The final NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference of the 2001 season featured Jeff Gordon, four-time Winston Cup champion and driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Robbie Loomis. Nine of the top ten drivers in the...
The final NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference of the 2001 season featured Jeff Gordon, four-time Winston Cup champion and driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Robbie Loomis.
Nine of the top ten drivers in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings can change positions this Friday, November 23rd at the New Hampshire 300, but none of them can drop out of the top ten. Points set the field in September prior to the original date of the race, so Gordon will sit on the pole. And, Gordon is the only driver to win a NASCAR Winston Cup race at New Hampshire from the pole position. He has three wins at NHIS. In the past 13 Cup races held at that track, Gordon has led 655 laps - more than any other driver.
The following are highlights of the teleconference.
Q&A's with Jeff Gordon:
On being a favorite in Friday's race: "It's nice to know that we're on the pole. That's a huge advantage at a place like New Hampshire and a great place to pit the car on pit road. We're excited. We've gotten the championship out of the way and we hear the weather is going to be pretty decent. The people in New Hampshire deserve a race. It's unfortunate what happened earlier in the year to postpone that event, but we're going to go up there and put on a great show. The Dupont team can just go for broke and not have to worry about points, so hopefully we can come out of there with a win."
Has winning this 4th title beginning to sink in a little bit? "Each day it sinks in a bit more and you get more and more excited about it. It's an awesome accomplishment. I'm just so proud of this race team and the way they've come together, and for Robbie Loomis and his first Winston Cup championship as a crew chief. This championship reminds me of '95. Going into this year, our expectations were that we were still in a rebuilding mode and that we were going to be a lot better than we were the previous year, but I didn't realistically think we had a shot at the championship. But to our surprise, things started clicking right away and we won races right away and we found ourselves with a team that was very capable of winning the championship and it was nice to pull it off."
Does the fact that you are only 30 years old make this achievement even more remarkable? "Winning four championships - no matter what age you are - is mind-boggling. That's why it's going to take time to sink in. I've never been one to focus on age. All my life, I've been pushed to do things at a young age that nobody else had ever done before. I was racing Sprint Cars at age 13. I got my USAC license at age 16. You're supposed to be 18. So I was always one step ahead of the other guys as far as age. I always looked at it that if you are capable and in the right situation and equipment, it doesn't matter what age you are. So as I get older, I appreciate the things that I've accomplished at a young age even more. When I look back at this year, turning 30 can be one of those birthdays that really get you down. But for me, it's been a spectacular year."
When you put this trophy on your mantle, how will this title be different for you? "Each one is different and each one means more and more along the way. When you get that first one, you wonder how you accomplished it. And then you win two and then you win three and you think it can't get any better. Here I am now with four. When the season is completely over and I've gotten my responsibilities out of the year, I'll be able to reflect on the year and what a spectacular year it has been - in a good light and in a bad light. Losing Dale Earnhardt was a tremendous loss. I don't think I've taken enough time to realize how much it has affected me personally and our sport. And then the terrorist attacks - you don't always have time to reflect on everything."
When you go to New York, will you go to Ground Zero? "Yeah, I believe that NASCAR and RJReynolds have planned a day to go to Ground Zero. I had made plans to go there, but they got postponed. Through the Jeff Gordon Foundation we've raised some money to donate to one of the funds. From what I hear from people I know that have been there, they've said it's really a mind-altering experience to go there and see what's taken place. But it's also inspiring for me to go there and encourage people that are working day and night to rebuild that area of the city and our freedom. So as tough as it's going to be, I'm looking forward to trying to do all I can to help."
You got bounced around on pit road in Atlanta - what do you think about the pit road situation? "At Atlanta, I was fortunate that there's not a wall separating pit road and the racetrack. Unfortunately at Homestead and also this week in Loudon, we don't have that luxury. It makes things extremely tight and I'm sure you're going to see guys bouncing off one another again this week. As long as the pit road procedure stays the way it is, that's what's going to happen. The spots are so critical - where you can gain our lose spots on pit road. I think it's so important for the crew to have helmets on. I'm really working hard on our guys. It reminds me of the whole HANS (head & neck restraint devices) thing where you want to feel comfortable and they're cumbersome and awkward. But once you get used to it you wonder how you ever got along without it.
"I remember when I first came into the Busch Series, you had either a red or blue sticker on your steering wheel. And somehow, we rotated between the red and the blue when the caution came out. It was the craziest thing I ever heard of. It was not fair at all. Procedure-wise, I'm not sure what they can do. People's lives are much more important than anything going on in that race. We have to take responsibility. We have a gas pedal and we have a brake pedal. We have to know when to push and when to let off."
Should there be penalties for hitting people on pit road? "Well, I look at Ward Burton's situation (at Homestead) and that wasn't his fault whatsoever. He had nowhere to go. He didn't have enough room. That wasn't his fault and I don't think he should get penalized for that. But I don't know -- if you start throwing some penalties out there we might do something different. Number one, pit roads need to be wider. Number two, if there is a (new) procedure, there needs to be a way that you know that you fall in line with a guy instead of side-by-side."
