NASCAR NEXTEL WAKE-UP CALL FEATURING JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS ON BIGGEST CHALLENGES THIS WEEKEND: "There are always challenges no matter how good your stats are at a track. No matter how good your team is, there is always that...
NASCAR NEXTEL WAKE-UP CALL FEATURING JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS
ON BIGGEST CHALLENGES THIS WEEKEND: "There are always challenges no matter how good your stats are at a track. No matter how good your team is, there is always that challenge of the what-ifs and the unknowns that can happen. Those are the things that we try to anticipate through preparation, through qualifying, through pit strategy to eliminate. Hopefully we can go out there and perform this weekend the way we have on the 1.5-mile tracks similar to this. Obviously with this track being similar to Chicago, it is a place we are excited about. We have typically run better here than we have at Chicago. Those are all positive things for us, but then you have to go out perform. This is a track where track position is obviously important, we just have to go out and do our jobs.
"Next week at Talladega is a whole different story. It would take me all morning to talk about all the things we could get in to at Talladega.
Things are going very well for our team right now, I am very excited. We haven't been in the spotlight as much as the guys who have won the last couple of races, but I am totally fine with that. I like being a little more under the radar at this point. It seems like every time you jump up in the points lead and all of the spotlight is on you, the pressure is there as well. It is a little more comforting to be right where we are at right now, we are right in the thick of it, so close. Consistency is what it is all about for us. The way things are going for our team, I just couldn't be happier. "
ON HAVING ADDED PRESSURE WITH NO. 5 AND NO. 48 NOT HAVING STRONG RESULTS RECENTLY: "Yes and no. I don't think Jimmie is out of it. I think those guys are capable of coming back strong, we have seen them do that before. I hate to see Kyle and the No. 5 car go through the struggles they have gone through, he runs so well and those are good guys. I wanted to see the three of us up there battling. I know Rick (Hendrick) would like to see that himself. What is exciting for me and has taken some of the pressure off, there is a lot of pressure when you are in the Chase, no matter where you are, especially if you are going to be up front and going to be in the thick of the Championship battle, there is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure whether you are the lone guy of your organization or not.
What I am happiest about is we having been steadily gaining as a team and getting better, the chemistry getting better. Teamwork, communication, and performance - all of those things. Then the Chase started and that is when it is time for you elevate everything to the next level and that is exactly what our team has done. Those things happening are all just positives, again, as it gets further in the Chase and rest of the season, it is only goring to get better for us in that sense."
ON DETERMINATION TO WIN FIFTH CHAMPIONSHIP THIS SEASON AFTER NOT HAVING WON IT IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS: "I was never really crazy about that whole 'Drive for Five' program. From a marketing standpoint it sounded good, but it is hard to live up to and here we are several years later still battling for that. You never know when it is or isn't your year. This whole season, I felt like we were capable of being in the Chase. I felt like we were capable of winning races, but I never how this team, especially with a new crew chief, where we have been the last couple of years, I didn't know if it would take a year, it is would take two years, how long it was going to take for us to really be championship caliber. But I can honestly say, we were on the verge of it and then when this Chase started, all of a sudden this team went to a whole other level. These last 10 races are good tracks for us. As bad as Richmond was, as ugly as that looked, and as much as we didn't look like a championship caliber team, that has been Richmond for us the last few years. For whatever reason, we can't get that place figured out. When you look at the last 10 races, other than Texas, they are all good tracks for us. With the way our team has come along, the performance of our cars has come along, especially our 1.5-mile program, I don't think there is anyone out there that has an edge over us."
ON TEAMS' IMPROVEMENT ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS: "It started last year when we went and tested at Atlanta. We have been good at Atlanta so it was a good track for us to try some stuff to get a different feel. It wasn't your typical test, usually we got to a test and we fine tune and prepare for that race at that track. But we didn't do that; we went to the track with our aero guys, our engineers and were thinking outside the box. I was just wasn't comfortable with the setups we were using. I wasn't comfortable going in to the corner, wasn't comfortable getting back to the throttle. We knew that the attitude of the car, the pitching maximizing the downforce, we had to go in that direction, that is the way you are going to get speed. It wasn't that I had issues with that, it was just the way we were going about it. It kind of started there, we hit on some new things. Of having a new crew chief, open to new ideas, helped as well. We started moving forward. We kept going in that direction, from wind tunnel, to seven-post testing to simulation. Now, what we do, let's say, if the No. 48 finds something they are going to try or showed up good at a test or in some data we are going through, then we will take it and adjust it for me. We won't necessarily take it and say 'Ok, they found this and it worked for them so we are going to do it.' Even if it worked perfectly for them and they lapped the field, we are still going to adjust it for me. It is just a matter of understanding the information we are gathering, we are gathering a lot of things and it is all very helpful, but it is how you sort through it and figure out how it is going to relate to the race track because each track is different. And how it is going to relate to the driver, because each driver is different."
ON DIFFERENCES OF YOUNG DRIVER DRIVING A SETUP BECAUSE THE ENGINEER SAYS THAT IS HOW TO DRIVE IT VERSUS SETUPS FOR DRIVER COMFORT: "It is a combination of success that works for me, I know what I need to go fast in a certain area of the corner that has to be comfortable to me. I like to drive in pretty deep, but I don't like to use a lot of brake. I like to carry a lot of speed through the middle, but not necessarily using a lot of throttle. A lot of younger guys, if you look at their traces, they like to drive in deep, use a lot of brake, get the car turned and use a lot of throttle. It is just a different kind of driving style. That style, with today's setups, if you start like that and stay that way, it can work very well. We have seen that be the case. But that is not how I started in this sport, NASCAR, in the bigger, heavier cars, I do have a certain way I like to go about it and it is about finding a certain way that works for me. It is cool, because you can learn from the young guys, but you have to adjust it to work for you. You can't change how you drive, I have tried that, it doesn't work. Jerry Nadeau is a perfect example. When we came to the No. 25 car and they started going very fast, I started looking at how he was driving the car, and the setups they had, 'I said, ok they are good at this track and we have to get better at this track.' I tried to change, but I couldn't do it and had to ask the guys how to make that work for me. We started finding those things, it took us half the season but we did find it and the next season we came back and won the championship.'
ON NEEDING TO PROVE SOMETHING TO PEOPLE WHO EXPRESS DOUBTS ON FOCUS AND DETERMINATION" "I am not trying to prove anything to anyone. I try to really not take things like personal, because if I did, it would really affect me. I try to stay away from allowing those types of things getting to me because it would distract me and alter my focus. Knowing what I have done the last couple of years, I haven't changed anything. Yes, I am engaged, but I haven't changed my day-to-day of how I think about racing, how I go about doing all the things that come along with driving the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. I have a lot of commitments and responsibilities that come along with that. I didn't all of a sudden start hanging out in the shop more; I haven't done anything different. What is different is we have cars performing the way I would like them too. We have a better pit crew; we are qualifying better. It is just that things are working. It goes back to what we were saying earlier, my teammates were doing things that were working for them. We were trying the same things and they weren't working so it became it must be the driver. That is fine, I get the credit when we are winning and get the blame when we aren't. That is just the way it works. For me, this is just an opportunity.
These opportunities don't come very often. To be a part of a championship run, for about five years there in the mid-90s, I was expecting to be there. Over time, that just hasn't been the case. It has been since 2001, it wasn't the Chase. We did battle for a championship in the Chase, it came down to the last race, when Kurt Busch ended up winning it. We were close, but it never felt like we were a stand out that year. This year, we are more experienced and understand the Chase better, we are a closer-knit team with more chemistry. We really have a shot at it. That is what I like is that we have the opportunity, it is here facing us now and we want to take advantage of it."
ON IMPORTANCE OF HAVING HIM AND DALE EARNHARDT, JR. IN THE CHASE: "I don't know that. Unless you are going out doing a poll, from fans and sponsors, I am just not a good judge for that. I recognize who the most popular guys are in the sport, it seems to be Junior, me then Tony (Stewart). There are always new guys, younger guys, guys now having success creeping up in to those areas. The fans, marketing wise, want to see the most popular guys out there in the championship. It draws more attention. More media attention, more fan attention, so it is good for the sport. That is all I know, I don't know how to measure that."
ON IMPACT OF PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGIST TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS: "I am probably not the best one to ask about that because I don't know that I have ever met Jack (Stark). He has worked with certain people at Hendrick Motorsports and I know he has done some analysis of the teams as a whole. I have never had an opportunity to meet him or get in to it a whole lot. I think there are some positives with that. It is hard to take 60 or 80 guys with different personalities to blend together. That is a real challenge. It has been a challenge since the first time I was part of a championship year and I started recognizing how the blending of personalities makes up a team. I don't think it is a bad idea, to analyze it and understand it better and to have each individual understand it. From what I understand, someone like Jack is really talented and understand he has worked with PGA and other athletes. I hope he is doing something good, maybe that is the magic there, maybe I need go to see him."
ON BEING A STRATEGIST ON THE CHASE: "I don't think there is too much to when you peak. I think it is extremely important that you carry momentum in to the chase or get it immediately once you get in to it. And you want to peak while you are in the Chase, you want that to be your peak time. As far as strategizing, there is a little bit too much that goes in to strategizing because you can't predict what goes on in each of these races. You can be the dominant car and still have no idea what is going to happen and what the outcome is going to be for yourself. Perfect example, last week the No. 17 car runs out of gas. One of the best cars out there all day runs out of gas. The No. 9 car looked amazing in practice and got caught up in that wreck early on. You just can't know what is going to happen. If there is strategizing, it is on the spot strategizing as the moment is there, as things are happening, when the caution falls, when the green flag laps are ticking off. All that stuff is left up to Steve Letarte. That is one of the things I am most impressed with Steve, the guy, I know he won't take all the credit because he has guys working next to him helping him with all these decisions, but still you have to be the guy who clicks the button and makes the call to pit, not pit, tires, all those different things. He acts like a guy who never falters, never questions, he just knows how to make a decision, go with his gut-whether it is the right one or the wrong one-he certainly sounds very confident to me and makes me believe in it. That is extremely important. We have done a great job of that the last two races and hopefully we can continue that."
