BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO: Q. Physically, will this be a tough race for (injured) Tony Stewart? Well, I think every week that goes by, he gets probably closer and closer to 100 percent, if he's not ...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO:
Q. Physically, will this be a tough race for (injured) Tony Stewart?
Well, I think every week that goes by, he gets probably closer and closer to 100 percent, if he's not already 100 percent. The way he was throwing that hammer around last week, it looked like he was fine. Certainly I think this week it's more the heat that's going to affect every driver, not just Tony. Every time you have an injury and it's hot like this, it's only going to make it that much more demanding on your body and yourself throughout the whole race.
Q. Is this track like your home away from home?
I love coming here. It's a great track. I love the road courses. It's fun to mix it up. I'm a huge fan of the wine country, Napa Valley, Sonoma. I have my own wine now made here in Napa, so that's also exciting. For me it's about family and friends that I don't get to see that often.
Q. Would a win here jump-start your season?
Well, I hope that it does get our season jump started. This would be a great place to do it. We have a lot of fans that pull for us here. This can be a good track for us.
You know, no matter what road course you're going to, I'm excited, but when it's where I grew up, it makes it even that much more special. It's very, very cool that they recognize me and put me on their wall of fame. It's a real honor. This place has been good to me, and I am proud of what we've accomplished here. The fans that pull for us here and everything, it makes this a special weekend.
Q. Last year you walked away from here with a disappointing finish. What was that like for you?
Last year we were leading the race when we had the problem with the transmission. I feel like on our bad days when everything is working correctly and we make it into the race, we should be in the top five or six here. We don't ever want to give that up. We gave up that and possibly a win.
Q. How critical is it to step it up this weekend and do what everybody expects you to do?
Well, the thing is we expect it as much out of ourselves as anybody does. I think really the pressure is more on Tony. He set the bar here last year, and on the road courses last year he was so successful and dominant. I'd say there's more pressure on him to keep that going. Now it's for us to really get back into sort of the form that we've been in before, and I think we're capable of doing it.
Q. How close are you to that form, the form where you were dominating on these road courses?
I think the way the car is feeling. We had a great test at VIR, and I feel like we've made gains and so far practice has gone very well. I'm certainly looking forward to qualifying. But then tomorrow is a whole other day getting this car ready for a race.
Q. Is Robby Gordon one of maybe five cars that can win the race?
Yes and no. I think every year guys get better and more comfortable and learn more and somebody might surprise you. But it is ?? the road course definitely separates the competition more so than any other place we go to just because of the challenge that comes along with a road course. You've got braking conditions and shifting conditions and left and right and a lot of areas that you can get yourself in trouble, and the guys that are comfortable know how to attack the right areas and be conservative in the right areas, and the guys that aren't comfortable can easily get themselves lost or off the course.
Q. Do you feel there are a bunch of guys that have lost the race before they ever walk in the gate?
I think that's what you have here, not just in the difference of competition on the racetrack, but you have that coming in where you have five guys or six guys that go, man, I can't wait for that road course, we're going to go out there and have a shot to win, and then most guys or a lot of guys out there are saying, man, I'd just like to stay on the track, something in the Top 10 would be a blessing. That in itself separates the competition before we ever get on the racetrack.
Q. Do you try to spend more time maybe taking lessons and stuff to try to learn how to drive these courses?
I think the guys that put more effort into their road course programs and making sure that they don't lose something when they get here, that they don't come into this thinking that they're already behind, and the only way you're going to do that is to get comfortable on road courses, maybe go to some driving schools, and then the team has got to step up, as well, with what they're doing to the racecar to get the guys comfortable.
Q. How much do you look forward to coming back here year in and year out?
Well, it's a fun weekend for me. Yes, I get to see a lot of family and friends that I grew up with or friends of mine that went to elementary school with, not to mention it's fun because enjoying the wine country. Girlfriends and wives and everybody just looks forward to great meals. I don't get to enjoy much of the wine while I'm out here, but I just love the atmosphere that it offers on top of just enjoying the road course.
There are huge fans around this area, and I think as a kid growing up, I recognized that racing was big to a lot of people in the bay area, Sacramento area, and maybe at that time it was sort of more of a kind of club?like thing where only the guys that were into racing knew about it, and now it's just reaching out there and going beyond that.
Q. On the NASCAR West Series:
I think we've got the Winston West Series is something that's really taken off and really is a great training ground for drivers to come to the Cup Series. I think there have always been racers out here that maybe NASCAR wasn't the direction that they thought they were heading in.
I know when I was growing up in California, I didn't know anything about NASCAR. I never even knew that NASCAR came out here. They were coming out here before I left.
It's funny because I'll talk to family members of mine, like an uncle of mine that says, oh, yeah, I watched NASCAR. I never even knew it. I was into racing but it was all about Indy, open?wheel cars, anything open?wheel. Now that's changed. It's about stock cars and NASCAR.
I may have been from California, but I was more of an Indiana guy when I went down south. I made the partial move, and I felt like just the type of racing that I was doing, it taught me a lot and it opened up doors for me just because I was racing ?? winning races on TV and getting recognized. When I went down south, even though maybe some of the fans were a little hesitant and maybe some competitors might say, oh, he doesn't know how to drive a stock car, he's been driving open?wheel cars, I think car owners realized, hey, we just want a guy that can drive the car, and maybe that's the best driver we can find.
I think that's one of the things that helped NASCAR so much is that the owners and even the sponsors looked for talent to drive the race cars to get the win before they start thinking about, well, which guy is going to bring the most money to our race team so we can have a business.
Q. How important would it be to get the first victory of the year in this victory lane?
I think it would be very cool. Obviously we'd like to have a win anywhere. It doesn't matter where we get it, but knowing that we haven't won yet this year, we're certainly looking for that first one, and it would be great for it to happen here.
Q. This is the third consecutive year Jimmie has been leading the points coming into the race. Can you just kind of put that into perspective, how much of an accomplishment that is?
Oh, I think it's a great accomplishment. I know how proud I am of Jimmie and that team, what they've done from their rookie season until now. It's impressive. I think the only thing I would mention is to cap it off and put the icing on the cake at the end of the season. I know how bad they want it, and they're a great team, and Jimmie is a great driver.
Q. Is this year a really tough year for you?
No, not at all. I'd say we were far less competitive in 2000 and we've had some failures this year that have kept us outside the Top 10. The difference is in 2000 they didn't have the Chase. Now you're not in the Top 10 and it's like you don't exist. We realize that we've got some points to make up, and this is a good weekend hopefully to help us get that going.
Q. How confident do you feel coming into this weekend?
Well, you never know if you're going to go to victory lane. Last year we had a great car and a great team and we had a failure. I feel like we've probably got the best car and team that we've had here in a long time.