Talladega: Jeff Gordon - Friday media visit

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with media at Talladega Superspeedway to discuss rivalries between teammates, his season so far and sponsor relationships. LAST WEEK YOU SEEMED TO BE MORE HUNGRY THAN YOU HAVE IN YEARS, IS THAT A FUNCTION...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET met with media at Talladega Superspeedway to discuss rivalries between teammates, his season so far and sponsor relationships.

LAST WEEK YOU SEEMED TO BE MORE HUNGRY THAN YOU HAVE IN YEARS, IS THAT A FUNCTION OF BEING SO CLOSE TO A WIN BUT NOT YET GETTING IT, OR HAVING A RACECAR THAT FEELS SO GOOD, OR WHAT? "Having a racecar that feels so good. I feel like our race team has just really turned a corner. The commitment that they've shown over the off-season--it's evident with Steve from a physical standpoint but even mentally how much into it he is and how he's really leading this team is awesome. It makes me want to give that much more, and I feel like I have been. I've been working out in the gym, I've been really working with them at our debriefs; I'm just doing everything I can. On the racetrack, when I've got a racecar that's as strong as these cars have been this year, I have to get everything out of it that I can. I'm going to be more aggressive when we have those opportunities."

DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR PLATE PACKAGE FOR HERE IS AS GOOD, RELATIVELY SPEAKING, AS YOUR INTERMEDIATE PACKAGE HAS BEEN LATELY? "Let me put it this way, I know it is good enough to win, but I feel like there are 43 cars out here that could win this race. You can't separate yourself from the competition by very much here at Talladega with the drafting and everything. I feel like our package is good, but not what we have with the intermediates. We dominated that race at Texas and it was because the car was unbelievable, but nobody is going to dominate this race."

YOU ARE THE WINNINGEST ACTIVE DRIVER HERE. DO YOU THINK GIVEN THE SPOILER BACK AND THAT SORT OF THING; DO YOU FEEL AS GOOD ABOUT THIS AS YOU HAVE IN AWHILE? "I hope so. I mean, I like the test that we had and I like the changes that we made. I'm anxious to get back out there. Drafting has changed over the years and this whole two-car locking in thing has really changed how we go about these races. As much as NASCAR did at the test here with the rear spoiler, I still think that we just learned too much as drivers on how to create that and I think that we're still going to be able to do that. As teams are moving forward, drivers were trying to figure out how are we going to win the race in the new era of drafting. It's not the way it used to be. I would like to think that this car with the rear spoiler would get back to some of the ways that it used to be. I feel like my strongest moments at Talladega were with the real old package. Meaning it was hard to pass; it wasn't that you just pulled out and drove by a guy. In the last few years, the cars have drafted so strong and have had great power in a way where nobody could really just stay out front all day long. I feel like it took a lot of the strategy away from it that I was so good at, and so you have to rethink how you go about it. All that aggressiveness that I've had over the last several weeks, I need to completely change gears for here and go back to being really, really patient. Obviously in the closing laps you have to be aggressive at all the races especially if there's a shootout here, but for the most part it's going to be about being patient all day."

HAVE YOU AND JIMMIE TALKED SINCE MONDAY? "We communicated. We played a lot of phone tag and sent texts and voicemails. He was testing at Indy, but we definitely communicated. We're fine; everything's good. It's just like what I said on Monday after the wreck, it was just two guys racing really hard, we both had great cars and great teams, and that's just competition. That stuff is going to happen."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT'S BEEN MADE OF ALL THAT JEFF? YOU GUYS WERE RACING HARD, AND YET WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT SUCH A BIG DEAL WAS MADE OUT OF IT? "We've raced hard for years. I just never had a car that could keep up with him. We've got that this year. In a way, I hope we see more of it. We don't want to be bumping and banging, but I do want to be changing positions with him for the lead and swapping those [positions]. I love racing with Jimmie and because you know when you're racing with Jimmie, you're running good. He set that standard here over the last several years, and that's one that we haven't lived up to. It's one that I feel like we're capable of living up to this year. That's why we're going to be more aggressive, and we're going to be racing hard, and that means that we're going to upset some guys along the way."

