Tuesday, Aug. 11, 1999. Highlights of Winston Teleconference with Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham. Chevrolet notes, quotes. JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) NOTE: Gordon, a 28-year-old, three-time NASCAR Winston Cup...
Tuesday, Aug. 11, 1999. Highlights of Winston Teleconference with Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham. Chevrolet notes, quotes.
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo)
NOTE: Gordon, a 28-year-old, three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, stands fifth in the 1999 Winston Cup standings after 21 of 34 races. He trails leader Dale Jarrett by 482 points yet has finished ahead of Jarrett in 11 of 21 races this season.
"The team has been performing flawless this year, yet we've had some incidence that we couldn't control and that's why we're fifth in the points. Besides where we're at in the points, we've had an amazing year I think.
"The same thing it is about trying to win one championship. This is the toughest series that there is in motorsports. The way the point system is, it's very, very difficult to be that consistent throughout the year and have everything go your way, winning races, finishing races. These days you have to finish in the top five or top 10 just about every race to win the championship. You look at D.J. this year. He's getting it done. It's just so tough to win one. I'm thrilled to have won two in a row, but three in a row is asking a lot. In a tough series like this, it's very tough to do.
"I don't quite understand why I've got the response I've gotten. It's still amazing every time I pull into victory lane. I'm always overwhelmed. I don't expect to go into a race, although I felt real good about the road courses, especially Watkins Glen, I didn't expect to go in there and have the type of performance we had. When you pull into victory lane, you're excited and happy and I think the only way to react to that is to be humble.
"We've had one of those seasons where we've shown we're human. Maybe because we're fifth in points, that's why they've come around a little bit. I really don't put too much effort into trying to figure out why people boo or why people don't like me. The ones that do, I try to expect them and appreciate them as much as I can.
"If Jarrett falls out of the next five races it'll get interesting. I don't see that happening. They're on a roll. Things are going their way. Right now, that's what's gotten him to where he is. Their consistency and when they're capable of winning races, they win races. The performance they had this past weekend was a great performance. To finish fourth at Watkins Glen, that's exactly what they needed to do to win a championship, and they're doing everything they need to do. It is racing. Things can go wrong, and I think that's the only thing that's going to allow anybody to catch him. If he all of a sudden starts having some problems or gets caught up in some wrecks or whatever, but the way they're going, just one or two of those is not going to affect him. It would have to be more than one or two bad races.
"Right now, all that's speculation and rumors (concerning crew chief Ray Evernham taking another position at Hendrick Motorsports). Ray and I are I think communicating great right now. We're getting along wonderful. Things are really moving forward at Hendrick Motorsports in order for us to continue to win championships. Everything that's going on right now at Hendrick Motorsports, I'm 100 percent in support of. As far as what Ray is doing, what I'm doing, what our team is a part of, until there's something to discuss, something to fill everybody in on, until there are those things, I'd rather wait until there is something to talk about rather than speculating on some rumors.
"(Michigan) It's everything. It's horsepower, which I think right now, horsepower wise, we're in great shape. It's a handling race track, too. The last time we were there, I think Dale was really getting us from the middle of the corner off. He was really being able to roll and carry some speed through the corner, more so than anybody else. Those were the things that we went to work on, that aero, that chassis. I hope we've got something for him. Our guys have been working hard to put something out there that's capable of running with them or whoever the guy is to beat. We hope we've got a car capable of winning.
