Martinsville II: Jeff Gordon 'wake up call' interview

Jeff Gordon , driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, was the guest of Saturday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup "Wake Up Call." This season Gordon has 6 poles, 5 wins and 12 top fives and 20 top tens. (YOU RECENTLY ATTENDED THE MTV MUSIC VIDEO AWARDS AND HAD...

Jeff Gordon , driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, was the guest of Saturday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup "Wake Up Call." This season Gordon has 6 poles, 5 wins and 12 top fives and 20 top tens.

(YOU RECENTLY ATTENDED THE MTV MUSIC VIDEO AWARDS AND HAD TWO FUNDRAISERS FOR YOUR FOUNDATION. TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT)

"The MTV thing was an invite from MTV. I think NASCAR had talked to them. We were trying to actually coordinate something where maybe I drove up in my race car on the red carpet and dropped off a host or something like that. That didn't work out but it got my interest up to go to the event. I love music, all different types. I'm glad that I got to go. I met a lot of cool people and had a fun time. Tony Hawke (professional skateboarder) who is a friend of mine was there also and we hung out a little bit. This past week we had an amazing day. It was two events into one day where we had a go-kart challenge which is our third annual go-kart challenge but it's the first time we've ever done it in Charlotte. We did it out at the NASCAR SpeedPark and had a blast. Of course it's a lot of fun to be able to raise money and drive go-karts. Everybody seems to enjoy that one. That night we had a dinner and it was supporting the Hendrick Marrow Program. We gave a $100,000 check to those guys plus on top of that we raised a bunch of money with a live auction at dinner that night. It was one of the most successful events that we've ever had. There will be more to come that we'll be donating to some of the great organizations that the Jeff Gordon Foundation supports and I'm also raffling my Tahoe. We got into this raffle where we had Chevrolet donate a Jeff Gordon Hendrick Motorsports Monte Carlo that they did a couple of years ago. So let's raffle off it for the foundation. It went over so well we did a boat. I was driving around in my Tahoe and getting ready to get a new one and someone that handles the foundation says 'what are you going to do with that vehicle?' I said 'going to give it back.' She said 'what if we raffle it off?' If you want my own personal vehicle, then boom there you go. I asked 'well what's next - my jeans, my shoes, what are we going to do?' Hopefully that will go over well and so far it has."

(THIS TRACK IS KNOWN AS A DRIVER'S TRACK. WHAT PERCENT OF WINS DO YOU ATTRIBUTE TO YOUR CAR AND WHAT PERCENT TO YOUR DRIVING ABILITY AND THE WAY YOU HAVE LEARNED TO HANDLE MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY?)

"It is a driver's track. I'll say they did a fantastic job here in repaving the concrete. It's less of a driver's track now than it used to be. I think that caught us a little bit behind yesterday because the track is fast, smooth, it's got a lot of grip and just getting sheer speed out of the car was important yesterday. We didn't do as good of job as I hoped we were going to do. We actually ran faster here than at testing than we did yesterday. In the past this race track has been very challenging. The grip level was certainly not there. There was a lot more bumps and transitions from the pavement onto the concrete. I just think our team did an amazing job with that challenge to put together a great set up and that set up matched that type of driving style I've had around here. Now it's something we've got to change because it's not the same track and we don't have that edge and that same combination that worked before. I think it's going to work now. We've got a new Martinsville even though I still like it. I still think that a driver that has patience, a driver that doesn't over drive the corners and can really feel the car and transmit that to the race team, is going to be a team that runs well here."

(LESS DRIVERS DO WELL HERE THAN THE AVERAGE TRACK. IS THIS A CRUCIAL TRACK IN THE CHASE?)

"I think they are all crucial. I know what you're saying. If I just single out our statistics and our thought process coming into this race, we're certainly excited about it. This is a track we've run very well at. But again I factor in the fact that they changed this race track. We've got a new challenge on our hands. I don't you think can really predict who's going to be good here and who's not. We'll know a lot more after this next practice. This is a track where typically there's a lot of cautions. It's going to be very hard to pass here tomorrow. The new conditions by making the track faster are going to make passing even more difficult. Those other two guys, they're running good everywhere. It's our job to go out there and make something happen. This is a place that I think we can make something happen. I'm excited about that. When we leave here we got to make something happen in Atlanta. We got to make something happen in Phoenix. We got to make something happen everywhere. That's just the way this Chase is with the new points system."

