JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed this weekend's race, winning his first career Cup race at Lowe's, the status of his back and more. HIS THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND'S RACE....
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed this weekend's race, winning his first career Cup race at Lowe's, the status of his back and more.
HIS THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND'S RACE. "We had a good DuPont Chevrolet last week. Even though it's not the same car we should be able to get really close or maybe improve the set up from what had Saturday night for Sunday's race. The first step in getting qualifying in. We weren't as quick during the day time when the track was pretty hot today as we wanted to be but I felt like right there at the end as the track started cooling down or we caught a cloud right there and picked up. So I've got a good feel for how hard we're going to push tonight. A good starting position is certainly important. This is a big weekend for racing in general around the world and we're really looking forward to what NASCAR has to offer in the motorsports world and this is a big event and one that we're really looking forward to competing at. This being a points event we're hoping that we get some better results than what we had the other night."
YOU'RE ONE OF THE DRIVERS WHO GOT HIS FIRST WIN HERE, WHY DOES THIS RACE LEND ITSELF TO FIRST-TIME WINNERS? "I'm not really sure. You have to go back and look at each instance as to what made that happen. With ours it was good pit strategy that played out. With Ray (Evernham) calling two tires verses the four that Rusty (Wallace) took it really paid off for us. I think with a 600-mile race it does lend itself to some unique pit strategies that if you're close and in the top-five and having a good day you can pull something off that can get you that win and possibly that first win. I was thrilled to get my first win here. The first time I came down to Charlotte to drive a stock car was out in Rockingham at Buck Baker Driving School and I remember driving by the speedway wanting to see the speedway and I was just blown away by this place. Then getting a chance to drive a car here for the first time I just fell in love with it from day one. It's pretty ironic to me and blew me away that I got my first Cup win at this race track especially in such a big event like the 600."
HOW VIVID IS THAT WIN STILL IN YOUR MIND? CAN YOU RECALL THE FINISH OF THE RACE, YOUR EMOTIONS IN VICTORY LANE AND THEN CATCHING IT FROM EARNHARDT AND RUSTY? "At that moment I really didn't care. I was just so happy to be in Victory Lane. It meant so much to me and anytime throughout my career I think it's been pretty evident of how much the wins, the championships have meant to me through my emotions. I might have been a little embarrassed about it at the time but looking back on it that was the way I felt and I'm happy to have felt that way. I'll be honest that was 15 years ago it's been a blur kind of ever since then and to be honest since 1994 the things that have happened to this team and me personally have just been unbelievable. It's been one heck of a ride. To try to break down the sequence of events and moments.
"I always say that I really look forward to that day hopefully and whenever it comes to be able to go back and relive those moments because they're awesome memories but it's gone by so fast and because it's such a hectic schedule and because things have gone so well I haven't had the time to take a breath and go back and really think about it. Certainly I remember the closing laps knowing that Rusty wasn't in my mirror and that we had the shot at winning it and all I had to do was bring it home in one piece. There's no doubt that I remember those emotions taking over. I see the pictures all the time and the video of the victory because there's trading cards and different things that I sign all the time from the fans, so I'm constantly reminded of that moment which are all great memories but a lot of it really is a blur. It's hard for me to remember certain details of it."
YOU GOT STARTED VERY YOUNG AS A RACER, WHO WAS THE FIRST HERO YOU HAD AS A RACER AND WHAT DID YOU SPECIFICALLY ADMIRE IN THAT DRIVER? "It is funny, I got this question yesterday at our go-kart charity event and it made me remember a moment that happened. I would have to ask my step-father, John Bickford, but I was probably seven or eight years old the first time I ever got asked that question, you know who's your hero and I said what's a hero. Somebody said it's somebody you really admire and there was this kid that I raced quarter midgets against and his name is Ricky Velo and I just thought he had the coolest name ever and I was like Ricky Velo is my hero because he had the coolest name. It wasn't until years later that I really started thinking about that more often and trying to understand who my hero really was. Growing up I really watched sprint cars so anytime the World of Outlaws came to town or the local sprint cars were running nearby we were at a sprint car track. From people like Leland McSpadden was somebody I grew up watching. He was the man to Steve Kinser, Doug Wolfgang and those guys. It wasn't until much later that I started watching Indianapolis and become a big fan of A.J. (Foyt) and Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, Rick Mears. If I had to just mention one, Rick Mears is one that has stood out throughout my career ever since I realized what a hero was. To me he was the guy I admired from what he did on the track, how he handled himself off the track to meeting him in person and living up to every expectation that I had."
