Atlanta II: Jeff Gordon - Friday media visit

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT/NICORETTE WHITE ICE MINT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Atlanta, the Atlanta race being moved to Labor Day, the economy and teams taking about mergers and much...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT/NICORETTE WHITE ICE MINT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Atlanta, the Atlanta race being moved to Labor Day, the economy and teams taking about mergers and much more.

YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING HERE THIS WEEKEND. "Definitely looking forward to hopefully getting on the track here soon. I've been pretty bummed out like I think everybody else other than maybe the guys in the front row. I think that seeing qualifying getting rained out the last couple of weeks has been kind of frustrating for some and I feel like I've been one of them so I'm looking forward to getting out there. I know Goodyear has got a new tire here as well. Anxious to see what it feels like. I think for so many people this is a favorite as a driver, guys that work on the team as well as fans. It's such great racing here. Looking forward to the whole weekend."

NEXT YEAR THIS RACE WILL BE LABOR DAY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT IT NOT BEING A CHASE RACE? "I try not to put too much into that. Whatever works best for the sport, whatever works best for Bruton (Smith) and hopefully it works good to get a great crowd out here and the weather works out. I just like racing at this track. I just want to make sure we race here twice a year and it doesn't matter to me whether it's in the Chase or not. I probably would prefer it to be in the Chase a little more just because it has been a very good track for us over the past if you look at the numbers, but California Speedway has been a good track for us as well. Yep, whatever they think is best."

AS A TEAMMATE AND EQUITY OWNER IN THE NO. 48 CAR AND AS A FRIEND TO JIMMIE (JOHNSON), WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO SORT OF WITNESS HISTORY AND DO YOU SORT OF FEEL LIKE A BIG BROTHER THROUGHOUT ALL THIS? "Yeah a little bit. I go back a lot and think about the conversations that Jimmie and I first had when we first met and bringing him on board and all the meetings and everything coming together with that whole team. Going to sponsorship meetings. So I'm very proud of the role that I played in it. It's always tough because as a competitor you want to win and those guys have kicked our butts and everybody else's butts for the last several years. From that sense it's been a little frustrating but at the same time when I sit back when the season is over and I look at things, look at life and put it all in perspective, I'm so proud of that whole effort that's been put together. I'm just blown away by how great of a driver Jimmie has become at this level and how great of a crew chief Chad Knaus has become as well knowing that he worked on the No. 24 car years ago. Fabricator, pit crew member and now here he is one of the top crew chiefs that there's ever been. Rick Hendrick with all the success that he's had, I'm just proud that I've been associated with Hendrick (Motorsports) for 16 seasons, that I get to see him continue on with his success if I can't contribute to it. Not that our days are over but those days in the '90's when we were doing all those things that Jimmie is doing now, it's was a good time. I remember it well and I'm just so happy that it's been able to continue on at Hendrick Motorsports."

YOUR TEAMMATE CASEY MEARS JUST RECENTLY BECAME A FATHER, JUST WONDERING IF YOU'VE SEEN HIS FOCUS AND PERSPECTIVE CHANGE ANY? "It's all pretty new. I think it's only a couple of weeks now. I know how excited he is. His whole outlook on parenting and life and racing and everything seems to be very positive. He's in such a great mood and I remember going through that moment of just an amazing thing that you go through when you become a new parent. No, I haven't seen that at all. I don't know if I believe everything that you guys write, it takes a little longer than just a couple of weeks. It takes more like four to six months before it starts to affect your focus."

