Monte Carlo Darlington II "Happy Hour" notes

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo: During a race, is it any more challenging or thrilling when you think it's going to rain any minute? "It's hard to really plan your race. At Darlington (for example) you want to be good on your...

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo:
During a race, is it any more challenging or thrilling when you think it's going to rain any minute? "It's hard to really plan your race. At Darlington (for example) you want to be good on your long runs. You want to get better as the run goes on. And if there's a threat of rain, you've got to charge hard and then hope that the rain comes. The track changes, the chassis set-up changes, everything changes. It makes it extremely tough. I think it does make you push a little harder when you know there's a threat of rain. Track position becomes very important."

Do you check the weather yourself by looking out the car window, or do you rely on your crew? "Not during green, but certainly under caution. Sometimes, like here at Darlington where the rain usually comes off of or behind turn four. So if you're going down the backstretch and look up, you usually know there's something coming if you see a dark cloud. But we have spotters that are better at seeing that stuff than we are."

Going into this race, is there any one particular thing that worries you the most right now? "Well, just getting down into turn one safely is the first thing. Right now, it's just getting a handle on the car. It rained all night long last night. Trying to get the speed in the car and make it handle good and just get the balance we're looking for. We're making a lot of changes to the car right now."

What are your thoughts on the common perception that you and Tony Stewart are evil rivals? "That's not the case at all. Tony and I have no problems with one another, we just race one another hard. We've gotten into one another a couple times. I think our fans probably rival one another far more than anything else. That's maybe where that perception comes from. In a sense, everybody on the racetrack is a rival. That's competition. You're trying to beat everybody out there. And a guy that's as strong and good as Tony is, you're going to battle with him a lot. But I think we have a lot of respect for one another. I know I do for him. I try to race him the way I would anybody else in that same situation."

Do you think a "good guy, bad guy" image has been created between you and Tony Stewart? "I think you just have to be yourself. And your image comes along with that. I think that Tony is probably a much better guy that people perceive him to be. The problem is that sometimes he says some things that get him in trouble at times and maybe he doesn't always come across as himself or in the right way. Call it politically correct or incorrect or whatever you want to call it, I like to just be low key and go out there and do my talking on the racetrack. I know when I just need to not say anything at all and when I need to speak up. I think that's kind of caught Tony, unfortunately, in a bad situation."

When a driver speaks out about something that's maybe somewhat controversial, are you and the others glad that you don't have to take the hit for it? "No, not necessarily. There are ways to say things without saying it to a million or so people. That's doesn't necessarily do you any good. If I have issues or problems with NASCAR, I go talk to NASCAR. If I have issues with the media, go talk to that person. Or if it's a driver, I go talk to that driver. I try not to make it public knowledge. And you know, controlling your emotions is very tough to do with any sport really - but especially with this sport. When you climb out of your car, there's microphones and cameras. If you're not really good at controlling those emotions, it can get the best of you."

The NFL and the NBA have 5 or 10-minute closed locker room periods after a game when the players compose themselves. Do you think that would be good for the sport of Winston Cup? "It's not a bad idea, but that's one of the things that makes our sport unique. There's a lot of accessibility. The media has a lot of access. The photographers have access. The fans have a lot of access. It depends on the environment. If you're put into an environment that has a lot of accessibility, you need to know how to approach it and how you're going to say or do whatever it is. There's no reason why you can't speak the truth or be honest, it's just how you go about it. I think I recognize that there are microphones and ears listening all the time and maybe I'm a little more conscious of that."

When you first came here, did you have to watch what you said - or didn't say - on the radio? "Oh yeah. I've had to work on that. No doubt. I think especially through my faith in God, it's really helped me pray a lot about that and be better about that. He's certainly helped me out because I may slip every once in a while but for the most part, my language on the radio has gotten a whole lot better. You can say those things under your breath, but you don't have to push that button. It's a hard thing to do because you want everybody to hear when you have something to say like that because your emotions run so high."

How long have you and Tony Stewart been racing against each other? "Just since he came into Winston Cup. I was leaving Sprint Cars and Midgets when Tony was coming in. And then I left Busch and went into Winston Cup when he came into Busch."

Did you cross paths with Tony Stewart while growing up in Indiana? "No, but I heard of him. And I knew when he started running Busch that he would come into Winston Cup. That was no surprise to me because I'd heard he was a talented racecar driver that was probably going to make it to this level."

Kevin Lepage, No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Note: The team discovered a problem with the motor at the start of the first Happy Hour session and spent the 45 minute period changing engines. They had no track time.

Why do you like Darlington Raceway? "Ever since I came here back in '94, I fell in love with the place. It's probably because the first time I came here we qualified 10th and finished in the top 12 or something like that. It's just been a good little racetrack for me-especially in Winston Cup. The last three races we've run here, excluding the spring race because I wasn't here, we've finished 5th, 7th, and 10th. In six starts here, I've qualified four of them in the top 10. I think this is the second-worse start I've ever had here. But that doesn't worry me. I'm really looking forward to the weekend."

If a driver doesn't like this track when he first races on it, do you think he's more likely to be intimidated by it? "I'm sure. This is the place where everybody says you've got to race the track and I believe that's what you've got to do. Guys come in and put tires on out of sequence or whatever and they're a lot faster, but you just can't worry about it. You've just got to worry about what you've got to do. You've got to take whatever the track will give you. Fortunately for me, I've had good success here."

On the tires and tire-wear at Darlington "This is the same racetrack no matter what kind of tire Goodyear brings here. It's good for a couple laps and then it goes. During the Happy Hour this morning I was watching the difference in the cars driving high and driving low. Some were fast and some were slow. It all depends on what kind of tires they had on there. We have 500 miles here on Sunday. We'll work all day long and try to make the right calls."

Does the tire wear depend more on the car set-up or the driver? "I think it's a combination of both. I think its driver and set-up. If you have a good set-up and an aggressive driver, he's going to be a lot slower at the end of 50 laps than the guy who is just out there taking his time and making sure that he keeps the car underneath him. That's what I've been able to do at this racetrack over the years is save my tires for long runs and give-up a little bit early and take it all when it comes. I've got good finishes to show that. Maybe between my experience and Scott's experience as a crew chief we'll come up with the right combination for Sunday."

"This place is always different no matter what you do. I remember one race when Jerry Mayfield was walking away with it and got caught up in somebody else's mess and ended up giving the race to somebody else. And then there's the weather. Rain will play a big factor on Sunday. The guy leading the race when the rain comes is the guy who's going to win the race. This is just a tough little racetrack. Right now I believe the favorite out there is the guy who is going to take car of his stuff."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Kevin Lepage