Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, met with members of the media and discussed his thoughts on Martinsville, if there could be a repeat shootout with Jimmie Johnson, his political contributions, information sharing with Jimmie as the Chase...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, met with members of the media and discussed his thoughts on Martinsville, if there could be a repeat shootout with Jimmie Johnson, his political contributions, information sharing with Jimmie as the Chase winds down, the importance of winning championships under both point systems, the reason for his success here, if he has any concerns about racing at Atlanta, if he competes harder against his friends, his championships being tied to unusual emotional situations, Clint Bowyer, if he taught Jimmie Johnson too well, his pre-race schedule and off-season plans, Kyle Busch and his growth as a driver, when he may retire, his big goals and if he ever wants to run a partial schedule.
ON HAVING SEVEN WINS HERE AND HIS FEELINGS GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND: "My feelings are kind of approaching it like we do every weekend. Just like last week you can't pay attention to the stats because if you had we would have never finished that race. And if you pay attention to stats this weekend then it means that we're supposed to win and I don't think we can look at it that way at all. We go in and we approach it as just go out put the best preparation in to the weekend, try to tune the car to the race track that given weekend. First it's qualifying then it's get ready for the race and then we go racing. Obviously this is a great track for us. We know that but we still have to do our jobs and so that's the way we're approaching it. There are no guarantees anywhere in this schedule with these last five races for sure."
DOES THE EXTRA CONSERVATISM OF BEING IN THE CHASE LESSEN THE CHANCES OF A REPEAT SHOOTOUT BETWEEN YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON OR IS THERE JUST AS GOOD OF A CHANCE AS IN THE SPRING? "I don't know. I don't think that you can be cautious right now. I think that you got to be smart but that's always the case. I think that Jimmie's going to be pushing extremely hard because one, he's won the last couple races here and two, he had a bit of an off weekend last race out in Charlotte. So I would think that this would be one that he's certainly not going to be taking it easy on and our competitors that we're racing against are not going to be taking it easy so we can't either. It's not that time yet. I hope there comes a time later in the schedule in this year that that is the case but no we got to go out and race hard and we're racing to win. If second's the best that we can do, we'll take it. If fifth's the best we can do, we'll take it. We just got to go out and get the best finish we can and if it comes down to a situation like that again I'm more concerned with getting our car to turn and be able to accelerate up underneath him to make a clean pass and that' s what we didn't have the last time and that's why we were bumping and banging there at the end. I got the opportunity to get underneath him I just couldn't complete the pass."
THERE WAS NEWS THIS WEEK THAT YOU, JIMMIE JOHNSON AND CASEY MEARS CONTRIBUTED TO MAYOR GIULIANI'S POLITICAL CAMPAIGN. THREE YEARS AGO NINE OF THE 10 CHASE DRIVERS ENDORSED PRESIDENT BUSH AND YOU DIDN'T. HAS YOUR OPINION SHIFTED ON GETTING INVOLVED IN POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS? IS IT A DELICATE THING TO DO THAT GIVEN THAT IT CAN CONSTRUE YOUR POLITICAL VIEWS? "I never said I didn't endorse President Bush. I did contribute to Giuliani. Really I'm not saying that I'm saying supporting anybody. We did that and I just try to leave it at that. I try not to get really involved in talking about what we do politically. I prefer just to kind of.if I'd know that that was going to be as public knowledge as it is I might have thought twice about it because I like to keep it private and who I support and who we don't support but I never said that I didn't support President Bush. I think it's just because maybe I didn't show up at a function that others did. That wasn't because of my political beliefs.
ON NINE DRIVERS BEING ON RECORD OF ENDORSING PRESIDENT BUSH: "That's because I just don't like to publicly do that and I think one kind of slipped through the cracks on this one that it's public knowledge when you write this check and that one slipped by me because I would have preferred to have kept that private."
DOES THE INFORMATION SHARING WITH JIMMIE WIND DOWN AS YOU'RE BOTH BATTLING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think that the information continues to be shared. I was asked about that just a little bit ago and the only way I know how to explain it is that Jimmie and I and Chad (Knaus) and Steve (Letarte) and the other crew chiefs and drivers too, we've realized over the years that we can share all of the information in the world and it doesn't necessarily make us use a setup from another team or driver and Jimmie and I drive so much different. I'd say about the only place that I can remember this year where our setups were close was here the last race. Like last week at Charlotte, he was the best car. I feel like we had the second best car in the second half of the race and our setups were complete opposites but yet we find the same results or similar results and so the information is going to continue to be shared and it's just the little tiny bit that you might be able to get out of those talks and that information that can maybe help you and your team and your setup and we'll c ontinue to push that going forward and feel like the same is going to be coming back our way from them. And the other thing is that we have a network in place that basically each engineer on each team every time a spring is changed, an air pressure change happens, it's logged in to the network and within seconds that information can be accessed by any of the team so it's kind of impossible not to share that information."
