JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Bristol, Formula One rule change, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Eury, Jr., his progress working with a full-time trainer and other...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Bristol, Formula One rule change, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Eury, Jr., his progress working with a full-time trainer and other subjects.
YOUR THOUGHTS COMING TO BRISTOL, A PLACE YOU HAVE HAD TREMENDOUS SUCCESS: "Really excited. We have had four great races already this year. Had a nice off-week. Been excited about coming to Bristol for a while. I always have liked this race track. The last two times we were here, I feel like really the last time we were here, we made some great progress. Yet, we still have been missing a little bit as far as being where we need to be to win races here in Bristol like we have in the past, just like everywhere else. I am really proud of Steve (Letarte, crew chief), our engineers and all the guys on the DuPont Chevrolet because they have been making such great progress with the setups. I just love the direction they are going in and already today we have seen some real speed in the car. It has me optimistic for the whole weekend."
DO YOU THINK MARK MARTIN CAN MAKE UP THE GROUND IN THE POINTS SITTING SO DEEP IN THE ORDER? "There is no doubt. It is always tougher to make up ground when you aren't running good than it is when you are running good and having like tires blow and some of the quirky things they have had happen. They are running really good and Mark is just a guy that puts his head and goes to the next race. I think they will be fine. All of us have been very supportive with him to try keeping him and the team positive just because they have been running so good and you feel bad for them because they have been capable of putting some great finishes up there and be up there in the points. I think they all have a lot of high expectations on them. You have the No. 5 team, Hendrick Motorsports and Mark Martin. Everybody believes that is a great combination and it is, they just haven't been able to have the results at the end of the day to show for it. But they will come, they will.
"He is a good qualifier. It is going to happen; it is just when and how fast can they get it turned around. When they do get it turned around, how quickly can they climb themselves back up there in to the top-12.
"Mark is just a great driver. I can only speak to me racing against him on the track for all these year and then in our team meetings. But I am sure it is probably the same for Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) when they are setting up the car or going through practice. He knows what he wants. He knows what he needs to go faster. He knows when the car is good and when it is not good and he just has confidence in his ability and knowledge of the car and experience. Those things are key because all of us go through times when we are second-guessing things. If you don't have some real success in your past to fall back on to build that confidence, it is hard to pull yourself out of a bad day or when the car is not exactly right. That, to me, is what he really brings to the table, is just really having a great direction of what he needs."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW RULE CHANGE IN FORMULA ONE THAT WILL NAME ITS CHAMPION BY NUMBER OF RACE WINS AND WOULD THAT WORK IN NASCAR? "I'm hearing that is not completely solid. I just read, because I am a big F-1 fan, matter of fact on my off weekend I was over in Belgium, so I thought while I am here in Belgium, I should go to Spa, so I did, and got to drive around there in the rain. It wasn't an F-1 car or a race car or anything, but it was still a lot of fun and that place is amazing. I am a big F-1 one. Jon Edwards (PR representative) and I have been talking, as we always do about F-1 and I just saw where they have like an owner's association that just put out a statement that they are questioning the validity of that rule change. I think Formula One is one of those series where you will see a lot more dominance by one team than especially our series. I think usually, besides maybe last year and couple years in their history, the guys that win the most races usually win the championship anyway.
"I am not a big fan of them saying just whoever wins the most races; I do think they need to change the points system a little bit though. I think it needs to award a little bit more for first. I like the option; I am not sure who put that out there, of doing like a 12, 9, 7 and have that kind of a bracket in the points. I like what we have right now where it pays more points to win. You can really make up a lot of points or spread yourself out from your competitors when you when. It is a much bigger gap that what it used to be and it really awards winning much more and makes you want to push that much harder for those wins. It is just like two weeks ago, Kurt (Busch) he led the most laps, won the race and gained a bunch of point. To me, I like what we have right now. I think the 10, 9, 8 thing is what is not working for them. Not the wins."
WHAT IS REMINDING YOU THIS YEAR OF YOUR 2001 YEAR THAT YOU SAID WAS YOUR MOST FUN YEAR IN NASCAR AND WHAT HAS BEEN THE FUN PART? "There was some in 2007 a little bit I guess if I had to think about it a little bit more. It is just being competitive. It is just when you get out there on the track and you can push the car really hard, it responds, the lap times are there as well. When that happens, the whole team just continues to get better and better and better each and every lap. Each day. Each weekend and each race. It has brought a lot of the fun back. Not to mention I have had some back issues and even on our good days, I'll walk away from the track really in a lot of pain and, this year working with a trainer...I have been doing more things this year than I ever have and just physically I feel so much better as well. Better prepared, I am stronger. My muscles are stretched and looser and just doing a lot more from my aspect, from a driver's standpoint. Then the team has been backing it up with great race cars."
