Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and talked about his reaction to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leaving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, the repaving of Darlington, Mother's Day and more. ON DALE ...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and talked about his reaction to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leaving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, the repaving of Darlington, Mother's Day and more.
ON DALE EARNHARDT, JR. ANNOUNCING HE IS LEAVING DALE EARNHARDT, INC. "You tell me, you guys are the media (laughs). I'm just focused on trying to drive the DuPont Chevrolet. Obviously yesterday I was anxious to see what all was going on as much as anybody else and like a lot of people, on one side I was shocked and on the other side I wasn't so surprised."
IS IT A GOOD OR A BAD THING? "It's obviously a good thing for some and a bad thing for others. I think for Junior it's a great thing, you know. It puts him in a position to go out and seek what he's looking for. If you're DEI it's not a good place to be."
DOES THIS BRING NEGATIVE ATTENTION TO THE SPORT? "Any attention that it brings to the sport is a good thing. I don't see it as a negative thing or positive, it's just a big story. I don't think it's a bad thing for the sport."
DO YOU SEE HIM AS A TEAMMATE? "I haven't really thought about it a whole lot. I think that he can go anywhere he wants to go. If I had to guess, and I haven't talked to Junior, this was not an easy decision for him. He struggled with it in many ways and I think that he wants to show his loyalty and I think his loyalty is to his fans and that has a lot to do with Chevrolet. He's loyal to Chevrolet and I think that's probably. I guess there are some areas where he's going to draw the line. It does sound like he wants to be with a Chevy team and that's a good thing right now. To me, the top three teams out there in this series right now are Chevy teams."
DO YOU THINK HE COULD BECOME YOUR TEAMMATE? "If he came, great. If he went somewhere else. I'm going to treat him the same way wherever he goes and I'll be happy for him and support him whatever his decision is. I don't know what kind of a teammate he'd be until I was racing with him. I'd be pretty surprised if he made that decision but he's in the driver's seat, man. He gets to do whatever he wants. I think that car owners are going to be willing to really do whatever they can to get them. He's a huge asset to an organization in a lot of ways."
DO YOU EVER WONDER WHAT YOUR WORTH AS A FREE AGENT IS? "No, I'm fortunate (in that) I never had to deal with that. I feel like I'm getting my fair share where I'm at. To me, if it was about money I would have probably gone out and pushed the limits of that a long time ago. I don't think it's money with Junior either. All I ever ask is to be treated fairly. That's why I'm at Hendrick. Every time that that has come up, Rick (Hendrick) is a guy that treats people very fair, especially if things are going well."
WHAT IS THE IMPALA SS LIKE ON THIS TRACK? "We did the tire test here and we didn't make any qualifying runs so we kind of guessed on what we thought we'd need. We had our hands full this morning. It didn't start out too good but then we went back to some of our basics. This is a challenging race track. When you take a car that has a higher center of gravity like this one that you've heard guys talk about, handling - you can't get it to turn in the middle of a corner. All those things are going to be a big challenge for this race track with this car. I think I've already heard plenty of guys comment on it."
WILL THIS RACE BE MESSY BECAUSE OF THE SLOWER CARS? "We've already seen guys brushing the wall and I've been saying for weeks that the biggest challenge you're going to have with this car at this race track. This is an abrasive race track. It gives up a lot of speed over a run because it just grinds the tires down and when you've got a car that doesn't handle as good as what we're used to then you've got to really have a lot of patience and be careful. The guys that try to push it a little bit too hard are going to be guys that are going to flat-side the right side in a hurry. I think you're going to see that the biggest challenge this weekend is just trying to stay out of the wall."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE REPAVING OF DARLINGTON: "I'm excited for them to do that. There's some big bumps and cracks and things that are out there on the surface that need to be fixed. I think it will make the racing better. I definitely think it's going to complement this car by having a smoother race track. Right now as rough as the track is, with some of the issues that they've had, it's only making it that much more challenging for us with this car. Obviously the key to any good pave job is that it starts with the foundation. It's what's going on underneath, how they pack it, what type of rock and different materials they use to compact it and how they compact it. To get it smooth, get those settling areas out that are underneath the surface and build it up from there. I think there are some drainage issues going on and different things - that they've had separation. So I think that they know what the issue is, hiring the right guys and getting out there and making sure they fix those things are going to be key."
THOUGHTS ON HENDRICK DOMINATION AND HOW YOU LIKE THE NEW CAR: "I've definitely been critical of the car and it's grown on me. The first time I drove the car it was a real handful and I wasn't crazy about how it drove. We've made the car better. I think the team is spending time adjusting and working through a lot of issues. We've helped make the car better. We're a long ways from where we were and hopefully we'll just keep getting better with it. I'm not going to truly judge this car until we get on a mile-and-a-half race track. This is a step towards that but it's not Charlotte, it's not Kansas or Chicago."
HAS THIS TRACK TURNED OUT TO BE A LOT DIFFERENT WITH THIS NEW CAR THAN YOU EXPECTED? "To me the first lap that you make is different than the second lap that you make and each time you make a lap and you give information back to the team then they seem to keep making it better. You go out there the first time and you go 'oh my God, I'm going to wreck'. And then five laps later you go 'okay, maybe I understand what this car needs a little bit more' and then the team makes the car a little bit better and it seems to get better as the weekend gets on. So far I would say that here and Bristol are going to be the two most challenging events. And then Dover. I don't know what it's going to be like at Dover too. Some tracks surprise you on how well it does, like Phoenix surprised me of how well the cars handled there. I expect it to be bad here but let's see. Most importantly I just hope it's a good race."
DO YOU THINK THE TRACKS USING THE NEW FORMAT TWICE THIS SEASON WILL CUT THE GAP THAT HENDRICK HAS? "Everybody keeps talking about this gap. You're looking at one column and that's the win column. If you look at laps led and what cars have been dominant, it's not the Hendrick cars. The Hendrick cars have won the races and have been consistently towards the front but Gibbs Racing and Childress Racing, in my opinion, have still put up some great efforts and they've had cars and teams capable of winning some of those races as well. To me, that's our competition. Them and Roush. I think also Penske is coming along too. It seems like they're getting better. I agree that second time around the competition is going to get better. Guys are going to learn more about it. I think we've got a little bit of a head start but I still think that we've got a little ways to go to catch some of those guys that haven't won but they've been a little bit faster than us."
ON HOW THE SEASON IS PROGRESSING: "I never expected us to come out and be this strong this year. As an organization we've been doing a lot of great things and it's fun; it's exciting to see our whole organization running this well, being this consistent. We've got to keep it going. It's still early - a lot of racing left."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO DALE JR. RECENTLY? "No, I have not. Back in the middle of last year we were parked next to one another in the garage area and I told him that his dad was good to me and was always a great guy to go to for advice and I offered that same thing up to him. And other than doing his radio show one time, that's about the only time I've talked to him."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A FREE-AGENT BIDDING WAR ALONG THE LINES OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL FOR DALE JR.? "I don't think that's good for the sport. Let's work with the business model of race teams first. The whole key here is that you can't have a driver making so much money that he breaks the team and the team doesn't make some money along the way. Just because Dale Jr. is coming your way, whatever team he goes with, that doesn't mean that all of a sudden they're a gold mine and they're going to strike it rich. It has to balance itself out. You've got to make sure that sponsor dollars are adding up to the cost of everything else. If you just get into a big bidding war where everybody goes 'there's just a ton of money here to go around' then it's going to affect the entire sport because then you'll have other drivers that think 'hey, I'm winning championships and races, I should be paid more'. You've got crew members that are going to want to get more. It's a trickle-down effect. To me what the (New York) Yankees have done is a horrible thing for baseball and I think that it's only good for one person - and that's Roger (Clemens)."
CAN OWNERS RESTRAIN THEMSELVES? "They need to. To me, I don't feel like there's been enough communication with car owners, drivers and NASCAR and that's one of the things that I fear the most with our sport is the move forward. I'm in one of the most unique situations out here - not as unique as Junior is in right now - but I see what happens on the owner side of things. I see how the numbers match up and how they don't match up. So I think that the cost of this sport is escalating at a fast rate and if we don't all control it in some way, some how then it can get out of control."
IF DALE JR. WOULD BE UNITED WITH THE NO. 3 CAR, WHAT WOULD THAT DO FOR MERCHANDISING? "I don't think it would have much of an impact on other drivers. I think it would be huge for whoever is owner, I think it would be huge for Dale Jr. But he's already huge. It would be a spike that would then level off to right back to where he is now. He controls that market as it is and so I definitely think wherever he goes you'll see a big spike. You'll see a lot of people who will want to collect it. Then you're going to see his fans that always support him continue to support him."
DO YOU SEE AN ADVANTAGE TO WRAPPING THIS UP QUICKER FOR HIM AS OPPOSED TO LETTING IT DRAG OUT? "I think that it's a double-edged sword here because you don't want to make a fast decision but at the same time the media is going to be all over him until he makes a decision. And I think that's a distraction for the team that he has to finish out his season with and I think it's a distraction for him. To me that's the burden that's going to be riding on his shoulders that okay, it's great that he made one announcement that kind of cleared the air on that subject but now it's opened up another can of worms that is going to be a real challenge for him. I support him 100%. I think that this is something that is going to make him happy in the long run, to be able to pick and choose and go to a team that he really feels that he can elevate himself and that team to the next level. I think he's very capable of doing that and for whatever reason that wasn't there for him where he was at. So on a personal side, I'm excited for him but I think that he's got a tough road ahead of him until he makes that decision."
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FOR CASEY MEARS BEING THE NEW GUY AND THE SPECULATION THAT HE COULD BE REPLACED BY DALE JR.? "I hate that for Casey because Casey is new to the team. A lot of new people on that team and he hasn't gotten a fair shake. I think that it's important for those guys to really start putting some things together and I hate to see that kind of added pressure on somebody but it's not because that's a potential. It's just because of the speculation of what the media talks about. Those guys have started out rough and to me, you've got to have at least a couple years behind the wheel with a new team before you can really know where you're headed. I think that the most important thing for them right now is to continue to show improvement as the year goes on. When Steve (Letarte) came on board with us it took us a whole year to get where we're at now, if not a little bit longer than that. I think too many people are speculating and trying to answer questions that can't be answered yet and they're including other people and hey, I'm sure it's exciting and fun for everyone to do that but it's making it very challenging for some of the guys that are out here trying to do their jobs."
