Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) and discussed heading into the final two races, battling a friend and teammate for the championship, the evolution of NASCAR's new...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) and discussed heading into the final two races, battling a friend and teammate for the championship, the evolution of NASCAR's new generation race car and other topics.
IF HE'S CONCERNED ABOUT WHERE HE STANDS WITH TWO RACES TO GO: "It's definitely been a heck of a battle. Jimmie and those guys have done a fantastic job the last three weeks, there's no doubt about that. The wins speak for themselves. We've got to step it up. There's no hiding that and I hope we can pull that off right here in Phoenix."
ON WHAT HE MEANS BY STEP IT UP: "We have to do what works for us. We can't get outside the limits of that or we're going to find ourselves further behind, not making ground up or getting ahead. But what we got to do is really make sure that we hit the setups. We missed a setup last week. We weren't very good on Saturday. We certainly weren't that good on Sunday. Late in the race we started getting it better and it was too late. We kind of missed it in Atlanta too. I felt like we had an awesome opportunity in the Atlanta race to make up some ground. There was a time when Jimmie was struggling and we found ourselves struggling at the same time and had we gotten that better I think we could have been in that position to pull off that win instead of getting behind and trying to fight our way back to seventh. It's things like that.
"We're doing a great job on Friday qualifying and we need to do that again here today and next week in Homestead. But Saturday getting prepared for the race, we got to do a little bit better job. You got to give Jimmie and Chad and those guys credit. They've won some races they probably shouldn't have but then they've won races where they really did a great job like Martinsville and last week. They did a great job performing and then they were in the right position to make the right call at Atlanta. So you got to give them credit for those things and those are the things we've got to make happen for ourselves as well."
ON WHERE HE AND JIMMIE JOHNSON WERE THIS WEEK: "He told you he went to Acapulco? That's funny. I know where he went and it wasn't Acapulco. The funny thing is that we were both actually in a very similar place. We actually ran into one another this week in Mexico. My wife and I got married in Mexico a year ago so we were celebrating our anniversary plus it was Ingrid's birthday as well so we were also in Mexico in a very close location to them. We knew they were going to be down there. We didn't know if we were going to run into one another and we actually did end up running into him and saying hello, you know kind of business as usual."
ON IF IT'S HARD BEING FRIENDS AND FIGHTING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP AGAINST ONE ANOTHER: "I think in the long run it's going to strengthen our friendship and our relationship as teammates but to me I don't think anybody could handle this situation better than we have but there's no doubt that the intensity is there. When we get to the race track we're talking...we really are focused on our teams and our performance. You see it in practice. We go put a number up, they put a number up, we put a number up and we're just constantly being competitive and I think it's a pretty awesome thing to go through and experience and I think it's pushing both of us to go harder, to be better drivers and the teams to be better teams as well and when we're not at the race we're not talking about racing. We're talking about other things."
ON IF THIS IS A MORE DIFFICULT BATTLE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND ADD MORE PRESSURE: "It makes it more difficult because I know how good his team is and his cars and the equipment is and how good he is. I think Jimmie's one of the best guys out here and when you're battling a guy that is that solid and strong and that good and you know what kind of equipment he has and resources behind that he has and the fact that they won the championship last year. Then yeah, that definitely adds a lot of pressure but it doesn't have anything to do with.to me it doesn't make it any tougher or any easier because we're friends and because we're teammates. It's just knowing those things."
ON WHAT IT WOULD MEAN TO HIM TO PULL OFF CHAMPIONSHIP AFTER THE GREAT BATTLE THEY HAVE HAD: "I think it'd mean the world to me. There's a lot of me that wishes the Chase never had come along because I think that the way I drive and the way our team is so consistent, that we're capable of getting more championships under the old system but the point system is what it is and that makes it more challenging for us, that much more competitive for everybody and I think it makes it harder to win. That only makes it more rewarding. We've got four (championships). To be able to get to five would absolutely be amazing. We want it bad. We want it really bad. We're really close. We've got the car, the team to do it and you don't want to let those opportunities get away from you especially when we've been able to be competitive and consistent in the Chase. We've won two races, got a lead and when you get that you want it even that much more and now we're a little bit behind. Now we're the chaser and we're going to see what kind of fight that we have in us to go get it."
ON IF THIS WOULD BE A MORE REWARDING BATTLE BEING AGAINST A FRIEND: "I think it's just competitive out there no matter who you are up against. I think that when you're up against your teammate and you know how good the team is, how good the organization is, it's not about friends. To me we put that part aside when we're at the race track and on the race track battling. We really just focus on one another as competitors and what he's capable of, what his team's capable of and what our team is capable of. That definitely drives you, no doubt, but I think it's tougher because you know when your stuff is good when you're out there and you know you've got one of the best cars and the best teams and you know that the guy you're battling with had the same stuff - that's what's challenging. That to me is what makes it so tough when you're battling another driver and another team you kind of think to yourself this week they might have an edge, next week we might have an edge but overall you get momentum and think I think we got something better than t hem. But here there's nothing that we have better than them. We know that it's equal."
