JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Richmond International Raceway and discussed Jimmie Johnson, racing at Richmond, racing at Darlington and other topics. HOW HARD IS IT TO SET UP FOR THE NIGHT RACE AT...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Richmond International Raceway and discussed Jimmie Johnson, racing at Richmond, racing at Darlington and other topics.
HOW HARD IS IT TO SET UP FOR THE NIGHT RACE AT RICHMOND? "It's always difficult to tell here because you're practicing during the day when it's hot and it's slick. We're trying to do everything we can to dial in our DuPont Chevrolet for qualifying as well as for the race tomorrow. Felt like we had some really good stuff to work with. I feel like we had a good day."
HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH A SET UP TO ADJUST FOR THE DIFFERENCE IN TEMPERATURES? "Most of what we do is go off of past history. We've been here enough times practicing during the day and have a pretty good idea of the characteristics of what the track does at night time. We have a basic feel of the balance that we feel like we need. We've been pretty good here the last couple times so I'm excited. I feel like our team is better, our cars are better and this is a track that has come around for us a little bit. We have some real potential to be a threat here."
WHAT DID YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON TALK ABOUT? "We had a good conversation this week. It's amazing what happens when you get Mr. H (Rick Hendrick, team owner) involved. The three of us had a good conversation. I think we all recognize what contributes to everything that happened at Texas as well as Talladega. We laughed about a lot of stuff and I feel like the most important thing is that all the communication that we have during the week and at the race track, what that contributes to our success as a group is too important to let a rivalry escalate out of control. It's okay to have rivalries, we understand that, to be competitive, we're very competitive. All that is good and healthy. That is what we talked about. He pleaded his case and I pleaded mine and we both said, 'Yep.' It's all good and we moved on."
WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT YOU AND YOUR CAREER TO BE WILLING TO SAY YOU ARE PISSED OFF AT SOMEBODY? "I think emotion is good and I think that over the years I've been able to be around long enough to maybe earn a little more respect to where I can get away with some of those things and say what's on my mind and show my emotions and what I'm feeling. There was a point in my career where I felt I had to be really careful about doing that because it could be looked at in a negative way or me whining. I think that it's something that is a positive thing to me as far as showing that, but the problem is that there is a fine line when it's your teammate as well as your friend. When you look at the whole organization, there's a fine line between being emotional and it affecting the day-to-day operations of the guys on the team that are in there working and working hard. I had to look at the bigger picture and I think Jimmie (Johnson) did as well. I think that's where Rick (Hendrick) is so good at allowing us to recognize those things."
HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TO LOCK UP CHAD KNAUS AND ALAN GUSTAFSON? "I think it was important. Those two guys are instrumental to our organization, our program and our future. I think it's definitely a positive thing."
DO YOU FEEL THAT STEVE LETARTE WILL RETURN AS YOUR CREW CHIEF? "I feel good about it. This is a guy that's been at our organization for a long time. I think he and I are really, really connecting this year and it's showing with our performance on the track. I think things are going great so I don't see any reason why not."
WHAT IS YOUR SPONSOR SITUATION? "We're openly pursuing things. DuPont is still going to play a major role in our organization and with the 24 team. The overall cost of the sport and the way the trends are progressing, it's tough to have one sponsor that can cover everything. We had a lot of conversations with Shell/Pennzoil and we have a lot going on right now as well."
HOW FRUSTRATING IS IT TO RUN SO WELL AND NOT HAVE A WIN RECENTLY? "It's a little frustrating. With the Chase, it's totally different now. If this was the old points system -- I've been on both sides of this to where I've gotten the bad end of the Chase format, right now I feel like we're getting the good side of it because under the old format, we'd be out of the championship. Right now, we're by no means even close to being out and as a matter of fact, if we keep running the way we're running, I know we're going to get wins and that's going to put us in a position to be a real threat for the championship when the Chase comes around. It's frustrating that we haven't capitalized on the opportunities and have gotten those wins when we've been in those positions. I'm also very excited that we're going to present more opportunities."
HOW MUCH HAS YOUR FRUSTRATION PLAYED A ROLE IN HOW VOCAL YOU HAVE BEEN THE PAST FEW WEEKS? "I think it just depends. If the microphones are stuck in front of your face and you're feeling a certain way and you let it out, then if you're not running good or if it's not your teammate that you played a role in putting that team together and you're friends with. I think the thing is that everyone knows that Jimmie (Johnson) needs a rival. He's been the guy that's dominated the sport and that he needs a rival. When things heated up with us then everyone was like, 'Ooh, we didn't expect it to possibly come from inside.' It comes from anywhere. Everybody in this garage area looks at those guys as the team to beat and the guys that are dominating. Everybody wants to be a rival to them because that means they're doing something right. Even though things get heated from time to time. I think that the reason I've gotten vocal is because a little bit of it is because we've been in a position to win and that's a little frustrating. At Texas, that didn't have anything to do with whether we won or lost that race. At Talladega, I felt like it did. That's why I voiced my opinion."
DO YOU REGRET SAYING WHAT YOU DID? "I don't like to get that stuff going in the media. I said what I said and I wouldn't take it back, but I understand why we had our conversation with Rick (Hendrick) and Jimmie (Johnson) and myself this week to make sure it doesn't go any further."
IS DARLINGTON STILL THE TOUGHEST TRACK ON THE CIRCUIT? "It used to be the toughest track because the surface was so abrasive and you really had to have a compromising set up for both ends of the race track and how you drove the car. You had to be finesse and use a lot of finesse as a driver. You would come up next to the wall. Now it's smoother and has more grip, but it's still pretty treacherous because you do run right up next to the wall. It can still bite you, but not quite as much as it used to be although it's faster now and that is a factor. It's an awesome race track, but it can be tough at times."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT YOU HAVE TO RACE THE TRACK AT DARLINGTON? "Again, in the past and even a little bit now as it's starting to wear out a little bit more, it's that you can get to the edge of the grip level and there's just a small margin of error there because you're running so fast close to the wall. That's the thing, if you focus too much on trying to out run the competition then you'll make a mistake. A lot of times, you just run a nice race and keep yourself out of trouble, you will usually end up towards the top. This is not the same Darlington that it used to be, it's going to take another four or five years before it gets back to the old Darlington."
DO YOU FEEL THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON'S SUCCESS HAS MADE YOU ALMOST IRRELEVANT? "I would say me and 41 other guys out there, absolutely. When somebody dominates the sport like that, he's taken a majority of the guys out of the picture. That is what is amazing to me that he doesn't have the media exposure and some of the fan following and some of those things more than he does because I feel like he's done everything he possibly could do. I would agree with that and we haven't had the package to compete with him. That's what I'm excited about this year is I feel like I do."
ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT MORE FANS LIKE YOU BETTER NOW THAT YOU'VE SHOWN SOME EMOTION? "It's funny how things go around. I've expressed my opinion before and in the past it was me whining and crying and just not happy about something. That's what happens, you have to go through these different cycles in your life and in racing and it's no different here than anywhere else. In order to really, truly earn respect you have to go through ups and downs. I think the fact that we haven't won a championship or a lot of races the past several years, I think it's sort of gotten us to where we've earned a little more respect among the fans and the media and a lot of people in the garage area. You'll maybe pull for some guys like that when they start coming back around and I think that's kind of the position that we're in. It's exciting, it's a cool place to be and I like it. This is not going to keep me from expressing my opinion, nor is it going to keep me from rubbing fenders with anybody, even the 48 (Jimmie Johnson). This is a unique relationship and situation when you have a four car team and you have to be mindful of that. That's the only difference and if we pick up some fans then that's great. I hope we pick up fans because we start winning again."
