JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NATIONAL GUARD PATRIOT ACADEMY IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the midpoint in the season, racing at Chicago, the Daytona 400 crash, investments, and more. ON THE SUCCESS OF THE TEAM AT THE HALF-WAY POINT IN...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NATIONAL GUARD PATRIOT ACADEMY IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the midpoint in the season, racing at Chicago, the Daytona 400 crash, investments, and more.
ON THE SUCCESS OF THE TEAM AT THE HALF-WAY POINT IN THE SEASON "I think the performance has been very good. Looking at how we ended last year and last season in general if you would have asked me when we ended the season if we could be second in points and won a race at Texas at this point, I would have said hey, that would be fantastic. I would love to have that kind of great season going. So, it gets tough when you're in the grind each and every weekend. You get extremely competitive the higher up in points you go, the more pressure that you put on yourself and the team and you want to go out there and perform and win races every weekend or battle for them. You want to be leading the points. And so, it's a little disappointing that we haven't been able to maintain that lead and we've had some inconsistencies there. But we've stepped up so much from last year that I really am excited about what we have right now and still feel like we have even bigger things ahead of us for the season."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT YOUR TEAM, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU STILL NEED TO WIN A FIFTH CHAMPIONSHIP AND WHAT ARE YOUR WORKING ON TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN? "Right now at this point in the season, we'd like to get some bonus points with those wins. And then you've got to look at those ten tracks that are in the Chase. We performed really well at New Hampshire, so that was a great weekend for us because it gives us a lot of things to go forward on as we get further into the season and toward the Chase. I feel like while Martinsville has been one of our better tracks, we've been beaten there the last few times and so I feel like our short track program could improve just a little bit. If we were going back to Daytona I'd make some big changes, but we're going to Talladega; I feel like we're really good there. Our 1.5-mile program is just been incredible. And I think our race team, the calls that Steve (Letarte) is making, communication as well as the pit crew, has really stepped up. I feel like for the most part that we're really in a great position to be a real threat once the Chase comes around. But I would say that Phoenix and Martinsville are a couple of tracks that are on our radar that we feel like we could get a little bit better at."
LOOKING AT DAYTONA, KYLE BUSCH SEEMS TO THINK TONY STEWART DUMPED HIM. HOW WOULD YOU HANDLE THAT SITUATION? WAS IT JUST RACING, OR A LITTLE MORE THAN WENT ON? "One this that's evident to me is that I don't want to be leading on the last lap, or coming off the last corner (laughs). That hasn't turned out too good for those guys here recently at those Tracks (Daytona and Talladega). I'm looking at it more from a blocking standpoint instead of what the guy in second place is doing. We've gotten so comfortable as drivers out there that we believe on these restrictor plate tracks that all you've got to do is just block your way all the way to the finish line and you'll finish first. That's worked in the past. That's not working anymore. We've learned too much about these cars and how to draft with these cars and how to get ourselves in position to make that move coming to the finish line, if you're behind.
With that said, I've been the leader on restarts in different situations on these restrictor plate tracks and as a competitor you get so focused on how do I get to that finish line first and what do I have to do to win, that a lot of times even though you know you're blocking and shouldn't be, you still do it. It's like you'd almost rather go down fighting than give it up and finish second or third or fourth. But I certainly would not say that he got dumped. If Carl Edwards would have said that, I would have said the same thing. It's not getting dumped when the guy has got a fender or bumper inside you and you turn and come across. This is stock car racing. We've got spotters and in stock car racing, if you have a half an inch of your bumper inside their rear bumper, then you expect them to know that you're there because we have spotters. There were a lot of aggressive moves that went on there. I give credit to both of them for putting on one heck of a show right up until that happened. But I would put more blame on the guy leading, who is blocking more so than I would the guy from behind."
LOTS OF DRIVERS SEEM TO HAVE INVESTMENTS OR BUSINESSES OUTSIDE OF THE TRACK. WHAT ARE YOURS AND HOW MUCH INVOLVEMENT DO YOU HAVE? "I do have some involvement with a couple of dealerships that have worked into so contract negotiations that I've had over the years. The biggest investment I have is in my race team, in the No.24 and No.48 teams at Hendrick Motorsports, a smaller percentage of Hendrick Motorsports as a whole. What am I involved in? I'm involved in driving the race car and being a dad and doing things for my sponsors. Those are my priorities right now. I have a great group of people, including my stepfather, John Bickford that runs my business. Shoot, I like real estate. I've got some real estate out there around the country that I'm involved with, that I really like, but I don't get time to be involved in any of those things and really don't even get much time to be involved from the ownership and dealership side of things just because so much of my time is spent driving the race car.
"But I feel like those are things for my future. And those are things that I really look forward to in that next chapter in my life to really get involved in, while there's going to be a day that I'm going to retire as a race car driver. I feel like it's going to be a time to start a whole other adventure and I'm not going to be near as good at any of those things, I know, because I've been spending all my time driving the race car. But there are things that I enjoy being a part of and I look forward to it."