(WHAT CHANGED BETWEEN YOUR TEST HERE TWO WEEKS AGO AND YOUR QUALIFYING RUN?)

"We mainly did race runs but we did one qualifying run and laid down one heck of a lap. It wasn't what would have been on the pole yesterday but it would have been third, fourth, something like that. The car was really tight when we were here testing. Yesterday I was really loose. That one kind of threw us off a little bit. I knew that the grip level probably wouldn't be quite the same as it was when we tested. The concrete was practically brand new when we did. You always know that as more cars run on it, more rubber gets laid down and it's going to get less grip. We fought that yesterday. I went out and made my qualifying lap and was like 'yeah that was a lap right there.' Robbie Loomis (crew chief) says 'well you're ninth right now.' I was disappointed. I really was because I felt like it was much better than that."

(HOW MUCH WILL YOU AND ROBBIE WATCH THE TRUCK RACE TO PREPARE FOR TOMORROW?)

"You know crew chiefs are going to watch every lap of everything that's out there. You can't pay much attention to it. The trucks are totally different - less power, their handling characteristics are totally different. I think what we'll be looking at is tire wear and whether an outside groove ever comes in. That's about it. There's just very little comparison between the truck series and ours, other than those couple things."

(HOW MUCH HAS SHORT TRACK RACING CHANGED OVER THE YEARS AND HOW MUCH HAVE YOU HAD TO ADUST TO THAT?)

"The only I think of that has changed is that cars have gotten faster, the engines are making more power. It's so much of all the races we do, but even short track races are based on our tires and what Goodyear brings to the track. So you adjust around that. It's not just short track racing. The biggest adjustments that I've had to make because I've been racing in this series for over 10 years is keeping up with the speed of the cars and the types of set ups that we have in these cars that helped to increase the speed. You can't try to drive the car the same way today as I did 10 years ago. If I did, I wouldn't make the field. When you're with a team like mine, it allows you to go out there and experiment and try things and have confidence in what you're doing and what you're trying and pick up the pace along with them as they try new things to make the cars go faster. Then I try new things to go faster as well. I would say between going faster and being more competitive, everybody just getting their equipment that much better, drivers getting that much better - those are the only things I can think of that have changed."

(ON THE RIVALRY WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR. AND IF THE CHASE DILUTES THAT FACT)

"The Chase was created to make more excitement and have more people part of the championship because in the past it was only two guys. Or maybe one guy that's got a pretty good car left. If they left the points system the way it was, you're going to have a battle all the way down to the last race and some years you're going to have a blow out. It's really not a rivalry between Dale and myself. It's competitiveness among all of us. The rivalry is up there in the grandstands. The rivalry is the fans that separate themselves whether they are Gordon fans or Junior fans because they're rarely ever both (laughs.) That's where it really begins. For us, we still are competitive rivals. I want to beat him because I want to win the championship. No different than Kurt Busch. No different than Elliott Sadler or Mark Martin or whoever else we're battling in this championship. You want to do that because you want to win the championship. You want to do that because you want to win the race. If it's Ryan Newman and Rusty Wallace this weekend, I feel the same way. I know that a lot of people would like to see it come down to us because of the popularity. It was the same way with Dale. Sr. I've been fortunate enough to be one of the popular drives to be a part of that. It's been fun. It's exciting. You know when you race one another, those fans are going nuts. They love to see him pass him. Half of them like to see me pass him. It's make them stand up and get excited. I'll be honest. I like the Chase. I like having ten drivers. I still think there needs to be some adjustments made to it. It's not where it needs to be. It's still really a consistency points system even though we've narrowed it down to ten drivers for ten weeks. It's consistency. They haven't changed that part. Even though I'm one point (behind Dale Jr.) in going back to the old system, in this system we're still very close. We're still battling with him. We just have Kurt Busch in there as well which I think is a good thing."

(HALF WAY THROUGH THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?)

