JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed double file restarts, hard crashes, his back, rivalries, and more. WHAT IS IT LIKE RACING AT POCONO?: "There are unique challenges at this race track that don't exist at really...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed double file restarts, hard crashes, his back, rivalries, and more.
WHAT IS IT LIKE RACING AT POCONO?: "There are unique challenges at this race track that don't exist at really any other track. They're all unique to themselves and always makes for some great racing with that long front straightaway. This weekend with the double-file restart going into effect, I think it's only going to add another element of excitement to this event."
HOW IS YOUR BACK AND HOW WILL IT HOLD UP HERE AT POCONO VERSUS A TRACK LIKE DOVER?: "I think this track is probably one of the easier tracks. You get a lot of resting period on those long straightaways. About the only place that it might be an issue will be under braking getting into turn one. I had to do a test at Road Atlanta this week -- that was one of the real tests and I was surprised that we got through it pretty good. Especially after the wreck last Friday during qualifying. I was pretty sore from that. I think the road courses and Martinsville, Bristol -- those are the toughest tracks on it. This one should be pretty easy."
HOW IS YOUR BACK FEELING?: "Right now I'm feeling pretty good. It's always nice to have an extra day of rest -- kind of got that today. I know there's a lot of people that this didn't work out so well for. For us, it worked out well -- we got an extra day of rest, got a great starting position, great pit stall and now we can go focus for the race on Sunday. We'll get out there tomorrow with the car in race conditions."
DO YOU KNOW WHETHER YOU WILL HAVE TO HAVE SURGERY ON YOUR BACK?: "Surgery really hasn't been an option looking at my condition and the options of surgery is really too invasive. I don't necessarily think it's necessary. I might do another treatment of what I did a couple weeks ago. We have to wait four to six weeks. They say the second treatment you usually have a lot better results than the first one. I really haven't seen any big effects from the first one so I wasn't really thrilled about doing a second one. Anytime they talk about sticking needles in your back it's not something I'm looking forward to. It wasn't so bad though and I'm certainly willing to give it a shot so we'll do that when the time's right and it fits in the schedule. Until then, my focus is on the training and just stretching. It's strengthening the area, my whole core area and that's been great for me in a lot of ways because it's got me in better physical shape. From a cardio standpoint especially, when I'm in the car everything feels better. I don't feel as hot in the car, I don't feel as winded and it's just dealing with the spasms -- just the muscles getting really tight and causing some pain there. Other than that, we're getting through it."
DO YOU HAVE A ROUTINE BEFORE EVERY RACE?: "One thing we started this year was just incorporating an individual that comes to the track -- it takes usually about an hour a day. They do ultrasound, massage and then some stretching. Then usually after the day is over I do some ice on my back. It's just a routine. It doesn't happen overnight or just flip a switch -- just gradually getting used to the stuff going on in the car and getting stronger and getting better. I try to get in some stuff with my doctors when I'm at home that is a little more intense than that and then training as well. Being a Dad too -- all those are great training."
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO HAVE THE LONGEVITY IN THE NO. 24?: "I think everybody has to have a fresh start from time to time and that's why we've changed paint schemes over the years, we've changed crew chiefs. I'm glad Rick (Hendrick) hasn't wanted to change the driver. It's fantastic that we've been with DuPont every season that I've been it the car. I think this is the 17th season, which is spectacular. We've had a lot of success and great partners along the way. A huge comfort zone for being at Hendrick. That sometimes can be the biggest challenge is if you get too comfortable then you get to set in your ways. Sometimes you don't fight and work as hard to get the results or you'll get on top of a very competitive sport. Sometimes I need a little spark or jolt or sometimes the crew chief does or the team does in some way. This year has been a great year -- it's been exciting. We changed the paint scheme, which I think has been very cool. I love the paint scheme. The cars have been driving great. I think Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and the team of guys that he has surrounding him have really stepped up and its shown on the race track. It's helped me to step up my game as well and go out there and just have a new attitude and be more focused and more driven. Just like last week at Dover. I wrecked in qualifying -- I can't tell you the last time, if ever, I have wrecked in qualifying. The reason was because our car was so good and we had a shot at the pole and I wanted it so bad that I was just pushing really, really hard and obviously pushed too hard. Never going to get on anybody on the team and hope they don't get on me for trying to hard. That's what that result was. It made for a bad weekend, but we're not going to let that get us down. We've got a strong, strong race team and I think we can only get better."