WHY OR WHY NOT IS THIS RACE THE RIGHT LENGTH IN YOUR OPINION AND IF YOU CONTINUE TO HAVE THE BACK ISSUES THAT YOU TALKED ABOUT A LITTLE BIT IS THAT SOMETHING THAT IF IT CONTINUED COULD YOU POSSIBLY RETIRE SOONER THAN MAYBE YOU ORIGINALLY PLANNED TO? "Let's cover the first one first. To me there's 500-mile races at certain tracks that are too long. Six hundred miles here, the thing I like about it that it stands out, it's unique and I think that was the whole purpose behind making it 600 miles. Is it too long, heck yeah it's too long. I mean 600 miles is a long way but would I like to see it change, I don't think so. In history it's just played such an important role in our sport and I think that when you win the 600 it's very special. If you took laps and miles away from it I think it would take away from the meaning of the race so I think it's the right length.
"The whole reason I had the procedure this week is because it's been something that's been building up for many years. I take some blame and credit for letting it get to where it had over the last year and a half. This year I've been really focused. I think the whole team after last year, we just recommitted and dedicated ourselves to doing everything that we possibly can. Make the cars better. Make the pit stops better, the communication better and me as a driver driving better. I feel like a lot of that was physical fitness, being comfortable in the car. It had a lot to do with my back as well. All those things were things over the off season I've been addressing. My physical fitness program is fantastic. I'm in the best shape I can ever remember being in. But all the things I was doing, the stretches, the fitness work outs, none of those things were making my back any better. We tried things in the seat, lumbar supports and all those things and it's only certain tracks that it really flares up bad. Martinsville and Bristol were two that really stood out. When I was talking to the doctors I wanted to make sure that whatever we do with the type of season that we're having that when we get down to the end of the season and I feel like this championship is won that I'm in the best shape that I can be in and I'm not complaining about back problems if that's possible. So that's why we did the treatment now. After the last MRI we learned a little more about what's going on. All I can tell you in right now I feel pretty good. They said it's going to take six to seven days to really have its full impact. Today in the car and yesterday in the go-kart event I was feeling really good. So I'm pretty happy so far with the results and hopefully we can resolve what's going on. Every time we do something we learn more so this is going to be a learning process and hopefully it's something that will resolve the issues that I'm having.
"I guess to answer you on the retirement part, if my back were the way that it was at Bristol this year it's definitely going to shorten my career. I can't race like that for long periods of time. If it's like that and it was getting worse or getting like that at all the tracks, no doubt about it. But we all have issues. Every driver throughout history has had some kind of problem issue he's had to fight through and battle through to stay in the car and stay competitive. That's what I'm doing to stay in the car."
WHAT'S IT BEEN LIKE TRYING TO BATTLE THROUGH THIS BACK PAIN AND WHAT DO YOU EXPECT ON SUNDAY NIGHT IN A 600-MILE RACE WITH THE BACK? "The miles doesn't seem to be much of a factor. It's the track. What kind of force is put on my back. How much after you use the brake. The other night like Saturday night even though it was 100 laps I really wasn't in too bad of shape there. So it's going to places like Bristol, it's the road courses that are going to be coming up. Those types of places are the ones that affect me the most. I don't want to be in any pain or suffer through anything anywhere and that's why I did the treatment. I was like I'll be okay this weekend but then in two weeks we'll go to Richmond or something and I'm going to have to fight through it there. That's why I did it. All I can tell you is as a race car driver, to be 100 percent focused to make the car go as fast as you can, to focus on the adjustments that you need to continue to be better whether it be in practice, for qualifying or for the race on in the race you have to be thinking about the car.
"You don't want to be thinking about anything else. You don't want to feel anything else going on. That's why I've been addressing it as much as I have because there have been times especially last year and even this year where I've been thinking about my back when I should be thinking about the car."
CAN THIS RACE EVER BE PUT ON THE SAME PEDESTAL AS THE INDY 500 IF YOU'RE A GENERAL RACE FAN OR IS INDIANAPOLIS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A LITTLE MORE SPECIAL THAN THIS EVENT? "Well I think it depends on when you became a general race fan. I think that for me, a kid growing up with the Indy 500 being very significant in my life and what I watched growing up it's always going to be that significant to me. But if somebody started watching racing shortly after the split happened and the 500 lost some of not only its history but its prestige I think that they might look at this race as bigger than that race even today. As you move forward NASCAR's popularity and the strength that it has in the U.S. even around the world is pretty impressive and only time will really tell as to whether or not this race could ever surpass it from a fan standpoint looking at the race as to which one they think is more prestigious. It's hard to beat history. When you look at the length of time the Indianapolis 500 has been competing at that track it's pretty tough to compete with that. I mean 50 years is incredible with what they've done here at Charlotte. I think the race here has only gotten bigger and better and more prestigious so it'll be interesting to see what happens over the next 50."
