Johnson, J.Gordon Daytona test press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 THE MODERATOR: We're joined by defending Daytona 500 champion, Jeff Gordon. Jimmie is going to stay with us. Q. Speaking of the devil, I know you probably haven't spent much time around the shop, do you see some ...

Continued from part 1

THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by defending Daytona 500 champion, Jeff
Gordon.  Jimmie is going to stay with us.

Q. Speaking of the devil, I know you probably haven't spent much time around the shop, do you see some indications that the 24 team is going to be more consistent this year?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Without a doubt. I look at the end of the season last year and the races, one or two one, the race they won, everything that went on, absolutely. The performance is going to be there, really for the whole organization. I think Kyle has shown his abilities and I think Brian Vickers also is going to have a breakout year and hopefully we'll have all four cars in the Chase and given Roush a run for his money.

Q. For years there was talk about how the same crew stayed together year after year for you guys, I guess there was changes this off season, how do you see them affecting the team?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really don't see them affecting the team. The changes that were made, there were some guys on our team that wanted to work a little closer to home and took some other opportunities so they would be around their families a little bit more. Our truck driver was driving over an hour and a half each direction, coming to the shop back and forth and he's been doing it for years. His move was more along the lines of being close to home and being around his family a little bit more. David Bryant left and went to Robert Yates Racing I'm sorry, to Ray Evernham, and it's a good opportunity for David and we support him 100% on his move.

The bottom line on the moves taking place, a lot of guys have left to better their careers or better their lifestyles and it's something that we support and wish them the best. The new guys that can have come on, they are all very talented guys, majority have been in Hendrick Motorsports and show a lot of promise and they are now on the road with us and they are going to do a good job.

Q. Jimmie just mentioned Brian, what do you see in Brian that leads you to think, his third year might be the year that he really picks things up a notch?

JEFF GORDON: I would certainly put a lot into just the total organization of the 25 and the 5 teams and how they have really come together, and I think that their cars are getting better and more consistent and just allowing Brian to focus more on driving. It means he's obviously got the talents what he did in the Busch Series and we've seen glimpses of that in the Cup series. And I think that get the team behind him, as well. And I think like Jimmie said, he definitely has the potential to step out there and have a good year, as well.

Q. When your team has an off year, I'm wondering whether it affects your confidence at all as a driver, and also I'm wondering if at this point in your career, do you need anyone sort of encouraging you as the season goes along about your abilities, or is that all sort of self directed, you're beyond that now?

JEFF GORDON: I'm not beyond anything. I definitely think that when you're having a bad year, as the races, one after another, especially if they are not good ones, then your confidence level definitely goes down. Doesn't matter how much success you've had. It's inevitable. So it's important to not lose sight of what you've done.

I found myself over the years when I have had tough years of trying to regroup in my own mind, okay, don't do anything different than what you've done in the past. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Just try to do what you know and what you feel and apply it to the car and hope that the car responds. And if it doesn't, just continue to try it get that feedback to the team.

My experiences also have been that by doing that, and then we get the cars that do what I'm looking for, all of a sudden things start to click. And I've been fortunate where when I've had bad years, we've usually ended those bad years with something positive to build on in the off season. And that's what happened to us last year is we made we missed the Chase. Made a lot of changes and then changed some cars, changed some different things; and all of a sudden seemed like the chemistry started coming back and the feel that I started looking for was coming back and we ended up ending the season on a good note to come to this season and have the confidence and not be really scratching our head questioning too many things. Obviously mile and a halfs are still something that we need to get better on, but Homestead was really promising for us with the way the car felt and the speed that we had.

Q. I just wanted to ask you if you could talk a little about Steve Letarte. He pretty much grew up at Hendrick Motorsports, I think he started at 16 years old under Ray Evernham. What do you like about him and what do you think about the season with him?

JEFF GORDON: Obviously, we're both sort of learning together. I've known him for a long time. He's known me. Personality wise, I've felt like we've always gotten along well. He's always been just a great asset to the team. He's always got that positive attitude. He works hard. He doesn't ask to be treated different or given anything special. Everything that he's gotten, he's earned from hard work, and I think he brings the same work ethics into the crew chief job.

I think the toughest part of it was when you put him in that position, how does he go from being one of the guys to all of a sudden the boss. Those are the unknowns of how he's going to react on the box when it comes to making the call and then dealing with the guys, you know, like I was saying. That's the part I've been most impressed with is he's been pretty sharp in business away from racing, as well. And he's treated this like a business, which I think is smart. And he came right in there and took control and got the guys that support him to support him more and the guys that didn't to either support him or they were out the door. We're definitely going through some changes in the off season, and I think they are all positive ones that just build around Steve as the leader of this team and given me the cars that I need and us and all around the best effort to go out there and win races in championships. I don't think that we're there today, but I think by the time the Chase comes around, I think that we will be.

