JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, met with media and discussed tire and set-up challenges at Martinsville, what it takes to master the track, the announcement that F-1 driver Kimi Raikkonen will race a limited Truck Series schedule for Kyle Busch, and more.
YOU STILL HAVE TO QUALIFY TODAY, BUT HOW DO YOU SEE MARTINSVILLE SHAPING UP ON SUNDAY?
“Well, yesterday was really interesting because I know you guys (the media) heard a lot about the rubber, it didn’t seem like there was really any rubber being laid down on the track, but it was all being thrown into the outside groove. We have seen that before, here, on a clean race track. And I was just surprised it never really laid rubber. So we were wearing the tires really, really bad, which Goodyear brought a little bit softer tire, with great intentions and we all want that, we all want more grip. But we were really struggling a lot with some really bad loose conditions getting into the corners and off the corners. I was just glad that we weren’t alone in that because it was definitely making me nervous with how bad loose the car was getting and that’s something that’s not typical for us here. So we were really challenged with that quite a bit and felt like we made gains on it throughout the day. Right now we’re trying to anticipate what the tires are going to do, what the rubber is going to do. Is it going to lay down? Is that wear going to get better? You certainly think that it should, but you never know these days. And so then we swapped over to qualifying trim and put up a good lap there. So, right now I’m having to think about it all night is a little bit different for us here at Martinsville. We’re just trying to find those crucial points on the track that help you make a good lap here at qualifying. I feel like the car is going to be close, but it’s real easy to overdrive the corners here, and under drive. So it’s very important to get the car into the corner good and hard and deep in there, but not locking the left front tire up. And that’s what’s going to make a good lap for us because I think the car is going to be there for us. And we get to go a little bit later so we’ll get to see what kind of lap times some of the other guys are going to put up. So, I’m certainly looking forward to it. I always look forward to Martinsville and we’ll know more after today.”
THIS IS THE SECOND TIME IN THREE WEEKS THERE HAS BEEN SOME SORT OF TIRE ISSUE. IS THE LEVEL OF WORRY A LITTLE LESS THAN IT WAS AS BRISTOL? AND IS IT DISCONCERTING THAT IT’S THE SECOND TIME IN THREE WEEKS THAT THERE’S SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
“Yeah, this is not at all an issue like we had at Bristol. That was extreme and they made a good decision to come in and change that tire. The only thing that I say is similar to that is that the rubber is not laying down on the track. That’s the only thing that’s a little concerning, you know, why isn’t that happening? And I think it may still happen. Like I said, we’ve been through something similar to this in the past on a really green race track. And so to come in the first day and do all your practice the first day, you would have thought even eventually, that you would have seen something get laid down. But sometimes it takes more cars, more trucks, all those things on the track before you start to see it. I still anticipate us seeing rubber sticking to the groove in the race track tomorrow when all 43 cars are out there and you’re running a lot of laps. But the only concerning thing that I have is that we’re making tire changes without testing. And they keep coming back and saying they’re minor tire changes. So I don’t know. There are so many things that come along with tires changes these days, it’s not just a compound change or a construction change these days, there’s all kinds of different chemicals in the tires that we don’t know about. But I’m definitely a fan of if you’re going to make a tire change from the last time we were there; I’m a fan of a tire test. So that’s kind of the only thing I have to add to it.”
DOES THE COOLER WEATHER HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ALL THAT? ALSO, WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS PLACE WHERE YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON DOMINATED FOR A WHILE AND BEFORE THAT, THERE WERE OTHER GUYS THAT DID. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS PLACE THAT WHEN YOU GET A FEEL FOR IT YOU CAN GO ON ONE OF THOSE DOMINATING ROLES LIKE OTHERS HAVE DONE, INCLUDING YOU?
“Well, if I had to guess, as far as the weather, yeah, cool temperatures always make you go a little faster. So anytime you go a little faster, you’re going to be a little harder on the tires. So cool weather is playing a little bit of a role there, but I don’t know if it’s that much.
“I think this is one of those tracks where, because the speeds are down so much compared to our bigger, faster tracks (that) aerodynamics don’t play as much of role. Mechanical grip plays a pretty significant role. So, very few changes have happened at Martinsville. If you look at other tracks, it seems like we make much bigger changes in gains and aero platform and how that affects the balance and the speed of the car and even a lot of the mechanical things inside underneath the car, those things at other tracks, even Bristol, have gone through more significant changes over the years because you can get more aggressive and you can do a lot more things to maximize that grip aerodynamically at these bigger tracks. And so it’s taking the engineering that we have and just taking it to a whole other level. But here at Martinsville, not a lot has changed. We talk about a little tweak in the tire and that’s about the biggest thing that comes along. It’s just that there’s not a lot you can do to make big changes and gains in the cars. You are constantly tweaking on the brakes; constantly trying to find a package that makes you go a little bit faster, but every time we come here the lap times are pretty consistent. So when you find something as a driver and as a team, you can make it work for a fairly long period of time. Now obviously with the biggest changes that have come along in this series in my career was the new car; that’s when our success slowed down a bit. We’ve still been able to do well here and lead laps, but not win as many races. And so that’s a pretty major change and that’s probably been one of the biggest reasons why we haven’t been able to keep our dominance that we once had. And I think that will happen with anybody; anybody that shows dominance at this track when a major change does come along, it will take some time to adapt to that and get back, if ever, to that success they had at one time at a place like Martinsville.”
Well, if I had to guess, as far as the weather, yeah, cool temperatures always make you go a little faster.
IN LIGHT OF THE TRACK RUBBERING ISSUE AND NOT BEING ABLE TO PRACTICE TODAY, CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS IN HOW YOU’RE DOING YOUR SET-UPS? IS IT THAT DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER WEEKEND, OR IS THIS BECOMING MORE CHALLENGING WITH THESE THINGS THAT ARE GOING ON?
“I don’t think the schedule change is affecting it at all. If we were on the track today after the Truck race, then I’d say yeah, that would be valuable to us because I think the trucks are going to put some rubber down. And then we would have more consistency. But even on the old schedule that would have been the case that wouldn’t have happened. You brought up a good point. We had our debrief with all of our drivers and crew chiefs and engineers yesterday and it was kind of comical leaving there; but also (it) puts a lot of decision-making on the table that can go either way. What I mean by that is that all the drivers are talking about man, the cars are so loose, the cars are so loose; can’t get them tight enough, can’t get them tight enough. We’re wearing the rear tires out. So all the drivers are wanting the crew chiefs to put soft rear springs in and just do everything to maximize the grip. And the crew chiefs are sitting there going yeah, I’ve heard this before and then they drop the green flag and the track lays some rubber and then all of a sudden we’re screaming tight, and can’t get it free enough. And so, it puts them in a very tricky position, and the drivers, because we’re pretty confident in what we’re feeling. But I think the crew chiefs do a better job of anticipating. They go back through their notes of years at the track and they’ll probably go through the notes and say ah, yeah, they said the same thing back in ’04 or ’05 or something like that and this is what happened to the track conditions. So, that’s where they’re good and that’s what they base their decisions on. So it will be a little bit of a combination of things we learned yesterday versus the past.”
“If the track tightens up tomorrow, gosh I hope so (laughs). I don’t know. That’s where you’ve got to be careful with your crew chief/driver communication because the driver can sometimes be very adamant and say yeah, this is the way that it needs to be and it can be a huge mistake. I’ve made plenty of calls over the years that got us in trouble, and that’s why I try not to be the crew chief and the driver. I just try to be the driver and it’s up to them to anticipate what the track is going to do. We’re the onboard computer that’s telling them what it’s doing at the time and even my past experience here you have to be very careful in not putting too much into what you’re feeling at that moment. I think that’s probably one of the things that (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) will do today is go over some of his past notes and our other team’s notes and try to recreate this situation that we’ve had in the past.”
WHEN YOU’RE OUT THERE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THE BEST SET-UP, IS IT WHAT YOU ANTICIPATE THE CAR IS GOING TO DO OR IS IT WHAT IT’S DOING AT THE TIME YOU’RE OUT THERE? IS ONE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE OTHER?
“Well, this is the dilemma that I’m talking about that we’re facing yesterday and that we’re going to be facing going into tomorrow. You’re trying to anticipate it, but you’re anticipating it off of a different tire. But if we can find in the notes where we had a tire that didn’t lay rubber down in practice that showed very loose in and off the corner, and then we can say but the track did this. Then we can make some really good calls in anticipating it. If we can’t find those notes, then it’s a total guess. And the way that I’m seeing it is that if this continues, this trend that we saw yesterday, and somebody really gets aggressive with softening up the rear of the car or really trying to put a lot of grip in the car, it can pay off huge for them. If it rubbers down and it changes, then what we’ve done in set-ups we’ve had in the past is what we need to have in the car. Then it’s going to bite some other guys. So, I mean, it can go a couple different ways and it’s this weekend at Martinsville is definitely challenging.”
TO PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE, GOODYEAR SAID YESTERDAY THEY HAD THE NEW COMPOUND, AND THEY UNDERSTAND ABOUT NOT TESTING IT, BUT THEY SEEMED TO SAY THAT HAPPENS AT MARTINSVILLE. HOW CAN YOU PUT INTO PERSPECTIVE?