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF WINNING CHAMPIONSHIPS UNDER BOTH POINT SYSTEMS: "It would mean a lot. (Tony) Stewart's the guy that's done it and I think that's very impressive. I think to me one of the things that always impressed me the most if you look at multiple champions like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Tony Stewart is that they were able to do it over periods of time. Over time you would think OK a guy kind of came into his prime, he won and then you never heard from him again and a guy like Dale Earnhardt he just never game up. He just always was there. He could four, five years without winning a championship (and) come back and win one and I think that's extremely impressive to me, so even more so than the points being different. It's just the period of time from when I started and the first championship to the next one and even the couple years in between when we won our championship in 2001 to the one previous to that and then from 2001 to this season, I think that'd just be really cool and awesome and say a lot about our competitiveness an d our organization and my drive."
HAVE YOU GIVEN ANY THOUGHT TO YOUR RECORDS HERE? WHY THIS TRACK AND WHY HAS IT SUITED YOU SO WELL OVER THE YEARS? "I'm more concerned of how I can keep that streak alive one more time (laughs). I'm only asking for one more right now. I don't know. All I can do is go back to when I felt like we hit on some things here. I've talked about it before. We had a test here. I don't remember what year it was '94 or something like and just made a ton of laps and between the team working on trying to get the setup and me working on my line and getting right it was just like something clicked where I went in to corner.and see when you're testing here you have all the telemetry and you have a timer. When you have a timer in the car you know exactly whether than little bit of change that you made in your entry into the corner, where you picked up the throttle, whether it instantly helped out because you look at the time every time you come across the line. So when you're out there making 40, 50 lap runs and you're adjusting little tiny things and you see it pick up in the timer it clicks and it clicke d that day for me and it allowed me to change the way I drove this track from that point on. And the funny thing every time I come back here it takes me about eight to 10 laps to find that again. I go out there and I do the same thing that I always do and I go 'OK, whoa, whoa, slow it down, slow it down' and then boom and the lap times just start coming.
"I don't think it's any secret to anybody, it's just hard to do and this is a track you can't overdrive. The speed all comes from the middle of the corner off but it all starts with where you let off and how you get on the brakes getting into the corner. That's what sets you up to get through the middle and the exit and when you figure it out it allows the team to adjust the car in a totally different way. A lot of guys could maybe take my setup and go out there and go 'Oooh, I don't like this' but unless you drive it just like I drive it it's not going to work. Some guys might find ways to get a different setup to work just as good as ours but for the way I drive the track the way that I found that worked for me, once I get into that rhythm then it allows me to really give the team information to fine tune it.
"I think a lot of it is rhythm and a lot of it's just not overdriving the corner."
IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT ATLANTA THAT CONCERNS YOU? "I don't think any season's the same. I don't think any Chase is the same and every race is different. All we can do is go and approach it the same way that we always, what we've been doing all year long. I look back at our last Atlanta race and some of the mistakes that we made but we had an awesome race car. I love Atlanta. It's one of my favorite tracks and I'm looking forward to going there. I think that all we can do is just approach it the way we know how to best and try not to make mistakes and see what happens. I mean I'm not thinking about what's happened to other guys in the Chase. I'm just thinking about what we have and how we can do it a little bit better than we did the last time and try to fix some of the problems that we had last time there and stay on the lead lap and hopefully be in contention for a win."
DO YOU FIND YOURSELF COMPETING HARDER AGAINST YOUR FRIENDS? "No, I wouldn't say that. I would say I compete harder against a guy that I think is the guy to beat whether it's Tony in Indianapolis or Watkins Glen or it's Jimmie in Charlotte or whatever track he runs good at because he runs good at a lot of them. I think that you look at your competitors.you could go back to racing Rusty at Bristol and Dale Earnhardt at Talladega or Daytona. Those guys were the best at that track and so whoever you feel like is the guy to beat, that's the guy that you're going to push harder against and it just so happens that it's been me and Jimmie a lot this year but not all the time. I think that we definitely push one another. We know how good our equipment is. We know what we have and if we're getting beat by the other we know that it's in there. It's in the car. We got to figure out how to bring it out in our driving so that elevates up your level of competition and what you're capable of. Definitely I think it's pushed Hendrick Motorsports up to another level by having me, him and Kyle Busch be as competitive as we've been this year and I'm excited that Casey's been running as well as he's been running lately too because I think next year when we add Junior, I think it's just going to be a great site to see and battle to see how all four of these teams continue to step it up."
