JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT/PEPSI THROWBACK CHALLENGER IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Talladega Superspeedway and discussed the impact his family has had on his life, the possibility of Hendrick Motorsports winning four in a row, his...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT/PEPSI THROWBACK CHALLENGER IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Talladega Superspeedway and discussed the impact his family has had on his life, the possibility of Hendrick Motorsports winning four in a row, his favorite moment from the All-Star race and much more.
YOU COME TO TALLADEGA WHAT COMES TO MIND FOR YOU? "This has been a great track for us. Drafting, restrictor plates a lot of tight racing. It's pretty white-knuckle out there for the drivers. I think it's a heck of a show for the fans. Everybody watching at home and here. This weekend I think of our throw-back paint scheme with the Pepsi Challenger. It's just so cool to be able to run that paint scheme. Something that DW (Darrell Waltrip) made famous back in the '80s. A big promotion for Pepsi and we're going to have a lot of fun with it this weekend."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU'VE DEVELOPED THROUGH THE YEARS AS A DRIVER? "There is definitely a lot of experience that pays off out there and I feel I'm just more calm and patient in the decision making that goes on out there. I don't get too caught up in every little thing and make too much drama out of it. You know racing has changed over the years so much since I've been in the sport. The car has changed and how you have to approach it changes. These days this car you can be leading on the last lap and end up 15th. That's how temperamental and how important every move that you make and every decision that you make can be. If we're in the top three, four or five in the closing laps I think we've got a great shot at winning or a great shot at finishing 15th or 20th."
SO WOULD YOU SAY THAT YOU'RE A BETTER DRIVER NOW THAN YOU WERE WHEN YOU WERE COMING UP? "I think at these types of tracks and most tracks experience is very important. I think that makes you a better driver and I think that experience pays off more here than it does anywhere."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE IMPACT YOUR FAMILY HAS HAD ON YOUR LIFE AND CHANGING MAYBE PRIORITIES A LITTLE BIT? "It's definitely made a big impact on my life. I love being a dad. Just this week getting to go to school with her and different classes. We went to the museum and different things. Just seeing things through her eyes is incredible. As far as my priorities, family has always been important to me and been a priority to me but it doesn't change my focus on racing and what I do in the race car. Certainly not how I approach racing. I think I'm more intense about racing today than I ever have been. It's just that my time is not spent as much on racing as maybe 10 years ago."
YOU'VE WON A LOT OF CHAMPIONSHIPS AND YOUR LEGACY IS BASICALLY BEEN DEVELOPED, IS YOUR MIND FOCUSED ON CONTINUING TO WIN MORE AND MORE CHAMPIONSHIPS? IS THAT A MAIN FOCUS FOR YOU OR IS IT A DIFFERENT TYPE OF LEGACY? "I'm going to act like you didn't ask that question, how's that? Because it's just not a very good question. I'm more intense and focused on trying to win championships and races today than I ever have been. I know that I don't have another 10 years still left out here so to me it's more important to capitalize on those moments and opportunities. This great team that we have here can go out there and get it done this year more than ever. Plus I've never won a Sprint Cup and to me there's a big difference in winning a Winston Cup and a Sprint Cup primarily because the way the points have changed and the competition."
HENDRICK HAS WON THREE IN A ROW AS A TEAM, WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT THE EFFORT AND THE POTENTIAL OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? "I think it says a lot. Ever since I've got to Hendrick Motorsports I've felt like this is an organization that has so much potential, has all the resources you could ever ask for. To me it's like most race teams, once you win one race it brings the confidence and brings everything together to give you the opportunity to win more races. The same thing with championships, once you win one championship it just seems like the whole organization rallies around that and grows from it. In 1995 when we won our first championship with the DuPont Chevrolet then Terry Labonte and the No. 5 bunch came out in 1996 and won that championship and then we went on and won the next two. Ever since that first championship and even you've got to give a lot of credit to the drivers and personnel and everyone that was there long before me. Ricky Rudd came close to winning a championship that a lot of people maybe don't talk about. Ken Schrader was an instrumental part of Hendrick Motorsports, Geoff Bodine and Tim Richmond. They (HMS) won one race every year for the past 25 years so that's unbelievable and that tells you just how great this organization has been from the beginning."