HOW IMPORTANT ARE CONFIDENCE AND MATURITY IN A DRIVER'S CAREER AND HAVE YOU SEEN A CHANGE IN EITHER AS IT RELATES TO KYLE BUSCH OVER THE PAST YEAR OR SO? "I've definitely seen some maturity. I feel like Kyle has really progressed as a race car driver. He's always been extremely talented. And we see that a lot of times. I include myself in that. You come into the sport if you're young and you're aggressive, you're going to go fast but you're going to make mistakes. As the time goes by if you've got the talent and the race team, you should start to see a progression of patience, maturity, and making fewer mistakes. If that works out, you're going to get the results and we've certainly seen that with Kyle. He's still a very aggressive driver. And I think there are days when that aggressiveness works against him, but I would say most days it works for him. Again, we see that with a lot of young drivers as they come into the series, or even some other drivers. I even through the open wheel guys in there that maybe they're not really young, but they're used to driving so much more aggressively with all the downforce that they have in those cars and that's where all the speed is made up is just driving really, really deep in the corner. A lot of times, it takes them several races or several years to really learn about how to start backing up the corner and gaining the patience and maturity in this type of race car in this series that it takes."
HAVE YOU GOTTEN MORE ATTENTION FOR YOUR WIN AT CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY OR FOR YOUR SINGING AT WRIGLEY FIELD? "Well, that's a good question. Obviously the attention that I got is not the kind that I'd like for the singing. It wasn't even the singing; it's the fact that I called it Wrigley's Stadium (laughs). I'm obviously not a huge baseball fan and did not want to sing. I wanted to throw out the pitch, but they said if you do that, you have to sing. So, I agreed to do it. But yeah, I probably got more negative attention over that than many things that I've done. Even the win, because of the incident with (Matt) Kenseth wasn't just all positives, but we still got the win. It was a big day for us. But so yeah, we want to clear our name around the Chicago area so I'd like to come here and do a nice sweep of the race and maybe one day get the opportunity to go back and do the 7th inning stretch song, I don't know. I've become a bigger baseball fan because of that because I feel like I need to grow my knowledge in case I ever do that again."
HAS THE CHICAGO RACE BECOME MORE FAMILIAR FOR YOU AND IF SO WHAT IS THE IDENTITY OF THE CHICAGO STOP IN THE SERIES? "Well I think it is one of the premiere facilities of the mile and a half tracks that we have on the circuit. The way that this track has aged and weather. You can see how gray it is and how black how the groove is so it tells you how the racing has really changed over the years. I feel like this has always been a great area for a lot of race fans to get a chance to come watch the Sprint Cup series and its drivers and competitors and Nationwide on one of the best tracks that we go to. It has always been a great track, well designed in a great location if you ask me for our Midwest fans that are huge. We see it in Kansas, we see it here. We see it in Indy. It's obviously one that is high up on the list for a lot of the guys. It is very high on my list this weekend, because at Michigan I was second. The sponsor of this race has a thing that if you finish, if me and Mark Martin finish one-two this weekend, me and Mark and a couple of lucky fans are going to win a lot of money. So it is a pretty cool experience and I'm hoping that me and Mark can look up to that test. I think some fans are too."
DO YOU LOOK AT THE NO. 14 (TONY STEWART) IS RUNNING AND ASK RICK (HENDRICK) WHAT THE HECK WAS HE THINKING? "Hey, I have been through this before with Rick. We did this with Bobby Labonte and the No. 18 car year's ago. We used to supply the engines for them. I can remember going to Michigan and they had a little bit different package in there that we were working toward that was sort of experimental to give us something down the road and they killed us with it. Man, I was mad. I said I can't believe we are getting beat by our own stuff. I learned then that this is a business. We feel like we have all the tools and opportunities to go out there and win races each and every weekend. We have to build the right team around us.
"I think the only thing, I am just surprised at how fast they have come along. I feel like Tony (Stewart) is one of the best drivers out there. Consistently has been ever since he came in to the series. I think he is really showing just how good he really is. But also, how good at how good he is being able to manage people and get the right people in place to get the team together. It is a business for us that helps us be more competitive. I see the numbers. I know how tough it is to be on top of your game in the business and for the business model to work our financially. It is something that is important to us. It is our job to go out there and make sure we don't get beat by them. We are getting beat by them right now but we are hoping when it comes around time for the championship, we step it up and hopefully we can win the thing and finish ahead of them."
