Richmond II: Jeff Gordon media visit, part 1

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NICORETTE IMPALA SS met with media and discussed racing at Richmond, the rainy weather, his performance leading into the Chase, Kyle Busch, and more. Q. We're pleased to be joined in the infield media center by ...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NICORETTE IMPALA SS met with media and discussed racing at Richmond, the rainy weather, his performance leading into the Chase, Kyle Busch, and more.

Q. We're pleased to be joined in the infield media center by Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Nicorette Chevrolet this weekend. Jeff currently 10th in points and right on the verge of getting that spot, coveted spot, clinching a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He's got two wins here at Richmond, 12 top 5s, 19 top 10s, he's sat on the pole five times. Very good track for you. Go ahead.

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it's been a great track for us even here recently. There was a couple years ago when we struggled at this track, and a lot of it was with the brakes. We seem to have resolved that, and it's got us back on track and back just being one of our best tracks.

Looking forward to it. Obviously we were pretty quick in practice, so not thrilled about this rain that's on its way because I would have liked to have qualified. I think we could be better than 10th, where the points will put us, and just looking forward to tomorrow night or Sunday afternoon or whatever it may be.

I know weather is going to be a big issue this weekend, but we did what we needed to do in California and we're thrilled about it, came here with a game plan, and it's been paying off so far.

Q. This place has not always been an easy place for you, been kind of an anxious place. Looking at this thing, because every year you come here there's some people hanging on or people trying to get in, could it be that this race has come down to where maybe there's more drama here because this is the last chance to get in than maybe there is in any given race in the Chase itself? Is there more drama and focus and electricity right here than if you take any given race except for maybe Homestead itself?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I think, you know, in the Chase it just all depends on how the points are being played out. I think the Chase is still fairly new, and so we've seen some serious drama. I think it was the first year of the Chase when we had Kurt Busch, whatever year that was, Kurt Busch, when we had three of us going for it down to the last lap in Homestead. That was pretty dramatic.

This race is dramatic. It's just about story lines, as you guys know. It's important to make it into the Chase. It didn't matter if it was 10 or now 12; there's always going to be a tight battle of who's going to be in and who's going to be out, so it's a good story line. But I still don't think it stacks up to the story line of going for the championship. You know, I think that that to me is a lot more dramatic. There's a lot more excitement that is potentially there for the championship.

But this race is an important race. I mean, a lot of us, I think, have been thinking about this race for a while, especially the guys that haven't been locked in, knowing that this is a big race for us. And then you've got the guys trying to stay in the top 35. That race has really heated up and is a good story, and then you've got Kyle, Carl and Jimmie who have really been the guys to beat here recently that are trying to get those coveted bonus points and the momentum going into the Chase.

To me there's a lot of good story lines here, and maybe that's what makes this a great race, all the stories.

Q. The one thing you've really battled this year is consistency. You've had some weeks where you've run really well and some weeks where you haven't run well. Assuming you make it into the Chase, what's your personal forecast for -- do you think you'll have something for them, as they say?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, you're right. It has been inconsistent for us this year. You hear drivers talk a lot about it. If you were in our debriefs and our meetings, you would hear me talk more about it probably than anybody. The inconsistency isn't just with our performance, it's with these bump stops that we have to run on. I can't stand them, and trying to get them figured out is just near impossible.

Some have done a better job with it. Maybe it suits come guys' driving styles better, but it's one of the things that challenging us.

And especially this year -- you can go off last year and say you were good at this track and this track and this track. Yeah, that's true, but if we went back there with the same old setups, we wouldn't be as competitive just because teams have gotten better and we've learned more about how we set these cars up.

Then you add in the mile-and-a-halfs, and it's a whole 'nother challenge. That's the biggest inconsistency that we've had is whether we're on the left front bump stops, right front bump stops, front bumps upright, both bump stops, the timing of the bump stops, we've just had one heck of a time trying to get the front of the car to be consistent in and through the corner at a lot of tracks. And when you see us running good, it's usually because we've got those close and it allows me to do what I need to do.

You know, that's -- when I say we have a game plan, you know, we learned some things -- we're learning things every week. Ironic thing, last Jimmie got a full day in, and it rained on Tuesday and we didn't get any testing in, and those guys took some of that information that they learned, took it to California. Obviously that worked really well for them. We didn't have the chance to test, so we didn't want to race it.

That's how close this stuff can be. Every week you can learn something and find something that can work the next week or a couple weeks down the road.

So I was very happy with today because I feel like we're really starting to get some things figured out, and I hate that it's coming this late in the season because we've had some missed opportunities, but all that matters to me at this point with the type of year that we're having is that we're making gains.

Q. Given what you experienced last year, finishing third, fourth every race in the Chase and not being able to make up ground on Jimmie because he was winning, does that lead you to think that whoever wins it all this year is going to have to win multiple races in the Chase, and if so, does that narrow the field of serious contenders?

JEFF GORDON: Again, that's the thing that I think is exciting about the Chase is you just never know. I mean, a guy can go -- Kyle Busch can go to New Hampshire and Kansas and crash both races, and all of a sudden this thing is wide open. Or somebody hits on something and starts a streak that they haven't had before. I mean, we saw last year with Clint Bowyer, goes and wins the first race, and nobody expected that.

So there's too many unpredictable circumstances. I think you can look at the teams that you think are going to be the ones to beat. I just think one of these years with the Chase format, somebody is going to be a surprise. You're going to have guys with momentum, you're going to have guys with an incredible record like those three I mentioned, and might not even be a factor because of whatever, bad luck, whatever it may be.

So I'm not saying that's going to be the case; who knows. All you guys are going to be in the media center and that's why we're going to be out there racing is to find out. I do think this year with Kyle's performance of getting all those bonus points, I think that that gives him a huge advantage going into the Chase over -- not so much over Carl, but a little bit over Jimmie and then a tremendous amount over all the guys that have maybe one or two wins. And it's going to make it much tougher for those guys -- as good as the 18 is running, it's going to make it tougher for those guys like myself to make up that ground. We need them to have some tough luck and we've got to get on a roll now, which we haven't been able to do over 26 races or 25 so far. But we're still optimistic.

Q. You touched upon the importance of the one-and-a-half-mile tracks. Are they really the make it or break it in the Chase, and can you talk a little bit about your team's struggles to get your arms around the one-and-a-half-mile tracks?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, there's quite a few of them in the -- yeah, because there's so many they're obviously very important. I still think even looking at our performance last year, it -- I mean, what Jimmie did last year was pretty extraordinary, to win the number of races that he did. But to me he could have won that many races. Had Charlotte been a little bit worse for him -- they had a tough run at Charlotte and spun. He kind of brushed the wall. But that could have been a much worse finish, and that might have taken him out. To me it's about not having the big problem more so than going and winning four or five races.

So I think that while the mile-and-a-halfs are very important performance-wise, it's how you come out of Talladega and the short tracks unscathed that I think can win you the championship.

Q. Talk about your team trying to get your arms around the one-and-a-half-mile setup.

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, again, it just goes back to -- at the mile-and-a-halfs aerodynamics obviously play a much bigger role than the short tracks, so you want to maximize the aerodynamics. But we're also dealing with the mechanical grip. These bump stops that we all talk about, they allow us to get the car at the -- basically get the car where we want it on the racetrack, but then it takes all the mechanical grip away from it. So we're trying to get our hands around that. You've got hard stops, soft stops, stops that come in sooner, stops that come in later, you've got a stop with a spring. There's just a million different scenarios, and some guys are making it work, some guys aren't.

I think all of us are constantly trying to gain the edge when it comes to that. I'm not so sure, there might be some guys out there that aren't on stops at all that might be making it work. Those are the things that we're up against.

Q. How tough is this on you guys and the teams to have to wait out in certain weather conditions like this, and is there any merit in this particular situation to just calling it early and going on Sunday when you'd be much more certain of what conditions you'd be running under?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I think we're here and we want to race. We want to race on a dry track under the lights, give the fans what they came here for. You know, it's just kind of the way our mindset is in the schedule. But obviously it's got to be safe conditions for everybody. I mean, depending on wind speed and all those variables that are in there, that come along with a hurricane, I mean, you've got to go with safety first. I'm sure that's what's going to make the decision. I think if it's just rain, then I think they'll wait it out and see if it'll clear and try to get this race in tomorrow night. But if it's rain and wind, then I would imagine they're going to try to lean on making the decision much earlier. That's what I would guess.

Q. You keep talking about the overwhelming disadvantage of the bonus points. Now, I don't really get that. I mean, I know that 80 points seems like a lot, but it's basically 15 positions. Well, that's tough in one race, but 15 positions in ten races, and then you say, well, the way they're running, but of the last ten races they've won seven of them, and you add Jimmie in, they've won nine of the last ten races. If they keep doing like that, then it wouldn't matter if you were 80 points ahead. It just seems to me to compare the 680 that you're behind right now that 80 points over ten races is not a crushing blow because you're going to have to pick up your performance anyway.

JEFF GORDON: You're absolutely right, we've got to pick up our performance. I didn't say it's impossible, I just said it makes it tougher. I think that going into anything behind those teams that are already performing well, have earned those bonus points, and they've earned the right to them. You know, it just makes it an even bigger uphill battle.

Let's say we go into the Chase and we run consistent sixth, seventh place every single weekend, and those guys finish tenth and we outrun them with their average finish, those bonus points are going to make a big difference.

I just think that we're capable of being very consistent in the Chase. We haven't proved this year that we can go out and lead a lot of laps and win races. I hope for that and I know we've got to improve our performance to even compete with those guys. But I do think that we are capable of being consistent when this Chase starts and stepping up our game, and in order to beat those guys, as good as they've been, as well as the bonus points, we've got to step it up to a whole 'nother level that we certainly haven't shown all year long. And while I'm optimistic, I'll be shocked if we are even able to do that. That's all I was saying.

Q. I think you've been saying since just about the first test of the Car of Tomorrow at Bristol, you were pleading saying NASCAR needs to work with us on this thing and work with us and let us get it where we can drive it, and now you've got people like Chad Knaus saying that it's rapidly becoming a spec series; we've been doing some fan samplings that are just absolutely beside themselves, upset with the Car of Tomorrow. Do you think natural law is going to make it -- is NASCAR eventually going to have to work with you guys so everybody can get the cars drivable for you?

JEFF GORDON: You've got to ask them about that. I don't have an answer for that. I'm just a dumb driver, go in, put my helmet on, get behind the wheel and drive the race car. That's what I've been told and that's what I'm living by (laughter).

Q. Weather permitting, it looks like Joey Logano could get his first start this weekend. What was your emotional state before your first race, heading into your first race, and secondly, what do you think of the scrutiny that's been put on this kid going into the first race?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I think he's tremendous. I think it's great for the sport. He's very talented obviously, and he was running good today. So I know that they don't want to see this rain. I think any time a young talent comes into the sport, it's good in every way.

I think the one thing, you can have all the talent in the world, you can have a tremendous amount of experience getting to this level. The one thing you cannot be prepared for is when you've got that much hype and that much focus on you coming in, of the demands on your time, the cameras in your face, the autographs, the fan base; all those things are not things that you can train for.

So that's -- it didn't happen to me immediately. I don't know if I've ever seen anybody with as much attention coming into this series as Joey, so obviously he's got a lot on his shoulders. He seems to have lived up to all of it so far.

But I do know, once you get to the Cup level, that's what changes is that you start -- there's just so many factors. And for me, back in 1992 when I ran my first race, I felt like the whole world was watching me, even though they weren't. I felt like I was under a microscope, even though I wasn't to the extent that I -- it was excruciating for me.

I was excited to be out there and get that opportunity. I wanted to do well. I questioned do I have what it takes to be at this level, to compete at the top in this series. So there's just a lot of unknowns. He seems to have a lot of confidence, and that's certainly good. But I'm more anxious to see -- and certainly Joe Gibbs and J.D. are great at being able to offer advice and recognize those things and be able to help him through those things that I'm talking about, which to me is what the challenges are going to be. I think he's going to do a great job in the race car. It's how is he going to handle all the other things on top of it, especially with all the attention from the media that he's getting. That's when you really find out what you're made of.

And that's when scheduling and having good people around you helping you get through the PR aspect of it, the monetary side of it, you start making a lot of money that you aren't used to, all those things that start to weigh on your decision-making and your focus of being able to get out in the car and go do your job.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Kurt Busch , Chad Knaus , Joey Logano , Kyle Busch