DO YOU SENSE A REAL FRUSTRATION ON JIMMMIE'S (JOHNSON) PART ON TRYING TO GET A HANDLE ON THIS RACE TRACK? "Maybe he would consider it frustrating. I look at it as those guys, when they get challenged like that, man they go after it. Just like on the roadcourses. When Jimmie first came to Hendrick Motorsports, he wasn't as competitive on the roadcourses and they looked at that as a real challenge and have stepped up to the challenge in my opinion. I think Bristol has kind of always been one of those places that he feels like it is not his best track and is something that challenges him and he has to work a little bit harder at. Some of these tracks it comes natural to some and others it doesn't. It doesn't matter what setup you have, it is not always about that. This has been one of those places for Jimmie. Fortunately for him, this track is not in the Chase, it doesn't seem to affect him when it comes to the championship."
DO YOU THINK IT WILL EVER GET TO THE POINT WHERE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS MIGHT WANT TO TRY A DIFFERENT CREW CHIEF FOR DALE EARNHARDT, JR? "I don't know if I am really qualified to be answering that question. But I do know from my involvement at Hendrick Motorsports over the years, you see certain drivers and you know what they need for a crew chief. I think it was all unanimous and still to this day it is unanimous that Tony Eury, Jr. is the guy for Junior and possibly the only guy for Junior. I mean, he just is, there is a tremendous amount of expectations and pressures with being Dale, Jr. as well as Dale, Jr.'s crew chief. There are just not many guys in the garage area that could withstand that kind of crucifixion that comes along when things aren't going well. Tony Eury, Jr. is one of them. Plus, the uniqueness of their relationship and how they communicate is second to none. We all know it is easy to get through the good days, it is the tough days. While those guys scream and yell, at the end of the day, they still smile and joke about it and seem to only get closer. That is only way I know to comment on it. We all know how criticism comes down. No different than on Steve Letarte when we aren't running good. I feel the same way Junior does. Why point fingers at him, maybe there is a lot more to it and only the guys inside that team really know what is going on."
ARE THE TWO OF THEM ALMOST LIKE AN OLD MARRIED COUPLE? "Yes, for sure. I have never seen two people get after one another and argue more and be able to hug and make up at the end of the day more than those two. To me, it would be very very tough to be Dale, Jr.'s crew chief. I think Tony Eury, Jr. does a great job."
WHAT DID YOU DRIVE AT SPA AND EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE IN A STREET CAR, HAVING BEEN IN MONTOYA'S F-1 CAR A FEW YEARS LIKE, COULD YOU VISUALIZE WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE TO GO AROUND THERE IN AN F-1 CAR? "Honestly, to be the Belgium race last year was the best race all year. Some people say Brazil but I thought that race was in my opinion was the best. To see those guys duel it out like they did in the rain and knowing what the conditions were like when I was there, it was unbelievable. I can't imagine the speed that they are carrying. I was in one of their safety vehicles and it is a pretty cool little car. Front wheel drive and it was fun to drive around it. No, in a dry condition, I think it would be a cool track. It is very very fast. Very very fast. In the wet, they can have that. My lack of experience and knowing just how that car, how fast it is capable of going, I don't know if the rain is where I would want to start. It sure would have been a lot of fun to have driven a race car, any kind of race car around there, but an F-1 car would have been the ultimate."
ARE YOU READY TO HEAD TO TEXAS AND GET YOUR FIRST WIN THERE? "I am not going to base anything off of last year, because even when we finished second, it was fuel mileage and we still we were about a 12th to 15th place car. We made huge improvements from the first race. To me, we are just a different team with different race cars right now. We've just made such huge progress that I'm really optimistic. Texas is one of those places that is on my radar. I want to conqueror it; I want to turn things around. I don't want to go there and wonder how we are going to run or have any doubts. I want to go there with a positive attitude; especially the second race there and know we are going to be competitive. I think with what we have seen already on the mile and a half tracks, just the way the cars are driving, the way the team is performing, right now I am looking forward to Texas. I think the things that we are doing are going to even work possibly better at Texas than some of the places we have been to."
WHAT DID YOU HEAR FROM CRITICS LAST SEASON ABOUT YOU AND YOUR TEAM AND WHAT MOTIVATION DID IT GIVE YOU THIS YEAR? "I don't know that I paid a whole lot of attention to the outside criticism, it is just something I have never done a whole lot of. It is always within. Just talking to Steve, we had some real heart to hearts last year about where we stood with the team, with our setups, with our race cars, what we needed to do, each of us. What we thought of the team. We just shared a lot of those conversations as well as Rick Hendrick, Ken Howes, Doug Duchardt, our director of competition; a lot of conversations about what are we missing; where are we off. What are our strong suits. To me it was just about really making some fairly significant changes. The first step in that was how we went about the engineering at the race track and bringing two engineers. I think that was the first step to turn the corner for us. I think Steve has always done a fantastic job. It is just about having the tools and the confidence. And I didn't have the confidence in the car that I need to. Then this back issue, I was not only not confident in the car, I wasn't feeling 100% and so over the off season, I said I don't know what our cars are going to be like. How much improvement, I'm optimistic and Steve and I shared some great conversations and emails after the season was over. I went and got away and got away from it and relaxed and then it is really my wife that I owe the credit to. I have been telling her I wanted to put some time on my calendar to work out and go to the gym. She said 'You are wasting your time. You're not going to do it; you are not going to be committed. The only way you are going to do it is get with a trainer'. We have known this individual that she has done some training with in the past and others that we know. So, she said you have to get with him. If you don't get with him, then you are just wasting your time. I finally bit the bullet and I did it and this guy is kicking my butt. I mean, I don't' know why I keep going back but I feel the best I have felt in a long time. I am following that up with some back specialists and also an individual here at the track that is stretching me. The combination of those things has made me a whole new person. When I come to the race track, I am ready to go. I feel good, I feel stronger. I can't wait to get in this race because, I just feel that is a physical race and I feel like I am in the best shape that I have been in in a long, long time."
WHAT WAS YOUR PROCESS TO GET SO COMFORTABLE AND COMPETITIVE HERE AT BRISTOL? "You have to understand that this is the third different surface that I have been on at this race track. I had the opportunity to drive it when it was pavement. Then I remember when they switched over to the concrete and now the new and improved concrete track. It takes time to adjust any time they change the surface. But the basics of this race track have always been there. It is a fast, high-banked. You never have a second to really take a breath. We've had a lot of success in the past, but we came here with a new car and with a new, whatever we are calling it, the different banking and smoother track and everything. And, we struggled. It is not that we didn't know what we needed; it is just typical as a driver in communication with the crew chief. You are telling them what you need and what you feel is going to make you go faster and they keep applying different things that in their theory that will make it go faster. I feel like we made improvements the last time we were here. But I felt like we still weren't capable of winning the race. The things that have actually been working for us at the mile and a half, believe it on the seven-post, look like they are a good fit even here. To me that is all the difference. From a driver's standpoint the only thing is you have to get used to being loose getting in here. This place, the transition from the straightaway to the corner, the car really unloads and then slams in to the banking. From a driver's standpoint, if you don't find a way around that, cause you are never going to fix the things that happen at that point, that is only thing you have to really get used to as a driver, other than that, it is all performance of the car."
HAVE YOU ACKNOWLEDGED THAT AS YOU GET A LITTLE OLDER YOU HAVE TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY AND THAT IS WHY YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE TRAINER? "It is two things. Me getting older and recognizing that. But it is this back issue that I have been having. I started doing some cycling probably two years ago I did a little bit of it; I had a mountain bike and just kind of did it for a hobby, for fun, not too serious. Then last year I moved up to a road bike and a heart monitor and all the cool gadgets that come along with that and started pushing myself, riding further, riding faster. But the problem along with that came more back issues because you are leaned over and you are using your back a lot more. So I wasn't taking care of my back. The thing that I came out of last season was that Steve and I talked about having somebody at the track working with me to help me stretch. To do things to focus to try to loosen my back up because what happens is it almost spasms and it gets tight and if you don't treat it then you go to the next race and it is worse and worse and worse. So that is the thing I was focused on at the end of the season. Over the off season, like I mentioned, my wife Ingrid talked me in to going to the trainer and so, I really, the funny thing is, I started that in January. It is not like I started it in December of last year. But I am telling you, this guy is good. I haven't missed a workout since the middle of January and I'm to average between two and three workouts a week. They are intense, they are really intense and pushing me really really hard and making the most out of every workout. I am already seeing the results in a pretty short period of time. This is the first real physical track we have come to so far this year, I feel like. My goal is to really get prepared once the weather starts warming up, that is my goal, to be in really really good shape by them."
-credit: gm racing