Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway and discussed driving the outgoing car and how he will miss it, if he will keep an old car for himself, the connection between the car and the...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway and discussed driving the outgoing car and how he will miss it, if he will keep an old car for himself, the connection between the car and the rise of NASCAR, how he deals with not winning, how Dale Earnhardt would race this event, similarities between himself and Earnhardt, Max Siegel and how he's handled the Dale Jr. issue, how difficult it will be for Jimmie Johnson to drive conservatively, the story on the creation of a fourth Hendrick team and on how sharing of information has helped the team and will help Dale Jr.
HAVE YOU BEEN SAVORING DRIVING THE OLD CAR DURING PRACTICE THIS WEEKEND? "We were talking about that earlier. I'm going to enjoy every second of it that I can, especially with these cars that these guys have been giving me this year. This car has been a lot of fun to drive and the evolution of this car and how much it's changed in the 15 years I've been in this series has been amazing. It's a real race car. It's amazing when you think of stock cars and the lack of technology that we have and really, just how much downforce and how much grip that we've been able to put in these cars and how fun they've been to drive over the last several years."
ANY SADNESS ABOUT THIS BEING THE FINAL RACE FOR THE CAR? "Yeah, we've put a lot of work and effort into it and Chevrolet and the Monte Carlo brand has been synonymous and so successful. We want to make it a good one. I'm going to enjoy it as much as I can."
IS THIS THE CHARLOTTE CAR? "I don't even know. I couldn't even tell you. I don't remember. It's a good one, I know that."
DO YOU HAVE SOME OF THE OLD CARS? "We've been talking about that. Hendrick. obviously it's been a yard sale for every team out there and we're trying to pick and choose which ones we want to keep and which ones we want to sell or get rid of. I probably will end up with one, yeah."
HOW CONNECTED IS THE RISE OF NASCAR AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THAT CAR? "Again, all I can say is that this is basically the car I've been driving for the last 15 years and the car that I learned to win races and championships and race 500-mile races with. And every one of them has been a Chevrolet whether it's a Monte Carlo or Lumina and for me to see the evolution of it over time should. I mean, it's been. you can go talk to Richard Petty and say those guys have been talking about the real evolution of those cars being actual stock cars off the showroom floor to where it is today. For me, over the last 15 years, to see the improvements that we've been able to make and how NASCAR's been challenged to keep a level playing field out there and the battles that we have between them and us, of constantly pushing the limits of being competitive out here, that part of it is what's been exciting for me over the years and knowing when we hit on something and go out there on the race track and see the numbers and the performance get better."
BEING SUCH A COMPETITOR WITH SUCH A DRIVE TO WIN, HAVE YOU HAD TO LEARN TO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP WHEN YOU DON'T WIN? "Yeah, but you know what, you lose a lot more races than you win. No matter how successful you are, you're not going to win every race. You're not going to win every year and so that teaches you in itself on how to be a better winner and how to be a better loser. The losses are what really drive you to want to win more and when you win a championship it's great; it's an amazing feeling, but when you go the next year and you don't win it then you realize just how much you like to win and how much the championship means. So the last several years by not winning it, I think it's really motivated me and this entire team to wanting to get it. I think that will be the toughest part of this year if we don't win it is how bad we want it and how hard we've worked for it and how good our team has been and our performance has been this year to be so close. You don't pull that off, it's certainly going to be a disappointment. Consistency is what we've been working on all year long. We'll see, we'll see what happens."
THAT'S A GOOD EXAMPLE FOR KIDS TO LEARN HOW TO LOSE. YOU CAN'T WIN ALL THE TIME. "Well, I lost a lot as a kid too, so. (laughs)."
IF DALE EARNHARDT WERE HERE TODAY AND IT WAS HIM AGAINST JOHNSON, HOW WOULD HE RACE THIS RACE? "Probably like Hornaday is going to race Skinner in that Truck race. I think about that every once in a while. How would Dale be influencing things happening in this sport today, how would he run on the track, how would he compete against some of the drivers that are out there today. The only real time I ever battled him for the championship was in '95 and while he taught me some lessons in '93, '94 by putting the bumper to me several times, in '95 that rarely ever happened in competition. You knew when to stay away from him, you knew when you had to race him hard. You knew he was going to lean on you and you had to be ready for that. I can't think of a time when we were battling for a championship that he just intensely did anything dirty. He might have raced hard but that's about it."
WOULD IT BE AGAINST YOUR BRAIN TO TRY TO BE LIKE HIM? "Yeah, I think to be like him, I want to be like him in his drive and. it's easy to be the Intimidator when you've got a fast race car. I've always said the most intimidating thing is a guy in your mirror that's running you down. You don't have to drive a black car and rough guys up to do that. I think the style and the competitiveness, I think the microscope that we're under has changed that quite a bit over the years and the way NASCAR handles things, you can't do some of the things that you used to be able to do. I don't even know if Dale would be able to get away with some of those things today."
YOUR OPINION ON MAX SIEGEL AND HOW HE'S INFLUENCED THE SPORT: "I think it's early to tell yet. I think that he seems to be a really smart guy who has got a lot of influence and experience in bringing a lot of different aspects to the sport so I think the potential is huge. I'm very proud of DEI to hire him and I think if they give him enough power to really utilize his resources and his skills then I think that he will be great for them and for the sport."
