JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NICORETTE IMPALA SS met with media to discuss the engine problems at the California race, the Las Vegas track, his expectations of the new race car in general, the expectations of Hendrick Motorsports teams to win, the...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NICORETTE IMPALA SS met with media to discuss the engine problems at the California race, the Las Vegas track, his expectations of the new race car in general, the expectations of Hendrick Motorsports teams to win, the Texas race, and more.
ON HIS ENGINE FAILING AT LAST WEEK'S FONTANA RACE: "We don't have all the engines back at the shop to be able to dissect it all out and figure out what caused that problem. That one was a big surprise to us. And so I don't really have any answers for you right now because I haven't gotten all the answers myself."
DID YOU FEEL ANYTHING UNUSUAL WITH THE CAR RIGHT BEFORE THE ENGINE TROUBLE? "No, I never felt anything. There were no signs. I was just fortunate that the caution came out when it did because the engine blew up right as the caution was coming out. The fact that it was also the white flag was pretty fortunate for us. I never really get too concerned when it comes to engines. Hendrick Motorsports is so good and so thorough and we have problems, like anybody else, but nobody analyzes them and fixes them faster and better and gives us more confidence every week than what they do. So we certainly hope we don't have that issue again. None of our other cars had the issue and it might have just been an isolated problem. It was a broken crankshaft; we did find that out. That hasn't happened to us for about three years."
HOW IS THE NEW CAR RESPONDING IN LAS VEGAS? "My car was great. We took off there and very first lap was our fastest lap. We were having a little bit of trouble backing that up. And there are just new things that we're learning with this car all the time, trying to figure out what it needs and what it takes and what we can do to make it get through the bumps or get more grip. And so we fought a few things there, halfway through practice where we think we've got it figured out and we should be in good shape. I know some guys were having trouble and I'm not exactly sure why.
"I feel like my car was in pretty good control and had pretty decent grip. You can't drive this car the same way you could drive the old car. I don't know. I think that when you look at what it takes for the bump stops and the engineering that goes into that, it's very scientific. It's very difficult to get it just right. And if we didn't have our seven post tester at the shop and so many people working on it day and night, I don't know if we would have hit it as fast as we did right off the truck."
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET AROUND HERE? "Well, you've got a lot more vertical load here than we do any other place and that's what's going to make it unique with this car.
"Plus, there are a lot of bumps getting into Turn 1. So you want a car that has good balance and good grip and gets off the bumps well. That's not really different than what we've had here in the past. It's just with this new car, those things are easier said than done."
WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS CAUSED ALL THESE GUYS TO SLIP ON THE TRACK DURING PRACTICE? "I think we just have less grip with this car. We put up a pretty fast number. I think guys are trying to push the limits to get faster and try to put down that fast lap. I'm not really sure. My car felt pretty good."
IS THAT FINE AREA OF 'LOOSE' SMALLER HERE THAN JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE ELSE? "I was free off of Turn 4, which is where a lot of guys were braking loose. But I can't say that I felt like it was out of the ordinary or really crazy. I think that what we're seeing, especially at a track like here in Las Vegas, the vertical loads are a lot greater because of the banking. And so I think we're seeing some teams that have got it and some teams are way off. It's just how this car works in the beginning stages of going to some of these different tracks that you're going to have some guys that have engineered all the right components and figured it out, and some that haven't."
DURING PRACTICE, THERE WERE SIX GUYS GOING SIDEWAYS. DO YOU THINK THAT'S WHAT WE'LL SEE IN SUNDAY'S RACE? "It's different when you're trying to make qualifying runs. You know you're really committed and you're blasting the car down in there and trying to get back in the gas hard. In the race, you get a few laps to fill. I'm not saying it's not going to happen, but I think it would happen more on qualifying day than any other day."
LOOKING AHEAD, WHAT WILL YOU LEARN AT ATLANTA AND LAS VEGAS THAT YOU CAN APPLY AT TEXAS? HOW IMPORTANT WILL THAT FIRST PRACTICE BE THERE BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T TEST THERE? "It's already a tough race track. And when you look at the transitions, the vertical loads, the bumps, and the speeds, it's probably going to be closer to this track than to any other track we go to. And we'll try to go with all that we know. We'll try to engineer and do the science and the math and everything and try to figure out how much travel we're going to get and the loads that we're going to get based on past experience and being there. I think that's what's going to make a team like ours really shine is that you have the resources to be able to figure those things out without going there. And hopefully we can get a little bit closer. Some of it is just a guessing game. The biggest challenge we're going to have with the Impala and going forward this year is going to tracks that we haven't tested at and been to and gotten the data and the laps with the telemetry."
