JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with media and discussed winning the championship without winning a race, the challenges of racing at Bristol, favorite drivers leading into the chase, points & bonuses, and more. ON PAST SUCCESS AT ...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with media and discussed winning the championship without winning a race, the challenges of racing at Bristol, favorite drivers leading into the chase, points & bonuses, and more.
ON PAST SUCCESS AT BRISTOL, THREE RACES LEFT BEFORE THE CHASE "Well, those stats are great. That's the old Bristol is the way I look at it. The new Bristol with the track configuration changes, even though they're slight, they definitely have taken a little bit of the performance away from our DuPont Chevrolet. So we've been searching to get that back ever since. I feel like we're consistently making gains on it when we come here. Each race we learn. As strong as the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) was the last time we were here, hopefully we can step it up even a good bit more. We're always excited to come to Bristol. We love this track. We know what a fan-favorite it is. I think among the drivers, it's a place you come to where you're always looking forward to as well. It's just a really cool place to race."
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE RACE AND TRYING TO PICK A FAVORITE THIS YEAR, SHOULD PEOPLE BE LOOKING AT JIMMIE JOHNSON'S OBVIOUS SUCCESS OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS? OR SHOULD THEY BE LOOKING AT GUYS LIKE KEVIN HARVICK AND YOU, WHO HAS SHOWN CONSISTENCY THIS YEAR BUILDING TOWARD THE START OF THE CHASE? "Well, I don't think you can ever count the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) out. Until they show a weakness, how can you count them out? What I mean by that is we've seen them through the last four years show weaknesses at times during the season, but they always seem to rebound when it really counts and comes down to that Chase. They step it up in a way that you can't compete with. And so, until they don't do that, you've got to keep them as a favorite.
"But as far as who has momentum and seems to be the strongest in my opinion right now, I would definitely say the No. 29 (Kevin Harvick). I think especially that win last week (at Michigan); restrictor plate wins are one thing but to go and win at Michigan when those big fast tracks like that are tracks that you're going to have to be competitive at in the Chase, plus the bonus points they have and the fact that they've been consistent. I think that (Richard) Childress has really stepped it up, especially with Kevin and that No. 29 team. I think that last weekend they kind of solidified themselves as the favorite in my opinion."
IN THE LAST SIX RACES THE BEST AVERAGE FINISH HAS BEEN CARL EDWARDS, BUT HE'S ONLY LED SIX LAPS ALL YEAR. IS THIS THE YEAR THAT SOMEBODY WINS THE CHAMPIONSHIP WITHOUT WINNING A RACE? CAN SOMEBODY DO THAT? "I've always said that there's no doubt that you can win it without winning races. The problem that I see right now is when they start the Chase, guys that haven't won a race are going to be at least 50 points down to start the Chase. And you're talking about the No. 48 (Johnson) to the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin), the No. 29 (Harvick) has 3 or 30; those are hard numbers to overcome. So I think the only way you can overcome those is you're going to have to win in the Chase. So I think there's no doubt it can be done. It's very competitive out there right now.
"Consistency is still key but I'm almost wondering right now if it's more important to win during the regular season than it is in the Chase. Get the bonus points to get yourself seeded where you really need to, to get that advantage going into the Chase and then knock-out your top five's throughout the Chase and win it that way. But you've still got to win. So I think you need to win. I don't think you need to win, I think the guy who wins the championship is going to at least have one win this season and more than likely in the Chase."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW DIFFERENT A DRIVER'S PERSONALITY CAN BE INSIDE THE CAR AS OPPOSED TO OUTSIDE THE CAR? AND, HAS THE CHANGE BEEN AS GREAT AT BRISTOL THE LAST FEW YEARS THAT YOU CAN GO TWO-WIDE AND DON'T HAVE TO BUMP PEOPLE OUT OF THE WAY? "The change in our personalities? I always like to think that on the race track that's kind of your alter ego. When you put the intensity that goes on inside the race car, especially at a place like Bristol; I think Bristol only intensifies it. The old Bristol and the new Bristol is the way I kind of look at it. The patience level, the frustration level, is to me equally as intense as it's ever been. What's the difference? The difference and I think this is true for anybody; it's not just the race car driver. If you're in a calm, controlled environment then your emotions and your personality is going to reflect on that. You go into a highly intense environment with a lot of pressure, a competitive intense environment, it's going to affect your personality and how you react to things. I got asked this great question by Marty Smith about this. I thought it was a great question. His question was 'Who is the real person, the one in the race car or the one outside the race car?' And I don't know if I have a great answer for it but I kind of think it's more the person in the race car. I think you really find out truly who you are in those moments, probably more so than you do outside the race car in a more controlled environment."
QUESTION INAUDIBLE....REGARDING JEFF GORDON INSIDE THE RACE CAR "Gosh, man we're getting into some deep psychology now. I might have to go see my therapist when I leave here today (laughs). For the most part I'd say I'm pretty happy. I feel like I handle myself fairly well in those situations but I've had my moments where I'm not very proud as well. I don't know. I'd say that most of the time I feel like my parents did a pretty good job. Let's put it that way (laughs) for the most part."
THE LAST FEW YEARS WHEN WE COME TO THIS RACE, IT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF DRIVERS HAVE BEEN PROTECTING THEIR LEAD OR BEING MORE CAUTIOUS. IT SEEMS LIKE KEVIN HARVICK HAS THE POINT LEAD WRAPPED UP FOR THE REGULAR SEASON AND THERE'S NOT MUCH OF A BATTLE EXCEPT FOR 12TH & 13TH. SO DO YOU THINK GUYS WILL BE MORE AGGRESSIVE AND LOOK FOR THOSE WINS AND BONUS POINTS? "I did ask this question; I've been in the Chase several times now and have been asked that question many times. While I understand the line of questioning and I agree with that philosophy, but honestly when you're out there in the car every weekend as a crew chief, on the box, or as a driver, we're doing everything we can to win every weekend. I guess if it came down to the white flag and I thought I could just banzai two guys on the apron and knock them out of the way to win the race and be guaranteed the win; would I do that? Maybe. Other than that, I'm doing everything I can inside the car and I know (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) is doing everything he can on the box and the pit crew. We just don't go about it any differently because we feel like we're already giving 100 percent."
"I've made some enemies this year. I'm not trying to make any more enemies before the Chase starts; trying to patch up old issues still so I guess it depends on who it is (laughs)."
CAN YOU SET UP WHAT IT'S LIKE TO PASS HERE AT BRISTOL? "Things do happen pretty fast. But when you're inside the car it all slows down when you've been making that many laps running that speed over and over again every lap. You're able to adjust to how fast things are coming at you and you're mind just starts to get focused more on the small details of what you're car is doing and what your competitors' cars are doing; your strengths and your weaknesses and you try to find those areas and capitalize on them. Most of the time at Bristol it's about forcing your competitor to make a mistake more so than it is making just a full-out clean pass. In order to get that good run on him or get position on him, first you've got to get them up out of the groove or like I said, force him to make a mistake. But completing the pass is the difference now with the new configuration over the last few years. You can get position on a guy, but it's completing it. Now there's really a lot more room; it used to be one groove and once you got position, the pass was done. It was over. Now, it's all right, the guy will kinda give you some room but now how do you complete it? To me, that's a way where the intensity is only heightened, not necessarily gone away with the new configuration where a lot of people think oh, now we have all this room to race on and it's not as exciting. But I disagree. From inside the car I think it's as much or more."
HAVING BEEN IN THE CHASE AS OFTEN AS YOU HAVE, DO YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT IN THOSE LAST 10 RACES OR DOES STEVE LETARTE DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT AS FAR AS PREPARATION? OR IS IT JUST 10 MORE RACES AFTER THE FIRST 26? "I think it's all the preparation going into the Chase. We've been thinking for the last couple of weeks and looking at our points position of trying to plan out which cars we're going to take to certain tracks, where we're going to test, things that we've learned throughout the season that we think; you've got to understand that you're testing all the time, every weekend just about. There comes a point where okay, you're done testing and now you've got to put that stuff out there for the Chase. You just kind of hope that it pays off. That's where we're at. We know this race really doesn't mean a whole lot towards the Chase other than the bonus points, so we're kind of going out there a little bit more aggressively with this set-up and going with something that maybe we haven't done in the past because we know we haven't been good enough to win here in the past. And really, coming out of here with a fifth or eighth place finish really isn't doing us a whole lot for the championship. So we're thinking championship right now, but going back to David Newton's point, it's not so much as a driver doing something aggressive on the track. It's really in the preparation of what you're doing that might be a little bit more outside your comfort zone right not to try to go get those bonus points."
YOU SAID KEVIN HARVICK AS SOLIDIFIED HIMSELF AS THE FAVORITE. BEFORE THE SEASON, COULD YOU HAVE IMAGINED SAYING THAT ABOUT AN RCR TEAM IN AUGUST? "They've made some big gains. It looks like they've made a lot in the horsepower and under the hood their engines are really strong right now. That's also contributing to Ganassi's strength as well; that engine package. You never know what's going to happen over the off-season. What happens when you get kicked enough times it forces you to go work really, really hard. When it's an organization like Childress, you expect for them to rebound, especially the driver line-up that they have, eventually; but you don't know when. But yeah, I guess it's a little bit of a surprise that they've been as strong as they've been this year. The real true test will be in the final 10 races."
ATTENDANCE IS DOWN EVERYWHERE, BUT IN THE SPRING BRISTOL ENDED THEIR LONG-TIME SELLOUT STREAK. ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT BRISTOL ISN'T IMMUNE TO WHAT OTHER TRACKS HAVE SUFFERED THROUGH? "I don't think anybody is immune. It's just like a top team is not immune to sponsorship negotiations and support is no different than a race track is not immune to the economy and whatever decision-making is going on out there among fans as to what races they choose to go to and what obstacle lie in their way to get to those tracks. I still think people, everywhere I go, love Bristol and love Talladega and love NASCAR. But I think when tough times are there; they have to make tough decisions. So I continue to look at the fact that we're still putting 100,000-plus people in the grandstands is a really good thing. And with the growth of our sport and putting that many people into the stands, it has to have a peak eventually. I think we always said, 'Where is that peak?' and I don't think that we ever thought that it would happen maybe when it did and where it did and you can't ever predict the economy and things that have happened.
"But I do think that it's been good for the sport in some ways for us to get back to some processes to help us be stronger as a sport in general and I think that's going to make us that much better when the economy does rebound to have a more solid foot to stand on and continue to make sure we're giving the fans what they deserve you know, a great show and give our sponsors what they deserve as well. They've put a lot into it. So, it's been an adjustment. It's been an adjustment for everybody. We're still sitting here with a pretty solid sport that has a lot to be excited about. I still look forward to the future of it."
TO SUM IT UP, I THINK YOU'RE SAYING IT'S POSSIBLE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP WITHOUT WINNING A RACE, BUT NOT LIKELY. "Mathematically, I know it is."
WOULD IT MEAN ANY LESS TO YOU TO WIN IT THAT WAY? "No. No, I'll be fine winning the championship without winning a single race. I'll take pride in it, absolutely. You win it however you win it, you know? The best team is going to win the championship, however that is. I've been a part of the sport long enough to know that under the old points system you couldn't have failures. But you could win a championship because of somebody else's failures, engine failures or tire problems. And so do you want to win a championship that way? Not necessarily, but you'll take it. Do I want to win the championship without having a win? No. But I'll still take it and take it proudly."
RYAN NEWMAN AND JOEY LOGANO HAD A LITTLE ISSUE AFTER THE RACE AT MICHIGAN. LOGANO SAID OF RYAN THAT HE RACES EVERYONE TOO HARD, AND THAT HE ISN'T THE ONLY ONE WHO COMPLAINS ABOUT THAT. IS THAT A FAIR ASSESSMENT? AND WHAT DOES RACING TOO HARD MEAN? "How did I get thrown into this? I haven't had any issues with Newman in a long time (laughter). Everybody races different. I saw this stuff with Joey after the race. I was in the lounge changing after the race was over. A lot of us when we first come into the sport go through this and what Joey was saying is it's one of those things where you can think it and you can talk to your friends about it; you don't say that on camera. And the reason you don't say that on camera is because people don't get that. You know, fans don't get it, media don't get it; you can't say he's racing me too hard. What? I thought you guy were out there and supposed to race one another hard every single lap. But there's like code. It's like driver code. And what that is, is you know, five laps into the race it's not very smart to go out there and chop a guy, run a guy up the race track, take a guy three-wide, and all these things. And so everybody kind of goes and lives and breathes by a different code. And Ryan is a guy that, he races hard all the time, you know, every race, every lap. And that's just the way he goes about it you know? And that's why I've always said, you could take the paint and the numbers off the cars and you could pretty much tell who you're racing. It's because of incidents like that. You just know that there are some guys that are really, really tough to pass and you're going to have to give some guys a lot more room and there are other guys that you know that they're going to give you plenty of room. That's just the way you go about it. But it's not about racing too hard. It's just about how you're racing one another."
-source: gm racing