Homestead: Jeff Gordon - Friday media visit

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the strengths of Rick Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson's success, the Chase format, and more. Q. What is your outlook for the weekend? JEFF GORDON: Outlook is good. We're...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the strengths of Rick Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson's success, the Chase format, and more.

Q. What is your outlook for the weekend?

JEFF GORDON: Outlook is good. We're excited about trying to finish the season out on a positive note, try to get us a win, try to get up as high in the points as we possibly can. Hopefully that means a win and second in the points. That's what our goal is. Till we get out there on the track, we didn't qualify great here the last time we were here, but we still finished well. It's been a pretty good track for us recently.

Q. Talk about some of the positive traits, the strengths that Rick Hendrick has.

JEFF GORDON: He's got a personality that works very well with myself, with the team. He's a smart guy. You got to have that. But then the most important thing is knowing how to work with people, getting the most out of everybody, having confidence in yourself, building confidence in the people around you. He does a very good job of that.

Q. Do you remember the actual moment when Jimmie came on your radar screen?

JEFF GORDON: Actually, I had heard about him. I went to a test at Darlington for Ricky Hendrick to test the Nationwide car. Ricky had never been there. He had never been there before. It was all kind of new to him. I was kind of standing on top of the truck, just watching. And I saw a car out there that was, you know, running the right line, quick, you know, looked good, but I didn't recognize anything, just the red and white 92 car.

I went over to Ricky and I was talking to him about the line, saying, Hey, if you get a chance to watch that guy, he's running pretty quick, and he's running the line you want to run. I said, Who is in that car? He said, That's Jimmie Johnson. I thought, Wow.

I saw Jimmie that day and asked him, How many times you been here? No, no, it's the first time. I mean, right there, that's pretty impressive, a guy that has never been there before that picked it up that quick. Then after that, it was, you know, hearing his name from time to time, watching the Nationwide races. Then the race that I ran at Michigan was when that moment happened where, you know, he had actually come to me after the drivers meeting and asked me some questions about some opportunities that were coming his way. Then we had the race, and we had like a three-lap shootout at the end and he got by me at the end. It stood out.

Q. That's when you went to Rick and thought you had to bring him in?

JEFF GORDON: You know, I was impressed with him a couple of times prior to that, and then I thought, you know, what he did there, seeing what he was doing with a car that I didn't think was one of the best teams out there, one of the best cars out there, he was making a lot out of what he had for equipment. It just so happened at that time we were building our new shop. We were wanting to build two cars in that shop. We were just having to make some decisions. Just the fact that Jimmie came to me and said there were some teams that were interested in putting him in Cup cars made me think that, Hey, maybe he's a guy we could bring along and build this thing around.

I pitched that idea to Rick. Rick had some interest.

Q. How does it feel to be the man ultimately responsible?

JEFF GORDON: I don't know. I definitely don't take that much responsibility. You know, I'm very proud of what that team's accomplished. I'm proud to have been a part of it from the beginning. You know, it's a bittersweet thing because as a driver, you know, we won the championship in '01 when they ran their first race. They watched us win that championship in '01. I think maybe '02 I finished ahead of him in points. I don't think I've finished ahead of him in points since then (laughter).

It just reminds me of when the 24 team came together, the people that made that happen, you know, how it came together, how it clicked, all the right things happening, it reminds me a lot about that. You know, I'm happy for those guys, being able to be a part of something like that.

Q. You said many times you don't expect will ever beat Earnhardt and Petty's record. Do you think the 48 is going to have a chance to do that?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I've always said, first you got to get to four before you talk about five, first you got to get to five before you talk about six. Obviously, the roll they're on, they're clicking them off here very quickly. So anything's possible.

You know, but this sport, nobody is obsolete {sic} to being able to be humbled by this sport. So I think anything is possible. But those guys are on a roll right now, and I don't really see it slowing down. I think they're very capable of doing it again next year.

You know, that's still just five. Seven's a big number. That's tough to get to. But, you know, I remember a lot of people telling me or asking me, Oh, man, you know, seven's in reach, seven's in reach. A lot changed, you know.

To me the only difference is I don't compare the championships those guys won or the ones I won to the new championship. It's totally different. You know, if they continue to keep the 10 races in the Chase that are in there now, I don't know if there's anybody better than the 48 team at those 10 races, those 10 tracks.

Q. How would you define your year?

JEFF GORDON: We've had a good year. Definitely had a good year. Huge improvement from last year. So I'm very happy about that. But, you know, we want to win the championship. You know, we feel like we still have a little bit of work to do to make those gains to get us where we need to be.

Q. Jimmie said yesterday he wished he won a championship with the old points system, that that would prove something.

JEFF GORDON: It's important for me to win a championship under the new system, I was going to say. I think it's different for everybody, you know. There's certain systems that are going to work better for some than others. You know, I feel like the 10 tracks in the Chase are not my best 10. So when it comes down to 10 specific racetracks, it's sort of our Achilles heel. But we're so strong throughout the whole season, being consistent over 38, 36 races, that I think the old points system favors us.

But I'm more inspired than ever with the new system to win it under the new format. So I'm sure for Jimmie, you know, it's going to be compared to the history of our sport, you know, he would like to probably go out and do it under the old system.

But I think the new system is very tough and challenging. He doesn't have to do it under the old to prove anything in my opinion. I think what he's done has been extraordinary.

Q. (Question regarding the tracks in the Chase.)

JEFF GORDON: Which ones would I like there to be in the Chase?

Q. Yes. JEFF GORDON: I would look at it a couple different ways. I would look at it tracks that I run good at, tracks that I like. I think Bristol should be in the Chase personally. Especially right now with the economy the way it is and trying to build excitement and keep everything really moving forward in the sport, Bristol I think is one of our premiere tracks, and I would like to see it in there. Plus it would be another short track, which would be good.

I mean, Michigan's always been one of my favorites. I think Indy, as well. It would be cool if Indy was in there. It's not so much picking other tracks as it is my worst three tracks are in the Chase. That's the downside for me. But, you know, that's also a goal of ours. That's what made winning in Texas earlier this year so special. Unfortunately we didn't back that up with a good performance the second time.

Q. What do you feel the turning point of your 2009 season was?

JEFF GORDON: You mean in a bad way?

Q. In a good way.

JEFF GORDON: In a good way?

Q. The defining moment of your season.

JEFF GORDON: Well, we started the season off right. I mean, we were strong in California. We were strong in Vegas. Oh, I'd like Vegas to be in there (laughter).

We were kind of opposite of a lot of guys. Our strength came in the first 10 races. We were really consistent. Then some other teams came on and we lost a little bit. I feel like we got it back right before the Chase and we've been solid in the Chase. New Hampshire kind of bit us. The first race of the Chase, we didn't have a good performance, that got us behind right from the beginning.

Q. (Question regarding Denny Hamlin.)

JEFF GORDON:  I thought he would have been this year.  You never know.  I
mean, it's a long season, a lot can happen.  A lot happens over the
off-season.  I always think of Gibbs as being one of the strongest
organizations out there.  You know, and I think Denny is a really solid
driver.  I hope he's not putting too much pressure on himself by saying
that.  I'm always big on actions speak louder than words, so I certainly
wouldn't go about saying that.  But good for him.

Q. Rick just talked about Jimmie's contract. He thinks you have at least three or four more years left. Have you talked to him about how much longer you want to keep going?

JEFF GORDON: My conversations with him are pretty much the same as anybody else. As long as I'm healthy and competitive and we have sponsorship, you know, we're out there enjoying ourselves, I'm going to keep doing it.

I don't like to put a number on that. You know, things can happen in a hurry. Right now things are going well. My back is better. And, you know, we're having a good year. Things are going well. So to me seasons like this add years to my career. Seasons like last year, you know, take away from them.

You know, last year I was frustrated, not feeling good.  I was like, Give
me a couple more years.  Now I'm like, Oh, four, five, who knows.

Q. When you went into the Lowe's boardroom to make the pitch for Jimmie way back when, did you have any hesitation at that point in putting your reputation on the line for a guy who hadn't set the world on fire in the Busch Series?

JEFF GORDON: When you're sitting in that room, you're pitching to them, you're needing the funding, you're feeling pretty confident in everything at that moment (laughter).

I'll never forget it. I'll never forget sitting there and having the CEO, Bob Tillman, flat out look at me straight in the face and said, Do you really believe that Jimmie can win races and win championships? And, you know, when a guy like that puts the pressure on you like that, you don't want to just lie to him, you know, you want to be honest. And I feel like I was honest. I told him that, you know, I believed with Hendrick equipment and the right people around him that, yes, he was capable of it. Now, how much of that did I believe was going to come true? I mean, I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure. I mean, I knew that Jimmie had a great talent, but I had no idea. You don't know how much they have until you put them in your equipment. You don't know what kind of crew chief Chad Knaus was going to be. I don't even know if we had a crew chief at that time. Just a lot of factors in there.

But, you know what, I was confident in Hendrick Motorsports and I did see something in Jimmie that I thought could be special. I had no idea it was going to take off and do what it's done. But I sure am happy now because I look pretty good saying, Oh, yeah, absolutely, he's going to do all that (laughter).

Q. What caused you to look at him to begin with, to notice him?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I like a guy that makes more out of his equipment than I think it's capable of. You know, I feel like he took a mediocre team, and this is what I feel like we're really missing right now in the Nationwide Series, if you're not on the Childress team, Roush team or Hendrick team, nobody's even looking at you. I guess I look at David Gilliland as the last guy that really did something in a not-so-well-known team. Look what people did, people flocked to him, picked him up. Man, this guy has beat them all with a team that's not known.

That's kind of what it was like in a different sense. The big teams weren't dominating the sport like that at that time. So he stood out. You know, he stood out. He wasn't in the best equipment. He was in the top 10 in points.

Q. Herzog team?

JEFF GORDON: Herzog. He hadn't won yet when we looked at him, but he was solid. And then, you know, I raced with him. You know, he drove the wheels off the thing. You know, he was hanging it out there. He was doing what he needed to do.

You know, you can sense a guy - or a girl - what they're capable of when you're out there with them. You can tell when the car's like doing the work and when the driver's doing the work. He's doing a lot of the work.

Q. You know what it's like to be in championship mode, but how do you keep it up as long as you do? Yesterday Rick said he's never seen two drivers, Mark and Jimmie, work as hard as they do just concentrating on being the guy that gets behind the wheel? How long can you maintain that kind of intensity with this kind of pressure?

JEFF GORDON: It just depends on what you build with those opportunities. You know, the downside is the more championships you win, the more you want to capitalize on opportunities that come your way, you know, from a marketing standpoint, from a business standpoint. Whether or not you get bored with it, you know.

Jimmie's a very focused and driven, you know, person. He works really hard at it. If he continues that, then I think he can continue on with the success, as well as the team.

Chad is as driven as Jimmie or anybody else out there. So it takes a whole combination, and they've got it. It just really comes down to them, how long they want to continue working at it as hard as they do.

Q. Is there anybody you would rather beat on Sunday than Jimmie Johnson?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, a Roush car. Because this weekend I think the Roush teams seem to be the cars to beat at Homestead. Are you talking about any Sunday?

Q. Any given Sunday.

JEFF GORDON:  If you beat those guys, you're doing something special.
 They're very, very strong.  Look what they did last week.  They got down
at Texas, came right back and just dominated.  They're definitely the
team to beat.  But not necessarily at Homestead.

