JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Michigan International Speedway and talked about why he likes racing at Michigan, struggles with the new car, keeping his team together and focused and much ...
JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Michigan International Speedway and talked about why he likes racing at Michigan, struggles with the new car, keeping his team together and focused and much more.
HOW IS YOUR CAR TODAY? "We've been trying some things this week and did a little testing and brought it here. We had a race set up in and I really liked it and were happy and tried to do that same thing for qualifying and it wasn't working so we're definitely going to have our hands full here for qualifying. Obviously we go off our notes of what Jimmie's got. He seems to be pretty good and we'll make the best of it and see what happens. So qualifying should be pretty interesting."
ON WHY HE IS HAVING SO MANY ISSUES WITH QUALIFYING AT THIS STAGE OF THE SEASON. "It's because we're trying stuff. Because what we had from last year, what we started the season off is not working. We didn't have a very good test at Pocono so we didn't really leave there with any good information from the 24 team, but the 48 was good. We actually did have their set up in and were pretty good with it in practice and the sun came out and made a few adjustments and I got really tight. I think somebody had said I didn't like his set ups because it was loose, I was never loose with Jimmie's set up at Pocono it was pretty surprising because typically I have been but not there. He qualified up front and we didn't. Pocono or any of these tracks that's how easy it is, you make one little bobble and I did off of the first turn and it ruined the whole lap and we were way behind. We were really good on short runs in the race at Pocono and we got our track position, we tried to play some different pit strategy that didn't work out for us so we had to get it switched back over and we were looking really good until Kyle Busch spun out. For some odd reason he spun out and it kind of messed up our whole pit strategy and we had to fight hard to put four tires on and come from the back. My fans are awesome, they're unbelievably supportive and loyal and so loyal they want to point fingers at everybody else but me. Sometimes that's not always fair. We're just working really hard trying to find what we need to go faster and be better. With the Chase format and also with we got ourselves up in the sixth position in the Chase, we're not solidly in but it does allow us to experiment a little more than we have been able to up to this point. Before we were like hey we would just be happy to get to 15th, now we need to be 10th or fifth. We've gotten some top fives and that's gotten us up there and now we got to get better. We've got to be competitive enough to win races."
IN SPEAKING WITH THE OTHER DRIVERS IT SEEMS LIKE YOU GUYS HAD A LITTLE BIT OF A SHUT UP AND RACE MEETING THIS MORNING, WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF NASCAR'S CLOSED DOOR TALKING TO WITH YOU GUYS? "I think it was just that. I think it was a closed door meeting and I wish they would have more of them to be honest with you. Wasn't a whole lot of comment and reaction type of meeting. It was 30 minutes before practice. I guess you can call it that but to me we need to have more drivers meetings. The sport is important to all of us and we want to make sure we are all doing our best in playing our part in it. I wish we had more meetings like that but I don't think they are meetings that need to be discussed."
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO LEARN IN THE TIME PERIOD BETWEEN THIS RACE AND THE RACE HERE IN AUGUST? "We try to learn every time we come to any race track. It's what can we take from this race track that's going to apply to other race tracks or what can we take from other race tracks and apply here in Michigan and try to win. Our goal is every time we come to a race track we want to be competitive, we want to lead laps and we want to have an opportunity to win and hopefully pull off a win. Right now it's about getting bonus points for the Chase. It's about being in the Chase so that's what we're looking at Michigan at. This is one of my favorite race tracks, I love coming here. We want to run good and try to get a win. If not, we'll try to take what we can from here and apply it to other tracks. Kind of hard to do, I think you can take more things from other tracks to bring here. It's a two-mile race track and pretty smooth. Grip level is down but it's still fast. Unrestricted and I think you can probably apply more things from a 1.5-mile track and other tracks we've been on and make them sort of work here than you can learn something specific and make that work at a 1.5-mile track."
TALKING TO OTHER DRIVERS ABOUT THE MEETING THIS MORNING IT ALMOST SEEMS LIKE NASCAR WANTS DRIVERS TO BE A LITTLE MORE RESTRAINED ON SOME OF THEIR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE NEW CAR UNTIL NASCAR WORKS SOME OF THE KINKS OUT, IS THAT FAIR STATEMENT? "I didn't really know it was specifically geared toward anything like the car. Again I don't think it's a meeting that needs to be discussed. If you want to get that from other drivers then get that from other drivers. I want to continue to have those meetings. I think it's important for NASCAR to get us together and share their thoughts and ideas about where we're at whether it be with the car or race track safety all those things. I hope those meetings turn into something on a more regular basis and that we can have input into it. I think the only way we can do that is to not necessarily make those meetings public."