HOW HAS HE HANDLED THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING DALE JR.? "I think he handled it very professionally which is what you would hope for and expect. I think he handled it gracefully and the only unfortunate thing is that he didn't prevent it from happening. I think that that was out of his hands and I think he's done a fantastic job. I don't know Max well. I've talked to him about wanting to get to know him better because everything I've heard about him and have read is impressive. So I've actually offered him, and unfortunately we haven't been able to do it, is to sit down and talk and pick his brain a little bit about some things. I like it when people come into our sport and they have a different perspective on it because of the experience they have in other areas, especially in the entertainment world like he has and brings fresh, new ideas on how we can make our sport better."
HOW DIFFICULT WILL IT BE FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON TO DRIVE CONSERVATIVELY? "I think that's one of the toughest positions to be in is when it's yours to lose. When you're behind, you go for broke and you've got really nothing to lose like for us, there's really no pressure on us. We're in second place in the points; we know it doesn't come down to just finishing a few positions ahead of Jimmie. I don't think we can lose second so for us it's just going out there and running hard, running our race with nothing to lose and everything to gain. But for those guys that have everything to lose, you've got to be careful because you can be too aggressive trying to go for five-in-a-row and make a mistake or you can be too cautious and make a mistake. So those are just some of the things that will be going through their minds but they've been so solid, so good that I'll be surprised if those things happen."
WHEN RICK HENDRICK STARTED THE FOURTH TEAM AND MERGED IT WITH YOURS, WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION? "Actually it was the opposite."
YOU MEAN YOU GOING TO HIM? "Yeah. Here's what happened, was that we were building a new shop for the No. 24 team and in those plans and thoughts, guys like Brian Whitesell, Robbie Loomis and those guys. We ran through some different ideas and scenarios of should this be a two-car operation, not just a one-car operation. We've got the opportunity here to start fresh and at that time we've been getting beat by Gibbs and we had heard about how their shop was set up with two cars under one roof and we were trying to decide what to do going forward, if that was the way to go for the future. And as those scenarios started getting thrown around more and more, obviously it got back to Rick but it was more and more positives about than negatives and so what had happened was, Jimmie came to me and talked to me. We were in the middle of this discussion whether we do. we were on the fence. And I called Rick and I said 'Rick, we really have got to make some decisions on this shop, whether we're going to make it a t wo-car operation or not and I was just talking to this guy named Jimmie Johnson and I'm real impressed with him'. And he goes 'yeah, I know Jimmie and I've been pretty impressed with him as well'. And I said 'if we're going to do this thing, I think he can be a good guy but we've got to pull the plug. We've got to either do a one-car operation or a two-car operation and we've got to move forward.' And so that's what led into it. To me, I was sold on it because we were basically trying to win the championship in 2001 and I just felt like if we didn't move forward and ahead that we might not be battling for championships in the future. We need to do something to take ourselves to the next level and I thought that having another team there would be beneficial to us."
HOW DID YOU CONVINCE THE GUYS IN THE SHOP THAT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? "Well, that was an evolution of. as you build it up and you start to see the positive and negatives, you realize you can't separate these guys up. You really, truly have to treat it like one team. Everybody's building cars together and that you just have two road crews, two crew chiefs and two drivers and that was the philosophy that we determined that was going to make it work."
DO YOU THINK THE NO. 48 WOULD BE WHERE IT IS TODAY IF YOU GUYS HAD GONE ANOTHER DIRECTION? "I can tell you this: for a fact, they wouldn't have gotten where they did as fast as they did. I'm not saying they wouldn't have gotten there but they came out of the box. I mean, we won a championship. We basically took championship cars and material and just turned it over and so it got them close. And then they had to do the rest but they've done a phenomenal job with it, obviously. It was a big part of it but you never know. you can always say 'coulda, woulda, shoulda,' but the thing is, it's been pretty good so that's all we're happy about."
SO IF YOU GUYS HAD NOT BUILT A NEW BUILDING, THIS MIGHT NOT HAVE HAPPENED? "I don't think it would have happened. And not to take anything away from Jimmie, but Jimmie wasn't spectacular. You guys can all say it yourselves, and I've heard you say it before, when we hired him everybody was like 'Jimmie Johnson, why would they hire Jimmie Johnson. He hasn't set the world on fire in the Busch Series'. But I just saw something in him that I thought if we put him in the kind of equipment I'm in, I think he'll do very well and he did."
IS THAT THE KEY TO THE HENDRICK DOMINANCE, THE SHARING OF INFORMATION? "Then we would transfer that over to the No. 24/No. 48 shop and I think it took a little while for that to start to really come together and now really seeing the benefits and we can always make that better, those gaps between us even that much tighter and that much closer. Every crew chief has his way of doing it, every mechanic has his way of doing it until you're in the same shop. There's always going to be something different. It's definitely played a big role in all four teams being as good as they are."
DO YOU THINK JUNIOR WILL GET UP TO SPEED FASTED BECAUSE HE WILL HAVE THE BENEFIT OF ALL THIS KNOWLEDGE? "Yeah, definitely. I think we have very consistent employees. I think our organization is more put-together and stronger and more confident than they've ever been and I think it's no doubt it's going to benefit anybody that comes in, certainly Junior as well."
-credit: gm racing