BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS: ARE MIND GAMES JUST PART OF THE COMPETITION WHEN RACING FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP? IF A RIVAL TEAM PLANTED THE STORY ABOUT THE WHEEL ISSUE WITH RCR, HAS THAT CROSSED THE LINE OF ...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS:
ARE MIND GAMES JUST PART OF THE COMPETITION WHEN RACING FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP? IF A RIVAL TEAM PLANTED THE STORY ABOUT THE WHEEL ISSUE WITH RCR, HAS THAT CROSSED THE LINE OF ETHICS? "Some teams like to play mind games. It just depends on personalities. I think if anybody would be playing mind games it would be the Childress guys, not anybody else. So you go back to the championships with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and those guys were notorious for that. Harvick is quite the prankster, and stuff, as we all know. I would find that pretty hard to believe that that would come from another team. But you never know. It's just not the game that we play. I feel like your actions on the race track are the best way to deal with putting pressure on another team is by going out there and performing. Obviously if anybody has an advantage in that case, it's definitely the No. 29. They've done it on the race track for the last two weeks."
DO YOU HAVE A NEW CHASSIS THIS WEEKEND? HAVE YOU SAVED IT FOR THIS WEEK? "I'm not really sure if it's just a car that we've been building and it just happened to work out or if we've been saving it for this. It's kind of hard to save something when you don't know whether you're going to be in the Chase or not. But it is a new chassis; a new body, and really the best car we have out there right now for this type of race track from wind tunnel testing and just the things we've learned throughout the year in travels and things to make sure the chassis can do what we need it to do at a track like this."
HOW DO YOU BALANCE A NEW CHASSIS VERSUS SOMETHING THAT'S TRIED AND TRUE? "These guys these days know how to build them so close. We might play with the fender rubs and things a little bit like that, but they're able to build a chassis, put a body on the car, brand new. You used to have to test every new car. It's just not the case anymore. These guys have enough information and they know how to bring it to the race track race-ready or qualifying-ready."
TALK ABOUT THE RESURGENCE OF YOUR INTERMEDIATE PROGRAM AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF A RACE TEAM THAT YOU BASICALLY STARTED FROM SCRATCH AT THE START OF THE SEASON UNTIL NOW "It was just what we set our goals to do last year at this time when we didn't make the Chase. I think it was a time for us to just start thinking in a different direction. It was an opportunity for us to break the team down and rebuild. And we knew we weren't probably going to start off the season as strong as we wanted to, but we hoped that by the beginning of the summer that things would really start coming together. You have a goal and a plan but you don't know whether you're going to be able to achieve it, but that's the way it's gone for us. And it's been fantastic to see that plan come into place because as soon as we hit the summer, things started going our way. We started working on our intermediate program last year. A lot of it had to do with (the fact that) our teammates were running good on intermediate tracks and we weren't. We'd go to their set-ups and they still weren't working for us. All or a sudden you start doubting yourself and wonder if it's me and the way I'm driving or what is it.
"We went to Atlanta and we tried a lot of different things. We went with what we had been running which was a lot like what a lot of our teammates had, and then we went to a different direction and we worked on some things that worked for me and gave me that feel that I was looking for. From that point on said we're not going to necessarily just do what our teammates are doing if they're fast, we're going to do what we know, what type of driving style I have and incorporate setups. Even though we're going to gather information that is valuable to us from our teammates, we're going to take what we know and incorporate into our own team, our own cars and my driving style."
CAN YOUR CONSISTENCY CARRY YOU THROUGH THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "Well, that's important, you know. You've got 10 races and the most consistent team is, I think, going to win the championship. The one that makes the least amount of mistakes, that's what we've been working on all year is to really be solid and not make mistakes. I feel like that's what gets you into the Chase. Obviously once you get into the Chase you've got to step up your performance a little bit more so that's what we've been trying to do, is take everything we've learned up to this point with the same philosophies as we've had leading into the Chase - which was don't get outside your box of what you are capable of. Do what you know you can do good and once you are comfortable with that then try to find the little edge there to make the car go a little bit faster. That's what we did last week, that's what we're doing this week and so far it's still early but so far things are going good."
HOW MUCH DIFFERENT ARE THE MILE-AND-A HALFS? DO YOU ATTACK THEM DIFFERENTLY? "Kansas is a track that I'm looking forward to because if there's any track that is similar to Chicago it's Kansas. I feel like in the past when we've run good at Kansas we've actually run decent at Chicago, just not good enough to win. And as good as our stuff was at Chicago I feel like we should be able to go to Kansas and be pretty close and hopefully be good enough to have a car that performs like we did in Chicago. Of course that doesn't guarantee anything. The mile-and-a-half's that are left in the schedule are so much different.
Charlotte, obviously we've had a re-pave there; it's a totally different race track than all the other mile-and-a-half's. Atlanta has an old, worn-out surface but still a great race track. Texas is completely different. There are just transitions and bumps and different things that you have to deal with there. Homestead has a variable banking so even if they're mile-and-a-half's and we have a basic setup that should work at all of them, you still have to fine-tune some things to make it work for that particular race track. But as far as Kansas is concerned, I'm really looking forward to that one. I think we should be pretty close."
WHAT ORDER WOULD YOU PUT THE CHASE TRACKS IN? "I would say Atlanta, Kansas are probably our top tracks. Talladega, Martinsville, maybe Martinsville slides a bit further up the list. Dover, we ran good at Homestead last year so I feel like what once was a track that wasn't good for us is now good for us. I guess the easier way would be to put tracks that I may be concerned about at the bottom. Texas is number one on that list. New Hampshire is one I was concerned about, we weren't very good last time we were there and yet we were good this time. I would say Texas and Phoenix are my bottom two. Those are the ones that we're going to be working hard to come out with solid finishes."
KNOWING HOW GRUELING THIS RACE IS, HOW IMPORTANT IS TRACK POSITION HERE? "Track position is important here for two reasons but primarily pit road. Pit road is one of the toughest, narrowest pit roads that we have. It's extremely hard to find a good pit stall on this pit road. Just to keep yourself out of trouble, knocking fenders around and getting into an accident on pit road, that's one of your reasons to have good track position here. The other is on the race track, obviously track position is always important, but this is a track where the groove widens out and you can come from the back to the front here so it's not as crucial but it's still something that is important and we always try to have good track position everywhere we go."
SHOULD A 39TH-PLACE FINISH HURT A GUY IN THE CHASE AS BADLY AS IT DOES? "I think that every year there will be some team that's going to step it up and they're either going to be really consistent or they're going to perform at a level where they can rebound from a 39th-place finish. The No. 48 and No. 5 teams are both teams capable of doing that but they're going to have to win two or three races in order to get back in it. They certainly are capable of doing that. If there's a team out there that's capable of being consistently up in the top 10 every race in these last 10, which is not easy to do, then no matter what those other guys do they're not going to beat them."
WHAT ARE YOUR NOTES ON TALLADEGA RESURFACING AND WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE KING OF A RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACK? "I'm looking forward to talking to some of the guys that went there for the test this past week. From what I've heard. Talladega is just one of those tracks that you can't mess up. It's big, wide, high-banked, and it had cracks all over the place throughout the track. Anything that they can do is going to be an improvement there. It won't affect the racing in any negative way, it's only going to be positive. The thing about Talladega is grip is not an issue. So even if they took a little grip away or added grip it's still not going to change the race. We're still going to be five wide there. As far as the draft goes, you still have to have experience in learning the draft. I think the key of it is running up front and staying up front and being able to battle for wins. If you're a guy that goes out to restrictor-plate races and you run between tenth and fifteenth all day long you're not learning much, you're just riding around. But the guys that ride up front and know how to work the draft and how they can use other cars to help them make a pass or how they can use the air to stay out in front, those are the guys that usually get better and better and better each time they go back. For me, having a jump-start on my teammates because they're all younger and Jimmie (Johnson) hasn't been in the sport as long as I have, I was able to help those guys and just kind of get them jump-started into what to look for."
THERE WERE SOME CONCERNS ABOUT COMMENTS YOU MADE ABOUT HOW HARD BRIAN VICKERS WAS RACING YOU. CAN YOU EXPLAIN? "I can't explain it. It's my teammate but he's not my teammate. He's moving on next year. He wants to win races, he wants to drive hard and I can't blame him for wanting to do that. I raced him harder than he wanted me to race him earlier in the race and I can give all the reasons and excuses but it doesn't do any good. There in the closing laps that could have been crucial, that could have cost us some time. That did cost us time. I think that right now he's in a tough position. He's a guy who is moving on to a new team; he hasn't had an opportunity to win races like the other guys at Hendrick Motorsports. He wants it bad and he's driving hard. I think that was just a little bit of a lapse in judgment but it was also him getting back at me because I raced him hard earlier in the race. It's not a guy that's out there trying to help you win a championship."
-credit: gm racing