Q. Do athletes one of the things you hear all of the time...

JEFF GORDON: Are you considering me an athlete? I appreciate that.

Q. Do you have to have a chip on your shoulders to be motivated in sports, and particularly as a race car driver? You hear athletes talk about special motivation, and for someone like you who has won as much and accomplished as much, a lot of people wonder how you keep motivating, how you find that drive inside of you to just keep pushing? JEFF GORDON: That's a good question. I mean, I never thought of it as an analyzing it as a chip on my shoulder but maybe it could be. You know, for me, it's when the end of the day comes on Sunday and you look at the results and you drove your guts out and you finish 12th or 15th or it's your fifth straight crash in a row. Those are the types of things that motivate me. It just makes me angry and I know what we're capable of.

I think that when you come to work at Hendrick Motorsports, especially in the 24 car and the success we've had, there's a lot of pressure that comes along, and expectations. You either step up to the plate or you have got to move on. You know, I think that I take those things and I motivate myself from them.

You know, I'm not out there to prove anything, to beat any statistics or records or anything like that. I've far exceeded anything that I ever dreamed I would have had accomplished in racing. Now it's just about giving my best every single weekend and hoping that that does it to get to victory lane and to win championships, because I know that I'm surrounded by the best, the best people and the best equipment and that we should be running good.

I think that my motivation really just comes from lack of success knowing that I've had success, and I think this team really motivates themselves the same way. They just know what we should be capable of and what we should be accomplishing.

Q. Inaudible?

JEFF GORDON: Exactly. It's not that we should win a championship every year, but we certainly should be contending for race wins and on a fairly consistent basis and we should be up and battling in that championship in some way throughout the year. That's what we should be doing. That doesn't mean it's going to happen every year. But when it's not happening, when we're not living up to our full potential, to me that's what motivates us.

Yeah, tears our confidence down a little bit and it makes us scratch our heads and sometimes we don't always go in the right direction. But we never stop searching for what we've got to do to turn it back around. Sometimes you've got to take big steps to turn it around and sometimes it's just right there and you're just missing one little ingredient.

Q. I'm wondering if for Steve that this is going to be his first full year, is he ready and experienced enough to guide you to a championship, or is there a bit of a transition?

JEFF GORDON: I have no doubt that he's got plenty of experience in racing. He just has not had the experience at making maybe that final call when it comes down to the end of the race and championships on the line.

I think if you look at our organization as a whole and the depth we have there, if we get the right cars out there on the racetrack, those calls are a lot easier to make. I do, I believe he's capable of it, and I don't know if we had to go win a championship in February, if that was a final event that would be ready for that, but I really believe that just in the last ten races of last year, you know, what I saw in Steve was unbelievable, and that really has me excited about getting this season started.

And then over the off season, just seeing some of the changes and the way he steps up to the plate, that's something you would never expect for a guy that's as young as he is, with the amount of experience that he has, you would not expect a guy to come in to a big organization like ours and start making some of the calls that he's made.

He believes in himself, I certainly believe in him and I certainly feel like this team believes in him. Only time will tell what we're really going to be capable of this year, but right now I feel like we're as good as anybody out there.

Q. With your relative success over the years, how have you seen things change, even in the last few years, maybe from inside the car, on the track or just the different driver demands on the information, the feedback you have to give the crew or being a leader or being less of a leader, what are the things you feel like you need to change even a little bit more going into this year?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I think the change I've seen since I came into the Cup Series is the lack of it being a marathon race or each race being a race of survival. These days, it's just basically run as hard as you can from the beginning of the race to the end of the race. And the cars have changed so much and the aerodynamics have changed so much, how hard you have to push, not just throughout the race, but each lap, whether it be qualifying or the race.

So I've certainly seen that trend continue on and I think in the last three years, I've seen it take bigger strides than I've ever seen it take and just how aggressive you could drive the cars and. I think that that only allows younger guys to come in here from the Busch Series and be more successful from the start because the more aggressive you have to be, the more the youthfulness can pay off for you. I think that obviously with the big networks coming in and taking over with the sport, the demands on the time and the marketing side of things have changed a lot. So balancing out your schedule has become that much more important. There's a lot of guys out who maybe don't want to or don't enjoy doing the marketing side of things, the commercials, the photo shoots; some do. But the bottom line is, if you're going to be in this sport and you're going to be one of the top guys you're going to have to deal with it some way, some how and it definitely does affect the chemistry with the team. If you run yourself down doing all of those things, it can affect your performance on Sunday.

-gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Brian Vickers , Ray Evernham , Robert Yates
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Yates Racing