“We’ll put it into perspective on Sunday (laughs) when we’re 100 or 200 laps into the race. I mean, that’s the only way you’re really going to know. And I don’t disagree with them because like I said, we have seen this in practice before and it still laid rubber down. The challenge that we’re facing is that you’re hoping that’s the case. If it’s not, then you’re going to have a car that’s really out of control and difficult to drive and a lot of rubber on the outside groove and all those things. So, I hope they’re right and I put a lot of faith in them and I feel like they’ve made a lot of incredible decisions over the years with choosing tires. Right now, I’m not concerned about tires; I’m concerned about what direction the car is going to go into in the race versus what we felt in practice. And that’s sort of that guessing game that comes along with racing.”
SO YOU FEEL THERE SHOULDN’T BE THAT GUESSING GAME AT THIS STAGE OF THE GUYS AND YOU GUYS SHOULDN’T HAVE TO MAKE THOSE DECISIONS RIGHT NOW?
“I would have thought that by the end of practice I would have thought we would have seen the trend changing more drastically because we would have gotten a little bit of rubber laid down. I think it changed a little because a tiny bit of rubber was down and we made some pretty big adjustments in the car.”
THINK OF THIS QUESTION IN GENERAL AND NOT SPECIFICALLY ABOUT MARTINSVILLE: WHAT IS THE LINE AS A RACER BETWEEN NOT DANGEROUS ENOUGH AND TOO DANGEROUS? AND WAS THERE A SPECIFIC OR ANY INSTANCE YOU CAN THINK OF THAT YOU LEARNED THAT?
“Be more specific. Dangerous as far as what? Pushing and shoving a guy out of the way? Or just racing in general?”
“Hey, man, I’m going to think all week of a question I’m going to ask you that’s totally open-ended and see how you answer it (laughter).”
I KNOW IT’S OPEN-ENDED AND I KNOW IT’S INHERENTLY DANGEROUS. AND THAT’S PART OF THE JOB. BUT WHAT’S TOO DANGEROUS IN TERMS OF BEATING AND BANGING? DO YOU HAVE TO DO THAT TO BE GREAT? WHAT’S TOO DANGEROUS?
“I don’t think you have to do that to be great. I think you have to pass cars and win races to be great; and win championships. You don’t have to beat and bang. But you can’t also let somebody just sit there and beat and bang you out of the way every week. That’s why I’ve always said you race people the way they race you. It’s very easy, and I’ve said this before, you could take all the paint off the cars and all the numbers off the cars and make them look all alike, and I’ll bet I could pick half the field just by how they’re driving. And so it’s pretty easy when you come up to somebody that you know how they’re going to race you and how you’re going to race them in return based on how you’ve raced in the past. Now, sometimes you try to put the past behind you and say hey, I’m going to give this guy the benefit of the doubt today. Let’s just go race and see if I can pass him clean and see how he runs me, how hard he runs me. Does he chop me every change he gets? Does he mirror drive me? And then there are sometimes (when) you just make a mistake. The last time I was here I made two mistakes. I made one mistake because I just drove in the corner too deep underneath Kurt Busch, king of anticipating that he might give me a lane once I got my nose in there; that was one mistake I made. The second mistake was I forgot that we had had past issues at Sonoma. And the last guy that I needed to move out of the way that day was Kurt Busch because we had a fast race car. I don’t know if we had a winning race car (but) we had a fast race car. And I gave him a reason to just dump me. So that’s not, to me, the best example for what you’re trying to get at, but I just used the philosophy and I always have. The type of racing that I did growing up in Quarter-Midgets and Go-Karts were more open-wheel type racing. You didn’t use your bumper to shove guys out of the way. You really almost couldn’t. And so you had to be really precise in how you passed. And my step-father was aliment about how I raced guys. And one time I drove over the top of this kid, I was seven or eight years old, and I drove over the top of this guy to win the race and my dad made me give the trophy back because of how I raced him. So I was brought up not to go knock people out of the way. Now when you get in stock cars, you’ve got to change that philosophy a little bit because it’s sometimes talk about the bump and run at Bristol and some of those things, some places that’s just how you have to race. I will say that the first six or eight years of my career, you didn’t even have to get to a guy. And this is what I think made (Dale) Earnhardt so great and why he’s so legendary when it came to moving people out of his way. He would do it in a way where he’d just use the air. He used the air off the nose of his car to pack it up underneath the rear bumper of the car in front of him and he knew how to just move the car. Sometimes they’d wreck; sometimes they wouldn’t, and he’d make the pass or win the race. And you’d go back to video and you’d go darn! I know he wrecked me, I just know he wrecked me. And you’d look at it and you’d go well, he didn’t touch me. So you couldn’t blame him. You’d say well, he did what he should have done. So I think he was a master of that. I think that’s a way of passing. And that has gone away a little bit. The way the bumpers are now, you don’t loosen a guy up near as much when you’re inside of him or behind him, as you used to. So now you’ve got to use the bumper a little bit more. And that’s just how things have changed over the years. So I think there are sometimes in who you’re racing and at certain tracks (when) you’ve got to be more aggressive. And track position is far more important these days too. I think all those things add up to us, today, having to be more aggressive for sure with the bumper and moving people out of the way.”
