ROBBY GORDON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: NOTE: Gordon will start 37th in Sunday's Pocono 500, taking a provisional starting spot. He currently ranks 10th in NASCAR Winston Cup points following a 9th-place finish at Dover ...
ROBBY GORDON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
NOTE: Gordon will start 37th in Sunday's Pocono 500, taking a provisional starting spot. He currently ranks 10th in NASCAR Winston Cup points following a 9th-place finish at Dover International Speedway a week ago. Gordon was the featured speaker Saturday morning at The Winston Breakfast Club.
YOU'LL START 37th ON SUNDAY? "Actually, there's a reason for our madness. Yesterday [prior to qualifying] we looked at The Weather Channel and saw that there was going to be a good chance of rain, so we focused on race setup again. We've done this three weeks in a row now, at Charlotte and last week as well. It's working for us, too. Having a good race setup has been more valuable for us than a qualifying setup lately. We come to this racetrack with a fairly conservative engine package. It's 500 miles here, you have to do a lot of downshifting, and engine revs go higher than normal under downshifts, especially into the Tunnel Turn. So you come to the track with a little different mindset than you do some of the others."
THERE HAS BEEN TALK AMONG OTHER DRIVERS OF SHORTENING THIS RACE TO 400 MILES BECAUSE IT IS SO TOUGH ON EQUIPMENT. DO YOU AGREE? "It's not like this is a physical race to drive. Honestly, the straightaways are so long here at Pocono, you have time to look around and see who is around you. You have three completely different corners, so the chances of getting past somebody are actually better than normal, because everybody picks a corner here and says, 'I'm going to take Turn 3.' Most people do take Turn 3 because it's such a long front straightaway. They get their car right for Turn 3, and they don't worry about Turn 1 or Turn 2 as much as they do Turn 3. It's a little bit of a compromise racetrack. I think a 400-mile race would probably be OK, but there's nothing wrong with a 500-mile race. Part of this Winston Cup championship is about survival, and it's not only a driver championship, it's a team championship. You can't make any mistakes on race day."
YOU'VE CRACKED THE TOP 10 IN POINTS, RATHER QUIETLY. "Shhh! Don't tell anybody! We're sneaking in there, having good results every week. It's been a lot of fun. Pretty much, the last three races, we've had top-10 finishes every week. At Charlotte, we finished 17th, and only because I didn't think the race would be called that early. We were 11th, and if I would have stayed out like [crew chief Kevin] Hamlin wanted me to, we would have been ninth. But I looked at it, 130 laps to go, and figured 'we're going to have to work on our car a little bit, and fix our front fender, so we better come in and do it under caution.' The race was called at that point, so we fell from 11th to 17th. If we had done what he wanted to do, we would have been ninth again. We've been running decent. We're not in a position where we're winning races or dominating races, but we are finishing from fifth to 15th. It seems like that's kind of our number right now. We have a little bit of work to do, but [Kevin] Harvick, [Steve] Park and myself have been working real hard together trying to give the RCR guys exactly what they need to give us better equipment to run better. It's not that our equipment is bad, it's just fine-tuning it a little. Every Monday morning, we have an RCR meeting. If you can't be there, we have a driver debrief form we fill out to try to explain what went on with the 31 car all weekend long. 'This happened in practice, this happened during the race, the driver's seat was like this, the steering wheel was like this,' and after a few weeks, you start dotting all those things off, and it's simple. You get to the race track, everything is lined up, you're ready to go and focus just on the race itself instead of getting comfortable, adjusting mirrors. It sounds crazy, but when you have 10 race cars, it's a little different. An Indy Car team races the same car every weekend, or if they race another car it's exactly the same because it comes out of a mold. It's not hand-crafted.
WHAT DOES STEVE PARK LEND TO THE PROGRAM? "He lends a few things, some things they did over at DEI that maybe we weren't doing, especially when the meetings come out and we're talking about springs and roll stiffness and things like that. Just because they run a different spring doesn't mean we can put that spring on our car. There's maybe a shift in downforce level, which the engineers are trying to get the most out of it they can. There's a lot of different things you can do to these bodies and still fit the common template rule NASCAR has for us."
YOU SPOKE OF FOCUSING ON RACE DAY AND NOT QUALIFYING. IS THAT BECAUSE THEY ARE LONG RACES AND YOU HAVE TIME TO WORK YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT? "The last couple of weeks, it's been because of weather. At Charlotte, I knew I was going to be at the back anyway because I was going to miss the driver's meeting. There have been some reasons for it, but this week was strictly a weather reason. It's a lot easier to race up inside the top 10 if you start there, but if you don't have an opportunity to run any race setups, like it looks like a lot of people are going to have again, you can afford to start in the back and march forward during the race."
THEY SAY WE'RE SEEING A MORE PATIENT ROBBY GORDON THIS YEAR. IS THIS A CONSICOUS EFFORT ON YOUR PART, THINKING PATIENCE? "I think there's a lot of things. I don't think I'm any more patient on the track. I don't think I'm doing anything different. Luck has a lot to do with it. There have been five races already where cars have spun right in front of me. I don't know how I didn't hit them, but I got lucky and didn't get involved in it, so luck has a lot to do with the whole thing and how the point system works. Obviously, you have to have a good race team. Matt Kenseth and these guys, they are up at the top because they are a top-five team every weekend, have good pit stops and they run well. We're getting better. As a group, we're getting better. I think there are two things a lot of people forget: we expanded from two to three teams, and we moved all the shops to a different facility. That takes a lot on a race team. Even though we're in the same complex, I believe it took a lot out of everybody, and that we weren't focusing on the things we really needed to focus on. But at the same time, on our long-term future, Richard [team owner Richard Childress] was making advances for the race team to give us tools that we could do our job better with. When we did the race teams together, we made all the race cars the same. When you make all the cars the same, it's easy to share information back and forth, but it's not easy to get that job done and still practice pit stops and all the other types of things you need to do. There's been a big change at RCR in the last year. It's completely different than it was a year ago, and before that, it's different from what it was two years ago. So, it's good and I think now that we're all getting settled into home, and things are starting to roll, it's going to work out for the best."
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A LEGITIMATE CONTENDER FOR THE TITLE THIS YEAR? "I don't know. They say that whoever is in the top five at this point, it's kind of up to those guys, and I do believe that. It's hard to make up a lot of points on guys. It's not very often you make up 100 points on a guy. Last weekend, Jimmie Johnson lost a lot of points. He normally doesn't make mistakes like that, and you don't make a big jump like that. A lot of guys have learned in Winston Cup, and this is something that Richard has taught me, if you don't have a car to win the race and you don't have a car to finish fifth, then finish seventh, don't crash. That makes a big difference. If you live by those rules, you score quite a bit of points every weekend and you don't have any big drops in points on weekends. Those guys don't make mistakes. Our goal was to get through these next few races. We knew we'd be good at Richmond, at Charlotte we're OK, and Dover, we've been good, pretty much the top 10 the last three races there. At Pocono, we seem to struggle for some reason. I don't know why. You'd think that, with the corners the way they are and me being a road racer, we would figure it out. If you look where Steve, Kevin and myself qualified, I think we're a little conservative in the engine department to be honest with you. There's nothing like horsepower on these long straightaways. Then we go to a road course, and a road course is a place where we could score 185 points. That's kind of our goal. We went and tested two separate road-course tests at VIR, and we've learned a lot about our road-course car. Not only are we working on the tracks where we aren't good, we're working on the tracks we are good on to capitalize a little bit more on those."
THERE'S A LOT OF TALK ABOUT TOYOTA COMING INTO NASCAR. COULD YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW THEY'VE COME INTO THE IRL AND HOW SUCCESSFUL THEY'VE BEEN? "Toyota being successful in the IRL, that was easy to see, especially when you bring Penske and Ganassi and Mo Nunn, those types of teams over there, those teams are already established and they're top-notch teams. In Winston Cup, there's probably only two teams, maybe three, that are going to be able to use the tools that Toyota gives them in the way they operate their business on a day-to-day basis. I'm talking about through technology. Most teams in Winston Cup run well because they've been doing it for so long, they have so much experience. When Toyota comes in, they're going to want answers, they're going to want reasons why this is better and that's better. I think there'll be a few teams that will be able to adapt to Toyota's systems--and I'll just say from the get-go, Penske and Ganassi, not that they're going to get any of those teams-- because those are teams that are used to working with them. Their engineers work hand-in-hand right now [on the Indy Car side]."
DO YOU FEAR TOYOTA COMING IN? "They're not going to come in and throw all the money around like you think they are. What they're going to do is give the teams tools to do their jobs. They'll do like Dodge did, and I believe Dodge gave their teams the tools to do it. Obviously, some teams who run Dodges don't know how to use those tools, and they still run like they run."
WHEN YOU FIRST CAME HERE, YOU WERE AN INDY CAR DRIVER WHO RAN SOME CUP RACES. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE CROSSED THAT HUMP AND NOW YOU'RE A WINSTON CUP DRIVER WHO DRIVES THE OCCASIONAL INDY CAR RACE? "I do. I definitely feel that I'm a Winston Cup driver that every once in a while shows up and drives in the Indy 500. I still do that because I can, because I can still go there, get in a car and be very competitive.
ARE YOU CHOMPING AT THE BIT TO GET TO INFINEON AND WATKINS GLEN? "I am excited about going to those tracks because I think they're going to be very good for us. But like last year, we beat ourselves there. We made a real bad call at Infineon that we weren't able to recover from, and at Watkins Glen we were clearly the fastest car all day long and had bad pit stops. Both races, other things besides my driving took us out of those races and we still didn't win. Not one guy can make a difference at those types of tracks. You have to have the whole team around you and have the thought process in place. We were running second at Infineon behind Tony [Stewart] and both of us came in and it took both of us out of contention. We shouldn't have done that. Those are things that we've learned, and Kevin Hamlin has learned, that we can't lose that track position because it's so hard to pass in Winston Cup. Even if you're a second a lap faster than everyone else, it's still hard to pass"
TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH KEVIN HAMLIN. "I think I've learned a lot from Kevin Hamlin, and we've made a lot of mistakes together. I think this year is showing that we're not making the same mistakes twice, as a group. I'm able to give him better information about the race car and about what's going on out on the racetrack. Track position is a ton, so sometimes you take two tires, sometimes you take four. We're making those calls and doing a better job of it this year than we did last year."