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 ROBBIE LOOMIS:
DOES JEFF GORDON'S PAST SUCCESS AT DARLINGTON PUT A LOT OF PRESSURE ON YOU FOR THIS WEEKEND?
"There's always a lot of pressure when you have a driver as good as Jeff. We look forward to Darlington. It's really one of our favorite race tracks. Before I came here it was one I didn't look forward to. Now I love going there."
WHY DID YOU FEEL MORE PRESSURE WHEN YOU BECAME JEFF GORDON'S CREW CHIEF?
"It's just the expectation, I think, when you're working for a driver of the his caliber. When you go to the race track, you know you have a driver capable of winning that race. It's just a matter of making sure that the car, the equipment, and the team are even with Jeff Gordon."
HOW CHALLENGING IS DARLINGTON COMPARED TO OTHER RACE TRACKS?
"It's very challenging. It's probably one of the biggest challenges as far as handling (goes). Bristol is another challenging race track from the driver's standpoint because things happen so quickly. But at Darlington, not only are you traveling at a high rate of speed, but Turns 1 and 2 are a lot different than Turns 3 and 4 and the grip level goes away so quick. You want new tires about every two laps you run. Unfortunately you have to wait about 65 or 70 (laps) before you get them."
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST IMPRESSION AND MEMORY OF DARLINGTON, AND WHAT SETS IT APART FROM OTHER TRACKS?
"My first year going to Darlington was probably in 1987. That's what the front stretch was over on the other side. And the garages were not much to speak of at the time. But it was just a really unique race track. I know that for me it was very challenging - especially with a driver who hadn't been there very much before. But I've learned to love the place. Looking back through some of the pictures that Richard Petty gave me about the place when it had a guardrail. It's always been a treacherous race track and one that you must respect when you walk into it."
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEGATIVE FEELINGS ABOUT LOSING THE LABOR DAY WEEKEND DATE AT DARLINGTON?
"I've never really been caught up in the tradition (of it). I have a tremendous amount of respect for Indianapolis Motor Speedway and for Daytona and the Daytona 500 always being there. We were fortunate enough to win the Southern 500 at Darlington last year. So, I hate to see it go. But at the same time, I don't want to keep driving around in the same vehicle my whole life. I want to keep increasing to better vehicles and better things. I think that going to California will be a newer and better venue that will be better for the sport in the long run. I think that's what we're all after."
CAN LUCK PLAY A BIG ROLE IN HOW THE SEASON CAN GO FOR A DRIVER?)
"Definitely. I can remember one time when a reporter asked Richard Petty if Jeff Gordon was that good or if he was just lucky. Richard said, 'Both.' A driver can be that good, but he can be that lucky too. As the coach of a race team, I have to look at every circumstance that happens and then try to backtrack from there to see what put us in that circumstance for that so-called luck to be bad or whatever. We just have to make sure that we have the best race cars and the best pit crew. After that, we have to let the circumstances fall where they may."
NEXT YEAR, WHEN THE RACE IS RUN UNDER LIGHTS IN NOVEMBER AND THE TRACK TEMPERATURE IS COOLER, WILL YOU SET THE CARS UP LIKE YOU DID FOR THE SPRING RACE?
"That's one thing that will be a little bit of an advantage for us. I was just looking through my Darlington notes for the last couple of years. One thing for sure, it seems like qualifying has gotten rained out for one of the two races. I think we might be a little better on the weather and I think we can go off our spring notes more. I think the track is going to have a little more grip, but that asphalt is just worn out. Once you've run 20 laps on it, you're not going to know if it's 40 degrees or 60 degrees."
DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE A BIG CHANGE FOR THE DRIVERS?
"That's one thing that will help keep the drivers fresher and mentally sharp. I think it will make the race a little better because everybody will be a little more attentive. It'll be a fight, that's for sure."
DO THE DRIVER ATTITUDES LIKE SPENCER/BUSCH AFFECT ALSO HAPPEN AMONG THE CREW CHIEFS?
"Absolutely not. It seems like we've lost a little something in the sport during the last few months regarding respect and the Gentleman's agreement. It seems to somehow be slipping away. I think it has gone before but has come back. But the crew chiefs are not driving these cars. We're preparing them so those guys can go out there and race them. There's a respect that has to be there for one another. I think the drivers need to work on developing that so they can get back to things like the Gentleman's Agreement that have always been in place and that has always seemed to work pretty good. It used to be that if you didn't abide by the Gentleman's Agreement and you raced back to the caution, you didn't have to worry about NASCAR doing anything. When you got down to the next corner after a restart, that driver that you weren't nice to was going to take care of it. We've just got to get back to a little more of that."
WHAT KIND OF SPORT IS IT THAT ENCOURAGES PEOPLE TO GO BACK BEHIND THE GRANDSTANDS AND SETTLE DISPUTES WITH THEIR FISTS?
"In NASCAR racing, emotions run extremely high. But in no way, shape, or form do we have any room for a fight or something of that nature. It's a sport and it's supposed to be respected as a sport. NASCAR probably took the right stance and the right action on what happened at Michigan."
HOW SPECIAL WOULD IT BE FOR JEFF GORDON TO WIN AGAIN AT DARLINGTON THIS WEEKEND?
"It's incredible when you look at Jeff's numbers at Darlington. It would be tremendous for our team. Like any team, you build on momentum. We've had great race cars, but we've just been missing in little areas to get to the bottom line. We're trying to make sure we're crossing our t's and dotting our i's to make sure we're giving him the kind of race cars to get to Victory Lane. We're going to have our share of victories before the year is out and hopefully it will start at Darlington. It would be a good spark to get us electrified for the rest of the year."
DOES THE CURRENT PROVISIONAL STARTING SPOT SYSTEM NEED TO BE CHANGED?)
"It depends on what side of the fence you're on. It's like anything else. I'd like to see them do something different. Some things went on this year that wasn't really what NASCAR was looking for when they set these rules in place with some people switching car numbers and things like that. A system needs to be in place that honors the guys and sponsors that are there week in and week out and that makes sure they are kept in the shows. We need to protect those guys who have major corporations spending a lot of money to see their cars on TV on Saturday nights and Sundays."
IS THE PROVISIONAL COUNT THAT'S IN PLACE RIGHT NOW A GOOD SYSTEM?
"It needs a little tweaking. Right now, if you're in the top 25 in points, it doesn't count as a provisional against you. But if you're out of the top 25 you can use up your provisionals pretty quick. Unfortunately the guys that are out of the top 25 in points are usually the guys who are using the most of them. So they run out of them pretty quick. And then anybody who has a trailer or a race car can pull into the race track and start in the show. They might not have the speed or the equipment to be in the show on Sunday."
DOES THE PAST CHAMPION'S PROVISIONAL STILL NEED TO BE IN THE MIX?) "That's a good thing. I'd like to see us be able to take care of these guys who have been champions of the sport. It's because of those champions like Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip that have helped make these venues what they are. Anything we can do to take care of a champion as he's finishing out his career is good. It's hard to walk away from something you love so much. When we can make room to put them in there, it's special."
IS THERE A STIGMA TO THE PAST CHAMPIONS PROVISIONAL?
"It's something that there are times when you wonder if we need to have this guy or that guy in there. But the biggest thing is the sponsors and what they have done for the drivers (and vice-versa). I think it's real important to have them in there on Sunday."
IN WHAT DIRECTION CAN YOU TURN TO FIND MORE SPEED?
"We were looking at things the other day and I said if there was a seminar out there right now, I believe I'd go for strategy. It's just the way these races are falling and the way the competition is so close. In the statistics of the races and the cautions and the number of laps ran. That's a big area for gain. But as far as the race cars themselves go, we're always reacting to what NASCAR does. NASCAR is probably going to make some changes to help the aero side of it to take away a little bit of the aerodynamics of the cars. And when they do, we'll have to work real hard to get back into the mechanical side of the car to get the grip back. For the last two or three years, we've been working extremely hard in all the chassis changes just to help the car aerodynamically. We kind of forgot a little bit about the mechanical side. As NASCAR looks at making some changes on the aero side, we'll have to look real hard at getting the grip back in the car mechanically."