JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, power of Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR drug policy and other topics. TALK ABOUT BEING BACK...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, power of Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR drug policy and other topics.
TALK ABOUT BEING BACK HERE FOR THE ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD: "It is the Brickyard. We've just had an off weekend. We had a great finish at Chicago. We are extremely excited about this weekend. I think everybody gets geared up and steps up a notch for the Brickyard 400 every year. To me, it is a race we're ready for. It is like the second half of the season but it is the start of what I believe is the championship Chase because it just seems like the history of this event, the winner that comes out of this event really makes their mark and their contention for the championship and who is going to be strong. We want to be able to come of here like that."
TALK ABOUT HOW YOU FELT COMING IN HERE IN THE POSITION TONY STEWART IS IN AS A SEMI-INDIANA GUY: "It's a really cool position to be in. It adds a little bit of extra pressure but it is the kind of pressure. But it is the kind of pressure that you like. Tony has done a tremendous job this year in what they have accomplished with all the changes with that team. It shows just how talented Tony truly is. He's a real Hoosier that has won this race before. With things going as well as they are going for him, I would definitely put him at the top of the list of guys that can win the race this weekend."
DO YOU GET OVERLY HYPED ABOUT THIS RACE WITH YOUR INDIANA TIES? "I think the first several years, to me, we would come in here, and even this year, there is just a little bit of added focus. You try to really block things out as much as you can. There's a lot more hype and attention. It just seems like there is a little more buzz around this race. Except for Daytona, this is the next biggest one so you feel that. You are coming here to work. You are coming here to race. You want to win this race especially is you have a great opportunity to win it and things are going well for you. You want to do your job well so you need to have your mind as clear as possible of distractions. That is hard to do here because there are a lot of distractions just because it is such a big event and everybody is wanting to follow all the stories and stay on top of everything that is going on."
DO YOU CONSIDER THE TIRES A NON-ISSUE NOW? "As far as I am concerned it is a non-issue. When we tested here, absolutely non-issue. If there is a little bit of rubber that has been washed off, we will see a little bit of excessive wear the first time out, but this tire is going to lay rubber fast and we're going to see a great race. We are going full field stops. I am confident in that. Unless something has changed since testing which I don't think that is going to happen."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE DOUBLE FILE RESTARTS HERE? "Well, we have had a lot of discussions with NASCAR on the restarts for this particular track. This is one of most unique restart zones that we have. It is a long straightaway, but the start/finish line is closer to turn one than people realize and we always have problems on the restarts here because we come so far down the straightaway before we get to take the green flag. I know a lot of drivers have talked to NASCAR about moving that zone back especially now with the double-file restarts and I'm not sure what they have decided to do. We'll find out once I get in to the garage and able to ask that question. But I am pretty sure they have moved it back to try to help with that. But other than that, the double-file restarts have shown this year that there is a lot of excitement. There is a lot of intensity and there's a huge potential for disaster to happen. Those restarts can make you or break you. It is certainly going to make for an interesting race especially at the end of the race. There is not much of an outside groove here. You might be able to get through one and maybe a little bit of two but after that, the outside groove is pretty much done once you get up to speed so we will see what happens with that."
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WIN HERE? "The best car, perfect pit stops, flawless driving. (LAUGHS) I mean, this is the total team event. It's a big track that takes great horsepower. It takes a very balanced race car. Driver has to be able to attack the corners. The crew chief has to be able to call, especially reading the tires, this race this year is going to be about reading whether you can maybe get away with doing two tires versus four tires like we used to see happen and making the good calls to get yourself that track position. Track position is extremely important. Then not making mistakes on the track or on pit road."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN HERE A FIFTH TIME AND HOW SPECIAL HAS THIS PLACE BECOME TO YOU? "This track has always been special to me before I ever raced here just getting an opportunity to come here as a kid to watch the Indianapolis 500 which I did a couple of times. Then when we moved here to Indiana, I used to come visit the Speedway to pick up oil from one of my sponsors back then which was Valvoline. There was always some teams testing here that I would sometimes get to checkout and see. It really has been just a unique thing for me to race all around here but didn't have the opportunity to race here in Indy Car. Then with the Brickyard 400 came in 1994, that was, to me, the ultimate experience, to be able to finally come and race here and then to win it and then go on to do it three more times from there. Each year I feel like we have an opportunity to win here which is spectacular."
WITH THE SEEMINGLY UP AND DOWN SEASON SO FAR FOR KYLE BUSCH, DO YOU THINK HE CAN STILL WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think with this form of points you can. When we used to have to race all 36 races in points, I don't know if you could do that. I think staying level headed throughout all of those events was extremely important. But now, it is doing it in 10. If those 10 go well for you, then no problem. But we saw last year, the first event didn't go well for those guys and it seems like things kind of exploded from there. I think he has matured quite a bit since then. When I look at guys that are going to be in contention for the championship this year, it is guys that know how to handle themselves through those situations as well as have strong cars and teams this year. Right now it is hard to count out anybody to be honest with you. There are a lot of guys out there that I feel like can play a real factor. Mark Martin, the man that has the most wins, but they have been inconsistent but they are new together. So that consistency seems to be coming and they are still winning. I think that right now, those guys really look on top of their game. The No. 48 has been strong, but they haven't put the finishes together. Will they do that when the Chase comes? The No. 18 hasn't shown me what they had last year, so are they off a little bit? You know? To me that is what makes the racing from here on so important, is that it is about showing what kind of strength and consistency you really have as a team and building the momentum to get you in to the Chase and continue on with success through those 10 races."
WAS THERE A TIME WHEN YOU WERE A LITTLE MORE VOLATILE AND LESS PATIENT? "I still don't always have it under control. Absolutely, early in my career, that is what makes you a rookie. That is why I say experience is key because when you don't have the experience. I think one of my strengths has always been is that I am pretty level headed in the car and then, while I might have moments that standout to me, they might not standout as much outside the car. But, once I did get the experience, I felt like those types of personality traits really paid off, especially under the old points system."
DID RAY EVERNHAM GIVE YOU THE GUIDANCE EARLY IN YOUR CAREER ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ENTIRE TEAM? "Ray was an intense guy and very structured. He taught me a lot about respect for the guys on the team. All the hard work that is put in to it. And getting yourself emotional on the radio or saying things that could be hurtful toward the team how it could tear down the efforts. I definitely feel like it is important to know when and where to push the buttons and how to go about motivation versus tearing down a team. There is a fine line there between showing your emotions and how much it means to you and your passion and crossing over that in to being destructive. I definitely say that Ray played a big role in teaching me a lot about that. I think that he learned a lot about that as well, but he was certainly older and more mature than I was to be able to recognize those things in a young guy like myself and other members of the team."
ARE THE RUNS YOU WILL MAKE IN PRACTICE LONG ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW THE TIRES ARE GOING TO BE ON SUNDAY? "We'll know today. I think we are going to start in race trim. We have a lot of practice. We have more practice time than we do tires so we've got quite a bit of laps we are going to be able to put in. You have to understand, last year in five laps we could tell you what was going to happen. It is not going to take me many laps at all. And again, I really don't think it is really a non-issue in my opinion. We might see a little bit more excessive wear here in the beginning of the day just because there has been rain and not running on the track for a weeks, so you might see a little bit excessive. But this tire lays rubber. That is the key and yet it doesn't just wear excessively. The temperatures are good. I think the biggest challenge we are going to see today, and through the weekend, is that our test speeds versus our race weekend speeds usually increase. When you start really pushing the button and you are on the line and the competition is there and you are looking at the timing and scoring and you have to one up yourself and everybody else throughout the weekend, it builds obviously more heat, puts more stress on the tires so we might see a little bit more than that. But, as far as wear is concerned, it shouldn't be an issue once we get some rubber lay down."
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A KID TO GROW UP AROUND HERE AND NOT GET A DAY-TO-DAY EXPOSURE TO RACING? "If you are a race car driver. Kids that I went to school with that didn't really have anything to do with racing, I think they were obviously very familiar with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and racing, but there weren't a lot of kids at my school that knew what sprint car racing. Or quarter-midget racing was. There is still a separation of the racers versus the non-racers. But I think when you have a facility like this with the history that it has, and all you have to do is come in to the airport, drive around town just a little bit and there are too many indications of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 for you to not know about racing in this state."
DO YOU THINK THIS IS THE MOST RACING INTENSE STATE? "Yes, I would say so. You have drag racers that are based out of here as well as Indy Car teams, sprint car teams, midget teams, Silver Crown. USAC is based here as well as IRL and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and just its long history. I would say that is a pretty fair bet."
WHAT ARE YOU MEMORIES OF YOUR FIRST RACE HERE? "I was very anxious and excited because in 1994 when this was the inaugural event, I was a little bit disappointed that I missed the first running they had here on the track with the stock cars which was either '92 or '93 and I wasn't invited to that because I was so new. I remember seeing video of the cars going around the track and just thought, man, how cool is that. I asked a lot of the drivers what it was like. It was pretty much an exhibition but everybody was excited about the potential of running here. When that became a reality it was just perfect timing because, for me, we were really coming in to our own that year. We really stepped up our performances as a team and started getting experience for myself as a driver. We just had just one at Charlotte so the momentum was on our side. We knew we could do it. The confidence was there and we came in here and we were strong all weekend long. The power was really good. It is kind of hard to ever match that memory and those experiences that I had that first time here because we won."
DO YOU THINK THIS TRACK HAS LIVED UP TO THE EXPECTATIONS OF BEING ONE OF THE GREAT RACES? "That was never my expectation. I don't know if it is the best race that Indy Car racing has. It is hard to beat what they do at Texas and when they were at Michigan. That was some amazing racing. What makes this a great event, whether it is stock cars or Indy Car or Formula One is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's history in automobile racing. And, the prestige of winning this race. It is a very technical challenging race track. To me, it is a driver's track. It is not an easy place to get around. That is never going to take the prestige away from a driver or a team to win this race. I feel like it is not the perfect track for us because it doesn't have banking. Our cars really like the banking. That was the case from the first race and still today. But it doesn't, in my opinion, from how important this race is and the excitement around the race."
IS THERE STILL A DESIRE STILL FOR YOU TO COME HERE AND RUN THE INDY 500 IF THE SCHEDULE WORKED OUT RIGHT? "I don't think that is going to happen. I don't want to say never. It is not going to happen as long as I am running a full-time schedule even if they changed the schedule because as a race car driver who has way too much respect for Indy Cars, the drivers, the competition. It is not just 'Hey, I have got an off weekend, I am going to jump in and Indy Car and go run 230 mph around Indianapolis.' It is months of practice and laps around, getting to know the cars, the track with those cars. I mean, there is a lot that it entails that is involved to be able to be competitive. Now, if you say, 'Jeff, you want to just go ride around at 210 mph around Indianapolis in an IRL car', yes, I could do that but I wouldn't have much fun doing that to be honest with you. I like being competitive. That is what drives me in the race car is being competitive, not just going out and driving around the track."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE AS A PART OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS YOU ARE THE TEAM TO BEAT? "Each weekend we feel like we are a team that can win. We have to go out and prove whether we are the team to beat. To me the team to beat is going to be the one that gets track position with four fresh tires with 15-20 laps to go. Hard to predict who that is going to be and that could be anybody. I feel like we are going to be strong. I feel like we need a little bit of speed with the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet from testing. We've worked hard since that test to try to find some areas that we can improve. But we have come off a good finish and certainly I feel like my teammates, Jimmie was strong here last year. Mark has been extremely impressive. And with Tony Stewart having Hendrick equipment, I feel like he is going to be really strong as well. That is not to say the Roush cars or the Penske cars or Childress cars or anybody else out there, I think Montoya can be really strong here as well. They have been running better. He has finished well in the past. There are a lot of guys out there. Kasey Kahne, those guys can be really strong. It is hard to pick one."
