JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the challenge of a long race like the Coca-Cola 600, improvements to the new race car, interesting moments with Humpy Wheeler, Dale Jr. as a teammate on the track, and more. Full ...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the challenge of a long race like the Coca-Cola 600, improvements to the new race car, interesting moments with Humpy Wheeler, Dale Jr. as a teammate on the track, and more. Full transcript:
ON PRACTICE: "What most of us were doing was comparing last week when we practiced during the day. Obviously we have an idea of where we were and even though the grip is not the same, the balance is not that much different during the day. So it gave us something in practice time on the track trying to learn something."
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF ON THE SHORT LIST OF FAVORITES FOR THIS RACE ON SUNDAY? "I wouldn't even put myself on the list. I think that we've got some work to do, performance-wise, but we're such a good team that anything is possible. So I guess maybe you could put us way at the bottom of the list. When I think of favorites I think of people that show dominance or a lot of speed. To me it's a very short list of people that are on the list that can win."
THIS IS THE FIRST 600-MILE EVENT FOR THE COT. WHAT IS THAT GOING TO BE LIKE? "It's going to be a long, long night. It's going to be tough; it always is. Six hundred miles here is quite an experience and you've got to survive. You've got to go from day to night conditions and you've got to be there and good on the lead lap when it really counts."
WILL THE COT MAKE IT SEEM EVEN LONGER? "It does. This car definitely is a challenge. And it's making it tougher on all the drivers and all the teams. Some guys seem to have it figured out better than others. And for those guys, it looks easy. For the other guys that don't, it's a constant work in progress. You've just got to fight hard throughout the whole night. And like I said, there is different strategies as to how you can finish good at this race. But the most important thing is having a good enough car to be on the lead lap and staying out of trouble and surviving all night."
DO YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON AND DALE EARNHARDT FEEL LIKE YOU'RE GETTING BETTER AS THE SEASON GOES ON? "On the 1.5-miles, I still don't feel like we've really figured out what we need to be to be up there battling for wins and leading laps. And we're working really hard on that. We ran pretty good at Darlington and not too bad at Richmond. So I think it's just the number of 1.5-miles that we've had to go to already this season just haven't gone well for us. So we're tenth in points. We obviously can't be too bad."
THIS WEEK WILL BE THE LAST RACE HUMPY WHEELER IS IN CHARGE AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY. WHAT'S THAT GOING TO BE LIKE FROM A DRIVER'S PERSPECTIVE? "That's huge. To not really hear anything about it and for that to come out like that, I've never thought of this sport or Lowe's Motor Speedway without Humpy Wheeler. He's just constantly pushing the envelope. All the creativity and excitement and entertainment he's brought for the competitors as well as for the fans, is definitely going to be his legacy. He's set a high bar, for sure."
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HUMPY PROMOTION? "Oh, man. I can remember back when I was a rookie in the Cup Series, he used to use us rookies quite a bit. I can remember we did human bowling up there near the Speedway Club one time (laughs). Probably the one that stands out the most was when we did a stagecoach thing where we came out in a stagecoach in a Western theme and there were like bank robbers and we were shooting little cap guns. I would have never done that today (laughs). Back then it was pretty comical."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE HE HELPED YOU GET NOTICED BY THE MEDIA? WHEN YOU FIRST CAME ON THE SCENE, HE WAS INTRODUCING YOU RIGHT AND LEFT AS THE FINEST YOUNG DRIVER TO COME ALONG "Humpy was a big supporter of mine and any time Humpy supports you and mentions your name and gets attention; plus he's got quite a track record for talent out there you know. So usually when he talks, people are listening."
DID YOU LEARN FROM DALE EARNHARDT JR. AS A TEAMMATE FROM THE TALLADEGA RACE? "Well, I think that I learned that's he's got the same goals that the rest of us have and that's to win the race. He's very competitive. And I think you definitely don't always know what he's thinking and I think it's sort of a learning experience for us as teammates to work together. That's why I was a little disappointed at the time when he made the decision not to go with me, but we both learned something about how we think out there. He made a really quick move and he wanted to go to the front. I was being a little more patient at that time and wasn't expecting him to make the move.
"So you've got to have patience in this game; especially at Talladega. I know that if he's on my bumper, don't expect that he's going to want to stay there and vice versa, you know. There's nothing wrong with that. We want to win the race."
WHEN THE CROWD BOOS AT YOU, HOW DOES THAT IMPACT YOU? "If they are making a lot of noise, that's what you care about. And everybody is different. Some people might be affected more by boos than others. Some people might be affected by the pressure of the cheers. When the fans are making more noise, as long as you kind of have fun with it and as long as on the race track you're doing what you want to do, which is be competitive, lead laps, and win races, then that stuff only drives you to be more competitive and to push harder and to keep doing what you're doing."
IN THE NEXT SIX OR SEVEN WEEKS, WILL YOU BE SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR THE CHASE? "Yeah, we know where we are weak as a group and as a team. We've got to get better on the 1.5-miles. The competition has caught up to us and we're testing and doing everything we can to try to figure that out. If we get the car's working, our team is more than ready. These guys are consistent and busting off great pit stops. Steve Letarte competence and the way he calls the race; I'm super confident in all that. We've just got to get the speed back in the cars and it's a group effort. It takes me, it takes Steve, and our engineers and our whole crew and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. So yeah, to me every race is crucial right now just trying to momentum heading in the right direction."
DO YOU THINK THIS RACE WILL COME DOWN TO FUEL MILEAGE LIKE LAST YEAR'S RACE DID? "Oh you never know. It just depends on how the cautions fall or don't fall. It very well could be. With the size of the fuel cells that we have in these cars now, fuel mileage is a much bigger issue because you've got to stop more often."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF NASCAR'S DECISION TO PUT A LIMIT ON THE AMOUNT OF REAR SWAG? "I mentioned in Darlington that I felt like something needed to be done and I'm glad that they recognized the same thing. It was getting a little bit out of line and gives us an opportunity to go to Pocono (test) and know where we stand for the coming races. If they didn't do something, it was just going to get completely out of control. I don't know. If you look at the No. 77 car this weekend, it's already pretty drastic. But you've got to take your hat off to them. It seems to be working. He was really strong in the All-Star event.
"A lot of people have worked hard to get their cars in that position and now it's going to be taken away. If you notice, my car doesn't do that near as much as some of the others. And it might be hurting us a little bit right now, but at the same time it might help us once we leave here."
HOW MUCH AS DARIAN GRUBB HELPED DALE EARNHARDT JR MAKE THE TRANSITION? "Darian is awesome. He's a great engineer and he's got good common sense as well. He's really calm and even mannered. He's knowledgeable and he has experience from a championship team, so that's always beneficial."
DO YOU EXPECT DALE JR. TO WORK MORE CLOSELY WITH YOU NEXT TIME? "Not at all. I don't expect him to. I'm not asking him to. It's just that we have a better understanding. My goal as a driver is, I don't car if it's my teammate or not, to not allow them to make the pass. My job is to make sure my line is going forward and I'm using my mirrors. I've always said that. I did expect for that type of move to maybe happen later in the race; not at that point in the race. So now I know and it just allows us to work together and know that when those things happen, don't take it personal. It's just part of the way the race is unfolding at that point. And we're competitors who want some position and sometimes that means working with your teammates and sometimes that means not working with your teammates. I've been in this thing long enough to know that I haven't always made my teammates happy by everything I've done. But I think I've gained a little more patience over the years and know how much I want to have those guys on my side towards the end of the race. That's way I try to make as many friends as I possible can If it's possible."
WHAT'S THE MOST GRUELING TYPE OF RACE? "When you go into a night race, the track conditions are good. The air quality is good. The temperature is good. It's just long. So you're in the car for a very long time. And usually the grueling races are the road courses, Indianapolis in August, Bristol in August. Those are the most grueling races we go to. But this one is grueling in a different way. It's tough on the equipment and it's just very long mentally to stay in the game and stay focused for 600 miles, especially with this tire and this car, we've got our hands full. It makes it more challenging. If you add 100 miles or 200 miles to a race, it's going to add some stress."
-credit: gm racing