EVERY SPORT HAS ITS DOMINANT TEAM, WHERE IS HENDRICK IN THE MOTORSPORTS SCENE? "Certainly right now the stats speak for themselves. You've got to look at the No. 48 team but it's still Hendrick Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports has played a huge role in that. That team has dominated this sport for the last three, really even more years than that. Really more years than that, even though they didn't win the championship the year or two before that they won a lot of races and were a big factor. If I look at '07 and look at the No. 24 and the No. 48 and I think we had the No. 5 in the Chase that year as well, it was a very dominating season for Hendrick Motorsports as a whole. I think with Jimmie's success and Chad (Knaus) and that No. 48 bunch that they really propel the other teams at Hendrick to step up to the next level and continue on that tradition of dominance. You never know how long it's going to last. Rick Hendrick would be the first one to tell you that. You've got great people and a great organization but you've got to keep working hard. The competition catches up and right now we're just trying to take advantage of having a great engine program, having a great chassis and aerodynamics program and great drivers and crew chiefs and personnel."
CAN YOU TELL US HOW SPECIAL IT IS TO WIN AN ALL-STAR RACE? "I think the All-Star race is a spectacular event and it's something that everybody that's in that race is a proven winner and you don't get into that race easily. So you know that the competition is going to be incredibly fierce and you got to push yourself and the car, the pit crew and everybody, even the crew chief making some big decisions on pit strategy. It pushes the whole team to really find out what you're made of and what you've got and lay it all out there on the line. The fact that we've won it three times, it means a lot. It's a big event to win."
SINCE YOU'VE HAVE WON IT MULTIPLE TIMES IS THERE A BEST PERSONAL MOMENT FOR YOU? "I think it's pretty obvious. The Jurassic Park win, all three stages. I guess maybe not obvious because we won it the one year where we had the back-up car after the wreck on the first corner. But to me personally it was the Jurassic Park car that we had. Going out there and dominating that event winning all three segments is something that you don't see very often."
DO YOU LIKE THE RULE CHANGES FOR THIS YEAR? "I can't keep up with the rule changes on that event. There's so many things. We talked about it briefly. I think Steve (Letarte) has already started thinking about pit strategy and looking at all the different strategies that could possibly play out, so they're on top of it. I'm not ready to look at it quite yet."
LAST WEEK YOU WEREN'T FEELING THAT GREAT AND YOUR BACK WAS HURTING YOU, IS IT BETTER NOW? "There are certainly tracks that are definitely harder on my back and Phoenix is one of them. Richmond coming up will be another one. Martinsville, Bristol and road courses. The pain has not subsided any, the way that the muscle reacts and spasms is not getting any better but I'm getting stronger and I don't expect it to happen overnight and go away. It's going to take time. Last week my back wasn't what was preventing us from being more competitive, I think it was a combination of things. I was sick. I didn't feel like I gave good feedback to the team throughout the whole weekend. We qualified good and we picked the number two pit stall and it didn't seem to work out as good for us as it had. We had some trouble there. All the way around it seemed like we under-performed and it's a good wake-up call for us. I mean this is a totally different type of race this weekend but I expect us to be strong and have fun this weekend especially with the Pepsi throw back paint scheme. We're looking forward to going to Richmond next weekend and getting our short-track program where it can be."
STEVE (LETARTE) SAID NO EXCUSES AND HE WAS REALLY UP ON IT. "He's on it this whole year. I think people are really starting to see why I kept defending him so much last year. Why I believe this guy is just a great crew chief. He's just really doing his homework. His confidence level is high. The race cars that they're bringing to the race track are the best ever. The preparation, just the whole group. That group doesn't get strong without a leader and Steve has really turned into a great leader. Sometimes what makes you a great leader is to go through tough times. Last year was tough and I think it's only made us better."
