Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS talked with media about battling with teammate Jimmie Johnson for the title, his win at Talladega, changes to the CoT, changing his recent luck at LMS, and more ON THE JEFF GORDON FOUNDATION ACTIVITY...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS talked with media about battling with teammate Jimmie Johnson for the title, his win at Talladega, changes to the CoT, changing his recent luck at LMS, and more
ON THE JEFF GORDON FOUNDATION ACTIVITY THIS WEEK: "It's one of my favorite days of the whole year. We do a go-kart event and then we do a dinner that night and it benefits the Hendrick Marrow Program and we've had a lot of fun and we raised $330,00 and it was also very successful. I appreciate you're bringing it up. We'll continue to do it and grow it and it gets bigger and better."
YOU ARE LEADING THE POINTS. RIGHT NOW, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE CUT-OFF NUMBER IS TO HAVE A REASONABLE CHANCE OF WINNING THE CHASE AND AFTER SATURDAY NIGHT, WHAT WILL THAT NUMBER BE? "Whatever that mathematical equation is. You just can't answer that question right now. I'm sorry. You never know what could happen. Anything is possible. Guys can get caught up in wrecks, engines can blow, parts can fail, and tires can blow. If you could possibly figure out that those things were not going to happen and then ask me that, then I would give you a number. But I think still anything and anybody that's mathematically in it still has a shot. And I know that's not what you're hoping to get but that's the only way I know how to answer it right now. Jimmie (Johnson) came back from 200-something points out from this point on (last year). He never won a race though, he only finished second, I think, in like five straight races or something. So, can somebody do that? Yeah,sure. I would say maybe take, if you want to get a rough number, maybe anybody beyond 220 I think it's going to be very, very, very difficult."
HOW CAPABLE IS THE NO. 20 RACE TEAM OF TONY STEWART OF CATCHING YOU AND JOHNSON? "Oh, he's the most dangerous one out there as far as I'm concerned. He's far more than capable of doing it. Tony is so good at so many tracks. That team is one of the best out there. They don't even have to have us falter in my opinion, that they can make a comeback. I think the other guys outside of that are going to need the guys up front to have problems."
IS IT A DOUBLE-EDGE SWORD TO HAVE JIMMIE JOHNSON AS THE GUY YOU ARE GOING UP AGAINST? "It definitely has its challenges but I'd rather be faced with that challenge than actually a competitor because we do know what we have. And when one of us is strong and one of us is not, we share information. I want this championship to come to Hendrick Motorsports. If I can't win it, then I definitely want a Hendrick Motorsports teammate of mine to win it. Ever since Jimmie came on board at HMS, he's pushed me.
"And I think it's made me a better driver. And so I like the friendly rivalry, the competition that we built that has brought - I think it's elevated all the teams at Hendrick having the two of us being as competitive against one another, and the other teams as well out there. I think it's brought us all to a new level. Yes, it does have its challenges though. It creates some separation within the team, but that's normal. That's very common. To this date, it's still the best I've ever seen it as far as how we share information. We have so many systems in place that are always there regardless of the championship and who you're battling for wins. And yet we're fierce competitors. And so we're going to treat it accordingly. But right now, everything is looking good."
HOW GRATIFYING WAS IT TO WIN IN THE NEW COT AT TALLADEGA COMPARED TO THE OLD CAR? 'Honestly, going into the Talladega race, I didn't think that it fit my driving style and they way that I've won races on restrictor plate tracks. I was concerned with this new car because if you go back to the car that had the roof rail and the wicker on the back, I didn't feel like I really knew what kind of strategy to play out and how to make that work to my advantage. I was afraid that we were going to have the same situation with this car. Position means everything. We got in the right position at the right time. It was a very satisfying win for many, many reasons and that's just one of them. That's probably actually one of my most memorable wins ever. For years I've been asked that question and the inaugural Brickyard 400 always comes to mind. I might be changing that answer from now on because of the excitement on that last lap; and of course, having Ella in victory lane for the first time."
REGARDING JIMMIE JOHNSON, HOW DO YOU BALANCE OUT FRIENDSHIP AND TEAMMATES AND COMPETITORS ON THE TRACK? "In the past, it's just because we have a strong friendship and we're open-minded about things and talking about things and it kind of built up over time. If things continue on the way they are, it's definitely going to push the limits of it and put us to the test, which we both want it so bad. We both want to win. We both want to win the championship. I know Jimmie well enough to know that our friendship is as important to him as it is to me, but we're race car drivers and we want that championship.