I think you have to pass cars and win races to be great; and win championships.
YOU TALKED ABOUT HAVING TO GAMBLE OR MAKE THE RIGHT GUESS WITH RESPECT TO THE TIRES AND THE SET-UP. FOR THE TEAM THAT GETS THAT WRONG, HOW LONG CAN YOU SURVIVE HERE AT MARTINSVILLE BEFORE YOU NEED TO SEE A CAUTION OR COME TO PIT ROAD TO MAKE THAT CHANGE?
“Well, like I said earlier, it looked like a lot of people were battling with the same conditions that we were yesterday. If you looked at their times, guys would put about 12 or 15 laps together and then the times would just skyrocket and that’s pretty much an indication the tires are falling off. There are going to be a few that hit it, and there are going to be a lot that miss it (laughs). So, I think that yeah, it’s one of those things where at Martinsville; it’s a long race no matter what your car is doing and no matter what the conditions. You have to keep your car in one piece. You have to keep it going in a straight line. And if cars are faster than you, you’ve got to be wise as to how you try to maintain your position; you know what I’m saying? Like, you don’t want to get into what Marty (Smith) was bringing up where you’re giving a guy a reason to move you out of the way. And especially if there is rubber being thrown in that outside groove like we saw yesterday, you don’t want to get in the outside groove. I think the groove will be wider than it was yesterday because 43 cars will force it to be wider which will allow us to be more side-by-side. We have that challenge every weekend; it seems to be exaggerated right now because of what we’re seeing. I’m not used to seeing the drop-off in 12 or 15 laps. Usually you see it in 30 or 40 laps and I’m not used to seeing it quite that drastic. So, it’s gotten our attention. It’s something we’re going to try to address as well as guess. And that’s what we do. We’ll see.”
KYLE BUSCH ANNOUNCED TODAY THAT KIMI RAIKKONEN HAS SIGNED WITH HIS TEAM AND WILL MAKE HIS TRUCK SERIES DEBUT AT CHARLOTTE NEXT MONTH. YOU’RE SMILING. CAN YOU VERBALIZE YOUR THOUGHTS?
“On one hand I think that’s awesome. I’m a big Formula One fan and I admire Kimi. He’s got a lot of talent. I can’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it when Juan Pablo (Montoya) made that announcement. And so, so many things are going through my mind. I can’t wait for him to come in here and do an interview because the one-word answers that you guys (media) are going to get out of those questions is going to be hilarious to watch (laughs). I might come in here for that first session. But I think it says a lot about NASCAR that somebody like him is considering coming here. I admire him for wanting to take the step to go Truck racing and not just jump into a Cup car. Obviously the word is out there to the best drivers in the world (that) if you think you’re just going to come in here and jump in a Cup car and be competitive, you’re kidding yourself. And I think that’s pretty cool about our sport; and that we’re drawing this international group of talent. That’s awesome. I hope to one day see him in the Cup Series.”
DO YOU KNOW KIMI RAIKKONEN? HAVE YOU MET HIM AND BEEN AROUND HIM? HOW WILL HE ADAPT AND BLEND IN? YOU SAY HE’S NOT A GREAT MEDIA GUY.
“I didn’t say he’s not a great media guy, he just doesn’t give you a lot to go on (laughs).”
IF HE CAME TO YOU AND ASKED FOR SOME POINTERS OR HINTS ON HOW TO HANDLE HIMSELF, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL HIM?
“I think when you’re a talent like that, and again I’ll compare him to Juan Pablo. I know they’re a little bit different styles, but I’ll compare them in the fact that they both have a tremendous amount of talent and a lot of racing experience. There’s not a whole lot you can tell them because they know how to get into different race cars and adapt. But I will say that this is one type of series and vehicles that I think are far more challenging than people realize, especially when you’ve come out of high-downforce cars. I think the Rally cars that he’s been driving probably give him more experience or get him better-prepared to come over here to this series than any of his Formula One cars that he’s ever driven. The last thing you want to do is to try to get one of these cars feel like a Formula One car or hope that maybe one day you can, because you never will. So I’d just tell him to be patient and try to stay in the best equipment that he can and try to go out there and follow the guys that are going fast to learn the lines and the braking points at each of the tracks that he goes to. That would be the quickest way I think to learn and adapt and be competitive.”
-source: team chevy