"I don't think we need to get too complicated. I heard about our own points system and all that. I think that just gets too difficult to try to figure out. I think there's a couple of ideas. One I've talked about for years is the points system in general that I would like see. If we did it this way, it either means we're going to have a really close points race or we're going to have a blow out. I'd like to see more points awarded to the winner and through the top five and more points spread out between first to second, third, fourth and fifth. Those top five to six positions (should be) awarded more points than what we currently have. Then when we get down to 25th and 30th, it ought to say the same amount all the way to the finish. I don't think we should have wrecked race cars out on the race track riding around for points. I don't think it brings any entertainment value to the event. I think it puts some safety at jeopardy. For a driver, the worst thing that you can go through is to wreck on the first lap and have to ride that race car around the race track all day long. That's a biased opinion on that one. Another thought could be if they wanted to have their own points system is maybe go somewhat like the rookie points system. Let's say we take the top ten guys that get down to the last ten races, if a guy finishes fifth and another guy in this Chase finishes 12th, he gets the points right up behind that guy. Basically those 10 guys are scored on a ten-nine-eight-seven-six-five-four-three-two-one type system. There's a lot of things they can throw out there and do. I don't think it's all that bad. I think there are some fun ideas that you could do just because it's so unique and different than what we've had in the past that you can play around with it. I think that right now the system has just a little bit too much consistency still on top of it which was a criticism of the old system."

(HOW IS IT WITH YOUR MANAGER, JOHN BICKFORD, AND HAS THAT RESULTED IN ANY CHANGES?)

"Oh yeah. I'm so thrilled to have him there. He's taken a lot of weight off my shoulders by having him there. The guy's mind works a million miles an hour and he's thinking of things all the time. I'm come to that office and it's scary. He's got all these ideas of things he wants to do and all these things that are currently happening. It's brought some new life. Bob Brennan who used to work for me did an amazing job but he had been there for seven or eight years and it was time for a change. I couldn't be more happy with John coming back. It's been great for him. It's been great for me. I think that it has allowed me to focus more on the team and more on racing. I just have so much confidence in his abilities that it allows me to step back and let him take the reigns a little bit more. Before Bob really kept me on top of everything single thing that was happening. Sometimes too much where I was a little bit overly involved with things that were going on in the company. Now I feel like I get updates but I have no problem with him going in the direction he's going because we talked a lot about it. I share his philosophy because he's the one that taught me. There's no doubt it's been a plus and something that I'm really excited about. We've got some really cool things that are happening. It's nice to know that our performance on the race track has been able to back it and keep things going in a fun and exciting direction."

(YOU'VE BEEN TRAVELING THE WORLD WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT INVITING DALE JR. NOW THAT JIMMIE IS GETTING MARRIED?)

"I've invited Dale Jr. many times to New York and he says it's just not his thing. You make friends on the circuit. You make friends with people off the circuit. Jimmie was a guy that came along and I said 'hey, I'm heading up to New York. Come with me.' He's like 'yeah OK.' Jimmie and I hit it off and when we went places he shared the same passions about these things that I did. Not everybody shares those same passions for the same things that I do but Jimmie did. I don't think that getting married is not going to make him travel the world and still enjoy life. I introduced him to his fiance. The two of them are a lot of fun together. If she's not with him, he and I have fun as well. Dale Jr. likes to do his thing and I like to do my thing. We tried to get together and go explore these places together. Again I will say he's too much competition. It just hasn't worked out. I don't know if he likes to travel around the world to some of these places that I do. He his group of friends he likes to hang out with and I have mine. We have hung out at times and have had a lot of fun. It just hasn't been anywhere exotic or somewhere outside the country or New York or anything like that."

(DALE JR. RECENTLY TALKED ABOUT GETTING TO A POINT IN HIS CAREER WHERE NASCAR WOULD LISTEN TO HIM. DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE AT THE POINT IN YOUR CAREER WHERE LISTENS TO YOU?)

"I think they listen more than we all think. I do think that this one-on-one thing up in the trailer has its limitations. As a group sometimes we want to be heard. It's not that we expect anything or that we want to have meetings all the time or anything like that. I think there are a lot of great ideas and thoughts that come from the car owners, crew chiefs and drivers. Unless you walk up into that trailer and express those opinions and they don't feel like there's some type of biased opinion that's giving you an advantage when you come up there, then I don't think you're going to get much out of it. I think it'd be nice every once in a while to get together as a group with NASCAR and go through some things and give our thoughts. If the majority people sitting in there say 'yeah, I agree with that, that's not a bad idea' then it could give some ideas that they would listen. I just think that when we all individually go up there, there's listening but I think in the back of their mind they're going 'why would this person want that?' I try to go up there with as non-biased as opinion as I possibly can all the time. I don't think that it always comes across that way because they're so used to everybody coming up there with an angle. I do know that the longer you are in this sport, the more respect you earn. If he has a good idea, I definitely think Dale Jr. (will be respected by NASCAR). Over time that respect will be earned with him and his voice will be heard more."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Elliott Sadler , Robbie Loomis , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports