JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Kansas Speedway and discussed racing at Kansas, next week’s Pocono race, safety of cars and other topics.
WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND AND HOW DO YOU SAVE FUEL AT A TRACK LIKE KANSAS? “If you are talking about saving fuel under caution, it is a whole different set of scenarios and much easier to do. You basically can just pick up a little speed and shut the engine off. If you are talking about saving fuel under green, it is near impossible. You have to slow the lap time down so much in order to save enough to go an extra lap or a half-of-a-lap that to me, it is really not doable. The only time I’ve ever really seen it done was Tony Stewart at Pocono (Raceway) and I’m still not sure how he did it. I don’t know if he was shutting the engine off on the lap and he had that big of a lead that he could give up that much time. That is what it appears. He had such a lead because of others coming in that he was able to do some extreme things. So, unless you are in that kind of scenario, to me it is only about saving fuel under caution.”
YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO GO FOR BROKE FOR WINS, HOW WILL YOU APPLY THAT MENTALITY HERE AT KANSAS? “First of all we want to have a fast race car and I really credit the team for really working hard trying ever single angle that we possibly can to find areas to make the car better. Better downforce-wise in the wind tunnel; working work hard on our seven-post testing to come up with the best shock and spring package that we can. It is just knowing that we’ve been off on the mile-and-a-halves and we have to make improvements and the effort that’s been put into our mile-and-a-half program to make those efforts, that is number one. The other is just doing every single thing you can possibly conceive to make your team stronger; to make the car faster and to make your day goes better throughout the weekend. On race day, you have to take risks whether it is the driver, picking and choosing when you need to take those risks as well as the team when it comes to pit strategy and how we get that track position that is so important.”
HOW HAS THE TRACK HERE CHANGED SINCE THE FIRST RACE AT KANSAS? “To me this track has just gotten better and better every single year. I loved this track from the beginning obviously, but, like all tracks do over time as they settle in, you get some different characteristics that come into play. Different bumps, you see the pavement start to wear a little bit. In here in Kansas, I think those things have really only made the track better because the way it wears the tires, the grip level just makes for multiple grooves. We already saw yesterday in practice cars up against the wall, cars on the bottom, cares in the middle. That is going to make for a great race here tomorrow.”
HOW MUCH USE TO YOU GET OUT OF THE OLD NOTES THAT YOUR TEAM BRINGS? “Things change so quickly in this sport, especially over the off season, when you get the teams that basically in the Chase gave everything that they had to have fast race cars then they go in the off-season with that knowledge and some go in the off-season knowing that what they had wasn’t working. They just go to work so it is amazing how much can change over the off-season. Not to mention Goodyear constantly trying to improve the tires for this race car and these race tracks, those changes definitely make you have to stay on top of things in a big way. The notes from last year definitely help us a little bit, but, I feel like a lot of things have changed so we can’t go off of that too much. But from this race until the second race, it will be interesting to see how accurate our notes can be. I think they will be fairly accurate.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT POCONO? “Oh, goodness. They are going to let us shift this time so I am pretty excited about going back to shifting at Pocono. That is one thing, getting the gearing right and getting those shifts smooth. And power. You have got to have good horsepower. At a place like that, the straightaways are so long but, you know, you have three distinct corners that are all unique and different. Trying to get the car balanced to go those three corners fast is also a big challenge.”
DO YOU THINK THE SHIFTING WILL MAKE IT A LITTLE BIT MORE COMPETITIVE THERE? “I do. I think taking away the shifting eliminated some opportunities to pass. I think by bringing it back is going to make it yes, more competitive. More exciting racing I believe.”
WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT ASPECT OF 500 MILES AT POCONO? “It is just long. I mean, 500 miles at Pocono is like 600 miles Charlotte. It is just very long. The corners are all unique and challenging, so, when you have a long race and you have challenging turns like you have at Pocono, and if the weather is warm too, it can make for a very long day that can be very challenging mentally and physically.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN STEVE LETARTE AND DALE EARNHARDT, JR.? “I think it is awesome. I am so happy to see those guys performing the way that there are. It was a shame to see them come so close last week and not get that win. I think if they keep going in the direction that they are, that win is definitely in their near future. Happy for Steve. I have always been a huge fan of Steve’s. I was happy to have him as my crew chief and I see the chemistry between him and Junior and he has worked hard at it and that is what it takes and it is really paying off for him and that team and it is great to see.”
So, we have to start very soon.
ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE A WIN, DO YOU HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT OR BE FOCUSED ON BEING CLOSER TO 11TH IN STANDINGS? “I am certainly not comfortable. Not a good place to be. I guess I look at it a little bit different. It is not just about being in the top-10 in point, it is about being a threat for the Championship. And, yes, you have to be in the top-10 or 12, in order to do that and you can improve your program by the time the Chase comes around and be a threat for the championship. So that’s why we can’t give up. We have to work hard to improve all the time. But, I think, from a points standpoint right now, what we have to focus on is winning races because, if we can win another one or two races, to me that locks us in. We understand that not only locks us in, it gives us momentum to be in a position to actually be a threat for the championship. We’ve gotten ourselves behind and that is obvious, it shows where we are in the points. We’ve been inconsistent and we haven’t performed they way we need to. So, to me, it is not just about being in the top-12. It is about being in the top-12 and being a real threat for the championship. We definitely have work to do. I’m excited about this weekend. Things have gone really well. I think we saw a little bit of that last weekend some of the improvements the team has been making. But, we are really seeing it here and if we can follow that up hopefully with a good qualifying effort today, but more importantly, a good race tomorrow, I feel like we can get that momentum that we need to get those wins as well as get ourselves solid in the top-12.”
