Jeff Gordon talks about his 20 years in NASCAR racing

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Team Chevy Racing press release

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT 20 YEARS CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and discussed 20 years of racing with DuPont, his wreck at Daytona and other topics.

Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE BEEN WITH DUPONT FOR 20 YEARS?: “Thank you. I’m very proud of it -- that’s for sure. I go back to those first days when I signed with Rick (Hendrick, team owner) and we didn’t have a sponsor. Then they told me about a meeting that they had with DuPont where they were just talking to them about an associate and that turned into a full-time sponsorship that has turned into what it is today. To be together for 20 years. Just the fact that I’ve been driving in this series for 20 years is one thing, but to know that we’ve had a sponsor be there with us the entire way as well as Pepsi. We’ve obviously put a great combination together that’s worked out very well for us as well as the business for DuPont and other sponsors. It’s something that we’re definitely very, very proud of. I think it’s awesome that they’re celebrating in the way that they are this year by the 20th anniversary paint scheme and logo and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU HAVE SEEN IN 20 YEARS AT HENDRICK OR AT NASCAR?: “Obviously, things are always changing, but the biggest changes this year are electronic fuel injection. This car was probably the biggest number one change or anything that I’ve ever had to deal with was just completely adapting over to a new car with a splitter, bump stops -- completely different aero package. Some of the highlights that stick out in the mind throughout the years is just aero in general, mainly just aerodynamics and tires have been the biggest change. I look back to some shots of the car from ’94 and ’95 on the race track and our air dam is this high off the ground in the corners and the skirts on the right side aren’t sealed off. I just think, ‘Gosh, just think how fast we would have gone if we would have known what we know now.’ I remember when the big sway bars and big rear springs started coming into effect and we started getting beat with that and how I had to adapt to how you drove the car without it rolling like they used to. It used to that you would use all the mechanical grip of the springs and the shocks to make the cars last over a long run and the cars gave up a lot of speed throughout a run so you could manage that. The way we set the cars up were more about tire management and now it’s just all about aerodynamics. I remember that time when it came and that definitely took me a while to adapt to that. We finally did adapt to it and then we won the championship in 2001.”

DO YOU LIKE QUALIFYING ON FRIDAY AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS FOR TODAY’S QUALIFYING?: “Unless qualifying goes a lot better than practice does I don’t know if it’s going to matter if they qualify next Friday. Whether or not I’m going to like it. We really struggled today. This track is much rougher than we expected. We know about the bumps in one, but I think our guys came with a very aggressive package and the track is not allowing us to take advantage of this aggressive shock package and spring package that we have. I do like qualifying on Friday. I personally like making a qualifying run and the next thing I do on the track on that same day is a qualifying run. Waiting overnight, changing track conditions, weather conditions -- most of us are going to like whatever suits their driving style and benefits them the most. To me, the Saturdays have not worked out very well for us in the past so I prefer this one. We have to make some big changes for it to work out for us either way today.”

WHAT IMPACT HAVE YOUR CHILDREN HAD ON YOUR CAREER ON AND OFF THE TRACK?: “I appreciate you thinking that I had all this stuff planned out. My stepdad is very much like that. He definitely had a good plan and luckily it worked out. I’m not as good at that as he is. I’m trying to think how to even answer the question. To me, I think that you can have the best set out plan and until things happen in a certain way that they have for me. I tell people this all the time, I could sit here and write a book with every single step that I made and you could follow it to the T and not have one thing go the same way as it did for me.

“I feel like along the way and even when I got into the Cup Series and started having success, you’re really just going off your best gut feeling and instincts and yes, you’re trying to prepare to be in a position to capitalize on it, but you really can’t expect it to go just as planned. I feel so fortunate that I’ve been surrounded by great people that have given me the opportunity to be in cars that when that time called, pulled off some great victories. I’ve just been a part of great teams that have allowed me to be consistent with having that type of success. To me, you always hear that success breeds success -- to me, as things started going well on the track it allowed me to start thinking about things off the track and trying to come up with the best plan if things go this way. You hope that they go in a positive way and for me they have.

“Although there have been some alterations to the plan along the way, I’ve been fortunate that even when things change they still went well. Even though it might not have been exactly the way I saw it, it still continued to allow great opportunities and I have to tell you, for me I didn’t expect all the great things to happen. It’s been amazing, been a great ride. There are days when I sit back and go, ‘Wow, never thought it would go like this.’ Then there are days that I sit back and go, ‘Man, I’m so frustrated that we didn’t win that race or we didn’t finish better.’ You go back and forth with that all the time. Then I also sit here and look out towards the end of my career and I go, ‘Man, what am I going to do next?’ One day I go, ‘Man, I’m so excited that I can’t wait for that.’ The next day I go, ‘God, I’m scared to death because all I ever have done is drive a race car and what’s it going to be like that day when I’m not driving a race car.’ Luckily, I’ve got a few years to think about that.”

DO YOU FEEL YOU WAITED LONGER TO START YOUR FAMILY?: “Should I just be candid? I’ve been in this sport for 20 years, I’ve been coming in this media center enough that I think you guys know -- I did go through a divorce. There was some planning going on there that a lot of things changed. To me, again in my life I have been so fortunate that when things didn’t go exactly as planned, I’ve been very fortunate to bounce back and I was fortunate enough to meet my wife Ingrid that she and I at that time wanted to have children. We felt like it was the right time in our lives. There’s no doubt that I’m very thankful it happened when it did and that it happened with her.

“We have two amazing children and everyday I’m so thankful. I also look at how hard parenting is and I think if I had children when I was 20 -- I got married the first time very young and if I had children at 25 or 26, I don’t think I would have been ready for it. I don’t know if I would have been able to stay as focused on my career. Or one would have suffered more than the other and so I think now I’m able to balance it out, I feel like, pretty well and enjoy both.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR SUCCESS AT MARTINSVILLE?: “The one place on the schedule over the 20 years that I’ve been in this series that has changed the least and the things about the cars and the tires have changed the least is Martinsville. Somebody like me who has a lot of experience and also has had success at a place like Martinsville can continue to have that success because it’s not all about aerodynamics, it’s not about a spring, shock, sway bar combination that you hit on that all of the sudden makes your car fly at a place like this. It’s not because of a repave where Goodyear has to change the tire and all those things. I feel like Martinsville is that one place that I can go to every time and give good information back to the team to keep us fast throughout the race. To me, of all the tracks, the least amount of changes and that’s where experience can really pay off. These other tracks, sometimes you have to reinvent yourself along with how we reinvent the setups and the aero package that we’re bringing. That’s tough to do. The longer you’re in the sport, it gets tougher and tougher to do that.”

WHAT DO YOU DO PHYSICALLY WHEN YOU ARE FLIPPING LIKE YOU DID AT DAYTONA AND HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THE EXPERIENCE?: “You hold on tight and you just hope that it ends soon. Unlike Danica (Patrick), I hold onto the steering wheel when I’m wrecking. When I say, ‘You hold on tight.’ You hold onto the steering wheel, but you basically just brace yourself for any impact that may be coming. The one thing about when you are flipping upside down, you really don’t know what’s coming next because you can’t see. You’re spinning around and you’re seeing the sky and the track and the sky and the track and it’s all happening pretty fast. You’d be surprised at how fast it goes by. I think for somebody who doesn’t drive a race car for a living that’s been doing it as long as I have and hasn’t hit a lot of things along the way and been upside down and spun around and sparks flying and fires and everything else -- that thought process of going through 60 seconds of something like that seems terrifying. There are only a few split seconds through that whole experience where I was nervous and one was when I was sliding on the door and I was more concerned with if those sparks turn into fire and I need to get out, how am I going to go through the other window? I knew some cars had gotten into me and I thought the car might be stuck like that. That didn’t last for very long because I started flipping. Then I was like, ‘Please don’t land upside down.’ Then it landed upside down. When it landed upside down, everything was fine. I was like, ‘That didn’t hurt so bad and I’m not injured.’ I told the team I was fine, but now it’s like how am I going to get out? The longest part of that entire wreck was waiting for them to get to the window and going through the process of whether or not we should flip it over or not. That seemed like it took forever and I wish I would have waited longer because I wanted to get out in a hurry and they wanted to wait and flip the car over. I wish I had waited because I tried to get out and that was the only time I was scared. I was stuck inside the car when I tried to unhook. That was the part that wasn’t much fun. As far as coping with it, maybe it’s just the mentality you have to have to be a race car driver. I was ready to get back in the car as fast as I possibly could and go out there and go race. I was more disappointed because I felt like I caused that wreck and that’s what got me into it. Just because I got impatient with Kyle Busch -- his car was terrible and yet he wins the race. He was just so loose that every I tried to push him by the car in front of us, he just kept getting out of control. I pushed him too hard at a bad point in the corner and then I had to try to avoid him as he started to wreck and then I end up in the wreck and cause another wreck. That was the thing that got me mentally more so and that was just making sure I don’t get myself in that same position. The actual wreck itself was fun.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, dupont, gordon, hendrick