Phoenix II: Jeff Gordon - Friday media visit

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin going for the championship, the strength of Hendrick Motorsports, the Alpha male of the garage, and more. Q. What is your approach to...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin going for the championship, the strength of Hendrick Motorsports, the Alpha male of the garage, and more.

Q. What is your approach to these last two races?

JEFF GORDON: I mean, it really doesn't change. Nothing changes for us. It's the same as usual. Go out, try to get the best qualifying effort we can here on qualifying day on Friday. And approach practice tomorrow, trying to be better than we were the last time we were here.

You Know, try to be one of the best cars out there, and hope that that pays off on Sunday and then execute the best that we possibly can on Sunday. Try to learn from our mistakes in our past, and try to, you know, make any of those things that we've learned from, make them better.

Q. What the 48 did last week with them rebuilding that car to get back on the track to get 15 or so points, does that kind of symbolize the strength behind not just that team but Hendrick Motorsports? I can see the guy from your team going over there to help. Kind of the behind the scene guys that we don't see about or know about that make Hendrick what it really is?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, we're a very deep organization, and we work together. That's why you see the three teams at the top right now and why you've seen the 48 win the last three seasons in a row.

You know, it's an organization that works extremely well together, shares a lot of information. I don't think many teams do. And when it comes to times like that, like what you saw at Texas, everybody chips in, you know. Even though we're competitors and battling against one another, when there's times like that we don't think of ourselves as competitors. We think about what would we need in our situation and how would they contribute and we know they'd do the same for us.

Q. In the position that you're in, do you go into the weekend maybe a little more on the cautious side on the race? I guess more race day, or aggressive side?

JEFF GORDON: It's definitely more the opposite. When you're behind in points and the races are narrowing down, you get more and more aggressive. You know, you've got to go out there and gain points. You've got to get good track position. You've got to really try to capitalize every moment you're out there on the track to try to get the most out of it.

I mean, honestly, I don't know how we can do things any different than we do all year long. We really work hard at every race to be as aggressive as we can to put ourselves in a position to win the race. I can't say we've really done anything different in the Chase than what we've done every weekend.

The difference is when I say "aggressive," it's maybe in the pit strategy. It might be taking a little more risk on fuel mileage, you know, it might be thinking a little more outside the box under set-ups if what we had the last time we were there didn't work so well. You know, those types of things.

Q. We know how you feel since you won the title. But we want to ask you as a teammate and a race fan, how cool would it be if Jimmie wins his fourth in a row, and how cool would it be if Mark Martin wins his first?

JEFF GORDON: Well, either one of those scenarios, including myself, are all very cool. You know, I think you have to look at each differently. I think what Jimmie and Chad and that team has done over the last four years has been phenomenal. It's something to be respected and appreciated.

And I think even more so from within the organization when we know on what we're up against and that we've been getting beat by them.

With Mark Martin, I'm such a huge are Mark Martin fan, always have been. I battled with this guy in championships. He's such a tough competitor, and I feel like he deserves it. And I think it would be fantastic for him and the 5 team and Rick Hendrick and everybody. For us we've been doing the drive for five for so long that, you know, I'm tired of hearing about it. But we're close this year. I feel like we've been very competitive and consistent. Obviously, we'd love to pull that off.

Q. Do you get any sense that the fans are rooting for Mark?

JEFF GORDON: I think at this point what people are rooting for is to it to be a race down to the wire in Homestead. I can't really get a sense -- I think that Mark Martin is a sentimental favorite, for sure. I think that people, you know, I don't think you find anybody that dislikes Mark. You know, it's just everybody. They like Mark. So I think that that would be a positive to see that happen.

But I think right now, you know, just like what we saw last week, people want -- they don't want to see the 48 have a problem. They want to see the gap closed up. However that happens I think that's what I'm sure the media and the fans, a lot of people are hoping for, even the competitors.

I know I want to get closer to the 5 and the 48 going into next week's race also.

Q. After going through your practice laps, how do you expect you and your car to handle the track here?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I feel like our car has a pole possibility in it. We never really got the lap that we were looking for in practice, so we're ninth or tenth, I think. But it's in there. The car has it. It has the speed. That's all we focused on today was qualifying. We won't know what we have for the race until tomorrow.

Q. Why is Hendrick so good here?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I don't know if I would -- I mean, Hendrick's good everywhere. I feel like our stuff's good everywhere we go. I don't really isolate to this. I know you're saying that because you look at the stats and it says we've won the last five races in a row. I give a lot of credit to that 48 team. They won like three in a row. That's impressive.

I think this is one of Mark's best tracks. Has been before he came to Hendrick, and they've given him great equipment. It's a track that we've always been consistent at. You know, we've had a tremendous amount of Top 10s here, and a pretty decent Top 5 and we finally got a win. You know, we need that kind of performance again this weekend.

I don't know, you know. We focus so hard on putting the best equipment out there every weekend that we don't really look at why are we good at this track. We kind of say, you know, How do we get better?

Q. What are the moments or instances with Jimmie that you've seen that kind of defines why he's had the success that he's had? That there are things that you see that the fan doesn't see, that I don't see, whether it's stuff that you have seen over the career or even things you've seen this year?

JEFF GORDON: I'm not trying to take anything away from Jimmie, but you say "Jimmie," I say "team." To me, all the success I have at winning championships is because we were the best team. And I did my part, and Jimmie, he focused really hard on being prepared and giving his best. That's a huge part of a team, you know. Not every driver out there does it, you know, puts that much effort into it.

But not all crew chiefs put the effort that Chad puts in. Not all team members put in that effort, and not all organizations put in the effort. So it's a total team effort.

Q. What is an example of that effort that you see that maybe you see behind the scenes that others don't see that kind of defines?

JEFF GORDON: I don't know what they do at other organizations. I just know that the lights basically don't ever get turned off at Hendrick Motorsports. The people never stop working. They never stop creating new ideas and thinking outside the box. You know, second is never good enough. We have those expectations upon us all the time, but we strive to build those expectations as well.

Q. If Jimmie wins this championship he'll be obviously tied with you. You will have more wins. But some people will look to him more as the Alpha male of the garage. I wonder, you know, every driver has to have a personal ego and believe in themselves. But if the perception starts to slide away that you're no longer the Alpha male position, I think it's probably fair to say.

JEFF GORDON: I've been off that position for the last four years in my opinion. I mean, you can't control where you're at in popularity. You can't control how you're perceived by the media. You build that up over time through your actions, your accomplishments, the stats, all those things.

To me I'm always an actions-speak-louder-than-words type of individual. So in my opinion we've been chasing the 48 for the last three, now going on four years if not longer than that and even prior to that. They're the team to beat. Jimmie's the guy to beat from the driver's standpoint.

I mean, I've accepted that a long time ago. It just makes me work harder to try to get ourselves back up to that level I think we're capable of.

Q. I hear what you're saying. I just think that you always had the championships over Jimmie. And even though you had the wins and had the greater success lately, you were still, I think, a lot of people still looked upon you as, like you said, in some ways the Alpha male or one of the states men of it. And I just wonder now that he's tying you, that takes away a position of power or perceived power?

JEFF GORDON: I mean, it depends on what type of power position you're talking about. From an equity partnership in Hendrick, I still have that. And the experience that I have in the sport in my position in the sport as well as Hendrick Motorsports, I don't feel like that's going to take away from that.

And there's going to be a day that Jimmie stays long enough at Hendrick, that's going to get turned over to him as well, you know. I think that's sort of how he's positioned himself. He's smart.

Listen, if my ego was a problem, I would have never hired the guy and gave everything that I had to give. I wouldn't do that with my other teammates. You know, to me I look at how can we make our organization better? I've accomplished more than I've ever dreamed of and I want to keep doing that, but I also know that if you put the right people in place they're going to have a lot of success.

We did that with the 48 team and look at what they've done. We've got to recreate that with the 24 team, and we made big strides from last season to this season. But that's, you know, the bar that is set. I think that's great for our organization because it makes the other three work that much harder to try to strive for that, you know.

So I don't allow my ego to get in the way of where I sit. In my opinion I've always been underneath Richard Petty and, you know, Dale Earnhardt in championships and Pierson and so many others as far as wins go, that I've never looked at that as a competition. I want to keep winning races, and I want to get as high up the list as I possibly can before I no longer am driving full-time.

Wherever I end up, even if it stops today at 81 or 82 (wins), I'm still pretty darn proud of that.

Q. You're able to capitalize on your success with advertising deals and TV things. Has Jimmie not been able to do that as much do you think?

JEFF GORDON: I mean, right now the economy is definitely playing a role. But I feel like they're working at it. It took a long time for those deals to really materialize for me. I had some of the best opportunities marketing-wise that I've ever had after I won my fourth championship.

Actually, not necessarily this year, but the last four or five years, you know, the Tag Heuer deal and the Georgia pacific and some really, really good marketing opportunities. Not to mention our position with our sponsors like DuPont and Pepsi.

I think the longer you stay in the sport, the more consistent you stay, especially towards the top. The more respect you get, and the more you build your brand up to have those opportunities there that might not always -- you want to capitalize on it while you're winning your championships, but that's not always the way it works.

Q. Is it different in NASCAR than other sports like LeBron comes out high school and has the Nike deals or Tiger Woods with American Express right from the start. Is it different? That's why you have to build that?

JEFF GORDON: It is a lot different. But there could be a young guy that comes along that just has so much marketability as well as talent that it might change all that. It could change all that next season if that person came along.

But it does seem like it's a lot different in our sport than in others. Especially the ball and stick sports because you have kids playing those sports in school. They want to wear those shoes, and they want to use that mitt or that bat or whatever type of equipment that those guys use. We don't have that.

I mean, you don't have kids walking around going I want to wear that Alpine Star racing suit, you know? Unless you're a race car driver (laughter).

Q. During the race are you going to be asking for updates on the 48 and 5 or are you just going to focus on what you're doing?

JEFF GORDON: I didn't even know he wrecked last week to be honest. I knew there was a wreck. I didn't know he wrecked and they didn't say a word to me. I like it that way.

I prefer not to know because it really doesn't change how -- it could change if I know too much of how we focused on the race. I want my focus to be on driving the race car. Getting in and out of pit stalls, you know, and our whole team really are focused on doing our job. Not being distracted by what the other guys are doing.

Q. Looking ahead to next week, is it a big confidence builder for a team or driver to be able to go bragging being the last winner? Is it nice to win the last race and carry that through?

JEFF GORDON: Definitely. I think it gives you momentum over the off-season to, you know, what you're working on. It gives you confidence. It gives you bragging rights. It's just a great feeling to end the season right whether it's the last race that you win or one of the last couple of races that you win.

Those are no different than the pole last week at Texas. That was big for us to get that pole. But a win, you know, is huge, especially at Homestead, because it is the final race. It would be huge for us. We've never won there before. I think that everybody feels that way.

Q. just curious. Does it matter or factor in how the Chase format came into play? That Jimmie has his titles under that format?

JEFF GORDON: No, there's no doubt that's changed the history of our sport. I've said all along ever since the Chase came along that the championship, you know and how it's looked at and how many numbers people have, you can't compare.

I think Richard had some championships under a different format. I just don't think you can compare the two in any way. They're really totally different. But I still think the best team still wins.

While we might have had a couple of extra championships under the old format if they still existed, you know, that's the truth of the matter is it doesn't matter.

We've got the new format, and I like the new format. I think it's exciting. I think it's challenging. So I think there are more positives than negatives. But you can't compare what anybody wanted to be in the old format to anybody that's won it in the new format.

Q. Do you feel like Jimmie's going to have trouble for mark to catch him or are you guys close enough to where they could have just a bad enough race and you guys have a good enough race to make it?

JEFF GORDON: Those guys don't give up 80 points, talking about Mark. They don't give those points up easily. But 80 over two races are doable. 112, I think, not necessarily without them having trouble.

But mark making up 40-plus points per race is not completely out of the question. But those guys run too good to just finish there. It would have to be, you know, it came down to a fuel mileage race and they didn't have the fuel mileage, or it would have to come down to a really bad pit stop or come down to them actually having trouble in my opinion.

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports