Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, talked with media at Daytona about crew chief suspensions, what it takes to win at Daytona, Chicagoland Speedway and more. STEVE LETARTE'S LOSS DUE TO SUSPENSION MIGHT NOT BE AS BIG THIS WEEK AS LAST,...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, talked with media at Daytona about crew chief suspensions, what it takes to win at Daytona, Chicagoland Speedway and more.
STEVE LETARTE'S LOSS DUE TO SUSPENSION MIGHT NOT BE AS BIG THIS WEEK AS LAST, BUT DO YOU FEEL A LOSS OF MOMENTUM? "Not after we had a strong run last week. I think it was very important to keep the momentum going by having a strong run. And we did. We led laps and finished second with a shot at the win. So I think that is going to carry the momentum and build chemistry with Jeff Meendering and bond these guys together even tighter. We hope we can keep that momentum together. That's what is going to be important over the next five weeks."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE HOOPLA THAT'S BEING MADE OVER THE CREW CHIEFS BEING ON THE GROUNDS, WHICH WAS ENTIRELY LEGAL? "It' depends on what NASCAR's intentions are with the whole thing. I think Kyle Petty said it best on the broadcast when he said he didn't think NASCAR's intention is to make this a team that's capable of winning into a 43rd place team. That's not the intention of it. The intention is to get the attention of the crew chief and the team and the rules package throughout the garage area. That part is crystal clear now. The spirit of what they did kept us from practicing and qualifying as well as 100 points and $100,000. So, to me, I don't see anything wrong with that.
"Now what's happened is over the years, communication has evolved to a place where the crew chiefs could still stay in decent communication throughout a weekend whether they are inside the race track or wherever they are. And that's just technology. And it's hard for anybody to stop that. All we did was ask NASCAR what we can and can't do and we were living up to the guidelines that they set. Now with that said, I think the media attention that it got has now hurt us.
"Where we could have quietly had Steve and Chad (Knaus) at the race track, I don't think that's necessarily the case anymore. And a lot of it has to do with whatever the source was or whatever, but they got to talking a lot about being out there. And maybe it was because Tony Eury Jr. was serving his last week, they didn't care so much. It seemed like they were a lot looser about it than we were. That's going to affect us going forward because we don't have those guys here this weekend and I'm not sure what we're going to do going forward."
NASCAR HAS TOLD YOU THE CREW CHIEFS CAN'T BE HERE? "No, nobody has told us anything. Nobody has said for us to do anything different. We're not trying to push the issue. We're not trying to get around anything. And if they're frowning upon it then we're going to try to lay low."
EVERYBODY WAS SAYING THAT THE RULES INFRACTION AT SONOMA WAS A CLEAR CASE OF FOREVER. GO FIX THAT AND BRING IT BACK THROUGH THE LINE. THEY ARE SAYING THAT NEVER, IF THEY CATCH SOMETHING AND MAKE YOU FIX IT, THAT YOU SHOULD BE PENALIZED. CAN IT REALLY GO ON LIKE THIS - BEING SUCH STICKLERS ON THE NEW CAR? "All I know is that they called this the Car of Tomorrow, not the Car of Forever. So, things are different moving forward (laughs), that's all I know."
WHAT IS THE CHARACTER OF THE CHICAGOLAND TRACK? "It's fast and very smooth 1.5-mile race track similar to Kansas; maybe a little bit like Texas. It's a nice race track. I love racing there. I love the transitions and the banking and the speeds and that's why were fast there last year."
THIS MORNING YOU TALKED A LOT ABOUT HOW YOU LOOKED UP TO THE GUYS LIKE A.J. FOYT AND MARIO ANDRETTI AND NOW, KIDS WANT TO BE LIKE YOU. "It's hard for me to really put that in perspective because I can't even fathom that thought process because I was that kid that looked up to A. J. Foyt and Rick Mears. As I got older and learned more about NASCAR, I looked up to Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty and David Pearson and Bobby Allison and those guys. I was fortunate to get to race against Darrell Waltrip and got to race quite a bit side-by-side with Dale Earnhardt. I have a hard time putting myself in that position and thinking of it that way. I do know that I waited on a fence at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to get Rick Mears' autograph and that was one of the most meaningful experiences I've ever had. Every time I see a kid yelling my name or have something that they want signed, that thought process kicks in. I don't always get to pull that off like Rick did, but it's certainly on my mind immediately when I see that and want to fulfill that dream when I was a kid."
WHEN MARIO WAS ASKED WHO HE'D LIKE TO SEE FROM NASCAR DRIVE IN THE INDY 500, YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON WERE THE FIRST TWO HE MENTIONED. YEARS FROM NOW, WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY AN INDY 500 SOMETIME? "Never say never. I didn't know that I'd be running the 24-Hour race here at Daytona in February either. It simply peaked my interest on cars that have a lot more downforce. Indy is a tough race track. Running it in a stock car at the speeds that we run versus those Indy cars running the speeds that they're running, it's hard for me to think about what that would be like.
"I think I'd like to at least see what it would feel like to run a car around a track like that. I don't know whether I'd ever want to race it. I have too much respect for the competitors and teams out there. You don't just come in for a one-race deal and be competitive. And I'm all about being competitive. I don't like to go do things just to race - just for the fun of it. I want to go and win or have a shot at winning. If I can't, then I don't want to do it."
HOW HAS YOUR SCHEDULE CHANGED IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS SINCE YOUR BABY ELLA WAS BORN? "I haven't had the early morning feedings but your sleep goes in spurts. I'm usually waking up when she's waking up because you hear her. Throughout the day, she's eating every three or four hours. We've got her on a pretty good schedule right now so it's not too bad. I had to get up early this morning and she was up all night last night, so it's definitely got me dragging a little bit today. But I'll catch up on my sleep tonight and tomorrow and be ready to go on Saturday."
NO NEGATIVE IMPACT, PERFORMANCE-WISE? "It's still early yet to tell. But I don't see how it's going to affect us negatively. It's something I'm too excited about and enjoying too much. Even if I'm lacking a little bit of sleep, I'm on a high of life and being a father and seeing my daughter. I hate to leave, but I can't wait to get home and it only makes me get through and enjoy the weekends that much more when I am here."
ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT TONY STEWART DOESN'T HAVE A VICTORY YET THIS SEASON? "I'm a little surprised, but they are strong and they are capable of winning. Obviously Tony is a great driver. But it's just like last week when (Denny) Hamlin got his first win I felt like he should have had a win or two already this year as well. I think we're just seeing what it takes to win these days. It's a combination of things that we haven't seen as much of in the past. Track position has become more and more important. Pit strategy, fuel mileage and all those things are really playing out and becoming very important. I think it's just a matter of time before those guys are running strong enough that they're going to win. We've been strong this year and we've won races when we shouldn't have and then we've won when we should have. That's all you can do as a team is keep focusing on being competitive every weekend."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT SUSPENDED CREW CHIEFS BEING ON THE GROUNDS - EVEN OUTSIDE OF THE TRACK? "I think it's a guideline set by NASCAR. The only controversy is NASCAR's decision because they are the ones who told us that they just weren't allowed in the garage area or on pit road and not allowed on the team radio. And we've made it very clear to live within those guidelines set by NASCAR. I think these days, with technology; it's going to be really hard - whether it is us or somebody in the future - to keep them away from being in some kind of contact with the team. You've got to try to figure out what the intentions of that infraction really are. What are NASCAR's intentions? And I think Kyle Petty said it best on the broadcast on Sunday is that I don't think the intentions are to make us a 43rd place team out there. Their intentions are to get the attention of the crew chiefs and the teams as well as all the teams in the garage area as to what the rule are. That messa ge has been very, very clear. And I think that also we've got enough depth in our organization that we can be strong without our crew chief; but it's the chemistry and momentum that shifts and breaks. And I'm just glad we had a strong run last weekend because it's important for us to keep the momentum going."
ARE YOU WORRIED THAT THEY WOULD TAKE IT EVEN FURTHER IF THEY DIDN'T GET YOUR ATTENTION? "They got our attention. The problem is that they got the attention of the media and the fans and everybody last weekend and for some reason Tony Eury Jr. has been at the race track just about every weekend. Nobody has talked about it and then all of a sudden our crew chiefs are there one weekend and all of a sudden it's a big story and everybody is all torn up about it. I don't quite understand that one."
AS THE DEFENDING WINNER OF CHICAGOLAND, DO YOU EVER TALK ABOUT THAT RACE WITH MATT KENSETH? "We had a test at Indianapolis the following week after that race and I went to Matt and talked to him. We might not have agreed on every part of it. But whether it was Bristol or Chicago, but I felt like we had an understanding that we agreed on and moved forward and we've been racing hard, but clean, ever since."
WHAT'S IT LIKE RACING AT CHICAGO COMPARED TO OTHER 1-5MILE TRACKS? "It's just like a Kansas or some of the other newer 1.5-mile tracks where it keeps evolving each time we go there. The groove gets wider. The surface gets more abrasive and the racing seems to get better with more side-by-side racing. We were dialed in there last year, so I'm looking forward to going back there this year. Hopefully we can find the same results."
IS THAT A TRACK THAT NEEDS VARIABLE BANKING? "Every track needs it. I'm not saying they have to have it today or tomorrow, but if you're going to go in and re-work a track and do something different on your current track; or, if you're building a new track, I think it's something that we need to continue to evolve to. It's only going to make the racing better - especially with this new Car of Tomorrow. We're punching a big hole in the air and the aero push is extremely intense. We need to make more grooves out there to race on."
STEVE LETARTE HAS MADE SOME REALLY GOOD CALLS THIS YEAR. HOW DIFFERENT IS IT TO RACE WITHOUT HIM NOW? "It's certainly not what we would wish for. But it's what we've been dealt and we have to deal with it the best way we possibly can. I'm really proud of Jeff Meendering and all the guys on this DuPont Chevrolet. They stepped it up last weekend. We're looking for the same thing in the DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet this weekend.
"We've got to all step up as members of this team and make the best decisions and have confidence in one another, just like we do when Steve is here. Hopefully we can have good results like we did last weekend."
GOING INTO THE CHASE, AT WHAT POINT DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE A BIT OF A CUSHION? "I wish I was that comfortable. I'm not. Right now I see Jimmie Johnson is a threat to win every weekend. He's got four wins like I have. It's very easy for someone to get on a roll like Denny Hamlin or Tony Stewart. There are other guys out there that I think area very capable of winning. And in my opinion, for as strong as we've been this year and for as big a point lead as we've had at times, I don't necessarily feel like the points right now really reflect that. Or, at least they won't when we go into the Chase."
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE FACT THAT TONY STEWART HAS ZERO WINS SO FAR IN '07? "Oh, don't count him out yet. Those guys are strong. He's a relentless driver and they've got a strong team that's led a lot of laps. I think there are plenty of opportunities that those guys will have to win races before it's all over."
DO THESE WINS GO IN BUSHELS WHERE JIMMIE JOHNSON WON FOUR RACES IN THE FIRST HANDFUL OF THE YEAR? "Sometimes. Sometimes a team just kind of finds something and they take advantage of it. Sometimes they're just consistent all year long. When it's their time, it's their time. I will say that when you get those wins it usually boosts your confidence and momentum of the whole team and that it usually does turn into more opportunities to win."
WHAT'S THE KEY AT FOR THIS RACE ON SATURDAY NIGHT? "This track is a little bit different here in July than it is in February. It's hot and slick even though it's a night race; handling is where the speed really comes. We were off in February when we were here. We just weren't handling good enough to stay wide open. We felt like we were getting beat by the No. 20 and the No. 2 and a few other guys were really strong. So we've made some adjustments. This is the exact same car we won with at Talladega except that we completely changed the body. We cut it up to make it a car for Daytona. Daytona and Talladega are like Martinsville versus Bristol. They are just totally different. We hope this DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet has what it takes to be fast in the race."
-credit: gm racing