YOU GOT A LOT OF ATTENTION FROM PEOPLE FOR DOING THAT AND THEY LIKED IT. ALAN GUSTAFSON SAID, "JEFF GORDON WAS FLAT OUT GETTING IT--REALLY IMPRESSIVE." YOU ALWAYS RACE HARD, BUT HOW MUCH HAVE YOU STEPPED UP THE AGGRESSIVENESS? "I've always laughed about this over the years. When you've got a race car like that and a race team like I have right now, those types of things make it look like it's me, and I'm not really doing anything that is that much different from what I've done in the past. It's just that the car is capable of it. When the car is capable of it, the driver looks like a hero. When it's not--I'm in this position that when the car's not right, the team gets blamed for it and I [only] get a little bit of blame for it, but when the car is right, I get all the attention and they don't enough. It's kind of a funny position to be in. All I know is that our stuff is really good right now and I'm excited about it and I look forward to every weekend."

WE'RE LOOKING FORWARD TO SOME TRACKS THAT YOU'VE BEEN REALLY GOOD AT. DARLINGTON, OVER THE YEARS, HAS BEEN YOUR PERSONAL PLAYGROUND. IS THAT A BADGE OF HONOR FOR YOU--WINNING THERE SO MANY TIMES--KNOWING HOW TOUGH IT IS TO WIN AT DARLINGTON? "Yeah. It's funny when I look at my favorite tracks, Darlington is not one of those tracks that necessarily goes to the top of my list, but it is certainly in my top five and it is primarily just because of the performances that we've had there and the results that we've had there. It's been one of my best tracks from a stats standpoint, and it's one of those challenging racetracks. I don't know a driver that doesn't love a good challenge. Our race team has been really awesome there as well putting good racecars on the track. Like I said, right now I'm looking forward to going to every race. I am. Our cars are really good, especially on the mile-and-a-half [tracks]. We showed it at Vegas; we showed it at Texas. I felt like we were good at the Charlotte test. I felt like we were pretty good at California before we had engine trouble. We have a lot of great things going on and when things are going well for us, Darlington is one of those tracks that I really get excited about.

WHEN YOU COME HERE, DO YOU HAVE IT IN THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF GOING AIRBORNE? ARE YOU HAPPY WITH WHAT NASCAR HAS DONE TO TRY TO MAKE THESE CARS SAFER? "I feel like it's always been there, you always know that if you get turned around there is a very good chance that you'll go airborne. The cars are still extremely safe even in those situations. I like the fact that they have taken a step toward really eliminating that as much as possible. It's not going to be eliminated. No matter what, when we're doing the speeds that we're doing, the cars are still going to be able to get airborne in the perfect storm, I guess. It's not that I want to see it tested, but I guess all of us are anxious to know how much of a change it is going to make. I think just the drag itself slows the car down so much faster as it's spinning, so that's the biggest thing that I feel that NASCAR is looking at. It's not so much as when the cars turn backwards how the air is flown over the car, as it is just how much the car slows down faster as it's starting to spin."

IS THERE A FEAR FACTOR THOUGH WITH THE DRIVER, KNOWING THAT COULD HAPPEN? "Yeah. I mean, there's a fear factor of going three-wide at Texas with 19-to-go that you could get turned into the wall too, you know? It's just [something] that you don't really think about until it's happening. I guess that's what makes us race car drivers."

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HARD RACING THAT YOU'VE DONE WITH JIMMIE AND THE HARD RACING YOU DID WITH KENSETH A FEW WEEKS AGO? IS IT THE SAME? "I'm not really sure. No, it's not the same. I feel like at Texas, Jimmie and I were racing hard for position and I never touched him. Kenseth he just ran in the back of me, so I ran into him. The frustration levels can maybe the same and correlate, but you're talking short-track versus mile-and-a-half as well; that's different."

EVEN GIVING YOUR CAR CREDIT FOR BEING STRONG, YOU DON'T THINK YOU'RE RACING ANY HARDER RIGHT NOW AND REFUSING TO ACCEPT THAT YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GET IT? IT SEEMS LIKE YOU ARE. "Well, when we have the stuff--I've always raced hard, there is no doubt about that. I feel like as things have evolved and track position has become more important, all of us have had to be more aggressive and protecting those positions or trying to get those positions. I'll be honest, in the past, I felt like in '07 we were pretty strong that year and we showed for it. We won bunch of races. I don't feel like I'm driving that much different from how I did then, but we just the last couple of years, we just haven't quite had it like we do this year. I feel like my pit crew is working hard, my crew chief is working hard, the engineers, everybody and so that inspires me to work hard. That means on the racetrack, there is going to be times where you've got to push harder."

