This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Robbie Loomis. The series moves to Darlington Raceway next weekend for Round 5 of 36 points-paying races on...
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Robbie Loomis.
The series moves to Darlington Raceway next weekend for Round 5 of 36 points-paying races on the 2003 circuit. There have been 99 Winston Cup races at Darlington. David Pearson has won the most races in Darlington history (10) and the late Dale Earnhardt scored nine victories there. Jeff Gordon has won at Darlington Raceway six times - the most of any active driver. He won the Southern 500 last year, and three consecutive races - the fall race in '95 and both rounds in '96. Gordon has led more laps than any other active driver (1299) and has 11 top five finishes in his last 15 starts at Darlington.
Chevrolet is the most successful manufacturer at Darlington Raceway with 29 wins in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Modern Era (1972 - present).
ON JEFF GORDON'S SUCCESS AT DARLINGTON "It's real impressive. We were talking this morning about his success especially in the Southern 500. He just really has a feel for that place. It's a track where there's not much grip and the tires fall away. I think his ability to relate to the crew chief what you need in the car is probably one of the biggest things that really helps."
SINCE THE TEAMS FLY TO THE TRACKS IN PRIVATE PLANES, HAVE YOU BEEN TOLD YOU'LL HAVE TO CHANGE THINGS IF WE GO TO WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST? "No, we haven't. I know that became a concern when we went to Dover last year. I'm sure at some of these tracks there will be different restrictions that come up. It's a pretty stressful time on all the folks in the military and their families right now."
HAVE THE NEW BODY STYLES HAVE ANY IMPACT ON THE SPORT SO FAR? "The biggest impact is just the time it takes to build the cars. It takes probably another four days added to the time to build the body. The guys at the fab shop here at Hendrick Motorsports have been working incredibly hard to get the inventory built up. And that's been the toughest part for all the race teams right now with all the new templates and the new body that we have. We have to make the bodies that we have better, but at the same time getting the inventory up."
ON THE QUICK SUCCESS OF NEW DRIVER/CREW CHIEF COMBINATIONS "If you look over the history of the sport in the last 20 years, you'll find that any time you make a change like that it sparks a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum. That's really what you're looking for. When Roush made the change last year or the year before and basically took this group of guys over here that weren't doing that well with the driver, and switched them with this other set of guys over here. It made each driver step up. It made each crew chief step up. It makes you think harder. It's something you see a lot. You have to be careful that things don't get stagnant. You have to mix things up. I think you see it a lot in football and baseball teams. They're always trading players and changing them out even if a guy is one of the top pitchers or quarterbacks in the league. They reach a point there where they figure it's time to trade. It's good for the quarterback and it's also good for the team."
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO CHANGE FROM YOUR USUAL SET-UPS TO SOMETHING NEW AND TO RE-THINK THAT? "It's extremely hard. In 2000, when I came over to Hendrick Motorsports, we had a new Chevrolet body I was trying to learn and that was right about the time when the set-ups really started changing. I had to sit down and I actually read an article on open-mindedness and how you have to be receptive to new ideas and things. It's very hard because you've had success. When we won the championship in 2001, it was very hard the first three or four months of the 2002 season to change very much outside of the box. For myself, I was right in the shop here with Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson. I could see what they were doing with the same cars we had and how they were running a little different set-up. So it gave me confidence when we came around the second time. It's very challenging. The more success you have, the harder it is to change when you come back around. I think that's what ultimately winds up getting you in trouble because these guys that haven't had success have a clean sheet of paper. They're willing to go out there and try anything as far as the race car is concerned."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT NASCAR THAT HAS MADE IT GROW SO MUCH AND BECOME SO POPULAR? "The drivers forever have been so personal and people really relate to them. There's a lot of connections with the family in the sport. Most all the drivers have their families in the infield. There is a real personable side there that everybody sees."
ON JEFF GORDON'S SUCCESS AT BRISTOL "Bristol is a track I have always loved and fortunately I got hooked up with Jeff and he's incredible at that track. Once again, things happen very quick. You turn laps for pole time of 15.10's, 15.08's, and race laps in the high 15's. So, a driver who has great hand/eye coordination and reflexes really comes into play at a race track where things are happenings so quick and that's one of Jeff's greatest assets when it comes to a race track like Bristol."
ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED THAT NASCAR DIDN'T TAKE THE CARS TO THE WIND TUNNEL AND DO YOU THINK THE FORD CAMP IS STARTING TO LOBBY AGAINST THE CHEVROLETS A LITTLE TOO EARLY? "After a track like California or Las Vegas it's going to be a better example. That's where everybody stacks all the front downforce in the car they can. At a track like Atlanta, a lot of times you won't have the full front downforce in the car that you can stand. I think that NASCAR's got a good approach. They want everybody to get stabilized. Being a new body - especially for us with Chevrolet - I know we don't have a great handle on our set-ups. We did hit it pretty good there the other day and pretty good at Vegas. We're gaining on it and I think that's what NASCAR wants. They want all these teams to get stabilized with the new body location and with the new templates that we're having to us. A third of the way, or probably 10 races down the road, they'll probably look at them pretty hard to see where everybody is. It's one of those situations this year where there's just not as many gray areas for the cars to be that different. If somebody has come up with something that's better, they should be able to go race it."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ON THE PIT BOX MAKING CALLS? "It's like having a big tractor sitting on your shoulders (laughs). It's actually great - especially with Jeff, who stays very calm and in control of his emotions. He can help you get the car to where you need to be. That's one of the things we were talking about Sunday in the trailer when we were starting 30th. There have been many occasions on Saturday when we haven't had the best Happy Hour or the best practice. But through a 500-mile race on Sunday, we've been able to adjust the car and communicate well enough to get the car to Victory Lane at the end of the day. So that's a very comforting feeling from that side too."
ON 9 FAILED MOTORS AT ATLANTA "That was one of my concerns. I think I was the most nervous guy in the place when Jimmie's (Johnson) engine let go there with about 25 (laps) to go. But we did look at everything and I know Randy Dorton (engine builder) have tore into it. I don't want to say they've drawn some conclusions, but I think they're closing in on what the problem was. I think for Darlington, we'll have everything corrected. But you know, Atlanta has always been a real tough track on engines. Roush lost about four, so I think they're hurt pretty bad over there too."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT HIRING A CREW CHIEF, DO YOU LOOK FOR SOMEBODY WITH THE SPECIAL BACKGROUND LIKE CHASSIS OR AERO, OR DO YOU LOOK FOR COMPATIBILITY WITH THE DRIVER? "The number one thing we look at is the personality (of the crew chief) and the personality of the driver and what kind of character the guy has. Once you've established that, then you fall back and look at what areas can the guy bring some strength into. But the number one thing is the right-fit personality and character because there's a much bigger thing here than just getting a fender right or just getting the right camber in the right front. It's all very important, but (personality) is probably the bigger order that we look at first."