Weekly Top-10 Behind the Hauler Chat with Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS Richmond International Raceway BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS: ON RICHMOND NOT BEING A GOOD TRACK FOR HIM THE LAST FEW...
Weekly Top-10 Behind the Hauler Chat with Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont
Monte Carlo SS
Richmond International Raceway
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS:
ON RICHMOND NOT BEING A GOOD TRACK FOR HIM THE LAST FEW YEARS: "You're absolutely right. Those types of things are real challenges for us and we try to focus on the areas we have been weak in. This has been a good track for us at times. The last couple of years we've just been missing something. We've worked on a lot of things testing here. Actually we didn't have a very good test here. So far today I'm feeling a lot better about it in race trim and qualifying trim. I definitely think we're making some gains here."
HOW AWARE ARE YOU OF THAT WHEN YOU GO TO A TRACK YOU HAVEN'T ALWAYS RUN WELL AT? "It's not about what you've done in the past. It's about how the car is feeling at the time. Every time I go somewhere I'm optimistic we're going to make it better if we have struggled in the past or if we're going to maintain if we're good there. As soon as we unload the car here, I just go right to what it (the car) is doing for me right now, what do I need to go faster now, how do we stack up against the competition right now, not about what we did in the past."
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS YEAR IS UNFOLDING FOR YOU SO FAR? "We've had consistency which is why we're where we are at in the points. We've finished a lot of laps but our performance needs to step up a notch or two. I'm hoping that we continue to see a trend of our performance getting better and better as we get closer to that Chase."
DO YOU EXPECT MORE FROM YOURSELF THAN OTHER DRIVERS DO FOR CONSISTENCY VERSUS VICTORIES? "I only expect what we're capable of. I think what we're capable of is victories and battling for championships. We really got knocked down a couple of notches last year and the year before that. There were some race tracks that we just really struggled at and then other tracks that we were mediocre at. That doesn't get turned around overnight. It takes time and in that sense, I am very realistic and recognize the competition, recognize that there's no magic as far as me being able to drive the wheels off of a car.
"It takes a whole combination - the team, the set-up, the driving, the pit crew, everything. We've been very focused and committed to that. I feel like we're slowly but surely making gains but we're still behind and we recognize that. I put that type of pressure on myself and this team as well but I'm also very realistic to understand that it is what it is right now. We're working on getting it better. We don't just go out there and win races because my name is Jeff Gordon and I'm driving the 24 car. It's because we got all the right ingredients out there and that's what's won races and championships for us in the past and that's what's going to do it in the future."
WHY DO THE DRIVERS REALLY LIKE THIS TRACK? "It is a nice track. It's a track that has a couple of different lines and grooves that you can run on it. We see side-by-side racing. It's not any easy track by all means. It's more of a driver's track I guess. If you want to drive straighter into the corner and run around the bottom, then you can. If you want to arc in and run the high line, then you can. The driver has some flexibility in what you can do with the car. Any track that you go to that has that - Atlanta, Michigan, those types of tracks - the drivers are going to like it."
ON HAVING A LARGE AMOUNT OF MILITARY STAFF ATTENDING THIS RACE: "The armed services are huge supporters of our sport. We're huge supporters of what they're doing for our country. I think we recognize how important they are. We recognize this is a sport. This isn't something that has to go on but it's something that is entertaining and we've very fortunate to be able to do it. Because of the men and women that fight so hard for our country, we're able to do that."
ON IF HIS TEAM IS STARTING TO MELD TOGETHER TO WIN RACES: "I hope so. Like I said, every weekend I'm optimistic that we're going to get it turned around but I'm also realistic where I know it's not going to happen overnight. I feel like we're making gains. We're learning some things that are going to take this team to the next level. Have we hit on it yet? We'll find out tomorrow night but we're getting there. We're definitely getting closer. Every time we test, we seem to get closer and closer. I thought we had a good test in Charlotte. We had a miserable test here but I felt like we learned a lot. I think that it's actually paid off for us. Even though it didn't go well for us, I feel like it's paid off for us to come back here and be a little bit better."
ON TESTING MORE THIS YEAR AND IF THEY HAVE LEARNED MORE ABOUT THE TEAM AND HOW TO IMPROVE: "We're limited on how many times we can test so we're not testing anymore than anybody else. I think I look back on it now and maybe last year we should have gone to some more tracks like Kentucky just to try some things that have gotten away from us. I feel like we're creeping back up on it now. The team is getting aggressive with the set-ups. I'm comfortable with the way the car is driving and the speed is coming back and we're fine-tuning instead of being out in left field. We're in the ballpark somewhere."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN AT THE CHARLOTTE TEST AND HOW HAS THAT TRACK CHANGED OVER THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS? "Well I can't tell you everything that we learned but I can tell you what we learned about Charlotte. They did a fantastic job with the repaving. I think we're going to see some awesome racing there if not this next race coming up in the near future. Obviously we're all a little bit concerned with how hard the Goodyear tire is. We're all trying to get our cars comfortable as fast we can on that tire."
ON HAVING ONLY ONE PRACTICE SESSION BEFORE QUALIFYING TODAY: "Had we not tested here I think it would have been a little bit more difficult. It's the same for everybody. Everybody has the same opportunity to go out there and adjust and make their cars faster. I like that we just go out there and work on the race the whole time. We make one qualifying run because that's basically the set-up we have to run. I kind of like it. You like it if you're running decent. You don't like it if you're not. There's times when you need more time but then there are other times you wish that they'd cut practice off a half hour early. I think at certain tracks that we don't get a chance to test at it'd be nice to have a little bit more time on the track."
HOW DID LAST YEAR'S DISAPPOINTEMENT IMPACT YOU AS A COMPETITOR IN TERMS OF MOTIVATION? "The frustration builds and it gets tougher and tougher each and every weekend to stay motivated but at the same time it really inspires you to want to get it fixed and what am I doing as driver, what are we doing as team, our cars, looking at our teammates, everything and just trying to figure out what we can do. That's one of the things that we did.
"We stopped trying to go off of set-ups that we were hearing about that other teams were running, that our teammates running and (instead look at) what's going to work for us and for my driving style. I think that's where we started picking up speed and we started getting better. I think our team overall is so much stronger right now and that's why we're where we are at in the points. Our pit crew is awesome. That was an area that we really needed to focus on and we did. I think our cars and set-ups are closer but we're still not close enough to be out there running for victories at some of these mile and half race tracks."
WHAT IS A REALISTIC TIMELINE BEFORE YOU GET TO WHERE YOU WANT TO BE? "I would say June or July. I think every weekend we'll gradually, hopefully get closer. Some weekends we might miss it. Even though we weren't great at Texas we learned a lot because we tried something that we never tried before. We were still going to be 11th or 12th before we cut down the left rear tire. We found out what we can do and what we can't do. I think that that race right there is going to make us better. It has and it's pointed us in a direction springs and shock-wise. Now we have a direction and we're just fine tuning on that. I feel like we're getting better and better. I want to be realistic. Obviously you've got to be on top of your game before you come back here in September. You need momentum going into that Chase. I think 10 races prior to that is when we really need to be on top of it."
ON DARLINGTON AND WHAT IT TAKES TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT THAT RACE TRACK: "Darlington is one of those odd mixes with the way we're setting the cars up. You've got Darlington where the asphalt is worn our. It wears the tires out. You have to have a lot more finesse there and patience than you do at most of the tracks we're going to these days. I always look forward to going to Darlington. It's one of my favorites and I'm sure it always will be."
WHAT DOES RUNNING 500 MILES AT DARLINGTON DO TO YOU MENTALLY? "That's exactly it. It's very mentally draining. Unless it's hot outside, it's not a real physical race track. You can't run fast enough and hard enough to really push yourself, your body. You just have to be careful not to push too hard because the car is slipping and sliding at all times and it's all about staying out of the wall."
HOW DO YOU TAKE CRITICISM ABOUT NOT BEING 100 PERCENT FOCUSED? "I don't pay any attention to it. If someone within our organization was criticizing me of that, I would take it very seriously and I would take issue with it. Anybody outside our organization, it's so easy to criticize when you're up in the booth or you're watching from on top of a trailer and you don't know all the details of what's going on the inside. I always use this as an example. In 1998 I was building a house in Florida. I spent probably the least amount of time at the race shop that year. I had so many distractions because every spare moment I had was working on plans, architecture, designing this house, working with the construction people and the headaches that going along with building a house. Every week there was something coming up and I won 13 races that year and killed them in the championships. I think one of the best things that my race team and my office does and Jon Edwards (PR manager) and the folks at the PR department do is organize my time in making sure that I am focused. I take that very seriously. I've been doing the same thing for the last several years and that's what is important to me as a team. That part is there. I like vacation. I take vacation when I can. I feel like I'm more focused when I do because I work so hard when we're not vacationing. I would not be ashamed to say that I'm probably one of the hardest working guys in this guy area. Maybe it's not always on the race track at a test somewhere but it's between racing, testing, appearances and things that I have to do for sponsors and to be a part of this sport. I know I'm busy so I look forward to taking that time off."
DOES COMING TO RICHMOND GIVE YOU A LEVEL OF COMFORT TO GET BACK TO TOP-FIVE AND TOP-TEN FINISHES? "No, not necessarily. We struggled at this race track last year and we struggled at the test here too. I was really not sure what we were going to have coming in here. I think we made gains based on what we learned from the testing even though it wasn't a good one and the things we learned today and things really we've been learning in general week in and week out. We're pretty decent right now and I'm happy and excited about that. I hope that we can maintain that the rest of the weekend."
ON COMPARING WHERE HE IS NOW WITH CREW CHIEF STEVE LETARTE VERSUS WHERE HE WAS IN 2005? "I think we're definitely ahead of the game. Our team overall is just stronger partly because of Robbie (Loomis, former crew chief). I think Robbie left this team with some really good things intact. We didn't have to reinvent the wheel. We just had to massage on some things. We made our pit crew better. That was one of the things he was working on before he left. That's one of the things Steve (Letarte) progressed through and really made some big gains in. I think our race cars have improved. I think we're still missing some things on our set-ups but for the most part we're much better at this point in the game especially looking at where we're at in the points and how we're going to get stronger as the year goes on."
DID YOU TALK TO YOUR TEAMMATES BRIAN VICKERS AND KYLE BUSCH ABOUT THE FIVE WIDE SITUATION THAT HAPPENED ON LAP NINE IN TALLADEGA? "I did talk to Brian Vickers because he flew back with me. I thought Brian did a great job driving all day long and seeing huge improvements. We did talk about that incident. I felt like it was definitely too early to do some of those things. He's a great listener. He's like a sponge. He learns a lot. I think that if he had to do it over again he might back off there before he got inside that 99. As far as the No. 5 car (Kyle Busch) is concerned, I couldn't tell. I didn't see enough of the video to go back to see if he had done anything but we did not talk about."
ON DRIVER CONCERNS ABOUT THE TIRES AFTER TESTING IN CHARLOTTE: "It's a better problem than having tires that are too soft and blow up. I think Goodyear went the conservative route. Unfortunately that's the corner they were put into and that's what we're dealt with. I think a lot of us wish we had a little bit softer tire. The track is fantastic. I don't know how we're going to qualify there, that's my concern. You can't get any heat in those tires in two laps so that's a concern. Other than that race-wise at least we've got multiple grooves already so that's a good sign."
HOW MANY PIT STOPS DO YOU THINK YOU WILL HAVE IN CHARLOTTE? "I think that's the thing that compounds the issue. It's one thing to have a hard tire but it's another thing to have such a small fuel cell. I think Goodyear and NASCAR need to get together. I think they've gone overboard on being too conservative."
DO YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE RACING SOMEBODY WITH THOSE TIRES? "I think you're going to see multiple grooves because the track offers that up but I don't think you'll see guys racing real hard side-by-side just because the grip is not there for guys to be comfortable enough to be aggressive like that."