THAT BEING SAID, AS A DRIVER DO YOU FEEL THAT THE OTHER DRIVERS MAY BE TALKING ABOUT THE CAR TOO MUCH NOW AND NOT LETTING THE KINKS WORK OUT THEMSELVES? "I can just tell you from my own personal experiences that there are guys out there that are making it work, certainly making it work better than we are. I've just gotten to the point where I just need to shut up and drive because other people are making it work. We are not and we're one of the best teams out there. I feel confident in my driving and my team and that we can get it and find it. I don't think that there's anybody else out there that's doing anything that's magic, they just found some things and gone in that direction and its working. We keep our eyes and our ears open at all times. We pay attention. We look at what we're doing. We communicate with our teammates and we do everything we can. There's no secret that his car is not perfect and I think that you can always go back and look at the beginning and how it all started and say we could have done it this way or that way. In my opinion, we don't know if the racing would be better, worse with the old car. Racing is always changing constantly. I think it's still entertaining. I also don't think there's anything wrong with a little bit of controversy from time to time. We'll leave that up to Kyle Busch and Tony (Stewart) but for me this is the car we have and I don't want to dwell on it more than the fact this is what we have. This is what we're working on and this is what we have to try to win a championship this year with and we need to make it work."
HAS THERE BEEN INSTANCES IN THE PAST WHEN CHANGES WERE MADE TO THE PREVIOUS CAR AND YOU FOUND YOURSELF IN A SIMILAR POSITION? "I can honestly say that this is not similar because in the past I felt like we always evolved in a way where we were putting more grip in the cars and going faster. The little tiny things that NASCAR would do to us over the off season to slow us down and to try to prevent us from maybe abusing tires too much and having failures, carrying too much speed, safety wise they're always doing things to slow that process down and you always knew it was coming but yet we were always one step ahead. Even though they would cut the spoilers off of it, we'd come back and be faster. Now there have been times in my career when the car has evolved to go faster that it's taken some adjusting on my part. When they started getting into the big rear springs and there's less body roll in the car that took some time for me to adjust to. Again we got there and boom we starting going fast and we won the championship, so that was 2000 that we struggled with it, 2000 when we won the championship. This is so much different because it's so many steps back and we're in a box so it's been the biggest challenge that I've ever seen any of the teams go through and that's exactly what we anticipated it would be a big challenge. Last year wasn't so big because we were on the shorter tracks, now we're on the big fast high speed tracks and it's a real challenge."
YOU SAID EARLIER THAT YOU WEREN'T TERRIBLY HAPPY WITH THE QUALIFYING SET UP BUT YOU LIKE WHAT YOU HAD IN THE RACE SET UP TODAY, HOW IS FIXING THINGS ON THE QUALIFYING END GOING TO TRANSLATE INTO THE KIND OF SUCCESS YOU'RE LOOKING FOR ON RACE DAY? "I would say of all the tracks that we go to this is probably not easy, I'm just saying easier to come from the back to the front here or the middle of the pack to the front here. I want to start up front so we're going to work hard. We always do every single week and no matter how good or bad we are in practice, I drive the car down into the first corner as hard as I can and if it sticks then we finish the corner and make the next corner and that's what I'm going to do the next time. But if we don't qualify good I'll say this is one of those tracks where if you do have a good car it's so wide, there's so many different lanes and grooves that you can pass and come to the front. That's why I love this race track so much. Unfortunately because of that sometimes you see less cautions here so the excitement factor is hit or miss here from a spectator stand point. From a driver, racers stand point to me this is one of the best places we go to race because there's so much room to race on."
