BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK IN THE CHASE THIS YEAR? "It feels great. Obviously as years go by with the Chase format, we're starting to see just how important it is to be in...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS:
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK IN THE CHASE THIS YEAR? "It feels great. Obviously as years go by with the Chase format, we're starting to see just how important it is to be in the Chase and how tough it is to be in it. We saw last year how it was with (Dale Earnhardt) Junior not being in it and us not being in it; and now this year with Tony (Stewart) not being in it. It's a great format. It's very exciting and it creates quite a story. We're happy to be in it. We're going to do everything we can to just continue to improve as a team. I feel like we've steadily been better and better each week - take out Richmond - and these last 10 are good tracks for us and the team is fired up and ready to go."
HOW MUCH DID NOT MAKING THE CHASE LAST YEAR MOTIVATE YOU THIS YEAR TO GET IN IT? "It was a big motivator not being in it last year. You don't realize how much it stings until guys are battling for the championship and you're not a part of that. That's why we race. That's what has kept me in it for all these years and I love being competitive out there for race wins and for championships. Knowing you don't even have a shot at it was pretty disappointing. It just allowed us to refocus our energy on what we needed to do to get more competitive. It wasn't so much about not being in the Chase as much as it was not being competitive enough to go for a championship. We didn't earn the right to be in it last year. It wasn't like we just had some fluke things happen, we just didn't perform. I just wanted to see our performance get better. That's what is going to bring the chemistry and glue back together within the team. We were already going to make the change with Steve Letarte and Robbie Loomis. It just allowed us to do it earlier. It was a motivator, but at the same time it was just a way for us to start working on this year earlier."
DID YOU LOSE CONFIDENCE LAST YEAR? "At times, yeah. When you're not performing, you question a lot of things - especially when you have three other teammates and you know what kind of set-ups they have and if they're running good someplace and we try to put that same set up in and don't have the same results, you start questioning yourself and start losing confidence. That was what was pretty cool about those last 10 (races) last year.
We went to Atlanta and did a test and we built a car totally differently than the way our teammates had been building their cars and we started doing different things with the set-up as well and I loved it. I thought, hey this is what I've been looking for. I'm starting to get comfortable and build that confidence back. We just realized that my driving style if different than other drivers. The same thing doesn't work for everybody.
This year, we started doing a combination this year. A perfect example is Pocono. We weren't very good the first Pocono. We went back the second Pocono, and we took the No. 25 car set-up and we adapted that set-up to my driving style and we were much better. So those are some of the things we've been working on to get that performance back up. Confidence is all about performance. If you're performing well, you're confident. Of all teams out there, our team's confidence level is one of the hardest to break."
YOU WERE AN IMMEDIATE SUCCESS ON THE CIRCUIT. HOW WOULD YOU RATE DENNY HAMLIN? "I wasn't an immediate success because I didn't win anything the first year. These days, if you don't win a race your first season, you're compared to guys like Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson and guys like that. It was different back then. I think Denny is a great talent and has impressed the heck out of me this year. I've seen guys do well at 1.5-miles. Pocono is pretty impressive because that is a tough race track. But the thing that impressed me the most was Martinsville. He was solid and hitting his marks - doing things that I've never seen a rookie do at Martinsville. Most rookies come to Martinsville and overdrive the corner. Denny knew how to drive that track. I knew he had a lot of laps there in other cars, but still, it's a much different feel in a Cup car. That gets my attention. He's a great talent."
IN THE PAST YEAR, YOU'VE HAD TO ANSWER A LOT OF QUESTIONS ABOUT NOT WINNING. DOES THAT GET FRUSTRATING BECAUSE YOU'RE A FOUR-TIME CHAMPION? "I'm getting those questions because I haven't won (laughter). You're supposed to stay on track. The reality from where I sit and being a part of racing as long as I have, I realize it's very difficult to stay on top for your entire career. Mark Martin is one of the rare cases in my mind. He's just an awesome driver. Every year he's consistent. He goes with the trends. As set-ups and aerodynamics change, he really knows how to adapt to those changes better than anyone I've ever raced against. For me, there were years when the changes came so abruptly and I just didn't like the way things were feeling and it got us off track. This year is the most comfortable and confident I've been in a long time. The competition is a lot tougher than it's ever been. I understand why I get asked the questions. It's because we're not having 10-race win seasons and up leading the points. I know from where I sit, that we're not performing where I want to be either. This year, it's a little bit easier because we do have a new crew chief and we're in the more rebuilding stages and heading in the right direction than trying to figure out what's wrong and turn it all around and reconstruct the whole team. If I'm not winning every five races, then you guys go ahead and ask me those questions. I expect them to come. It doesn't stop me from doing everything I can to get us back to that position. I'm a little bit more patient these days than I ever used to be. I don't feel like we have to win 10 races a year to win the championship. I want to. But I know in these last 10 races, we don't have to win one of them. The average finish of the champion was 8.7 last year. We feel like the competition is a little bit better. But that's our goal is to be better than 8.7 whether we win a race or don't win a race. That's what we're shooting for."
HOW HAS STEVE LETARTE GROWN IN HIS ROLE AS CREW CHIEF OVER THE PAST YEAR? "I've been impressed with Steve for a long time and being inside the team is a lot easier to see how good he in from being on the outside. But every day since he first started coming to our shop, he's stepped up. I knew he was going to be the crew chief. I didn't know he'd be my crew chief, but I knew he'd be a crew chief. I'm really glad he's my crew chief. I guess the leadership was the thing I was the most concerned about. Is he going to step up and are the guys going to respect him? He knows the cars. He doesn't claim to be the smartest guy in the world, but he wants to surround himself with the guys who know their areas and utilize those resources. He's done more than I expected. Our communication has been fantastic. On the leadership side, he's stepped up in that way too. I don't want to say too many good things about him because I don't want people to take him away from me. I'd love to win a championship with him. That would be fantastic."
ON HAVING BRAKE PROBLEMS AT RICHMOND: "That track has been a thorn in my side. We've tried to get the breaks to work throughout the race - not just last weekend, but the last five times we've been there. It's a brake problem that we have at Richmond that we don't have anyplace else on the circuit and we just can't figure out what it is. That just contributes to the handling not being right. It only makes it worse. Like Texas and Chicago and tracks where we haven't won at before, Richmond is now on our radar and we've got to figure it out and get better. I'm certainly glad it's not in the last 10. Our 1.5-mile program has gotten so much better that I'm excited about going back to Texas. Phoenix is a track we haven't won at, but I feel like we're capable of being good there."
ON THE NEW YORK MEDIA EXPERIENCE "It's pretty cool because you get these 10 guys and they all have something in common and we made the Chase. NASCAR treats us great and puts us in a nice hotel and takes us to nice dinners. It's a busy schedule. When we were at Letterman and laughing at our lines, we had a good time. But we had some downtime where we were sitting around and if the media could be a fly on the wall, they'd be pretty amazed at how relaxed we all were sitting in the room together. We're so busy and we're all traveling all the time. Rarely do you get together at one time. One story would lead to another story. It was a great time. All of us enjoyed it.
Jimmie and I tried to show the guys a little bit of the town away from what we were doing from NASCAR. When you know places to go and spend more time there. it's taken New York to a new level that I didn't experience for 10 years. It was fun. We had a good time."
YOU HAVEN'T WON A CHAMPIONSLHIP SINCE 2001. SOME PEOPLE WROTE YOU OFF AFTER LAST SEASON. ARE YOU MORE DETERMINED TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP THIS SEASON? "Yeah, but not for that reason. I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody that's written us of. It's just the competitiveness inside me and this entire team. We like to win. We know we're with a top organization. We know what we're capable of. We've shown it at times this year. Take out Richmond and we've been pretty consistent for the past month or two. We've fought when we needed to and put good results together when we were capable of it. That's what we're supposed to do. For ourselves, we'd like to go out there and step it up."
-credit: gm racing