Were you ever tempted to skip the New Hampshire race if you didn't need it for the championship? "The thought crossed my mind. And then Homestead and Rockingham came about. But no, we never realistically thought about that. We commit to doing every event for our sponsors. We obviously had joked about it, but the people in New Hampshire deserve a race. The fans up there are some of the most avid and loyal fans on the circuit. Had it been snowing then I think it would be crazy to try to make it happen. The schedule is so hectic. There are so many races. When something like this happens - bad weather or a tragedy -- there is no room to move a race. We go into the season to run every race and that's what we'll do."
What if the New Hampshire race is so successful that NASCAR decides to run a Thanksgiving race every year? "If you could see me now, I'd be on my hands and knees pleading and praying that that doesn't happen. This season has been so long. The schedule is unbelievable. I don't have many complaints but if I do have one, it's the schedule. I hope that if anything, they're trying to cut back on the schedule, not add to it. They've already tried to help us by cutting back on the time at the racetrack. I've been encouraged by that and hope it's a trend of the future."
If the temperatures are in the high 30's or low 40's at New Hampshire, what does that do to the car? "This track is so slick and it's extremely flat. When the temperatures are perfect - say 80 degrees - the grip factor is not very good on the start and on restarts. So we are really going to have our hands full this weekend - especially if there are any cautions. Once we get heat in the tires, we're going to be in good shape and you're going to see a great race. But until then, you're going to see guys slipping out of the groove."
Looking ahead to next year, are there other contenders outside of the top ten that you think are especially strong? "When you look at our season last year, we really came on strong during the last ten races. Even though we only won one race (Richmond), we were really gaining on what it takes to become championship material. If you look at points earned; we were one of the top teams. For next year, I think you've got to look at Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Sterling Marlin and even somebody like Jeremy Mayfield. The sport is just too competitive to really pick one or two or even a handful. You can't rule out those Yates cars even though they've fallen off the end of this year. I think they'll be extremely strong next year."
Did the passing of Dale Earnhardt and the losses of Sept. 11 give you more incentive to win this championship to honor those people? "If anything, those situations tried to get my mind off of racing and off of the championship because you realize how important life is and how important our families and friends are. You have to live day to day without knowing what the future has in store for you. With that in mind, you have to capitalize on the moment. For me, it's capitalizing on this year and this championship and going out there and winning races. First and foremost is remembering and thinking about the people that are close to you and that you care about."
Was there any one particular thing that Robbie Loomis kept you focused on this year? "What I love so much about Robbie is that he's extremely calm and yet he's intense about winning. He and I clicked in a way that's different from the way that Ray (Evernham) and I clicked. I've had to push myself to grow in my knowledge of the team and the cars. Robbie and I talk a lot more about the set-ups of the cars and springs and shocks and we really had to come together last year at a time when the cars weren't working great. It created a strong bond there between Robbie and myself. He's not a super leader that tells everybody how it's going to be. He's one of the guys and yet he is the leader of this team. I have a lot of respect for the way he handles himself at the racetrack and at the shop with this team and his morals and the way he handles himself away from the track. In that sense, he and I have a lot in common. Ray and I had very little in common but we knew how to click when we got to the racetrack."
What has Robbie Loomis meant to this championship and what is his strong suit? "Robbie took the opportunity to work with a great organization, Hendrick Motorsports, and I really respect him for that. He recognized the resources that were there. He took a challenge. He took a risk. It's paid off and I'm really happy for that. This has been one of the most fun years I've ever had. There's a lot of hard work and dedication and sacrifice that goes into winning a championship. It's very gratifying to see it all come together. I've been able to enjoy this one maybe more than any of the others. Maybe it's because I was going for the fourth one and I knew I had three. You knew how to relax and enjoy it along the way. For Robbie, this was his first. But he seemed just as relaxed all the way. You never saw him get fired up or over-anxious or lose control."
Did you ever doubt whether or not Robbie could do the job? "I knew the first time I talked to him on the phone that he was the guy that we needed. Obviously, I knew of his reputation. Ray Evernham mentioned Robbie as a candidate and that meant a lot to me. Right away, I realized how much knowledge he had of the car. With his loyalty to the Petty organization, it was a tough decision for him to make. We didn't have smooth times the whole way, but we were learning each other's language. I always knew we would click. We just had to find it within ourselves."
Is there a possibility you will switch to any other racing series or maybe race in the Indy 500? "I don't look too far ahead and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I'm not really sure. I just know that this is a sport that is growing and I'm really proud to be a part of it. I've looked at Winston Cup racing and how it's growing since I've been there (1993) and how it's growing. To receive a $3.6 million dollar check from RJReynolds for winning is unbelievable. And then there are the fans and the sponsors. I can't see myself going anywhere else. I'm totally committed and dedicated to this sport. And now as a co-car owner, I really want to do everything I can to make sure that this team and the No. 48 team with Jimmie Johnson have every possible thing they need to win races and win championships.
"I'm really proud of Tony George of sticking with his plan. Seeing it coming together is really exciting. Three or four years ago I just would have laughed and told you that the Indy 500 wasn't the same Indy 500. It's not the elite. It's not the best of the best. But this year and next year, the best of the best are going to be there. But right now, I have no plans to do that. They're running me too ragged over here."
-Team Monte Carlo-