Pocono II: Jeff Gordon - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS: Q. Last time you were here, a real bad wreck. Can you take me back through that. In terms of accidents you've had in the past, where does that one rank? JEFF GORDON: ...

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS:

Q. Last time you were here, a real bad wreck. Can you take me back through that. In terms of accidents you've had in the past, where does that one rank?

JEFF GORDON: Well, it was certainly one of the scariest ones. Because even though you're at Pocono, you know, you're carrying a lot of speed, but you have a long way to think about it. So it happened fairly early, but I had such a long time without being able really to get the car slowed down that, you know, the fear that's inside, how hard it's gonna hit, is probably worse than when it actually happens.

So it was very scary. But, you know, just after going through it and knowing how good of a job my team has done with our seats and our race cars, and NASCAR with the soft wall, it's also a real tribute to that hard work and success of the safety department.

Q. What goes through your head when you see the wall coming like that?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I didn't see it coming because I put it into first gear and tried to get the car spun around. The last thing I wanted to do was hit with the front end. Of course, then it spun too far around. I mean, I knew I was going to hit hard and I knew I was going to hit left rear to left side. I mean, you just hold on tight and you hope it doesn't hurt too much, or that you're still awake when it does.

Q. Is there anything that you instinctively do? Are you supposed to hold the wheel?

JEFF GORDON: Well, the problem is, instinctively, as soon as your brakes go out or throttle sticks or anything like that going into a turn, your first instinct is to turn left, away from the wall, where you wish it was opposite. If you turn right, into the wall, actually the impact would be a lot less. Yet it's just impossible to tell yourself to do that.

You know, the other thing is the longer time you have to think about it, the more you can maybe put your head back into the seat.

The less distance that your head has to travel when it hits the padding inside, the better. So I just held on to the steering wheel real tight and, you know, tensed up and moved my head into the left?side headrest.

Q. Can you talk about shifting.

JEFF GORDON: I really do believe that we should be shifting here. I think they should make exceptions. Just like they made exceptions at the road courses with us being able to change our transmission gears, I think that they should make an exception here.

I think that, you know, there is some safety issue there, and I think there's a competitive issue there, too. I think the race would be more competitive and you'd see more passing if we could shift gears here, as well.

Q. Are you surprised how tight the points are from 3rd to 13th? Could Richmond possibly overshadow Homestead, or would it just make the stakes even higher?

JEFF GORDON: Well, it certainly looks like it's going to be a nail?biter for those trying to get into the top 10. Doesn't seem there's many guys that are real secure. Usually at this point in the season there's some guys that just can ride and be pretty safe to make the Chase, and there's very few guys that are able to do that right now, which just makes the intensity of the racing go another level every weekend.

You know, Richmond is going to be very interesting. Whether it's going to overshadow the championship, I doubt that. I think as exciting as it's going to be for the Chase, it's going to be equally or more exciting for the championship once you get the 10 or however many guys are going to be in there.

Q. Being a defending Cup champion, on the outside looking in, how much would things change if by some freak accident or whatever, he doesn't make it in?

JEFF GORDON:  Well, you know, I mean, we didn't make it last year.
Junior didn't make it.  Things can happen to anybody.

You know, I think Tony and that team is strong enough to be able to rebound. They're not far out of it, but they've had some tough breaks. I can understand. I mean, we've had some as well. We've got more DNFs than anybody else in the top 10. Those types of things would usually take the strong teams out of it. You know, that's really kind of what's gotten Tony in the position that he's in. If they can put a string of good races together, I know performance?wise, they're going to be able to make it happen.

Q. Are we at that point of the year where if you're in 10th, 11th, 12th in the standings, you can't afford that one more bad run?

JEFF GORDON: If anybody can, it's a team like Tony's because they've run so strong at so many different places. I mean, he runs good here, he runs good in the road courses, he runs good at Richmond. I mean, there's a lot of places where they can rebound. But there's a lot of teams out there that don't have those types of strengths that can't afford to have those types of troubles.

Q.   It was said earlier in the week that there's not enough quality
drivers in NASCAR.  What are your thoughts or comments on that?