YOU GUYS (HENDRICK TEAMS) WON NINE OF 16 COT RACES LAST YEAR. JIMMIE JOHNSON SAID YOU'RE JUST SORT OF CHASING IT RIGHT NOW. IS THAT WHY, BECAUSE OF NEW TRACKS? "Yeah, you know what? We had something pop up there and we took off the first lap. It was unbelievable. I was like wow, you guys have really done your homework. And the car was great. As the practice went on, we lot it. And we weren't really sure why. We went back and looked at some things and we feel like we've got a pretty good idea of what happened. And again, it's just something you can't predict. You can't plan for. It's just things about this car that are going to change that you don't know how to respond to or sometimes you don't catch it soon enough in a short practice like that. We hope we caught it and we'll find out when we go back out to qualify because we've got an awesome race car."
PEOPLE WERE JUST ASKING JIMMIE JOHNSON WHY HAVEN'T YOU GUYS WON YET? WE'RE TWO RACES IN AND ALREADY PEOPLE ARE ASKING THAT! HAVE YOU GUYS RAISED THE BAR SO HIGH THAT THE EXPECTATIONS ARE ALMOST RIDICULOUS? "Yeah, I think there's a lot of hype. There's a lot of expectations put on Hendrick this year you know (like) bringing (Dale Earnhardt) Junior into the mix. Jimmie had back-to-back championship and we finished second after having the year we had. I felt awesome last week and as good as things went for us, I feel like it's just a matter of time before we can win. At Daytona we had our problem, but that's a good problem to have is people asking you how come you haven't won yet. That means that they expect it and so do we."
WITH SUCH A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER BETWEEN TODAY AND THE DAY OF THE LAS VEGAS TEST, WAS THE TEST WORTH IT? "Yeah, you've got to get telemetry on the bumps and travel and the grip level might be a little bit different. The consistency might be a little bit different. Track temperature is different. But it was still worth coming out here. I would have rather had these conditions. And I heard it might be windy on Sunday, so who knows?"
MORE ON THE VEGAS TEST: "Well, data is data. If you got any at all, it's a good thing. The winds definitely threw some things off here. The temperature threw some things off. But we still got good information that is valuable to us. Would we have been better off going someplace else? Maybe Texas or something? Well, year, maybe. Normally the weather is pretty good and consistent here, like it is right now. It's beautiful. I like the track. I think the bumps in Turn 1 are a little bit too much. Other than that I love the track. Our car is pretty good right now, so I'm pretty excited about this weekend, especially having our DuPont / Nicorette car. The thing is hot looking an hopefully it goes fast too."
IS QUALIFYING A LITTLE BIT OF A MYSTERY ON 1.5-MILE TRACK TO THE TEAMS RIGHT NOW? "Yeah, it's a mystery to me. This car just doesn't have the grip that the old car did. It's so easy to blow through the tires and to be too aggressive and ruin you're whole lap. You can think of it one way where you go, okay, if I just give 90 percent, I might be in the top five or top 10. If I give 100 percent, I might win the pole or I might be 30th or 40th or wrecked. So that's tough to balance."
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE FOR TEAMS TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH QUALIFYING THE NEW CAR? SIX MONTHS? ALL YEAR? "I think it's constantly evolving all the time. For some teams, it might take five races. For some teams it might take 38. I don't know. I'm not sure. I think this whole year is going to be a process for us. I think next year everybody is going to be much more comfortable. Any time there is change, it takes a long time to adapt. Maybe the second time around to the tracks might be the best test and indication. But usually it's a whole season is what it takes."
ON HOW HE FELT ABOUT THE LAS VEGAS TRACK LAST YEAR COMPARED TO NOW "The tire was rock hard and it just didn't suit the track. The track was fine. The bumps are a little bit of an issue."
WHAT DID THEY CHANGE ON THE TRACK? THE NEW TIRE? THE NEW CAR EVERYTHING? I think it's just the fact that the track is worn a little bit. It's aged, which is typical. All new race tracks rarely the first two races are we really happy about it because Goodyear can't build a tire to properly run the race. And it's not their fault and it's not the track's fault. It's just kind of the box that you're put in to. You know over time it's going to get better. If there are any complaints about this track I think it's just the bumps going into Turn 1. And this year I think we've got our hands full with the new car. We're a lot less focused on the race track than we are the car."
-credit: gm racing