DO THE STEWART-HAAS CARS TAKE A SIMILAR PATH EACH WEEK THAT THE HENDRICK CARS TAKE? "I think they started with a baseline at the beginning of the season to just to get themselves up to speed quicker and sort of take out some of the variables. I think they looked at what we were doing with our setups and with our cars and said 'Hey, let's start there.' Plus, they have Darian Grubb over there and some other individuals that have been at Hendrick and know how we do things. I think that they probably came up with a pretty close baseline and then have grown from there. There are some things that they have learned as the season has gone on that we have been able to adopt because we obviously get all the information from them as well. There have been areas that we've progressed in that they have been able to adopt. Again, it still goes back to every driver has a different driving style and every crew chief has a different theory. There are still slight differences in the setups."
BUT THERE ARE MUTALLY OPEN BOOKS ALL THE WAY AROUND? "For the most part, yes."
HAS ANYTHING ABOUT THE JEREMY MAYFIELD SITUATION MADE YOU HAVE ANY LESS CONFIDENCE IN THE RESULTS OF THE TESTING? "I have been tested I think three times and each time, you can't help but have a little feeling inside of you going 'what is going to come out of this? I take an allergy pill, is that going do something?' You go through the year and you get a cold and you might have more than a cold and take an antibiotic. To me, everything that I've taken or have been prescribed is on the list of things that I have given to them. If something new comes about, I give it to them. I feel like I have been open with them, so with testing, I feel like I am very well prepared to answer any questions that may arise from that. I still think it is a good policy. It is new, so, obviously there are going to be some things come out of that, that we are all going to learn from. But, I think it is a positive thing for the sport that we need to be doing this type of testing. Do we need a second outside lab to maybe test to also to have a B sample, or something like that for court case maybe. But I still feel confident in what I am doing and when I go in to get tested what they are doing in their process. I mean they are thorough. It is kind of scary thorough like you feel like you are under investigation and you haven't even done anything. They are very very thorough. I'm glad. That is the way I want it to be done.
"The only thing that I have seen come out of this is that we have one lab that has the A and the B sample and some of that has been in question. So I just wonder to alleviate some of those questions if you had either somehow had a sample that a qualified second lab could test. But again, I think the real story is going to come out in the long run and when it does, I think that we will have the answers and we will find out really where our system, this system that has been implemented, where it really stands. Right now, I stand by it and the testing and the policies they have in place."
THERE ARE FIVE DRIVERS WHO WERE IN THE CHASE LAST YEAR THAT DON'T APPEAR TO BE GOING TO MAKE THE CHASE THIS YEAR, WHAT HAPPENS IN THOSE TYPES OF SITUATIONS TO MAKE SUCH A DIFFERENCE FROM ONE YEAR TO THE NEXT? "I think the biggest shakeup there is obviously Childress. It looks like something has happened with their programs. I can relate to this because we went in a direction last year that we thought was the right one and you get in that position, it is hard to get out of it. You stick with it for a certain period of time because you think it is better. Your theories and your data show that this should be better and then if it doesn't work you, you have to abandon ship. It is hard to get things turned around. It seems to me what's happened to those guys a little bit because one the competition has stepped up and some guys have learned some things that have made them better. Kahne was struggling last year and they seemed to have definitely made some gains. The Stewart-Haas team is new, you expect Tony to be in the Chase but to have both of those cars up there, that is impressive and Mark Martin is another factor I see as a change. And Juan Pablo Montoya, is such a talented race car driver, you just knew that if he stuck with it and Ganassi could stick with it, that they are going to get their program better and his talent is going to come out. I think that is what we are finally starting to see."
-credit: gm racing