JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT/NATIONALGUARD.com IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed his previous success at Martinsville, what it will take to beat Jimmie Johnson, how he balances his friendship and being a...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT/NATIONALGUARD.com IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed his previous success at Martinsville, what it will take to beat Jimmie Johnson, how he balances his friendship and being a teammate of Jimmie with being a competitor and other topics.
TALK ABOUT RACING HERE AT MARTINSVILLE THIS WEEKEND: "I am excited. When we come to Martinsville, this is a track we have a lot of confidence in and look forward to getting out there and start working on the balance of our race car. I feel like we have momentum right now and we want to keep pushing forward with that momentum and continue to put good, solid finishes in and hopefully start putting some wins together. This is a track where we can do that."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS IF QUALIFYING GETS RAINED OUT TODAY?"We are being pretty optimistic right now. I just left the hauler from talking to Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and looking at the radar. I think there is a chance for us to get this in today. We are certainly pushing for that because I feel like you don't want to give the No. 48 any more advantages than they have right now with their points lead. We saw what that No. 1 pit stall did for them last week. I think that is probably as much or more of an advantage here at Martinsville. Not saying that we are going to secure that qualifying, but we have a pretty good shot at it. Our qualifying record is fantastic here. The last time we did qualify here, I think we were on the pole. We certainly would like to see qualifying get underway and happen and try to get out there and get that No. 1 pit stall."
HOW CAN YOU COMPARE THE RELATIONSHIP YOU HAD WITH RAY EVERNHAM IN THE '90S TO JIMMIE JOHNSON AND CHAD KNAUS? "I think if you look at the equipment, the team work, the connection between the crew chief and driver -- the whole team. It takes a total team to win like they have and like we did in the mid-90's and the championships. But that driver-crew chief relationship is crucial to have common respect. To push one another and then also just to be on the same page when it comes to communicating. I feel like there are certain relationships that just click right away. Mine and Ray was certainly one of those and it seems to me as if is what you have with Jimmie and Chad as well, they clicked right away. They had the people and the resources to back that up. I think their success has certainly proven that and staying together is the toughest challenge with that. They have been able to do a fantastic job with that. If they continue to that, I think they will continue to be successful."
HOW IMPORTANT IS HAVING THE FIRST PIT STALL HERE AND IS IT ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL THE RACE TRACKS? "It is certainly one of them. The No. 1 pit stall is important from many aspects. The most important tracks are the ones where the camera is closest to the pit stall. Like last week even though we were on a mile-and-a-half race track, the camera is pretty close to that No. 1 pit stall. So, while there were times we were beating the No. 48 to the yellow line, we weren't beating them to the camera. Page 6
"There are some tracks where it is further than others. Which I don't quite understand that, to be honest with you. I think it should be the same everywhere we go. Certainly from size track to size track. But, here, it is very close. It doesn't take much to squirt off that No. 1 pit stall, so it is definitely a huge advantage. There are some other pit stalls that are really good here. The one disadvantage to that No. 1 pit stall is you are pitting on the corner so you have to come around the corner and to get in the box, squared up for the pit crew to make the best pit stop. It is a little bit of the challenge. Plus they can't really see you coming until the last second. There are actually some pretty good pit stalls here on the straightaway. The problem is that you have to survive a lot of things for that pit stall to start to finally pay off because you've got to withstand the crashes and the contact with other cars and all those things. Plus with double-file restarts now as well how the rules are to get people back on the lead lap, the only way those pit stalls play a good role for you is if there are very few cars on the lead lap or half the field or less is on the lap. That is when those pit stalls can really pay off and be just as good. Just because you have the No. 1 pit stall doesn't mean you are going to win the race. But it certainly helps."
DON'T YOU HAVE TO RATTLE JIMMIE'S CAGE SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE OR SHAKE HIM UP? "Well, I am going to put you in my car so you can go out there and rattle his cage I guess. I think you're right but at the same time, it comes down to the timing of it, what's up for grabs and you have to have yourself in that position to be able to do that. I don't know about you, but if you watch the last couple of races, I tried pretty darn hard. What we've got to do is get ourselves in position to be able to capitalize on when we get a restart like we did at California. We get a restart like we did last week; we have got to either have the car to capitalize on it or the tires to match up to capitalize on it. I hope we continue to get those opportunities. Rattling somebody's cage doesn't necessarily mean you have to knock them out of the way or put them in the wall or anything like that. I will say the next five races; we are going to be extremely aggressive. We've worked our way up to third in points. They have a pretty comfortable lead and how they race versus how we race is probably going to be a little bit different. I think that is the one advantage that we have right now is that we're far enough back to where we really don't have a whole lot to lose and it is sort of their championship to lose and we are going to race them hard. We are going to race them aggressive. But we are also going to respect the fact that we are teammates and there is a certain amount of respect that goes beyond just when you are racing other competitors out there. It is risk versus reward. Let's hope we get down to the final laps of this race or any race from here on out and we get to show just how hungry we are to win this championship."
IS THIS TRACK LESS OF A WILD CARD THAN EVERYONE THINKS IT IS? "Years ago, I think we had more brake issues. I think that it is equally as hard to pass on as it always has been. Now you have the double-file restarts, so, I don't see a single race track from here on out that isn't a wild card. I think they are all wild cards. Anything can happen at any one of these races. Of course, we know that Talladega is the one that stands out, because you pretty much know that a big wreck is going to happen there that is going or can impact this championship and it probably will in some ways. But I think that all the other tracks can be just as much of a wild card. I get through every race and go 'whew', we survived this moment, that moment. There's hundreds of moments that you have as a team every single weekend that maybe doesn't materialize or that doesn't get seen by the public or even the media, but we see it. There are close calls all the time. It can happen at any time."
IF YOU COULD WIN HERE THIS WEEKEND WOULD IT SEND A STRONG MESSAGE ABOUT YOUR TEAM'S STRENGTH AND DETERMINATION NOT TO RUN SECOND TO JIMMIE AND THE NO. 48 TEAM? "Exactly. I think the earlier question had a point and I think he was referring more to Earnhardt, Sr.'s style of just going and using the bumper a little more maybe than what you see these days. That has never been my style. It just hasn't. I race guys hard. I race guys clean and I race them how they race me. I think you do have to rattle their cage, but to me, the way you have to rattle their cage is you have to out run them; you have to show what kind of team you are. That is obviously a tall order. They have been very very strong. They have got momentum and they are going to be tough this weekend again. But I do think we are capable of beating them here. But we are going to have to really work hard at it to make it happen. We hope we get the chance to qualify because I think that could be a notch in our belt. I think that we qualify very well here. If we just finish ahead of them by one or two positions, that is not going to win this championship. We could do that every weekend it is not going to win the championship. We've got to, we pretty much have to win the next five races and do it that way or they are going to have to have trouble. Right now our focus is to go out and at least put some pressure on them to know that we are not just going to run around and finish second and that we can compete with them. As much for trying to win the championship this year as well as getting ourselves prepared for next season. We are thinking about now as well as the future."
IF YOU CAN'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP WOULD YOU RATHER SEE MARK MARTIN WIN IT OR JIMMIE JOHNSON WIN IT? "I don't think there is anybody in the garage area that wouldn't like to see Mark Martin win it as a sentimental favorite. I've raced with Mark so many times over the years and seen him come so close to winning the championship. I don't think there is anybody more deserving than Mark Martin. That team has gone through a lot so from the sentimental value I think it would be fantastic. But the No. 48 team, they've earned the position that they're in. They've worked hard at it. They're a great, great team and I think they're in a position to make history. I think there is something very special about that. Honestly I haven't even thought about that a whole lot. I'm really more focused and my mindset is on us winning the championship. Out of Homestead whatever happens there I'll be more than happy to actually think about it and give you my opinion more."
YOU'VE EXPERIENCED HOW DOMINANCE EFFECTS THE SPORT PERSONALLY, HOW DOES IT EFFECT THE SPORT FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE IN A BIGGER SCOPE, FROM THE FAN BASE, TICKET SALES? "I look at it as more of a positive thing because while right now you might see people going oh I'm tired of Jimmie Johnson winning the races or the championship at the same time it creates his own fan base as well as those that are very hungry to see them get beat and somebody to take the down. Whoever does take them down can be like I was when I took those championships away from (Dale) Earnhardt and it made me who I am today and set me apart from others. I think that's what people are hungry for now and I think that you've got to respect somebody that's doing what Jimmie and Chad and that No. 48 team are doing and you've got to give them credit for that. But at the same time there are a lot of people out there that it just makes them hungrier to want to beat them. I think it also creates that rivalry among the fans that's it's so important to our sport that our sport has thrived on for many years and that's what brings the excitement. I see it and here it all the time right now both sides of it everywhere I go. I think that means they're talking, they're thinking about it. If the No. 48 wins it this year I think while it might turn some fans away, I think it's going to build up a fan base of people that want to see somebody come in and knock them off. So I don't see it as a negative, I see it as a positive."
DID YOU REALLY THINK TECHNICALLY WHEN YOU AND RAY EVERNHAM WERE TOGETHER THAT YOU WERE BETTER THAN THOSE OTHER GUYS OR WERE YOU A PRODUCT OF THE SYSTEM IN SOME WAYS? "I said this years ago when those debates were going on there is no such thing as the greatest driver, there just isn't because there is no measuring tool for it. It doesn't matter if you're a great driver and you're a part of a great team and you're winning races, it really shouldn't matter because this is a team sport. It's not an individual sport. I think that Jimmie is a great driver and he's part of a great team. I think Chad is a great crew chief. Are they the best ever? I don't think that you're ever going to hear me say that this is the greatest driver ever this is the greatest crew chief and you're certainly never going to hear me put my name into that because I've been through the ups and the downs of this sport enough to know there are days when I might look like a hero and I might look like the greatest driver and the car I could drive it with one finger. I know how important the equipment is. I know how important the pit stops are and the decisions. I know that a great driver plays a vital role in how they communicate and I think that right now the combination of Jimmie and Chad and that team are the best out there and possibly one of the best I've ever seen and been a part of this sport. I will say that but there's no such thing as the greatest driver. Now I will say that the thing that helped me was when Ray and I did go our separate ways and I worked with other crew chiefs I got a lot more respect in the garage area for going and winning that 2001 championship and continuing to consistently win races. Maybe not as many races and that goes back to the combination. The combination was spectacular and I wish we could have found a way to have kept it together longer but I also understand we had our own things to prove and go out and do and we are still friends but I think that its earned us both more respect because we did what we did. I think that the same thing that will happen with Jimmie and with Chad. As long as they are together everybody is going to say wow what a great team but and it's that but that can choose whether they want to prove that to themselves or others or just keep on winning."
HOW FAR HAVE BRAKES COME SINCE YOU FIRST GOT HERE AND WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A BRAKE PACKAGE ON SUNDAY? "They've come so, so far. I think what's probably come further is the cooling, being able to keep them cool. It really has allowed us to not have to manage the brakes as we used to as much. If you're in the middle of the pack and you're running really hard you can still melt the bead or have some brake problems. I've run this race before every lap as hard as I could and never even thought about trying to take care of the brakes and had no problem. That's something that didn't happen in the past. It's all the technology. It's the rotors, the caliper but I would say most of it is in the cooling."
THEY SAY THERE IS A REAL FINE BALANCE BETWEEN DRIVER AND BRAKE, WOULD YOU SEE THAT EVEN MORE HERE WHERE YOU'RE GETTING ON THE GAS AND GETTING ON THE BRAKE? "Absolutely that's true. Most of that is balance of the race car. If you have the car balanced well it's going to turn the middle of the corner good for you. I necessarily wouldn't consider that a brake things. I think with bump stops and the different things we have now it's real easy to lock a left front tire up here if you overdrive it into the corner. Again I think that's more of suspension issue than it is a brake issue."
YOU BROUGHT JIMMIE JOHNSON IN AND YOU GAVE HIM A CHANCE AND HE'S GONE OUT AND DENIED YOU FROM CHAMPIONSHIP AND WINS, OBVIOUSLY YOU GUYS ARE FRIENDS BUT ARE THERE TIMES WHEN THERE IS A FRUSTRATION BELOW THE SURFACE WITH HIM? "It's not easy being in my shoes is it? I mean you hit on a lot of very good points that have some truth to it. I don't know if you guys watched the together documentary. I said in my interview that I did in there that I think Jimmie and I are always going to be really good friends but we might be better friends 15, 20 years from now because right now I'm a competitor like every other competitor out there that wants to beat him. Because I'm at Hendrick Motorsports and his teammate I see everything that goes on and I'm aware of the setups and the driving styles and the data and all those things and sometimes that can make it even more frustrating when you're getting beat. I think at the same time it makes you hungrier to want to push harder to do everything you can to go out there and beat them. So it's definitely affected our friendship. There's no doubt about it. We're competitors on the race track. I'm not going to go over and pat him on the back and say how great he is and I love you man when I really want to beat him. But at the end of the day I respect him, I know the story of how he got there and I think he's a great guy and a great race car driver. I think he's pushed all of us in the sport. That team has pushed all of us in the sport to be better, to push ourselves harder and to step up. So I'm thankful for that and I don't have any regrets about anything. I'm proud that we've broadened Hendrick Motorsports and that Hendrick Motorsports continues to have the success.
"The reason why I shared everything that I had from all my experiences and everything we had at the team and the way that we communicate as a group is because I had enough confidence in what I'm doing as a driver that if we get beat it's because we're getting beat by a better team and they're doing a better job with the same tools and resources that we have. I give them credit for that. But that definitely pushes us to work harder and to be better and it will make it that much more rewarding on those days when we do finish ahead of them or can beat them for a championship. I don't know if that's going to happen but I hope so. I still believe in myself and my own experience and skills and our team. So yeah there's definitely been some challenging moments and days. It gets harder to go to victory lane and congratulate them when you want it as badly for yourself. While you want to see them win four in a row and you want to see Rick Hendrick win four in a row at the same time you want to be the one that's preventing them from doing that. It's a tough balance."
-credit: gm racing