darlington Raceway next weekend for the Southern 500, Round 25 of 36 points-paying races on the 2003 circuit. There have been 100 Winston Cup races at Darlington. David Pearson leads all drivers with 10 victories, the late Dale Earnhardt follows with nine, and Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Darlington Raceway.
Gordon won last year's Southern 500 and four straight Southern 500's (1995 - '98), which is the only time in the Modern Era that a driver has won the same event four consecutive times. He also won the spring race there in 1996. Gordon has led more laps than any other active driver (1378). In his 16 starts at Darlington, he has six wins, 11 top-fives, and 14 top-10's.
Chevrolet is the most successful manufacturer at Darlington Raceway with 29 wins in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Modern Era (1972 - present).
Q&A's WITH JEFF GORDON:
ON HIS IMPRESSIVE DARLINGTON RECORD
"Obviously, I love Darlington. We're definitely looking forward to going back there - especially because of the way things have been going for us the last three or four weeks. It's been frustrating on one side where the finishes haven't come the way we'd like them to. But at the same time, the performance of the cars and of the team have been going good. We've just really got to get some things going our way. The last time we were at Darlington, things look like they were going our way until late in the race. I brushed the wall, which is so easy to do at that place. So, I'm looking forward to going back there and trying to get back to Victory Lane and have a car like we had last time and to keeping it out of the wall."
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE LOWS OF THE PAST FEW WEEKS AND GOING TO A TRACK THAT'S KNOWN FOR DIFFICULTY EVEN THOUGH YOU'VE HAD SUCCESS THERE?
"I believe, and I think our team believes, that running fast and having good race cars and qualifying up front are much harder to fix than trying things go your way. A lot of things are out of our control and we just try to control the things that are in our hands. And that's just putting the best race cars we can out there. Even though we haven't had results over the past four weeks - other than the Brickyard - the performance has been awesome as far as I'm concerned. We've had two poles and have led a bunch of laps. We've just got to go to the next one and hope it goes our way."
CALE YARBOROUGH SAID YOU SHOULD HAVE TO WIN SIX TO TIE HIS FIVE WINS BECAUSE HIS WERE ON THE OLD DARLINGTON TRACK. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?) "I say give me a shot this weekend. I've seen a lot of great video of the older track and those guys were pretty amazing - throwing the car sideways with smoke rolling off the right rear tire. It certainly wasn't an easy place to pass. It was even narrower then than it is now. Of course the cars are a lot different too, today. I look back at what Cale has done and no matter how many Southern 500's I win I don't think I could ever compare myself to him. He's pretty awesome."
IN LIGHT OF THE SPENCER/BUSCH DEAL, DOES HAVING A SO-CALLED 'BAD GUY' IN THE SPORT HELP IT IN TERMS OF FAN AND MEDIA INTEREST?
"Yeah, absolutely. As tough as it's been for Kurt Busch, I'm proud of him for keeping focused and putting the car in Victory Lane like he did this weekend. That's certainly not going to shut people up. They still seem to be pretty avid about their opinions and how they feel about the situation. You go along and try to do the best you can. But things happen that sometimes are out of your control. People react. Similar things have happened to me - not what's going on with Kurt - but along the way I started hearing boos. I didn't understand it and didn't really feel like I'd done anything that really brought that on other than working hard and winning races. I think that's sort of where Kurt's at in this deal. He's racing hard and has had a few things that have gotten him in trouble. I think he's finding out there are a lot more Jimmy Spencer fans out there than he realized (laughs). But I do think it's good in some ways for the sport because it brings excitement and a lot of attention to the sport. But I think we'd all rather see just positive things. But we all know that this is the year 2003, and these days controversy draws a lot more attention."
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF DARLINGTON, AND WHAT IS THE FLAVOR OF THE PLACE?
"I didn't really think about anything other than the race track when I first started going there. A lot of tracks that I've raced on over the years that are not the size of Winston Cup tracks can pop-up out of nowhere in small towns. What is amazing about Darlington is how little it's changed and how well it has held on to its history and its roots so much. It's also done that within the sport as well. The fans love it. They flock to it. There are many drivers out there that will tell you they love it and hate it at the same time because it's a great race track. But at the same time, it reaches out and bites you when you least expect it."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RACE BEING MOVED AND ONLY GOING TO DARLINGTON ONCE WHEN BALANCING TRADITION AGAINST THE NEW ECONOMIC INCENTIVES OF NASCAR?
"I'm definitely in favor of growth and what the future has in store for us. I don't know if I'm necessarily in favor of tracks getting two races right now. I'd much rather see us building new tracks in markets we're not going to. But that's not the case right now. You have to pull from one to get to another. If any track deserves a second date it's Southern California. It's a great race track; it's a great area, and a great market. It's certainly going to continue to help our sport to grow. You hate to see it and to know which track to pull (a date) from. But it's just part of that difficult decision that NASCAR and those folks have to make. But to me, going to Darlington won't really be the same if it's not on this weekend (Labor Day). But I'm just going to look at it as another race and another championship opportunity and it doesn't really matter to me when it falls. But I think we'll miss it a little bit the first year or so."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR DRIVERS TO LEAVE THEIR DIFFERENCES BEHIND INSTEAD OF CONTINUING TO SPARK A FEUD?
