JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed Tony Stewart's new ownership role, racing under the lights at Chicago, his 1.5-mile program, what Mark Martin brings to HMS, and more. ON THE TONY STEWART / HAAS OWNERSHIP ...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed Tony Stewart's new ownership role, racing under the lights at Chicago, his 1.5-mile program, what Mark Martin brings to HMS, and more.
ON THE TONY STEWART / HAAS OWNERSHIP ANNOUNCEMENT "I think it's positive for Haas. For Tony, there aren't too many teams out there that are going to offer that kind of ownership to many guys, if any guys. And he knew he wasn't going to get that at Gibbs. And I think it's a win-win for both of them. I'm anxious to see how it goes for them. I think had he not taken on the responsibility with his USAC and Sprint Cat teams, he probably would never even thought about this. And again, it's about partnering up with somebody. It's not about you taking on full responsibility. Most drivers that we've seen take than on, have failed."
HAVING WON HERE RECENTLY, HOW MUCH CAN YOU TAKE FROM THAT? HOW DIFFERENT DO YOU THINK THE TRACK WILL BE AT NIGHT UNDER THE LIGHTS? "There is no comparison because we've never run here with this car before. So all the notes and everything that we've learned from the past is pretty much out the window, other than knowing where the bumps and dips are, it's all new for us. It's really more about knowing what this car can do on a 1.5-mile race track and that's something we've been working hard on and we've struggled with at times. We're hoping to turn that around. And you hope that your experience at a track, knowing the track, will pay off a little bit as well. I am anxious to see this track under the lights. You're always curious how they have lit the track and what kind of shadows and glares there are. Usually it's better at night than it is during the day. And I'm sure the conditions will certainly be really good because you want to race under cool track conditions and it makes the cars handle better and faster and I think it makes for a more exciting race."
WITH TONY'S MOVE OVER TO HAAS AND HENDRICK'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THAT TEAM, WILL THAT MAKE YOU GUYS SEEM LIKE TEAMMATES? "Well if I just used what they currently have; I've had conversations with Scott Riggs several times and I know that Brad Keselowski tested for them when we were at Nashville or Kentucky and we were all there together and some of their crew chiefs. We've all been very open about our conversations, similar to what we are with out crew chief. So it's about how they use that relationship. We offer them up the ability to share some technology. We feel like it's a smart move for us at Hendrick Motorsports because they've shown the commitment. If there is something that they can go out and do that we can learn from, and we can offer something up and learn from them, of course engines and cars we've been doing that with them for many years. So it's not the same as a teammate relationship, but it's not too far from it.
"But it's really about how they want to utilize that relationship. If they really want to push hard and open their books up to what they're doing, then it's going to make it a lot easier for us to do the same, especially if we're seeing results."
YOU HAD A BAD RUN AT TEXAS AND DID BETTER AT CHARLOTTE. WHAT HAS YOUR TEAM DONE TO BECOME BETTER ON THESE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS? DO YOU COME INTO THIS WEEKEND LIKE YOU WILL HAVE A GOOD RUN, OR A LITTLE UNEASY ABOUT THE CAR? "I'm feeling pretty positive because we've tested twice at Kentucky. A lot of what we've been doing at Kentucky is putting different tires on there. Basically it's right side tires that are the biggest difference. But you've got the California tire and then the Texas tire and Michigan tire and we've seen a big difference on how those tires react. So it's really been about learning what the tires do so that we can come here and be prepared for it. So I feel a lot better about coming in here than the way we came out of Texas, that's for sure."
SO MANY OWNERS IN THIS SPORT WERE FORMER COMPETITORS LIKE RICHARD CHILDRESS AND ROBERT YATES. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE GUYS LIKE YOU AND TONY STEWART WHERE YOU HAVE THAT TANGIBLE LINK? "Well, no offense at Richard Childress, but I think there's a big difference between Richard Childress and Tony Stewart as drivers (laughs), and as owners. I think I would maybe compare Richard Petty. Here's a guy who had a tremendous amount of success as a driver but they also owned their equipment along the way. That's the difference. You're talking about a different time and age when guys came in and owned cars and could go and drive the cars and compete and have fun. You look at other forms of Motorsports, not necessarily IRL, but maybe the GrandAm Series and you have some owner/drivers who just like to go out there and have fun. Well this sport is far beyond that. It's a big business. I think those guys are probably recognized as better businessmen than they were race car drivers. Tony I would definitely think would be considered a much better race car driver than businessman and hopefully with this venture he's going to prove he's a good businessman as well. I base a lot of things throughout my career on Dale Earnhardt. Dale was not a scholar by any means, but he was a professor in the school of hard knocks. He was very street-smart. He learned from people that he worked with like Richard Childress. And in that sense, in this sport, he was very smart. And I was impressed by that. I feel that I have come along in that same way. I'm not a scholar. I didn't excel in school. I didn't go to college. But I feel like I've been a sponge and have learned from a lot of different people along the way. And you become pretty smart in your world. Experience is key to that. And I think Tony fits that model very, very well. But I can't compare it at all to what those guys did. And you have to talk to Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick and some of those guys and maybe let them answer that question. They could probably do a better job than I do."
