JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with media members at Talladega Superspeedway and talked about racing at Talladega, Tony Stewart becoming a team owner, favorite dirt tracks, the All Star race, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and other...
JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with media members at Talladega Superspeedway and talked about racing at Talladega, Tony Stewart becoming a team owner, favorite dirt tracks, the All Star race, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and other topics.
HAVING NOT WON YET THIS YEAR, HOW CONFIDENT DOES IT MAKE YOU COMING BACK TO A TRACK WHERE YOU HAVE HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS? "We love coming to Talladega, it's a great track. The fact that we had this car, the new Impala here last year and had success with it, it gives us definitely some confidence. We just came back from a test in Nashville, we test again next week and then Charlotte test coming up so I feel confident those tests are going to help us in areas that we need to work on but it's kind of refreshing to come here and not have to worry about handling or really a whole lot other than the restrictor plate change and just see how that works in the draft."
CONSIDERING --DO YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT WHAT CAN GO WRONG? "You have to be smart. You can't just put yourself in a bad position. You gotta understand your surroundings. You see yourself getting in a bad position and there's a way to get out of it, then you get out of it. The problem is most of the time you are in the middle of it going I know I shouldn't be here, but you don't have any other options. Last year we didn't qualify well, we were in the back. We rode around the back all day, it's not something I enjoyed doing or had a lot of fun with but you know it's kind of the box we were put in and hopefully we qualify better this time around and we're up front all day. The most important thing, have the same results."
WITH THE SUCCESS HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS HAD AT THIS TRACK, WITH YOUR CURRENT TEAMMATES, HOW MUCH OF AN OPPORTUNITY DOES THAT WHEN YOU LOOK AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AS A WHOLE AND THEIR RECORD AT THIS RACE TRACK, NO OTHER TEAM REALLY COMPARES. 12 WINS IN THIS CAMP RIGHT NOW HERE. HOW MUCH OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU AND THE REST OF THE HENDRICK CAMP HAS GETTING BACK INTO VICTORY LANE? "I look at these restrictor plate races especially here at Talladega with this car especially, anybody can win here. The fact that we've won that many races is pretty phenomenal to me. And then to make the change, the rules have changes the car has changed, it's not the same ballgame and you know the fact that we were able to win this race last year I thought was really a surprise. The first race with the old car was different, you gotta get out front and stay out front, with this car you want to be second or third or fourth and make that slingshot move at the end. To get yourself in that position with two or three laps to go is very hard to do. It worked out for us then hopefully it will work out for us again this time. I think that any time you come to a track that you've had success at as an organization and your team, it gives you confidence and makes you look forward to it and you know what it takes to win. Just gotta make it happen again."
MAYBE THIS YEAR MORE THAN LAST YEAR, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR UNDER THE RADAR A LITTLE BIT? "Junior's always been the guy. He's always gotten the most attention, so to me there's nothing really different. We're not having the success at this point in the season we had last year, so we are under the radar just because we haven't performed. To me it's always been Junior's up here in popularity and the rest of us follow and that hasn't changed to me any more this year than it has in other years. It's exciting to see him at Hendrick and see him running well and up in the points and I'm proud to be a part of that."
ARE THERE LESS BOOS NOW? "I have seen it change it some, but I think the diehard Earnhardt fans are not gonna change just because he's our teammate which is fine by me."
ON TOYOTA'S CHANCES AT TALLADEGA. "They've got good power, we learned that in Daytona (4:19). I expect for them to be strong here again. You say Toyota, I say Gibbs. I don't think Toyota. To me there's a big difference. Not trying to beat anybody else down but the Gibbs teams are strong. They have good drivers, good teams and they got great power this year and it's working well for them so I expect it to work well for them (4:49). With that said, this is a restrictor plate track and anybody can win here so it wouldn't surprise me to see anybody win. Anybody can win this race."
SPEAKING OF GIBBS, TONY MADE THE NEW THIS WEEK IN DECLARING FREE AGENCY. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THAT, HOW VALUABLE WOULD HE BE? "Very valuable. To me that tells me he's got another year on his contract or two, I don't know how many and he wants out a bit earlier. The one thing that I've learned a long time ago, if a guy doesn't want to be there, there's no use in putting up too much of a fight to keep him there. Because even if you do, it's never going to be the same. The fact that he said that, I'm sure there's a lot of things that are gonna have to be worked out. I'm pretty confident that Tony is gonna get what he wants. He might pay price at it to do that, to get that. I think that was a huge, huge thing and I'm very surprised. That just opens up a whole book of questions, what are his plans, where's he going, what's he gonna do. It's interesting to see you guys to watch and see what happens."