HOW MUCH OF A HISTORY DO YOU HAVE WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON? "It's been there for a while because it doesn't matter who it is, but when you bring in a guy in your organization, he's young and up-and-coming. I won the championship in '01 and he came in '02. He was competitive right away. You build a rivalry, I think the rivalry for me with him was there very early on. I was pretty cool with all of it like, 'I'm just happy for him, this is all good and he's tearing it up, I'm part owner in this team.' Then it got to where it was like, 'Okay, how come we're not winning anymore?' Then we start focusing on our program and I feel like the rivalry really hasn't been there. We're competitors who want to run better, we want to win, all of us want to do that, but we haven't been able to really be competitive enough with them. Those few times that we were at Martinsville or places that we kind of owned and those guys came along and sort of captured. Those things definitely get under your skin a little bit because we carry a lot of pride in that. There were moments, but this year I feel like on a consistent basis we're running good enough to compete for wins. It's not just one track here or one track there, it's a lot of places and I think that's why it's going to continue. The excitement is not gone, it's just how we're going to deal with it on a personal level and within the media."
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT DARLINGTON? "Track position is extremely important. You have to compromise as a driver, as a team with the set up because both ends of the race track are totally different so you're never going to have a perfect car or perfect set up. As a driver you have to work around that and try to find the fastest way. You have to have a car that's maneuverable in traffic, which is tough. That place is fast now and it's hard to pass. That's why I say that the track position has become very important."
DOES IT GET ON YOUR NERVES TO NOT BE WINNING RACES AND CHAMPIONSHIPS? "I don't feel like it's just those guys stealing our glory, they've been fantastic and they've won a lot. It's that we haven't been good enough -- the 24 car has not been good enough, I haven't been good enough. I've always looked at it this way, when we're at our best and we've got the strong team out there then I don't feel like there's any competition. That's where they're at now. They've really put themselves in their own league to where no one else has really been the competition. I wasn't really frustrated or thought of it as a rivalry among them, it was really among ourselves and what we need to do to be better. The frustration was that these were our teammates, they're in our shop, we're building the same cars that they're building, but why are we not getting the results. That's not a rivalry thing at that level, that's more of looking within yourself and your team and figuring out what you have to do to be able to go compete with them. In 2002, we were decent that year, we weren't fantastic. I think in 2003 we were okay, but they finished ahead of us in points that year. 2004 was when Kurt (Busch) won the championship and those guys beat us that year in the final lap of the final race. There was a little bit of tension there at that point among the teams just because it was sort of where we were both going for it. We were pretty much non-existent in '05 and '06 -- there was nothing there and those guys were the guys to beat. Then '07 I felt like we had a shot at them, but we just weren't as strong as we needed to be to compete with those guys. They were really on top of their game. Then '08 and '09 I don't feel like we've been strong enough. This year I feel like is the strongest we've been since '01."
HAVING THE SAME PIECES AND NOTES AS THE 48 TEAM, WHAT IS MISSING ON THE 24 TEAM? "That's why we say over and over and over again, but you'll never quite understand it that it doesn't really matter what the set ups are and how the cars are built and all that stuff, it's all about the people. It's about communication. It's about being on the same page, having confidence in one another's ability including your own ability and it's about finding what works best for you. Every driver is different. I think that's one of the great things that Mark Martin has brought to the table is that he's proven that you don't have to have identical set ups to go out and be successful. He has had completely different set ups than the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and still gone out and won races and battled for the championship. It shows the individuality of each team and what it takes to be successful. I think that's what we're really embracing this year."
WHAT DID IT SHOW WHEN THE 5 TEAM WAS SUCCESSFUL WITH A DIFFERENT SET UP? "For the 5 (Mark Martin) car, I think it was something that was great. I think that we all felt that the 5 had it in them and they just needed somebody of Mark's caliber of driver as well as the experience level to elevate them to that level. It might have been a wake up call a little bit for the crew chiefs to look at the set up and go, 'Wow, they're quite a bit different and they were still fast.' Maybe we don't have to have just one package among all four teams. It could have been a little bit there, but I think it just shows how good our organization was. I think that's what it showed more than anything."
DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY DRIVERS FROM THE PAST DIDN'T WANT MULTI-CAR TEAMS? "Here's the thing, we would not have won the championship, I am trying to think of two or three of the years that Jimmie (Johnson) won the championship -- last year we wouldn't have won the championship whether Jimmie was there or not. The year before that it wouldn't have mattered. In '07, maybe. No, I've never really looked at it like that. I've looked at it because I came into a multi-car organization and team and I saw the benefits of having all that because there's days when you're off and somebody else is on then you've got so much information at your finger tips to be able to find the problem. That's a great thing. And when all three are doing well or four are doing well, it allows you to fine tune and get to that next level. To me, the whole reason I felt like we needed to bring on a fourth team and bring on Jimmie was the same reason I thought it was a good thing that Rick (Hendrick) was starting a third team when I was coming along. That's because it's an organization with a lot of depth and the more talent than you can have there, the stronger your organization gets and the more opportunities you have to keep up with the competition."
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU'VE LEARNED ABOUT JIMMIE JOHNSON IN THE LAST TWO WEEKS THAT HAS SURPRISED YOU? "Jimmie (Johnson) is a phenomenal competitor. He's a fierce competitor out there and I think he's a great guy as well. That's the toughest thing is to separate the personal from the competitiveness that goes on the track. There's no doubt there's some things that went on that I felt like were crossing the line and that's why we had the conversation that we had this week. I'm sure it's the same for him. It's good to have that open dialogue and air those things out there. Jimmie is a great friend of mine and somebody that I respect so much as a competitor as well. I can't be mad at the guy. It's just one of those things where what I was saying is what I would say towards any competitor if those same things happened. It wasn't just because it was Jimmie. At the end of the day, I still smiled and laughed about it and I know he did as well."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ABLE TO WIN A RACE AT DARLINGTON? "When I came along, Darlington, the history of the track and how it fit into NASCAR's history was very well documented. The names, (Richard) Petty and (David) Pearson and (Cale) Yarborough and (Dale) Earnhardt, those were things that stuck out to me as wow, if you can win here then you're really doing something. So I put a lot of effort into trying to win there because I felt like it was a really cool race track, a tough race track. Only the best of the best in our sport go on to win there."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT RACING AT DOVER? "It's high speed, really high banked -- Dover is just one of those white knuckle experiences that you really feel the sensation of the speeds that our cars are capable of probably more there than any other track that we go to. It's one of my favorite tracks. I love Dover because it's got those big, fast high banked corners, but it's great racing as well. The groove has really widened out. You can run high, you can run the middle and you can run low. We've seen a lot of different lanes there to race on. It's challenging. Every lap, you're on the edge."
DO YOU ACCEPT JIMMIE JOHNSON'S EXPLANATION THAT TALLADEGA WAS A MISTAKE IN JUDGEMENT ON HIS PART?: "I never doubted that. What happened at Talladega was really not as big of a deal to me as what happened at Texas. It was just after Texas what had gone on so what happened at Talladega just escalated me and how I was feeling about the situation. At Talladega, I had a run that I felt was going to get me in position to possibly win the race. At Talladega when you get a big run like that and I had a big one, a lot of times you just get a blur in your mirror and you block it, not knowing just how much faster those guys are going. Then you have to make a decision when you just stop blocking it and let them go. That's what I saw happen at Talladega. It's easy for that to happen. It wasn't that big of a deal, it was just an accumulation of things."
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE TO MODIFY THE WAY YOU RACE JIMMIE JOHNSON NOW TO AVOID PERCEPTION OF YOUR FEUDING?: "I don't think so. I think we're still going to race hard. Those guys are so good that we know we have to race them for a lot of wins if we're going to win races. We know that there's times that we're going to have to race those guys extremely hard for a win. That's the message that came pretty clear from Rick (Hendrick) is that, 'Hey, there's no reason to do anything silly or dumb.' When it comes down to win the race, nobody expects you to not go for it. I think what Jimmie (Johnson) and I learned from it is that we might have some more incidents out on the track, but it's how we handle it among ourselves and for our team. It's for what goes on Monday through Thursday in the shop and these road crew guys and that perception to make sure that we continue to communicate and have that open book policy and work together to win more races and go battle for the championship at the end of the year."
-source: gm racing