AS YOU TRY TO FIND YOURSELF ON THE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS WITH THIS CAR, HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT DOES THAT MAKE THE TRIP TO SONOMA NEXT WEEK FOR YOU, A PLACE WHERE WE EXPECT TO SEE YOU COMPETING FOR WINS? "Yeah, it's important. We know that. We know our road course program has always kind of bailed us out when we needed it most in the past. Not saying we need to be bailed out right now but we definitely could use some bonus points going into the Chase and could use a win. It's not going to be easy, there's pit strategy. To me the 20 car was the best car on the road course's last year, Sonoma as well as Watkins Glen. But because of pit strategy and Juan Pablo is really fast on the road courses as well they pulled off a great victory. Anybody can win that race. There's a lot more competitive drivers on the road courses than there used to be and so we don't go out there feeling like we have the edge that we used to have. I do feel confident that we're gonna be strong there and that we don't have to think and worry about a lot of this towed reared housing and cars running sideways down the straightaway, whether we got the right bump stop on and all those things. We're just going to try to go there and shift and brake and make our car work the best we can. Hopefully not make any mistakes."
HAS THE LAWSUIT BEEN TALKED ABOUTHIS MORNING AMONG DRIVERS AND ALSO WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE LAWSUIT? "I haven't spoken to any drivers about it. I'm pretty sure I know less about it than you guys do and I'd like to kind of keep it that way. I'm just going to watch it play out like you are, not as much detail into it like you I'm sure. Just let the courts decide or see how it plays out before that even happens. That's all I can add to that. Sorry I don't have much information for you today. You're asking all the brave questions I just don't have good answers."
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR TEAM TOGETHER AND MOVING FORWARD THROUGH ALL OF THE OUTSIDE CRITICISM INCLUDING CRITICISM OF YOUR CREW CHIEF AS YOU GUYS TRY TO WORK THIS STRUGGLE OUT? "We don't pay attention to outside criticism. We know what we're capable of doing. We focus internally. I think Steve Letarte is one of the best crew chiefs out there and I'm confident in that and I would say that being a crew chief these days takes a lot of different elements. There are guys out there that are just super smart. There's guys out that that are incredible engineers and there are guys out there that are great organizers. In my opinion Steve Letarte across the board is one of the best because he understands where his place is. He knows how to motivate people, he know s how to organize them. He knows how the read the information. He knows how to work with me, communicate with me, with the team. He knows when to crack the whip and when not to. He's worked with some of the best crew chiefs in the business and he gets a chance to work side by side with Chad Knaus who I think is one of the best out there as well. He's got to deal with me and that's not an easy thing. Sometimes I'm not the easiest and he's got to deal with exactly what we talked about, he's got to deal with extreme criticism from very loyal, avid fans of mine. It's a tough job and not anybody can be in that position and I think for his age and his experience I think he does an unbelievable job. I'm confident in that and that's why that doesn't change things outside of our shop. They don't affect us because they know what we're doing and what direction we're going in and how hard we're working and confident that we can get where we need to be. It's funny that when you're not running where you need to be how quick people are to point those things out, but how quick they forget about the fact that we were basically one of the best teams out there on the track last year and there's a reason why we were as good as we were last year and there's a reason why we'll get back there hopefully before the season is out."
TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION SOME OF THE STRUGGLES YOU HAVE HAD THIS YEAR AT THE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS, DO YOU THINK THAT SPEAKS MORE THAN JUST A NATURAL FLOW OF THE SPORT, THE UPS AND DOWNS VERSES ANY SPECIFIC ISSUES YOUR TEAM MAY BE EPERIENCING WITH THE CAR IN GENERAL? "Yeah, absolutely. Every driver drives different. Every crew chief has different theories on how they want to go about operating the team or setting the cars up. When you've been in this series as long as I have,16 years you're going to go up and down and you're gonna have those times and moments and there's going to be changes in this sport that you're gonna adapt to quicker than others and some slower than others. When you go through a big change like this, sometimes it's easier to be younger and less experienced with less knowledge and less bad habits or habits of any kind because then you have to change. If you don't have to change as much sometimes it makes it easier. I've been through a lot of great years and feel like we still have great years ahead of us and I don't think this year is a wash. I think we still have it left in us this year. I've been through enough tough years to know how you got to fight through those years and understand them and just get through them. If I wasn't at Hendrick Motorsports and if I didn't have confidence in myself or my team then I would be singing a different tune right now. Unfortunately I have to answer the questions because you just want to work. You just want to test and you want to go out on the track and try things and when you're not running good it's frustrating but you just want to focus on your job and your team. This is a big sport and it's gotten a lot of media attention and attention from the fans so we don't have that luxury. We have to deal with the criticisms and just know that's a part of it too."
-credit: gm racing