JEFF GORDON: Oh, I disagree with that. I mean, I think that the most talent in one garage area, you know, is here, right now. I mean, there's a ton of talent. The teams have gotten so much more competitive that, you know, it's hard to really recognize who's got the talent, you know, and who doesn't because so much is relying on the race cars these days and the race teams. I think the good drivers, you know, there are certain places that they can contribute and make a difference. I think there's some drivers that maybe don't get enough credit, and there's some drivers that get too much credit.

But as far as a group, I think there's a lot of talent in this garage area.

Q. How do you keep the pressure from getting to you about being in the final 10

JEFF GORDON: Well, we've been in the position before where we've made it, and we've been in a position where we haven't made it. Both sides have a lot of pressure that goes along with it. All you can do is just race as hard as you can every weekend and get the most out of it, try to keep the team together, you know, and the chemistry and the confidence and, you know, the communication going the best that you possibly can.

You know, we're in a little bit better situation I feel like this year because we've had a couple wins here lately that have helped give us that confidence that we need to get through the next five, six races.

Q. You mentioned the intensity of the racing. We've seen some of the on?track incidences. Some say it's just racing, but is that a by?product of how intense it is to get into the Chase?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I was talking to somebody I think earlier this weekend, it's not just NASCAR, it's all sports.

If you look across the board at sports around the world, it's just things are getting more competitive. And, you know, instead of less talent, in my opinion, we've got more talent and we've got better race teams. You know, NASCAR has really narrowed up the box from the competition side of things. So it's just made it more intense, you know, for our sport.

But you look at other sports. I think it's the same way. Everybody has to be more aggressive. You have to be better fit physically. You have to be better mentally. You know, you just have to be at a higher level all the time, and that's forcing everybody to do that, and that's only going to make the intensity level that much more when you get out there, and especially you're trying to make the Chase, trying to win a race, trying to get those points in that position that it's going to take to get your team to the next level.

Q. The wins, how much confidence does that give a team?

JEFF GORDON: Well, certainly that Chicago race was big. I mean, that was huge for us. To be able to win on a mile and a half gave us a lot of confidence for places like this, Michigan, you know, a lot of different types of racetracks. I think our short track programs have always been pretty strong. Our road course programs have always been pretty strong. That was one of the big areas where we were lacking, so that's done a lot for us.

Q. What are you guys going to do during the off week?

JEFF GORDON: We'll take full advantage of it. I'm going over to Europe, you know, and I'm going to be there for probably eight or nine days and do what I always do, you know, and just have a good time, relax, and get some sun and be as far away from racing as possible.

Q.   During the last three races here, have been won by guys who have not
seen the track until that weekend, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.  Is
that coincidence?  Why do newcomers run so well here?

JEFF GORDON: That's a good question. I mean, they used to allow rookies to test here, but I don't think ? Denny wasn't able to. I don't know about Carl. But, you know, it's really good question. Sometimes, you know, not knowing where the braking points are, not knowing the feel of the racetrack, sometimes that can be a benefit to you. I think for those guys it obviously has. They've got strong race teams. I don't know. To me, I've always felt like this is one of the toughest places to come as a newcomer, but I also think those are two guys that have some of the most talent in this garage area. I think it is a credit to those guys, for sure.

Q. The video games.

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it's all about the video games.

Q. What are some of the main reasons drivers change so early in the season?

JEFF GORDON: I think it's just performance. It's always about performance. But I think, you know, these days, with the Chase, I think that changes everything. You know, now that you have the Chase, if it looks like you're not going to be in the Chase, you might as well start working on next year. I mean, that's what we did with Steve Letarte coming on board. We didn't make the Chase, boom, let's go ahead and get ourselves getting ready for next year. It wasn't about finishing 11th in points for us, it was about coming back and being a threat for the championship this year.

I think that's what other teams are doing also. I think drivers are looking at that and they're looking at their options, you know. The team owners are doing the same thing, and the sponsors as well. All those are things that dictate when somebody changes gears and moves to another race team.

Q. First lap around today, did you take a moment to look over and glance at where you hit last time?

JEFF GORDON: No, no, I try not to think about it, put it behind you. I was just glad the brakes were working every time I drove into one.