WHAT IS IT LIKE DOING THE SESAME STREET EPISODE AND WAS ELLA ABLE TO GO WITH YOU? IN THE LATE 1990'S YOU OWNED THIS PLACE AND YOU HAVEN'T WON THE 600 SINCE 1998 AND WHY? "You know Sesame Street was amazing. Ever since Ella was a baby and we were trying to get her to eat solid foods, its taken videos to get her to focus on that and open her mouth. It's always been Elmo is her favorite. When the opportunity came through, John Edwards to me I said absolutely I would love to do it as long as I can bring Ingrid and Ella with me. They were like of course. So that was a very, very cool experience. Plus they tied it to NASCAR so I think that it was something. They thought I was retired so they made me a commentator and when I got there they said now you're retired right. I said no. I was like is that why you wrote me into the script as a commentator? I don't know but it was still a lot of fun and turned out great.
"Why we haven't won, any number of reasons. It's just circumstances, fast race cars, misfortune. It takes a lot to win any race. We've been fortunate to have a lot of success here. For whatever reason when we've been in position to win it we just haven't pulled it off. I feel like this is the year that we can win it. I really do. Our cars are so strong and our team is strong and we're having a great year. This could be our weekend to do it again."
CAN A GUY LIKE YOU LEARN SOMETHING AT THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER FROM A GUY LIKE MARK MARTIN? IS IT A MORE INTERESTING COMPETITION WITH TONY STEWART GIVEN HE'S IN THE SAME EQUIPMENT? "I've always said as a race car driver that you never stop learning ever. I would assume Mark would feel the same way about himself. So absolutely I'm learning from him as much as younger guys. I've always learned from Mark because he's so talented and fast and so driven but he was never my teammate before. Now as my teammate I get a glance first-hand and hear him in our debriefs and talk to him. So that part is really cool and I love having him on board.
"As far as Stewart, I mean Stewart is a fierce competitor whether he's in equipment similar or same as ours or not. He's always been that way. There are things that you do in this sport that are to go out there and win races and be the best that you can be and we do that at Hendrick Motorsports. It's also turned into to a big business and its extremely expensive to operate these race teams. That's the thing that Rick Hendrick has taught me is that you have to balance that out so our relationship with Stewart-Haas racing has a lot to do with that and probably everything to do with that. You know when they're as competitive as they are and they've got drivers like Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart it only makes us better along with the teams and drivers that we have and resources that we have and how it makes them better. It's not quite like having teammates because you're not debriefing with them but you are getting to see a lot of the notes and so it goes back and forth. I don't know. I always say if guys in my same equipment and has the same resources that I have, then it's up to me as a driver and us as team to make up the difference. I've always felt like we've got one of the best teams out there that we can pull that off. We've had that battle with Jimmie Johnson that's been as fierce as it can possibly be. Adding Tony and now Mark and (Dale Earnhardt) Junior we're battle with ourselves a lot of time but I think it's really about battling on the race track as a competitor and as a team. It doesn't really matter who it is and what equipment they have."
HOW MUCH, IF ANY HAVE YOU TALKED TO RICK HENDRICK ABOUT THE EARLY DAYS WHEN HE WAS A CAR OWNER? "We've had a lot of conversations about, I love talking to him and grilling him about what it was like years ago. If we're over at the Hendrick Motorsports campus, he'll say, I remember when we had just this building and that's what we did this out of. All I have seen change him as a car owner, just that he's really focused from a business standpoint of Hendrick Motorsports. I think it started as a hobby, someth8ing he could have fun with because he enjoyed racing, it didn't take long before you realize that to be competitive, it is going to take a lot. Once it takes a lot, that means you have got to start treating it very seriously and looking at every aspect of it from a business standpoint like he does with his dealerships."
HOW MUCH OF A MENTAL GRIND IS 400 LAPS AT THIS PLACE FOR A DRIVER? "It is really a fierce battle with yourself because not only are the conditions changing from day to night and the car really slipping and sliding around when the sun is still out. Then the track starts getting cooler, starts getting faster, you have to start keeping up with the adjustments. There is that battle you have got going on. But then it is such a long race. I don't think there has ever been a 600 that I have run, except for the ones I was knocked out long before the half way point, that I didn't get to the half-way point or somewhere close by to that and say how many laps are left and be scared of them telling me how many laps are left because it never fails, you always think you have gone a lot further than you really have. You get the number of laps back and you are like wow, man, this is such a long race. I think over the years, I have gotten more relaxed and comfortable with not really asking that question or not thinking about it a whole lot, and just run each race until I hear the crew chief or the spotter say ok, we have about 100 laps to go. I try not to think or focus on the length of the race as much as I used to and maybe that is me gaining a little bit more patience as I get older.
-credit: gm racing