JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS TALKED WITH MEDIA ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT JR JOINING HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, HIS IMPENDING FATHERHOOD, AND ROAD COURSE RACING AT SONOMA ON DALE EARNHARDT JR JOINING HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS: "I'm excited. I hate...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS TALKED WITH MEDIA ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT JR JOINING HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, HIS IMPENDING FATHERHOOD, AND ROAD COURSE RACING AT SONOMA
ON DALE EARNHARDT JR JOINING HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS: "I'm excited. I hate that we haven't been able to say anything or to talk about it. I tried not to get too involved with it because we're obviously focused here to drive this DuPont Chevrolet and win this championship this year. But just knowing behind the scenes, things that have been going on, it's been very exciting and I'm happy for Junior and for Hendrick Motorsports. I think he's a great talent and he obviously brings a lot to the table besides just his talent and I think it's a great opportunity for him as well. I'm looking forward to having him as a teammate. It doesn't mean that I expect people to not continue to boo me in full force, but I think it's going to be pretty cool to see him out there in the type of equipment I think we're capable of giving him."
WHEN RICK HENDRICK SPOKE TO YOU ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY OF HAVING JUNIOR JOIN THE ORGANIZATION, HOW DID THAT CONVERSATION GO? "I think it was an opportunity of a lifetime that's only going to come around once however many years in this sport and how could you not consider it? I think the toughest part through it all was Rick trying to put his hands around it because it's been a real challenge. It's like on one side it's something very exciting and a great opportunity. He's had a great relationship with Junior and his family for a number of years. And Ricky's involvement and his relationship with Junior goes way back, so there's some history there. But trying to figure out what to do because you've got existing sponsors and drivers and everything else. From the beginning, actually Rick thought it would be great, but it's just not going to be possible. And then along the way, things transpired that made it a potential possibility and as time went by, made it a reality."
SOME PEOPLE SAY THIS IS THE DREAM TEAM. DO YOU VIEW IT THAT WAY? "Oh, well I felt that way before Junior was coming. I feel like we have a great organization. I will put this on the record: I'm pretty sure this will be the last person he ever drives for, because I know what kind of person Rick Hendrick is and what kind of organization we have and once you come here, you don't want to go anywhere else. It's just that good of an organization and that good of people. I think that he's making a great move and I think he's going to be extremely happy with it. He's not making this just for financial reasons. He's making for this for how to be treated and how to be competitive and for his future and I think its' a great move."
WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT IT ALL WORKED OUT? "Yes and no. I think that where there's a will, there's a way. There were a lot of different scenarios that were being played out where maybe he did something else for a year or two you know before he could come there. I didn't think that was going to be something that Junior was going to be interested in. And we have a great driver line-up with Kyle (Busch) who is extremely talented. And I think we pretty much knew that me and Jimmie (Johnson) weren't going anywhere and Casey (Mears) is new to the team and we need to give him a shot. I know it was a very difficult thing to make those decisions. But the way I heard it played out was fairly mutual. And I think that really, this is going to be best for Hendrick and for Kyle. I think that Kyle is a tremendous talent but the chemistry never seemed to be there at Hendrick and he's just had to fight through some things. I'm excited to see how he pulls himself together through the rest of this year because I think he's got a lot to offer to teams out there. I think he's actually going to find out that when he makes this move and goes forward that he's actually happier with himself and is more comfortable with wherever he goes."
WILL TONY EURY JR COME OVER TO BE DALE JR'S CREW CHIEF OR WILL IT BE ALAN GUSTAFSON OR WHO? "That's not anything that we're really ready to discuss. I'm going to give Rick my best advice that I possibly can from the 15 years that I've been there. He and that team are going to make that decision. The goal is to get the best people and the best team in place to support Junior and give him what he needs. That's the bottom line."
HOW WILL DALE JR'S PERSONALITY FIT WITH THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS GROUP? "I love the differences in personalities on a race team. You don't expect everyone to be the same but I think it's all about how you communicate. I'm just thinking of it from a teammate standpoint. I look at Casey and Jimmie and myself and I think about Junior in the future and I think as long as he's committed, which I think he is or he wouldn't have made this bold of a move, that we're going to be able to communicate and get along well. Every driver has a different style and a different personality and you've got to mesh those together and we've done an excellent job with it over the years. But I really think he's going to fit in well."
HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO JUNIOR AND IF SO, WHAT DID YOU SAY? "I spoke to him before the final decisions were made and just told him that we'd love to have him and how our organization works and that I think that could be a very good move for him. And he seemed to be pretty excited. He was like a nervous little kid. It was really strange to see him in that situation because you know, here you've got all these teams and sponsors and everything else wanted him to sign with them and it seemed like he was the one that was kind of shy and stand-offish about the whole thing. That's why he's going to fit in so well because he's very humble and appreciative and excited. He's not this guy who's got this big ego and that just feels like he's going to come in and take over the place. He wants to come in and fit. So I was kind of feeling where he was coming from and I think he wanted to see how I felt about being teammates and I was supportive of it from the beginning."