ON HIS CHAMPIONSHIPS BEING TIED INTO SOME UNUSUAL EMOTIONAL SITUATIONS. IF YOU CAN WIN THIS YEAR, HOW IS THIS GOING TO FIT INTO ALL THAT? HAVING THE BABY NOW, IS IT GOING TO BE A DIFFERENT EMOTIONAL KIND OF CHAMPIONSHIP IF YOU CAN WIN IT? "Oh it would be the best, the best one yet. I hate to get too deep into that because we've got five races to go. We can talk a lot about it if it happens but this, regardless of championship, is going to go down as one of my best years ever. If we do win the championship it will undoubtedly be the best and it's because it's been a while since we've been this competitive, I've got a new crew chief, obviously being a dad, new wife - there's a lot of amazing things that have happened this year. I feel like everything is better balanced for me and it's taken a few years to get it to this point on and off the race track whether it be friends, family, race team, business, everything has really just come together sort of all at once and when you have things going that way there's nothing better than capping it off with the thing that you do for a living being the best at it or being at the top. So obviously that would be the ultimate way to cap off this year but we'll see what happe ns."
ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT CLINT BOWYER IS SO HIGH IN THE POINT STANDINGS? "He's definitely a legitimate contender. He's proven that. If you make it in the Chase, you're a legitimate contender. Anybody can step up that's in that top 12. If you look at his background, it's no surprise. The guy is a true racer, a great driver in all aspects - short tracks, dirt tracks. For whatever reason, we just haven't seen that side of him up to the Chase. We've seen consistency but we haven't seen him really take it to the next level until the Chase started. But once that Chase started and he did then you've got to make him a legitimate contender. So I think the only reason that it's been a surprise is just because maybe he's being a little conservative, holding back, wanting to make sure he got himself into the Chase. Hard to really say. Certainly since the Chase started he's been as strong as anybody."
DO YOU EVER WONDER THAT YOU TAUGHT JIMMIE JOHNSON TOO WELL? "No, no. I knew Jimmie was a great driver before he came to Hendrick. I got a chance to race with him in the Busch Series. I've always approached Jimmie as. he's a very likeable guy, very talented driver. He's worked hard to get himself where he is and I wanted to see him get every opportunity that came my way and sit back and enjoy his success. That doesn't mean that I'm just going to sit back and ride, I think that his success has motivated a lot of us at Hendrick. It reminds me, when I go back to '95 when we won the championship, it elevated the No. 5 team to come back and win the championship the next year. That elevated our level of competition, motivated us to go and get it done again back-to-back years. I feel like Jimmie just came in with a fire but he's such a good guy and somebody that I'm very proud to say is a good friend of mine. What happens on the race track, that's competition. It goes both ways. We're both fierce competitors and we want to win, no matter who is in our way. It's not about friendship at that point. But come Tuesday or Wednesday, and I say Tuesday because usually, when we're battling one another like we were here at Martinsville or Talladega, it takes a couple days just to get over that. Then you go back to the friendship. But the good thing is that we're able to put that aside, put that behind us and the friendship rises to the top. That's something I don't have in this garage area with. maybe back with Ricky Craven, he and I used to be really good friends and we were teammates sponsored by DuPont, started all the way back to then. But we never battled for a championship. Then I would say Casey Mears is another guy I'm really good friends with. But again, we haven't been able to battle quite like Jimmie and I have. So it definitely challenges your friendship but the friendship's been able to win out so far."
DO YOU HAVE ANY PRE-RACE RITUALS AND WHAT ARE YOUR OFF-SEASON PLANS? "The first question - I don't have rituals or superstitions or anything like that. I have routine and I like to stick with my routine. If it's on the schedule, then I expect it to stay on the schedule. It's when the schedule gets moved around or changed that I'm not exactly thrilled about. To me it's a routine of knowing exactly what's going to happen at what time. Once my morning starts I do the same breakfast - and that's just because it's what I drink, I drink a fruit shake with a vitamin thing. I do that every day. If I don't do that every day then it ruins my day. So I still do that on Sundays and I go to hospitality and I do my hospitality and then I go to my drivers' meeting. After drivers' meeting I go back to the truck and I have lunch and hang out with the guys. I stretch, get dressed, go to driver introductions. It's pretty much just the same routine every weekend. As long as that doesn't get altered then I'm good.
"As far as the off-season, I'm just trying to figure out how I'm going to do Thanksgiving with my whole family and then December. December and January are some of the busiest months that I have because all of the sponsors are getting ready for next year. So December I spend a whole week doing photo shoots and commercials or whatever it may be. Plus we have our Christmas parties, all that stuff. So there's only a two-week span and that's Christmas and New Years that I take and go on vacation. I do have plans. I can just tell you, it's somewhere warm. Somewhere quiet, relaxing and warm."