ON BALANCING JOB OF BEING JIMMIE JOHNSON'S TEAMMATE, COMPETITOR AND TEAM OWNER: "It is easy until we are battling side-by-side on the race track. At that point, I have no troubles with it and I don't think Jimmie does either. Even when this Chase started, we made a commitment, all of our teams did, about our team meetings and sharing information, being open and honest with the information, all the teams did, so one of us wins this championship. The crew chiefs and the engineers have done a great job at that and I feel like all the drivers have done the same thing. At New Hampshire, for instance, we were running good and the other guys were down talking to us. At Dover, Jimmie I felt like was the better car and I was down there talking to him. After New Hampshire, I called Jimmie Sunday night, just to tell him I hated to see they had their trouble, they were tough and just encouraging him to know they are capable of coming back, not to get down and keep up the good work. I don't see that changing. But we are competitors, on the race track we have battled, we have battled for a championship before, whatever year that was, that Kurt Busch won. We are at Homestead and he made a move on me the last lap to get second in the points. I was going for the win, it ended up third in points behind him. Up until that point, it is pretty easy to balance that out. When you are on the track, it is about racing and being competitors."
ON NEW SURFACE AT TALLADEGA: "I don't think the change in the track is going to be a factor whatsoever. From what I hear, they just did a fantastic job. It is really smooth. It is going to allow us to take a car that aerodynamically is going to be a little bit slicker, a little bit better in the wind tunnel straight on because the track has grip. We don't really need a handling race car, but that is pretty typical for Talladega. In the past we have been able to run from the white line to the wall. I think you are just going to continue to see typical Talladega racing that is going to be wild. Five wide at times, if it looks like guys are being more aggressive and doing more than normal and trying that much harder, they are going to do more to get up front and stay up front, I am going to play it as I see it. I might say, ok these guys are crazy and I need to get out of these situations. I have had to do that before. What I am not going to do is come to take the white flag and my teammate is leading the race, I am not going to put myself in position to pass him and fall back to 15th, I learned that lesson earlier in the year which I think was a very valuable lesson. Everything I have heard the track is beautiful, smooth as glass, they did an awesome job."
ON TEAM IMPROVING QUALIFYING: "It is a product of the overall performance of the cars. If we are performing well on Friday, we usually are on Sunday as well, or vice versa. I have always enjoyed qualifying and the team works on. Qualifying well is contributing to our good runs on Sunday. The Chase to the Championship starts on Friday and continues through Sunday and then starts again the next Friday."
ON RACING WITH TERRY LABONTE FOR CHAMPIONSHIP AND HAVING HIM FOR A TEAMMATE: "Terry has been an awesome teammate. He is just one of those guys who is very quiet, doesn't say a whole lot and just goes out and does his job and does it well. When we battled for that championship, I don't remember us ever having even one instance, where we were at odds. That whole season, it never really seemed like he and I were battling for that championship, like I would run good at a race, and do what he needed to do, then he would win a race and I would finish a few positions behind. It seemed like we never really battled hard side-by-side. I may be wrong, but I don't recall anything. I remember the teams were very competitive. We came in and had won the championship in '95, the first championship for Rick. The No. 5 had been so close for years and I think a few of the guys who had been there for so many years were a little disappointed that we had gotten the first for HMS instead of them. They came out the next year on fire, did a great job and won the championship. I was happy for Terry, happy for the team. A little disappointed because we let it slip away from. Terry is a great teammate and a quality guy and race car driver. You are never going to find anyone say anything bad about him."
ON KANSAS SPEEDWAY: "I am anxious to see how far the groove has moved up here. We have already seen this track mature a little bit faster than Chicago."
ON HAVING DRAFTING PARTNERS AT TALLADEGA: "I have no friends out there so I have to rely on my teammates at Talladega. Jimmie has won the last two restrictor plate races so that begins to make him a target at these races. So he and I are going to have to work together as much as possible. WE do work well together. Brian Vickers ran very well the last time. Kyle (Busch) feels like he is still trying to figure out the restrictor plate. We aren't going to sit down and make a plan, we tried that before and it doesn't work. You have to let it happen naturally. You might help a guy out there and he might remember that and help you later. That is how you make friends during a race. If you hang out a guy ever chance you get, he will remember it and hang you out later. There are some guys that go into a race knowing they are going to help one another, but I I am one of those guys that goes in to a race knowing no body is going to work with us so I don't work with anybody else except my teammates. If someone helps me out during a race, then I am going to help them. But when it comes down to the end, I am going to do everything I can to win the race. I think that is the perception people have of me that I can get to and work with my teammates."
-credit: gm racing