THIS IS THE FIRST TIME DALE JR HAS BEEN OUTSIDE OF A FAMILY ORGANIZATION. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR HIM AS HIS OWN MAN TO GO OUT THERE AND WORK FOR SOMEBODY ELSE? "Well, I think he said it in the press conference that's he's kind of had it easy. He's been able to kind of come and go and do what he pleases there at DEI. And to an extent, we want him to be comfortable with being at Hendrick, but at the same time there are certain stipulations and guidelines that we all live under - whether it be team meetings and just being professional and I think that he wants to be here and he's going to do a great job."
SO WILL YOU GET INVITATIONS TO CLUB E JR NOW? "I've been to Club E before. I've only gotten maybe one invite. I went up and did his radio show last year. I love to see how he lives. Because I think the perception from the outside that a lot people have about all of us is one that comes from behind the camera that you don't really get to see and touch and feel. And when you go there and you experience it, it's really cool to see a guy in his position that seems to have the world in the palm of his hand who is just very down to earth and humble and who is just a good guy who enjoys life. I think that most of us have that in us when you go to our homes and see us in our own comfortable atmosphere."
DURING THE PRESS CONFERENCE, DALE JUNIOR SEEMED TO BE KEEPING THAT MINI RIVALRY GOING BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU "Yeah, I'm confused why people think that's going to stop because we're teammates. You know, Jimmie Johnson and I are very competitive with one another but we're good friends. We have a lot of respect for one another. We showed at Martinsville and at other times this year and several years that we know what kind of equipment we have and that gathering information and sharing information is to benefit all of us. But when it comes down to the race and who is going to win, we want it really, really bad. And we're willing to trade a little paint for that. Nothing's going to change with Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming to our organization either. The bottom line is that it's going to come down to this: The fans right now can speculate and say what they want and say oh, we're not going to pull for him now because he's at Hendrick or we'll still be committed to him; or say I hope Jeff Gordon doesn't think he's going to gain us as fans. The bottom line is this: When he goes out there and he starts being competitive week in and week out on a consistent basis and battling for championships and hopefully one day wins the championship for Hendrick Motorsports, all the fans are going to be following him and they're still going to be booing me (laughs)."
WHEN BRIAN VICKERS WAS GOING TO LEAVE HMS, HE WAS NOT INCLUDED IN TEAM MEETINGS. WITH KYLE BUSCH MOVING ON, AT WHAT POINT WOULD YOU PREFER HE NOT BE INVOLVED IN YOUR TEAM MEETINGS? "I think it just all depends on how you handle things. Brian had a computer that he had stuff loaded into. I think that you've got to be careful in letting too much out. If we come across something new that we're going to be taking to the next season, then that might be a decision that's made. It's all about how Kyle wants to handle things. I think he's done a great job in handling things. If he continues to handle himself the way he is today, then we're going to do our best to continue to give him the opportunity to win races and championships and try to get the same information we've been getting out of him to help ourselves as well. There may be a point somewhere further on down the road where we do have to, at certain times, pull him aside from some of our meetings. But that's a standard deal. That's going to happen. It did happen with Brian and it could happen with Kyle. We'll just have to wait and see."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW GREAT YOUR SEASON HAS BEEN? "It's just been an incredible year. We have such a great team and we're having a lot of fun. We're going to the race track and we're competitive and all the guys are together. The chemistry is there and it's obvious. We're having a blast. I look forward to going to every race track - especially this one (MIS). It's one of my favorites. I hope we can keep it going this weekend."
WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR HAND? "You know, I've got like poison oak or ivy or something so I'm just trying to keep it covered up so it doesn't spread."
HAVE YOU AND INGRID BEEN TO THE DOCTOR? DO YOU HAVE A BETTER FEEL FOR HOW NEXT WEEK IS GOING TO PLAY OUT? "Yeah, it seems like at this stage it's a day to day thing. Next Tuesday we've got some tests and different meetings going on, so we're kind of waiting in the wings to see what's going to happen - whether we want to induce (labor) or whether we want to wait it out. So we'll all know a lot more next week."
DO YOU HAVE TO PAINT NURSERIES LIKE THE REST OF US POOR SLOBS? AND DO YOU HAVE A SPONSORSHIP FOR A GO-KART FOR THAT KID? "I do have to get comfortable with pink (laughter). I've had to succumb to lots of pink being around. But I haven't had to do any painting myself, fortunately. But we are definitely in full nursery mode. What I have had to do is assemble a lot of things that I never thought I'd be assembling like -- whether it's a stroller or whether it's a crib or I don't know what they call them - those bouncy things. I'm reading directions left and right. No go-karts. We've got a little car, but not a go-kart."
BUT YOU ARE READING DIRECTIONS? YOU'RE NOT LIKE THE REST OF US WHO FIGURED WE COULD DO IT OURSELVES? "I didn't say I started reading the directions. I normally start putting it together and then figure out what I did wrong by going back and reading the directions. I'm just like all the other guys."
WHAT ABOUT PICTURES? EVERYBODY IS GOING TO WANT TO SEE A PICTURE OF THIS BABY. IS IT GOING TO BE RELEASED TO ONE PUBLICATION? "Probably not immediately. But www.jeffgordon.com is going to lead the way on the announcement on pictures and things like that. But you know we want to enjoy this moment as much as we can and we're not focused on what kind of media blitz it's going to be. We're more focused on just enjoying being parents. So let's get to that point. But I can guarantee you the first stuff will come out on www.jeffgordon.com . We've been telling the fans that. As soon as it happens - within probably the next hour or two after that, the first people to know will be on the website."
HOW MUCH TIME WILL YOU TAKE OFF? "It depends on when the baby is born. If the baby is born on a Wednesday, then it'll be a day and a half. If the baby is born on a Friday or a Saturday, then that could change things."
WHAT ABOUT IF IT HAPPENS ON LAP 40? "Lap 40? I'm going to see her when I get home. There's not a lot I can do about that. Let's hope that doesn't happen."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING THE NEW GENERATION RACE CAR AT SONOMA? "I'm looking forward to it. We tested up at VIR and I feel like we've got a good race car and I'm excited about it."
IS MONTOYA A THREAT? "Absolutely. I think he is. I think the Penske cars are going to be tough because they really got their road course program down last year and the Gibbs cars will be tough. I think you're really going to have to look at Montoya as being a factor."
HOW BIG A STEP IS IT FROM WINNING A BUSCH ROAD COURSE RACE IN MEXICO TO CONTENDING AT A CUP RACE AT INFINEON? IS THAT A BIG LEAP? "Oh, I don't think there is any comparison. It was pretty obvious that they had the cars to beat in Mexico because he and Scott Pruitt were very strong. Beating Scott Pruitt is not an easy thing. He's tough. But the competition is just so much tougher in the Cup series. That's going to be the biggest change. And with the car of tomorrow, everybody is pretty equal."
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR WINE IN THE NAPA VALLEY? "Ah, you know what? Because of all the baby stuff that's going on, my schedule is going to be around what's happening with the baby. I've really tried to take a lot of things off the schedule. I have one DuPont appearance that is at a vineyard and I hope I get a chance to go by Jeff Gordon Cellars. We'll see. I try to get there as often as I can when I'm out there, but with everything going on with the baby, it's hard to say.
"I like wine and I grew up in that area. A good friend of mine, Ron Miller, is just a wine connoisseur and he and I talked years ago about possibly doing a wine one day. It finally came about where we had enough research and felt like you know, let's do a small quantity and high quality and we were able to pull it off. It's been fun. I really look forward to some day being more involved and being able to do more with it. It's been a blast. I don't have enough time to really get into the really fine details of it. But when you get to see that bottle and you open it up and you taste it and you like what you taste, that's something I'm really proud of."
DO YOU THINK RICK HENDRICK WILL GET YOU GUYS TOGETHER FOR A COOKOUT OR SOMETHING? "I want to go fishing. These days it seems like the best way to get all of us together and do something that Rick loves to do and get away. And he's been really stressed out through all this. It has not been an easy task to pull this off. I think the best thing for us to do is to get away and go do a little fishing trip."
AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE, RICK HENDRICK TALKED ABOUT BEING UNDER A LOT OF PRESSURE "Well, yeah. This is one of the biggest things I've seen come along in this sport in the 15 years I've been a part of it. And to see a guy who has been the most popular guy, decide to become a free agent; and what was up for grabs as far as his opportunities and to be able to pull that off - whoever pulled that off is going to feel extreme pressure. And as good as our organization is, I think you still feel pressure. The good thing is that pressure is a part of what we do. It's there every weekend. Junior is going to have pressure. The team is going to have pressure and the team is going to have pressure. I think Rick feels that pressure even with our team and Jimmie's team to try to defend a championship and to continue to put winning cars out there. This just took it to another level because of the attention it was getting."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING ON FATHER'S DAY? "Father's Day this year has a whole new meaning to it. Just knowing how close we are and how excited I am about being a father. I have a greater appreciation for mothers and fathers and what it takes to get to this point. I can't imagine what it's going to be like next year when I actually am a father."
THERE WERE RUMORS ABOUT YOU AND A PLANE CRASH LAST WEEK. WAS THERE A PROBLEM WITH YOUR PLANE? "I started getting lit up on my phone. And I didn't know what was going on. So I called my office and talked to my dad and he told me what had happened. It was a sensor that malfunctioned. It's actually happened before so it didn't surprise me - not on this plane, but on other planes I've had. This is a fairly new plane that I have, but it's happened on other planes. The thing is, if my tail number was not 24JG, you guys would never have thought twice about it. But the fact that it's 24JG gets people's attention. The other thing is that my plane is in a management system. So other people fly in my plane. So it's not just exclusive to me. But the fact that that happened, was unfortunate because it got a lot of people scared and nervous. The good thing is that people who are close to me know I wasn't flying that day. So they knew it wasn't me. They didn't know if the plane was flying, they just knew I wasn't on it and they were comforted to know that nothing happened to the plane or to anybody else - especially me."
-credit: gm racing