"As long as you're not beating and banging on one another out there on the race track, then it's all about wins and who finishes ahead of who, and the points fall as they may with that. Up until that point, a friendly rivalry on the track we're competitors and off the track we can smile and laugh about it. Just like I wasn't happy; I didn't win the race at Martinsville because I felt like I had the best car and everything going for us to win it. It wasn't because he beat me, it's just because I felt like we should have won.
"I think he felt the same way after this past weekend. I think he felt like he was in position to win the race and he was upset and mad because he didn't get it. That's a true competitor. Those situations haven't come up a lot for us, maybe a little bit more this year than in the past, but we've continued to handle it very well."
REGARDING A PUBLISHED REPORT THAT CONGRESSIONAL AIDES WERE INSTRUCTED TO BE IMMUNIZED BEFORE COMING TO CONCORD, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT NASCAR COOTIES? "You know, I probably shake about as many hands as the President does throughout the year. And I've never really considered that one as an option. So maybe I need to now. But there is certainly plenty of merit to building up your immune system. I've been one for years that used to get sick a lot. I went to a nutritionist. I take supplements. I eat better things. And now I don't get sick anymore. So maybe that could be an option as well."
DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON WHAT NASCAR MIGHT DO TO MAKE THE COT RACE BETTER FOR THE DAYTONA 500? "I've been saying for years, and I think we've finally convinced NASCAR, that they might even agree with us on this situation - me, as a driver. I think other guys feel the same way. Daytona and Talladega should be treated like Bristol and Martinsville. They're not the same race tracks. Even though they are restrictor plate races and they are more than 2.5-miles in length, they are not the same race tracks and you've got to treat them like that. I think the current package that we had at Talladega might work very well for Daytona. I know Goodyear has been working on developing a tire for there as well. So, I'd like to hear a little bit more and talk to them about that. But, I think more needs to be done for Talladega when we go back than necessarily Daytona. So I think this is a good place to start for the Daytona test in January; or if they do any other testing for Daytona, and then evaluate it there.
"But if I was going to make a recommendation, the first place I would go to is the wicker on the back. We have a one-inch wicker. I feel like for Talladega, that needs to be no bigger than a half-inch, maybe even a quarter inch. And I think it would be kind of cool for them to take it off altogether when we go to qualify. Let's qualify in the high to mid-190's. But when you have a piece that's consistent and manufactured, basically NASCAR hands it to us, if it's a piece like that, they why not be able to have one thing for qualifying and another thing for the race? So we put up the big numbers and see how fast we can go. And then we go draft and keep the speeds within a reasonable speed for safety reasons. That's what I would recommend for Talladega. As you get that wicker down obviously there is less drag and cars are going to go faster, there might be a restrictor plate change that needs to go along with that. Whatever restrictor plate works for the speed for what they're l ooking for, but I definitely think we need to knock that wicker down because it's dragging the car down too much and punching a little bit too big of a hole and the closing rate's a little bit too strong for Talladega. But it might work great for Daytona."
THE LAST FIVE RACES HERE, YOU'VE HAD FOUR CRASHES AND AN ENGINE FAILURE. WHAT CAN YOU DO THIS WEEKEND TO CHANGE YOUR LUCK? "The same thing we've always done and hope that this time it turns around. You know, I probably will look at what I did here in May. We had an awesome race car. We qualified terrible. The number one thing is to qualify better. We were higher up on the sheet today and I feel like we're going to be closer to being in the top 10 when the night's over. We did draw an early number so that's going against us a little bit. But then in the race, I was probably not being patient enough at that time. We had a great race car the last time we were here. And while I didn't have anything to do with Tony Raines getting sideways, I was pushing pretty hard to get by him at that time and I may have been able to avoid him had I been backing off a little bit more. So, I always look at what can I do different. When you have a blown motor and things happen around you, sometimes you can't do anything about that. You just keep approaching it the same way that you did when you won here or at a track. So I don't think there's a lot that we're going to do different than we have all year long other than maybe just be a little bit more patient in traffic and try to qualify better."