DESPITE THE AGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND KYLE, HAVE YOU SEEN HIS GROWTH AS A PERSON AND DRIVER? "No doubt about it, I think everybody has commented on how he seems to have really matured and grown over the last couple months, it seems. Maybe this whole experience of him leaving Hendrick and going to Gibbs, maybe that's been kind of a life-changing thing for him because prior to that, I still saw a lot of youthfulness in him and questioned some decision-making or some things that he would say publicly and just say 'oh, man, I wish I could be there and just put a few words in his ears of maybe how to go about that'. Yet the last month or two, he's just been phenomenal. He's been handling himself first-class and through all that's happened, you'd think that would be a time where maybe it would go the other way. So that's been impressive and I think that Gibbs will be very fortunate to have him as a talent and also the way he's been handling himself. He continues to do that and I think he's going to be extremely tough to race against."
DID YOU WONDER HOW HIS SITUATION WOULD PLAY OUT IN JUNE WHEN HE WAS TOLD HE WASN'T GOING TO BE BACK AT HENDRICK? "Yeah, because there's been times. I've gotten to know Kyle just good enough to know that he's a really good guy. He always means well, he always is trying to go out there and do things that he would be proud of and other people would be proud of. But that doesn't always come across that way. So call it misunderstood, call it make a few mistakes, whatever it may be, I think that because those things came sporadically, you weren't exactly sure how it was going to go down and I think the first couple weeks were still a little touch and go but since then, and I don't know exactly what it is that's transpired, but I was with Rick (Hendrick) this week and both of us were talking about how impressed we are with the way he's been handling himself."
DOES YOUR MARRIAGE AND NEW BABY CHANGE YOUR TIMETABLE OF WHEN YOU WILL RETIRE? "That's a good question. I can tell you that in 2003, 2004, 2005 were years where I was like 'this is getting old real quick'. I realized just how competitive I truly am and that I don't like to ride mid-pack or the back of the pack. Nobody does, I know that. But when you've had the success that we've had, it even makes it tougher because there's a lot of expectations that come along with that. Had we continued down that path, that would have made things end a lot earlier. So it's been very cool and very inspiring to turn things around last year and come into this year the way we have. It's fun again and that to me, it changes the way I look at things because it tells me that you do have to have everything lined up, the chemistry has to be there among the team. Obviously the cars have to drive well but you have to have confidence, people have to have confidence in you and you have to have the structure and balance off the race track just as in line as you do with the race tea m and the team on the race track. So I think that there truly is no number. All I can tell you is that 2010 is when our contracts are ending and probably 2009 is a year that's going to have a lot of decision making for me. Those contracts might be up in 2010 but they all want to talk about them in 2009. So to me that's going to be a big year. We'll just see where I'm at, how things are going, how fatherhood is going, how much tuition is for kindergarten (laughs). I don't know. This year I'm just having a blast and enjoying life and racing like I never have so it hasn't even been a thought."
WHAT ARE YOUR BIG GOALS? "Big goals, you're looking at the big goals, man. The big goal right now is number five. I've never, ever looked at number seven. That's not why I do it, man. If I'm stuck at 81 wins and four championships, I'm still good. And even more so this year, becoming a dad, it just made me realize that those numbers, while they're cool and they're great, they're the least of my thoughts and worries and my goals are changing. But the competitor in me, every time I hit the race track, I want to win and I want to be up front. I want to be battling for those wins and those championships. And that happens every time I start thinking about going to the race track. When I leave the race track, I think about what we did that day for a short period of time, get right into changing diapers and bottles and being a husband and a dad and don't even think about everything else until Thursday comes around when I'm heading to the race track. I'm that shallow. My mind just can't work any further ahea d than that (laughs). There's just too many things going on in there for me to think any further ahead than that."
DOES THE IDEA OF MARK MARTIN'S SCHEDULE SOUND APPEALING OR IS IT ALL-OR NOTHING FOR YOU? "Mark Martin has changed the outlook for many drivers, I think. I respect Mark so much for his abilities but also with his approach, the way he's done it this year. I hate that we're even talking this but I just love racing. I love it and I've been doing it for so long that I can't ever imagine not doing it. The difference is that when you're in the Cup series going for the championship, anything less than the championship is a disappointment. If you go out there and you're going to run half of a schedule and you know that in those races you have a shot at being competitive and you are competitive like Mark's been this year, to me there's a lot of rewards that come along with that. And I can see that as being a fantastic schedule. If the championship is not on the line and you know that, then it's easier to take that. So I can see that being a possibility. There's definitely some races on the schedule that I would like to stay away from. I won't mention any names but I could see that as being something that could be really fun and cool. But I don't know if that's what I would do or not. I haven't even thought about it - not that much."
-credit: gm racing