"Drivers are thinking a little bit more about their future and about what happens if they're not in a race car. I think that has a lot to do with the type of money we're making now to drive these race cars. Everything has really taken off. Everybody wants to be able to support their family and have a life if you can't drive a race car because nowadays everything that's surrounding our lives is based on racing. If racing is not there, you've got to have something to fall back on. Racing is a fulltime job and there's not too many other things we could fall back on, so it's very tough. If you're going to win the championship, you can't put somebody else in the car. You've got to be in the car at every race. If you do get injured, chances are you're not going to be getting paid if you're not in that race car and you're not going to be able to win the championship. It does make it very, very difficult. I see some of these guys that hit their head, or broken arm or bruised rib or something. Then they get back in and get reinjured and they never come back the same, 100 percent like they were before. That's very disappointing. I'm fortunate I've never been in that position, but I might some day, and I hope I make the right decision. The decisions that are being made today are based on them keeping that job and making sure somebody else doesn't come in and take that job away from them and making sure they're still getting that salary and perform for their sponsors. That's just the reality of racing lives we lead.
"I think I would look at it a little bit more if I was sitting second or third in the points, 300 points out of first instead of well over 400, but I guess there are definitely some comparisons. It seems like to me the 88 team has gotten on a string of consistent and really good finishes sooner than we did last year. We had won more races up to this point. I know nobody likes their position except the 88 right now. That was the case the last couple of years. That's certainly a good position to be in, but I don't remember having
this big of a lead in any championship we've won. I feel like it was pretty tight all the way down to the finish, maybe until five races to go last year. That's when we started to stretch things out. Right now, they've got a huge lead. It's going to be interesting over the next five or six, maybe even 10 races, if they can keep this going. If they don't have any problems because they've got such a big, comfortable lead. Sometimes you get kind of relaxed and contest with that. You've got to keep charging and keep working hard every weekend and not give up on it.
"It's been very difficult (dealing with Rick Hendrick's illness). A guy who means so much to me and Hendrick Motorsports. A guy I can remember sitting down with the first time and one of the things he threw me, the head of Hendrick Motorsports was the personality, the type of person that Rick Hendrick was with all the wealth and all the attention he has in his life, he's still a real down-to-earth loving person, loving father with his children and wife. That impressed me a lot. I care a lot about him, and it's great to have him back. I'm really looking forward more to next year because I feel like he's going to be going to more races and his health is going to get even better. We want to have him right there in victory lane at these races. Hopefully, we can win another championship.
"Before getting all those questions (about Evernham) out there before something happens, let's wait until there's something to talk about. I'll be sure we fill you guys in on everything.
"I haven't analyzed all the fans that pull for me and the ones that don't. I definitely see that when a new face comes in, a new team, there's eagerness to see that new face in victory lane and it's exciting for the sport. If that person starts to do extremely well and starts to win a lot of races, championships and outrunning the guys the fans have been pulling for for years, then maybe there is some resentment. I can see that happening. Everybody likes the underdog. When somebody like the Chicago Bulls, that's what I like to compare it to, is winning everything, people say, 'anybody but them' unless you're a Chicago fan. I see how that can happen because I see myself in that position just as a sports fan when I see someone dominating all the time. You see and hear their face and their name all the time. You kind of want to see somebody different come up, but that's just a part of it. I don't know exactly why and how things work. Our fans are very local, very unique to any sport I've ever seen. You've got to love them for it.
"It's a combination of things. It takes many people to make that race team function the way it functions and be successful. Same way with my schedule and the hecticness of my life. I rely on the race team and Ray and Hendrick Motorsports when it comes to the race cars and my career. Then there's people I have within the PR office that helps me with my schedule and sponsor requests. All these people work together to get a schedule and we try to schedule one year in advance. We usually know the test schedule and race schedule and then I know how many things I can do throughout the year. I try to do two or three in one area or maybe one region of the country in one day or a couple of days. We've gotten much better in scheduling all these things. I think it's very important for me to get home as often as I can and spend time with Brooke and my family and friends and just get away. Thank goodness I'm able to be fortunate enough to have an airplane and a motorcoach we take to the race tracks. We like some type of home life when we are at the race track, and I'm able to come home, go do these things across the country and come home every single night or Brooke and I are able to travel together everywhere we go. That certainly has a lot to do with it. God has played a major role in my life. My faith through Him has helped me to just stay grounded, to appreciate the things I have, be humble. When things are tough, I always turn to Him and ask for advise.
