BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS: Q. Your assessment, Tony Stewart is going to run every lap, or at least he's planning to. How physically demanding is this racetrack? JEFF GORDON: Probably one of the least...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS:
Q. Your assessment, Tony Stewart is going to run every lap, or at least he's planning to. How physically demanding is this racetrack?
JEFF GORDON: Probably one of the least physically demanding tracks. Back when we used to shift maybe a little bit more, but we don't shift anymore, and the straightaways are so long you've got a long rest period, it's cool. I think this is definitely one of the better tracks to be able to do that.
Last week was the tough one. I remember when I hit the wall in Texas years ago, and I had to go to Bristol was the next race. That would have been the equivalent of Dover, and I can't imagine ?? Tony did a great job running the laps that he did run there last week.
Q. What is it like as a driver not being 100 percent physically?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, once you get in the racecar it's amazing how your mind can block out the pain. But when that caution comes out, it instantly comes back into your mind. I think we need 100 percent focus at all times to be on top of our game, and anything that's a distraction to that is going to cost you speed and performance. You know, I think that some guys it motivates them; they fight through it. Other guys ?? you know, everybody deals with it some way different.
I've only had to deal with it that one time, and once I got out there in the race and was running, I really didn't pay that much attention to it, as long as we were on the green.
Q. Do you think a fresh start might be good for Brian?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it may be. It might be good for everybody. You know, I mean, it's tough when frustration sets in and the performance isn't there.
You know, it's hard to ever get that confidence back, as a driver, as a team, crew chief, everybody. He's been a great teammate. I've had a lot of fun racing with him and working with him, and I definitely wish him all the best, whatever he does. I'm obviously a big supporter of Hendrick Motorsports, so I'm really anxious and excited to see how we can get that team turned around, as well.
Q. Kyle Busch said that you guys have a new thing where the drivers are kind of meeting after practice, not just the engineers, not just the crew chiefs. Will that help get information flow and kind of feeling to young guys?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, the suggestion was brought up last week, and Ganassi has kind of done that in the past. You know, I think that we were all kind of in a huddle talking in the garage, and it felt like ?? I think Jimmie Johnson may have brought it up or something about, hey, we ought to maybe think about getting everybody together. It didn't take long. I think by Tuesday or Wednesday we had that meeting all set for basically every weekend now.
Q. What do you think about the potential of Casey Mears as a teammate if that happens?
JEFF GORDON: Well, all I can say is that right now it's wide open at the 25 team as far as who they're talking to. It's anybody and everybody, and Casey is definitely a guy at the top of that list. He's a hot commodity right now, and so ?? I've been a good friend with Casey for a long time, and we've talked in the past about ?? he missed an opportunity to race a Busch Car for Hendrick years ago, and ever since then we've laughed and joked about him being a teammate one day and how much fun it would be. If that works out, it would be great.
Q. Do you miss shifting here?
JEFF GORDON: I do. I think this is a place where you should shift. It does add another perspective to it, and I wish we were doing that.
Q. How did that change the race?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you've just got to get your car better. I think you've got to have your engine package really dialed in, your manifold. We used to be able to change some of those things with gearing, and that's just one of those things that we don't have an option to now. I personally think that it's harder to pass by doing that.
Q. You've always run well here. It's hard to believe you haven't won since '98. Is it luck, is it like an endurance race being that this thing is so long?
JEFF GORDON: You know, this is a place you've got to have your stuff right. It takes power, it takes downforce, and just like what we've been battling with at the mile and a halfs, I think that's where we've kind of gotten behind on this type of track, as well, where other guys have found some ways to get their cars working better than us through the corners. We've had some runs since '98 that were maybe capable ?? performance capable of winning the race, we just didn't have all the other factors to go in there with it. The last few times we've been here, we definitely haven't been one of the top cars, and I look forward to finding those pieces and getting back there.
Q. What do you think of Casey as a driver? I know he thinks highly of you as a friend, as well. What do you think of him as a driver, and how much say do you have at Hendrick Motorsports in a decision like that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'd like to think that they're certainly going to get our opinion as drivers. My involvement with Hendrick Motorsports probably might get a little bit more in?depth in those conversations. I think you've got to take your driver hat off ?? it's nice you get to race with guys out there and you get an idea of who's talented and who could do a good job in the right equipment, and I think Casey is one of those guys. He's come a long way in the last couple years, and he's very marketable. He's a good package, and I think that's why people are after him right now.
You know, you never know until you put him into your equipment or equipment equivalent to that, but I look forward to ?? whoever we find, we're going to find somebody that I think is going to do a good job that we're going to be happy with, and from a personal side, sure, it would be great to have Casey because we're good friends. Of guys out there, I'd say other than my teammates, Casey is probably the guy that I'm closest to.
Q. With Tony being less than 100 percent physically this week, how competitive do you expect him to be?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, he's Tony Stewart; I expect him to be very competitive. You know, I don't really think that it's going to ?? this is a long race. Towards the end of the race it might start affecting him, but I think you're going to see him run pretty much just as good as he does any other weekend.
Q. Over the past week there was somebody that emailed and then the emails came pouring in about the chemistry between you and Steve Letarte.
He is a young crew chief, and then some will say he's not ready, and you've said this over and over, but certainly when you look at where you're at in the points standings, it's not bad, really pretty darn good. How is Steve developing? What do you see in him? What's the future? If he's not totally ready, are you grooming him and you're comfortable with him?
JEFF GORDON: I am, and I think he is ready. I think as soon as you start putting numbers up there, then everybody is going to say he's a genius and the greatest young crew chief that's ever come along. You can't pay attention to outside criticism.
Steve is doing a fantastic job; I'm thrilled with his maturity, his ability to really read people and read the situation. He does a great job calling the race. We communicate very well. He's got confidence in me, I've got confidence in him.
But also, a crew chief, and everybody knows, a crew chief these days can't do it all; you've got to surround yourself with all the right resources, and there at Hendrick Motorsports we've got to make sure we apply that correctly, and there's no doubt in my mind that Steve Letarte is capable of doing the job and capable of getting us to victory lane and in the Chase, and if we get in the Chase ?? we've got the strongest team we've had in a long time, it's just that our performance ?? we're missing some things in our setup with the cars, so it's not always showing on the racetrack. But our pit crew is better, our organization is better, our communication is better. I mean, in so many ways we're better than we were three or four years ago.
Q. Sometimes when the fans see your car fall off like last weekend, then they blame the crew chief can't get the car back up and you're complaining about the handling but they don't know the big picture.
JEFF GORDON: Hey, I'm a part of that, too. I take responsibility for any of that just as much as anybody else. I'm feeding him information, and he's making the calls based on that information, and if I disagreed with some adjustments, however he made them, I'd let him know.
We went back through that race this week, and I can tell you that I don't think we would have done much different other than maybe stay out on that last ?? the last time when we came in. But I was so loose on that set of tires that we were just afraid we were only going to go further back. But I think looking back on it, maybe we should have stayed out and gotten track position. I was saying so much about how loose we were, I wanted tires, I was wanting to come in. I was wishing that Steve would talk me out of it, if anything else.
Q. You start the second half of the regular season now. How much now does the jockeying for points position really get going?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I sometimes get caught up in going back through some races and saying, man, if we didn't have this happen or if we could have gotten this position or that position, look where we'd be. You can go back to Bristol, back to Talladega, back to Charlotte a couple weeks ago, and all those things, and you would have Top 5 in points. But you can't do that, and I try to stop myself as soon as I find myself doing that or anybody else on the team, and all you can do is focus on the next race and getting the most points.
I think that right now we all recognize that Biffle is back in the hunt to be in the Top 10, and so we've got to be better than 10th because he's going to be tough, and I think we're capable of doing that.
Q. Is there anything about this track and the first W of the year coming here because you've had success at this track?
JEFF GORDON: Well, we've had success but not the last couple times we've been here. To me this is still an experiment for us. We're still trying to get the right combination together, and what we learn here can help us for Indianapolis and help us for mile and a halfs, as well. It's really about just getting the most out of the aero package of the car and getting comfortable.
We had a really good road course test a couple weeks ago. I'm looking forward to going to Sonoma. Michigan is another track that's coming up that is a good track for us, but we've got to get ?? again, what we learn here, we've got to apply it there, as well.
There's no doubt we can win any weekend once we hit on that balance and that combination that we're searching for.
Q. Can you talk about ?? Ryan Newman hasn't won, either; Dale Earnhardt, Jr., has got one win; Ganassi hasn't won. Is it just that tough now? Does every component of your team have to be perfect?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, and I give Jimmie Johnson a lot of credit because I know what kind of package they have, and I think we're getting beat out there personally by the Evernham cars, the Gibbs cars, even the Childress cars have really come on, and Roush is good, too. I personally think we're behind those guys. All of us, not just us.
So I give Jimmie and Chad a lot of credit for getting as much out of it as they have. I mean, I still there are a couple races we could have won this year but not mile and a halfs, not the tracks that really count.
Q. Physically how tough is this place?
JEFF GORDON: It's not very tough.
Q. You didn't make the front page this week.
JEFF GORDON: No, I didn't. I haven't made the front page in a long time, and I hope it comes soon.
Q. Do you understand why the 25 seems to have that cloud over it of not performing, and some say, well, there are lead dogs in the stable? Why?
JEFF GORDON: There's absolutely no reason why, and we've all scratched our heads. I've had numerous meetings with Rick Hendrick, and we've had so many conversations about why because the effort is there. You know, it just seems like every time they go through the restructuring and changes, the excitement and a new driver comes along and starts doing well, then somewhere along the way it goes away.
I know that the commitment is there to make that team as good as any other team at Hendrick Motorsports, if not one of the top teams out there. I think that's the goal right now. That team, it's got so much potential, but it's just not there yet.
Q. Can a driver who is in that car at an organization the way that is set up like Hendrick perform with marquee guys like you and Jimmie Johnson and then Kyle Busch and then another driver, be it Casey Mears, be it another young guy, is it always because he's down here in the chain that it will be difficult with you icon guys at the lead?
JEFF GORDON: The thing is they have the resources and the information right there at their fingertips. I think that people take for granted how hard it is to put together a solid team and surround yourself with good people. It's people that have confidence in one another.
I think it's easy to have that confidence at the beginning, it's hard to maintain it or continue to make it better. There's more than just a driver change that is going to happen and that needs to happen because obviously Brian Vickers is not -- nobody is pointing fingers at Brian's performance has not been there because of Brian. I think it's just the whole combination of things.
It's not any one person, and I think everybody is committed -- all the guys on the 25 team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, committed to ?? and us as teammates, as well, are committed to help that team get wherever ?? do whatever they can to get up where they need to be.
Q. A different kind of question. If Joe Nemechek were to knock on your motor coach and ask for a cup of sugar, would you give it to him?
JEFF GORDON: Sure, why not?
Q. Do you consider yourself a good neighbor when you're on the racetrack?
JEFF GORDON: On the racetrack?
Q. You all have your motor coaches lined up. Who are your neighbors, first of all?
JEFF GORDON: This weekend I've got Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Richard Petty are my neighbors. They haven't come knocking for sugar lately. I think all Junior would want is another phone line in there so he could hook up another computer or something. That's about all he'd want.
Q. Do you consider yourself a good neighbor here?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I keep to myself. I definitely don't disrupt the neighborhood. I feel like a pretty giving person, so if somebody needed something, I'd be willing to help them out.
Q. You work in a younger crowd with Brian and Kyle. What kind of advice have you tried to give them over the years?
JEFF GORDON: Advice?
Q. Or mentoring them.
JEFF GORDON: Most of the things I talk to those guys about are not racing related. It's really how to handle yourself and the pressures, the hectic schedule, the business side of things that come along with being a NEXTEL Cup driver because that can be a huge distraction and take away from your performance on the racetrack. Even though it is performance related, it's not really what we talk about.
Obviously Kyle, he's very young and aggressive and a great talent, but sometimes his emotions get the best of him, and that's just being young and trying to learn from your experiences. I don't even know if I need to say a whole lot to him. I think just getting slapped on the wrist will help that in a big way.
Q. Do you think his problems are more just because of his general age or really just trying to ?? a combination of trying to learn things?
JEFF GORDON: Everybody's personality is different and their demeanor is different, so you've got to take that into account, how you were brought up and everything else. But I think that being young in this Series and having the pressures on you that are on you can definitely affect how you handle yourself. You know, I think all of us have been there, all of us have been through those experiences, and you just hope that you learn from them and try to do better the next time.
Q. Do you find yourself kind of pulling him aside, doing some things off the track?
JEFF GORDON: There's been times I wanted to, but I pretty much left that up to Rick Hendrick. He's got an even more powerful voice than I'll ever have.
Q. After last season, what do you need to concentrate on from here on out to make the Chase for the Cup?
JEFF GORDON: We've definitely got to get our performance up at tracks like this and Michigan coming up, and we've got to take advantage of the tracks we do run good at, the road courses, the short tracks, the super speedways like Daytona.
There's no doubt we're capable of making the Chase, but really, some of the things that are going on with us right now is we're thinking a little bit further ahead than that. We want to be in the Chase, but we want to be a threat for the Championship. We know where we're at right now, we're not capable of going for the Championship. We're capable of being in the Chase, but we want more than that, and that's what we're searching for and that's why we're not afraid to experiment to a certain degree at a lot of these race tracks.
Q. Can you preview Michigan, talk about what approach you take to that track?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm looking forward to going back there. We've learned a lot since last year and I've always loved that racetrack. It's just big and fast and wide and fairly smooth. I think that hopefully what we've been learning, it's going to pay off for us there in Michigan. It's always been one of my favorites.
Q. One more final question on the team, is it fair to say that you're building a team, and it's more than just you and Steve, it's also the whole team having to come together?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, we needed to do that. You know, last year basically when we didn't perform, it was time to restructure a bit. Even though I knew we were going to be bringing in a fairly fresh and guy young as a crew chief, I still feel confident in the people that we have surrounding him and myself and the resources that we have that we ?? I said early on, I didn't expect us to come out of the box as the best team, but I'd like to end the season as the best team. I'm just hoping that we get there before the Chase starts, not as the Chase ends.
Q. No driver has ever won here from the ninth starting position. Any idea why? Is that just a fluke kind of thing?
JEFF GORDON: I have no idea, but based on that, I hope I don't qualify ninth today (laughter).