JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the challenge of the Monster Mile, the crew chief change for Dale Earnhardt Jr., how drivers and crew chiefs work together, the Town Hall meeting, and more. ON RACING AT...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the challenge of the Monster Mile, the crew chief change for Dale Earnhardt Jr., how drivers and crew chiefs work together, the Town Hall meeting, and more.
ON RACING AT DOVER "I'm really excited about it. We had a great day up at DuPont in Wilmington yesterday; kind of an annual event for us, reflecting on 17 years that we've been doing that now, so it's pretty cool. This area has meant that much to us and our sponsor and this track is a fantastic track. So we're really excited about running well this morning in practice and our chances for qualifying today and certainly for this weekend's race. We've been having a great year with the DuPont Chevrolet and this is a track we've had great success in the past. We've been off the past few years but I feel like the way this team has performed this year and our set-ups and our cars; this could be a great weekend for us."
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS YOUR ROLE IN THE NEW NO. 88 CREW CHIEF CHANGE? IN ALL YOUR YEARS AT HMS, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THIS MUCH PERSONNEL BOLSTERING ONE EFFORT? "It's not that unusual. It is unusual that it's (Dale Earnhardt) Junior and it's a very high profile driver and it's going to get a lot of media attention. That's the biggest challenge. But just within the organization, we've had similar situations before. I've been there 17 years so we've seen a lot of different changes and ideas being thrown around for those changes. My role is not going to really be any different than it has been, and that's just that I give my opinion and my thoughts on what I see and what I hear. It's no different than us doing our debriefs every weekend with all the different teams. We just break down the races and practices and everything that we feel and I'll just continue to do that as just offering my opinion and the resources that I possibly can to help Rick (Hendrick) and management make the best decisions that they can to help our whole organization, whether it's one individual team, person, or whatever it may be. We're all in this as a group and there are sometimes when the focus has to shift over to one team a little bit more. When that need is there, and right now it is. I don't feel like it's going to affect our pursuit toward winning races and championships. With the No. 24 car, which we've had at times as well, I'd expect the same for us."
WHEN STEVE LETARTE TOOK OVER IN '05, YOUR SITUATION WAS VERY DIFFERENT THAN THIS ONE. HOW INTIMIDATING CAN THAT BE FOR A CREW CHIEF? "From the outside, there is certainly a lot more attention from the media and the fans and pressure from that sense. A lot of times you've got to block that out because the pressure within is already intense enough. And from that standpoint, it's no different no matter what your name is or what you've accomplished on the track or how popular or not popular you are. When you're trying to make changes and you know you're with a top organization and your teammates are running good, and I have been there. And those pressures and that intensity and those decisions are as high for anybody in that situation. But when you throw in the outside criticism under the microscope then yes, that does intensify it. That's why you've got to try to block that out and not look at a lot of what's being written and said in the media or on the internet. You've got to focus on what's happening internally and go with the best knowledge and facts that you have and go with those instincts. I think that's what Rick is really good at doing. And this is something that will pass. It's certainly going to be interesting to see how we get through it and how Junior gets through this time. But it's only going to make him stronger when he does get through it."
REX STUMP, DESIGNED OF YOUR T-REX CHASSIS HAS BEEN MENTIONED AS A MEMBER OF THE JUNIOR BRAIN TRUST, WHAT CAN HE DO TO HELP THE NO. 88 TEAM? "Again, I don't think there is really more that can be done. I mean, Rex is there for all of us all the time. He's a super-smart guy and has a lot of great information. He does a lot for the organization. In a time of need, you've got to go to the people that you can count on and that you trust; the people that you feel like are going to give you the best information. But you've got to be careful trying to put too many different eggs in the basket there. It can get confusing. So I think that we're overcomplicating this situation; probably because it's Junior. It's something that as a race car driver, you've just got to get your confidence back and that happens with the set-ups in the cars and the personnel that surround you. If you have confidence in your organization, that certainly helps. That narrows down the focus as to where you've got to go. I love Tony Eury Jr. I think he's a great crew chief, but obviously there was some chemistry that was lost there; a little bit of confidence. Sometimes we can blow the issue out of proportion, especially when it's a high-profile guy like Junior. And I feel confident those guys will get it back and Rex is one of those guys that can help them. Brian Whitesell as well as Lance McGrew and several others. It might take a little while. It might happen right away. You never know."
IN THE PAST, WHEN YOUR CONFIDENCE WAS TESTED, WHAT DID YOU DO TO GET YOUR CONFIDENCE BACK? "I've dealt with it numerous times throughout my career; sometimes more than others. But even when your confidence gets broken down, you've got to go back to the basics. You've got to go back to you know what, I've gotten here for a reason. I've won races for a reason. It wasn't just because the car was the best car. It's certainly takes great equipment, especially at this level, and a great team behind you, but you're a part of that team. And you're input plays a role. And so you just get back to those basics and hold onto that knowledge and recapture some of that confidence that has gotten you where you are, and then build on that. It's amazing how quick you can get it back when the car does what you want it to do. It's frustrating. I have been there several times and it's tough. You've just got to really believe in yourself, even though your confidence might get down. To get to this level, your confidence never gets completely diminished, and so it takes a while to rebuild it. But it can happen, especially at our organization. We've got incredible people and resources that can really get it back. And when you get Rick Hendrick to focus on it like he is right now; and the first step has already happened. Make a change. Sometimes, just make a change. It's not that you're going to get anybody talented, or that there was a problem with the person that was there. Sometimes you've just got to make a change just to get a little spark, and just to switch it up. That's the first step and then you see how it goes from there."
ON THE NEW PIT ROAD "It's fantastic. I love it. It's going to be very tricky getting to pit road, but it was pretty darn tricky before (laughs), so it certainly couldn't have gotten any worse than that. One of the biggest challenges of getting to pit road here is not necessarily the location of the entry or how narrow the entry was, it's the surface on the apron. You can tell, it's black with a sealer on it. It's very, very slick. And so I think we're still going to be very cautious and have to be very careful just trying to make it to pit road. But the pit road that we have now and the pit stalls that we have are first class. I'm really excited about what they've done here as well as adding the safer barrier on the front straightaway is a huge improvement. And I hear there are even some more improvements that are going to coming, possibly with the garage area. And so it's all great news."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TRACK AND THE CHARACTERISTICS THAT GIVE IT THE NAME 'THE MONSTER'? "It's definitely a monster. To me, when I think of this track and how I would compare it to a monster, it's just extremely fast. It has a ton of grip. Obviously the banking is very high. So you're carrying a lot of speed and it really takes the breath out of you to put up a qualifying lap here, especially, but then to run the race and run 400 miles here, it's long and tough and treacherous. You've got to basically be a monster in the car to drive this track. You just really have to grab that steering wheel and get after it and get after it hard and be intense inside the race car to really put up a good lap. It's a fun race track, but it gets your attention."
ON THE TOWN HALL MEETING, HOW MUCH DO THE DRIVERS WANT AND NEED TO BE A PART OF SOME OF THE THINGS THAT ARE AFFECTING THE SPORT RIGHT NOW? "I think it's important. I hate that I had to miss that meeting this past week. It was a little bit too late notice for me. But I hope they have more meetings like that. I've always felt like it's important from time to time to get us together as a group and just share thoughts about what's happening; sort of the state of the sport, and also get input on things of how to make it better. Not that we are going to help change the rules or do anything like that, but I think it's important to have input from a lot of different sources that are within the sport. And so, I really am disappointed I didn't make it to that meeting, but from what I heard, I talked to some drivers as well as some folks with NASCAR and got up to speed on it, and it sound like they really had a great meeting and talked about some good subjects. We'll be seeing a couple of things coming up here pretty soon that I think are positives for the sport, especially for the fans. Some of the things are long term and items that really, when you talk about the car and changes and things like that, they're all just throwing things out there. But these are tough times for every sport and for everybody. It's important to know where we stand and what kind of thought process NASCAR is going through and how we can contribute and help to continue to make this the great sport that it is and get through these tough times."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT FINE LINE OF GETTING INFORMATION TO THE CREW CHIEF AND FROM THE CREW CHIEF, PARTICULARLY IN DALE JUNIOR'S SITUATION? "Sometimes you've got to dissect down into real detail and every driver and crew chief communicates a different way. It's about learning that personality that they have and knowing what kind of information either you give and how you give it and how you describe it, or the questions that you need to ask. If you're a crew chief, let's say, the questions that you need to ask a driver to get the detail out of what you're looking for. There are things a lot of times as a driver, you'll bring up as to something you don't like about what the car is doing, but there is not a lot of speed that is there. That's more of a comfort thing. Then there are the areas of the corner that are actually costing you speed. And so it's important to understand what part of the corners you think, as a crew chief, you can help and make the car go faster instead of getting too caught up in some of the little details that aren't really going to make the car go faster. They're just going to maybe make you stop thinking about that part of it. Entry is one of the things that come to mind. This car, especially now with the toed rear-end housings, the entry to the corners is not very comfortable. But there's not a lot of gain in trying to carry a lot of speed on the entry into the corners. So, kind of give that up and go to work on the car as it lands and compresses into the track and once you pick up the throttle, that's where your speed is really at. So, I think it's important for a crew chief and driver to really know how to understand what one another is trying to say about the car and if, as a crew chief, you're not getting a clear image of what you feel like you and your engineers need to fix it, then you've got to ask the right questions. And sometimes you've got to pull it out of him. It's intense out there and there are times when you're angry and having a bad day or whatever it might be, you've got to play around a lot with a lot of different personalities out there. The crew chief has a tough job. They're the first ones that go when something happens it seems like, and at the same time, no matter how good things are going, they're constantly juggling a lot of different personalities as well as responsibility that they have as a crew chief."
BRIAN WHITESELL JUMPED IN AT YOUR TIME OF NEED. WHAT DOES HE BRING TO THE TABLE AS THE TROUBLESHOOTER THAT DALE JUNIOR NEEDS RIGHT NOW? "Well, Brian is just an all-around incredibly smart guy. He came to Hendrick Motorsports as an engineer from Virginia Tech, but he started as a truck driver at the No. 24 car. He took that job because he wanted to work there and then showcased what he could do and he moved on, obviously, to do a lot of great things. To me, what I give the most credit for besides those two wins that we had together when Ray (Evernham) moved on, was that he really orchestrated how we reorganized the No. 24 car when we added the No. 48 to Hendrick Motorsports. And he had a lot to do with making the new building a two-car operation under that building, which in turn went to adding the other building for the No. 5 and the No. 88. So he's the guy that did the timeline for that. He had worked in a factory before so he understood assembly and how important it is to orchestrate all that. He understands how a race team works. So he's a guys that's certainly a key asset to Hendrick Motorsports. And then, in a time of need like this, he can be a crew chief. So it seems like his skills are better suited from an engineering standpoint within the team, whether it be at the track or at the shop; not as a crew chief, but he can do a great job with that as well. I certainly wish those guys luck this weekend."
-credit: gm racing