"The one thing that I see it being so much different than in other sports is that they don't play the same team the next week - or rarely do. We basically are playing against the same teams every weekend. You've got to be able to control your emotions obviously during the race. But if it's something that has you pretty upset, you've got to be able to leave it behind or at least during the week learn to let it roll off your back and move on. All it does is tear up race cars and get you focused on another driver or team and not let you focus on what you're team is doing. It doesn't matter if you're mad at another driver or in my case, just having a bad weekend. On race day you've got to put it behind you. Plus, you don't want to have a lot of enemies out there - especially when you're trying to battle in points. You don't want any enemies making it tougher than it already is."
ARE THE DRIVER ATTITUDES BECOMING LIKE WRESTLING WHERE YOU TAKE SIDES? DOES THAT DISTRACT FROM THE REALITY OF THE COMPETITION OF RACING?
"I think we're dealing with a combination of things. As the years go by, new things pop up as the sport grows. There are good and bad things that happen. Right now I see that is very competitive. The race cars are so close. It's hard to get an advantage on anybody. It's hard to pass. It's hard to get that track position that we all talk about because we know that's what is going to win the race most of the time. And so because it's so competitive, you're pushing the limits of the car and of yourself a lot more. You see more aggressiveness. On the other side, the sport has grown to the status that you can become a super star. Everybody wants to stand out on his own. They want to be a super star. They want to have the best team, the best sponsors, the best endorsements, and all these things. It's hard to do when there are this many competitive guys out there. Sometimes it's not what you do on the race track, but it's what you do off the race track to draw attention. Sometimes it can be positive and sometimes it's negative. You've seen some guys personalities and attitudes be hyped up to another level."
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SOUTHERN 500 MEMORY?
"It would definitely have to be when I won the Winston million there. I was battling with Jeff Burton on the last lap. I thought I had it and then he came on so strong. I thought I would lose it on the last lap. I'm thankful I was racing Jeff Burton. We raced hard but we raced clean. He could have taken me out. I think he expected me to fight him for it because he knew what was on the line for me. And I did. He was really good about it. I'll never forget going to Victory Lane and winning the Winston million. It was quite an accomplishment. I sort of miss that program. But at the same time, I've won a lot more money from Winston because of the No Bull program that they had. The Winston million was a pretty tough one to pull off."
HOW IMPORTANT HAS TRADITION BEEN TO BUILDING THIS SPORT AND DO YOU SEE SOME OF IT GOING AWAY THIS WEEKEND?
"I came along at a time when the sport was really taking off. I've been in this sport long enough to see tradition and the history. Obviously I'm not the guy who has been around for 20 years and there are other guys who can speak to this better than I can. Because of how our sport has grown and at our fan base and what has kept it moving forward, it is a fine line between growth and tradition. Everybody struggles with that. I feel sorry for NASCAR a lot of days because they have a lot of tough calls to make. But in my opinion, the tradition is really with Darlington. If it's not on Labor Day weekend, people are still going to appreciate the history that goes on at Darlington even if the date is moved. We will try to appreciate this weekend as much as we can because it has been there for so long on that weekend. But I don't think it will take away from it. It will just be a little bit different."
WHY HAVE YOU BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL AT DARLINGTON?
"Now there's a tough question. I remember the very first time I went there in a Busch car with Bill Davis. It was a track that I thought was so cool. It was fast and up next to the wall. It reminded me on racing Sprint Cars at Winchester for the first time. It's a track where everybody intimidates you before you ever get there. They basically scare you before you make one lap on the track. And then you go out there and you think it's a little spooky, but it's a cool track. Whether it be the line around there that fits my driving style or the set-ups that fit our race cars, it's really hard to say exactly what it is (that has made him successful at Darlington). It's changed over the years with as much downforce as we have in these cars. I can remember when you couldn't even go a lap before the tires were old. And now, you've got harder tires and more downforce and the cars last a lot longer yet we're still running good. That's one of those questions where I don't necessarily want to figure out. I just want it to keep going."
GOOD DRIVERS HAVE SKILLS, EXPERIENCE, AND VERY GOOD EYES. WHAT'S INSIDE YOU THAT IS NOT IN MOST?
"There are certain skills that come naturally and there are some that you have to be taught. I've been driving a race car since I was five. My stepfather taught me a lot of things. I was a sponge and soaked it in at a very young age. Not all of it came naturally, but the competition side did when I got out there in the car. There is something that allows me to pull more out of myself than I can any other time. What comes along with that is not just the focus but also the intensity level and the aggressiveness, and the patience. It's being able to know what's around you and what it's going to take to go faster than that car in front of you and keep those guys behind you. I've always said I've been driving a race car for so long that I don't know anything different. I had a great person to help me along the way."