YOU CAME HERE AS A PRE-ROOKIE 16 YEARS AGO TRYING TO GET SOME 1.5-MILE EXPERIENCE READY FOR THE NEXT SEASON, YOU SEE JOEY LAGANO AND HE'S HAD A LITTLE BIT OF A ROUGH TIME, IF YOU WERE IN HIS POSITION TODAY WOULD YOU BE GETTING A LITTLE BIT RATTLED? "Here's the way I look at it. It's just so much different for rookies these days. It's no comparison. I say it all the time, you've heard me in plenty of interviews and things over the years that my rookie season was by far my worst season, not just stats wise but as a driver feeling pressure and just feeling like you're under a microscope and just having to deal with things that were all new. I would not want to go back and be a rookie again for anything. But yet these days, rookies they're expected to win. They come out and heck you got some guys that get so much hype put on them that people expect them to win the championship almost. I think Joey is a special talent. I think Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) has done a great job bringing him along and he's got a bright future but if anybody tries to push him to fast including himself, I think it can hurt him more than helping him. Gibbs is in a unique situation because of Tony's (Stewart) situation. They've got to fill that seat and here's Joey this bright star that is going to do great things that they're having to move along a little faster than I think even they want to. I think there's a lot of people who would probably jump through hoops right now trying to figure out what is going on. If I was Joey, I would just go wherever they tell me to go. Get in the car and drive the car the best that I possibly can and go to the next one."

ON SUNDAY YOU HAVE THE WORLD SERIES, PRO FOOTBALL, JIMMIE (JOHNSON) IS KIND OF RUNNING AWAY WITH THIS THING, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL FANS WHY THEY SHOULD WATCH THE RACE INSTEAD OF THE OTHER SPORTS? "The football part of it is easy, its way too early in the season to be watching football unless your fantasy football like me you can always just go home and turn on the computer and see where you ended up and look at the scores. Obviously the World Series is going to be a big thing right now. Of course not as many guys are going to be watching from my team because the Red Sox aren't in it and the Yankee's aren't in it. I think that there is only one reason why you watch NASCAR racing and that's because it's exciting. It's fun and there's some great racing. Atlanta puts on one of the greatest races out there. I never try to strong-arm fans into watching, I think they should watch it because they want to watch it. If they've got to pick and choose that's what DVR's are for. You can record some things here and there. Make sure you watch racing live and you can go back and watch those other things."

YOU WERE TALKING A LITTLE BIT EARLIER ABOUT CHAD'S (KNAUS) PROGRESSION, STARTED OUT ON YOUR CAR, WE ALL KNOW HIS NICKNAME "LITTLE RAY" WHICH HE DOESN'T REALLY LOVE, YOU WORKED WITH RAY (EVERNHAM) AND YOU'VE SEEN CHAD GROW UP, HOW MUCH SIMILAR OR NOT ARE THEY AND WHAT DO YOU THINK DRIVES CHAD? "The only similarities are that they're just totally committed. There's nothing that is going to get in their way of whatever it takes to be successful to win and put together a championship caliber effort and team. I think that holds true for any crew chief out there that is at the top. Chad is very special. It's really hard to pinpoint one thing. There's a lot of things that he does very well. He's very, very driven and I would say that compares a lot to Ray. There's nothing that he couldn't do on the car and wouldn't do that he asked any of his team guys to do. He's had to work hard to get there, in some ways probably even harder than Ray. The success came fairly quick for Ray once he got to the Cup level where Chad, he went through some pretty down races and seasons with some other teams and drivers before he had the success at Hendrick (Motorsports). I don't know. They do have a lot of comparisons but I wouldn't call him "Little Ray". I would say that they certainly have what it takes to put together an incredible team. They definitely have different personalities so I wouldn't say they are exactly alike. It's hard for me to really say. It's not about who is a better crew chief, it's who is the better team. The crew chief deserves to get a lot of the credit and so does the driver and so do other people on the team. It's no secret if you've ever heard me tell it's never any one person. As great as Dale Earnhardt was a lot of people focus on him but he had some great people surrounding him and same thing if you're Darrell Waltrip or Bill Elliott or whoever you've been in this sport that's been successful you know it's never just any one person. It's never one crew chief, it's never one driver."

THIS HAS NO BEARING ON THIS YEAR BECAUSE YOU'RE STILL VERY MUCH IN IT . . . "I am?"

WELL YEAH, SURE OR ARE YOU NOT?  "Well I wouldn't say very
well in it.  There's like a mathematical chance."

YOU LOOK BACK AT '05 AND EVEN A LITTLE BIT OF '06, WHAT'S IT LIKE TO HAVE TO COME TO THE RACE TRACK WHEN THE FIRST PART OF THE YEAR ALL YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT IS GETTING IN THE CHASE AND THEN YOU'RE IN THE CHASE AND THEN REALLY YOU'RE NOT A FACTOR ANYMORE, WHAT'S IT LIKE TO HAVE TO COME HERE EVERY WEEK AND NOT BE A PART OF SOMETHING? "You do what you do every other week; you go to try to win. You just try to win. You try not to get in the way of the guys or be a changing factor in the championship by crashing somebody or something like that, blocking some guy in the pits. You go out there and you try to win. That's what we're doing now just like every other weekend."

IT'S STILL GOT TO BE HARD TO COME HERE KNOWING YOU'RE NOT GOING TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. "I mean you lose a lot more than you win in this sport so it's easier to get used to that fight and that mindset of what you have to do to try to celebrate in victory lane at the end of the day or have a finish that you're really excited and proud of when you leave here, that's your goal every weekend. You just don't win as often. I know I've won a lot in this series but I've lost a heck of a lot more. Not that you want to get used to that but you have to know how to adjust to it. It's just part of racing. That's just the way racing works. You learn from every experience, the good ones the bad ones. To me, this season does remind me of a couple of season's that I remember but probably 2005 or 2006 more than anything just because we haven't had a terrible year. It's been a pretty good year but it's not a great year and we're not a factor for the championship and we've just come on very late in getting things where we needed to be. So we are obviously trying to win races and focus on what we can do to improve the performance every weekend but we're also trying to get momentum to carry into the off season for next season. I have no problem coming out of this season without a win if I think it can contribute to us going and winning five or more races next year and being a threat for the championship. I will have no issues with not winning this year."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENT NEEDS A DRIVER HAS DURING A COURSE OF HIS CAREER WHEN IT COMES TO A CREW CHIEF AND WHAT KIND OF CREW CHIEF YOU MIGHT WANT NOW? "I want Steve Letarte. Steve Letarte is a great crew chief and the reason why I like him is because he understands, he's very driven, he puts a lot of things in perspective and he's great with the cars and the team as a leader. I know he's been getting a bad rap this year but you got to remember he's the same guy that led us to an almost championship last season. I know what you're saying. The reason why combinations like me and Ray (Evernham) back in the '90's, why Chad (Knaus) and Jimmie (Johnson) why those stand out so much is because they're rare. It's just hard to find that combination. And it's not just the combination of the driver/crew chief; it's all the people around them. It's the organization, the engines, the chassis, the engineering, it's all those things, but it usually starts at the top. The reason why they are so special is because it's hard to find. Every driver out there is trying to find that perfect combination and that perfect crew chief. Every crew chief is trying to find that perfect combination of a driver that fits well with them. Everybody is different. Certainly when you start off you want somebody that has experience and confidence that you don't have to sit there and have any guess work. You just do your job and go about it the best that you can and let them steer the ship. I think one of the biggest challenges happens is as you gain knowledge, as you gain experience and have success then you're idea of what you need becomes very narrowed down and you have a good idea of what it takes and what it doesn't take. Like for me and Ray, we started to butt heads a little bit on that because he pretty much wanted to do things the way he always had and I just didn't feel like that's what I needed. Good or bad it sort of drove us apart not to mention him having the opportunity to go do the Dodge thing and that's why you've got to be impressed with what Jimmie and Chad have done. There's been several times when I questioned Chad and how he goes about it because a lot of times he does treat Jimmie the same as he did when he was a rookie and I think that Chad has learned from that and has gotten better at that and Jimmie does a great job working with him and telling him when he's crossing the line and they have unbelievable results. It's not because every day is a happy day, they fight through it together and they communicate and that's what every driver is looking for is somebody that you feel like is family and you can say just about anything that's on your mind and they don't take offense to it and yet they are there to do whatever it takes to get the team where it needs to be. You get along; at the end of the day you've got to communicate. It's all about communication. When you say the car is tight here or loose here that they are almost reading your mind. When they're making an adjustment you're sitting there going yeah, that's exactly what I need.

"Engineering and everything has just changed a lot of things today. The biggest challenge that I have today, for somebody who has been in this sports for 16 years, that today's car and adjustments is completely different than what it used to be. When something like this comes along where it used to be you put a bigger right front spring in the car and it made the car tighter or more comfortable getting into the corner, now it does the exact opposite. All those things are things that I have to now take that knowledge and block out of my head and erase it and that's hard to do. So it takes a crew chief that's got to pound that into your head and steer that ship with confidence."

RARELY IF EVER HAVE WE HEARD SO MUCH ABOUT OWNER'S DISCUSSING IN THE GARAGE MERGERS AND ALLIANCES AND TRYING TO GET TOGETHER JUST TO STAY AFLOAT, IN A COUPLE OF YEARS WHAT DO YOU SEE AS FAR AS THE NUMBER OF TEAMS THA WILL ACTUALLY BE OUT THERE AND WHY ARE SO MANY TEAMS STRUGGLING? "It's a domino effect, when the strong get stronger. I think that especially in a tough economy like this, and we have secured sponsorship and we have the resources it makes the gap sort of widen at times. It's not impossible. I think Red Bull is an exception to that. I think they have very strong resources that back them and they want to be in racing and they love it and they're budgets are a lot different that some of the other teams. You've got to understand that this is a sport that thrives when sponsorships are thriving. If those companies aren't thriving and they can't put the dollars in their marketing program and look at NASCAR as one of those marketing programs and they're cutting back then the sport is going to suffer. What happens is that those teams that are further down it just makes it tougher and tougher to get sponsorship. If they don't get sponsorship they fold. For us if we don't get sponsorship we could last for a little while. Even as good as we are we might have to look for a merger. But right now with the success we're having on the track and with what Rick Hendrick has built, this empire it attracts good people, it attracts stable jobs and it attracts good sponsorship and all those are what makes a company grow. It's a business and the strong businesses that are providing great product and have something to give back are the ones that are going to thrive. That's us, that's Roush (Roush-Fenway Racing), that's Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing), that's Childress (Richard Childress Racing) and that's just kind of the way it is right now. With as tough as times are that gap is only going to wind out even more during this time but I hope a couple of years from now things turn around and that we're looking at thing a whole lot different for all of us. This economy affects everybody. It affects me, it affects you, it affects sponsors, it affects race teams, and it affects everybody. These are tough times, everybody has got to bear down and stick with it and make the most of it. We're all kind of waiting to see where it's going to go."

YOU PROBABLY KNOW MORE ABOUT WINNING THANJUST ABOUT ANYBODY, IN A RECENT STUDY NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS OUTLIVED THE LOOSERS BY TWO YEARS AND THEN ACADEMY AWARDWINNERS OUTLIVED THE LOOSERS BY FOUR YEARS, DO YOU THINK THERE'S SOMETHING TO WINNING THAT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELL-BEING THAT LEADS TO LONGEVITY? "I don't think it's just winning, I don't think it's just racing or Nobel Prize, it's just life in general. I think it's when you have success. I think Bruton (Smith) should get up and talk about this more than anybody else here in the room. I think he can tell us about how good and healthy he's been feeling. I think that when you have success you have a lot of positive things to have in your life. I think the capability to getting better physically as far as doctors and people surrounding you to stay healthy. I think at the same time the stress level is high whether you're winning or losing. You're either trying to win or you're trying to stay on top. I don't know. I haven't thought a whole lot about that one. I'll have to think some more about it. I can see in some ways why it can contribute to people living longer and being healthy because good things are surrounding them, I don't know."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing