JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed whether drivers are athletes, how he approached the final races before the Chase, next year's schedule and much more. WHAT...
JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed whether drivers are athletes, how he approached the final races before the Chase, next year's schedule and much more.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT DRIVERS HAVING PEOPLE PULL AGAINST THEM? "To me, what makes this sport what it is, is the fans avidness whether it's for or against. It's that they're so interested in what's going on that they know all that they know about the teams, the drivers, the races and that they form an opinion. That's the key, is getting people involved with their opinions whether we like them or not. Whether they pull for us or not it's about at least getting the attention of the fans. That's what grows this sport."
HOW DOES A DRIVER THAT HAS A BAD IMAGE TURN IT AROUND? "Well first he has to decide if he wants to turn it around. Sometimes you just got to go with it. I just think it becomes a really fine line between just focusing on racing and driving and doing your job and the marketing side of it and trying to do what's going to gain you fans. To me it's really just more about going out and doing your job. If you have the results on the race track, then you have to figure out how you can be yourself and if the fans like the personality that you have and something about you draws them toward you, that's to me the way to properly go about it."
ON WHETHER DRIVERS ARE ATHLETES OR NOT. "Well yeah, we are. You see more and more guys training. As hot as these cars are inside the race car. Every athlete goes through a different type of physical and mental challenge in their sport and I think that there are some sports that I think the guys are more fit and in that sense you could say are better athletes. Poker in my opinion, those guys are athletes. To be able to do what they do for a week straight playing all those games on hours on end and all the focus they have to have, to me that's an athlete. I think that they are just characterized in a lot of different ways. I definitely think that we are. When you go through what we go through. The way that I know it, I have fans all the time that go to my racing school and they go wow I made five laps and I was exhausted. I feel like I lost five pounds and didn't have any idea that you guys went through what you do."
HOW DO YOU COMPARE WHAT KYLE BUCSH HAS DONE WITH THE 17 WINS IN VARIOUS SERIES THIS SEASON WITH YOUR'98 SEASON? DOES HE HAVE THE CHANCE TO MAYBE RECORD THE BEST SEASON? "What he's doing is incredible. You take this car which is challenging, the competition which is more fierce. I think that any time somebody stands out and accomplishes what he's accomplished this year as time goes by and the sport only is growing and getting more competitive it's very significant."
IN THIS DAY AND AGE WOULD YOU WANT TO CROSS OVER IN TO THE TRUCKS AND NATIONWIDE, WOULD YOU LIKE THE OPPROTUNITY? "No. I admire him but that's what he wants to do. I wouldn't do it any different. I'm pretty happy with the way it's all worked out."
WITH THE STANDINGS THE WAY IT IS RIGHT NOW WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE A BUBBLE DRIVER RIGHT NOW? "I don't know what you consider bubble but we're definitely not safe. We definitely in the last couple of weeks have taken a big hit with and that's where we're at in the points and why we have to make the most out of these next three races."
DO YOU THINK KYLE BUSCH WANTS TO BEAT HENDRICK DRIVERS MORE THAN OTHER DRIVERS? "I would think as a competitor you would just want to beat everybody. I think that sure he had some extra motivation I would assume there with the way things went down for him. Can't blame him for that, but I don't think that is his primary motivation. He's a competitor, a great driver and has a great team. Right now they don't have to think about anybody else but themselves the way they're going."
HOW DO YOU APPROACH THIS RACE BEING WHERE YOU ARE IN THE POINTS? "We can't make mistakes. We've got to make sure that we're doing everything right. We got to go out and approach it the way we always do which is go fast and try to qualify up front and try to get the car the best that we can in the race and not make mistakes on pit road. I think there's more pressure for sure. Intensity has risen and it's already high here at Bristol. We always push hard. We're always out there trying to do our best. I think we're just going to be a little more conscious of the fact that we cannot afford any more mistakes."
DO YOU TAKE MORE RISKS NOW? "Yes and no. I think we can but again going back to his question, we can't make mistakes. We can't let something bite us that is so risky that is causes us to fall out of the Chase. I think we can take a few more risks because now we're racing a certain group of guys. We're racing the guys that are fourteenth, thirteenth, twelfth, and eleventh in the points and so if those guys are taking bigger risks that might push us into the corner to have to take bigger risks. Again that's not our focus. Our focus is make the car go fast number one. Number two is to get out there and run our race, not focus on anybody else and if we do those parts right then we shouldn't have to take big risks. We shouldn't have to do things based on what the other guys are doing because it's going to put us in a better position. It all comes down to preparation and hard work and testing and the knowledge and communication we have as a team."