HAVE YOU NOTICED HOW THE ECONOMY HAS IMPACTED YOUR FANS, CROWD ARE DOWN?" "Absolutely. I know how it is affecting me personally and I see how it affects racing across the board. I do fan events throughout the country several times a year. Travel and expenses and doing everything we can to help them get to those events and the cancellations because of the economy that happen. It is the same thing when I look up there in the grandstands on the weekends. You don't always see that the stands are full, but we are still putting a huge amount of people in the grandstands so obviously the sport is doing very well. There are a lot of avid fans that still love this sport and support it because it is great entertainment and they love it. That is what we have to continue to do is keep putting great entertainment out there for them and keep showing our appreciation for them, especially during these tough times. I certainly recognize that. I think we all do. Just speaking of the business of racing. We have to cut costs as well. Our sponsors are being impacted. Everybody across the board is being impacted. It is something that I believe we are all very aware of. I will say that I have not had fans say anything to me. I see incredible avid fans all the time and they are just as excited about being at that race or at that event, whatever it may be, that I have always seen. Nobody has said anything to me about how the economy has affecting them and getting themselves to the race track."
WITH WHAT WE HAVE SEEN AT THE LAST TWO RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES, IS THAT THE WAY WE ARE GOING TO SEE THOSE RACES FINISHING? ARE THEY NOW A WRECK OR BE WRECKED SITUATION? "Exactly. That is exactly what it is. That is such a hard thing for you to think clearly about when you see the checkered flag and you have got an opportunity to win that race. As a race car driver, I think that is the one thing that separates us from the average person, you become so hungry for that victory in that moment and you don't really think rationally. You don't think 'Well, I am going to put a block here and I am going to do it once and then if that doesn't work, I am just going to give it up.' Going back to Talladega at the end of last year, Tony (Stewart) would have been in the exact same situation that Carl (Edwards) and Kyle (Busch) had he had maybe somebody a little bit more experienced at a restrictor plate track.
"Regan Smith, he did the one thing that you know you don't do once the yellow line rule came around and that's you don't go below the yellow line-never. Not even if a car runs in to you. You do everything you can to keep from going below that yellow line and that usually means the guy in front of you turns across your nose and goes in the grass or goes out in to the fence. That is just kind of the nature of restrictor plate racing, especially since the yellow line rule came out. You have got to look at it as is the yellow line rule a good thing? Probably is, we'd be driving through the grass if we weren't doing that. And that isn't a good thing either. So, I think some responsibility lies upon us as competitors to make some better judgment calls when it comes down to that finish. These are not airbags that we are driving around there. These are fast, expensive and they are race cars. You have got to think a little bit about that when you are closing in on the finish, especially at the restrictor plate tracks.
"Sometimes, just like with Regan, I think that a lot of drivers when OHHH, there was a lesson. I think at Talladega there was a "whoop, there is a lesson". To me at Daytona, I look at it again as another lesson. So I am just hoping in that moment, while I know how blind and stubborn I'm going to be if I am in that situation, I am hoping that some of those other situations come in to the back of my mind and help me make a little bit better choice.
"I have some things up my sleeve if I get in that position that I think might help me win the race. I'll put it this way and not be in the fence. We'll see. I'm not saying I am going to think clearly. I am hoping that I do. There have been plenty of cases where I haven't. We are race car drivers. We aren't necessarily going to be thinking clearly on the white flag lap at Daytona and Talladega."
ARE THESE CARS GIVING YOU THE AERO YOU NEED TO PULL YOU BY IN THAT SITUATION OR WHAT DO YOU THINK IS HAPPENING THERE? "No, it is the exact opposite. What it is, it is punching a bigger hole in the air so you are actually getting more of a draft up behind the car and you are actually getting more suction. You could complete the pass. The problem is the guy behind you realizes that on the last corner of the last lap, he has got to make his car extremely wide if he is going to win the race.
"I really thought at Daytona, and what I was more surprised at was, because at Daytona, it was hot and it was slick and the tires were wearing. The handling was going away for a lot of cars, I was really impressed that when Kyle (Busch) got the lead that even when Jimmie (Johnson) gave Tony the push and he went in to the corner behind Kyle that he was able to close up to him and stay up to his bumper all the way off of turn four because, most guys, they just couldn't. All of those aerodynamics and that hole that is being punched there that helps you suck up to the car in front of you, it also takes away all of the downforce in the front of the car once you get in the corner so it makes the front end slide out. At Talladega, we don't have that issue. The corners are so big and wide and that track is so smooth, it is not abrasive. It doesn't wear the tires out. We don't have that issue at Talladega. You can stay right on their bumper all the way around the track and push them all the way around. But at Daytona, it was a little bit different. I was impressed with how Tony was able to get himself in position to get right on his bumper as they came off of four to be able to make a move inside or outside. He was basically pushing Kyle and Kyle knew it. He knew all he had to do was kind of poke out of line and his car was going to surge ahead and more than likely he was going to win the race. When Kyle went left, Tony went back right and Kyle went back right and Tony's bumper was there. At that point, it was all over."
-credit: gm racing