HE'S THINKING ABOUT OWNERSHIP, WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IT? "With a good partner yes. Rick Hendrick is a great partner. He's a great business man and he's been at this a very long time so with the right organization, with the right partner, absolutely. I wouldn't recommend for anybody to go at it on their own. I just think there's a lot at stake. It's very difficult, it's very expensive and the business model is not necessarily a very good one, but there are I'd say a handful or maybe 10 teams that do well. But other than that, you got a lot of guys that break even, a lot of guys that lose a lot of money. It could go either way."
DO YOU SEE TONY STEWART IN A CHEVY SOMETIME SOON? "I know that he's always been a guy that's enjoyed driving Chevy's and that might have had something to do with it. I really don't know."
WHEN YOU'VE HAD AN OFF WEEK AND YOU COME BACK, IS THERE REFRESH REVITALIZATION IN YOU AND WANTING TO GET BACK BEHIND THE WHEEL AND WANTING TO GET ON TRACK? "Well we've been on the track testing. Yeah, I'm excited to get back to the race track. Because the last couple of weeks haven't gone well for us, the last couple of races, we're looking to rebound and get ourselves back up there. Any time you go through a couple races like we've gone through, your goal is to get that momentum back and just to build confidence and build teamwork and it builds everything up so you can go in the right direction."
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF DANICA'S WIN? "I was watching it. I felt like it was a matter of time before she won one. I'm happy for her, and I think she's proven that's she a very good driver and I think she's with a good team so I'm sure there's a lot of pressure and a lot of pressure taken off. Certainly got a lot of buzz to what's already been an interesting season to Indy Car racing/CART season. I think it's good momentum for them for sure."
SUCCESS HERE, WHERE YOU'RE AT IN THE POINTS, WEEKEND DOESN'T GO TO WELL WHERE DOES THAT PUT YOU IN THE MIND SET? "I can think of a lot of things there. If I had to go through and think that every week, I couldn't last very long in this series or in this sport. You can't do it like that. You just got to go out there and work hard and get the best finish you can. It doesn't matter whether you win or whether you finish 43rd, you go on to the next one, you go on to the next one and the next one and all you can do is you best. The only thing that we're focusing on right now is those two bad races, especially Texas.
"How do we make sure or do our best trying to prevent that from happening again? We know we're a competitive team and we want to be competitive. We're pretty embarrassed about what happened in Texas and we're working very, very, very hard to prevent that from happening."
JEFF, HOW MUCH BETTER OF RACE WOULD IT BE HERE IF IT WERE 300 MILES INSTEAD OF 500 MILES? "I don't think it matters, unless you made it a 50 lap race. I think anything over that, so I guess we need a 150-mile you know. To me, I think that this race track is so big and so wide, it doesn't matter if we run 1,000 miles here, there's always going to be good action, there's always going to be three wide and passes for the lead especially with this car, but to me it seems that the real race for the win is not going to happen until you get inside that last pit stop. Once you get inside that last pit stop it's all about positioning yourself, it's all about getting the five, 10 to go and hoping you're in a place to make that move to win."
WHAT'S DALE'S LEGACY HERE? "Obviously seven championships. Being the Intimidator, a guy that's just relentless. To me I think he was the greatest restrictor plate driver of all time. I don't think there is even a question about that, but he has so many things that can contribute to his legacy it's hard to pick one."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE RACING AGAINST HIM? "It was incredible. I miss Dale a lot. I miss racing Dale, a great deal, he brought a lot to this sport. Something I don't think anybody can bring to a sport, just everything sort of matched up from his personality to driving style, his black 3 Chevrolet, his nickname to what he did in the race car on track and the fan following that he had. It's all those things that make him the legend that he'll always be."
WHAT ABOUT THE ENGINE ISSUES YOU HAD EARLY AT DAYTONA? "Yeah, that won't be an issue here."
SAME CAR, DIFFERENT CAR? "Don't know, couldn't tell you. They all the same. I think we had our short track car at the shootout there in Daytona. All at issue was the stress we were putting on the upper control arms and it just broke the bracket, I think it was the left upper control arm bracket. We've addressed that. We feel confident we've fixed it and we didn't have an issue here. This place is not near as hard on the suspension components as Daytona is."
HOW MANY MORE YEARS, HOW MANY MORE WINS AND CHAMPIONSHIPS DO YOU HAVE LEFT IN YOU? "You always love getting asked that question. Makes you feel old. I don't feel pressure. I feel I'm in a great place in my life and my career. No matter what this season offers me I have a lot to be excited and proud of and happy about. I'm a competitor, I like to be competitive and I think what's helped me contribute to team's I've driven for throughout my career and be successful. I hope it always continues until the day that I can walk away from it. Hopefully I can walk away from it on my own terms. I don't know, I couldn't tell you.