KYLE BUSCH IS ON A ROLL. WHAT'S IT LIKE WHEN YOU GET ON A ROLL LIKE THAT? "It's crazy. You're going along there and you've got a strong car and a strong team and you're feeling like you're doing a good job. You're winning races that you feel like you as a team really worked hard for and earned. But then you start winning races that you felt like you shouldn't have won and it just kind of boggles your mind. That's kind of the way I've seen those guys. They're strong. They're very good. They've done a great job. And they've put themselves in position to win races. Some people have just given the races away. But for the most part, they've earned everyone of them; and they're tough. They're very strong right now. And I think it's everybody's goal out there to try to break that momentum that they have, especially as we get closer and closer to the Chase. But nobody's been able to do it yet. So we'll see."
WITH MARTIN'S ANNOUNCEMENT LAST WEEK, HOW TOUGH IS IT GOING TO BE ON RICK HENDRICK TO CONVINCE EVERY ONE OF YOU GUYS THAT YOU CAN BE THE ONE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think Rick has been pretty good about balancing that out for all the years so far. I think he'll do fine there. There are no team orders. It's about how you gel with your team and utilize the resources. He's only going to encourage us all to really work closely together at the de-briefs. It's just like the other night at Daytona. With that being a handling race track, even though it's a restrictor plate track, you saw very few teammates working with one another. And it wasn't because they didn't want to. It was because they couldn't. It's just the nature of the way that race was. And those races are going to happen. Sometimes you're going to be able to help your teammate; sometimes you're not. But at the end of the day, every team and driver out there wants to win the race. And you're going to do what it takes to win the race. And it's our job to make sure we're the ones trying to win the race; and the same with our teammates.
"I think we've got an incredible line-up for next year and I'm excited. I think that Mark (Martin) brings a tremendous amount of information and experience and drive to our organization. I think there are more positives that come out of it than negatives. But the negative might be we might have against them for the championship like our other teammates."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT RICHARD PETTY HAS MEANT TO YOU BOTH ON AND OFF THE RACE TRACK? WHAT HE'S HELPED YOU WITH AND WHAT YOU'VE LEARNED FROM HIM? "To me one of the biggest impacts that Richard made to me in that race in Atlanta, I'll never forget standing on top of the trailer in the garage area watching, I don't know if it was our practice or another practice or what it was and I remember Richard walking through the garage area and signing every single autograph. He was mobbed.
"It was just unbelievable that weekend of the number of people that were surrounding him and he was so generous and nice and just trying to do everything he could for every person. I didn't get the opportunity to race wheel-to-wheel with him, I don't think we raced wheel-to-wheel that day but certainly that was the only race that I ever really competed with Richard Petty in and we both kind of went up in a ball of flames. To me it's the example that he set for the drivers as to how to be fan friendly, how to represent the sport, how to compete and be at the top of your game and he sets the bar in every category. It's more by history and looking at the stats and then I had that one moment of that race that weekend to recognize his involvement with the fans."
YOU HAD A TOUGH TIME ADJUSTING TO THE COIL BINDING WHEN IT CAME IN, HAS IT BEEN THAT MUCH OF A SCRATCH YOUR HEAD TYPE OF YEAR FOR YOU AND STEVE (LETARTE) TO GET YOUR ARMS AROUND THE CAR THIS YEAR, ESPECIALLY AT THESE TRACKS? "Definitely. When you're talking about four inches of travel in the front of the car and you have bump stops that are these hard pieces of rubber or plastic that is the suspension of the car and then you have to time them. I was telling somebody earlier that we ran great at California, we ran great at Vegas. Those are the only two race tracks we had all winter long that we actually have telemetry on the car and were able to go test. So we could time them just right and we could read the data and figure out what they were doing. Then you go to the race track and you're like is the splitter hitting, not sure, are we on the right front bump stop too hard or are we on the left front bump stop, there's just a lot of unanswered questions that is almost impossible to figure out throughout a race weekend.