WHAT TYPE OF RIVALRY IS THERE BETWEEN YOUR TEAM AND JIMMIE'S, AND YOU TWO? "Well there's no doubt that there's a rivalry. I think people talk about rivalries in this sport all the time, and they think that it has to come from another organization. I haven't won a championship since 2001. Jimmie's team, Chad and those guys came on in 2002, and I think that's the last time that I finished ahead of them in points--in 2002. Those guys have set the standard and set the benchmark in the sport as well as our organization. It's no different than when we went up against the No. 5 team in '96. In '95 we won the championship with the DuPont Chevrolet, and in '96 those guys were bound and determined to win that championship and take it away from us. They knew that we had the team to beat for it. We had our own rivalry within the sport. The difference was at that time, we had rivalries outside of our organization. We had rivalries with Earnhardt, and with Wallace, and a bunch of other guys. Right now, it just doesn't seem like that's [there]. We've seen signs of the Childress cars, and we've seen signs of Gibbs, and signs of Penske, but if you look over the last several years nobody's been able to touch that No. 48. I feel like we've got something that can do that this year."

WHEN YOU SEE WHAT'S GOING ON WITH HARVICK RIGHT NOW, HE'S GOING TO BE A FREE AGENT NEXT YEAR, SHELL LEAVES. DOES THAT MAKE YOU KIND OF APPRECIATE YOUR SITUATION? IT'S KIND OF REMARKABLE THAT YOU'VE RUN AS LONG AS YOU HAVE AND THAT YOU'VE STAYED WITH HENDRICK. "Things have been very good for us. There is no doubt about it. I always am mindful of how cool it's been, and how fortunate we've been to have the same sponsor throughout all these years. At the same time, these are tough times. This is a tough economy. All of our stuff is up at the end of this year. We've got a lot going on right now ourselves. It's not just, "Hey, this is Hendrick Motorsports, this is Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 Chevrolet" and sponsors just come running. We were in mind for that Shell-Pennzoil thing in some ways as well. There is a lot happening in the sport right now."

IN THIS ERA OF GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHES AND DOUBLE-FILE RESTARTS, HOW GUT WRENCHING HAS THE END OF THESE RACES BECOME? "I'm not sure if it's more gut wrenching on me or my wife. For the last three races, I've had a lot of texts and phone calls from family and friends saying, "Man, I don't know how you take this anymore." So, they've obviously created a lot of excitement and I think that's great. If you think it's exciting watching, you can only imagine what it's like for me inside the car. It's very nerve-wracking. You don't want to spin the tires, you don't want to make a mistake, and you don't want to give a win away. If you get four tires and you get shuffled back, you gotta go back and get after it, you've got to be aggressive. There's a lot of different ways to win races these days; the best car doesn't always win. You can be running 6th or 7th and you can have a shot at winning. That's why you just never give up. I tell you it's intense, for sure.

RAY EVERNHAM SAID THE OTHER DAY THAT IT FEELS LIKE MAYBE ONE OF THE REASONS YOU HAVEN'T GOTTEN TO VICTORY LANE AS MUCH LATELY IS BECAUSE COMMUNICATION WITH YOU AND STEVE IS MAYBE 95%. HE THINKS IT FEELS LIKE THERE IS SOMETHING THERE THAT IS MISSING BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU. DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE IS MORE YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COMMUNICATION? DO YOU AGREE WITH RAY? "I agree with Ray. Ray's about five months behind because obviously he's not a part of our team. Ray and I have talked a lot about it over the years, and there is no doubt that was our primary focus between Steve and myself this off-season and this year right now, currently. That's what I'm loving the most right now, is that I feel like our communication is the best that it has ever been. I think that's why we're starting the race and we're good, but we're getting better and we're maintaining. If we have a good car, we're maintaining throughout the race and that's what I'm really excited about. That's what we have been missing, but I don't feel like we're missing that right now."

YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THAT YOU HAVE A RIVALRY WITH JIMMIE AND THAT THERE'S A RIVALRY THERE WITHIN THE TWO TEAMS. FOR SOME PEOPLE, THAT CAN BE HATRED OR ANGER, MORE THAN JUST TO A HEALTHY RESPECT. CAN YOU CLARIFY WHERE THAT IS AND HOW IT IS MANAGED TO WHERE IT DOES NOT BECOME AN UNHEALTHLY SITUATION? "Ours is a healthy respect because we're teammates. We have a mediator in Rick Hendrick, and when things go too far. We know that we have to be careful crossing that line. It's a great question because when you're out there on that race track and you're a competitor, you want to win. You want to do everything you possibly can to get that win. There are times when that competitor and you are going to push things maybe too far. I feel like that's a little bit of what happened this past weekend, and why it's good that Jimmie and I were able to communicate about it. We understood where our respect lies for one another. I don't think he liked that I was on his bumper and working that hard to pass him by getting up behind him. I didn't respect the fact that he ran into my door. We took it a little bit too far there, but yet we're still going to race one another a lot as the year goes on. I hope. There is going to be things that we're not going to like about him. The thing is that we can pick up the phone and we can call one another. We have debriefs every Tuesday as a team, so we are kind of forced to get along. Jimmie and I are friends, so it makes it easier for us on one side because I feel like I know Jimmie pretty well and I feel like he knows me pretty well. We know what our intentions are, and our intentions are to go out there and win. There are times when you need to leave that on the racetrack, and not harbor those feelings off the racetrack. It's easier for us deal with that because we're friends and we're teammates. At the same time, it challenges us on the race track because you can't have friends out there. You're not going to win races if you're there worried about, 'Man, I don't want to get on him and side draft him or loosen him up because that's my teammate; that's my friend." You're not going to win a race doing that.

TALK ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS WHEN YOU DRIVE THROUGH THE TUNNEL AT TALLADEGA? WHAT DOES THIS RACETRACK MEAN TO YOU? "Get ready for some wild, wild racing. Really, every time I come to Talladega, I know we have a car and team capable of winning. It's just a matter of trying to stay out of trouble and that's easier said than done. It's not easy to stay out of trouble here. You know there's going to be a big wreck, if not more than one, and you just hope that somehow you survive it and get through it."

IS THIS THE FIRST TIME THAT YOU REALLY FEEL LIKE YOU'VE TESTED THAT WITH JIMMIE? THAT YOU HAD TO REMEMBER, OK WE'RE FRIENDS, AND GET SOME PERSPECTIVE? "We've raced hard before. We've upset one another on the track before. I mean, who hasn't? I feel like most of the time it's gone the other way. Most the time, it's been him passing me and me not really liking the fact that he was being too aggressive racing with me. I don't want to come out being too aggressive; it's good to be too aggressive. You do feel like with your teammates that there is this line of respect and it is really a fine line. What makes it a rivalry and challenging and tough is that they're the team to beat and we all want to beat them--everybody does. They've set that benchmark, and we feel like we have something that we could race with them this year. I've been on the receiving end of it so many times over the last several years that I guarantee you those are like little blips on Jimmie's radar. For me, it's that we've been working towards getting ourselves in a position [to beat]--and it's not just focusing on them [the 48 team]--it's [focusing on] whoever is the best out there and whoever has the best team and the fastest cars. That's them. Just because our cars are built next to one another, and our teams are within the same organization, doesn't mean that we can't [try to beat them]. I think that's a misconception about when Junior came over to Hendrick [Motorsports] and teammates in our sport--people think that means that you don't race one another. You do, you have to race those guys as hard as you race anybody, but there are limits. You have to understand those limits and those boundaries and I feel like I have done a great job of that in the past. I really don't feel like I did anything to jeopardize that on [Monday] other than show we're here."

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE WITH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT LEARNING ON AND OFF THE TRACK THAT HAS WORKED BEST FOR YOU? "For me, it's finding a passion and something that you're passionate about and that isn't really work, it's something that you love to do. When you love to do [something, and] working hard at it to be good at it;to me, it doesn't matter if it's racing or what it is. I think that is how you have to approach life. I've learned so much on the racetrack about winning and losing, being humble, work ethics--what you put into your work and your life is what you're going to get out of it. That's certainly what I hope that not just through words, but also through example that I can teach my children."

-source: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon
Teams Hendrick Motorsports