JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed All-Star moments, efforts to make the new race car handle better, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, support from his mom, expectations for Saturday's race at Darlington, tires, and...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed All-Star moments, efforts to make the new race car handle better, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, support from his mom, expectations for Saturday's race at Darlington, tires, and more. Full transcript:
REGARDING THE ALL-STAR RACE, YOU'VE WON IT THREE TIMES. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE FIRST TIME YOU WON? "You'll have to remind me. I don't remember the first time. I remember the Jurassic Park car that we won all three segments. I remember running out of fuel there with the Superman car one time and then the year that we all crashed down in Turn 1, but honestly I don't remember the first year."
IN 1995, IN SEGMENT 1, YOU BEAT DALE EARNHARDT TO WIN. THE SECOND SEGMENT YOU STARTED IN THE REAR. "Oh I know which segment that was now. That was the segment where Dale and Darrell got together in the final segment and crashed and we went on to win. Yeah, that was a wild and crazy race. We had a great car. When it was 10 laps to go, that last segment was always out of control crazy. And those two guys wanted it really bad and ended up unfortunately taking each other out and I ended up getting the win."
DO YOU HAVE A THEORY ON WHAT THE NO. 99 TEAM IS DOING TO BE SO COMPETITIVE ON THE 1.5-MILE TRACKS? "Not really. We can tell that they've got the car in yaw quite a bit all the way around the race track. Everybody has been trying a bunch of different things in rear-end housings and they might be doing it that way and just kind of have it figured out better than us. But they might be doing it a different way. There are a lot of theories going on around this garage area right now."
HAVE YOU GUYS TRIED STUFF? "Oh, yeah, we've tried a bunch of stuff. We've tested the last three weeks in a row trying stuff. It felt like we found some things at Nashville. And we went to Charlotte and didn't see anything spectacular with it, but we weren't bad either. But honestly, we went back to kind of the way we were at Vegas where we were the best. I like Steve's (Letarte) new theory is you know we've been trying to do things outside the box to get ourselves into the top five to win, and we've been having a hard time getting a top 15. Let's go back to trying to get between 10 and 15 to see if we can start trying to take steps from there. So that's our plan. We've got to walk before we can run.
"And I think one thing that's interesting right now is that NASCAR did everything they could to stop us from twisting these bodies up and saving us a bunch of money and now we're building about 10 rear-end housings a week.
"So I think that no matter what, these teams are just sharp and the engineering is such that we're always going to the next level to try and find speed and to try to find something. And when you see a team out there doing something and having success with it, you've got to try to figure out how you can catch up to them."
WHEN DALE EARNHARDT JR. CAME TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AND KYLE BUSCH WENT OVER TO GIBBS, WAS IT INEVITABLE THAT THEY WOULD HAVE A LITTLE RIVALRY? "Not necessarily. I could sense that Kyle would have some hard feelings toward Hendrick and I think that he feels like he kind of got the raw end of the deal and he might be right, but I don't think that should transfer onto the race track. But you never know with Kyle. I don't know. I think those are a couple of downsides. I think he's a tremendous race car driver and that's proven itself. But sometimes he lets himself get the best of him. And I'm not saying that happened in that situation. But if a rivalry continues or builds into something, that's the only thing that I would go back to."
WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS FOR THE RICHMOND INCIDENT? "I thought it was typical Kyle Busch. He was racing too hard and I think he just drove in too deep. Turn 3, when you're on the inside, you've got to be the conservative one. You can't be the aggressor. And the guy on the outside, you know he's going to hold you. And he's going to pinch you. If you don't want to wreck, you're going to have to check up a little early and try to get a run on him at the bottom of the corner and then drive down into Turn 1 and get him. Or, beat him off Turn 2. You can't try to outrun a guy into Turn 3, not when you're on the inside like that."
WHAT KIND OF RACE ARE WE GOING TO SEE TOMORROW? "It's going to be a tough race. I think this it is going to be an exciting race, but I think it's going to be a crew chief race. It's going to come down to the crew chief making very, very good decisions about how many tires, or not taking tires, or whatever is going to get track position. The track is very fast. The tire is very hard. And the groove is very narrow. I think that we're going to see a great race, but it's not going to be a lot of passing."
DID GOODYEAR BRING THE RIGHT TIRE? "Oh, yeah. Thank God they brought the tire that they brought. We saw guys running in the mid-27's last night and it's getting to be very fast. Had they not brought this tire, we would have had a lot of tire trouble right now."
IS THE TRACK TOO FAST? "Yeah, the track's too fast you know. But what do you mean by too fast?"
IS THE TRACK TOO FAST FOR YOUR LIKING? "No, it's not a danger. But it's too fast to really do what we want to do."
ON HOW HIS MOM HELPED HIS RACING CAREER "My mom was so supportive. Luckily I got my height from my mom. Luckily she was short enough to get into the Quarter Midgets when I was younger and we would go practice. If there weren't other kids, we would put my mom in one of my cars and me and her would go out there and run against one another. But things like that. Traveling with us for years around the country and sometimes me and my dad were traveling racing and she had to run their business to keep it going. So, she sacrificed a lot for our family to allow me to have the career that I've had."
ARE YOU RUNNING A SPECIAL PAINT SCHEME AT THE COKE 600 FOR THE SALUTE THE TROOPS PROGRAM? "I love the program, but we're not running a special paint scheme for that race. We are running their decal, so we're certainly supporting them. Memorial Day weekend is coming up and I think it's extremely important for all of us to pay tribute to the troops. The troops that are there today, the troops that have been there in the past, and the ones that really fight, and give their lives for our freedom. So it's only fitting that we support them. I feel like everyone, not just the race teams out there, show support for all Americans."
YOUR MOM HAS A REALLY POSITIVE OUTLOOK. IS THAT WHERE YOU GOT THAT SAME ATTITUDE? "Definitely. Absolutely. I think that you get a lot of your personality and who you are, most of it through your parents; through whether it be the genes or whether it be setting that example for you growing up. My parents were always telling me to be the bigger person and to accept defeat when it comes your way, but to fight hard to get better and do better in life and in racing. So, yeah, definitely."
ARE YOU GLAD TO NOT WORRY ABOUT TIRES AT DARLINGTON LIKE YOU USED TO WORRY? "Yeah, I mean we had a race like this when they repaved this track several years ago, but it only lasted one race and then it was back to the old Darlington. This time I don't think it's going to be that way. This track, they've used all the modern technology in paving and this surface is going to last a lot longer and it's going to be smooth and have a lot of grip for longer than it did before. So, this is something we're going to need to get used to here at Darlington. We do hope eventually it gets back to grinding the tires down because that's what makes Darlington so much fun is having to manage the tires."
DOES TONY STEWART'S THINKING OF MAKING A CHANGE GET YOU THINKING ABOUT YOUR FUTURE AND WHAT YOU WANT TO DO? 'Ah, not necessarily Tony and his choices, but as you get you get older and you've been in the sport for a while, you've got to start thinking about your future. If you don't, then you're not being very smart."
TALKING ABOUT BUILDING A BUNCH OF REAR-ENDS, IS THAT AN AREA THAT NASCAR POLICES OR SHOULD POLICE, OR IS IT JUST SOMETHING THAT NOBODY CAUGHT IT AND IT'S TO THEIR (NO. 99) ADVANTAGE RIGHT NOW? "That's a good question because NASCAR knows it's happening. They are the ones that see the cars come through inspection. They see it. When the cars can't even get on to the scales because they're running sideways, I think it's something they need to address. Whether they address it this year or not, I don't know. But I think that this car was designed and built in such a way that these types of things were things they wanted to prevent. And yet it's again, something that's being taken to the next level. So I don't think that they could just turn away from it. I think they're going to have to address it eventually.
"The thing that I have a problem with is that we're trying to find downforce and grip in the car and that's why we're doing it. But it makes the cars drive so terrible that it doesn't really help us in the way that we really need it. I think it's all of us just kind of saying hey, we need more grip in these cars and we're going to take desperate measures find it. And it's typical NASCAR you know, throughout all the years in the history books, we do whatever we can within the rules. And everything that we're doing, we're just maximizing the areas that they've let loose a little bit. And that's all.
BUT IT'S LEGAL, RIGHT? SO DO THEY JUST LEAVE A HOLE IN THE RULES TO ALLOW THAT? "I'm not really sure. This started last year and now it's been taken to a whole other level. So, I don't know. I believe it was something they didn't expect. And again, like I said, the teams look into every single rule and how they're taking the cars through inspection and think, okay, this is an area that they don't really focus much on or don't check or that they're not concerned about. So we can work in this area. What can we do in this area that might make the car go faster? So you go to work and as soon as they prevent this from happening, we're going to go to another area. That's just the way it works. I don't blame NASCAR in any way. It's not like they've done anything wrong. It's just an area that we've taken advantage of."
DO YOU REALIZE THAT CASEY MEARS HAS HAD FOUR RACE TEAMS AND FIVE CREW CHIEFS IN FOUR YEARS? "I hadn't thought about that."
HOW MUCH COULD THAT HURT SOMEBODY? "No it's tough. But this has been done before. Some people get one opportunity. And all I can say is that Casey obviously has done something right along the way or he wouldn't be still here and he wouldn't be in the position he's at and have a ride at Hendrick Motorsports. But timing is everything. How things fall together can make or break your career.
"And unfortunately for Casey, he hasn't been able to get himself into a more stable situation and really build on it. And I hate that for Casey. But it happens to a lot of people. I agree the my circumstances worked out very well and Jimmie's (Johnson) and other guys have had success to that level, that's certainly a common denominator. But I've seen a lot of guys in the garage area fight and claw and do a lot of things and have to go through those situations, and some of them have to go through that before they have success. But it's something that certainly you hope for a guy that he can get something. Our opinion at Hendrick is that each time we want to improve for that team for Casey, and what happened was we had him with Darian (Grubb) and that was new to him. And then when Junior came, it just put us into a position to move him with Alan (Gustafson) who we believe is a tremendous crew chief, and use Darian as an engineer that we thought would benefit that team better. Unfortunately it made for another crew chief change and team change for him."
-credit: gm racing