DO YOU HAVE ANY INPUT ON HOW YOUR HELMET SCHEME IS DESIGNED AND DO YOU LIKE RACING AT MICHIGAN?: "There's no doubt that a driver has input on their helmet. It's kind of a personal thing, everybody feels its personal. I don't get all crazy on it, I can tell you that. I usually tell them kind of what we're looking for. We do have some things that dictate the paint scheme like sponsor logos that are still important on the helmet and then we work around that and our paint scheme. The only thing that I got involved with several years ago and this was really what led to us having flames on the race car back in 2001 is that I wanted flames on my helmet. I had them when I was a kid racing quarter-midgets and always thought that was a cool helmet and wanted to bring them back and we did and I loved it. That's kind of what inspired Sam Bass and those guys at DuPont to do the flamed paint scheme originally. I couldn't talk them into black -- took a little longer for that. As far as Michigan, I love Michigan -- it's my favorite track. You would think my favorite track would be one that I've won a lot more at, but I love Michigan. It's big and wide and fast, multiple grooves, you can just run from the white line to the wall. You can change your angles in and off the corners. You can do so much at that place so to me it's just an all around great track. The increased banking or whatever we call that now at some of these tracks, but they did it accidentally. It's like in the foundation underneath the track that they accidentally happened to have in there that has created some great lines and grooves and racing in my opinion. That's why I think when they tried to copy it out in California -- there's no copying it, you can't copy it. It's just the way the soil and the foundation and everything settled. Great track."
HOW DO YOU BOUNCE BACK FROM LAST WEEK AT DOVER? DOES THE FRONT ROW STARTING SPOT HELP?: "Certainly the front row starting position helps. Totally different track, totally different circumstances. All we've been doing is looking at our notes from last year, the things that have been working for us this year and trying to incorporate that into our set-up for this weekend. I feel a little bit more confident about what we have for the race than I was for what we had for qualifying for here. When you go to qualify here, it doesn't matter how good you were in practice, you're going to have to pick up about a second from practice to go to qualify and just laying it out there on the line like that in the tunnel turn is hairy. I'm getting old and I hit the wall last week qualifying so I'm fine with not taking that qualifying lap here today and saving it for another week -- even though I like qualifying. We've been breaking down the corners and because we're not testing we're doing a lot of computer simulation and trying to put that into the computer and making sure it backs up on the race track what it says it going to do and what it does do in theory from an engineering standpoint. It's a test of two things -- trying to make our car better as well as improving our computer simulation programs that we have."
HAVE YOU ALWAYS KNOWN YOU HAVE A CORE GROUP OF FANS AND HOW HAS IT CHANGED THROUGH YOUR CAREER?: "It's changed for sure. There's nothing better than having a group of people that support you through the ups and the downs. I guess that when you have a bad year you wonder where the support lies and you know the core fans, the avid ones, it's obvious which ones those are. I do events with my fans throughout the year and through our website online. You know that the support is there, but you also know that there's people that are taking a lot of abuse for being Jeff Gordon fans at times, especially if we're not getting the results. In the past they could take all the abuse in the world that they want because they know that they can come back every five races and say, 'Ha-ha, we got you, we got a win.' When you go for a while without a win it's going to test their avidness and support. It was great to get that win at Texas for many, many reasons, but I wanted to thank them just because I get a lot of feedback from the ones that are saying, 'Hey, don't worry we're still behind you.' Of course also the ones that say you should do this and this and this. And Steve (Letarte, crew chief) should do this and this. That just tells you how interested they are in what we're doing and how it does truly mean as much to them when we get a win as it does to us on the team and its hard to find that support in any other sport -- I can tell you that."
AS SOMEBODY WHO HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN DIFFERENT RIVALRIES, AND ALSO HAVING WORKED WITH KYLE BUSCH AND DALE EARNHARDT JR., DO YOU SEE THAT AS A REAL RIVALRY OR JUST SOMETHING PEOPLE WOULD LIKE TO SEE? "Well all know, whether it's the media or competitors or fans, everybody knows it's good to have a rivalry. It's hard to create your own rivalry. I think Kyle is a little bit involved in that. He'd like there to be one. I don't think Junior is really as involved with that as Kyle is. That's cool, if it materializes on the race track. To me, rivals really are the guys who are battling on the race track that have sort of unique fanbase to themselves. And that is definitely true among Junior and Kyle because I'm pretty sure Kyle's fans aren't the same as Junior's fans. But if they battle on the race track like they did at Richmond last year, those things, when they happen, are going to be something to really go with and it's going to be good for the sport and both those guys. So, rivals are good. I just don't think you can create a new one. When Earnhardt and I were rivals, he probably put through some jabs in there and might have helped create a little of it, but most of it was me and him battling on the race track for the championship and for races and for wins and the unique fan base that we had. Mine were completely different than his. And so the fans were really rivals. That's how a really true rivalry is created. And we can't make it happen. As much as we want to sometimes, it's got to happen under real circumstances. You've either got to really dislike a guy or just battle it out, wheel-to-wheel, bumping and banging on a fairly regular basis, and then let the fans and the media and everything roll with it. That's what I think."
DOES IT EVER ENTER YOUR MIND ABOUT HARD CRASHES AT RACE TRACKS WHEN YOU RETURN TO THEM LIKE THE ACCIDENT YOU HAD HERE AT POCONO?: "I would say as far as impacts it ranks right up there in the top-three. Believe it or not, that impact last week in qualifying was in the top-five. People don't realize how hard that is. We got the information from NASCAR and it was a huge hit. The wreck here is probably number one in spectacular for me. I had come here for however many years and I can tell you that every year, not necessarily when you're driving, but just thinking about Pocono you basically say to yourself, 'Man, the last thing I would ever want to have happen to me is a brake failure going into turn one at Pocono -- I can't think of anything worse.' And then you have it happen and it's a scary moment. The impact was pretty severe as well. I felt pretty fortunate to have safer barriers and the seat and the foam and everything that we had in that car because I don't think under other circumstances that the results would have been quite the same. You can't think about that -- it's like getting bucked off the horse, you have to get back on. In that situation there was a failure so if my thoughts are anywhere they're back with the team at the shop saying, 'Why did it happen, how do we prevent it from happening in every aspect.' From me driving to the rotor itself, the whole brake package, the cooling package, everything. I can just tell you that today we have a completely different brake package here than we did back then. You used to be able to get away with that. That brake package that we had then we had for years and it was fine. Then you go faster, your set-ups are different, you put more stress on things and you have a failure like that which is pretty catastrophic and you at least have to learn from it even though it was pretty bad."
WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE NEXT ON NASCAR'S AGENDA, POSSIBLY TWEAKS TO THE CAR?: "Unfortunately I wasn't at the meeting. Some people said they were mandatory -- they were not mandatory. I wish I would have made the meeting because I wanted to make the meeting, but I didn't get enough notice. The conversations that I've had since then to get somewhat caught up on the meeting -- I don't like to really go into details of something that I wasn't there for, but I mean I could have told you before the meeting that the double-file restart was going to be coming and happening. The reason I think it makes sense is because its quick, its easy, its inexpensive -- we'll see what happens when we get out there. I think it makes sense. Like Tony (Stewart) says, there's more pros than there are cons. From a car standpoint, you always want to make your cars better. That's what we do as a race team. I think that the thing that I'm most impressed with about that meeting is that they were open to ideas and suggestions and thoughts about the car and where they feel like its at. And other items. Just the sport in general and the economy and safety and all those things. I think its fantastic and I love where they're going with that and I hope we see more of them. I'm going to do everything I can to be at the next one. Sometimes we get into a place where we think the racings not as good as it was back in whatever and it could be better. Other than just going from a car that drove pretty darn good to coming to this car that's had some challenges and doesn't feel quite as good as the old car, we're making improvements and we're making it better. That to me was the biggest challenge and change. I don't necessarily think the racing has been a whole lot different. There's been times that the racing has been really good. I think sometimes we maybe are a little too tough on it. Can we make it better? I hope so. I think we can. If we put the right heads together and throw some ideas out there then I think there can be some improvements. My thing about the car is that we don't have the mechanical grip because we don't have the tires that the car really deserves to have and a lot of it is just like this Indianapolis thing -- we can't keep them on the car. You've got a lot of right-side weight, high center of gravity. So is there a quick, easy fix like the double-file restart thing? It seems to be pretty quick and easy -- is there something that can be done with the car that can even make the mechanical grip a little better? I don't know. I talked to people and I don't know if there's anything quick and easy and inexpensive. I think we've made the cars tremendously better and from what I've seen I still think the racing is pretty good and getting better. A lot of it is because we've gotten more used to this car and what its capable of and make it perform better just as we learn more about it. Other than that I can't really think of anything coming down the pipe anytime soon."
WHEN DID YOU FEEL SECURE THAT YOU WERE IN SPRINT CUP FOR THE LONG HAUL?: "I always say and I know you guys have heard me say this a number of times, but my rookie year was my worst year ever from a personal standpoint. I just had no confidence in myself. I was excited that I was offered a ride to be at this level, but I was still kind of shaking my head wondering how did I get here and do I have what it takes to be here? You just question yourself constantly. Even today, especially a guy like Joey (Logano) who has done so much and has been under a microscope and then he comes to one of the top teams, one of the top sponsors and you just have so much pressure on you -- it's hard to ever live up to that. I think for me, the results kind of help. You sit on a pole or you have a top-five finish -- those all contributed. But I didn't win a race my first year, but we did have a couple good finishes that certainly kept me going. We tore up a lot of cars that first year. The only thing I remember we were at least going fast before we crashed most of the time so that helped me. It wasn't until 1994 that I really started getting comfortable and that is what kind of led us into winning the race at Charlotte for the 600 and then after that for the Brickyard. I think 1994 was a breakthrough year for us that really put us in a position to win the championship in 1995. I'm still trying to get comfortable in my own skin though, to be honest -- that's going to take a long time."
-credit: gm racing