NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference April 6, 2004 Part 1 of 2 This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Gordon discussed the season as it moves to Martinsville...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference
April 6, 2004
Part 1 of 2
This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Gordon discussed the season as it moves to Martinsville Speedway for the Advance Auto parts 500 on April 18.
He has started from the top five in his last seven races at Martinsville. Four of those seven top-five starts were Bud Poles, including a Bud Pole sweep there in 2003. Gordon has competed in 22 races at Martinsville and has scored five victories and 16 Top-10 finishes, including a sweep there one year ago.
At last week's race at Texas Motor Speedway, Gordon finished third and climbed from 12th to ninth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. He has scored five top-10 finishes in 2004.
DOES THE CRITICISM THAT YOU AND THE NO. 24 TEAM HAVE LOST FOCUS SURPRISE YOU?
"No, it doesn't surprise me because we've set that bar. We've set those expectations by the number of wins and championships and seasons we've had. We know where our focus is, but we also know we haven't lived up to our potential. We finally showed this past week in Texas what we're capable of and that we are going to challenge for wins. Outsiders are quick to judge. It's a long season. We haven't gotten off to the season we've wanted either, but we are happy to get some momentum from Texas and take it to a great track like Martinsville."
WITH THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM, ARE YOU LOOKING AT THINGS DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU HAVE IN THE PAST?
"Absolutely. Right now I can't say we're looking at it a whole lot differently because basically it's about being consistent. Everybody is out there trying to win races and so are we, but we know that come Richmond (26th race) we've got to be in that Top 10. When we are we'd better be set on kill to go out there and lead laps and win races and you're going to have to have top five's every single weekend and have a lot of luck in order to win that championship. Our testing schedule is different. Two or three months from now everything is going to change for everybody."
ON THE CURRENT LEVEL OF COMPETITION:
"Every year the competition has gotten tougher. Teams and drivers get chemistry. They get a connection and build on that. I think it's more competitive today for a couple of different reasons. One is that people have gotten more involved with the technology, engineering, and computers. That's closed the gap tremendously. But the cars are a lot different to drive today than they used to be. Track position is extremely important. If you don't have it through qualifying, you'd better get it through pit stops. Or you'd better find a way to get that track position and hold on to it. Because of that, pit strategy is different. Younger guys who are aggressive have been able to qualify up front or get that track position and maintain it. It's a lot harder to pass these days. I can remember that if we did have trouble, we could always find a way to get back. That seems to be a lot tougher to do these days. Fewer mistakes can be made."
IF NASCAR TAKES WATKINS GLEN OFF THE SCHEDULE IN THE FUTURE, SHOULD IT BE REPLACED WITH ANOTHER ROAD COURSE RACE SOMEPLACE ELSE IN NORTH AMERICA?
"Obviously I am biased to the road courses. I enjoy them and we have success at them. Watkins Glen is my favorite of the two we run - even though I love the area we go to in Sonoma, I think the course itself at Watkins Glen is super for our cars. I would love to see us have at least one or two road course races on the circuit. But I understand how the sport grows and what makes it grow. And it there is a date or a track in an area that would be better for our sport and enable us to reach out more to our fans, I'm all for it."
WHAT MEMORIES DO YOU HAVE OF YOUR FIRST VICTORY AT CHARLOTTE 10 YEARS AGO?
"That's certainly one I'll never forget. There are just so many emotions. I never dreamed that I would ever make it to the Cup Series and I never dreamed I'd ever be a winner in the Cup Series. When that day happened, it was just more than a dream come true. It was beyond belief. That's why I broke down in Victory Lane. It's just one of those moments that only comes along once. It was awesome. I probably don't relive it enough - probably just because I'm so busy. But when I do have time, it's awesome to look back at how that day unfolded and how it's changed my life."
WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT NOW FOR THE DRIVERS IN THEIR FORTIES TO DO WELL?
"If you look at where most of the older guys are doing well, say at Bristol where Rusty (Wallace) did well, aerodynamics really don't play a roll. The set-up does. The feel does. Your level of aggressiveness is totally different there than say at a place like Texas or Las Vegas or places like that. These days, the springs we're running in the rear of these cars are so stiff. The shocks are so much different. The aerodynamics is so much different. The tires are different. What that does is force you to be extremely aggressive. What that means is the guys who is more aggressive is usually the one who is going to benefit the most. Obviously the young guys who haven't hit as many walls or lost control of their cars as often as some of the older guys have a lot more aggressiveness to put into that car. They also have come into it when the cars are like this. One of the things that impressed me the most about Dale Earnhardt was that he went through so many transitions of cars and downforce and tires and horsepower and yet he was always able to come back and be competitive. Rusty is another one of those guys. Bill Elliott is one of those guys. But it is tough and it takes time to transition through it. When you've driven a car for a long time that didn't have a lot of downforce, or stiff springs in the back and soft springs in the front, you drove the car a lot differently. Now, we're getting closer and closer to being like Indy cars where we have a lot of downforce and grip and the speed doesn't drop off very much throughout the run. So the way you set the car up and the way you drive the car are completely different than the way it used to be."
DOES ALL THAT HELP TO EXPLAIN KASEY KAHNE'S SUCCESS THIS YEAR?
"Kasey has done a tremendous job. Yes, he's aggressive. I say this in the most complimentary way, but you almost don't know any different. I was that way when I first came into the sport. I didn't know anything other than just pushing that pedal down as hard as I could and just driving the wheels off of it. Kasey has that ability, but he also has a good head on his shoulders and he's smart and he knows how to go about it. That's why he hasn't torn up as many cars as I did when I first came in (laughs). You look at that No. 9 car last year; they were very competitive with Bill (Elliott). Bill should have won the last race of the season at Homestead. They obviously had their act together and now they have a driver that has his act together. That's a great combination."
GIVEN THE TALENT IN THIS YEAR'S CROP OF ROOKIES, WAS KASEY KAHNE GIVEN THE RIDE THAT WAS BEST ABLE TO CAPITALIZE ON HIM?
"Yeah. Absolutely. I think so. I never want to take away from a guy who's done a great job. He's done a great job and there's no doubt about that. When it comes down to getting that car to the finish line and putting yourself in position to win, you've got to give a lot of credit to that driver. And I do. But that car was winning last year, or at least it was capable of winning. I think it's been a very fortunate situation for Kasey and he needs to capitalize on it. As drivers, especially young drivers coming up through the ranks, our goal is to get in the best ride at the right time that you possibly can. I was very fortunate that I got with Hendrick Motorsports at a time when they were really doing well and growing and being able to bring those types of cars to the race track. And I capitalized on it. And now Kasey is in that same situation."
DOES IT AMAZE YOU THAT MARTINSVILLE HAS BEEN ABLE TO KEEP UP WITH ALL THEIR IMPROVEMENTS?
"I love Martinsville because I run well there. I enjoy going there. I grew up on the short tracks. I love the short tracks. The sheer fact that it is a short track has allowed it to stay (on the Cup schedule), because in a lot of ways they're very far behind. Yes, it's nice to see that they're making a lot of improvements, but we need to have short tracks on our schedule. There are really only three. I would hate to see one go. I'm glad to see they're making improvements because it encourages me that we're keeping short tracks on the schedule. We can't have a series that's nothing but l.5-mile race tracks. We see how many people we pack in for Bristol and how exciting it is. Even though Martinsville isn't that same type of short track, it still offers that short track excitement the fans love to see."
ON FATIQUE IN THE RACE CAR:
"It plays a huge role - especially at a very demanding race track like Bristol a couple of weeks ago. I know that I was really exhausted after that race. There are a couple of different factors. One is just being in good physical shape. A place like Bristol pulls a lot of G's and puts a lot of strain on your neck and upper body. But probably the most important fatigue factory is hydration. You have to make sure you stay well hydrated during the race. Most of us have a pack that was built to hold fluids and keep them cool and it has a motor in it. We have new carbon-fiber seats that not only are safer and stronger, but they're also much cooler with the air that blows through it and through the helmet. The other is carbon monoxide. We've made it better by filtering the air that goes through the helmet, but we still have not fixed the problem. It's still a major issue. When you're running that hard and breathing that heavy, the lack of oxygen is already an issue. And then when you're breathing carbon monoxide, it just compounds it. A lot of times, that will make you more fatigued than the other things."