BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS THIS WEEKEND YOU COULD TIE DALE EARNHARDT IN CAREER VICTORIES. WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN TO YOU? "That would be a huge honor. I'm just blown away and overwhelmed that I've...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS
THIS WEEKEND YOU COULD TIE DALE EARNHARDT IN CAREER VICTORIES. WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN TO YOU?
"That would be a huge honor. I'm just blown away and overwhelmed that I've gotten to 75 (wins). To me Dale is the all time great, certainly who I have had a chance to race against. I've never really had the chance to race against Richard (Childress) or really Darrell (Waltrip) in his prime or anybody else that is up there. To me racing against Dale (Earnhardt) is the best I've ever raced against. To match up to something that he's done and just to be one away from it is an honor."
WHAT HAS HE TAUGHT YOU?
"He's taught me a lot more off the race track than he did on the race track. The thing that I admired so much about him is the fact that he won over so many different years (with) cars changing, the sport changing, different drivers coming in and out of the sport and yet he always continued to find a way to get to victory lane and battle for championships. I think when you look at the span of time that he was able to do that, that's very impressive."
DALE EARNHARDT JR. SAID THAT IF YOU TIED HIS DAD'S RECORD HE'D HAVE TO SHAKE YOUR HAND BECAUSE IT WOULD BE A GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENT. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU THAT YOU WOULD HAVE DALE JR.'S RESPECT IF YOU TIED HIS DAD?
"I want to get to 76 (wins) before I talk about it, you know. Again I'm very excited to be at 75. Even if I don't get another one then I still am overwhelmed and will be very satisfied. The fact that we're one away from it obviously gives us something to shoot for. To get respect in this garage is not easy to do especially somebody that grew up in the shadows of the great Dale Earnhardt so that would mean a lot to me."
MATT KENSETH SAID YOU ARE THE FACE OF NASCAR. IS THAT A ROLE YOU ACCEPT? WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?
"I don't know if I totally agree with that. I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. is probably more recognizable with NASCAR than I am. I see Tony Stewart as the past champion so he's carrying the torch right now. We certainly made our mark and I'm proud of what I've accomplished and where I stand in the sport and what I represent - my sponsors, the sport and my team.
MATT KENSETH SAID YOU AND HIM TALKED TO EACH OTHER IN INDY. WHERE DO YOU STAND WITH HIM RIGHT NOW?
"I did all that I could. I pretty much left it up to him. I look at the Bristol incident and this incident as so similar and he came up to me and apologized to me and said he was sorry, didn't mean to do it and I was fuming for a long time after that but you have to move on and go on. People can believe me or not but that wasn't payback. It really wasn't. It was racing hard and it just happened to be a guy that I had an incident with earlier in the season. He can say that I intentionally did it but I've looked at the video several times and it's pretty obvious to me that I got back in the gas quick and he didn't get in the gas. That's just going to be something that we might disagree on right now but if both of us don't move on it's going to cost both of us a chance at a championship."
HOW HAS THE DYNAMIC WITH TEAMMATES CHANGED THINGS WHEN YOU'RE BOTH RACING FOR THE WIN?
"I race everybody the way they race me so you take Matt Kenseth who didn't give me an inch at Bristol. He also rammed me pretty hard. He keeps saying that I was hanging back on the restart. I'll give anybody an opportunity to look back at the restarts and see if I was more than a car length back. There's no way. I was just getting better restarts than he was. I think that Jimmie (Johnson) and I race one another hard and race one another clean and we are teammates and you've got to take that into account. As bad as we wanted to win especially in Chicago, I would have raced him really hard. If I had jumped back in the gas and he couldn't get back in the gas the same thing could have possibly happened because it wasn't intentional so it's not that I necessarily would have raced him any different."
ON READING THAT HE (GORDON) TOOK RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT EVEN THOUGH IT WASN'T INTENTIONAL:
"Anytime a guy gets in the back of another guy, you have to take responsibility for it and I certainly will but the clear thing here is that it was not intentional. That's what we're all talking about and what we need to move on from because it's over. Now we're at New Hampshire and we're here to race and there's going to be plenty of action for you guys to talk about after this race I'm sure."
ON THE RIVALRY WITH HIS FANS AND DALE EARNHARDT'S FANS. ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH DALE EARNHARDT OFF THE TRACK AND THE RIVALRY BETWEEN THEM:
"There really wasn't much of a rivalry. I think we both had a common respect. Maybe even more so what he had done off the race track. I was very fortunate that in some ways he took me under his wing to kind of guide me in the right direction related to the business side of this sport. I was very, very appreciative of that time that he spent trying to teach me some of those things. I feel like I still live by a lot of those things that he taught me but most of what I learned on the race track was just by racing him not by him sitting me down saying 'Try this. Do this.' "
ON JUAN PABLO MONTOYA COMING TO NASCAR:
"I think he's an unbelievable talent. I think it's a great thing for the sport and I think that he's getting obviously an opportunity to come in with a quality team but all those things still are going to make it a long road for him. What I respect the most about his decision is that I feel like he really recognizes that, understand it and knows it's going to take time yet he's still willing to go through that challenge. It's still going to be one heck of a challenge for him in his career based on what type of racing he's done in the past, not a lot of oval track racing, not in a big heavy car with little downforce. The fact that he still wants that challenge speaks very clearly as to what type of person Juan Pablo is."
ON THE RUMORS OF DANICA PATRICK COMING TO NASCAR. WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WOULD BE LIKE FOR HER IF SHE CAME HERE?
"Well again similar to Juan Pablo it'd be a very big positive for the sport, for NASCAR in this series, but I think that at the same time it'd be a huge challenge for her. I think that all the type of racing that she's done growing up and that she's currently doing is just so much different than our cars that I always encourage anybody that no matter how big of a star, name that they are in the world, that they got to come in and get stock car experience. If you look at anybody that has been successful in our series, they all went through the Busch Series. They all maybe went through the Truck Series. They spent time maybe in ARCA. That's just the progression you have to take to understand these cars at this level. Once you get to the Cup Series it's so competitive that if you don't have success fairly early on you're going to get bombarded with questions and criticized and it's only going to make things tougher for you. There's enough pressure as it is already. I think it has nothing to do with talent level, it has to do with experience and so I just hope that if someone like Danica was interested in coming in that she would take that into account. Not saying that her or Juan or anybody has an ego but you need to put that aside and say 'OK, I need to get experience at a lower level before I just jump into the Cup Series.' I hope with Juan Pablo with him not being F1 now that he can come over here and run some Busch races maybe some ARCA races and some Cup races this year before he starts next season."
WHEN YOU DID THE CAR SWAP WITH HIM BACK AT INDY DID HE GET THE BUG BACK THEN ABOUT GETTING INTO NASCAR?
"Well I don't know. I think that if anything he was like 'Wow, what a piece of junk' compared to his car so I would have thought that would have sealed the deal that he'd never come to NASCAR. I think that really it's more of going to F1 and knowing that in F1 the cars are amazing but the racing isn't there. The strategy is what it's all about. It's all about which manufacturer, which tire dominates that season. I would have to assume that there are some big frustrations with that where I think he recognizes with talent over here at this level can bring something to the table. Yeah, you've got to be aligned with a good team but I think all things being equal the talent usually rises to the top and he's got a lot of talent so he probably believes that eventually with enough time he can bring something to the table."
ON JUAN PABLO BEING AN HISPANIC TONY STEWART. IS THAT A GOOD OR BAD THING?
"Well I think Tony is good for this sport. You know what? That's a pretty good comparison. I would say that. Juan might be a little bit more polished than Tony but yet he doesn't mind speaking his mind when he wants to at the same time and he's a great driver."
HOW WAS THE CAR YOU BROUGHT TO INDY?
"That was actually the road course car that we've won several times with. I can't say it was set up perfect for Indy because we had never been there before. I would have much rather had him drive our car at Watkins Glen or Sonoma. I think that once he gets in one of the Ganassi cars he'll say this thing is quite a bit different than the car I drove and they've just changed a lot over the years. I think he's going to do well at the road courses. I think that the ovals are where it's really going to take some time to get the hang of it."
WERE YOU SURPRISED ABOUT THAT ANNOUNCEMENT LAST WEEKEND?
"Yes and no. I had heard actually that rumor actually a couple of weeks prior to that and I just laughed at it. I thought 'No, there's no way that is going to happen.' I thought for sure he'd find something that he would move to if he was ever to leave McClaren. I figured he'd find something else he'd like over there. But I'm excited. I think it's great."
ON CLARIFYING HIS PREVIOUS COMMENT ABOUT RACING PEOPLE THE WAY THEY RACE HIM:
"What I mean by that, if somebody doesn't give me an inch of room out there, I'm not going to give them an inch. I'm not saying that they should or have to give me more room. I'm just saying that if they race me really aggressively, hard, push me, spin me, then they can expect the same type of treatment. I don't believe that Matt (Kenseth) at Bristol intentionally tried to spin me just like at Chicago last week. I didn't intentionally try to spin him. Did I get into bumper? Did I mind loosening him up, moving him up the race track so I could make the pass? No, absolutely I was trying to do that. There were four laps to go and I was trying to win the race and you only get sometimes one window of opportunity and that was my window of opportunity and I took advantage of it. That's why I take responsibility of it. I didn't want to hit him and spin him. I think the same thing happened at Bristol. I don't think he wanted to spin me at Bristol but he wanted to touch me. He wanted to hit me and move me up the race track like I had done to him. To me once you set that precedence then that's pretty much the way you race that guy. There's some guys that race really clean out there and I race them really clean. If a guy makes it really hard for me to pass him I'm going to make it really hard to pass me. You know everybody's personality, their driving style and that's what you do out there."
DO YOU REGRET SHOVING HIM?
"No, I don't regret anything. I hate that he got spun out. I didn't try to spin him out. I hate that he spun out. I don't regret shoving him. If I had all my wishes I would have shoved him and he would have moved right up the race track and I would have passed him and he had finished second."
SHOULD YOU BE HELD TO A HIGHER STANDARD? SHOULDN'T YOU BE SETTING A GOOD EXAMPLE FOR THE OTHER GUYS IN THE FIELD?
"I think that we are setting examples by going out there and showing everybody that we're going to race everybody really aggressive and hard. When something like that happens it's how we move on from it from that point forward is hopefully the example that we set that's a good one."
WITH ALL THE AGGRESSIVE DRIVING AND RETALIATION HERE LAST FALL, DO YOU THINK THIS TRACK HAS A REPUTATION NOW FOR PAYBACKS?
"Here's the problem with this race track, you can't pass. Anytime you go to a race track that's a one groove race track that you can't pass on, then you're going to have guys running into one another to make the pass. Really to me if I got a guy behind me that's faster all I have to do is move down in his line and I'll keep him behind me. As soon as you do that then that guy if he gets an opportunity to move you out of the way, he's going to move you out of the way. Because we're at a one-mile race track, corners are a little bit slower; I think guys don't mind running one another a little bit more than they do at other race tracks."
ON RACING IN THE NORTHEAST WITH DIFFERENT TEMPERATURES AND IF YOU HAVE TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT:
"We always hope when we come up north that it's going to be a lot bit cooler. It's really hot out there. We just have to do everything we can to keep ourselves cool and hydrated in the car. I can't say it'd be any more than what we did last week or the week before that. It's been hot everywhere we've been going."
DO YOU HAVE A CHIP ON YOUR SHOULDER THIS YEAR?
"I wouldn't call it a chip. I would call it determination. I would call it trying to get ourselves back to where we need to be to win races and championships. In some ways we have improved. I think that we've been down and out and people have pretty much written us off. I can tell by the way guys race me. A perfect example was me and (Greg) Biffle at Vegas this year. I think he just expected to get up to me, get on my bumper, loosen me up and drive right on by me and I was just going to wave at him as he went by. I had too good of a car to do that and I didn't do that. I didn't put up with it and I raced him really hard. We banged down the back straightway. We got the position and ended up finishing fourth. When I have a car that is capable of winning or running up front then I'm going to be more aggressive with it to get those good finishes."
ON NOT HAVING PEOPLE DOUBT HIM BEFORE IN HIS CAREER AND HOW A FEW PEOPLE COMMENTED ON HIS FOCUS EARLIER THIS YEAR:
"It didn't set well because I felt like while those things were being said we were testing and I'm spending more time with Steve Letarte (crew chief) trying to give him good information. I know how hard those guys are working and I felt like we were doing everything and more than we possibly could to be competitive and then you hear those things. That's why I try to honestly stay away from watching too many of those shows on SPEED or reading too much. No disrespect to you guys. It doesn't have anything to do with that. It's just easier for me to stay focused and to put all my energy into driving my race car, trying to figure out what we need to be better. It's hard though when you get in a group like this and you get asked questions and you go 'They said what?' You can't help that that definitely affects you a bit. But I've got to thank Rusty because of the things that he said.
ON HEARING ASSUMPTIONS THAT HE HAS ENOUGH WINS AND ENOUGH MONEY:
"It's easy to make those assumptions from the outside. Here's the thing that cracks me up about our series. You can win 10 races a year and never spend one day at the shop, never even say hi to guys. You can be on planet Mars Monday through Thursday until you get back to the race track and nobody will say one word. They won't say one word because the stats are there, the numbers are there and that's all that people really focus on. When the numbers aren't there they've got to come up with a reason why this is happening. There are reasons why this is happening. Come visit our race shop, go to the wind tunnel, the seven post test. Get out there on the race track and race your competitors. Go look at what your competitors are doing and just realize that you are getting beat. That's what we did. We said 'Hey, we're getting beat. We got to get our stuff better. I do the same thing. I say 'OK, what can I do to be better? Do I need to adapt my driving style to different setups?' That's where it's at. It's not where your focus is, if you're making too much money you don't care about it anymore. It's never been about the money to me. They can pay me twice as much money as I'm getting paid right now and I still want to experience what it's like to go to victory lane and get that trophy and celebrate with the team."