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO PERFECT THE BUMP-AND-RUN MOVE WITH THE NEW CAR FOR MARTINSVILLE AND HOW MUCH WILL THE NEW CAR CHANGE THE WAY YOU RACE AT MARTINSVILLE? "It still works, I was just being kind to my teammate or trying to go about it as gingerly as I possibly could without making it just ridiculous. At that point in the season, it wasn't worth creating a huge stir because I still respect the heck out of Jimmie and we are teammates and we are friends. There was not the championship on the line at that point. So we go back there into that same type of situation and I'm really more focused on how to make my car turn the middle of the corner better to be able to actually get underneath them and complete the pass and not have to bump him or move him out of the way. But the bump-and-run still works, you just have to be more aggressive with it. You can't just go in there and tap a guy like you used to be able to because with the old car, the nose actually went under the bumper, lifted the rear tires and took a lot more grip away from the guy in front of you. So you didn't have to touch him very hard. This car doesn't do that, it just lunges them forward.
"So if you're going to do that, which to me is a last-resort effort and something that I don't want to do to anybody, but if you do you're going to have to really hit them hard." DO YOU THINK THE NEW CAR WOULD SUIT TRACKS LIKE MICHIGAN OR CHARLOTTE SINCE YOU DON'T HAVE THAT OUT-OF-CONTROL SENSATION? "Can we move on to the next question? (laughs). I'm not saying you're not doing your job - you do it very well. I'm just trying to figure out how to keep doing my job if I answer that question honestly. I don't think it's any secret that I'm not a fan. I'm not a fan of the car. I think it was designed for Daytona and Talladega, I think that there was a reason why everybody rode around in the back last week. Because we just didn't want to be a part of that all day long. That kind of white-knuckle experience makes my eyes hurt and makes my head hurt a lot, especially when I hit things. So I think that they can make some adjustments to make it really suit what we need for our sport, for the drivers and for the fans there. Until you get a car that drives as good as the cars that we're running here, then as a driver you don't go and have one kind of a car and then go 'you know what, I think it would be great if we just went to a car that had half the downforce and didn't turn the middle of the corner'. As a driver, you want everything that's going to make it be better. But I also understand that we're trying to make the sport as competitive as it can possibly be, as entertaining as it can possibly be and for that, we want to work with NASCAR to try to perfect this car into truly being the car for the future of this sport. We just haven't gotten there yet. So I'm anxious to try and do my part to help that and I hope that NASCAR is open-minded enough to want to work with the teams and the drivers to make that happen. Just like there's only a few little things to improve it for Talladega, there's a few things to perfect it for the other tracks as well." DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT BATTLING A TEAMMATE FOR A TITLE BY RUNNING AGAINST TERRY LABONTE IN 1996? IS THERE A TREND TO DOMINANT DRIVERS WINNING TITLES? "The only trend is that usually the best teams and drivers win. It's hard to say really and truly who has been the dominant driver, though this year with Jimmie winning six races. They've had some bumps along the way. We've been extremely consistent and we've been able to win as well, and then Tony and his run. So to me it's really hard to say who has really been the dominant, strong team this year and that's why we're going to have an interesting Chase all the way to the finish. Then you've got Clint Bowyer who has come out of just being consistent and stepped it up a notch and now he's consistent and running up front. So that's what I love about the Chase, is that we really start to see who can step it up and who can shine.
"The only thing that I would say that I take from our experience with Terry Labonte and battling him for the championship is that kind of going back to talking about battling Jimmie and how you maintain friendships and things like that. Terry and I, I don't think we've ever once, in all the years that we ran together, had issues. Sure, maybe one time at Daytona and Talladega we weren't happy with one of the guys hanging us out. That's a very typical thing that happens. But we never had any confrontations, any issues. We went out there and we raced, our car with our team, the best that we knew how to do it. And we got the best finishes we could and then at the end of the day we saw where the points added up and who the champion was. And they did it better than us that year. That's kind of the same way I approach it. I don't take it personal, what goes on and I don't let it linger off the race track. It's much tougher for the guys that work in the shop though.
"If you really want to get the answers to those questions and create a story about that, you really need to talk to the guys that work in the shop. Because it's a lot different deal when you're in there day in and day out and you're wanting to be the guy that plays the middle of the road to help out Hendrick Motorsports but at the end of the day, you want that ring and you are committed to a specific team. Somewhere in the back of your mind it's there, even if you have a No. 24/No. 48 shirt on in the shop, somewhere there draws a line. That's when it gets a little bit tricky and starts to become a battle and a challenge.
"Even with that, you get through it and you make through it and it only makes you that much stronger the next year. When Terry and those guys. we won '95, it fired them up and they came back and won in '96. Fired us up and we went and won in '97 and '98 so to me, even if we're talking about these kinds of rivalries within our organization, it still only makes us better." AS DRIVERS FALL OUT OF CONTENTION, DOES YOUR STRATEGY CHANGE? "That's a good question. That is a good question because when you first started asking it I was like 'no, our strategy doesn't change at all because we still have to battle hard because of the No. 48 and No. 07 and No. 20'. But as you asked that question, it made me think a little bit more that yeah, there might be some guys a little bit further back than say 200, that we might. you've got to be smart. Really, the strategy is that you've got to be smart. You've got to know when to be aggressive and you've got to know when to be patient. To me, that's what's going to win the championship, it's not about who you are racing and so we know that this is where Jimmie's strongest track, where Tony's strongest track is. We know that they're going to step it up so we've got to step it up too. If our stepping it up is still not as good as them, we've got to keep them in our sights. If those guys are going to win the race or run 1-2 then we've got to be third or fifth. And then we've go t to go do what they did at the tracks that we're capable of doing that at.
"That's the strategy. If you're racing a guy and he's putting a lot of pressure on you and you had to push yourself too hard and it's not smart and you know that that guy is not necessarily a guy that you feel like is a major factor right now then yeah, you're probably going to cut that guy a little more slack. But at the same time, if that's Jimmie or Tony or Bowyer, I might have to make that same decision just based on it's not smart for me to push this hard right now. I'm putting myself at risk of causing a lot more than this one position."
WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON'S QUICK SUCCESS IN CUP, WAS THERE EVER A TIME WHEN YOU FOUND IT DIFFICULT TO ACCEPT THAT OR WISH THAT HE WASN'T HAVING SUCCESS EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE THE OWNER? "I will say that that does help ease the pain a little bit at the end of the day (as an owner). That's about all that does. You know it's never, ever been an issue for me except for when I know we're capable of winning. When we're capable of winning the championship then the competitor in me feels like that we need to do our best and be our best and be in victory lane celebrating. There have been times along the way, if we're both honest, when we have felt both sides of it. The only thing for me that helps a little bit is the fact that I have won four championships. And I've done so much more than I ever, ever expected to do in this sport. And I've gotten myself in a position where I don't have to continue. There's nothing that says I need to do this or I need to do that, or I haven't done this and so this is what's left. It's not like that for me. I think that's the only difference between me and Jimmie. He's still trying to establish himself as one of the all-time greats. I 'm just trying to be competitive and continue to get that great feeling of what it's like to win races and battle for championships and hope that we've got what it takes to do it. If I think we've got what it takes, it doesn't matter who it is, I'm going to be mad if we don't get it done. And it's going to be a challenge personally, for me and this entire team.
"So, I've always been happy for Jimmie. Last year when he won the championship, I was thrilled. Man, I was extremely thrilled. They'd been knocking on the door for so long. And we were out of it. So of course I wanted to see him win it. This year, as long as we're a factor, then I don't want anyone else to win it. I want us to win it. But I can tell you if we don't get it done - even though I'm going to be angry and wish we had done whatever it took to have won it, at the end of the day, maybe a couple of days later (laughs), I'm going to be extremely happy for him, not because we're teammates, but because we're friends. And I think it's just a great part of Hendrick Motorsports that only makes our organization better. I don't know how to answer that for him because he's in a little bit different position.
"Again, he's at that point where I remember being at one time where it's great to win one championship; you want to start separating yourself from the rest of the guys out there, you've got to be a multiple champion. There is, to me, a huge difference from the guys that have won one championship, and none, and there is an even bigger difference from the guys who have won one and the guys who have won two. There is even a bigger difference between the guys who have won two and more than that. That list starts to become very short. And Jimmie wants to be on that list. So he's after a little bit something different and he's got that passionate desire and that's why he does as well as he does because he wants it that bad."
AS A DRIVER AT A PLACE LIKE THIS, WHERE YOU'VE HAD SEVERAL BAD RACES IN A ROW, BUT YOU TEAMMATE DOMINATES, DO YOU EVER START WISHING THE ODDS WILL TURN AGAINST HIM AND FOR YOU? "No, not at all. I've never wished anything bad on anybody. To me, if we really want to take control of this championship and continue on with the momentum we just came out of Talladega with, we've got go out there and finish ahead of those guys. If we go do that, that's going to get their attention. I'd rather go out and outperform them then ever wish anything bad upon them. And to be honest, I think we're capable of being just as competitive as them if we can get out car to the finish. Sure, we've got to make it go fast, but we've also got to think about how we get to the finish. We haven't been able to do that lately and I hope this is the weekend we get it done."
-credit: gm racing