Michigan International Speedway
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Michigan International Speedway and discussed his season to date, racing at Michigan, road course racing and other topics.
HOW MUCH MOMENTUM DO YOU HAVE FOLLOWING YOUR WIN LAST WEEK?: “It’s been a spectacular week to say the least. A busy week, but certainly a fun one. Pocono – that was incredible to get that win and it’s been an interesting year for us with the 24 team. We get the win early on in Phoenix and have a lot of momentum early – a spectacular run there and then we just went through this streak of not performing well other than maybe the short tracks. Then some crashes and some different things, but more importantly the bad runs – Texas and places like that where I was pretty disappointed in our mile and a half program. Then we really start turning the corner looking at wind tunnel and seven-post and just trying to gather information. Then we come to Pocono and we win. We just had a solid weekend. It was spectacular and definitely coming to a streak of tracks here that are really good for us, including here at Michigan, one of my favorite tracks. We ran well here last year so I feel like we can follow up that great run at Pocono with another good one here.”
WOULD YOU PREFER TO HAVE WINS TO GET IN THE CHASE OR TO BE MORE CONSISTENT?: “I want to be a contender for the championship – there is no doubt about that. The one thing that I will say is that it’s still early. We kind of had a goal coming into this season that we knew that it would take time to gel as a new team and the communication between me and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and the engineers and then also as an organization – if we were a little bit behind and we have been a little bit behind up to this point. The Fords have been really strong, not only under the hood, but the Roush cars have really had the edge and so it’s made us really go to work. I think us with the 24 and Alan and myself, we probably had to go to work a little bit more than the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) – those guys have been out-performing us. It made us dig deep and work to find what we need. To me the most important thing is having strong cars. If we have strong cars then we can build the rest of it around that. Our pit crew has actually been really solid and we showed that last week. They’ve been solid. They’ve been consistent and we haven’t with the car. When we put the car out there, those guys stepped up and twice now we’ve had the car and they’ve stepped it up – Phoenix and in Pocono. We don’t want to just squeak our way into the Chase – that’s not what it’s all about for us. I think that we’ve got plenty of races left here to not only get ourselves in the top-10, but get some more wins and get ourselves really solid in the ranking when it comes to that Chase. I think about a month ago or month and a half ago I was worried and nervous and thinking we don’t have a chance of getting into this thing, but the last couple weeks – running good at Kansas, running good at Pocono has gotten me really fired. We’re going to do more than just squeak our way into the Chase.”
WILL YOU BE MORE CONSERVATIVE IN RACES TO GET INTO THE CHASE OR THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND ON THE FINAL PIT STOP AND GAMBLE FOR THE WIN?: “I don’t feel like we’re safe. I saw that at the end of the race, I saw some quotes and they were showing some clips for a show that I was doing and they were saying that this pretty much locks us in. I don’t agree with that. I think there’s too many races left, too many guys to me around us outside the top-10 in points that can win two or more races before the Chase starts. I don’t think that we can really take these huge risks. We’ll evaluate every risk out there and it’s like this, if you’re 10 laps short on fuel at the end of this race then that’s not a risk we’re taking. You’re not going to make it. You’re not going to save 10 laps. Now if we’re five laps short, that could be a risk worth taking. For any team out there. Anybody in the Chase, in the top-10 or outside. To me, it’s always risk versus reward and I don’t think a points system or our position with having two wins or where we’re at right now is going to make us take any more risk than we would any other way. If we are in the championship and there’s one race to go and the only way we can win the championship is we have to win the race and we didn’t have the car to win the race then that’s worth taking because it’s kind of a win or nothing situation. We’re not in that situation right now.”
I love going out there and this is certainly no exception.
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR NASCAR AND HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS FOR DALE EARNHARDT JR TO WIN A RACE?: “I find this very interesting because those guys are having a spectacular season. I’ve been in that situation before where we’re having a great year, we’re up there leading the points or battling for the championship and we hadn’t won a race and that’s where the focus was. That, to me is not right. Those guys are knocking on the door and I know that’s just part of what comes along when you’re that popular and your name is Earnhardt and until he wins nobody is going lift the finger. I think he recognizes that and Steve (Letarte, crew chief) recognizes that, but I hope it doesn’t affect what they’re doing out there because I think they’re doing amazing. I wish the focus was, wow the year Dale Jr is having and he’s third in points and knocking on the door of first and second. I think if they keep doing what they’re doing, the win will come. This is definitely a track that they can win at. I know that car and that setup and it’s very good. I know that as good as those guys have been this year and Junior runs well here too – this is a race that they can win.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT RACING AT SONOMA?: “No matter what is happening for us on road courses, I love going out there and this is certainly no exception. We’re going to go out a little bit early. We’re going to spend some time as a family with other family and friends that are out there. We’re going to be celebrating my daughter’s birthday, which we didn’t get a chance to do last year because Eva (wife) was pregnant and she didn’t travel to that race and neither did Ella (daughter). We’re looking forward to doing that again, which is always fun and exciting and motivating for me to go win the race just because of the party that my wife puts together. It still blows me away that I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to get her to 16. It’s a lot of fun regardless and it’s just a spectacular weekend. The wine country is beautiful; the race track is such a fun and challenging race track. I think right now that is probably and I go out there with just this great attitude and just enjoy the weekend, but I have to say that our road course weekend has just been way up and that to me is what I am more anxious about and fired up about. We just tested mid-Ohio last week with Boris Said, who is also going to be driving for James Finch in a Hendrick car and I thought we had a good test. I thought Mid-Ohio was a departure from what we normally do to try to learn something and make some gains. I feel like we made some gains and I hope it shows up out on the track out in Sonoma. We have not been competitive enough to win there. Probably better there than at Watkins Glen, but even at Sonoma the last couple of times felt like we haven’t been good enough. Look forward to that as well and then of course the Cars 2 movie. I will be spending some time with John Lassiter and his family out there. This is when this whole relationship got started was a year ago – I met John out there and went to his house and spent some time with him and he presented ‘Jeff Gorvette’ to me and to see it all become a reality now a year later is amazing. I look forward to that time as well.”
DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING FOR MICHIGAN ON SUNDAY?: “With that same stat, I would like to look at the top-fives here because we run good here and we seem to always be in the top-five here. I think we’re going to run well here, I really do. I think that the team has momentum. As I mentioned about that setup in the 24 car from last year that’s in the 88, we also will probably have something similar to that to start the weekend with and I just think this team is on a roll right now. This is one of my favorite tracks. I love this track. I feel comfortable at this track and I feel like we can get the car dialed in here for the race. Then it’s going to come down to how the race unfolds. This is a race that you can have the fastest car and not win and then there’s times when you have to have that fastest car. We’re going to do everything we can to put a complete race together like we did at Pocono. Keep ourselves in position and hope it turns out the same way – that would be awesome.”
CAN YOU COMPARE STEVE LETARTE AND ALAN GUSTAFSON? HOW HAVE THE OTHER CHANGES IN YOUR TEAM AFFECTED YOU?: “I would say that Alan (Gustafson, 24 crew chief) and his group have made it very easy for me. We spent a lot of time over the off season with me in the shop and with the engineers and with Alan. We did a lot of work inside the car with the cockpit and with the seat because just mounting the seats and being able to do it consistently – we did a whole new dash in the cars that was designed around me. The whole process to me made me feel very at home and comfortable that they were putting that kind of effort in there to get me in the car and we did some testing as well. We went out to Colorado – I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s near Colorado Springs. We had a great test there and kind of a bonding session. Phoenix to me was not that big of a surprise. I thought we were going to run good at Phoenix and we did. That’s the kind of relationship that it’s been. It started pretty early. You have to understand too, I’ve known Alan for a long time. Alan has been at Hendrick for a very long time and I can remember when Kyle (Busch) was his driver and we would talk about the cars and the setups and I just had tremendous amount of respect for Alan back then. That was the young Kyle Busch and he liked to make sure that he got the car to the wall every happy hour and that’s the way – he’s talented and pushes hard, but it frustrated the team a little bit and they usually were repairing the car rather than having the car on the track. We have conversations about that a lot, but then they would go to the race and they would fly and be great. As far as comparing Alan to Steve (Letarte, 88 crew chief) – Alan has more of an engineering background and history and education. Steve us one of these self-taught – he’s just a racer and he’s been around his whole life through his father. He’s smart and he’s got a lot of personality. I think the reason why it’s really gelling well with Junior is that Junior needs somebody to pull that out and Steve has a lot of confidence in himself and he opens up the dialogue and the conversation. For Alan and I, I think we mesh very well. I think we have similar personalities to where we don’t talk a lot, but when we do, it’s straight to the point. Then we laugh about stuff too. To me, it’s really about getting the information. Just like this past weekend for instance, this is the difference between me and Alan – I vent and say things and push the button on the radio and say things that are unnecessary to be said. Alan, he won’t so that at all. So I will say something and the great thing is that he doesn’t react – at least not on the radio. That actually gets my attention. I react, I say something, my tone or whatever it is, my words and he just says, ’10-4.’ In the race car, that’s what you need when you’re in that moment when you’re frustrated or when you’re trying to vent. IN the closing laps of that race, the car was getting really loose and so he wanted to make an adjustment and because of the way that our relationship is built, I kind of called back on the adjustment and said, ‘Okay, I know I’ve been venting and I’ve been screaming about being loose, but not that loose so let’s not go that far.’ We had a car that won the race. Even there was one time that I got real loose in that last run and came on the radio screaming because I thought I about hit the wall and he’s like, ‘You okay?’ It wasn’t like a panic thing. I like how he’s calm in the situations and I’m like that except that I do vent through words. I think we’re very similar in a lot of ways and I think that if we’re not running well, one thing I guarantee is that it is not the communication between us.”
HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR DRIVING STYLE WITH THE NEW CARS AND TIRES?: “I’ll take you way back because I just did an interview before I came over here talking about the Atlanta 1992 race and how much this sport has changed. The thing that’s changed the most is the cars and the setups. If you go back to those old clips and videos and you see what we have today. Today it’s all about the splitter has to be sealed to the ground and it’s all about car attitude and ride quality and all these things. Back then we didn’t even care about the front air dam. It could be six or eight inches off the ground and we were like, as long as the right spring is in the right front or in the right rear then it didn’t’ matter. Along the way, probably I would say 1999, 2000 and these are years that I struggled those years because I started going to big sway bars, big right rear springs and the platform of the car completely changed, but yet the down force increased dramatically.
...none of them are anywhere close to the tracks that we go to.
For me, that transition was about not having a car that rolled over and sat down on a spring, whether it be the right front or the right rear and you just didn’t turn the car with the right front spring coming down on the right front spring. Now we go down on the right front spring to get more down force. It took me a couple years and then 2001 we got it figured out. It wasn’t that I changed anything; it was getting used to it as well as trying to make that setup work for me. I’m the kind of driver; I work off the right front. I want to feel that right front. It has to do with how your position your hands on the steering wheel, how you pull with your left and push with your right. Everybody does it different. You’ve got Mark Martin who puts his elbow into it. You’ve got some guys that pull with their left."" Some guys are right hand dominant and some guys are left dominant. All those things play a role in how they feel the car. You’ve got some guys that go off the right rear and some guys like to go off the right front. I like to go off the right front. Things change with the setups with the cars – I’m fine with that because we’re making more down force and we’re making the cars go faster and even though the feel changes a little bit, as long as we adapt it to my style to where I’m still feeling the right front the way I want to feel it. We’ve had to do some funky things to these cars over the last few years to get them to have the down force. You see the car skewed down running sideways down the straightaway – that has an effect as it turns in the corner as well as what it does when you get on the throttle. Some of those things are just adapting to them and some of them are adapting them for you. That’s why when you see four cars at Hendrick Motorsports and you say this one is running good and why can’t you put that one in there? You’ve got to find the advantages that are in that, but then work on them for yourself. I would say that is the one thing that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and I have had to work with – he had Mark Martin and Mark runs a very, very free race car and rolls through the corner very quick. I drive in deep and probably give up the middle a little bit, but try to get off the corner strong as well. We’ve had to work around that aspect of it as to what I like and what I need in the car versus what he’s been used to.”
WHAT DID YOU GAIN TESTING AT MID-OHIO?: “I’ve always said that we’ve been trying to go to road courses for all these years that I’ve been in this sport to test and to me, none of them are anywhere close to the tracks that we go to. VIR (Virginia International Raceway) – it’s a nice track and there’s some hard braking sections so if you want to go test out your transmission and get used to doing some shifting and down shifting and check out your brakes, great, go to VIR. If you want to try to get handling characteristics for Watkins Glen or Sonoma, forget it. We got to Road Atlanta because it’s a faster road course, which is more like Watkins Glen, which is a fast road course. Again, handling characteristics I think are really minimal. Sonoma is a technical, low grip road course with a lot of elevation changes. What came about with Mid-Ohio, I don’t know, I just know that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) mentioned it to me and said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘I’m up for it because to me these other places we go to are useless.’ He kept trying to really get details and so he mentioned something about Boris (Said) had gone there and thought it was okay, but he still liked Road Atlanta. Because of all the laps he had been there, we could go together and maybe learn something. I don’t know if we did. We’ll find out when we get to Sonoma. It’s not Sonoma, but I kind of like some of the transitions in the corners and some of the elevation changes that I thought could help us for Sonoma. We’ll find out. I had fun. It was a nice track and I’ve always wanted to go there. It was hot – it was like 98 degrees and 90 percent humidity – it was ridiculously hot. I definitely think from a grip level, we were very similar to what we will have in Sonoma. My first time there and Boris has obviously made thousands of laps there. I was pretty happy with our pace because of that.”
-source: team chevy