Team Monte Carlo Winston Cup Teleconference Tuesday, June 18, 2002 The NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Robby Gordon, driver of the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet and Team Owner Richard Childress. Part 1 of 2: Robby...
Team Monte Carlo Winston Cup Teleconference Tuesday, June 18, 2002
The NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Robby Gordon, driver of the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet and Team Owner Richard Childress.
Part 1 of 2: Robby Gordon
Gordon and Childress discuss their outlook for this week's Save Mart 350 at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California and the current status of the team. Gordon's best Winston Cup career finish at Sears Point Raceway was 2nd place to Pontiac's Tony Stewart at last year's race. Gordon will pilot a brand new Monte Carlo in this event, which the team tested last week at Carolina Motorsports Park.
In addition to the Winston Cup race, Gordon is scheduled to compete in Saturday's NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series race at Sears Point -- his first career start in that division.
On last year's runner-up finish
"Last year was a bit of a turning curve for me. I went there in Jim Smith's Nation's Rent car at the last minute. Running as fast as we did and being as competitive as we were, changed a lot of people's views. I look at Sears Point a year ago as a turning point for us. We had a really good racecar. We probably could have done a couple of things differently and won the race. But even after the way it ended up, I didn't lose my cool and still finished second. I'm proud of that finish."
On the crew chief and crew swap between the No. 31 and the No. 29 teams
"I don't want everybody to get too confused. We missed it as a whole last weekend (at MIS) at Richard Childress Racing. It wasn't how Kevin Hamlin and myself worked together. I went into that race very open for anything Kevin wanted to try. He has a lot more experience than I do at a racetrack like that. We tried running some rubber bushings in the rear end and pretty much every time I've run them, I've hated them. But I wanted to go into this race with the attitude that Kevin has so much experience that maybe I needed to learn how to drive with them and we'd be better. We left Michigan still hating rubber bushings. So that's going to help Kevin Hamlin and myself in the future."
On the difference between running a road course in a Champ car vs. a Winston Cup car
"There's quite a bit of difference. Before I raced Indy Cars or Champ cars, I raced TransAm for four years for Roush. We won 53 percent of the races we entered and had a pretty good road racing record in sedan-style cars. Winston Cup cars are heavier. You have to be easy on the brakes. And, they're long races. You've got to save something for the end. That's something I've learned over the last couple of years. To survive and be in that top five or ten with 50 laps to go and you have a shot at winning."
Having called the shots as a team owner in the past, is this a new Robby Gordon that is more like a sponge that soaks in information?
"Yeah, I've been doing that all year actually. That was my attitude last year when I went to RCR a year ago and we won at Loudon, New Hampshire.
"These guys have won championships in everything they've been involved in. I'm going to let them do their job and I'm going to do mine to the best of my ability. And that is to drive the racecar and tell them what I feel and where I'm having any problems."
Do you think the media is picking on RCR?
"No, I don't. Every race team struggles. We'd all be kidding ourselves if we said we didn't. Joe Gibbs Racing is not up to par right now. My teammate, Kevin Harvick - who would have thought he'd be 34th in points right now? Nobody could have ever imagined that. As a race team, we just have to keep our heads down. People are asking what's going on. Sometimes things change and we've changed a lot as a race team. We've gone from a two-car to a three-car race team. And we're all working together and trying to figure it out. I have a lot of respect for Richard Childress. And I know that if I give him valuable information on what I feel the car does, he and his group will go to work on it to get the car to react better and to be faster."
At nearly the mid-way point of the season, how would you gauge your performance thus far - both on and off the track?
"I'd be kidding you if I said I was happy with the on-track performance of this team. I'm not. I don't think anybody is at Richard Childress Racing. I think there have been a couple of things that have hung us out a little bit. With the one-engine rule change, we were very conservative in the beginning. NASCAR has a new technical inspector so now there is a different way of measuring our bodies. You don't get away with as much as you used to. There's a bunch of things that have happened that have hung us out.
"We're working together as a team and I think that's great. I haven't had a problem with (teammates) Kevin Harvick or Jeff Green. With the crew chief change, to me it didn't make a difference because we all have the same tools at RCR. When we talked about changing crew chiefs, I thought whatever everybody wanted to do was fine with me if it would make the performance better. All the cars are prepared in the same shop and built in the same place. There's nothing different between the No. 31 and the No. 29, or the No. 30 compared to the No. 31. I 'm looking forward to working with Kevin Hamlin because of his experience."
With all your road course experience, will you step-up and give more input than you would normally?
"When I had my own race team and knew there were places we'd be real strong, we focused on those race tracks. The road courses we thought would be our specialty so we worked real hard on our road course package based on past experience. I've got a pretty good baseline set-up. I've got exactly the set-up that I put on the No. 7 car last year that was off my 2000 car at Sears Point (finished 9th). We just bolted it right on. I don't think we changed anything.
"We put that set-up again on the car for Watkins Glen and we gained and fine-tuned on that package. We found some better shock absorbers. We found a couple things that worked better on a Monte Carlo than on a Ford. And then last week, I went with Kevin Hamlin down to Kershaw (Carolina Motorsports Park in S.C. to test) and we worked on some forward bite on turn 11 at Sears Point so we can get some traction coming off that. And we worked on a couple other areas. We're now working as a team to improve on that baseline set-up."
What's your opinion on NASCAR's red flagging at the end of the race? "NASCAR does a great job at racing. They know how to put on a good show. Last weekend's race (MIS) could have easily ended under caution. The fans and the drivers don't want to end under a caution, we want to race to the finish. I think a red flag at the end and bunching us all up and getting after it is great. I appreciate it and I'm sure the fans do too."
What's the relationship between the regular NASCAR drivers and the road-course specialists?
"I don't consider myself a road-course specialist anymore. Five years ago, I would have. I don't think they think of them any differently. The biggest thing is that maybe they're a little intimidated by them because they have so much experience. Guys like Ron Fellows and Boris Said and Scott Pruett have a lot of experience. They're probably not excited about them coming in because that's three or four more cars that are going to be competitive on race day. But in their own right, if those guys qualify for that race they deserve to be in it. I think it makes the racing more exciting. We enjoy competition."
Is there a 'west coast style' of driving on the NASCAR circuit?
"I don't know if there is a big west coast style thing. I live in North Carolina now and I enjoy living there. If you look at fads and things, they start on the west coast and then hit the east coast - whether it's cars or clothing or anything. Jimmie Johnson has come into the Winston Cup Series this year (from California) and people forget that he's lived in North Carolina the past five years working on his ASA and Busch programs. He brings a different flamboyant style and he's doing it with class and being really competitive week in and week out."
Lately, are the California drivers having more of an impact as a group in Winston Cup?
"I think that probably has a little to do with it but not a lot. The biggest thing was that the timing was right for everybody. A lot of west coast drivers have ended up in competitive Winston Cup rides right now. The driver is one part of it, but the team is so much of it. If Jimmie Johnson was in a different situation, I don't think he'd be second in the points right now. He has positioned himself to get with a top-notch team and he has the experience of Jeff Gordon. Right now, I don't know how or why he's out-running Jeff Gordon, but he's doing something right. And I've got to congratulate him on that."
Are you close to signing a contract extension with Richard Childress and do you see yourself at RCR for the long haul?
"First, we have until August 1st to talk about 2003. I have a lot of respect for Richard. I really enjoy working for him. It's been a lot of fun. We did get our first win (Loudon, '01). We have struggled. Richard Childress is a racer and I enjoy driving for a racer. 'No' is not an answer at RCR. We're going to find a way to get back to top. Everybody there has a lot of desire. Richard gives us the tools to do that. There hasn't been one time that we've had a conversation about doing things differently. He's very supportive. If he wants you to do something, he has a way of going about it that he's not breathing down on you or pushing on you. He's a great leader. I'm looking forward to a long career at RCR."
Because there aren't a lot of places to pass at Sears Point Raceway, is patience a key to success at that track?
"Patience is a lot of it. Another thing is obviously the racetrack. I give up a couple of corners there to be fast in a couple of other corners that will allow me to make up lap time but not abuse the tires on the car. Sears Point is a good racetrack. I like going there. I'm glad that Winston Cup goes road racing because that's what's cool about a Winston Cup champion driver. He's competitive on road courses, on superspeedways, short tracks, intermediate tracks, things like that."
Where is the best place to pass there?
"I like turn 11. That's that hard-breaking turn down into the hairpin. That's probably the easiest place to pass with the least risk. And I look at risk as you've got to be around at the end of this deal. Fenders are real important."
What do you think makes Dale Jr. such a good restrictor-plate racer?
"Tony Eury and those guys at DEI have found something with either their engines or their bodies or the way they are getting the air around the car. But they're doing a great job. His dad was good at restrictor plate racing as well, so maybe it's something he taught him or it's a natural knack that he just picked up."
When you were a road course specialist, how did the drivers treat you? "Very well. I had a lot of friends in Winston Cup that I'd met in my early career. Those guys knew me from when I raced at Roush in the road-racing car. Everybody is real competitive in Winston Cup. I don't see any problem with a road racer coming in. I think they welcome the challenge. It would have been real easy seven or eight years ago to come in here and dominate the road courses. But these teams and drivers have picked up the road racing game. It's just not that easy to come in and dominate the road courses without being a full-time regular. Pits stops have a lot to do with it and strategy has a lot to do with it and horsepower if you can get that right engine package. I think the NASCAR teams welcome it and it brings in fans from other series' that watch those drivers as well."
Given your success in other competition, how frustrated are you with your current lack of success in Winston Cup?
"Obviously I'm a little disappointed. But I'm not throwing a temper tantrum and giving up. I know I can do this. We're competitive with Kevin Harvick week in and week out. Not that I like to gauge on my teammate, but that gives me some sort of a gauge. We're working on this team as a whole and trying to find out what we all need. All of us have a lot of experience."
With your experience in several other racing series, do you consider yourself a stock car driver now?
"I considered myself a stock car driver in 2000 when I left Indy Cars and started my own Winston Cup team. I thought that's where I needed to be in my career. I enjoy racing a lot - enough that we did the double (Charlotte & Indy) a couple of weeks ago. I felt that's where I needed to be in my career. If you enjoy racing, Winston Cup is the place to be."
On being a Winston Cup outsider at last year's race at Sears Point and on the incident with Kevin Harvick
"I'm not going to dwell on it too much. It's over and gone and done. We knew we had a car capable of winning that race. Things just happen. I learned something at that race. I've got to be a little bit smarter of a guy at the wheel and not let stuff like that bother me. A couple of months later, when I was driving the Lowe's car for RCR, if we hadn't of lost that TV box, we would have won that race. Very easily, we could have won three races last year but ended up only winning one.
"I'm not too concerned about what happened at Sears Point last year. Harvick is my teammate now. We obviously have to work together if we're going to build this team and be competitive with all three cars. I have no grudge against him. So I don't see a problem there.
"As far as being a Winston Cup outsider at that point, yeah, I was in between jobs with the No. 4 car and then drove for Jimmy Smith there and then for A.J. Foyt a little later and then for Richard Childress. I don't consider myself an outsider, its just competition. I think anyone who doesn't race (Winston Cup) every week is going to be an outsider."
With only one place to pass at Sears Point, do you think they'll eventually create more places to pass on that track?
"I've got to be honest with you. I think I can pass in every corner there. So I don't believe there's (only) one place to pass. I know of four places I can pass cars. So I don't think they need to change the track at all. I liked it the way it used to be when we had the corkscrew. But there's plenty of places to pass there if you know how to pass on a road course."
Have you tested the new track?
"I did not test there. Richard has allowed us to run the Southwest Tour there that starts Thursday of this week. That will allow us to get some track time. And we did test with our Winston Cup car down in Kershaw, but I have not driven with the new configuration and the way they've changed pit lane. I have seen a tape of Jeff Green's test there with a Southwest Tour car. I have seen what it looks like from a driver's perspective. But by running that Southwest Tour race on Thursday, we'll all (Kevin Harvick and Jeff Green) be able to get some experience at that racetrack even though it's a different type of car. But you know, laps are laps."
At Sears Point, do you think ahead about who and how you're going to pass? "Passing there is different passing on an oval. Talking about a slide job or whatever you call it when you kind of dive down underneath a guy and come up in front of him and kind of block him from coming back around you... It's the same kind of thing on a road course where you kind of out-brake the guy going into the corner. You don't have to turn at the apex. You can go five, eight, or 10 feet past the apex and still make the corner okay. With a Winston Cup car, once you're inside he's either got to let you go or he'll get shoved out of the way. That's the big difference in Indy Cars is that you can out brake somebody.
"The biggest thing is tires. You can out brake somebody and burn up their tires or flat-spot them because these cars are heavy. You only have so many of those opportunities as the day goes on. And you try to use them for the right people. Maybe if it's a lapped car, you don't jeopardize your tires at that point and you set him up in a different corner. And then if it's a leader, you wait until the last couple of laps and then you shove your nose in there - kind of like what Tony (Stewart, last year's winner) did to us. I was racing Kevin (Harvick) real hard - trying to keep him behind me because I wanted to keep a car between Tony and me. And Tony got around both of us and shut us out. I was real impressed with the move he put on Kevin and me."
In the keyhole at the top of the hill at Sears Point, would you run a different line in a Winston Cup car than you would in an Indy Car?
"Yes, it's definitely a completely different line. We ran out wide and then came back and did a really late apex. Winston Cup cars like that. On Winston Cup cars, the tires are only so wide and the cars are heavy. They don't like to accelerate and turn at the same time. So, I get the car turned and get it pointed in a straight line and get back on the power. It's kind of a point and squirt, and more of a diamond shaped corner than what you'd do in an Indy Car. The Indy Cars have big wide tires and you have down force. The cars can handle so much more side g-load because of the weight of the car. They only weigh 1500 pounds and a Cup car is 3400 pounds."
Same thing with that final turn as well?
"Yes. I've got a niche for that final turn at Sears Point. Last year, every lap I could beat it by three-tenths in the final turn. I'm not going to tell you how I do it, but I've got a niche for that final turn."
Gordon, Childress part II