"I always refer to the day I graduated from high school. I went and drove in a World of Outlaws Sprint Car race in Bloomington, Ind. I qualified second and finished four. All the heavy hitters were there. That was a very special time in my career. I said 'all right, I've graduated from high school. I either have to go to college or I can continue this racing thing and I'd sure like to do this racing thing. If it works out, I'm going to stick with it.' That night kind of told me to stick with the racing thing. It might work out for you.
"I think our goal for this season right now is to win as many races as we can, but get the consistency back on track and to get as many points and gain as many positions in the points as we can. Where we end up at the end of the season, if we win the most races, great. At the end of the season, if we're in New York on the stage and we're not the champion, there's going to be something missing. It's going to be a letdown for this season, but it's going to be an inspiration for next season. Right now, that's all that we can be totally content with when it comes to Winston Cup racing, that's to be the champion. That comes from winning two or three championships and knowing what it's like to be the champion. If there's one category we can lead, if it's money won or races won, poles or laps led, it's always good to be the top of something.
"The first DNF and you finish 43rd or whatever, we can make that up. You have your second one, you go, 'no problem.' After the third one, you go 'man,
we've got to get this thing going or we're going to be out of the championship.' After the fourth or fifth one, you're scratching your head. Let's just make sure we're not blowing tires, let's just make sure we're not blowing engines, let's make sure everything is in intact in one piece and our team is focused. To me, everything has been there, but there's been some things you think are easy to fix have happened to us. We're scratching our heads trying to understand why. Since blowing that tire in the last race at Pocono, we just said we've got to get through the rest of the season without having a tire problem, without having any other glitches and let's get the consistency going. If we get the consistency going, then we'll worry about getting into victory lane. There's just some things you can't control. You try to control the things you can. After maybe the third or fourth DNF, that's when we kind of had to refocus our goals and stop thinking about championship and start thinking about getting consistent.
"I've been racing a long time. I think I've been through a lot of things, championship seasons and seasons that were horrible. I think I never forget those times when it was much worse than it is now. It's easy to accept when you're still winning four or five races and winning poles and running well and battling for wins just about every weekend. I think at the end of the season when it's all over and if we're not champions, that's when it will hit me. Just like if you are the champion and you're in New York, that's when it hits you, that week and moment. When the season is all over, you're able to relax and take all this weight off your shoulders. It'll be the same whether we win the championship or not.
"He (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) beat me in all the Busch races and then try to give him a run for his money on Sunday. I think Dale Jr. is a tremendous talent. It is great for Winston Cup racing to have him coming on board next year. It's kind of going to be a letdown for the Saturday events because I enjoy watching him and Matt Kenseth and all these guys battle in the Busch series on Saturdays, but I think it's definitely going to be something good for us on Sundays. I don't look at rivalries. I really don't. I think the media and fans look at that a little bit more. I look at him as a competitor out there. If Dale Sr. can give him the equipment and race team that's able to put him in winning form, I know he can get the job done and me and a lot of other guys will be contending with him every weekend. Every weekend it seems it's a different guy. Dale Jarrett has been the most consistent this year and that's the guy we focus on trying to race. Some weekends it's Mark Martin. Sometimes it's Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, whoever it might be. I'm sure that next year sometimes it's going to be Dale Jr. and I'll look forward to that. In the future it might be him, like Dale Jarrett, every weekend.
"I think they're in a pretty good rhythm right now. Their confidence is up and they feel good about the way things are going. Right now they're just rolling. They're not thinking about what can go wrong. They're just doing the same thing every weekend that they did early in the season, just make the car the best it can be and battle to the end of the race. I think as it closes down and it gets closer to the end of the season, they're going to be looking and say 'we've got this big points lead. We can do this thing. We might win a championship. We've been working hard the last three, four or five years to get to this point. Let's not blow it now.'
"When you start second guessing and get off track from what you've been doing all season long, that's when things start to kind of backfire on you. They can't start saving points right now and saying we've got to do this or we've just got to do this because that's all we need to win the championship. That's not the way they need to do it in my mind. They need to just keep racing the same way each and every weekend. That's the way we've won championships. Every time we tried to change the way we were doing things as we got down to the end of the season to make sure we didn't blow a motor or to get conservative to make sure we held on to that points lead, that's when things started to fall apart for us. Last year we didn't do that. We attacked it every race, all the way to the end and it paid off."
RAY EVERNHAM (Crew chief No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo)
"Five hundred points is a long way back and we're not going to throw in the towel until we're mathematically out of it, but we're not going to focus on it, either. We're trying to focus hard on getting competitive right now. We're getting beat on the race track on the big ovals and that's something we've got to stop. We threw everything we had at 'em in Indianapolis and they still beat us. We put our focus on getting our aerodynamic package and our horsepower and handling package going. If we can beat them on the ovals where we need to beat them, then we'll start worrying about the points.
"Winning two consecutive championships, it probably takes a lot out of you. If you beat people for two years in a row, sometimes you don't know what your margin is. It's easier when you have something to judge against I guess. Sometimes in an area you're getting beat, you know what you've got to work on. But if you come off a year like last year and assure your stuff is pretty good it makes it very hard to know how much better you've got to get. Then on top of that, normally every two or three years there's some major rule changes that throw a little different mix into the competition. Keeping that competition off balance is what keeps NASCAR racing so competitive.
"It's no secret. For the last couple of years, I've said I don't know how much longer I'm going to be a crew chief. I said that two years ago. Right now, we're not ready to comment on what could or would or should happen. As I said last week, I don't want to comment or tell anybody the truth because the stuff everybody is making up is a lot better than I could come up with. On top of that, we just really don't have any set plans yet. It just wouldn't make any sense to comment. Some day, I would like to get down off that box and be involved in overall management, but we just don't have those answers yet.
"You've got to make decisions on when to pit, what to do, you've got to stay in communication with your driver. Up there on the box, you're watching just about everything that's going on. You're watching other teams, you're scanning other teams, you're watching the race track, watching the weather, listening to NASCAR. You've got a complete playbook up there with options that change as the race goes on, depending on the handling of the car, depending on when the cautions fall, depending on if another competitor is getting better or worse. There's several, several things you're trying to keep track of up there. You're getting input from your guys. You've got your tire guy, you've got two or three guys scanning other teams. It's a constant hub of activity actually up on that pit box, trying to make decisions, passing notes back and forth. It's just not one thing, trying to decide when we're going to pit. There's really a lot more that goes into it than that.
"Everybody does it (scan). What you want to do is find what situation the other competitors have, what their cars are running like and the changes they're going to make on pit stops, when they're planning on pitting. Sometimes you can find out what a competitor's car is like around your car. Lots of times you'll hear a guy say 'I'm tight behind him or I'm loose when he's behind me.' You can use that to your advantage.
"You concentrate as much as you can, but it's something I enjoy. It's what I do. You just get used to it. My job is to keep track of those things in my mind, that's probably why I can't remember my anniversary or my wife's birthday, but I can tell you what right front spring we had in at Darlington in 1997. Just trying to keep track of all those things takes a lot of focus, but if you've got good people and you've got your pad working on options, working on decisions, I'm real big on keeping a playbook. I write a lot of notes down. If this happens, here's what we're going to do. If this happens, here's what we're going to do. That changes as you get that information. The guy that's got the most information can normally make the best decision.
"I guess that depends on how good it (new Monte Carlo) comes out of the box and what the spoiler rules and things like that are going to be. We're off balance a little bit this year because of our aerodynamic package. Last year the cars had very little downforce. This year they have a great deal more, so we're having trouble finding our balance. Hopefully the new car will have a good balance right off the bat, but we don't know that yet.
"We rely on Rick, not just as a boss, but as a friend. He's a lot of fun to be around. When you've got to make some really difficult decisions, you can go to him for advise and it makes things a lot smoother because he has a different perspective standing back looking. He's got a lot of good business experience. He's just got a lot of different views. He's not in the battle all the time. He can stand back a little bit, and I rely on that. To pick up the phone and be able to call him and say 'hey, what do you think I should do about this?' It really means a great deal to me.
"I don't like to see anybody injured. One of the biggest things we can do is keep working with NASCAR to improve the safety of the cars, either cut the speeds down or keep working on seats and restraints so these guys don't get hurt. Unfortunately, this is a professional sport like anything else. If you were the leading rusher or Mark McGuire were about to break the home run record and twisted his knee and couldn't do it, that's unfortunately life and that's sports. I don't really agree with having substitute drivers. The car can keep its points because the owner is not penalized. We all know what can happen in this sport and I think that's a risk you take. It's just a part of the sport. I don't think the championship would have the same meaning if another driver had to run three or four races for you.
"When I was hurt, I received a brain stem injury in Flemington, N.J., I did fight to come back. I did come back and actually won again. Then I made the decision to get out of the race car. I made that decision because I felt like I could never be as good as I wanted to be, and I'm a very competitive person. I felt like I was the weak link. The car was better than I was. At that time, I didn't know how long it would take to overcome that, if I could come back. I decided to accept an offer from Alan Kulwicki and move in a different direction.
"If you let it become a cluttered atmosphere (in the pits). I think through the years of experience in racing and different things, you've got to know what you can focus on and what you can't. I read a quote, I read a lot of quotes, it said, 'a man with true knowledge understands what he has to know and what he doesn't have to know.' When you're on that box, there are certain things you have to know and you keep those things in priority order. Unless the box is on fire, you really don't have to pay attention to much else other than the things that pertain to that race car. That's what I try to do. I try to concentrate on things that pertain to making the right decision as far as the race car is concerned.
"I'm really a big World of Outlaws race fan. I really think the world of a lot of the sprint car and midget guys. I don't know how big they're planning on building that stuff, but I think it's a great form of racing for the people down here to see. What's neat about our sport, there's so many inroads. You don't have to be a pavement racer, you don't have to be a late model stock. You can be a sprint car or midget, road racers, it's just another great way that grass roots people can mix with the Winston Cup circuit. I think it's a great idea.
"I think the biggest challenge has been to keep motivated myself, keep people motivated that have had so much success. It's real easy to sit and say we want to win, we want to win. You start to question yourself. Do you really want to win as much as you did in 1993? That has been the biggest adjustment, learning that people grow and times change and people are different. Trying to readjust that circle of people to keep that inspiration to push to get ahead. Technically, we've got some real good people here. The car side of things hasn't been real bad. Honestly, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte and people like that have given us a mark to shoot for. That's been kind of easy. Keeping the motivation, and the reasons like why do you want to be away from your family 200 days a year when you've won so much or why do you want to work 12 hours a day when you've won so much? That's been the biggest challenge for me, keeping the circle of people together and motivated.
"How bad a person wants to do it? What is he willing to give up to do it? Are you willing to come in, when people say they're willing to do whatever it takes. Does that mean you'll do whatever it takes from 8-5 or you'll do whatever it takes as long as it doesn't interfere with your personal life or you'll do whatever it takes? Sleep on the floor, stay here, work for no pay, do whatever it takes. I don't look so much for a guy with a lot of experience. I look for a guy that's got good, common sense, judgment, and can think and has the ability to learn and put the job first in his life because that's truly what it takes to be successful in this business. I really do care about my family, but our actions truly show that the job comes first or you wouldn't be here 12 or 14 hours a day, seven days a week. That's what I look for in a person."