Continued from part 1 Q: Sort of in the same vain, I was wondering, has anything surprised you so far this year, for example, any drivers that are doing better than you expected or worse than you expected? Or anything else that sort of ...
Continued from part 1
Q: Sort of in the same vain, I was wondering, has anything surprised you so far this year, for example, any drivers that are doing better than you expected or worse than you expected? Or anything else that sort of caught you off guard so far after 11 races?
JEFF GORDON: You know, I focus so much on our own program and our own organization that, you know, honestly, I don't put a lot of effort into thinking about what, you know, guys are big surprises. Except for the guys that are winning the races, and those aren't necessarily surprises.
Even with Kyle, I mean, I've always known him to be a strong, talented driver. The only thing that's usually gotten in his way is just his youthfulness and aggressiveness that sometimes forced him to push too hard and make mistakes. We've seen that happen this year already, but he's still leading the points and still winning races.
I think Carl Edwards is stronger than we thought he would be. I thought we knew that they'd be strong, but they've been even better than we anticipated.
I think I'm a little bit surprised that the 48 Team has had the ups and the downs that they've had this year. I thought they'd be stronger. And I think Junior's been -- he's come out of the box more consistent and stronger than I expected them to as well.
So I mean if there are any surprises, those would be it. Matt Kenseth, a little bit of a surprise the fact that they haven't been better than what they've been. He's a very strong, consistent driver. We've seen him struggle along with myself this year.
Q: How close did you pay attention to what's going on with Indy during the month of May?
JEFF GORDON: I just flip on the TV from time to time when we have time at the racetrack to watch what's going on. I watched a little bit of pole day, and saw the Ganassi cars get the pole. But, I mean, I love racing. I try to follow as many forms of racing as I possibly can. But I can't say I know all of the little details about it.
Q: Let's face it, you really have had some bad luck this year. Now you're heading into other tracks that, you know, you've been successful at. Like in June, you'll be over at Michigan International Speedway. You've got two wins there. You ranked third in leading laps over there. Do you look at places like MIS where you've done very well and try to build confidence? Or how in the heck do you keep it out of your mind and your head from saying, well, what problem is going to happen next?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, I've always been a big believer that you make your own luck. I think that through preparation, you know, commitment, and just a lot of hard work by putting yourself in good positions is what's going to determine the outcome of your day.
You could look at Las Vegas. I mean, I knew my car was tight. I didn't really want to go to the inside on that final restart, but with Junior bobbling on the restart, kind of didn't have a choice. And I put myself into that position that caused that wreck. So I don't blame anybody but myself on that one.
At Texas, we were just, we were way off. We just did not have a good car and a good set-up that day. You know, the results show for it. So none of those things are luck or bad luck in my opinion. Ever since then it's been a wake-up call. We've been working really hard, doing a lot of testing. I think that also forms a lot of team building.
I think this past weekend, the last two weeks, really, have shown the results of that. I mean, we had to fight hard for that 9th place finish at Richmond. Typically you'd say well, 9th place, not a good finish for us. But where we started, where we've been lately and how hard we had to fight to get that, to me, that was a great finish.
This past weekend the same way, we were not a 3rd place car, but our pit crew was that amazing on pit road. Steve Letarte did a great job just keeping the team together, making good calls, and we pulled out a great top 5 finish there.
We are still not where we need to be to be competitive enough to dominate or to win the number of races that I felt like we could win this year. But that doesn't mean that we're not fighting hard and working hard and still putting expectations on us to pull it over. So there are tracks coming up that are good tracks for us, and with the hard work and confidence we have at those tracks, hopefully we can get some things turned around.
Q: Going back to the days of T-Rex and the All-Star race, this is kind of like an R & D session for a lot of teams.
JEFF GORDON: Right.
Q: Is it now to the point where you come to this race with the idea that if we have to destroy this car, we'll do it, let's just try to win this thing?
JEFF GORDON: Yes, well, you can't win the race without a race car in one piece. But you know in the All-Star event you push the limits from a driver's standpoint, from the set-up. The one area that I will say all of us are probably going to experiment in, because we are so limited these days, is under the hood in the engine department. We can push the limit there. We can have an engine that doesn't have to go as many miles so, we can make some more power with less reliability. Or it could be something that we're even trying to test for the future for the 600 or races down the road.
But to me, the attitude has always been, you know, you push as hard as you possibly can, all the way to the limit without -- without having as many thoughts in the back of your mind. I mean, the thoughts are always there -- you don't want to crash. But the thought has even been double that in most races, because you're thinking don't crash because it's not worth it because of the points, and you need those points.
So now it's just push, push, push, don't wreck, because you've got to win the race, and you've got to be in one piece to win it. But if you do, you'll get into a position where that move is going to win you the race. You're going to push a little harder, and that might cause you to lose traction and lose control, and have that wreck. So those are the things you think about a little bit more.
Q: You brought up the wreck in Vegas. I'm wondering if you have any, I don't know, lingering effects of that? Anything that sticks with you about that? And did that wreck tell you it's time for NASCAR to mandate soft walls everywhere?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think it's just something that, you know, any time a crash happens we try to learn from it as a team. I feel like NASCAR learns from it, and the racetracks learn from it, folks in Nebraska learn from it. So I just think that's something that should open the eyes up to every racetrack when those situations happen. Say, okay, do we have any of these concerns at our racetrack? And what can we do about it? What type of timely fashion can we do it in? What is the cost going to be and what are the benefits going to be?
So I will say I'm very proud of Lowe's Motor Speedway that they put soft walls on the inside wall on the back straightaway before we even tested last week. So that's a great thing. I hear they've made some changes to Las Vegas. So I mean, these folks are doing the job that needs to be done.
I'm curious when we go to some other tracks, we always saw at Richmond, you know, that there was an opening that we didn't think we could get to, and Carpentier got to it. So all of those things you learn from each time it happens and it needs to be addressed. If they're not addressed, you know, then the drivers or somebody's going to come down on them for not taking care of those issues. Because we focus so much on competition, but we've got to remember safety as well.
Q: Every few years it seems like there's a new group of drivers that comes in and kind of takes over the top of the sport for a while. Do you think that's happening a little bit this year with Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin being off to such a strong start?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. I think it's been a trend ever since car owners took more risk on younger drivers. I think the set-ups and the aggressiveness of a driver, because of the cars and the way they drive these days, can be very beneficial. You know, you take young talents like those guys. You put them in good equipment, you know, they're going to push hard. And especially if you get a few years of experience under the belt, those are going to be the guys that are going to do very well. And are only going to continue to do well and be real true players and possible champions in our series.
Ever since those car owners have been taking that chance, you know, it's been -- it's not always easy. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't. But it has allowed those guys to excel and open up the doors for other young guys to excel as well.
You know, there is so much that goes into the business side of it, from sponsorships, to talent, great teams, you know, all those things. When you get the right combination, you get a Carl Edwards at Roush. You get Tony Stewart, or even take a young guy like Hamlin and Busch at Gibbs, and Jimmie Johnson over here at Hendrick. I mean, those guys, you put them in the right equipment they're going to do very well. I think it should tell those car owners that these are the guys we need to be looking for in the future, because this is what's going to help our team excel. It's going to help us get sponsorship, and it's going to keep our team alive and successful.
Q: In the last few races it seems that later in the race your car really comes alive. Would you attribute that to more anticipating the changing track conditions, or just the communication between you and Steve Letarte?
JEFF GORDON: I think most of it is communication between Steve and myself. He's a great crew chief. I don't think he gets enough credit out there. He's very sharp when it comes to making those split-second decisions and calls on pit road that can get you those extra positions as well as have a strong car at the end.
Then my pit crew - It's all about having the right stop at the right time. This past week at Darlington, they were right every time. They were awesome in the pits. At Richmond we probably should have taken two tires there at the end instead of four. But it still worked out pretty good for us. Again, it's about timing and communication.
I think a strong team is always going to be there and be a threat at the end. I feel like not only us with the DuPont Chevrolet, but all the Hendrick cars. I felt like they're just strong teams. In the long run they're going to work their way to the front.
HERB BRANHAM: Jeff Gordon, thank you for taking time out and joining us. And best of luck Saturday night trying to win that All-Star race for the record fourth time.
JEFF GORDON: We're looking forward to it. Thanks a lot.