CAN YOU BUILD MOMENTUM TOO SOON? “Well, we are so far behind, it can’t be too soon for us. You can maybe ask guys like (Carl) Edwards and some of the guys that are higher up in the points that are very competitive right now if they’ve built it too soon. We haven’t gotten it yet. I think I said earlier in the year, it has to happen by the summer and as you can feel here, the summer is upon us. So, we have to start very soon.
“We’re getting closer to having the speed. I think last week, we had the speed in clean air, but we didn’t have it in traffic. We couldn’t move up through the field. If you watched guys like Matt Kenseth, even Jimmie (Johnson) at times, those guys could move up through the field and we have to be able to have that aspect of it as well as have the speed. We have to have the speed qualifying. We have to qualify better. Track position is extremely important and we’ve got to get it and it starts on qualifying day to help with your pit stall. Same old stuff. We’ve shown that we have got speed but, we’ve got to show it at the right time. We have not really put ourselves in position at the end of the races. The last four or five weeks, we have been far better than where we finished. We have to change that.”
WHEN THINGS HAPPEN LIKE YOUR RADIO LAST WEEK, DOES THAT GET MORE AGGRAVATING AND MORE FRUSTRATING WHEN YOU ARE TRYING TO BUILD MOMENTUM? “That didn’t hurt us too bad. It didn’t help, that part was the least of our worries. To me, the most frustrating part was we came in to get fuel and then the caution came out. That to me was frustrating and that is kind of the things that have happened to us, similar things like that. Just like at Dover, I go back to Dover. We put ourselves in position but I was on the inside lane on the restart, the last car on two tires and went down in the first corner and the outside lane was the lane moving and we went backwards. Sometimes circumstances are what lane you are in on the restart. Sometimes when the caution falls and then other times it is having a fast race car. To me that is the most important aspect of it, that is the part we’ve been working the hardest on and I think that the rest will follow if we can we can maintain that fast race car throughout the race.”
CAN YOU COMPARE THE IMPACT AT RICHMOND OF THIS NEW CAR TO THE IMPACT OF THE OLD CAR INCLUDING THE NOVA? “Nova? I’ve never driven a Nova, I can tell you that. Well, trust me, the old Nova versus what we have now, there is no comparison. This is not a “stock car” anymore. This is a race car. I am not exactly sure if I understand the question. In the driver’s side impact like what I had with a wall without a safer barrier, the impact is actually going to be a little more severe. Because the car is stronger. It is built to withstand a bigger impact; prevent anything from protruding in so we have a steel plate on the outside and, that is why it is so important to have safer barriers at all these race tracks because the driver compartment is stiffer and stronger and than it has ever been before. It’s going to absorb the impact far less even though we have some impact material and foam around the driver side. To me, that foam did nothing because the door bars crushed in. If that foam did its job, then those door bars wouldn’t move so the foam would have taken all the impact. Luckily the structure of the seat and the foam around the driver is far superior today than it ever has been. And that is why I didn’t have any injuries. From just a pure impact of that cage, when you hit, to me, it is actually a greater impact. Again, but it is a much safer car and I’d rather have that, we just need to have the safer barriers to follow that.”
ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH NEW QUALIFYING PROCEDURE THEY ARE STARTING IN POCONO NEXT WEEK THAT PUTS THE GO-OR-GO-HOMERS ARE GOING TO BE INTERSPERSED AMONG EVERYBODY? “When they went to this format this year, I didn’t understand why they separated us to begin with or why they weren’t going first. That is cool. That is the way I think it should be because now that we are going off speeds, instead of it being the bad luck of the draw, which is why I think they had that old format, they didn’t want a guy to go home from a race because he had an unlucky draw. Now you have to earn where you go in the field. If you have the speed, then you should be able to show it and benefit from it when you go to qualify. It is a little bit unique this weekend I must say. I do question a little bit when it is an early qualifying, whether or not the fastest cars should go first. Or maybe the fastest cars should get to choose. (LAUGHS) Because that is the whole reason we are using the speed is you are earning that right to get the best time to go out and here today, I think we are going to see some guys that maybe sandbagged a little bit in practice. That could be a part of the strategy too that could be fun and interesting for everybody and we’ll find out. We weren’t one of them. We were fast in our race setup and that put us fairly high up and we made one qualifying run and we were extremely high up so at that point, we basically said let’s just keep going because we are going to have a late draw anyway.”
IS IT WORTH EXPENDING ENERGY TO TRY AND SANDBAG? “Personally, not for us. We talked about it. I don’t know how you can plan that out. There are just too many ways it can backfire on you by not really fully going out there and seeing what your car is capable of doing. That is why we went the route that we did. We’ll find out today.”
WHAT WILL BE SCENARIO AT POCONO? “I haven’t even seen when we qualify, if it the same type of deal. It could be. It could be weather. Like right now, I am loving seeing these clouds come in. I’ve been very concerned that having an earlier spot is going to be a big benefit today but these clouds could change things.”
WOULD YOU KNOW ONE OF YOUR CARS FROM ANOTHER IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW THE NUMBER OR DOES EACH CAR HAVE ITS OWN PERSONALITY? “It is so funny on Twitter, I am getting people asking is this a new car, is this a new car. These days there is no real difference between a new car and an older car unless you are making upgrades. If you are finding ways to make upgrades with a newer car, then absolutely a newer car can be beneficial. You can make upgrades to an older car. So for the last several years, I’ve really not been able to feel a difference between a new car and an older car.
EARLY IN YOUR CAREER WITH THE OLD CAR? “Oh yes. But, you have to understand that back then, these bodies truly were done by eye, by hand and we didn’t have the templates that we have now. You talk about improvements, you could make massive improvements aerodynamically to the body the way you twisted it and turned it and moved it and located it and all those things. Now we are so locked in there is very little we can do to improve the car aerodynamically.”
-source: team chevy