IF JUNIOR WOULD WIN THIS WEEKEND IT WOULD BE FOUR IN A ROW FOR YOUR TEAM WITH FOUR DIFFERENT DRIVERS, WHAT WOULD THAT SAY ABOUT THIS GROUP? "I think it would say a lot. Obviously you have a story and angel that you're after so you want the sound bite to match. Just tell me what you want me to say. We pride ourselves at Hendrick Motorsports that we know that we have a great organization, great people. Every team, every driver, every crew chief they are capable of winning every weekend. It's something that we put high expectations and pressure on ourselves and luckily we have the resources and people to back it up. Rick doesn't put that kind of pressure on us he just provides us everything that we need and supports us. When we do need a kick in the butt he's there too. When you have the type of resources and people that we have it's no surprise that here we are going for four in a row but at the same time when you work as hard as you do and you don't have the results you realize how tough it is at the same time so you respect it and appreciate it. I think there is a great opportunity for a Hendrick car to win again this weekend and keep that streak alive. I talked to Rick this past weekend and I said you've got to be feeling pretty darn good. You've got three different drivers winning three in a row. I think on a personal note for Rick, I think the ultimate would be for Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) to win this weekend and have four different drivers win four straight races. That would be I think a personal best for him. It would be hard to top other than that one-two-three finish at Daytona."
WHEN THERE'S SO MUCH ABOUT WHEN YOU GUYS ARE OUT THERE ON THE TRACK YOU'RE LOOKING THROUGH THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR AS MUCH AS YOU'RE LOOKING OUT THE FRONT WINDSHIELD . . . "That's because I can't see anything in front of me other than the rear bumper in front of me."
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR BEHIND YOU? "The thing is if you've got a car tucked up underneath you that's giving you a push and it's giving you momentum and you want to utilize that moment, sometimes you're sitting there being patient and you're not really in a place where you really want to go anywhere and you don't want to make any passes or do anything drastic, you just want to kind of sit there and ride. So sometimes you're just looking to see how far back that car is. The further back that car gets the better chance you have of going backwards and you might need to switch lanes. You see certain cars getting in your lane or getting out of your lane so you pay attention of all those things because that's going to dictate the momentum of your line. Sometimes you've got to prepare for a big hit because they've got a ton of momentum and they're coming. The thing is you don't want to get passed. You don't want a group to think they have enough momentum so they can take you three wide or make a pass on you so you're prepared to somewhat block them but you sort of slow they're momentum down. If they have enough momentum and they can't get by you, you've just got to put your head back and wait for the bump."
THEY SAY IN THE SIDE DRAFT YOUR CAR WILL GET PULLED DOWN A LITTLE, IF I'M OUT ON THE INTERSTATE AND THE WIND PUSHES ME OVER A LITTLE . . . "I'm pretty sure you haven't had a car get half an inch off your side there and feel what it really does at these speeds. It's pretty amazing. It seems to be worse at the other tracks than it is here. With the win it's not as bad as it used to be with the spoiler. With the spoiler it really affected the cars a lot more on the side-drafting. You definitely feel when your momentum is shifting and you want to try to dump as much air on the other car when you're passing them to try to complete the pass because what you're wanting to do is get up to them and carry your momentum, slow they're momentum down so you get all the way past them. You don't want to get just right to their front bumper.
"It's different scenarios. You can be on the inside, you can be on the outside. What's happening is it's really the air coming off the front of your car. Its spills out to the sides, over the top and it speeds the air up quite a bit. Sometimes you're pushing it into the fender well, into the rear tire well areas or onto the rear wing and it seems like both of those things will slow that car down. I try not to do a whole lot of that too early in the race because you're just taking risks. I kind of let the race play out until you really got to start jockeying for position and get yourself set up for the end of the race."