ON HAVING MORE CONFIDENCE HERE AT PHOENIX AFTER WIN IN APRIL: "It definitely helps with the situation that we're in now being 30 points back, the fact that we came here and ran well and won this race. Now it was a night race so it changes it a little bit but it definitely gives us the confidence that we need at this point being 30 points behind or where ever we'd be. Just being in the battle for this championship to know that we can come here and run well and win this race and hopefully make up some of the points we lost."
ON THE EVOLUTION OF NASCAR'S NEW GENERATION RACE CAR: "There's been every little evolution. There's not much we really do with this car. Since maybe about the fourth or fifth time we ran it this year we haven't been able to change much because there's just not much to change. I don't know. I haven't done any testing at Daytona. The race went pretty well at Talladega but I think that the biggest key after hearing what happened at Atlanta was that we got to get Goodyear to be able to build a tire that works well for this car to give the grip back, to get the drivability back in this car where we can go out there, push it and race hard with one another. From what I've heard all they did was just burn the tires right off the car which has always been a concern with Goodyear with this car. So that's probably the first thing that we need to face."
ON IF HE THINKS THE CHASE POINTS SYSTEM IS UNFAIR: "I don't think anything is unfair when you know going into it what it is. It's not unfair if you know that they pay bonus points to win races in the regular season and that those guys earn those points. We know what we got to do. We've been ahead of them by enough points to be able to get it done and I think we're still capable of getting it done. I don't really think of it that way at all. The points are whatever NASCAR decides to make it and we're going to race the championship however they do it.
"The one issue that I've got is that there's no way you can write history and compare history if it constantly changes and there's no way that you can compare a champion back before the Chase to once the Chase started and there's no way you can compare a driver in the Chase if they're changing constantly. I think it's very hard to really create new history for the sport when they change it like that."
ON IF HE AND JIMMIE COMMUNICATE BETTER NOW THAT THEY DID IN 2004 WHEN BATTLE FOR CHAMPIONSHIP WAS SO TIGHT: "We've definitely pushed how we communicate. It's just something's that evolved over time so no I think we communicate more today than we did back then. I think we treat one another about the same on the race track as we did back then. We were very competitive but we race one another hard but we race one another clean and the way we always have."
DID YOU EVER THINK THE TEAM SHARING CONCEPT WOULDN'T WORK? "No, I always believed in it. The only time I ever think it's not going to work is if you question the information that's coming your way. If one engineer or one shock builder or one crew chief gets something and wants to hold onto it before they let it out, and we've had that at times, not so much with the No. 24 / No. 48, but going the other direction because maybe there was a crew chief that was moving on or there was a shock builder that you knew was leaving the team and so we wanted to hold on to some new technology or things that we found. Those are the biggest challenges with it is how far you let the information go; how far down the chain. But as far as No. 24 and No. 48 and even now with the No. 5 and the No. 25, or No. 88 next year, I think it's been an open book policy and it's been a good one. This is a perfect example of it. This year, we've shared more information this year than we ever have and here we are with first, second, and fourth in the Chase right now. We've gotten all four teams a win this year and I think that proves that the more you share, the better you get."
WHAT MAKES HMS SO CAPABLE OF PUTTING TOGETHER SUCH A GOOD SEASON? "It always comes back to the people. We've got incredible people that are always working hard. I'm not saying we're working harder than anybody else, but sometimes you go in a direction that just pays off for you whether it's how you're working the bump stops or the shocks or how you're getting the aerodynamics into the car. If you find something that works like this COT car. This year, we went in a direction with the geometry in the car that we felt worked very well right from the beginning. So we continued down that path and it's worked pretty good for us; maybe not so much on the high-banked tracks as it has the flatter tracks like here and New Hampshire. I think those situations, when they happen, we benefit from it. I just think it always comes down to the people and the information you gather. Obviously we have good drivers and good crew chiefs and the good thing is that we have four of them that really understand the benefits of sharing that information and talking ope nly. I'm in a position where I don't have a big ego and stuff so, I've accomplished more than I ever wanted to. I want to give everything that I can and set the example and hopefully there is some information that works for somebody else and vice versa. I want the same coming back the other way. And that part has worked good with the drivers and I think the same thing has happened with the crew chiefs."
ON JIMMIE JOHNSON ASKING HIM FOR ADVICE EARLY IN HIS CAREER "He made that decision. He came to me for advice. That meant a lot to me that he came to me and asked for my opinion and asked for some advice. Anybody that did that in this garage, I'd be willing to help. But the fact that he did that, and then I realized that he was a nice guy and I raced with him on the track in the Busch Series and I recognized he was a great driver as well and it was great timing. We happened to be starting up a new team, or going through the process of possibly starting up a new team. And it just made sense."
A LOT OF PEOPLE CALL CHAD KNAUS 'LITTLE RAY" (EVERNHAM). WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? "You've got to look at it from the positive side of it. Ray is very competitive. He's a great leader and doesn't like to finish second. Those are definitely qualities that he has. I'm not sure exactly what people mean always when they say that, but I think he walks with a lot of confidence through the garage in what he does. A lot of that comes out in how he and Jimmie talk on the radio. And so, you could say that. If you're going to be compared to a great crew chief and you're compared to Ray Evernham, I don't think that's a bad thing."
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN JIMMIE JOHNSON FIRST ASKED FOR YOUR ADVICE? "We were in Michigan during a Busch race during a drivers meeting. He tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hey, if you've got a minute sometime I'd like to ask you for some advice.' I said, 'Yeah, sure, I'll be available right after this drivers meeting.' And so after the drivers meeting, I don't remember if I went to his truck or he came to my truck, whatever it was, I said what's up and he said he had a couple of offers to go Cup racing with a couple of different teams and he asked me what I thought. He's always been a Chevy guy and they weren't Chevy teams. And I said well, and I gave him my honest opinion about the teams that he was talking about. But I said before you make a decision, can you wait a little bit and give me a little bit of time because we're working on some things at Hendrick and there might be an opportunity there. And that's where it all started.
"I raced with him that day. He kicked by butt on the race track for the first of many times now. I think first, I was talking to Robbie Loomis and Brian Whitesell on where we were with the team because we were building a new shop and we were trying to decide whether we were going to built it just for the No. 24 team or for two teams and add a fourth team for Hendrick. They were both in agreement that they really felt like the smart move was to bring in another team and put two teams under one roof the way Gibbs was doing it at the time. It felt like that was the right thing to do for the future. So then I put a call into Rick (Hendrick) and said Rick, we've got to make some decisions on this. And we just got to talking about it and I said, 'Hey, I was racing with Jimmie Johnson this week and he was asking me for some advice and I think that if we're going to do it, this could be the guy to drive the car.' We through that around and then I don't know, it was a few days later a nd we talked again and I said hey, I didn't mean to pressure him but these guys needed an answer because the shop is going to be breaking ground pretty soon. He said, 'Well, if you want to put your money where your mouth is then we'll do it.' And I said, 'I am.'
DID RICK CALL JIMMIE TO TELL HIM HE HAD THE RIDE? "I think I probably turned it over to Rick at that point because Rick knew Jimmie. He'd flown on Rick's plane a couple of times being friends with Ricky Hendrick. Ricky was the first one to put the bug into Rick's ear about Jimmie before I did. It wasn't like I was coming to him with a guy he'd never heard of before. He had heard of Jimmie and Ricky had spoken highly of him before I did."
ON IF HE IS SURPRISED THAT SAM HORNISH HASN'T MADE A RACE BEFORE PHOENIX: "Yes and no. I question some of the race tracks that they have taken him to. I wouldn't take anybody to New Hampshire for one of their first races. Talladega and New Hampshire, I would write them off my list of tracks I would put a guys at for the first time. I thin Atlanta is not a bad place, there are plenty of other race tracks that are good, maybe Richmond or something like that. I am a little surprised with the success that Penske is having right now. I think their cars are running pretty good. I am a little surprised that he hasn't run a little bit better, at lease made the races. I have always been a big fan of Sam's. I have always felt he is a very talented driver. I think the biggest thing that is hurting him right now is that he has been in those cars a little bit too long. The longer you are in a car like that, the longer it is going to take you to transfer over to this kind of ca r."
ON IF IT WOULD BE SAME IF HE WENT TO TRY AND RUN THE INDY 5O0: "Absolutely. I think so, that is what I would guess. The longer you are in any series, the harder it is to make the move to another type of car if you have never driven it before."
ON WHAT HE IS LOOKING FORWARD TO IN OFF SEASON: (LAUGHS) "I hope I get to enjoy being a champion. The off-season always comes at a time when it is mixed emotions. You are happy that the season is over and you get to rest a little bit, but you don't get to rest much because it seems like it flies by. I have two weeks already booked out of things I have to do work wise to get ready for our sponsors for next year.
"I am looking forward to Christmas and New Years the most. Thanksgiving I am going to spend time with my family in North Carolina. Then Christmas and New Years I look forward to spending time with friends and Ingrid and the baby just hanging out. Those are the three things I am looking forward to the most."
ON HAVING ANY ADVANTAGE AT PHOENIX OVER JIMMIE: "I think maybe just that we have won. I don't' see an advantage going in. Advantages happen while the race is going on. Maybe after qualifying, depending on who is farther up in the field because track position is so important here. That is where advantages are really more noticeable. I don't go in to any track thinking I have an advantage to anyone."
-credit: gm racing