JEFF GORDON, NO 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at NASCAR Media Day and discussed new crew chief, the anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death, his teammates and other topics.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. How are the changes at Hendrick Motorsports?
JEFF GORDON: They've been good for us. We won't really know till we're racing. But as far as just testing, spending time in the shop with this new group of guys, getting to know them and the chemistry, couldn't be going better. I'm pumped. Can't wait to get the season started.
We had a great test down here in January. I'm pretty optimistic we're going to have a fast racecar for qualifying. We did a test out in Colorado last week to get ready for Phoenix. Looking forward to see what we have there, too.
Q. (Question regarding Richard Petty.)
JEFF GORDON: I knew I loved Richard Petty for some reason. That's exactly how I feel. I feel like I never expected to make it to this level. I never expected to win one race, let alone 82, wherever we're at. So to me the whole experience has been amazing. I don't have to win another race to be content, to be happy with my career, with my life.
But at the same time, you know, when you work for Hendrick Motorsports and you're in this business and you've had the success that we've had, you want to keep it going. You don't know how many more years you have left in you. You don't know how many more races you can win. You want to seize those opportunities.
I just know that our organization, this team that I'm with this year, we've got a shot at winning races. When we get in that position, it's my job to make sure that we finish first.
Q. Tony Stewart said, I'm not driving if I don't think I can win the championship every year. Are you the same way?
JEFF GORDON: I've been fortunate that I've been competitive, with a competitive team, to not have to experience anything any different. So I would say, yeah, I mean, that's the way I feel.
I've always said, you know, I'm racing as long as I'm healthy, as long as I'm competitive, enjoying what I'm doing. I feel kind of like all three of those fall together. If I'm not healthy, I'm not going to be enjoying what I'm doing and I'm probably not going to be competitive. And if I'm healthy and I'm competitive, I'm probably going to be enjoying myself. Those are three things that have always been determining factors for me.
I can tell you it hasn't been quite as much fun the last couple years. But we have still been fairly competitive, just not as competitive as we've been in the past. Now it's been a goal and a challenge to get back and to see, Do I have what it takes? Can I create that chemistry in a team to have what it takes to be successful and battle for a championship?
I think this year is a real test for me and for Alan and this whole team for that.
Q. Has Mark Martin showed you a new way to look at the next 10 years of your career?
JEFF GORDON: I think Mark has shown everybody. I don't think I'll ever be into the physical fitness as much as he is. I don't know if I can have the physical side of it to be able to go to 50, 51. But, you know, what he has is a tremendous amount of talent and work ethic. It definitely shows if you have those abilities, you can go a long time in this sport.
Q. Fame, fortune, great family. Contentment?
JEFF GORDON: That's when you have to find out what you're really made of and how bad you want it.
Q. Is that where you're at right now?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, definitely. I feel like last year, I mean, I worked as hard as I've ever worked. The wins didn't come early, so it was a little frustrating. Then the battle for the wins came early in the season, but we didn't finish it out. They didn't come towards the later part of the season. It was very, very tough. You have to work very hard to find the fun in it.
That's what I love so much about this change that was made. It got that spark back in there for me and I feel like for others in motorsport as well that were lacking that. It kind of puts us in that place to be optimistic, excited, just feel like, Yeah, man, we've got what it takes to go out there and do it. We won't really know until we get five or six races into it.
Q. Has being Jimmie's teammate, seeing that success up close, given your background, now not winning races, does it make it harder or easier to be close to him?
JEFF GORDON: Yes and no, because it tells you the ingredients are there, the tools are there. It tells you how important teamwork, chemistry and confidence in one another truly is. I applaud those guys, what they've been able to accomplish. It's been amazing to be there seeing it as close up as I have. But at the same time, you know, when you see that, you want to know why you're not experiencing that.
So it's good and it's bad. I feel like in some ways it's been very motivating and inspiring. Like I said, I applaud those guys. I think they really are setting the standard, not only at Hendrick, but the whole sport. It's what we all strive to achieve.
Q. Dale Jr., his schedule is made by crew chief, they want him in early. Something he complained about he would not have done before. Is that something you felt when you came in? Was the crew chief the driver in that? The balance between being the driver and the crew chief calling the shots.
JEFF GORDON: The crew chief, he runs the team. That's the way I think it should be. That's the way it has been for all the successful teams in my mind. I'm not in Dale Jr.'s shoes. He's very popular, has a lot of demands, a lot of people pulling at him.
I think it's not only about being committed but showing commitment, the perception of it. You can still do the things that are important to you, but you have to be sure that all those guys are working hard, stand where you stand, doing all the things they're doing for a reason. You know, I applaud Steve for stepping up and I applaud Junior for knowing that's what it's going to take. I look to those guys to have a good year this year.
Q. There are some people that think Jimmie has a legitimate chance to catch Dale and Richard's seven titles. Was there a point in your career when you thought that was a possibility?
JEFF GORDON: I never thought it was a reality. I mean, I just looked at seven as like that's just crazy to be able to do that. But we went on a heck of a streak there. You hope you could just keep that streak going for as long as you can, but you never know when the day, the momentum is going to slow down and stop, then you have to reinvent yourself, sometimes reinvent the team. I don't think you can ever -- you can never have it quite like it was when you are at that peak, if you had the kind of success that the 48 has had, that I've had, even Richard and Dale. But it's possible, it's just tough.
You know, I don't know. For me, I never thought I was going to win one championship, let alone four. I always said, I'm not thinking about seven, first I have to get five, once you get to five, then I'll think about six, once I get to six, then I'll think about seven. But then they changed the points.
To me, you can't compare history in our sport from a championship standpoint. To me what Jimmie and those guys are doing, they're resetting the standards and the record books. It's a different championship today than it was when I won five championships, when Dale won his, and Richard. Some could say that some of the earlier ones that Richard had weren't the same as some of the later ones as well because the points changed on him as well.
To me, it's more challenging and even more important to win a championship under the new format because I like it, number one, I think it's great for the sport, and because I think for me it's more challenging. It's really about 10 tracks. It's 10 races, 10 tracks. It's not about the whole season. That's the difference.
You think, Oh, well, what's the biggest change in there? Why is that more challenging? But, you know, you kind of get streaky throughout the season. When you win a championship over the whole season, you can kind of go through those ups and downs and you can take advantage of the streaks, but try to make the low points not so low, have your average finish. But in 10 races, you can't afford that. You can't really do much of that. You got to be really solid.
To me it's a huge challenge and I think Jimmie has a real shot at seven. Do I think it should be compared to Earnhardt's seven and Petty's seven? No, I think what he's doing is even harder and more impressive.
Q. A lot of talk about Dale because of the 10th anniversary. What do you think his legacy is ultimately going to be?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, my goodness. I mean, seven championships. But I think even more than that, it's just how he affected the fans, like how they resonated with him. I think that in his passing we saw how big he truly was by the impact he made on the fans and the sport, just the public in general even outside of racing. To me, that's his real legacy. Man, it's like Elvis stuff going on there. That's unbelievable.
Q. (Question regarding popularity and rivalry with Dale.)
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely there's no doubt I wouldn't have been as popular, and this is something we talk about today with the sport, with a guy like Jimmie winning five in a row, there just isn't that rivalry. It wasn't made up. It just happened. Here's this young kid from California growing up in modern day motorsports, just growing up being interviewed on ESPN and all those things, to old-school, hard-knocks Dale Earnhardt. It was just black and white, just two total opposites in a way, even though later, as Dale and I got to know one another, we weren't as opposite as maybe it was perceived from the outside. Still, that's the way the fans thought of it and the way the media thought of it. It heightened the excitement of those races, those championship battles.
Dale was just one of those kind of guys that it worked really well for him to have a rival. He had several throughout his career and he thrived on it. You know, that was never really my style. I didn't ever feel like, Hey, you know, Dale's not here, now I've got to take over that role. It was, We all have our personalities, our jobs, and let's do them the best that we can. He helped build this sport to a level we're proud of and need to keep going.
I miss that. We need it. We can't create it. It's going to happen. I mean, I think that's some of the excitement about Kyle, is he brings a uniqueness that people either love or hate. You get Kyle battling for the championship with somebody like Jimmie or myself, it's definitely going to stir that up.
Q. I remember when you went to Rockingham, spoke about the void that the sport faced. Now 10 years removed from that, has that void been filled? Will it ever be filled?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I think that Dale Jr. in a lot of ways has filled a lot of the gaps, but he needs the championships, he needs the wins. If Dale, Jr. starts winning a bunch of races this year, I mean, we'll be like, Oh, my God. I think some people in the sport don't want to think that that's all it takes, but sometimes that's all it takes.
It doesn't have to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it could be somebody else. But I think it's pretty obvious if he goes on to do what the expectations are on him, what I think that team is capable of doing, it not only could catapult him and his popularity, but the sport's as well.
Q. You and Big D had classic encounters. Are there any that stand out or one moment where you figured out what he was all about?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, he taught me a lot about the draft. He didn't tell me it. He just beat me enough times, passed me enough times. It's not possible. He's got something going on in that car. What is it? I just realized he just was that good.
I'd say the last three or four years that we raced together on the speedways, I felt like it was kind of a race between me and him. He taught me enough or I learned enough from racing with him that I felt like I could do what he could do, you know. He was always reinventing things, just only getting better at those types of tracks. I always was in awe of racing with him.
But it was a totally different type of racing back then.
Q. He always wanted to get underneath somebody's skin. I got the impression he never got under your skin.
JEFF GORDON: You don't get under somebody's skin until you're beating them all the time. The thing is, '95, it was a real test. There was no doubt that there were certain races and tracks that he did get underneath my skin because he was faster than me or because he pushed me around, pushed me out of the way. But it was mainly because he was faster than me.
I always said, A guy can't push you out of the way if he can't get to your bumper. My goal was to make sure that Dale never got to my bumper. I was fortunate. I think our cars and our team was better during the mid to late '90s. Most of the time he wasn't able to get to my bumper, so he wasn't able to get under my skin as much as maybe he had some other guys in the past.
Q. When you see what's become of Jimmie, you helped him get there, do you ever say, Man, what did I create, this monster?
JEFF GORDON: Never, not at all.
Q. Are you proud?
JEFF GORDON: Very proud. I'm one of however many thousands of people that came in contact with him to get him where he is, just like me and everybody else in this garage. I think for whatever reason that was meant to happen, those things were meant to happen, for him to come to Hendrick and have the success he's had. You have to be in awe of what they've accomplished, and he's a big part of it, and Hendrick is a big part of it, and Chad is a big part of it.
It's cool to see. But as a competitor, you still want to beat him. They've made it very tough for a lot of people to do that. But, no, man, I felt like I was doing what I should have been doing as a young talent that we needed to have at Hendrick to make our organization better, to keep us winning championships. He was the right guy at the right time. I'm proud of the fact that we accomplished just that. Putting together a team like that and seeing it do what it's done is pretty amazing.
Q. Some drivers say they remember like it was yesterday that the sport had lost Dale. Do you remember?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I didn't have a good day, I remember that, on the racetrack. Then I remember being at the racetrack knowing that Dale had wrecked, but didn't think -- I mean, I saw the wreck on TV in the hauler when I was getting dressed to leave. I thought, Oh, he'll be fine. It didn't look like that type of an accident.
I remember walking to the bus lot, seeing Teresa walk by. She definitely had a look on her face that I had not seen on her face before. I'd seen Dale go through plenty of crashes and be completely unscathed.
I got on a plane. I remember when I got on the plane, the talk was, you know, they're checking Dale out, that it's more than what it looked like, but I still didn't think it would be anything more than maybe some injuries. Then I landed at home and my phone just lit up. I started getting those messages.
I mean, I was blown away. I couldn't believe it. I was just in shock. I went home, turned on the TV, saw Mike Helton doing the press conference. I was just blown away. I mean, I was in shock.
I didn't really accept it and feel its full impact on me personally I would say for several months.
Q. (Question regarding going outside the box with endorsement deals with non-NASCAR fans.)
JEFF GORDON: It's tough when it's a sporting apparel or brand just because we're not athletes on a court or a field, so it's a little bit different. But I've always felt the potential was there. We have such a huge audience, people that purchase Nikes, Air Jordans, adidas. I've seen a lot of them try. We've had conversations with Nike, Reebok, adidas. Never really seen them take off. Sometimes you're not at the high enough level to get the interest to get behind it and back it the way they should. I certainly wish him all the luck.
There's not a lot of people wanting racing driving shoes every day. I mean, Puma kind of went with it. Their shoes were driving-style shoes. They were pretty popular there for a while. They're the only ones. But I don't know if they really marketed it that way. But it did kind of work out that way. I know I loved those shoes and I saw a lot of non-racing people with those shoes.
That to me is a challenge.
-source: team chevy