"To be honest with you a lot of times you are just rolling the dice and sometimes you hit it and sometimes you don't. We look back on Texas obviously being the biggest disaster that we've had this year and there's just some things that we've learned since then that we feel like we could have maybe put ourselves in better positions or improved the handling and set up that was one or two things that we didn't try. Felt like we tried everything but maybe we didn't. We've just been working on that ever since. This car on these high speed tracks there's a lot going on that we're all still trying to understand. Some teams have just done a better job than others."
ABOUT A MONTH AGO MARK MARTIN SAID HE WAS REALLY GEARING UP FOR THE BRICKYARD 400, HOW MUCH DO YOU PULL FOR SOMEONE LIKE MARK WHO SEEMS TO HAVE NEVER WON THE BIG ONE TO DO SOMETHING LIKE WINNING AT THE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY? "I could be an inch off his bumper and at his door for the win and I'm going to be happy for him. That's the type of guy and driver that he is. When he retired or so-called retired to me I wasn't as disappointed as him but I was pretty disappointed that he never won a championship because in my opinion in all the years that I raced against him he's one of the best out there.
"All the guys that I've raced against that I feel like are top-notch experienced drivers, they've all won championship and he is to me the most deserving guy out there to have one and he doesn't so I was pretty disappointed. Whether it's a Daytona 500 or Brickyard 400 I'm certainly going to be happy for him."
WITH TONY BEING GIVEN HALF THE TEAM BASICALLY WITH HAAS, HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF AN ARRANGEMENT LIKE THAT AND DO YOU THINK THAT KINDOF DEAL COULD POSSIBLY CHANGE THE WAY DEALS ARE DONE IN THE FUTURE? IS THAT JUST TOO RARE OF A CIRCUMSTANCE THAT IT WOULD HAPPEN AGAIN? "I can think of two times it's happened. That's one, it's just a big announcement. The other time there was no big announcement. There's been two times that I know of. Hendrick is a lot different. It's a big organization separated up into a few different LLC's. It's complicated. The thing is if a driver brings enough to the table, it's just like some of the drivers like Carl Edwards or maybe a Greg Biffle but Carl's the one that stands out to me, when he was out shopping there were some huge numbers that were thrown out at him. Maybe they weren't offering ownership but in my opinion some of the numbers that were thrown out at him might as well have been ownership. There might have been teams that probably did offer him ownership because he's that valuable to certain teams. To a team that is desperate, that is struggling, needs sponsorship or needs reorganization and so I think while Haas I don't feel like they were as desperate as some teams out there it was very vital for them and their health in this sport to continue on to make a move like that. That's why I say it works both ways. It's good for both of them because I think you're going to see that organization grow tremendously and be more competitive and you could say how can that happen with just one driver. When it's a driver like Tony Stewart it can and I think that's why it was worth the risk for both of them because I think it's a good move. I think that competition-wise they're going to struggle compared to where Tony's at with Gibbs for a little while but with his fight and determination I believe that anything is possible there. It's very rare, very, very rare. You know I was in a situation where Ray Evernham was being offered up to start a whole new team with Dodge and I went to Rick Hendrick and said here's what's happening. I don't want to go anywhere, I want to be right here but I'm being offered ownership and I certainly would like to see if there is an opportunity here and the rest is history. It's just not talked about as much. About how much it is and what all is involved with it and I don't like to talk about it a whole lot either. I'm excited and proud of what I've been able to accomplish in this sport at Hendrick and I think that's a great move for Tony."
THE BRICKYARD IS IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS AND YOU'VE WON THERE FOUR TIMES, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TRACK AND HOW ANXIOUS ARE YOU TO GET BACK TO VICTORY LANE THERE? "Yeah, I was just there yesterday. Got a chance to ride around the track and look at the Moto GP track, which is pretty cool, they've done some big changes there but I was also riding around the oval.
"Just every time you go around there, there is just something about it that gets you fired up. It's kind of like going to Daytona but for me there's even a lot more memories and excitement because as a kid I remember taking that bus around there, going to the museum and just thinking wow how cool would it be to race at that track one day. Now I get that opportunity and I've won there four times so it's always a race that I really look forward to and this team looks forward to. Just like Mark Martin, you gear it up to win the Brickyard. Pretty much every team and driver out there, they're geared up wanting to win that race. It's a big one."
-credit: gm racing