Long Pond: Jeff Gordon interview

Long Pond, Pa. (Friday, June 7, 2002) -- Today's Winston Cup practice and qualifying for this Sunday's Pocono 500 have been cancelled due to water seepage on the track following recent heavy rains in the area. The grid is set based on point ...

Long Pond, Pa. (Friday, June 7, 2002) -- Today's Winston Cup practice and qualifying for this Sunday's Pocono 500 have been cancelled due to water seepage on the track following recent heavy rains in the area. The grid is set based on point standings:

1.  Sterling Marlin, No. 40 Dodge

2. Jimme Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo
3. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo
4. Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford
5. Rusty Wallace, No. 2 Ford

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO (starts third):

YOU WENT OUT ON THE TRACK TODAY; GIVE US A DESCRIPTION OF WHAT YOU FOUND: "It's a tough day; I'm beat, worn out. Third place is hard to get. It's a shame. It's a heck of an effort that was put out there by everybody here at Pocono and NASCAR and everybody. I went out there and saw what they were trying to do to get the water to stop seeping. I just don't think that they had a chance to get it done today, unfortunately, so we're going to start by points. There was a lot of water running across the track out there and the problem was it was right in the groove where it was a real problem. There were a couple of places that they had pretty much got it to come to a stop and some places where it wouldn't have been a factor, but going into 3, I'm going to call this 3, the last turn over here. Going in there and coming off there, there was just an awful lot of water running across there. When I saw that I had a pretty good idea that we weren't going to get out there today."

ON YOUR BETTER LUCK THE LAST FEW RACES: "That's a change for us, having some luck on our side. The last couple of weeks have been pretty good for us, the last three weeks. At Charlotte and last week we qualified ninth and started third without doing anything; that made for an interesting start. These days it's so important to start up front. Obviously, with the conditions that we had out there today and being third in points, I told them, I think there's two options. We either need to start by points or start by the way we drew for qualifying. I was number one to draw so I told them either way they wanted to do that I'd be fine with it. Let's hope luck keeps going our way. It is pretty amazing we're third in points. We've done it extremely quiet and that's not traditionally how we've done things. We've typically done it in exciting fashion. That's the way I want to go from here on out for the rest of the season is doing it by doing some exciting things. I know we're capable of winning races, but right now we've got to be pretty thankful to be third in points with the type of season we have had so far."

ON THE CONDITION OF TRACK: "Last time I talked to John (Derby) and Mike (Helton) I could tell that their main focus right now is actually making sure if we get anymore rain that this won't affect us tomorrow or the next day. That's why they're down there digging ditches. They're doing a lot of things to make sure that it goes away and that it stays away. Right now if it doesn't rain I think we'll be fine for tomorrow. If we get some more rain obviously there are some concerns that I have. But I'm not down there surveying what it looks like right now and what all they've done. I know when they went down there with the backhoe and they dug some ditches they got an awful lot of water. I think what they were doing was the right thing to release from the pressure, release from the water that was finding its way up underneath the surface of the track and seeping through the seams."

IT'S YOUR TEAMMATE'S FIRST TIME HERE, YOU'RE STUCK BEHIND HIM. HOW WILL YOU APPROACH THAT?: "You're joking, right? Because I mean the guy's been outrunning me every weekend. I don't think that he's any of my concern right now. I don't even consider him a rookie. He came up here and tested, so in my mind he's got a far more of an advantage over the rest of us that are up there than anything we need to worry about. These days, with the way he's handled himself, the experience, in my mind that he's shown, the maturity that he's shown, even though he doesn't have a lot of experience, and being that this is Pocono, which typically is definitely a track that takes a while for rookies to get used to, you would be concerned. With what he's done this year, I have no concerns. But we're going to get practice in tomorrow, and we'll get plenty of laps in race conditions to go out there and be ready for Sunday."

JIMMIE IS TALENTED AND ROOKIE, DO YOU GET FRUSTRATED THAT IT WAS YOUR CAR LAST YEAR AND HE'S RUNNING SO WELL? "I approached it with a good attitude. I was the one really pushing Rick Hendrick to hire the guy and then I wanted to be a part of it from an ownership side and I wanted to be involved with getting the sponsorship and seeing the people come on to that team and build that team up, and so being a party of it I'm only excited. The frustration level has nothing to do with him winning races and leading races. The frustration level is that we're not. And we should be I think up there battling with those guys. I was really excited last week at Dover when we were running one-two and I really thought, hey, this is going to be a one-two thing for me and him to battle this thing out. Unfortunately, we had a little bit of trouble with the tire and we weren't able to get back up there and play with him. That's our wish every weekend, is that we're running one-two. They've done a great job and they deserve that credit and that's exactly what I want to see. Someone said to me, (are) you tired of seeing Jimmie up there winning? I said, I'll never be tired of Jimmie up there winning. I'll be tired if I'm not up there battling with him for the win. And that is important to me. When you know what types of cars he has and what type of setups he's got in there you know that you should be able to get up there and do the same thing. That doesn't mean you just put everything he's got in there and it's going to work for me. I think that we've learned enough from them, they've learned enough from us, that we should both be up there battling. That's why we're second and third in points."

WHAT'S THE HALF-STEP YOU'RE OFF BY? "Everywhere we goes he's 200 pounds lighter and 100 pounds stiffer in the rear of the car. Typically that would burn the right rear tire off or just be too loose over a longer run, certain things like that. We've been a little more conservative as it comes to that because we feel like, hey, we have traditionally always been good on the longer runs and that kind of stuff typically would not allow for the longer runs to be good. It's a credit not only to the engineers, the people that are coming up with these setups. It's a credit to Jimmie for driving the wheels off the thing to learn that. And it's a credit to Goodyear for the tires they have these days. It's just a big, big difference. For a guy like me that won a championship last year, won six races and drove the car a certain way that worked really well. It's hard to change when you come into this season and the only way that you can change is when you got your identical car sitting there knowing all the setups, knowing exactly the way that guy is driving that car and the way they're setting it up. And then you learn from that. I think we taught that 48 car an awful lot of how to prepare, how to build a team, how to get the chemistry and how to go into each race track ready to win and ready to win championships and now they're teaching us how to use more aggressive setups that a lot of the young guys out here are running. Ryan Newman is having the same success and Rusty will tell you the same thing. Me and him we're like ditto-ing one another because we're saying all the same things: You can't run that spring in there, you can't do that, there's no way that works at that track, yet they go out there and make it work. I was saying to Rusty, We finally decided to show up with Jimmie's set up this weekend. He goes, I showed up the first three races with Ryan's setup and I took two provisionals. You never know how it's going to work for one guy the way it has for the other."

THIS SPORT IS RAPIDLY CHANGING, WITH AGGRESSIVE SETUPS, ETC. HOW HAS THAT CHANGED FROM LAST YEAR? "You always think of the changing in viewer audiences and television networks and new race tracks, things like that. But for the competitors it's equally changing as fast from a competitive standpoint of shocks, springs -- the technological (side), the engineering, the aerodynamics, the horsepower in the engines, Goodyear with the way they build the tires. You do have to constantly keep up with it. And, sometimes you get stuck in a rut because you find something that works and you don't want to stray too far from that, yet you then start hearing about some of these things that are a lot different (from) the way they've been doing them and you find yourself a little bit behind and having to go in that direction. Then you learn what they're doing and then you try to take it to the next step. It is rapidly changing. I'm a little bit frustrated with the racing right now because these soft front springs, the big rear springs that put so much downforce on the cars, we're going extremely fast through the corners. Even though Goodyear's got a much harder tire than we've ever had before, we're going a lot faster through the corners than we ever had before and it's making the passing a lot, lot more difficult. We need to find a way to slow these cars down through the corners and get the tires... The reason why Goodyear's got these tires is because we were sticking the cars so hard to the race track before (and) the tires were blowing. It wasn't their fault; it's just us being real aggressive with everything, so they had to build the tire that would withstand what we were putting at it. They've done that, but now the tires don't ever give up. They stay the same speed from the beginning of the run to the end of the run. Until we can take some downforce and some speed out of these cars through the corners you're not going to see them change these tires. I hope we get to that point. We've obviously heard of NASCAR doing some testing with some teams, bigger greenhouse and taking downforce away and possibly getting Goodyear to go back to some of their older tires that are a little bit softer, that give up. I think that if they do that, you'll see a lot of the veterans start come around a little bit more and some of the younger guys start to have to learn some things over because now you start getting back into pacing yourself, saving equipment, saving tires. Patience becomes a much bigger issue. Right now it's like an F1 car out there. You just pretty much hammer down from the time they drop the green, you never lift until the time they drop the checkered."

IN LIGHT OF THE CHANGES IN THE SPORT, WHO ON THE TEAM BECOMES THE MOST IMPORTANT? "I don't know. I still think there's a lot that has to be said about just pure chemistry and communication between the crew chief and the driver. I still think the crew chief is extremely important, but he's got so much more knowledge at his fingertips today. It's what he does with that knowledge and obviously the engineering side of it has grown tremendously. A lot of these engineers actually have basically just a format in a computer that they plug in all these numbers and it spits back out what setup they should run in the car. We call it simulation setup. When they first started doing this we all laughed at them and said there's no way, but that's what we're running these days. It's closer and closer to what the computer is saying based on the numbers that they're throwing (at it). A lot of it's just angle of the corners, banking of the corners, and downforce of the cars, and wheelbase, spring rates and all that stuff. It's pretty amazing. Obviously, the engineers are real, real important these days. I still think the crew chief/driver combination is the most important thing there is."

-team monte carlo-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Rusty Wallace , Sterling Marlin , Ryan Newman