Press Conference with Hendrick Motorsports Drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Interim Crew Chiefs Jeff Meendering and Ron Malec and Vice President of Development Doug Duchardt Several members of the Hendrick Motorsports organization met...
Press Conference with Hendrick Motorsports Drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Interim Crew Chiefs Jeff Meendering and Ron Malec and Vice President of Development Doug Duchardt
Several members of the Hendrick Motorsports organization met with members of the media at New Hampshire International Speedway to discuss the penalties imposed on the No. 24 and No. 48 Nextel Cup Series teams. Participants in the press conference included:
Doug Duchardt, vice president of development for Hendrick Motorsports
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Impala SS
Jeff Meendering, interim crew chief of the No. 24 DuPont Impala SS
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS
Ron Malec, interim crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS
WHY NOT APPEAL THE PENALTIES GIVEN THAT YOU THOUGHT THEY WERE TOO SEVERE?
Doug Duchardt: "I think there's a couple reasons for that. The first one is as we went through this and some of the things became more clear to us as far as what NASCAR's tolerance on their data was and it wasn't as clear to us before last Friday as it is now. And the second thing is that we do feel it's too severe but as NASCAR said that the precedent for this car has been new and we just felt like rather than prolong it, prolong the discussion around this, we'd just put it behind us, focus on moving forward and get the suspension over with as soon as we could so we could focus on the Chase."
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO SAY THAT A CREW CHIEF PENALTY REALLY ISN'T THAT SEVERE GIVEN THE TRACK RECORD THAT THE NO. 48 TEAM HAS HAD IN THE PAST WHEN THIS HAS HAPPENED?
Doug Duchardt: "I think for any team under suspension, Matt Kenseth won this year in California with Robbie (Reiser) suspended. A crew chief is an integral part of the race team. They're an important part of the race team. They're a leader on the weekend. But we talk about a lot in this sport (is that) it takes a team to win a race. We're fortunate to have some of the best drivers that ever sat in a race car and they're sitting at this table here and we have a very good system we feel at Hendrick and so our expectations haven't changed and the suspension is unfortunate and we'd rather not have it that way but we're focused on going out and trying to win this weekend."
ON MR. HENDRICK SAYING IN SONOMA THAT HE THOUGHT THE PUNISHMENT INCURRED THERE OF NOT PRACTICING THE CAR WAS PENALTY ENOUGH AND ON THE HARSHNESS OF THE PENALTIES:
Jeff Gordon: "I'm blown away to be honest. To know what other penalties that have been served with this new car, obviously we know that they're severe and they're making a point very clear. I felt like we've gotten a more severe penalty because of the lack of practice and not being able to qualify last week. I'm extremely in disappointed in NASCAR and the decisions that they've made but I will say we're crystal clear going forward. I just think if you would have asked any crew chief in this garage area prior to last week if that had occurred to them what they thought the penalty would be, I guarantee you they would have never have come close to the penalty that was served. It is what it is though. We're ready to move on and put it behind us and get back to trying to win races and get those bonus points and get ourselves solidly in the Chase."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE SEVERITY OF THE PENALTIES THAT THE TEAMS FACED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR, DOES THAT DISAPPOINT YOU EVEN MORE SINCE YOU WERE DEALING WITH A GREY AREA?
Jeff Gordon: "To go back to what Doug said, we're clear now that there is no grey area but prior to last week I think that, I shouldn't include every crew chief but I know it was not as clear as what I think NASCAR thought that it was, that we weren't allowed to work in any way, shape or form in between templates. I know how Steve (Letarte) and Chad (Knaus) and our race teams work. We work hard to try to make our cars improve every time we build a new car, every time we go to the race track and if they had thought that this was going to be the penalty by working in between two templates, I promise this would have never occurred because they never dreamed in a million years that this was what was going to happen."
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS? WHAT WILL THE CHALLENGE BE LIKE IN GOING FROM ONE OF THE GUYS ON THE TEAM TO BEING THE BOSS?
Ron Malec: "After last year when Chad had his first deal it kind of I guess helped me out in this aspect already preparing for this. We all took on new roles. We all have to step up a little bit and it's going to be hard to replace a crew chief by me just stepping up and saying I'm crew chief because I still have other jobs to do on the car and all my guys still do their normal jobs which we do 100 percent every week. It's going to be a disadvantage to us for sure. I've talked to my guys and they're all behind me 100 percent on their decision to make me the crew chief and we still have a lot of support from other team members, other teams - the 25/5 are going to be behind us 100 percent helping us out. Hendrick as a whole has so many people out there and our team has so much depth. It's not that difficult for me to move up a position, take on a little extra work and still perform well on Sunday."
Jeff Meendering: "For me probably the biggest challenge of the whole weekend is probably this (press conference) right here (laughs). We've got so much depth in our organization. We've beefed up our track support a little bit, brought a few extra guys with us and I think it's going to be just as smooth as it's ever been."
Jimmie Johnson: "Just to add a little bit for these guys, they're both very deserving of this opportunity. They've been in the system at Hendrick for a long, long time and as Jeff (Meendering) pointed out this is probably the hardest thing for them but they're all prepared and ready and have the support behind them to move forward and be a crew chief this weekend."
JEFF, HOW MUCH CONFIDENCE DO YOU HAVE IN JEFF MEENDERING? IS THERE ANYTHING THAT MAKES THESE TWO DIFFERENT FROM CHAD KNAUS AND STEVE LETARTE IN THE WAY THEY'LL APPROACH THINGS ON SUNDAY?
Jeff Gordon: "Well like they mentioned, these two guys have been a part of the organization for a long time. Jeff (Meendering) has 12 years at Hendrick and with the 24 team and so there's a lot of experience there, there's a lot of face to face and the relationship there is very similar to Steve Letarte when he was the car chief and you do have a relationship that's there every weekend already because he's one of the guys in the loop that you're talking in-depthly about the setup and the car. Obviously there's going to be some more responsibilities on them like making the calls and being the primary person on the radio talking to me but I feel very confident. I feel like again the depth that we have at our team and our organization allows us to come here well prepared and I'm looking forward to it, to working with Jeff on tuning and getting this car ready to qualify today and ready for the race on Sunday and hopefully things go smooth and we can just really build our team eve n stronger. With Steve not being here, we hope that when he does come back that we've actually been able to take this team to another level that actually gets us more prepared for the Chase when it comes around."
Doug Duchardt: "Just real quick I wanted to add that for in Ron's situation, Lance McGrew (HMS research & development) is here to help Ron. Ron's still going over the wall so during the race Lance will be helping call the race since Ron still has over the wall duties and then Ken Howes (vice president of competition) who usually is with Jeff Meendering and Steve Letarte on the pit box of the 24, obviously they've had some success this year with making calls and Jeff's been an integral part of that along with Ken so I don't think we'll miss a beat strategy-wise on top of the box there."
Jimmie Johnson: "Just to expand on Ron for a second, we have been close friends for a long time and actually lived together in Wisconsin back when I first started running ASA, so I have worked side by side with Ron. I've ridden in a transporter with him through the tolls through Wisconsin. We have been through a lot together and very happy for him to get this opportunity. He's been with me since I have ever actually raced on the asphalt from ASA and he went with me, actually we were part of the Herzog's operation in ASA, then to Busch, and then he came with me over to Hendrick and has been here my entire Cup career. Just like Jeff Gordon mentioned about Jeff Meendering, very excited to work with Ron and have this opportunity and I think back in the day we've had different conversations about someday working together at this capacity at the Nextel Cup level so it's a new opportunity for us."
ON CHAD KNAUS' SUSPENSION LAST YEAR AND IF THERE WAS ANY DIFFERENCE DURING THE RACES WITH THE INTERIM CREW CHIEF:
Jimmie Johnson: "I think, looking back on last season, it forced us to be more prepared leaving the shop, more prepared each morning when we woke up for practice and qualifying. For the race we really had to think things through and couldn't operate from the hip as freely as before. I think that helped us and I think that is more ingrained in our culture at Hendrick to have a plan as we go to each race weekend, each morning, each practice session, each time we are on track. So I think that was the biggest thing that we incorporated in and again, we are just prepared for every scenario possible right now as we get into practice, into qualifying and we will continue to do that through the weekend."
ON GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START AND IF THERE ARE ANY WORRIES ABOUT LOOSING ANY OF THAT MOMENTUM AND THEN HAVING TO REBUILD IT VERY QUICKLY GOING INTO THE CHASE:
Jeff Gordon: "I mean this is a severe penalty and I think that the biggest part of it, we are in a fortunate position, the No. 24 team, points wise to be able to loose 100 points, you know, might not have hurt us as much as others, but losing Steve and the momentum that we have, the chemistry that we have, is definitely the toughest part of this for us. I have kind of gone off of some of Jimmie's experience from last year where he has experienced some things that have actually helped them when Chad came back and actually made them a more solid team. I am hoping for the same. I think that going back to what Doug said, one of the factors that played out as to why we didn't want to appeal this is because we want to get Steve back as soon as we can so that we can make sure that we do have momentum going into the final 10 races."
Jimmie Johnson: "Yeah, I certainly think that momentum is important, to back up what Jeff (Gordon) and Doug had said about getting this behind us as soon as possible. We have had great race cars on the No. 48 team, but we have had some crazy things happening to us the last four or five weeks and with the loss of the 100 points we are in a little more vulnerable situation than No. 24. So momentum is certainly on our minds, top 10's, top five's is on our minds, the No. 48 car, and establishing momentum with this new situation and then be ready for Chad to come back to get that momentum to run for the championship again. So it's certainly on our minds and something that we recognize and need to have us going in the right direction instead of the wrong direction."
ON THE NASCAR RULEBOOK STATING THAT ANY PART THAT HAS BEEN INSTALLED OR MODIFIED TO ENHANCE AERODYNAMIC PERFORMANCE WILL NOT BE PERMITTED AND THAT 50 OTHER CARS GOT TO THE RACE TRACK LAST WEEK WITH FENDERS THAT FIT INSPECTION. WHERE IS THE GREY AREA IN THAT? ARE YOU GUYS JUST SMARTER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE?
Doug Duchardt: "Seems like you are inferring the opposite (crowd laughs). As we went back and talked as an organization and I guess I want to make this point because the crew chiefs take the brunt of a lot of this, you know, the body builds come under my area. So I am saying as an organization, we did not have a fundamental understanding of what the tolerance was on the data from NASCAR. I am not going to speak for the other teams in the garage area. We have had comments from other teams about the situation. You can ask them about that. What I am saying is we as an organization did not understand fundamentally what the situation was and I think that John did an excellent job of describing how the system used to work, say at Michigan and how it works now. When I read that there is an eighth-inch tolerance for the data that NASCAR gave us, that is an extremely difficult thing to manufacture. In fact, I will tell you right now our cars can't meet that right now and NASCAR knows it and they are working with us on that, but an eighth of an inch is three millimeters. That is what production manufacturers worth billions of dollars try to get their production cars to meet those types of specs and we are talking about a hand made, prototype car. So to your point there are a bunch of cars that did not meet that eighth of an inch tolerance and they are here this weekend. I think what happened was we went to a point that obviously they weren't comfortable with. I think that it's, I don't know, to your point.Were we just that dumb or were we just not listening? I guess that we just did not get the message and that is our fault. It is our responsibility and that is part of the reason that we didn't appeal. Part of what we said in our release was, we have to look, right now I just had a meeting yesterday afternoon at our internal processes, how do we manufacture this car and inspect it to make sure that this doesn't happen again and it is a huge challenge. It is a huge manufacturing challenge to make this car within an eighth of an inch of that data."
Jeff Gordon: "I wouldn't mind adding to that too that we have actually requested to NASCAR if they would scan our bodies prior to going to a race track and try to, not for them to approve it, but just like they certify the chassis, you know, maybe they do a certification process or they tell us where the tolerances are at in their mind. They are not in agreement to do that at this time. And also that car, the No. 24 car, we had to have chassis certified a couple weeks, that same chassis with the body hanging on it at that time was at their tech center for two days and came back to us. Now their job was not to look at the body but it certainly, we feel like, would have been, I mean we are taking total fault for it but certainly could have been a nice courtesy to at least point out that that was extreme and at no time was it."
ON NASCAR SUSPENDING EIGHT CREW CHIEFS THIS YEAR AND IF IT WILL AFFECT HOW TEAMS BUILD THEIR ROSTERS:
Doug Duchardt: "I will just comment on one of the things that NASCAR sent out this year and you can make your follow up with NASCAR, but when they talked about proved pieces and if you had any incident of messing with approved pieces, or working in that area, that they could suspend crew chief's, car chief's or team engineers. My point is that they have laid it out there that they could go deeper in the organization than crew chiefs in the future. I guess that I would follow up with NASCAR on their thoughts on that but it has been communicated with us that that's a possibility."
ON THE TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT WITHIN A TEAM WHEN YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR CREW CHIEF AWAY AND MOVE YOUR CAR CHIEF OVER:
Doug Duchardt: "As an organization you have to look at how to support Jeff (Meendering) and Ron at the track. From our standpoint we are very fortunate to have, we feel, a lot of people, you know to have a Lance McGrew come and be next to Ron who has won races at all three levels of NASCAR. It is very fortunate. But it is just like any professional team that if you have a quarterback that is injured people step up and I think that you mentally get ready for that and it drives you to want to succeed and show people that we can still do it. So I think that is probably the best way to describe that attitude on the teams."
ON LAST YEAR CHOOSING DARIAN GRUBB AS AN INTERIM CREW CHIEF WHO IS MORE AN ENGINEER WITH THE NO. 48 TEAM AND WHY JEFF MEENDERING AND RON MALEC WERE CHOSEN IN THESE INSTANCES:
Doug Duchardt: "Last year, Darian had been team engineer and sat in the No. 48 for at least two or three years. He was there before I got here so it just made sense to have someone who the team was used to. Darian sat in that truck. The guys were used to him sitting there, he was part of the decision making process with Chad. He helped Chad make decisions so that was just natural. I think in this situation for Jeff and Ron, this is Jeff's second year as car chief. Ron has been with Jimmie as Jimmie pointed out for this long and has been the car chief on that car from the beginning. I am excited for those two and there are very deserving of this opportunity."
-credit: gm racing