BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS: WHAT DOES RACING AT THE BRICKYARD MEAN TO YOU? "Well, as a kid I grew up watching Indianapolis and going to the Brickyard and always just hoped and dreamed that I'd get an ...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS:
WHAT DOES RACING AT THE BRICKYARD MEAN TO YOU? "Well, as a kid I grew up watching Indianapolis and going to the Brickyard and always just hoped and dreamed that I'd get an opportunity to race there. And not only have I had a chance to race there, but to win there. Every time I go there it's just amazing. I'll never forget the wins -- especially that inaugural win that I had there."
AS A PARTIAL CAR OWNER AND TEAMMATE, WHAT'S IT LIKE TO TRY TO BEAT JIMMIE JOHNSON AT THIS TRACK? "There is no doubt that he's got this place down. Those guys on the Lowe's Chevrolet have really gotten their act together with the set-up. And they've had good fortune. Things go their way. You've got to have respect for that -- a lot of it. Anybody who puts a string of races together like they have -- it's obviously there's a lot of what they're doing and what Jimmie does -- sometimes you just get on a string. From a competitor's standpoint, all you want to do is break that string. You want to look at them as certainly one of the teams to beat, but you don't want to focus too much on them because somebody else might pop up there and surprise you. But the other night they did a fantastic job and that's pretty much the way I've looked at all the other wins they've had here."
HAS THERE BEEN A SIMILAR SENSE OF FRUSTRATION FOR OTHER GUYS TRYING TO KNOCK JOHNSON OFF HERE? "No, not for me. I finished second to him one time. Other than that, we really haven't been around to battle with him. The other night we finished third and I was pretty happy to finish third like I was happy to finish second that one year. I'd love to get up there and battle with him. That one year I finished second to him, I thought we had a shot of at least getting alongside of him on one of the restarts and then the caution came back out after that it was pretty much over. But for me, it's not been frustration. Right now, we want to win anywhere. It's not just about trying to win and beat Jimmie Johnson. It's a lot more than that for us."
DO YOU GET ANYTHING OUT OF PRACTICE HERE DURING THE DAY WHEN EVERYTHING YOU DO ON SUNDAY IS AT NIGHT? "Nope. No, I know there is a lot going on here at the track. But there's really very little that you can learn about what's going to happen. The track is a second off right now. I don't know how you can possibly learn what you're going to learn for qualifying from 7pm - 8pm or whatever time a guy is going out. But it's the same old thing. A late draw is going to be good and you've got to make your best guess at it."
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE HARD TIRE AND THE SMALL FUEL CELL? "Well it's a little bit different than the All-Star event where you don't have segments and you don't have the lining up side by side as far as for position anyway -- you might have some lapped cars on the inside. It's going to be survival. It's similar to the All-Star race. You've got to be smart. And there are going to be times you've got to be aggressive. But you're probably going to be a lot less aggressive through the majority of the day until it really counts at the end. It's going to be like two different races. You've got a day race and a night race, but they're all together.
"If we ever needed an intermission, it's this one. It's drop the green at 5:30 p.m. and then when the sun goes down at 7:30 p.m., stop the race and give us a 10-minute break to be able to make the adjustments on the car. With this tire and the track temperature and those things being so sensitive, it's going to be really, really difficult to handle good at both times of the day. It's usually a challenge, but this takes it to a whole other level."
WITH THIS NEW ASPHALT, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE DRIVING INTO THE UNKNOWN IN A WAY? "Well, they really didn't change the angles and the banking and different things like that. It's not like it's a whole new race track. It's just that it's a much different tire. I think the only unknown is whether the tire is going to grip when you drive in there. I just went to make a qualifying lap and drove into the first turn and I was loose and drove into the second turn and was loose and drove in the third turn and I was pushing. The tire just changes that fast on you. That's what is going to make a one or two-lap qualifying session really challenging. To me, the only thing that made the race interesting the other night was the fact that there were some guys who weren't very good on cold tires and there were some guys who were better on cold tires than others and vice-versa. That was about the only passing that you saw. I was a little disappointed we didn't see more of an outside groove and I hope we see more of an outside groove for the 600."
HOW HAS JIMMIE JOHNSON'S SUCCESS AT LMS IMPRESSED YOU? "Oh, there are so many numbers that I can't even keep up with them. He's won seven of the last, what, eight races here? That pretty much says it all. That's pretty awesome. I think that gives you a lot of confidence as a driver coming in here and as a team. Even with the conditions being totally different, he still had what it took."
DO YOU SHARE SET-UP INFORMATION? "Yeah, we do. But Jimmie drives so much different than I do. He uses a lot more brake and if you look at his data versus mine, it's just really hard to set the cars up the same. There have been times they've been really close, but to make me comfortable the way I drive this track. I felt like we had a really good car the other night. We just never really got the track position."
ON HAVING TO MAKE EXTRA FUEL STOPS BECAUSE OF THE SMALLER FUEL CELL: "I hope this thing goes green the whole way because my pit crew is awesome right now. And as far as getting in and off pit road, I feel like I'm pretty good at pushing the limits and not pushing it too far and on those situations, not making mistakes. I felt like the best we were the other night in the All-Star race was through that green flag stop -- you know, coming in and stop and going back out. At that time, I thought we had a car capable of winning the All-Star race. I'm hoping that we can get a lot of green flag runs going in the 600. With the way we've seen things go this week, it's going to take a long time before we get long green flag runs."
ON PATIENCE AND RESTARTS...WILL THAT DOOR-TO-DOOR RACING ON THE FIRST LAPS BE DANGEROUS? "It's very tricky -- especially if there are cars on that inside lane. There just hasn't been much of an outside lane. I'm hoping that changes a little bit for the 600. After you get a Busch race and all the practicing that we're going to be doing -- we've got to keep that rain away though -- because that rain just continues to wash the rubber away. If we get a clear weekend and a lot of laps and rubber on the race track, we might see two grooves and those restarts might be a little bit better."
WITH A NEW SURFACE, A NEW TIRE, AND NEW FUEL CELL, IS THAT TOO MUCH FOR NASCAR TO BE THROWING AT YOU GUYS ALL AT ONCE? "The reason why they felt they could do that is because of the All-Star race being somewhat of a practice weekend for us to get some laps under these conditions. It's pretty evident to all of us that there's no reason for the (smaller) fuel cell. The tire is too hard, but I think we all understand that side of it. But we all wish we had a regular fuel cell."
WOULD YOU PREFER THAT THEY GAVE YOU A DIFFERENT TIRE ONE WEEKEND AND THEN A DIFFERENT FUEL CELL THE NEXT TIME AROUND? "You've got to remember there's a different tire for every track we go to because every surface and every track is different. This is a tire that's only for Charlotte. And they wanted to be more on the conservative side because of the problems they had in testing. And they did that. I'm really hoping we can get through the 600 and then go the summer and this track loses some grip and Goodyear comes back and tests another tire and we can start getting down to a little bit softer tire and have a little bit more security and a better race when we come back here in October."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU AND RICK HENDRICK WERE NEGOTIATING WITH LOWE'S FOR A SPONSORSHIP ON JIMMIE JOHNSON'S NO. 48 CHEVY? "Oh, yeah. I was taking everything I learned from Rick Hendrick over the years and every meeting I'd been in and trying to make the best of it. I believed in Jimmie and in the organization that we could put together a strong team and that Jimmie was going to be a great driver. I had no idea that he was going to do what he has done. But I did believe we could put a good program together. I was pretty confident going into those meetings. I was excited that we were putting both the No. 24 and the No. 48 teams together under one roof. I'll never forget that all they really wanted to know was if Jimmie could win races. And none of us really knew, but we said yes (laughs). I remember the CEO went straight to Jimmie and asked him and he stumbled a little bit because I don't think he was expecting that he was going to have to say those types of things but I think we'd all convinced him about how great Hendrick Motorsports was and that it was a good place to be and that he would be successful and that he believed it himself. He said yes and fortunately they came around."