YOU TALKED ABOUT WORKING WITH STEVE EARLIER, A LOT OF TIMES WITH NEW DRIVER/CREW CHIEF COMBINATIONS YOU SEE A SPARK THE FIRST FOUR OR FIVE RACES, PERFORMANCE IMPROVES AND THEN IT STARTS TO SETTLE BACK INTO THE OLD WAYS, WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO DO AS A DRIVER WITH STEVE TO MAKE THAT RELATIONSHIP WORK? "It's about communication and Steve has been with our team for a very long time and we've always communicated well. It's seems like we've always gotten along well. I've believed in him from day one, about a year or two before he was crew chief that he could be a crew chief. Then when he wasn't a crew chief I was the one pushing to make him a crew chief. I don't know if he believed in himself as much as I believed in him. That took a little while to build that up and then I think it took some adjustment for him to realize what all it entails for him to be a crew chief. What those responsibilities are and how you manage them and the people. In '07, I don't know everything just kind of clicked and came together. Last year we got off for some reason but through all that I just kept telling him that I believed in him and he told me the same thing. I just tell him what I see that can make us better, whether it be in the cars, whether it be in the people or whether it be in what he was doing. It never was anything to hurt anybody's feelings. The same with him to me, he could tell me things but he seems to be a little more hesitant on some of those things with me but I tell him be hard on me, don't be afraid. I think that openness makes a big difference."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT NEXT WEEKEND GOING TO RICHMOND? "I think everybody loves Richmond. Any time that you go to a track that has multiple racing grooves it's something that all the drivers are going to like. It's been a pretty good track for us so I certainly look forward to going there. I do know for the fans it's a great show just because there's a lot of action. There's a lot going on. It's tight racing like a short track but there's multiple grooves and that's something that we don't see very often at a ¾-mile race track."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR PEPSI PAINT SCHEME, DO YOU LIKE RETRO STUFF? "I've got to say I'm loving this. I grew up in California drinking Pepsi at the race track. This Pepsi logo on the hood, that's the logo that I grew up with so it brings back a lot of memories for me as a kid. Plus knowing DW (Darrell Waltrip) ran this paint scheme, the Pepsi challenger it's just I remember that whole era and it just made you think that race car was faster than everybody else's. Just sound cool. I'm having a lot of fun. I love what Pepsi has done over the years with their brands, with our race team and the support we've had and this is one that's really stepped out there from what we typically do. I love the fact that we're honoring DW as well. He's played a big part in the history of this sport but also in the history of Pepsi and racing. So I hope we can have success with it because I'm having a blast. It's been a lot of fun already this weekend."
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF THE ALL-STAR RACE? "Probably winning all three segments with the Jurassic Park car. That one is hard to forget. Then I remember when we crashed in turn one and pulled the back-up car out but I also remember when we ran out of gas leading on the last lap. Those three stand out."
HAS THE NEW CAR BROUGHT ABOUT SOME PARITY HERE AT TALLADEGA? "Well we've always had parity I think here at Talladega. I mean the restrictor plate brought parity. You might have seen some different things happening qualifying over the years and you're still going to see a little bit of that here but when it comes to the race I think this car has brought parity in general everywhere that we go. But I don't really see any difference in parity here than I have in the past with the old car."
CHEVY HAS BEEN DOING SO WELL HERE AND IN RECENT YEARS YOU'VE SEEN TOYOTA AND DODGE COME IN A WIN A COUPLE OF RACES, I GUESS THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. "Yeah, you know I think restrictor-plate tracks are about teammates that work together. I think it's about people who are good on these types of race tracks. You're pointing at Tony Stewart who won in a Toyota but he won in Chevy's too. I think that he's going to be really tough in the Chevy that he's in now this weekend again. I'd point more at the driver and the team than I would at anything else."
IS THIS PROBABLY THE ONE TRACK WHERE YOU CAN SAY THE NEW CAR HAS PROBABLY IMPROVED THE RACING AT ALL? "I think the race has always been great at Talladega but I would say with this car, this car was designed for this track with this type of racing in my opinion. The bumpers line up for bump drafting, it's hard to be the leader because you can get passed at any time. They can do the sling-shot move you used to see years ago. But we're still in a pack of 30 or 40 cars so I would say yeah the racing is as good or better than it's ever been with this car here."
DO YOU RACE IT ANY DIFFERENT NOW? "Yeah, you do race different with this car than you used to. You've got to be a little more aggressive especially in the closing laps because it's a lot easier to get shuffled out. You can go from fifth to first on the last lap. You can go from first to 15th on the last lap too so you've got to race a little bit different."
-credit: gm racing