JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed racing at Martinsville, tires, driver fitness, driver rivalries, the Grandfather Clock trophy and other topics. YOUR...
JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed racing at Martinsville, tires, driver fitness, driver rivalries, the Grandfather Clock trophy and other topics.
YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING HERE THIS WEEKEND AT MARTINSVILLE: "We've been looking forward to this one for a long time. It's always been a great track for us and I feel that as strong as the team is this year and as well as things are going that we're probably even more anxious to get here and probably even more excited than usual. Coming in here leading the points is a great thing, especially if there's rain. Either way we look like we're pretty good today. I was happy to get some laps on the track and the car felt good. They've got a little bit different right side tire that Goodyear brought here that definitely through us for a loop, so we're definitely glad we got some time on the track."
COULD THIS BE ONE OF THOSE RACES LIKE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO WITH A REAL SLAM BANG FINISH AND CAN YOU TAKE OWNERSHIP OF THIS TRACK BACK FROM JIMMIE JOHNSON: "He certainly has owned this place. Jimmie is an incredible student, whether it's me showing him things here at Martinsville or him following a driver of another team. He reads the data, watches closely and he's able to adapt his style and attack the track with his own style, but pick up little things to make himself that much stronger. You have to give him a lot of credit and he certainly has been the guy to beat here. The times that we were maybe a little bit better than him like that one time that we bumped and banged, he had the track position. At that point, you don't really look at them as a teammate, you look at them as a competitor out there and you do whatever you can to try to win the race. Certainly if it comes down to that, either way whether I'm leading or he's leading, I would imagine you're going to see a lot of the same actions. I don't know what exactly it is that has made us that strong. The 24 team has been strong here for a long time. I've told the story many times, but it started with the test with Ray [Evernham] somewhere in the early-to mid-nineties when we ran so many laps and I found some things. We were making so many changes to the car to try to fix something that I was fighting. Finally, I got frustrated and said that I was going to try some things and all of the sudden the rhythm, the pace and the times started to come to me. After that I could go to them and say 'hey, alright I do need this and this and this in the car.' So over the years we've just adapted all those scenarios and through success on the track and even with cars and tires and all those things changing, my style of how I drive the track really hasn't changed. It's just that we adapt the setups to stay up with whatever's current, whether it's the car, tire or track conditions changing.
"We tried a lot of things with the car during that test too, but it seemed like our hands were tied. It seemed like it was really more how I was approaching the corners and getting off the brake and on the gas. I think I was just rushing to everything and I just needed to be a little more patient. And even every time I come here, I start out trying to rush everything and then I calm down and know that's not going to work. Then all of the sudden I get my rhythm. It might take five or six laps now where it used to take a whole race."
MATT KENSETH SAID EARLIER HE'S NOT GOOD HERE BUT HE DOESN'T THINK IT'S A DIFFICULT TRACK TO DRIVE - HE JUST CAN'T COMMUNICATE TO THE TEAM WHAT HE NEEDS IN THE CAR. WHY HAVEN'T MORE GUYS FIGURED THIS TRACK OUT: "It's just one of those unique, strange places that guys either love or they don't. It's a very challenging track because you can't be aggressive here, but yet at times you have to be. It's just how you go about the aggression. Aggressive just means that you might have to put the bumper to a guy or you might have to drive in deep for one or two laps trying to pass some cars, but as far as just driving the track, less aggression is actually much better. As race car drivers, that's really the opposite of what we all are trying to do. Anybody that's really aggressive doesn't do really well here. I think that the guys that have a lot of patience are the guys that do better here. But that's what surprises me because I think Matt is a very patient driver, so I would think he would do very well here. I know a lot of guys that come in here for the first time and just shake their head and just don't get it. I was one of those. I feel sorry for the rookies like Joey Logano that don't get a chance to come here and test like I did when I was first starting. That wasn't my first test, that was my second or third test that I'd ever had here and the first couple times I was just completely lost and had no idea how to get that much power underneath a stock car like this, a big heavy car and how to get it around this tiny paperclip. It just seems like what the track is shaped like and what the car is designed like are total opposite sides of the world. Sometimes you can't do anything to the car to make it work, so the driver has to come into play. I don't know what exactly the key to it is."
HOW DID THE TIRE THROW YOU FOR A LOOP AND DID YOU GET ENOUGH PRACTICE TO GET A SENSE OF THE TIRE: "We definitely saw some wear, and we were under the understanding that they were going to soften the right side tire up a little bit more. I've not had the chance to talk to Goodyear. I really want to talk to them a little bit more. We've just been so frantic working on the car and getting ready for qualifying I haven't had the time. But in my opinion, there's a huge difference. Our normal setup that we would come here with that would be pretty close, was very far off. Even though I jumped up the board right away, it was only in the first three or four laps. The times fell off dramatically for me, not so much that the grip of the tire was gone, it was just so loose I couldn't drive the car.
"We were making major adjustments going back out and I was trying to just keep the car underneath me, but it was just so loose. We talked to a lot of our teammates and they were all fighting the same thing, so we just made some big, big adjustments. On the very last run we actually made some big gains and finally got the car comfortable on the longer run and then we had to go to qualifying trim. I don't know what exactly is in the tire that is making it do that because we did see pretty excessive wear on the right sides and also the left rear. I think that we see that a lot of times just from the grip going away and you just start spinning the rear tires a little bit more. That could be a very good thing for the race. I'm just not sure yet. This was the most rubber I've ever seen rolled up on the outside groove of the track than I've seen here in 10 years. That was really excessive, so that tells you a lot about the tire. I think Goodyear could probably explain it better than I can."
GIVEN HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS' LONG STANDING RELATIONSHIP WITH QUAKER STATE, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE WEAR WAR THAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK: "We've been doing some things with them to help them promote it. It's pretty funny the challenge that they've given their oil manufacturers out there. All I can tell you is that we put their oil and their wear protection to the test about as much as you possibly could in Darlington a couple of years ago when we were having major overheating problems. I've never seen that much water temperature and oil temperature. The gauges were pegged. And then you go to the water pressure and once that usually reaches 60 or 70 that's when the whole thing is just going to explode and you're going to lose all the water. We even had that about pegged and we were able to win the race and even pull away from the competition there at the end. So, I'd certainly put them up against anybody."
REGARDING RIVALRIES, IF YOU FOCUS ON BEATING ONE GUY, DOES IT BECOME A DETRIMENT TO YOUR TEAM BECAUSE IF YOU BEAT THAT GUY, YOU MIGHT NOT BEAT EVERYBODY ELSE? "The mind game thing is not me. It's just not me. That car and our team and our performance speaks for itself. If that happens to distract guys because they look at the times and look at how good we are, then great. If we go out there and we win races and we're leading the points and that distracts them, that's great. But that's certainly not our goal or intention. Because of that, we don't do it on the flip side. Certainly we pay attention to who's fast and what we're capable of doing and who we're trying to beat each and every weekend, but it's never one guy. Very rarely is it one guy. And even at this point in the season, one thing I've learned about the Chase is that it's all about those final ten races. Certainly you've got to get yourself in the Chase, and we're leading the points right now, it's great, and certainly it's something to be excited about because our team is so much better and we're performing really well.
"But we need wins. The points series nowadays, you've got to have wins going into that Chase for bonus points as well as momentum. And then you've got to tear it up in those final ten races. And they have to be good tracks for you and that's something that we're working really hard on right now is to get to victory lane and get ourselves in a position that we can really focus on being better than we've been in the past in those final ten races. We gave Jimmie (Johnson) about as good a run as anybody has in 2007, but there are just tracks that I felt like personally I'm not at and us as a team, are not quite as good at as those guys were. And that's where we lost the championship. We didn't lose it because we got out-teamed, we just got beat at tracks that we were less competitive on.
"I've never come to Martinsville thinking that I'm the guy to beat. I've never come here thinking Jimmie is the only guy to beat. I come here thinking how to make our car as good as we can possibly make it so that we don't have to worry about anybody else or think about anybody else once the race starts. This race is not always won by the fastest car. Jimmie really proved that the year that we did battle and bumped and banged, because they did a different pit strategy. We were the fastest car that week and they still won the race. And so to me, the fastest guy and the best guys at Martinsville are not always the guys that are going to win the race."
ON THE GRANDFATHER CLOCK TROPHIES AND WHERE HE KEEPS THEM "It is extremely special because it's unique. There's no other trophy like it. The history of this track goes back so far, and the history of the grandfather clocks as well, so it's something that you're very proud to achieve. They're the hardest trophy to get back to the shop, for sure, and to duplicate. I've got to tell you, they're spread all over the place because I've been fortunate to win I think seven times here. So between Rick Hendrick, myself, Ray Evernham, Steve Letarte, Robbie Loomis, and Brian Whitesell, they're all over the place. We display them proudly whether they're at a home, the shop, or one of our crew chiefs' homes that we've won with."
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF QUALIFYING AT A SHORT TRACK LIKE MARTINSVILLE "I think it's really important, mainly for the pole. There are only maybe two or three decent stalls here but there's only one really good one and that's the No. 1 pit stall. So that's what everybody really shoots for is the pole. Certainly at this point in the season, leading the points doesn't mean a whole lot other than you're having a pretty good year and you've been consistent and if it rains you get that No. 1 stall."
IF NASCAR OFFICIALS WERE THINKING ABOUT ALTERING THE TRACKS ON THE SCHEDULE, WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE MORE SHORT TRACKS ON THE CIRCUIT? "I love short tracks so I'm all for it. Absolutely. It depends on what short track. The only short track out there that I see right now that's a short track that I'd like to go to, that I've never been to and I've heard great things about, is Iowa. I don't know what kind of facility they have as far as what NASCAR is looking for or TV-wise, to put on a Sprint Cup, but just the racing surface itself looks to me and from what I've heard from other drivers, it's one of the best out there."
TALK ABOUT YOUR FITNESS PROGRAM AND THE DIFFERENCE IT IS MAKING IN YOUR PERFORMANCE. WHAT GOT YOU STARTED, RICK HENDRICK OR MARK MARTIN? "Well, it's my back. My back is hurting so bad that I'm just trying to do something to alleviate some of the back pain. Jimmie has stepped up his routine, so between both of them, they played a role. Mark definitely has been a big influence on Rick and Rick has been jabbing me, and giving me a hard time about him being in the gym. Ever since I reached 30, your body changes. When I was in my twenties it seemed like I was untouchable. I could bend over and touch my toes. I could get out of bed with no aches and pains and get out there and run 500 laps at Martinsville and then do it the next day if I wanted to (laughs). But that's not the case now. I'm in my thirties and because I have had some back issues, I just decided to start doing more exercising. But I will say that I feel fantastic, even though last week in Bristol my back was still hurting, from a cardio standpoint, I felt like I could have run another race. I got out refreshed without any kind of muscle soreness or anything like that, besides my back, I felt fantastic. So I will say I'm in some of the best shape that I've been in, in a very long time."
YOU'VE RACED AGAINST BOTH DALE EARNHARDT SR. AND KYLE BUSCH, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THEM HEAD TO HEAD? "Please tell me you aren't trying to compare those two."
YOU DON'T THINK SO? HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THOSE TWO? "There's no comparison."
NO COMPARISON. ON ANY TRACK? "Well I didn't race against Earnhardt when he was in his early twenties. Maybe they would have been the same then. Kyle is just this incredible talent. He can put a car on the edge like nobody I've ever seen. The difference is that up until maybe this year, I really see him maturing so much over the last couple of years. But up until this year, he was a guy that he would put it so far on the edge that he was making mistakes or would take it too far.
"And there's a big difference between that and what Earnhardt would do. Earnhardt was rarely on the edge to be honest with you. But he was more of a bully. He's a guy that you never count him out. He was just tough as nails. He'd be a lap down and come back and be battling for the win at the end of the race and was just a totally different type of racer and how he approached it, than Kyle. As far as results, I guess you could maybe compare results because they both really get the results. But to me, how Kyle goes about getting the results is still a little bit young and like this guy trying to tame a bull, you know. And when he first started, he was riding that bull in a china shop. But now he's learned how to ride it in a rodeo arena, you know (laughs) and control it, and maybe back off just a little bit when he needs to and get it to the end and have the results.
"I'm way more nervous about Kyle this year than I ever have been. I think he really needed to go through last year, his first year at Gibbs, and learn some of the pitfalls and learn how to just continue to mature. I think this year, he could be way more of a threat for the championship when this season is all over."
CAN YOU PUT YOUR FINGER ON WHY ALL HMS TEAMMATES HAVE NOT HAD STRONG STARTS TO THE SEASON AND DOES THAT SURPRISE YOU? "With Mark (Martin) they've run great. They had the blown engine and a couple little things that have happened, but they've run great. I don't think they're near as concerned as well as anybody else being as concerned about them. Junior has not been as strong as I thought he would be. So I think they're working through some of those things. But I talked to him last week after the race and he said man, I just should have qualified better and my car was actually pretty good. So it's little things like that sometimes that can make all the difference in the world like just qualifying better on Friday and being able to show what you really have. It was really tough to pass last week in Bristol. So none of us have really been able to put our fingers right on what they need to get up there in the top 12 in points. But I'm certainly not going to count them out. They have all the resources that the rest of us have and they work well together even though sometimes it sounds like they don't and people criticize them. They really do, and I believe they're going to get it together."
-credit: gm racing