NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference September 6, 2005 Jeff Gordon , driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Teleconference featured Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo. As the series...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference
September 6, 2005
Jeff Gordon , driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo
This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Teleconference featured Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo. As the series moves to Richmond for the Chevy Rock & Roll 400, Gordon is 30 points out of 10th place and has his work cut out for him to make it into the Chase. He's had two career victories at Richmond (spring of 1996 and fall of 2000).
YOU'VE EXPERIENCED MANY PRESSURE SITUATIONS THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER. WHERE DOES THIS ONE RANK FOR YOU? "It ranks right up there with going for the championship last year, or in '97 when we were battling for the championship with Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett. It's intense pressure going into one single race. I remember seeing what all those guys were going through last year to get into the top 10. I saw what Jeremy Mayfield pulled off. We're kind of in that same situation where we're not in the best position but anything is possible - especially on a short track like Richmond. We tested really well there, so I feel like we're going to have a good solid effort. But the way things have been going for us lately, there is just no way to predict it. We've just got to go up there and give it everything we've got."
KNOWING HOW JEREMY MAYFIELD MADE IT INTO THE TOP 10 LAST YEAR, DOES THAT GIVE YOU SOME ADDED INCENTIVE? "Oh, definitely. When you see that much on the line and how much pressure there is and someone stepping up like that to pull off a win like that is encouraging and exciting. It was great for the sport and this new point system. It was fantastic. I know there is going to be a lot of focus surrounding it this weekend. We've been in pressure situations before. For whatever reason, things have gone the way they've gone this year. I know there is a reason and who knows? We might find out why on Saturday if it was meant to be or not to be."
A LOT OF WHAT YOU CAN DO DEPENDS ON WHAT OTHER CARS DO, AND YET THAT IS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL. HOW DO YOU EMOTIONALLY HANDLE THAT? "All you can focus on is what you do have control of. We've got to go out there and put the best race car on the race car throughout the whole race and pit stops and strategy. We're really going to have to be as on top of our game this weekend as we've ever been. We're certainly capable of that. I know we are. We haven't shown that this year, so I'm hoping that when it is all on the line that we do step it up. You can't really focus on the other guys because they're going to do what they're going to do, and you've got to do your job. Whatever the positions end up being, that's where you're going to end up and whether you're going to end up in the Chase or not. That's what Mayfield did last year. I think he led the most laps, but even if he didn't, he won the race and did what he needed to do - it didn't matter what the other guys did. That's the competition we have. We're racing (Ryan) Newman and (Jamie) McMurray, but there are other things that might happen - good or bad - and we've just got to go out there and put the best race together we can."
IT SEEMS THAT YOU START OUT WITH A STRONG CAR AND THEN IT GOES SOUR AND YOU HAVE TO BATTLE YOUR WAY BACK. WHO BEARS RESPONSIBILITY FOR THAT AND HOW DO YOU FIX IT? "We all do. It's all of our responsibility. As a driver, my responsibility is to give information to the team about the car and what it's doing and how to make it better and how to start the race the way we should. That responsibility is also on (crew chief) Robbie (Loomis) and the guys working on the cars and all of our engineers and everybody we gather information from. There is no way to point fingers at any one person. It's a group effort whether you win the race or finish dead last. It's been frustrating -- no doubt about. I really felt as confident about our race car and our race going into Sunday night's race (at California Speedway) as I ever have. They dropped the green flag and I passed a couple of cars and the car felt fantastic. And then, 15 laps into the race, the car just went completely to the loose side and we struggled for a good part. And then we got the car tight and fought our way back up through there a little bit, and then it got too tight. We should have come in when we had the chance then to get tires. I didn't think the car was as tight as it was. And it just ended up killing us and taking us all the way to the back, basically, and that's why we finished 21st. You can't put the blame on any one person."
DO YOU AGREE WITH RICK HENDRICK'S REMARK THAT IT MAY NOT MATTER THAT MUCH IF YOU MAKE THE CHASE BECAUSE IT DOESN'T SEEM LIKE YOU'RE GOING TO BE ABLE TO MAKE THAT RUN AND GO FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP EVEN IF YOU DO MAKE IT? "I do. You're always going to be optimistic that if you get in the Chase and maybe things start to go your way that you can pull something together. So we certainly want to be in the Chase to give that effort and take that chance. But, the way we've been this year, honestly, if we perform this weekend like we have the last few, we don't belong in the Chase anyway. All we're going to do is finish 10th in the points and go on the (awards banquet) stage and it would be a disappointing year no matter what. Right now, the way I look at it, is starting this weekend through the end of the season, it's all about getting the issues sorted out on the tracks that we haven't run good at and then when we do have good runs that we make sure we finish out the run. If we're competitive, we need to finish competitively. We just haven't shown that. We need to get some spark for next year - regardless of where we end up this weekend."
DO YOU EXPECT ROBBIE LOOMIS TO BE YOUR CREW CHIEF NEXT SEASON? "We talked before this season even started about Robbie's future and what he wanted to do. If it were up to me, yeah, I'd love to have him as my crew chief. With his mom and some of the illnesses she's gone through, Robbie is trying to decide right now what his plans are right now. It has nothing to do with our performance right now. I believe 100 percent in Robbie Loomis and his abilities. When we're on, there's nobody better. And because of our lack of performance this year, I really don't think Robbie should be blamed for that. It has nothing to do with whether he is my crew chief next year of not. It has nothing to do with the performance we've had this year."
BRIAN WHITESELL SEEMS TO BE THE COMMON DENOMINATOR IN CONTRIBUTING TO THE SUCCESS OF THE NO. 24 AND 48 TEAMS LAST YEAR AND NOW THE NO. 5 AND 25 TEAMS THIS YEAR. DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM IS FEELING THE AFFECTS OF HIS DEPARTURE FROM YOUR OPERATION? "The way I look at it is I remember when those conversations were going on about Brian Whitesell. When we built the No. 24/No. 48 team, and Brian was sort of the interim crew chief there for a while, the reason why I wanted to take him out of being the crew chief was because I saw how great his skills are at organization and really being in a manager's role of a group. Obviously the No. 24 and 48 teams excelled because of that. When the No. 5 and 25 started to join forces and become two teams under one roof, I was the first one to say, 'Hey, I think that Brian would be perfect for that position'. We recognized that we might have to make some adjustments with our teams to compensate for that. But I think in some ways his role was more significant than even we realized. I think it's been great to see those teams do as well they have. I'm in a little bit different situation than most drivers. I have not only passion for our team, but for the entire Hendrick organization. So I want to see the entire organization do well. Our performance has dropped off but I don't know if it's because of Brian or a role he plays that we haven't been able to replace. We're looking into that right now; and what areas we might be lacking in and to finding that skill or knowledge in that area and how we replace that. So I'm happy for him. But it's definitely affected us in some ways and it's hard to really put our finger on what exactly it's been that's contributed to that."
IS BRIAN WHITESELL'S GREATEST ASSET BEING ABLE TO KEEP THE TEAMS ON TOP OF GETTING THE CARS PREPARED CORRECTLY AND BEING PREPARED WHEN YOU GET TO THE TRACK FOR EVERYTHING? "If you go all the way back, when we built the No. 48 team, one of the reasons why we were so good in 2001 is because we had an overabundance of people working on our team because we were planning for 2002 with the No. 48 team. So we had this shop built; and we basically had all these people building racing cars and working on my cars. We had more people that we knew what to do with. As a matter of fact, our budget was through the roof that year because it was like one team pays for twice the amount of people. I think there is a lot to be said about that because we were very well prepared. And then when we started the No. 48 team up, we were still in pretty good shape because we were well prepared to bring that team on board. The teams kept driving and doing well. I think over the years, we've slowly but surely sort of lost people - whether to other areas of Hendrick Motorsports where maybe they were better utilized or...
"So I think just the masses of people have been depleted and I think it's taken away a little bit of our being well, well prepared or being able to just think about things that you weren't typically thinking about. And that's what I think Brian is so good at. He had free reign to really go into so many different areas. While the crew chiefs are going in one direction, he could maybe throw another idea in there and say, 'Hey, have you guys thought about this?' That type of a person is what's really important to a team. We feel like we had somebody there to do some of those things, maybe they haven't done quite what we'd hoped."
WHETHER YOU'RE IN THE CHASE OR NOT, HOW DO YOU PHYSICALLY PREPARE FOR THE GRIND OF PUSHING THROUGH THOSE LAST 10 RACES? "Well, you get into a rhythm is what happens. The only thing that changes that grind is the amount of testing that you do. If you're running all over the country racing and testing, that can really wear down on the team. You've got to find ways to keep those guys rested and keep them, including yourself, in a position to get away from the hustle-bustle of the grind and be fresh when you get to the race track. That, to me, is the toughest part. We're all so used to going to the race track and going through the schedule, so I don't think that's too bad - other than the pressure as it starts to intensify as the season wears down if you're in that championship hunt. Then you've got to make sure that your guys are even fresher than normal and that you're not working them too hard. I felt like we did a little bit of that last year. We saved so many of our tests. So for the last 10, in between the tests and the races, we really were, I felt like, drained or a little bit overworked all the way through the end of the season."
YOU SAID YOU NEEDED THE SPARK. IS THE SPARK WHAT IS MISSING? RAY EVERNHAM DESCRIBED YOU AS A MONEY PLAYER, AND WHEN GIVEN THE BALL AT THE CLINCH, YOU'RE VERY GOOD. "I appreciate Ray saying that. We've had some great moments over the years between me and Ray and with Robbie and the team I'm with now. Certainly that has gone our way in the past when it really comes down to when it counts - whether it be a Daytona 500 or a Brickyard 400 or a championship or anything like that. I feel like we've been in that position to take advantage of it and step up when it's that time.
"When I say it's spark, I don't think it's any big secret with our performances this year that we could use a spark in many different areas - whether it be better performance on the l.5 and two-mile race tracks, or whether it be just trying to go our way and not run over a piece of debris on the track and cause tires to blow or fenders to crush in. When I say a spark, I just mean some positive things to happen for us to really turn the season around to give us something to look forward to during the off season and next season."
IS A NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECT OF THE CHASE IS THAT IF YOU MISS IT BY ONE POINT OR 100 POINTS, THAT THE DRIVERS VIEW THE SEASON AS A FAILURE? "Well, in the past if I didn't make the top 10 in points, I'd look at it as a failure too. Now the only difference is that I'd have 10 more races to work our way into the top 10. To be honest, with the expectations that are on our race team, it seems like anything less than maybe a top three or four in points is a disappointment for us. Through our performances in the past, our team has put ourselves in a position to have higher expectations. But I think it depends on the team. There are certain teams out there that being close to the Chase and not quite making it in is maybe a huge improvement over the year before and maybe something very positive for them. For us, we had a shot at the championship last year. So to be anywhere but in that hunt for that championship is going to be a disappointment for us."
GOING INTO THE SEASON WITH HIGH SPIRITS AND YOUR DRIVE-FOR-FIVE, WHAT IS THE MOOD IN THE SHOP THESE DAYS? "Our guys are amazing. With everything that we've been through - the highs and lows over all the years - these guys know how to put races behind them and focus on the next one. I think the attitude is really good considering where we're at and thing that have gone on. We tested at Richmond a couple of weeks ago and had a great test. We have a brand new car for Richmond. I think our attitude of our guys is that we're going to go to Richmond and make this Chase. I'm fortunate to have a group of guys like that because I don't think there are too many teams that would be in our position that could handle themselves as well as my guys go."
IS THE PRESSURE OF MAKING IT INTO THE CHASE ONE OF THE MOST INTENSE FORMS OF PRESSURE YOU HAVE? "Definitely. The Chase has created a whole different aspect of pressure and how you look at the season. In one way, I look it how exciting it is and how great that it is that we're 12th in points and still mathematically have a shot at the championship, and it actually blows me away that basically if we get in the top 10 we still have a shot at it. In the past, I can't tell you how disappointed I'd be at this moment right now and have really nothing to look forward to other than planning for next year. Right now, I'm excited and looking forward to this weekend because I know we're still in it and we're not out of it yet and we're going to fight all the way until that checkered flag waves and hope we're in it, and then try to turn things around and go for that championship or at least get as high up in points that we possibly can. So the Chase has changed things drastically and it's added a lot of pressure. In the past, the pressure right now would be lying on those top five guys who are battling for the championship. Right now, those guys are kind of on easy street. I thought Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart and those guys this past weekend would just kick back and relax and be looking forward to getting to New Hampshire, but they're just in total opposite when you talk to the guys who are battling to get into the Chase. I think it's exciting for the sport. But at the same time it's definitely changed things for those guys that are back there. I love those challenges but it's definitely heightened the challenges. Again, I compare it to '97 and then also last year when we were actually going for the championship. I feel like this challenge compares to that."
BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU'VE DONE IN THE PAST, THERE'S ALWAYS THAT PUSH, PUSH, PUSH FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP. IS THERE ANY SATISFACTION TO SOMETHING LESS THAN WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP? "I get satisfaction when we perform to our full potential. The thing is, when we're fulfilling our full potential, we're usually winning races and championships. I think at our organization, because of our history, we believe in ourselves enough and have enough confidence in ourselves to know that we should be out there competing at a very high level every single week. We should be up there battling for wins or top fives and just building on that. You've got to walk before you can run. You've got to get top fives and top 10's consistently before you start winning. Or, you win, and that brings on more winning. Right now, we're not even close to that. It's definitely an adjustment for us. In my mind, it's only going to make us stronger. You've got to go through times like this to get a greater appreciation and respect for how competitive our series is and how we're going to make ourselves better. If we didn't have the group and organization we have at Hendrick Motorsports, I'd definitely be worried and concerned. But because of our organization and past history and because this is only going to be a great lesson for us, I only look at it as being a positive."
DURING THE RICHMOND RACE, HOW MUCH WILL YOU WANT TO KNOW WHERE MCMURRAY OR NEWMAN ARE ON THE RACETRACK, OR WILL THAT BE TOO DISTRACTING? "Well, it's no different than this past weekend or the past couple of weekends where during the first half of the race you've got to get yourself in position. You're fighting your own battles. You don't need to worry about other competitors at that point. When it gets down to the last couple of pit stops or runs, yeah, I might ask or they might tell me where those guys are. This past weekend, I saw where the No. 12 (Ryan Newman) car was and at that time I saw us inching closer and closer to him. So I knew he was the guy I really wanted to work on. (Matt) Kenseth was in a different league. I felt like he was up front battling for the win. I wasn't even concerned about him. McMurray was another one, and then Jarrett and Sadler were certainly on my mind. So I didn't really need anybody to say anything to me this past weekend. I could kind of see for myself. It was a great moment this past weekend when I got by Newman. I knew McMurray was further back and we were working our way toward the front. This was exactly what we needed to do. I was very excited and proud of our efforts at that point and then it all went south. Once it went south, it didn't matter where those guys were. It was more like how do we fix our car\? And where's the caution? And please give me a caution because we're in trouble (laughs). This weekend, who knows? It could go something like that. But if we're up there battling in the top five or 10 and those guys are coming or ahead of us and we need to chase or push harder, I know Robbie (Loomis) will mention that to me. But we really try to focus on our own program and our own team and try to get in the best position we can no matter what those other guys are doing."
DOES YOUR SPONSOR PUT ANY EXTRA PRESSURE ON YOU TO MAKE IT INTO THE CHASE? "No, not at all. If anything, it's the exact opposite. They're extremely supportive. Right now, they're getting a ton of publicity because the focus is on the guys who are battling for the Chase. Chad Holliday, CEO of DuPont, talked to Rick Hendrick and said, 'Hey, we've gone through years where business is tough and where we can't seem to do anything right. We know that we need support and so we're giving you guys support. We recognize how great your organization is and we're with you for the long haul.' So if anything, it's the exact opposite. For us, I think it's certainly not the position that they want to be in. It's not the position we want to be in, but there is no thought of action or anything they would take if we're not in the top 10."
IS IT EASIER ON A DRIVER'S MIND RIGHT NOW TO BE 9TH OR 10TH IN POINTS AND BARELY HANGING ON, OR 11TH OR 12TH WITH A REAL SHOT TO GRAB ONE OF THOSE POSITIONS? WHO HAS MORE PRESSURE ON HIM? "I always thing there is more pressure when you're chasing than when you're in the position and you've got to maintain that position. I'd much rather be 30 points up on the guy behind me and have to perform. You know you've going to perform. You've got to step it up. But you also know that you've just got to keep that guy in sight. Whereas for me, I've got to finish quite a few positions ahead of 10th and 11th in points right now. To me, that's a lot more pressure."
DOES LOOKING BACK AT HOW STRONG YOUR TEAM WAS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON MAKE IT EVEN MORE FRUSTRATING OR PUZZLING NOW? "Definitely. It definitely does. I still know we're a great team. Whether it be bad luck, blown motors, cut tires, or some bad runs, we have not performed on the 1.5 race tracks at all. And I throw in Michigan and California into that mix. Other than Charlotte, we've not performed at all on those race tracks. That's the most puzzling thing to me. You go to Watkins Glen and you cut a left front tire or you break a transmission or you blow an engine - those types of things are going to happen. You really can't do much about that. The team has just always tried to stay in control of the things that we can control. The other things, you've got to try to work through them and hope that they turn around. But as far as the team itself being strong, they're still very strong. We're not showing it right now - whether it be on a 1.5 mile race track or we've just had some misfortunes come our way."
IN CLOSING: "It's certainly going to be a very interesting weekend for us and for a lot of other guys. We're looking forward to it. I know a lot of interest is going to be there. I didn't want to be in this position, but now I'm here and we're going to make the most of it."