Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo, was the guest at the Winston Club Breakfast Club. Highlights of Q&A'S with the media follow: NOTE: Gordon made his first NASCAR Winston Cup career start ten years ago (11/15/92) at...
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo, was the guest at the Winston Club Breakfast Club. Highlights of Q&A'S with the media follow:
NOTE: Gordon made his first NASCAR Winston Cup career start ten years ago (11/15/92) at Atlanta Motor Speedway (started 21st, finished 31st). He finished four spots ahead of Richard Petty, who was making his final Winston Cup career start.
In the past 10 years, he has amassed 325 career starts, 42 poles, 61 wins, 157 top-fives, and 206 top-10's. Gordon has won the Winston No Bull 5 four times, has over $50 million in earnings, and is a four-time Winston Cup Champion.
AT THAT FIRST RACE HERE IN ATLANTA, WHAT WERE YOUR DREAMS ABOUT BEING SUCCESSFUL IN THIS SPORT?
"I've never been one to set goals too high and put too many expectations into it. I always felt that was too much pressure. I felt confident in what I could do. At that time, I just wanted to build a team that would gain experience and consistency. I didn't even know if I had what it took to win races in Winston Cup. When you get to this level, you know you're surrounded by the best. You know these guys are so good. You just don't know if you're good enough to be here - let alone win. We found that out the next year ('93) our rookie year. We finished second a few times and led some laps.
"Those were the building blocks for us. It was a lot different than it is for today's rookies. These guys have got to win. Back then, if you finished second and sat on the pole, you were having a great year for a rookie. After '93, I knew we were going to start making some big strides and start heading in the right direction. Championships weren't even a thought. Winning 13 races in one season (would have been thought) ludicrous. Any goals I ever set then weren't even close to what we accomplished."
DOES THAT SEEM LIKE 20 MINUTES AGO OR 20 YEARS AGO?
"It seems like 20 minutes ago for me. Things have flown by. This is the longest I've ever been in one series. I've been in something for five years at the longest and then moved on. Even when I was doing that, I was jumping around. To be in one series for 10 years and accomplish all that we've accomplished - it's just flown by. It seems like just yesterday that we were winning our first race."
HOW MUCH MORE DIFFICULT IS IT TO BE A DEFENDING CHAMPION VS. A NON-CHAMPION, AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO TONY STEWART?
"What motivates me to want to be a champion is the week in New York. When you're up on that stage and you're the champion and everybody is there for the championship and you've got your whole team there, it's just a spectacular week. It's the way to end a spectacular season. You get to enjoy that all winter long. There's nothing better or more motivating than that.
"Defending a championship - especially the first one - is extremely difficult. You're overwhelmed with everything. It's extremely difficult to get back in your rhythm and focus on the job at hand and come back as somebody who can contend for a championship. Not being the champion is again great motivation. Going to New York as anything other than the champion (after being the champion) is missing out. You see the guy up there (on stage) and he's grinning and having a great time. Maybe he's a little worn out, but it's worth every minute of it. Not only that, but the size of your (hotel) room (at the Waldorf) changes drastically (laughs). When I was Rookie of the Year, my room was about the same size as it was when I was second in points. That is also great motivation - and that butler who basically will do anything for you.
"I don't know how to give Tony any advice at this point - seeing how I'm a car owner of a guy who's in second (Jimmie Johnson). And I'm going to give him all the advice I possibly can. I will say this: Tony is an extremely talented with a great time (Joe Gibbs Racing). They have won championships before. I think they're going to be tough to beat. I'm not saying my guy can't do it because I think he can. He' shocked me, and a lot of other people this year. Anything is possible. I think Tony would make a good champion if you put him in that position. He's a guy who likes to perform and step up when that comes about. He's shied away from things like that in the past. And I'm sure that things would be a little more than what he wants because that's just his style. But I still think if he became the champion that he'd do a great job."
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE UNWRITTEN RESPONSIBILITIES OF BEING A WINSTON CUP CHAMPION?
"It's not necessarily that you have an obligation or a certain responsibility. It's whatever responsibility you want to take and what kind of champion you want to be. I look at it as offering great opportunities - not only for the sport to grow or for you to grow and help take the sport to another level. So it's what you want to put into it. If you just want to be the champion because of the races you won, you can do that. You can just get through the week (New York awards) and get the check and go enjoy it somewhere else.
"Or, you can approach it as being a chance of a lifetime and as something so spectacular that you want to enjoy every single second. Some people love getting in front of the media and the cameras. Some people enjoy the entertainment side of it. Everybody has a different approach. If you enjoy it, there are great opportunities that come along for yourself and the sport. Then, there are obligations that you do kind of have to live up to and represent the sport in a way. If you are going to go on TV shows and be in front of certain types of media, you kind of feel like you need to do and say the right things. It would not only help you, but it would help the sport."
WHAT ADVICE ARE YOU GIVING JIMMIE JOHNSON?
"Jimmie and I have become such good friends that we talk almost on a daily basis. I really haven't seen where I've needed to give him a whole lot of advice. Yesterday when we showed up (here), our cars were parked next to each other in the garage area. We actually talked about a month ago and thought it would really be cool if we got down to the end of the year and our cars were parked next to one another. Of course, he was hoping that it would be because he was number one in points and I was the past champion. I told him he was close. He said he'd rather be over there (he pointed to Tony Stewart's car). I told him no, he'd rather be right there next year (referring to his car in the past champion's spot). He laughed and said I was absolutely right.
"There's not a lot that I need to say or do. Really, most of the things I've talked to Jimmie about have been things away from the track like appearances, scheduling, and fans. He's great with the media. I don't think there's a lot that needs to be said there. I'll hear him make comments about something that happened to him and we just talk more as friends or as somebody who's been through some of the things he's going through."
ON KEEPING HIS FOCUS
"It's something I struggle with all the time. As things have gotten bigger for me, there's a lot more going on. I have an office and employees. I have a desk that has a stack of stuff that needs to be taken care of - not to mention the everyday personal bills and things that you need to do. Everything has grown to a new level now."
"The one misconception that's out there is that being a car owner of the No. 48 team is a distraction. But that really was much more (of a distraction) last year when I was going for the championship than it is today. Today I'm just trying to be the best teammate I can be to Jimmie. I treat it as that and only as that. I have people that watch after the financial side of it. You make sure the sponsors are happy. If contract negotiations are going on, then I want to see and know what's happening at the end of the day.
"That's why I partnered up with Rick (Hendrick). He has all the people and abilities that are capable of doing all that. I told Rick earlier that this was not something I wanted to take my focus off (of racing). It was not something I wanted to be involved with on a day-to-day basis. This was something for down the road - for the future. But I had to be involved when it came to getting the sponsors and hiring Jimmie. I was involved at that time and now I'm really not.
"There are a lot of things that can take your mind off of driving that race car. I've always been fortunate that driving the car has come naturally to me. There's nothing that gets in the way. I give 100% at testing. But there are so many things that are on my plate during the week these days than there ever used to be. It is a constant struggle on how to balance those things. Sometimes I just have to say, 'Hey, I can't do that'. And that's the hardest thing is saying no because you've got a lot of great things that come along and great things you want to do. You just can't. There's not enough in the day. My office, the people that work for me, the race team - everybody knows that top priority is the races and testing. Sponsors, media, and appearances come after that. You have to set those priorities and set a balance for all that to mix into your schedule. It took us a good six or seven years to get a good balance on it. I think we've got it down pretty good now. We're always working on it. That's one thing I can offer Jimmie. That's one thing that I learned from (Dale) Earnhardt and from some of the other drivers and just learned through making mistakes."
-team monte carlo-
Jeff Gordon Breakfast Club, part II