"When you have tough years you want to walk away sooner when you have good years you feel like it extends your career longer. After last year I was excited to get back in this year and obviously a tough year ahead of us and we'll see where it all ends up being at the end of the year I can't give you a number, I don't know. But if I never get the fifth championship, I will always be proud of my career, what I have a accomplished. My four championships and my wins. The competitor in me wants to keep going, I have a great race team, great people around me, so that is what I am looking at."
WHAT'S THE BEST DIRT TRACK? "Man, there's a question. I hate to say it but Kokomo (Speedway) would be on my top 15 or 20. Maybe because I wasn't very good at Kokomo. I used to love Bloomington, Indiana, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Haubstadt, Indiana and I loved a lot of short tracks, Chillicothe, Ohio is one of my favorites. I mean I always loved Eldora. I think Eldora is probably the ultimate dirt track that there is. All kinds of race cars put on great races there. A guy that personally grew up on little short tracks, I'd probably have to say Lawrenceburg or Chillicothe or something like that."
WHEN YOU GET GEARED UP TO COME BACK TO TALLADEGA, YOUR NOT SUCH A BAD GUY? "I don't look at it that way. I look at it as the more things they throw at me, it seems like the better things are going for me. I think that our fans our passionate and I like to see their passion. Obviously you don't want them throwing things. It's always been a love/hate relationship for me ever since I came to NASCAR. Prior to NASCAR everywhere I went the fans were all for me and having an incredible fan following, but when you get in NASCAR you start battling Dale Earnhardt, you're second, third year into the series created quite a rivalry among the fans and that's just the way I've always looked at it."
THEY AREN'T THROWING STUFF AS HARD NOW, MAYBE? "Sometimes they do, it depends on how good we are doing. You know. It doesn't seem like it ever changes here at Talladega. There are a lot of Earnhardt fans here. But there are also a lot of Gordon fans. I think that is one of the coolest things I love about Talladega is the on going rivalry. When you are in the car and you are making a pass for the lead and you pass Dale Earnhardt, Jr., even if he is your teammate, you know the fans are going nuts. That is a cool feeling."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE UPCOMING RACES BEING GOOD TRACKS FOR YOU? "Richmond, we improved on last year and were top-five both races. I think that is our biggest challenge. I am very excited about all the tracks from here to Charlotte. That is kind of what we were just in. With this new car and us not quite figuring out the 1.5-miles, we were on a streak of tracks that are not our best tracks. Now we are coming to our best tracks. All that really matters to me is that, I am not saying we have to go out there and win, but need to put solid finishes together at them.
"We need to capitalize at the tracks that are good tracks for us. It doesn't matter if it is Martinsville or it is a road course. There have not been many tracks out there that have been bad tracks for me. But of all the tracks that are probably my worst tracks, Texas and Phoenix are two of them. We had those back-to-back and had bad results. So hopefully, now we can come to some tracks, Talladega, Darlington, Charlotte, we have a road course that is coming up in early June. We have some good tracks that we can definitely put some good finishes together."
DO YOU THINK YOU SHOULD BE THE FAVORITE HERE BASED ON LAST YEAR? "Maybe, I mean, if I was doing odds, I would definitely put us as one of the favorites. I don't know how really separate them by much here. Anybody can win at this race track. The only reason you might put me is because we won the last restrictor plate here with this car and won the last couple of races. But Jimmie has been good here. Junior has been good here. I am very interested to see how Junior does here with Hendrick equipment, I think he is going to be really strong cause because he is a very good drafting."
WHAT DID DALE SR.'S HAVING THE FIRST SPECIAL PAINT SCHEME AT THE ALL STAR DO TO THE MARKET FOR SPECIAL PAINT SCHEME: "I think Dale and the group that he was doing his licensing and merchandising with really took it to the next level. They were thinking so much farther ahead and thinking about things that most of us weren't thinking about, souvenir sales and capitalize on it. He had a lot of sales, so he could think about that. He had such an amazing fan following and plus he saw what diecast and memorabilia was becoming. I think that a lot of that you can give credit to Fred Wagonenas from Action Performance. Between him, Dale, Richard Childress and Hank Jones, they all took it to another level."
"I can't say I remember my first one. In the late 90s, diecast collectable were just booming. It was huge, you would come out with a new paint scheme and you would sell it out every single time. I think we flooded the market a bit. It isn't as special as it used to be. We used to do Star Wars, movie premiers, Superman and some really cool big promotions. I think when those come along and it makes sense for the sponsors and it is appealing to the fans, I think it makes sense to do it. Just to change a paint scheme, to change a paint scheme, we have to think about the value to our sponsors along the way as well. Yes, we have had some cool ones. Jurassic Park, there have been a punch of cool ones."
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ALL STAR MOMENT? "Probably the year we crashed in the first segment and came back and won. Or, maybe the year with the Jurassic Park car when we won all three segments. Those are pretty awesome memories for me."
-credit: gm racing