DOES THE MEDIA MAKE A BIGGER DEAL OUT OF YOU NOT HAVING GOTTEN A WIN YET THIS SEASON THAN THEY NEED TO? "You know it's just part of the expectations that are on this team. We've been at a very high end of competition and in the lime light a lot of the years. That's a good thing. To win four championships and 81 wins, all those things those are fantastic. Along with that and Hendrick Motorsports' recent success it only creates more expectations. So when the expectations are high and you don't live up to them it's going to create a story."
ITS PRETTY OBVIOUS WHAT THE CHASE HAS DONE TO YOU SINCE ITS EXISTANCE, I MEAN IT'S TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS LESS, BUT COULD YOU JUST SORT OF GIVE A BROAD BRUSH OF HOW HAS THE CHASE HAS CHANGED NASCAR? "It's made it extremely exciting and gives those teams the opportunity that have a rough first half and strong second half the opportunity to win the championship. In the past if you had a really strong first half you could ride out the second half and just not make mistakes and the championship was yours. It's totally different now. I think it's different in a positive way for the fans, for the sponsors. It doesn't always work out for every competitor out there but I still think when it comes down to it the best teams and drivers are still winning the championships."
ARE YOU EVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO DEEP INSIDE FEEL LIKE IT'S A POSITIVE THING FOR YOU? "Only if I win it. If I never win one then obviously I'm going to always feel like the old system suited my style better. The only issue that I have with it is that we build our sport on history and you can't compare history of the old points system with the new points system. You can't compare a champion, even myself, to any champion today. It's just done different."
SO DID THIS FRACTURE NASCAR'S HISTORY IN YOUR MIND? "It did when it comes to championships. Doesn't change race wins any but as far as championships completely changed it. I guess you can go back through the history of our sport and see that's happened from time to time to try to improve competition and try to improve this sport. I think in the long run it does."
IN THE 2004 CHASE, WAS THERE A HIGH POINT AND LOW POINT FOR YOU THAT YOU CAN RECALL? "We should have won that championship regardless whether it was under the old points system or the new points system or could have won it I should say not should have because the right guy won it because he did the best job. We did have an opportunity to win it straight out but we just didn't do it. I couldn't tell you what the significant race or what it was. Certainly Kurt (Busch) having his tire problems getting on to pit road is definitely what won him the championship. I can tell you that."
GIVE US YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE UNITY OF YOUR TEAM AND IF THERE IS ANYTHING TO POINT TO ABOUT THE TEAM'S PERFORMANCE THIS YEAR TO PUT THAT TO REST: "There's nothing to put at rest. It's a story that's created outside of our organization it's not inside. Everything is good. Steve (Letarte) is strong and doing a great job. I have complete faith in him. Just like last week we had trouble in the pits but you know what this week we had some great team building moments. You get the pit crew together and I have complete faith in them. I've made mistakes, we've all made mistakes. Just hasn't been that great, stellar year for us. You can point fingers and try to say this is what has caused us to be behind or that. You can say well Jeff's made mistakes, Steve. I know where we are and I feel like our team is very capable of being up there in the mix. I think it's just funny how easily we forget how strong we were last year. For whatever reason we just haven't been there. Nobody is working harder than we are internally to make it happen."
DOES IT GO BACK TO WHAT YOU SAID EARLIER ABOUT EXPECTATIONS FOR THE 24? "That adds a little bit extra pressure but that doesn't change how the car runs on Sunday. There's no secret that we just have not been as competitive since we brought this car on the 1.5-mile tracks. That's changed things significantly. We got to remember we always had the old car to fall back to when we went to those 1.5-mile tracks and we performed very well with it. This year it's been a big change and some teams have done a better job than we have, period."
WHAT'S YOUR REACTION TO NEXT YEAR'S SCHEDULE? "I love the extra off weekend. I love that we've extended the season out an extra week. I think that was very smart. I've always said that I felt like that long stretch that we have from the middle of July all the way to November is too long. We should have a break prior to the Chase and so I think this fits very nicely. It's a good thing. As far as which tracks are in the Chase and which ones are out, that's up to those guys. If they chose to do that and seemed to be happy with it then so are we. It's not that significant of a change to me, the thing that I think stands out the most is just the extra off weekend and where the off weekend falls on the schedule."
DO YOU THINK THE NEW SURFACE HAS CHANGED THE RACING AND EXPECTATIONS AT BRISTOL? "It is you know. You've got to understand again going back to history, history at Bristol changes now. You have this car and a newly re-done track. The track is not the same Bristol. While I still love it we do not have the same in my opinion edge or competitiveness that we once did here. We're on the fast track to find that and searching hard for it and some of it just comes from what we learn throughout the season with this car and some of it comes from what we can only learn here in practice. I still think it's a good track for us. We were pretty good today. California we feel really good about because we were so strong there last time and I feel like we've only made our stuff better since then. Richmond has been hit or miss but we've been decent there the last couple of times and again I think with making our stuff better I look forward to going back there."
DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON'T MAKE THE CHASE? "Not yet. I'm really more focused on the fact that I think we are very capable and our team that should be in it even with the troubles that we had this year. I feel like we're still a good enough team to be in it. We've got three weeks to show that."
WITH THE WIDENING OF THE TRACK, DOES IT TAKE IT A LITTLE OUT OF THE HANDS OF THE DRIVERS AND MAYBE PUT IT BACK IN THE ENGINEERS HANDS? "No doubt about that. Handling has become a big issue here now. It always has been. You've got more racing grooves to race on. You're going to get the opportunity to get inside or outside of the competition but to do that and complete the pass you've got to have a car that's working really good. I love what they've done here because it's made in my opinion the racing better. It's just that there's not as much bumping and banging and shoving. To the fans, I'm not sure how they look at that but from my standpoint I like it."
DID YOU EVER REALLY LIKE THE BUMPING AND BANGING? "Never. No I never liked it. It's one thing to do it on the last lap but for 500 laps that you go around here single file just wondering and waiting for the next caution, the next wreck because you know somebody has lost their temper or lost their patience. It wasn't because they were just racing the guy hard it's because they just got mad at them. To me that's not the kind of racing that we like to do."
HOW ABOUT THAT 2002 RACE, WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT? DOES RUSTY (WALLACE) STILL GIVE YOU A HARD TIME ABOUT THAT? "Rusty and I, we've talked a lot the last couple of years and laughed about moments and things that have happened to us. I finally got him to admit that he wrecked me at Richmond. You know what, Rusty I admire him, I respect him a lot. He's a great racer and taught me a lot and I learned a lot from him. We had our moments, good and bad but I'm just glad we can laugh about it now."
DID YOU LAUGH ABOUT '97 DAYTONA? "I only look at that significance as the fact that he could have won the Daytona 500 and didn't. I don't think it had anything to do with me."
WERE YOU DISAPPOINTED THAT THE DARLINGTON RACE ON LABOR DAY WAS DROPPED AND THERE IS NO MORE SOUTHERN 500? "I was disappointed when they went to one race and they stopped calling it the Southern 500. I felt like there's no reason why it needed to lose that so the fact that they're bringing that back I think is important. I think it's important for the history of Darlington and our sport. I think it's a great thing. For me, every time I go to Darlington I think of the Southern 500. That's the thing that stands out to me."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE BATTLE YOU HAD THERE IN '97 WHEN JEFF BURTON WAS GOING FOR THE WINSTON MILLION, THAT LAST LAP? "I just remember I was leading the race, brushed the wall off of turn two. I think it knocked the tow and maybe even the fender in and the reason why that happened is because Jeff was really strong at the end of that run and was catching me and I was pushing a little bit harder. Brushed the wall and in some ways made it only easier to gain on me because we had a little bit of damage and we came down to the closing laps, the white flag and he got underneath me and I just basically put the biggest block move I ever could on the guy. It worked out because there's only one grove going into turn one and it's either us wreck or one of us give. Jeff was the smart guy that day and he gave it up or we both probably would have wrecked."
AS COMPETITIVE AS THE RACES HAVE BEEN HOW COME YOU DON'T HAVE STORIES FROM RECENT RACES? "I disagree. To me the race is as tense now. The pressure is on. I don't know. What about Chicago with Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch on the restart, to me that's pretty exciting stuff. You know Jimmie was sideways trying to block him and keep him from getting by him on the restart. That's just one that stands out in my mind so I kind of disagree with that."
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE LEVELS OF ANXIETY AND FRSTRATION THAT YOU'VE HAD NOT WINNING A RACE THIS YEAR? "There's no doubt that the pressure is on us. We feel it and we want it really bad and are working hard to do it. All those things that are true doesn't change how we approach each and every race and how hard we work and our chances of winning. We just have to put each race that we run behind us and focus on the next one on the schedule. We hope that this is the weekend that we get it done."
WILL THE SOUTHERN 500 MEAN AS MUCH AS IT DID ON LABOR DAY WEEKEND? "You don't want to ask me about second dates because I don't think any of them deserve a second date. I think we should go to every race track once but that's a guy that's been racing 16 years and probably wants to spend more time with his baby and I'm not a track owner or NASCAR. I think that Darlington is always going to be special to me. It doesn't matter what day what we race there on. I think it's just a smart move to call it the Southern 500 and I want to make sure we always have one Darlington race on the schedule."
-credit: gm racing