Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS met with members of the media and discussed his crew chief situation, the strong points of both Steve Letarte and Jeff Meendering, how he is approaching the next few races, aggression in the sport, Juan ...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS met with members of the media and discussed his crew chief situation, the strong points of both Steve Letarte and Jeff Meendering, how he is approaching the next few races, aggression in the sport, Juan Pablo Montoya, racing at Bristol, on where his team is at, what numbers mean to a driver, Robby Gordon and what happened at Montreal, on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his car number, Saturday Night Live, Meendering's new role, and again on car numbers.
ABOUT HOW THE TRANSITION BETWEEN CREW CHIEFS HAS BEEN SO SMOOTH: "I'm not so sure we haven't missed a beat. We didn't win any races. I think it just shows the strength of our team and I think we have a really strong team. I think that when you are a strong team you can move some people around and still be able to function well for a certain period of time. Steve (Letarte) has been instrumental in getting this team to where it is right now and I think the true sign of a good crew chief is that they can leave for a few weeks and things can continue on as normal. I think over the long term we're pretty excited about having him back. I think for the championship, his confidence and leadership I think is really going to pay off."
HOW ARE THINGS DIFFERENT NOW THAT YOU HAVE HIM BACK? "It's not going to be anything major that you see. I think that Steve and I just have really clicked right from the beginning with our communication. I think that Jeff (Meendering) did a great job stepping in. You just work with that person closely to try to fine-tune the car the best you can and I feel like we've hit it pretty good. Throughout the whole process, when we weren't on the track, we were on the phone with Steve and so he was as much a part of it as he could possibly be in those decisions. Obviously on race day, Jeff had to make the calls but Steve's been really, really good with just getting things prepared back at the shop for us and now he's here and I think that it's going to be continuing that communication that he and I have that's really good. Also those great calls that he makes up on the box on race day."
WHAT ARE HIS STRONG POINTS? "I think his strong point is common sense. He's very smart and he understands a lot of thing but he's not a guy that feels like he knows everything. He doesn't mind delegating the jobs to the right people and gathering information from others. He's not afraid to say 'I don't know enough about this subject, I've got to go to somebody that knows more' and then I think he's really good with the common sense side of things when it comes to those pit call strategy and things like that when you're coming down pit road and you've got to make a call. He's making a call with a lot of information and I think just his ability to have common sense about it and think clearly pays off."
IS THIS THE PERFECT TIME TO HAVE HIM BACK? "Yeah, just talking to him it's kind of awkward for him; he's not used to being in the garage area and he feels like he needs to go back out to his bus and call us in between practices. So it's going to definitely take a little bit of adjustment and I think it's great to have him back and have a few weeks for him to work and really fine-tune before we get to the Chase. If I could have had a six-week vacation it would have been only the more perfect thing and I would have come back and been ready to go too. And then we would have had four weeks to work together and get ready for the Chase."
YOU COULD STILL TAKE A RACE OR TWO OFF. "It's too late now, I needed to do that a few weeks back."
HOW ARE YOU APPROACHING THE NEXT FEW RACES TO GET WINS? "We're always trying to win and get bonus points. I feel like we've kind of lost an opportunity of getting those bonus points last week which was disappointing but that's behind us and we're ready to try to get it done again this weekend. The biggest thing is just trying to make the team and the cars as strong as they can possibly be and the good thing about Steve not being here is that he's able to work on some things and think about some things clearly without having to get the whole team prepared and be able to travel and go to the race track. So hopefully some of those things he's been thinking about, maybe we can make them work and pay off."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WILL TAKE SOME MORE CHANCES? "Sure. We took a chance last week. There was no way we could have made it to the end of that race had those cautions not come out. So that's a risk worth taking and we took it last week so we'll do those same kinds of things."
WHAT KINDS OF GOOD THINGS DID JEFF MEENDERING DO WHILE FILLING IN? "I think he was just really solid. I think he did a really good job. He's been an instrumental part of this race team for a number of years and I think that he had to step it up and be the guy to lead us into race day and make those calls on the box. He did an excellent job with that. I thought that our communication was really good and so was fine-tuning the race car for racing."
WHAT IS THE LINE BETWEEN BEING AGGRESSIVE AND BEING TOO AGGRESSIVE? "I don't know. Obviously if you're aggressive and you take other cars out then that's too far. That aggressiveness that Juan (Pablo Montoya) showed last week, I don't think that was entirely his fault. They don't usually go back far enough in the video when they're showing clips on TV but obviously the No. 1 got into the back of him. Was he blocking the No. 1 and that's why the No. 1 got into the back of him? That's hard to say. I didn't really run around him a whole lot last week so I had no issues. I didn't have any issues with anybody being too aggressive."
DOES THIS SPORT DEMAND A CERTAIN LEVEL OF AGRESSION AT ALL TIMES? "Yeah, but you've got to know the limit of your aggression. We had a great shot of winning that race and by driving too aggressively into turn one, a wheel hopped and I spun out and lost the race. So it can happen in that sense or it can happen you drive into somebody and wreck other cars and take them out as well. I think that as we get closer and closer to the Chase, certain guys are going to get more and more aggressive and I think the rules that NASCAR - I don't know if they are rules but just the changes that they have made in the points system for this year - have also pushed guys to be a little more aggressive. I know how important it was for me to push last week and that's why I was, to try to get those bonus points. And that's the whole reason why they did what they did. Once you get in the Chase you'll see certain guys be real aggressive. You've got guys battling trying to get in the top 35; you've got guys trying to get in the top 12. You've got a lot of things goi ng on there. You've got some guys that just want to win like Juan Pablo and aggression is going to come from that."
HOW DO YOU ASSESS HOW MONTOYA HAS DRIVEN THIS YEAR? "He's really been pretty much right on par with what I've expected. I expected there to be a big transition trying to learn the ovals, trying to learn these heavier cars. But he's a very talented race-car driver and I figured he'd be fast. Not every single weekend but in some ways he's impressed me even more because he hasn't really had any issues with qualifying for the races. So that part has been good. He ran great at Atlanta, great at Indy. The road course we expected him to do well at. But Formula One is a very aggressive type of racing. The type of racing he's been doing in the past is very aggressive. And because the points systems that you have in those series, if you're really aggressive and you're out, you can make it up the next week the way the points. not in this series. In this series you've got to be consistent and you've got to stay out of trouble. So when you see a guy being as aggressive as he's been and there's contact, then you're going to start to question some of the judgment calls and you just hope the second half of the season that he started to see a progression of improvement. Some guys have been caught up in it and have had issues but I haven't had any issues. I've raced with him and we've raced good together. I haven't had any problems."
ON BRISTOL NEXT WEEKEND: "Where are we going next week? The thing is that the track is different. They've done all new concrete. Nobody really has any laps there. I think it's going to be like going there for the very first time ever. With the new car, I think we learned enough the last time we were there that we should be able to dial the car in but it's just going to be a whole new learning curve on the track this time around."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHERE THE TEAM IS AT? "We're solid. I'm extremely happy but you always want to be better. That's the thing. You can't ever stop trying to improve. I think we are an awesome team right now just the way we work together, the way we don't panic, the way we've won together and lost together and the way we've been consistent this year. I think that's a championship-caliber team and I'm really excited about taking this entire team into this Chase. I feel like we've got an excellent chance to get our fifth championship and our first Nextel Cup, but it's going to be a fight. It's going to be a real fight and there's going to be tracks where we're not as good as some of the competitors. There's going to be tracks where we are as good or better. It's just going to be a fight every single weekend for 10 weeks straight."
ON HOW IMPORTANT A NUMBER IS TO A DRIVER: "It's disappointing that (Dale Jr.) is not going to be able to continue on with the No. 8. I don't quite understand all the reasons behind it but that's not my problem. It didn't mean a whole lot to him prior to being in the No. 8 but now he's in the No. 8, it means something. I think that over time, that will be the case with this new number. It's about consistency. I don't know. I'm pretty excited. Some of the numbers I heard being thrown around."
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE? "I can't tell you."
ON ROBBY GORDON AND HIS BEHAVIOR AT MONTREAL: "(Laughs) What kind of question is that? Now why do I want to get myself in middle of a situation that I'm not in? All I can say is, I've always respected the heck out of Robby. I'm going to say the same thing a lot of guys say, he's very talented but there's been instances where you question his decision making and you feel like there's times when he could have maybe done more and gone further because of his talent and you question why he hasn't but I respect him for trying to do things his way. I respect him for being out there in that single car team and doing more with than anybody else has. I've had my issues with him where I wasn't happy with him and lately Robby and I have been racing really well together so I don't have any issues, I don't want to create any. I might not agree with everything he does but that's not my battle."
IS HE AS STUBBORN AS ANYBODY OR IS THAT WHAT YOU NEED TO GET TO THIS LEVEL? "You got to remember, I was like the second Gordon when I came into the Busch Series. He was the high profile Gordon, locked in with Ford and everybody looked at him as the next prodigy to come into NASCAR and somewhere along the way shifts happen and my career took off and his seemed to kind of flatten out for whatever reason, I don't really know, maybe he just didn't get with the right teams and the right equipment but he's gone around the garage an awful lot and hasn't been able to seem to make it work so whatever issues those are, you have to ask his car owners and teammates and people he worked with."
ON THE CAR NUMBER SITUATION NEVER BEING A PROBLEM FOR HIM AND BEING THE NO. 24 FOR HIS WHOLE CUP CAREER: "But I'm not switching teams either and if I said 'Hey Rick, I'm going somewhere else,' one is he would say 'Well what about this lifetime contract you signed?' and then if I said 'I'd like to take the 24 with me' he would laugh at me. You know, I understand if Teresa wants to keep the 8 and use the 8 I think it's going to make it very tough for any other driver to get behind the wheel of that car and I think if she doesn't use the 8, I think that it's really a shame that he wasn't able to get it. But as long as she used it, she thinks there's as much tie to it with DEI then anything, then I understand why they wouldn't want to let go of it."
ON DALE JR.'S NUMBER FORCING HIS FANS TO GET NEW MERCHANDISE: "Maybe, maybe it could be a good thing, I don't know. I think that yes you can't deny the marketing but I think what Junior wants is he wants to be competitive. He wants to win and that's what our main goal is. We don't want to lose an opportunity at Hendrick Motorsports with what he can bring to the table and the marketing side so from everything I've heard, I haven't been in the middle of it a lot, but I'm pretty excited about the things that are coming from it and I wish I could tell you more. I just can't."
WITH ALL YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES TO SPONSORS, IS IT A GOOD WAY TO GET OUT OF CHANGING DIAPERS? "Yes and no, I kind of like changing diapers. I enjoy being a dad. It's a lot of fun. The problem is that with my job it requires me to get some sleep and if she's here or if I'm at home, I'm not getting a lot of sleep because of those diaper changes and feedings and all those things. I'm not trying to get out of anything. I wish she was here with me, it'd be great."
DOES YOUR CHANGING TABLE COME WITH JACKS? "(Laughs) No, we're not trying to do the fastest changes, we're just trying to make sure they get changed. Yeah, accuracy."
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING ANOTHER EPISODE OF SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE? "I had a blast. It was a lot fun. I wouldn't mind just doing a Ricky Funk skit or something like that. That was pretty good. It's a big commitment. It takes a lot of time out of the schedule. Now that I've done it once I kind of have an understanding of what it takes but no matter what it's a heart pounding experience that I'm glad I've done once and I don't necessarily have to do it again but if the opportunity came up in the schedule and stuff to do it again then yeah I'd look at it. They make it fun and you've just got to be willing to laugh at yourself."
WILL OFFERS START COMING IN FOR JEFF MEENDERING AND WOULD YOU LET HIM GO? "It's probably very likely that that could happen. We had top 10s every week and he's a talented guy and knows a lot about race organization, our race team so it's our job to make sure that he's in a position to stay here and to be with a competitive organization and team but that doesn't guarantee anything. You never know what's going to happen and it happens every day in this garage. There's always a team that's looking to see who can be beneficial to their team and see if they can offer them something they can't refuse. If he gets an offer he can't refuse then we'll talk about it and we'll understand his decision but it's our job to make sure that we keep him here as long as we can because he's a great asset."
WHAT'S HIS BEST QUALITY? "He's just very knowledgeable. He's a racer. The guy has been racing short tracks for so many years that he's been a driver before so he understands the car from a driver standpoint and as a mechanic and I think his knowledge of being at Hendrick Motorsports and knowing all the details that we go through to make a strong team and working with not just myself but other crew chiefs and drivers. Those are all benefits to any person that can take them a long way in their career."
DO YOU FORSEE A SYSTEM WHERE NASCAR WOULD HAVE A DRIVER KEEP HIS NUMBER FOR HIS ENTIRE CAREER EVEN IF HE CHANGES TEAMS? "Man, I don't know. I haven't thought about that one a whole lot. I just know that when I came along we didn't have a team or a number and so we had to build a team. Then we had to go to NASCAR and find out what numbers were available so that's the whole issue, just finding a number that's available. Now, as long as you stay with that team then that number is going to stay with you.
"I don't know I think I kind of like the number be with the team more so than with the driver. It's just there's certain instances where that number and that driver become synonymous - Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Richard Petty, myself - and that just doesn't happen a lot and so now I think that when it does happen it makes it tricky to work around but I kind of like the way that they have it."
-credit: gm racing