IS IT AS DIFFICULT TO RETRIEVE MOMENTUM AS IT IS TO ACHIEVE IT? "It's a lot harder. Sometimes gaining momentum is just a natural process of the team getting better and that takes time. When you get that momentum it's not easy to maintain it but it's a whole lot easier to maintain it than to lose it and try to get it back."
WHAT DOES THE NAME A.J. FOYT MEAN TO YOU? "When I was a kid growing up watching Indy 500s, because I watched a lot more Indy races than I did NASCAR races as a kid growing up, it was all about A.J. Foyt and Johnny Rutherford, Mario Andretti, Al Unser. That to me, as a kid, that was my dreams. To one day be in those shoes and to race with somebody like that or to be as successful as he was and looking back at how he was good in a sprint car, stock car and an Indy car is pretty impressive."
HOW POWERFUL IS KELLEY EARNHARDT ELLEDGE RIGHT NOW? "I would say she's probably the next most powerful thing next to her brother. She's in a power position. He can't do all those things on his own. I think she's made very conscious, smart decisions. I don't think they've jumped into anything. The little bit that I know her, and my dad knows her pretty well - he used to work with her at Action, I've heard nothing but good things. I'm pretty impressed so far with the way things have been handled."
DARLINGTON WAS IN DANGER OF LOSING ITS CUP RACES AND NOW IT'S SELLING OUT. "That's great. I love racing at this track. Yeah, they've got some surface issues that will hopefully be resolved with the repaving but this is a track that I hope never goes away. To me it's important for us to maintain our history and to me there's no place more historical than this one."
YOU WERE NOT IN FAVOR OF THE CONTRACT THAT THE YANKEES GAVE ROGER CLEMENS? "I think it's great for Roger. I think it's a move out of desperation. You hear about salary caps and all these things and then that happens. To me it doesn't seem like it's a very positive thing for the sport, to be able to do that. And I'm a Yankees fan but I'm not a fan when it comes to things like that. One thing NASCAR has is they really maintain a way to keep things as equal as possible. Just because we've won a bunch of races at Hendrick doesn't mean that it's lopsided. As far as everybody having the same opportunity to do what we're doing, it's out there. And I do think there's some areas here that it's gotten out of control even in NASCAR with some of the engineering and technology money that we're spending in certain areas. I think this is the first time it's really showing up, with this new car. Trust me, as someone who is involved with the owner side, it makes me nervous when I see some of the things that are going on. I'm happy that we're running good and we're applying it to the car but where does it go from here. When does it stop."
YOU KNOW THE YANKEES RUINED BASEBALL. "They did? I'm a fan of seeing them win but maybe sometimes the way you go about it can be a little bit rough. I'm guilty of that with my fancy football team. We bought our championship last year. It's about the league and the rules allowing you to do that. If they allow you to do that then it's all free game. I'm not blaming the Yankees as much as I'm blaming the league allowing them to do that."
WHO WERE SOME OF THE STARS YOU BOUGHT ON YOUR FANTASY FOOTBALL TEAM LAST YEAR? "Well, all the ones I had ended up getting injured and we had to go buy a bunch of other ones. I can't remember all the guys."
WHAT ARE YOUR MOTHER'S DAY PLANS? DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE FOR YOUR MOTHER ON MOTHER'S DAY? "My mom is going to be here at the race. I'm excited about that. They do a special thing here for the mothers and then Sunday I'll be spending time with her and the mother-to-be - my wife - and my sister. So I'm definitely going to be with my family on Mother's Day. I've got the best mom and I've got a great relationship with her and I look forward to that time. Very seldom do we get the time to just talk about life away from racing. My life has revolved around racing so much that it's that quality time that you get with your family, especially your mom, that really makes for a special day and I'm looking forward to sharing that time with her and hopefully giving her a special day."
IS YOUR MOM MORE EXCITED ABOUT YOUR SUCCESS THIS YEAR OR THE FACT THAT SHE'S GOING TO HAVE A GRANDCHILD? "That's a good question. I think she'd be torn between that but probably more on the grandchild side of things."
THE RUMOR IS THAT YOU ARE RETIRING NEXT YEAR? "I'm not going anywhere."
WHAT ARE THE EMOTIONS IN THE CAR WHEN YOU ARE RUNNING WELL AS OPPOSED TO WHEN YOU ARE NOT? "The funny thing is that when you are running well the intensity level is just as high because you want to maintain that level of competition. When you don't feel like you've got the car to win.I've been more intense this year having second- and third-place runs then I've been in the last couple of years having a 15th-place car at Texas or something like that. I'm a competitive person and we've got a seriously competitive team here. It's a great feeling when you're running good, doing it consistently and there's nothing better than seeing that checkered flag and knowing you're the first guy across the line."
-credit: gm racing