Q. Have things changed out on the track over the last two years in any way, incidents being down?

JEFF GORDON: You know, the double-file restarts I would have thought would have increased that. And they might still. You have a whole season with it next year. We'll see. But, no. I mean, we're all out there racing hard, doing the same things we always do.

Q. Car of Tomorrow make any difference over the last two years in terms of fewer incidents?

JEFF GORDON:  You know, maybe.  I don't know.  It's hard to say.  I mean,
it's still a racecar.  It still has fenders on it.

Q. People haven't changed their style in any way in the last couple years?

JEFF GORDON: I think the aerodynamic package you have right now is affecting a little bit of that. We're not able to really get side-by-side as much as maybe in the past. That could have something to do with it. But that's just racing in general it's happening with that. That's hard to say if it's the Car of Tomorrow.

Q. (Question regarding celebrating the championship.)

JEFF GORDON: I don't want to say that it's wrapped up with Jimmie. But Mark is not known for going out and having a big party after a win. If he wins the championship, I would be absolutely thrilled, you know, would love to spend some time with him enjoying that win. If Jimmie wins it, you know, he's gotten it down, you know, on how to enjoy the evening. So we'll certainly be involved with those festivities, yes.

Q. You were at Montoya's event last night. What kind of difference do you see in terms of Hispanic recognition in this sport?

JEFF GORDON: I see media that's here almost every weekend. I see increasing fan base. Plus, you know, just seeing people like this week, for instance, I'm staying with a friend, and there's a woman that works for him that's from Colombia. The only driver she knows is Juan Pablo Montoya. She wouldn't have ever known anything about NASCAR racing if it weren't for him.

So I'm sure that happens a lot. The flipside is they wouldn't know Jeff Gordon or a bunch of other drivers here in NASCAR if it weren't for Juan coming in.

I think there's a lot of race fans in South America. I don't know how much they've been following NASCAR. They've been following Formula One. Now I think you get a little bit more South American influence with Nelson and Juan. I don't know, there's a few more. That will only increase the awareness in the Hispanic market.

Q. What do you like best about doing TV interviews and TV shows?

JEFF GORDON: What do I like the best? I don't know. I mean, I love doing live, just the interaction with the fans, having something unique to talk about than the same old springs and shocks and that type of thing. I mean, I'm comfortable in front of the camera. I've been in front of them for a long time. I guess that's just my personality. I like that interaction.

Q. Did you ever have to work at it?

JEFF GORDON: Yes, definitely. I mean, I still see flaws every time I do an interview, things that I say, you know, just little habits that I have. But, yeah, absolutely I had to work at it. None of that comes natural.

Q. Rick said yesterday when Ray left in '99 that was when he drew the line in the sand and said, You guys are all going to share everything, be equal, we're not going to have one front-running car and everybody chasing after him, having secrets. Did that take away some of the advantage the 24 had over the rest of the team or did it work out to everybody's advantage?

JEFF GORDON: It may have. I mean, we were still under the same guidelines as sharing information. But the whole organization was not put together the way it is now. We didn't have a network, we didn't have the shops the way they are now. And also I think that one of the big influences was when the 48 came on and the 24 shared everything with them seamlessly in that way, that's what really changed things. You know, we won the championship in '01 with Robby. That was two years later, a season later anyway from when Ray left. You know, to me it was just the direction that the organization was heading in. Yeah, it may have taken a little bit of an advantage away. But I think it gave a bigger advantage to Hendrick Motorsports as a whole.

Q. Is it hard to share at all?

JEFF GORDON: I don't think it is. I think if you're confident in what you do and you put the right people in place, your team is still going to prevail. And the information you can get from your teammates can be very valuable to you.

The key is, in order to be successful, like the 48 has been, is that, one, you've got to bring your own to the table. You've got to be strong enough where you can stand on your own. But then there's those weekends where you miss, you're off a little bit, and your teammates have what it takes. You know how to pull from them and make your car a winning car. That's where they're so strong and where we can get better.

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Ricky Hendrick , Jimmie Johnson , Denny Hamlin , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports