His back is better, but it isn't '100 percent' yet
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his back issues, questions regarding retirement, the challenges of the Dover track, and more. Full Transcript:
TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS THIS WEEKEND AT DOVER:
“We’re certainly looking forward to this weekend. I really enjoy Dover and I always have. Our team is really bringing great race cars to the track right now, so honestly I look forward to every weekend. Today has gone very well and I’m looking forward to qualifying and to the race.
“But this is a challenging race track for a lot of reasons. The surface, the banking, and the loads that we go through, and some of the bumps really create quite a challenge for the teams and the drivers and I feel like our team has done a great job with that so far. We came here and unloaded close, and we’re just fine-tuning right now, which is always good to be able to do that.
“That’s what we’ve been doing a lot of this year and why I think we’ve been as successful as we have been because the team has just done such a great job over the off-season and in preparation for each week to come in and work on the small details instead of trying to recreate set-ups to find big gains that we’re missing.”
COULD YOU UPDATE US ON YOUR BACK AND HOW YOU ARE FEELING? REGAN SMITH SAID HE WASN’T ON STANDBY, SO ARE WE TO ASSUME YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THAT MEASURE THAT WEEK? DO YOU GET ANYTHING OUT OF THIS DOVER RACE TO HELP YOU PREPARE FOR COMING BACK DURING THE CHASE?
“I wouldn’t say I’m 100%. I’m back closer to normal, which is just always aggravation and some discomfort. I’m still feeling some of the affects of what went on last week, but I felt good in the car. I didn’t have any sharp pains, so that’s good. I just had a week of rest and normal activity. Lots of ice this week. I was pretty sore on Monday and Tuesday after that long 600, but that’s not totally unusual; but probably just a little bit more than normal because of all that I went through. So, I feel good for this weekend.
“As far as this race, yeah, I think that every time we come to a track that is going to be in the Chase, we’re not just looking at how we can perform well at that race, but we’re looking for as much information as we can gather to make sure that if we’re in the Chase and come back, we can be competitive enough to go win the championship and be strong at that race. So, there’s no doubt that this is an important track. We recognize that this is a track that you can win this championship with.”
LAST WEEK, DID YOU HAVE ANY PHYSICAL THERAPY FOR YOUR BACK? AND HAS THIS MAKE YOU THINK ANY MORE ABOUT RETIREMENT?
“The issues that I’ve had in the past never really were like what I dealt with last weekend. That’s the first time that something like that happened in the car, on qualifying day, into a race weekend. I’ve rolled out of bed and had things like that happen, and that’s just being tight and just not having the muscles with blood flow and being loose, and that’s part of just getting older. So, it was a little bit foreign to me to have that and that’s why I had to get out of the car. The treatment that I had was I had an epidural as well as another type of injection. I don’t know what they call it. It’s some type of Cortisone that’s fairly typical and common. I don’t know all the different stuff that was in there that made the pain go away and helped more of the inflammation, is I think what they were trying to accomplish. So, that’s the first time I’ve ever had to do that on a race weekend. I’ve done that before on a different part of my back that didn’t really do much for me. This one luckily did.
“I think that it really more pointed toward some things that I have to address throughout a race weekend and how I handle the downtime. I’ve been working a lot harder on my training and riding a bike and exercising and the problem with that is that it tightens everything up even more so than normal. If I don’t stay loose and ice and do other things that keep me loose when I get to the race weekend, what happened could possible occur again. So, that’s the biggest thing I’m focused on; not thinking or focusing on anything else. I can tell you if that happens many more times, I won’t have a choice (regarding retirement).”
HAS THE TEAM HAD TO ALTER YOUR DRIVER’S SEAT FOR THIS WEEKEND?
“There is nothing they can do any different. The seats are fine. It’s not about the seat. Over the years I’ve tried lumbar support, I’ve tried all kinds of things (like) different positioning and all that stuff. The position that I’m in is the best I could ask for. I’ve talked to the doctor about that. We shortened-up the throw on the clutch pedal last week because I was having some issues when I extended my left foot all the way out. We’ve taken that out this week. I didn’t like it in the car last week.
“Most of it is just in the treatments that I went through that are going to help that pain and then ice and some different types of stretches. And it’s just not sitting. The biggest contributor was we practiced on Thursday and we had about a three-hour delay in between practice and qualifying. And I just sat in the truck for too long in one place and I really think that those issues that I have all the time just got inflamed and irritated. And then when I went in the car kind of cold and tight, it just made it inflamed and agitated more. And that’s where the pain came from. And then, once that happened, there was nothing that was going to fix it until I had those injections on Saturday.”
WHAT IS THE PART OF BEING IN THE CAR AND AT WHAT TRACK IS THE MOST SENSITIVE TO A DRIVER’S BACK?
“I’m sitting here fine. I can walk fine. It’s just sitting in the car and pushing on the pedals and turning the steering wheel. Doing this for 30 or 40 years (laughs) has definitely contributed to those things. It’s not unlike any other profession whether you are a golfer or a tennis player. That continuous motion and pushing those muscles and parts of your body; and I do have some degenerative disc (which are) again, very common for a lot of people. But when you put that into racing, it just makes it a little bit tougher. It’s just something I continue to learn and push through. It’s no big deal.”
LAST WEEK AFTER THE 600 YOU WENT TO VICTORY LANE TO CONGRATULATE JIMMIE JOHNSON AND IT REALLY DIDN’T SEEM LIKE IT BOTHERED YOU MUCH.
“I iced it for a while so it was numb by then (laughs). Once the blood is flowing and the Adrenalin and all those things get going, it’s not so bad. Monday and Tuesday were a lot tougher.”
WITH THE INJURY IT MAKES THE QUESTION EASIER TO ASK, BUT EVEN WITH YOUR BACK CONDITION DO YOU FEEL AGGRAVATED THAT PEOPLE CONTINUE TO ASK YOU WHEN YOU ARE GOING TO RETIRE AS IF WE ARE PUSHING YOU OUT THE DOOR ALREADY?
“No, it doesn’t bother me. You guys can ask me whatever you want to ask me. I will try to answer it the best that I can. My focus is not on that. My focus and I feel like if you are going to be a good race car driver you better be willing to handle distractions and maybe have some questions asked to you that you prefer not to have asked. And get your mind back refocused on what your job is and that is what I’m doing. I understand I got out of the car on Saturday. I knew, one is it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, in my racing career for sure to make that decision. It was not an easy one and I doubted myself while I was doing it. But my body was telling me that I thought it was the right thing to do. I knew that there would be repercussions that came from that which would bring up a lot of these questions. Luckily Sunday went well and we got through it and we actually had a really strong car and a strong race up until that last caution came.
“I think that if anything that only built more momentum for our race team to go through what we went through and to go have that kind of a race to show the team what kind of determination I have as well as kind of show our competitors that it’s going to take a lot to get us down. I think that did more good for us for this season and our chances for a championship than anything else. That is where my focus is. But you guys feel free to ask me all the questions that you want about retirement. I don’t have an answer for you. When the day comes and that decision is made I will be more than happy to share it with you.”
DESPITE THE DIFFICULTY AND UNIQUENESS OF THIS TRACK WHAT IS THE APPEAL AND THE ATTRACTION OF THIS TRACK? WHY IS IT A FUN TRACK TO COME TO?
“It’s the only track that we have that is like this. One-mile, oval, high-banked, big sweeping corners and it’s concrete. Those are all the ingredients to make it unique. Trying to describe it from a driver’s standpoint you carry a lot of speed in the corner. The car sort of gets light and drops into that banking then it really picks it up heavily. You put a lot of wheel input into the front tires and today especially, these cool temperatures and the cars with the more downforce in them we are flying out there. So you have to be really committed to the throttle and the steering wheel. You are in that corner for a long time.
“That is something we don’t have on the circuit. We have some fast race tracks, Charlotte is certainly one of them, but it is 1.5-miles and it is pavement. This definitely challenges everybody and if it gets warmer throughout the weekend then the track will get slicker and that will challenge us even more. I’m anxious to get these two rounds of qualifying in today to see how this goes. It’s something we have never done here before. Every time we go to the track the first time with this new format it’s always a learning experience for every one of us.”
HOW TOUGH IS DOVER GOING TO BE ON YOUR BACK?
“Yeah, this is typically a pretty tough race. The thing that made me get out of the car last week is I got in the car, I pushed in the clutch pedal to take off out of the garage and I had shooting pain in my back. Then I went out onto the track and when I drove into the corner and loaded up into the banking I had more shooting pain. I knew the very first lap I ran in practice that I probably was not going to run the rest of the day. So, that is what I’m looking for now.
“When I go to a track I’m looking for if there is shooting pain then I’m going to get out. There was no shooting pain. Yeah, there were loads and there were muscles in my back that were being used a lot because it’s a high-banked very fast race track with big sweeping corners. Those are the toughest places that we go to that I feel it and that is on a normal basis as well as with what is going on right now.”
YOU SAID AFTER KANSAS YOU FELT LIKE YOU WERE 25 AGAIN. DO YOU STILL FEEL THAT WAY?
“If I win this race on Sunday I will. It’s amazing how a win takes away all your pain. I didn’t say I felt 25 on Monday (laughs).”
GOING TO POCONO NEXT WEEK CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW YOU THINK THE QUALIFYING FORMAT MIGHT PLAY THERE? 12 RACES IN NOW HOW DO YOU LIKE THE QUALIFYING FORMAT?
“Pocono is usually one of those tracks and a lot of these places really here and Pocono – this is different because you hold your breath shorter. But this is a white knuckle hold your breath experience that you kind of go out there and do it for one or two laps and you say ‘okay whew boy I’m glad that is over’; where this weekend we are going to have to hopefully do that more than once if you make it to round two especially. Where Pocono it’s the same kind of thing that’s a long lap, it’s a tough qualifying session you’ve really got to be committed and put the car on the edge. And even though you can breathe down those long straightaways you are holding your breath through those corners with the shifting and all the things that are involved and there being an extra session there. There will be three sessions there and whether or not drafting is going to come into play. I’m not saying we would be bumper to bumper, but you might want a car out in front of you to get a little bit of a draft off at Pocono. We won’t really truly know until we go there and experience it.
“I love the format. Even though we haven’t done very well at it or I haven’t done very well at it. It doesn’t mean I don’t like it, I do. We just have to get the balance of the car a little bit closer for this type of format.”