JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed the importance of pit selection at Martinsville, racing at Martinsville, and how the new car performs at Martinsville, the current...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed the importance of pit selection at Martinsville, racing at Martinsville, and how the new car performs at Martinsville, the current qualifying procedure, his position in the Chase, and more.
YOUR THOUGHTS ON MARTINSVILLE WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN VERY STRONG AND HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS: "I am excited. We have been anxious to get here for a long time. We had, I feel like, the car to beat the last time we were here and came up a little short. I think this is a very exciting weekend for us. Built a brand new car. We realize that we haven't won yet this year with five races to go. We look at here and Atlanta; Phoenix can be hit or miss for us. Homestead we have been good, but not good enough. Texas has been very challenging. Obviously Martinsville is pretty high on our list of priorities. Also the excitement level for us coming in here is definitely high. Trying to not put too much pressure on ourselves. I do think this is a track we can do very well on."
PLEASE TALK ABOUT MARTINSVILLE BEING SOME OF THE DEEPEST ROOTS OF NASCAR AND WHAT MAKES IT SO HARD: "I think it is important for us to be here. You look at the history of the sport and what a role Martinsville has played in that history. I also think it's important with all the 1.5-miles that are on the circuit to mix in some short tracks. You know me, I always wish there was a road course in there as well. We've got a big superspeedway, plenty of 1.5-mile tracks, and a one-mile, a half-mile, and I'd like to have a road course too. But I think this track comes at a very exciting time in the Chase where we talk about Talladega and the big one and I think they also talk about Martinsville and the traffic and the tight space that there is to race on here. To me, I've never really thought about Martinsville in that way, because I focus and I get into such a rhythm and such a zone that I really just get out there and take each lap one at a time and feel what the car is doing. You've got to have a lot of patience here. Just to run a single lap by yourself here, you've got to have patience not to overdrive the car. And so, you've certainly got to have even more patience when it comes to the traffic. But when the car's right and I get in that zone, it's amazing how you can block out just how much traffic there really is here. From you guys looking at it, there's just one constant flow of cars. For me, it's that car ahead of me, and maybe thinking two or three that are ahead of me and that's it. I don't think of there being 40 cars out there."
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE PIT STALL SELECTION AT MARTINSVILLE? "Yeah, all week I've just been keeping my fingers crossed that we wouldn't have a day like we're having (rain). I think a lot of our success can be contributed to our qualifying success here. It's certainly not impossible to get it done and to have a great finish or win the race from outside that front row. There are only two stalls here (laughs) that are worth having. So you really only want to be first or second. Once you're anywhere behind that, maybe third. You could take the first stall, there's one stall on the front straightaway just before you make the turn that has an opening and then you have maybe stall number two that can be halfway decent. You're not going to beat the guy in front of you out, but you'll beat everybody else out and maybe stay out of some trouble. But it is in the middle of a corner. So, pit stall selection here is crucial. There is no way we're going to be qualifying here today. We're going to be starting eighth and we're going to be picking eighth, and it's definitely something I'm going to talk a lot to Steve Letarte about because we are in a position to take risks. And we're going to have to start by our pit selection in taking a risk. You go a couple of different ways. You take a risk by knowing that you're going to maybe be over here in the corner and it's going to be hard to get in and out of, but you might stay out of trouble from the rest of pit road. But you're going to have a hard time beating those guys out who are ahead of you. Or, you pick somewhere completely random where you maybe hope that if your car's good enough and you're up front, that those guys either come after you've gone or they're a lap down and don't come at all, except for on quick yellows. And so, those are things that we're going to be talking about."
WHAT MAKES JIMMIE JOHNSON SO GOOD? "Jimmie is pretty calm. To me, he's really got what it takes, especially in the sport today. He's got aggressiveness, but yet he really learned quickly in the first couple of years he was in the series, of how to have patience along with that. He's a sharp guy on and off the race track, so I think that certainly plays a part in it as well. To me, Jimmie has been extremely impressive and the whole team. You can't do it on your own, and that whole team has been extremely impressive to me when it really counts most. When it's all on the line for the championship, not only do those guys step it up but they also come through in the clutch when they need it most. They have in the past couple of years for those championships and they certainly have this year as well. I'm going to be anxious and curious to see how all that unfolds as we go forward, just like you guys are, when the race is over anyway. But during the race, for me, it's just focusing on our race. But when we hired Jimmie, one of the things that we were impressed with was the fact that he was in the top 10 in points in the Busch, now Nationwide Series, with a team that really wasn't quite up to the standards or the level that the other teams were, so I feel like not only was he an impressive driver, but he was very consistent and knew how to bring the equipment home in one piece and get the most out of it throughout the race. That's what makes a championship-caliber driver. He's only been able to add to that since he's come to Hendrick Motorsports."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU IF MARTINSVILLE SHOULD LOSE A RACE IN THE SERIES? "Oh, obviously I'd be very disappointed. I feel like this is one of my best tracks. Facility-wise, the history that's here is obviously important, but you look at these other new, big facilities and what they do to the cities that surround them and in the marketplace and all those things, that's all great. But we've got to preserve these types of events and tracks. I just wish that when a new venue was being created that they thought about the short tracks, and that they'd built a half-mile or three-quarter mile race track instead of a 1.5-mile. From a business model, I think the 1.5-mile tracks are built because they seem to be able to collect the most money to be able to keep the tracks going and healthy. And hey, business is business. I get that. But we've got to figure out a way to keep these types of tracks on the circuit and in the Chase. I would love for it to be Martinsville, but if a new track is being built out there, I plead to whoever might be building that track, let's build some short tracks. And to those that might be getting a second date, let's not take away a short track to put another 1.5-mile track into the Chase."
DO YOU KNOW A BETTER WAY TO DO QUALIFYING WHEN IT'S A CHASE RACE AND QUALIFYING GETS RAINED OUT AGAIN? "I could think of a lot of better ways to qualify, but it won't change when the weather comes. We can't do anything about qualifying and the rain. I think that race practice is more important on a Saturday than getting qualifying in, except I think the guys outside the top 35 in points should qualify on Saturday when it rains on Friday, if it's possible. I think that is something is a little fairer for those guys. Sending people home, it's a little different for us who are up in the points. We're in the show, even though we'd like to qualify to take a chance making our position better, at least we're in the show. For those guys outside the show it's a little bit different deal. I'm a big F-1 fan. I see knockout qualifying and I think it's very exciting. I'd love to see us go to something like that on our road course races. I don't know how we could do it on our other tracks. But I also think that on the big 2.5-mile tracks, qualifying is absolutely boring there. Two laps. These cars now get up to speed in one lap. We could at least knock it down to one-lap qualifying, if not maybe come up with something a little bit more entertaining and exciting as well. But we can't do anything about the weather."
HOW DO YOU AND YOUR TEAM SEE YOURSELVES GOING FORWARD IN THE CHASE? "Well, we're progressive, there is no doubt about it. I think the last two 1.5-mile races have proved that. Well, they're progressive; maybe I'm not (laughs). We're just not a team that lies down and gets up. We always constantly work to get better. Unfortunately, this season has taken us a lot longer than it should have to get ourselves where we need to be to be competitive enough to be higher up in the points and win that race that we haven't gotten so far this year. I was really disappointed last week that I got into the wall not once, but twice, because that car was so good. We had an awesome race car and we proved that throughout the race to be able to come back like we did. But it's just been one of those years where when we've got the car, either I make a mistake or something bites us. When we have everything else going right, we can't seem to get the car that we need. It's definitely been a frustrating and challenging year for us in a lot of ways. It's just something for us to continue to work and improve, not only this season, but also for next season."
HOW MUCH HAS THE NEW CAR CHANGED THE WAY YOU RACE AT MARTINSVILLE? "This is not a place where aerodynamics plays much of a role, but with this car it seems to affect the cars around even more than before. You've got a little bit of an issue where you can be faster than the guy and you're going to get a little bit of an aero push when you come up behind him, more so than the old car. And then, because the bumpers line up you can definitely hit him. But before, it just took a little tiny tap because you were lifting the back of the cars up and so it didn't take much. With this car, I hit Jimmie as hard as I felt like I could without damaging my front bumper. And even at the end, I didn't even care about damaging my front bumper and it still didn't move him out of the way. So obviously if we get in that same situation this time, we're going to have to rethink, or I'm going to have to rethink how you go about it because running into the back of him, unless you do it really early on entry, isn't really going to do much."
ON KYLE BUSCH'S SEASON "Well, this is an unpredictable sport. You just never know when you have a playoff; it's no different than in NFL. Who would have thought the Giants were going to win the championship last year and then the New England Patriots would come up short? That's what you call competitive sports. They've had a spectacular year in the Cup series leading into the Chase and unfortunately when it mattered the most, they've had some problems. But as far as Kyle is concerned, what a spectacular year it's been for him. To be able to drive all those different types of cars, he's probably won races in all types of cars we're not even talking about. So it just speaks volumes about his commitment and his talent level as a driver. This is one thing I've always said about myself is that I had good success coming into the Cup series, but I had the most success I've ever had of any series I've ever raced in, in the Cup series. And as a driver, that's a pretty darn good thing to have happen. You know when you get here, this is the toughest, and most competitive series and group of drivers you're ever going to race against. So if you could pick or choose when you're going to have the most success, you want it to happen in this series, and you want it to happen at the right time, especially now with the Chase. So that's certainly going to be something that's going to overshadow the type of year that he's had with all that he's done, but even so, there are still a lot of things to be pretty excited and pretty proud of what he's accomplished."
SINCE THE CHASE STARTED, IT'S ALL ABOUT MAKING THE PLAYOFFS. IS YOUR MINDSET THINKING ABOUT BEING THE BEST YOU CAN AT THE FINAL 10 TRACKS? "I pretty much think about the same thing from race one to race 36. You want to go win. In order to win the race, you've got to finish the race. So you're never thinking, hey don't do anything dumb or stupid at this time because you don't want it to catch me out and mess me up in the first 26 races so I don't make the Chase. You're thinking, I don't want to do anything dumb or stupid to take away the opportunity to win this race or get the best finish that I can. So, I think all you do every weekend is go out to get the best finish you possibly can. You hope that's a win. There are times you've got to take risks and times you've got to be patient through every race to just try to do that. And the same thing applies to making the Chase and winning the championship. For instance for us this year, we fell back to 10th or 11th or something in points at one time. Once we got in that position, and we were closing in on the end of the Chase, at that point we were like oops, now we've got to protect; now we've got to be a little bit more conservative. I think it's the same thing in the Chase. Once you get down to the closing of the Chase and maybe you have a points lead, then you start thinking now I've got to protect. Up to that point, you race the same, or I do, race the same every weekend going to the win and going for the best finish you can.
"We certainly consider track when we go to them the first time and knowing that they're in the Chase, of using that sort of as a test session. And if we don't perform well, then we try to figure out where we do need to go test for that specific track because we know we need to get better."
-credit: gm racing