Las Vegas: Jeff Gordon - Friday media visit

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed changes during the off-season, last year's crash at Las Vegas and the new safer barriers, momentum from last week's race at California, and more. ON RACING IN LAS VEGAS "I've ...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed changes during the off-season, last year's crash at Las Vegas and the new safer barriers, momentum from last week's race at California, and more.

ON RACING IN LAS VEGAS "I've always loved coming out here. It's such a cool event in such a great city. It seems to be one of the more popular events for the fans. I just came off of a great finish last week. We're really excited about this weekend and I'm feeling pretty good about it."

COMING BACK A YEAR LATER AFTER YOUR BIG CRASH HERE, WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE NEW SAFER BARRIER AND GOING THROUGH TURN 2 AGAIN? "The funny thing is that I haven't even seen it or looked at it or anything. We've been making qualifying runs and you're all the way up on the track, digging. I wasn't able to get here early enough this morning to get out there and look at it. I'm confident in Las Vegas Motor Speedway and in the comments that were made last year and the conversations I had with them last year and this year of what their plans were. So I feel good about what they've done and seeing it at a slower pace without hitting it. And you know what? We'll just focus on the race and try to get ourselves in a position to have the finish that we were capable of having here when we were here last year. Even though we got in that wreck, we ran second a bunch of times that day and maybe even led some laps. We were a top four or five car and I was really happy with our performance. Actually, that performance here at Vegas hurt us a little bit because it was such a good run and we were so competitive that we stuck with that setup and that plan going forward and I think we got behind. But this year we're on a much different type of set-up and really happy with the way things have been going with the whole team and I feel like we came in here with a little bit of momentum and a lot of excitement about what we're capable of doing this year and not thinking a lot about last year."

WHAT AREA HAVE YOU AND STEVE LETARTE AND THE TEAM FOUND THAT ARE MAKING YOUR CARS THAT MUCH MORE COMPETITIVE THIS YEAR TO TRY TO GET MORE WINS? "I know last year the focus was on Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 and Carl Edwards and that whole battle for the championship, but we were slowly making gains for ourselves. We were more consistent and more competitive, just not as much as those guys. And so we looked at what our competitors were doing and obviously we know what the No. 48 has in there for a set-up. Over this off-season, instead of going to tracks and testing, we restructured a little bit engineering-wise, in our staff and the two guys that Steve chose to come with him to the track, which we did for a few of the last Chase races, and then as well as working with those guys to create simulation set-ups and testing as much as we possibly can without actually going to a race track.

"It's more about theories now that we're using for these set-ups than it is about actual speed on the stopwatch. And that's about the only thing you could do during this off-season. And I'm really proud of these guys. Steve was feeling really good about the direction they were going in and the things that they found and I saw them stepping it up and it made me want to step up as well. I'm doing more from a physical standpoint. It's mentally helping me as well. It's just more exercising and working out. And so I just think those things about what the team had worked hard for over the off-season and then everybody coming together and having something to build on. Plus, a fresh start. Being frustrated from last year and not winning. It's all just motivation and things that were coming together. At Daytona, even though we had the tire problem, I feel like we were one of the best cars out there. We won the 150 and we went to California and ran so good there that we're just carrying that with us right now, even though we haven't won yet and Kenseth has won the first two, we're just feeling really good about it all."

IS THE ENGINEERING REALLY HELPING THIS YEAR? EVERYBODY IS ASKING ABOUT THE FIRE IN YOUR EYES "There are a lot of things that add to that. It is just too much to cover really, to answer, at this time. To me, last year was one of those years that we weren't winning. We knew it. We weren't competitive enough to win. The cars just didn't feel right. It's just so tough because you get everybody critiquing you from the outside and saying oh, Jeff doesn't like to drive a loose car and with this car you've got to drive a loose car. Well, I think that's a bunch of baloney. Those types of things motivated this team to go out and make ourselves better and that's right, I don't like to drive a loose race car; I don't know anybody who likes to drive a loose race car. And this set-up that we had last week reminded me of some things that I saw with the No. 99 and maybe at times even the No. 48, but some other guys (like) the No. 16 and the No. 18 last year that were fast. The car looks like it's sideways, but it's got more grip. And that's what we've been really working hard on is you got to get this car to turn. It does not like to turn. That's one of our biggest challenges. So, you've got to do something to rotate the car through the center of the corner, what do you do to get it in and off the corner and still have grip? You can't just rotate the middle and then expect to go fast. That's just not the way race cars work. That's not the way drivers work. Those guys had gotten it figured it out better than we had and we went to work on it. I'm telling you that car I drove last week, I could throw that thing sideways into the corner and it would just catch and stick and I could just put my foot in it. I haven't had that in a while.

"The other thing I haven't had is that positive attitude and also feeling good in the car. And that's come from some of the training that I'm doing during the week. I'm trying to work out every week and some of it has stemmed from back problems that I've had and I've got somebody stretching me and loosening those muscles out throughout the weekend. So there are just all those kinds of things that are contributing to it. And so far it's paying off. We're only two races in; we can't talk too much about it. But we did have a great run last week and I feel like we could have won that race and we're just going to try to keep doing what we're doing and I think we can win races."

I REMEMBER A YOUNG MAN WHO WON A 600 RACE A LONG TIME AGO AS THE YEARS HAVE GONE ON I'VE NOTICED MAYBE YOU DIDN'T HAVE AS MUCH FIRE IN THE BELLY THAT YOU USED TO HAVE, CAN WE ASSUME YOU'VE GOTTEN MORE FIRE IN THE BELLY AND WANT TO RUN UP FRONT LIKE YOU USED TO? "Yeah, absolutely. But again it's not just because I woke up one day and said I'm going to have more fire in my belly and that ought to change everything. You can have all the fire in the belly you want and go out there and drive in the corner and it doesn't stick then the fire is gone in a hurry. And I think what's great about this is while Steve Letarte can take the majority of the blame for last year he ought to get the majority of the credit when things get turned around like they have so far this year. I hope that everybody respects that because that kid went through some tough times last year being the crew chief for the No. 24 team. I don't mind taking the blame because I definitely feel like just like you said over the years I've had my highs and lows. I've gotten older. There's been times when I've complained too much on the radio and other times I didn't complain enough. This last year and a half has been a real challenge because I became a father. We battled with Jimmie (Johnson) for the championship in '07 and we lost it. We came up short. I think that may have taken a little bit of wind out of our sail. Then also being a father, I certainly wasn't getting much sleep and while I'm having a blast being a dad it's a lot of hard work as many of you know. So balancing all those things out, you're going to go through highs and lows. Last season on the race track was where some of the lows showed up. Because of that it really helped us, me personally as well as us as team, dig down deep to see what we're capable of and what we really want out of our lives especially at the race track. It motivated us to we're better than this and we want more than this. We're not going to go away. The season that we had last year is only something that's going to help us be better in the future. That's what we're trying to build on right now."

YOU TOUCHED ON THE FANS AND WANTING TO APPRECIATE THEM MORE BUT IS THAT MORE THIS YEAR THAN YEAR'S PAST BECAUSE OF THE ECONOMY? "That's the thing, if you look at what the fans have done for us for so many years but what they're doing this year everybody knows that these are tough times for every person. For those fans to make those adjustments with their budgets and their schedules and whatever it takes to still come out here and be as avid and exciting about what we do, that's awesome. I think over the past five or six years there's been so much about sponsors and endorsements and our schedules have just gotten so hectic and crazy that it's been tough to keep up with all of it. Plus sometimes the crowds have grown and it's been tougher to give back to them as much as we probably all want to as well. I think that yeah the economy has made us maybe sort of take a step back and look at it but if the economy turns around six months from now I hope that we keep doing these types of things because they deserve it."

YOU MENTIONED EARLIER ABOUT HOW WE'RE ONLY TWO RACES IN SO YOU DON'T WANT TO MAKE A BIG DEAL OF YOUR SUCCESS SO FAR BUT THERE ARE ALL THESE STATISTICS THAT SHOW YOU HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE BOX REALLY QUICKLY IN ORDER TO MAKE THE CHASE AT THE END, ARE THOSE STATISTICS GOING TO HOLD TRUE THIS YEAR? "When you first started to say that the first thing I wanted to say is we just don't want to make the Chase but you've got to make the Chase before you can win the championship. We're going to walk here a little bit before we run. We're going to try to continue to build momentum and we're going to try to win races. That's what we do week in and week out. I haven't really been thinking a whole lot about the points. It's great when you're second in points after two races but going through the races is not really where our focus is. We're trying to be as competitive as we can and try to win races. Obviously each week it's going to get more intense as it narrows down your opportunities to score the points and get yourself in the Chase and to win races. We did want to come out of the box strong and we have. I think what's more important for us is that I feel like we've got some things in the car that can work at other tracks and can keep the consistency and keep putting ourselves in position. Run in the top-five, lead the laps and put yourself in the position to win races, that's what our goal was coming into this season was to do that. If you do that then you're going to make the Chase. If you do it really well you're going to have a shot at winning the championship."

WITH DUPONT CUTTING BACK ON THEIR EXPENDITURES THIS YEAR, DO YOU HAVE A SENSE OF WHAT DIRECTION THEY MAY TAKE WHEN THEIR CONTRACT IS UP WITH YOU? "I'm not really sure. We might get into that later this year. They've stated to me many times that they want to ride with that No. 24 car, Hendrick and me as long as we're out there competing but this will be the test of that. It is a tough time but they're a company that's been around over 200 years. They know how to get through tough times and I believe they're going to be one of those companies that they come out of this strong. They've found certain businesses just like who's on board this weekend, Pioneer Seed, that's a strong, strong company for them that's doing very well. So they know how to adjust. While they've had to make some cutbacks in not just advertising but entertaining their clients who are huge NASCAR fans, the funding for the No. 24 car has not been cut back. It's just some of the things that they're doing to offset some of those costs. I believe that they're around for the long haul. They love their experience in NASCAR and I think that it will keep going. But we won't really won't know for a fact where it's going until we get closer to that contract negotiation time. We usually do it a year to a year and half in advance."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards