Continued from part 1 Q: You said that even when you don't win, it's news. This is the third time you've gotten this far into a season without a win. Are you at all concerned, or no? JG: Yeah, I'm concerned. We want to be competitive...
Continued from part 1
Q: You said that even when you don't win, it's news. This is the third time you've gotten this far into a season without a win. Are you at all concerned, or no?
JG: Yeah, I'm concerned. We want to be competitive every single year. The good thing is that this is my 16th season in this sport, and I've been through a lot of great years and I've been through some down years.
You know, those down years, those are the toughest ones, and we've had tougher ones than this. I will say that this new car creates a lot of challenges that we're trying to overcome. The competition is obviously especially at Gibbs and Roush, they have really stepped it up from last year.
Now lately Evernham has really stepped it up. So we have got some work to do and we know that, and it's happening; from testing to being on our seven-post rig and everything we can do at Hendrick Motorsports, and with the 24 team specifically, doing everything that we can.
You know, it's not just one magical thing. It's a combination of a lot of things, and you know, I feel confident that we're going to get it. I just hope that it happens at the right time when we can start -- our momentum swing through the Chase or getting to the Chase and still pull off a championship.
Q: Can the Hendrick stable over the last half of the season or so kind of rebound to post numbers similar to what the team had last year?
JG: Well, I don't know about numbers like we had last year. I think the potential of doing what we did in the Chase is still possible. You know, right now, our first order of business is to make sure we're in the Chase.
Right now, I think that we're less focused with trying to win races than maybe the media and other people are caught up in. We are more realistic. We are more caught up in what do we have to do to make ourselves better, and it's one step at a time. It doesn't just happen overnight.
But you know, through a lot of hard work and testing and trying things, and some of it is at the track when you can't test and some of it is away from the track at other tracks, and sometimes you hit on things and it just starts to add up and starting to go in a direction and you start to find things.
I think Kasey Kahne is a perfect example. They really weren't any better than us, if not worse than us, prior to Charlotte. And, you know, they have hit on some things that have really allowed that team to take off. And I think we are capable of doing the same thing.
Q: You've had so many great races at Sonoma and the track is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Do you have a favorite Sonoma moment that you look back on?
JG: Well, I mean, all of our wins have been special. There was one year that I was leading the race, my seat belts came undone, the caution flew, I went into the gravel pit or off the track and the caution fell and I was able to come to pit road, latch my belts back up. It was a hot day. I was exhausted. It was just one of those days where it seemed like everything was trying to go against us, and we still fought through and won the race. That was a spectacular day and win, and a huge moment for the team.
Q: That was about three years ago?
JG: No, I don't know what year that was. It was probably our third or fourth win out there, so several years ago.
Q: Kyle Busch has been having this fantastic season, and you know him very well; what are your views on Kyle's season? What's been the big difference for him?
JG: Well, I mean, I think that his move to Gibbs came at a good time. I think that's a great organization. I think that they have really been performing well this year.
You know, he's clicked obviously with the team and the crew chief. He's a great driver, there's no doubt about that. And I think that they have done what you have to do to be competitive and win, and you know, that's what every team is out there trying to do, and sometimes it happens for you soon, and sometimes it takes time, and for those guys, you know, it's just come together quick and it's been a great year so far for him.
Q: With regard to your season, you come off the high from being so close at Homestead and you run into a season where things are a lot more challenging. I know you've been frustrated with the car at times but even without the win, I think you still have six top-fives or something like that. So for you personally, is it a case where you have to just sort of dig down deep and be a lot more patient and do your best to keep the frustration at bay, and particularly since you mentioned you've had worse seasons than this; so how do you deal with it mentally?
JG: The thing is, every weekend, like we went to -- obviously Texas is probably the low point of the season for us. We ran terrible. I lost control of the car. It was just a total disaster all weekend long. And when you go through those types of races, you look back at it and you try to figure, okay, what's the best we could have gotten out of it and how could we have improved and where are we missing something. And I do believe that Texas is not only my most challenging track; I believe it's one of most challenging tracks out there.
We go to some other tracks, and like Darlington, we were a top-five or -six car, we pulled off a top-five there, a third, but it was a distant third. So even on our good finishes -- Dover is another one a couple weeks ago. We finished fifth there. We were top-five car, but we were distant.
So, even those moments are frustrating, it's great to get top-fives and you need the points, and you need to get in the Chase and sometimes you're going to walk before you can run, but you know, when you're finishing fifth and you're not even leading laps or close to the leaders, it's frustrating.
We're just a very competitive organization, and I know how competitive I am, and we want to be a factor in the wins, as well as the championship. Right now, we're not, and you just have to -- exactly, be patient and work hard.
I think Steve Letarte is an awesome crew chief and doing a great job, and I think our team is one of the best teams out there. When we are out there and doing our pit stops and we are communicating and adjusting and getting through some of these tough weekends, I don't think any team out there could do a better job. And when we do get the cars working the way we want them to, which I still feel confident that we will, I feel like we are going to be one of the teams to beat.
Q: Even against that background, do you look at Sonoma as the kind of race where you can finally break through?
JG: I do feel like Sonoma is a track that we can be competitive at. It seems like typically in the past, Sonoma is one of those tracks where no matter what kind of season we're having, we can go out there and be competitive enough to win the race. Doesn't guarantee you are going to win the race, but at least you're going to be competitive. And I feel confident that we are going to be competitive this time as well.
But that didn't change what's happening at the mile-and-a-half tracks that we are struggling with. That doesn't turn that around. It just gives us an opportunity to hopefully pull off a great finish.
Q: You've mentioned "team" a couple of times, and I'm just working on a story about the aspect of team. When you start out racing, you're pretty much on your own and trying to win, win hard and when you make it to this top level of NASCAR, you suddenly join a team. Is it a big adjustment for a driver? I know at certain races you can help each other and at certain race, you can't. But what was that like, just coming into NASCAR and suddenly finding yourself a member of a big team?
JG: Yeah, that's something that's grown over time. When I joined Hendrick Motorsports, they were only a two-car team that went to a three-car team and a lot of people were like, that's crazy. You can't beat three cars.
And we had success and over time, we learned how to manage all of these different personalities, and teams and work together and it's still always an ongoing learning process about having to learn from it and grow and make it better, and I think Hendrick has done a great job with it and it's what continues to make us continue to be strong year after year.
I've always felt like as a racecar driver, it was a team sport, because you're dealing with a piece of equipment that is built by individuals. I wasn't always as hand-on, certainly not with stock cars, back with the Midgets and Sprint cars I was a little bit more hands-on, but I never really was a guy in there building the cars from scratch. It was always a team effort.
So you know, to me, it's always been important of how your equipment performs out there. But now it's about not just your equipment, but learning from as many individuals around you as a team to gather information, to utilize their resources and testing and things they are learning to benefit yourself and vice versa.
Q: What can you attribute, if anything, to the differences in performance of the team members on the Hendrick team? It looks like Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the most successful. Why is it so different when you have basically the same equipment and you can share?
JG: I think there are certain tracks that those guys have done well on and other tracks that we have and they haven't. I feel like Junior, started off the season strong and very consistent. Like at California, us and Jimmie, we were pretty spectacular there. And Junior was decent but he wasn't spectacular.
But then we have gone to other tracks and he's been better than I've been. With this new car, you're mainly looking at mile-and-a-halves. Every driver has a different feel, a different way they like to drive the car. So you can't just put one set up in that's working for one guy and it will work for everybody.
But still, we can share information. We can have our debriefs and all of the crew chiefs and the drivers and engineers, they talk about what's going on and you can apply certain things that those teams are doing, and you can still use it to benefit yourself.
But you know, unless all of the drivers drive exactly the same line, they apply the brakes and throttle the same way, turn the steering wheel exactly the same way, have the same feel in the steering wheel and in the seat; unless they have that, there's no way that all of the setups are going to be the same and you're not going to have all of the cars running the same speed.
Q: Well, prior to the new car, you seem to pretty much have a handle on the road courses with the car the Hendricks team had developed. Has it been more difficult to develop the new car, of course, everybody started from scratch on it; do you think you'll have an advantage with your road course experience in developing the new car to Infineon and the Glen?
JG: I think not as many things have changed for the road course with this new car as they have for the other tracks. So, I think that we are able to apply a lot of what we have had in the past to the new car and still be pretty close. I will say that I felt like Tony Stewart was the best car on the road course this last year, and I felt like we were the second best. Even though Juan Pablo (Montoya) won the Sonoma race, I felt like Tony and myself were the best cars as far as speed. So just you've got to hit the strategy right and you've got to make sure you maintain that speed, and you always have to improve them.
I think that's one of the biggest things this year is our competitors have really stepped it up. While we were battling for a championship last year, our competitors were focused on this year and they got ahead of us. It doesn't take much to get that little bit of edge, and it takes a little time to find it from our end, and that's why we are in the position that we are in.
I look at even though my teammates have been better than us, I feel like they still haven't been capable of really competing for the wins like we should be, and being more dominant like we were last year.
So I feel like as a whole, we still have some work to do.
Q: It seems like a lot of guys are taking road course racing more seriously now, what are your thoughts on the field as a whole getting better?
JG: Definitely. I think that people recognize that you can't throw out any race, every race is important and every point that you can gain is important.
I think that the championship and the Chase and every race has just gotten more and more competitive. I think that the intensity level has increased. The pressure from the team, the sponsors and the drivers put on themselves has increased.
So every race is important, and I think that there's not a team out there that I know that wants to hire a driver that says, 'Oh, we'll do great everywhere until we go to the road courses and we'll pretty much give those up.' You don't want to give up anything, anywhere.
So I think that's made everybody work harder from the team aspect and the driver aspect so that you can be competitive on the road courses. There were times when we were dominating out there and felt like we only had two or three guys we were going to have to deal with.
Now there's any number of guys that can win, and then we saw last year, you take a guy like Juan Pablo who is faster on the road courses and put the right pit strategy and fuel mileage and anybody truly can win this race, so it makes it very, very tough to have the same kind of success that we've had in the past.
Q: Is there anyone that you would identify as maybe an up and comer for this year?
JG: Well, I mean, David Ragan has seemed to me like he's made the biggest improvements over the years, and I think that -- you know, I think that you've got some guys like Sam Hornish and Patrick Carpentier that could really stand out on the road courses.
But heck, shoot, who knows? It could be Dale Jr. this year, who knows who is going to be competitive. I'm really looking forward to getting out there and finding out, though.
-credit: infineon raceway/nascar