Q. How much of a force is RCR this year?

JEFF GORDON: They've really come a long way, you know. They really have. I give them credit. The last couple years, they've struggled, and yet they stuck with their plan, they stuck with what they were working on, and that's why it's paid off so much for them now. I mean, the things that they're doing you now, I bet you if you talk with them and they're honest with you, they'd say they're working on it for two years. That's where some teams are at, you know, that it could take a couple of years for them to really be strong and be where they need to be, and they are looking that far ahead. Of course when you're one of the top teams like Roush or Hendrick, you feel like you can't afford to give up any race, any season. But they definitely are much stronger everywhere that we go this year. And, I mean, you look at Jeff Burton. Everybody wrote him off, like he forgot how to drive, or didn't have the desire, and yet he put a good setup underneath him and a good race car and team, and now all of a sudden he's kind of reborn. I think it says a lot about their efforts.

Q. How special would a win at the Brickyard be for you?

JEFF GORDON: Oh, it would be amazing. I mean, any time you win there, whether it's your first time or your fourth or fifth time, it's incredible.

I know a lot of people are throwing out the Michael Schumacher being only a five time winner there. I don't think any of us compare the Indy 500 winners anyway, so I try really not to compare too much with those stats. I know I've got four there, and they've been some of the most amazing moments of my career, and I'd love to get another one.

Q. Talk about what it is to win at the Brickyard four times.

JEFF GORDON: It's hard, you know. I can't even believe it. It's really hard for me to imagine that we've won there four times. It's one of the races that I look forward to the most every season. It's one of those races that our team wants to win as much or more than any other, and yet we've been able to do it four times. It's incredible.

Q. Talk about this season compared to the struggles last year.

JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm extremely pleased. You know, they've made me very proud of their efforts. When we had the pressure on us and we weren't, you know, competing or winning, but yet I still felt like our team was strong, they never got down. Guys didn't leave or go other places; they got offers and everything else, and they stuck with it, from the pit crew to the guys in the race shop building the cars, and of course the guys here at the race track, you know, working side?by?side with Steve. It's been fantastic.

Q. How does winning Indy compare to winning the Daytona, especially multiple times?

JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I think that Indy is more of a personal thing for me because I grew up as a kid watching the Indy 500 and going to the Indy 500. To me, that and inaugural Brickyard 400 will go down as the biggest win of my career personally.

The Daytona 500 is our biggest event, there's no doubt about that. There's more, you know, prestige and viewers and everything else that you can imagine that comes along with it, prize money and prestige. It's the ultimate as far as winning, you know, the ultimate race in our sport. But, still, to me, Brickyard is going to always have something there that's just a little bit more personal.

Q. Your victory there, did it help elevate that to Daytona 500 level in a sense?

JEFF GORDON: Well, yeah. I mean, at the time, you know, I think it had probably as much or more hype than the Daytona 500. It paid more than the Daytona 500. It had a lot of publicity, you know. It was the only race that I'd ever won. Of course that was early. But even to this point, it's the only race I ever won and went to Disneyworld. So I think that there is a lot that went along with that win.

You know, I think nowadays, Daytona stepped it up to a whole other level. From every area, it's bigger. It's the biggest one that we have, for sure.

Q. What do you see as the keys to success at Watkins Glen?

JEFF GORDON: Well, obviously, we're pretty excited about getting to Watkins Glen. Our road course program has been stepped up this year. We've already got one win. We're looking to go there and be strong again. Can't run the exact same setup there as you do at Sonoma, but I think that we'll be able to learn a lot from what we did already this year at Sonoma and only improve our program there.

Q. What's the toughest part?

JEFF GORDON: Well, it's right?hand turns. We're not used to running right?hand turns, and there's some big, sweeping right?handers there, fast right?handers. It's the fact that, you know, it's a track that it's road course but it's a very fast road course. So you really have to have your car working well.

Brakes are pretty important, especially getting down that long back straightaway and the inner loop. There's a lot of brakes that you need there as well. Typical, you know, road course except for just a little bit faster, a little bit more grip.

Q. What's your program? You said you stepped it up.

JEFF GORDON: I think we've really focused on getting into the corners deeper when you're braking. You know, trying to get away from some of the failures that we had. Last year we had some transmission problems. Then we, you know, just playing with the setups, just trying to get more speed out of the car.

Q. Going to a new transmission?

JEFF GORDON: Well, we're back to the one that we used to use, but it's been improved a little bit. We tried a new one, you know, last year that just didn't work for us.

Q.   I think you once said after one of your wins at Watkins Glen it was
the perfect race.  Is it possible to do something like that again?

JEFF GORDON: Anything's possible if you qualify well. I was a little disappointed how we qualified at Sonoma. I'd like to make up for that at Watkins Glen.

Q. As you look at 3rd to 12th right now, 150 more points. Does it amaze you how tight things are right now?

JEFF GORDON:  It really is.  I try not to look at it too much because
it's not about that to me.  It's about us performing at the best level,
the highest level we can every weekend and getting the most points.  I
mean, last week we weren't great.  We missed one wreck and had a tire cut
down.  And, you know, we just clawed our way to 15th.  I don't even know
if we were 15th place car.  So we got to just do that every weekend.

Q. What's your biggest concern between now and Richmond?

JEFF GORDON: Well, our biggest concern is having a failure, is having a failure or getting caught up in a wreck. You know, it's that 35th, 36th, 40th, 42nd place finish that I just don't think we can afford. We've had too many DNFs this year and I'm hoping that we've gotten them out of the way.

Q.   Can you start planning about what you guys would like to do in the
Chase now?  Do you let yourself think about that?

JEFF GORDON: The way I look at it, our Chase is already in, you know, progress. I mean, because we've got to fight as hard as we can right now just to be in the Chase, and then if we make it in the Chase, that fight is not gonna stop, it's just gonna continue on. So there's really nothing different that we can do. We're doing everything we can do right now, so there's not more we can do.

Q.   How much does it help you have a bunch of tracks coming up that you
had a lot of success on:  Indy, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol?

JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, you know, past stats don't mean anything anymore, you know. The cars and the competition and the setups, everything changes so much from year to year. I will say that we were in good at Michigan early in the year. I was happy about that. We had some good moments here early in the race because we started up front, but we weren't good enough there. But Bristol, I thought we were really strong the last time we were there. Watkins Glen, I'm very excited about. I mean, I feel good about a lot of the racetracks, especially after how well we ran in Chicago, you know.

It just kind of makes you feel better about going everywhere.

Q. You talked about the fact that everything changes. We're seeing what's going on at Roberts Yates right now. Childress had to bounce back; took them a while. How difficult is it to take your notes, places you've been successful, throw them in the trash can and ignore them?

JEFF GORDON: Well, it's hard until you start getting beat really bad. Once you're not competitive, then it's pretty easy, you know. You go, Well, this doesn't work.

You see, a lot of teams learn, you'd be surprised how much teams learn from watching the cars in the garage there, watching them go through inspection. You can learn what teams are doing without really even talking to anybody. You know what direction you need to go into. And you hear things. Certain people talk.

So, you know, you got to have ways to test these days without actually going to the racetrack because they're so limited. So you got to be able to go wind tunnel, seven post, simulation on computers, go to Kentucky and other tracks. That's all you can do. You hope on top of that you put the right team and driver combination together that works.

Q. Is it a tough change for you to give up the seat?of?the?pants thing and go where you have to sit down with the engineer?

JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, times change. You have to keep up with the times as a driver, as a crew chief. Everybody does. So I want to do the best I can to make the car go faster. You know, if I don't feel like the car is there for me to push the limits and go faster, then I'm going to relay the best that I can all that information back to the team. You know, when they go and try things out and test things out in the wind tunnel and the other areas I've talked about, they go, Hey, we think we've found a gain, want to take it to a racetrack and try it out. Sometimes it is; sometimes it's not. Those things don't always, you know, have the same equivalence to the racetrack. That's the only thing.

That's why I think the teams, the teams have to have confidence in you and you have to have confidence in them. If you're not on the same page believing in one another and the information being shared, then you just lose confidence and you just start going backwards.

-gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Michael Schumacher , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin