JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NICORETTE IMPALA SS met with media and discussed not winning this year and never having won at TMS and Homestead, qualifying, watching Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus go for the title, economy and how it affects NASCAR,...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NICORETTE IMPALA SS met with media and discussed not winning this year and never having won at TMS and Homestead, qualifying, watching Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus go for the title, economy and how it affects NASCAR, Kyle Busch's year, and more.
ON THE DUPONT / NICORETTE CHEVROLET IMPALA SS "This will be the sixth time this year that we've had Nicorette on board the DuPont / Nicorette Chevrolet and I love what they do. They're helping people, and I'm all for that. We've shown and proven that with the Jeff Gordon Foundation. But we just hope it inspires as many people as possible out there who are trying to quit smoking by using these brands and products that Nicorette has with their stop smoking gum and hopefully help a lot of people out there to quit."
ON LAST WEEKS RACE AT ATLANTA: "We had a great car all day and we got real loose. The track seemed to loosen up for us anyway. And we tried to get it better for the long runs and then we had so many short runs that it really hurt us on the short runs and we just fell back to ninth."
ON HIS CAR FOR THE DICKIES 500 "The car feels good. We've known we've made big gains since the last time we were here. Qualifying is just half the equation, so I'm just happy that it's going well so far and we were comfortable right from the beginning in practice. We just needed to get the car to turn a little bit better and get the speed out of it. It just kept coming slowly but surely and the last lap was a great lap."
ON BEING ABLE TO QUALIFY THIS WEEK AFTER THREE STREET WEEKS OF FRIDAY RAINOUTS "It has been a month and I've been pretty frustrated because the last three or four tracks that we've gone to that we haven't qualified at are all tracks I feel like we could have gotten poles at. So we're anxious to put down a good lap here and make up for the ones that we've missed out on."
CAN YOU CONSIDER THIS SEASON A SUCCESS WITH ALL THAT YOU'VE DONE THIS YEAR? "It certainly is not as big of a failure as sometimes we make out of it because we haven't won so far. Anytime you make it into the Chase; anytime you're sixth in the points at this point in the season, it's not a bad season. But obviously we want to win and we aim to win every weekend and it's been frustrating that we haven't achieved that. And it's been an up and down season for us. It hasn't just been a stellar great season like we had last year. So what I'm proud of is the fight that this team has shown over the last 10 races. We've made a lot of improvements to the car and the points have shown for it. The win column hasn't yet shown for it, but we've still got three to go."
STEVE LETARTE SAID HE'S PUTTING A LOT INTO THIS RACE AND HOMESTEAD BECAUSE YOU HAVE NOT WON THERE BEFORE "Well it's funny because Steve has different measuring tools of what makes a great crew chief and a great year and all those things. The guys give him a hard time because if he wins Martinsville, they say oh, that doesn't count because Jeff has won a lot at Martinsville. If you win at Sonoma, well that doesn't count. If you win at Talladega or somewhere like that, that doesn't count. The way Steve can put a notch in his belt is to win some places where I've never won before. So that win at Phoenix is probably the one that stands out the most to Steve and he knows how much it would mean to win here or at Homestead because I've never won there before."
HOW MUCH MORE EMPHASIS HAVE YOU PLACED ON THOSE TWO TRACKS? "We can't put any more emphasis anywhere we go because we put every bit of effort we possibly can into every weekend. So we obviously knew we weren't very good the last time we were here and we knew we needed to come different, but with all the testing we've done this year and with the gains we've made on the 1.5-miles here recently, a lot of those same concepts get brought into here. Plus the No. 88 was on the pole here when we were in April and we were terrible. We certainly had some good feedback to go off and notes to go off of, plus the gains we've made."
ON WATCHING JIMMIE JOHNSON AND CHAD KNAUS GOING FOR THEIR THIRD TITLE "I'm extremely happy for them. I wish I was battling it out with them like we were last year. I mean, last year, no doubt about it, put a bigger strain on our relationship just because it showed what kind of fierce competitors we were on the track and how bad we wanted the championship. Whoever your rival is in that championship, it's going to put a wedge between you. And so it did. And yeah, we're still great friends and able to talk and laugh about it and at the end of the day, I've very proud of them and what they've accomplished.
"I'm proud that I've been a part of it and could see how it's come together from the beginning. And I always knew or felt that if you put Jimmie in the equipment that I was given at Hendrick Motorsports and put the right people around him, that he could be very successful. I just had no idea that Chad Knaus and that team were going to be able to come together as quickly and as good as they have. So. It's pretty impressive."
IS THERE ANY STONE YOU'VE LEFT UNTURNED THIS YEAR? "Well, I'm always committed to this team. And when you struggle, it means that you've got to do more, not less. And I wanted to be there for Steve and the whole team in every way I could. There were some testing dates I couldn't make so Brad Keselowski filled in for me. Sometimes it was sponsor conflicts or other things like that. But, we haven't seen what the testing schedule is going to be for next year, but I'm committed to doing whatever it takes. Steve's committed.
"We're going to make some changes just because obviously this year we haven't been where we've needed to be and all those changes are going to be is how do we just continue to build a great support around the team, whether it's in the engineering side of it or from a financial side or from a personnel side. Whatever it takes to help Steve help me help the whole team, that's what we're going to do. And we've been thinking a lot about that the last couple of weeks. We'll make those decisions between now and the end or the season, or through the off-season?
ON NOT WINNING YET THIS SEASON, HOW RESPONSIBLE ARE YOU FOR THAT? "I definitely take responsibility. But it's no different from when we win. I contribute to that win; I don't control all of it. And it's no different from any other individual on the team. We all play a roll in the team to come together to win and to lose. So while I take responsibility and want to give everything I can, I think that it's a group effort, for sure. Every driver has a unique driving style; every crew chief has a different style of how they want to set-up the cars. But it's all about the results and it's how you get there. Last year we proved we know how to get those results. And this year, we realized that we were going the wrong direction with the new car on the 1.5-miles, and even a little bit on some of the other tracks. It's just constantly evolving and learning what it takes with this car. We had to start rethinking how we go went about it. About half way through this season, we felt like we were starting to head down the right path. Obviously the No. 48 team got ahead of it much quicker than we did, for whatever reason. You can give a lot of credit to Jimmie, to Chad, and to all those guys. But I don't think you can just put it on one person; it's the same thing for us. I take responsibility, but I don't think all of it lies on me. It's the same with Steve Letarte. He's gotten a lot heat. It's not all on him either. We all play a role."
LAST WEEK YOU SAID IT WOULD BE OKAY IF YOU DIDN'T WIN THIS SEASON IF IT MEANT IT WAS GOING TO MAKE US STRONGER AND BETTER NEXT SEASON WHERE WE'D RUN MULTIPLE RACES AND BATTLE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP 'If we don't win this season and then we don't win next season, I'm going to be very disappointed. And no matter what, I'm going to be disappointed. I'm looking long term instead of just short term and I've had an amazing career and won a lot of races and one winless season isn't going to be the end of it for us. We're here for the long term."
HEADING INTO THE CHASE, WHO DID YOU THINK WOULD BE YOUR TOUGHEST COMPETITION, JIMMIE JOHNSON OR KYLE BUSCH? "Well, I didn't know. I felt like as strong as Kyle was all year that he was going to be tough to beat. I've felt all year that it would be Carl's (Edwards) year. And Jimmie and Chad again, not only amaze everybody, but even us and our cars are right next to one another in the shop. They're just an amazing group and know how to really step it up when it comes time. And the way that they've been able to perform and be consistent with that performance from a few weeks prior to the Chase to the end of the Chase is just extremely impressive. Hey, these guys, you can never count them out.
"Really, I was going to be on anybody, I would have bet on the No. 99 and Carl. It just seemed like it's been his year but they've had some problems and Jimmie and Chad and those guys have just really stepped it up."
DESPITE ALL THE SUCCESS THAT KYLE HAS HAD IN ALL THREE SERIES? "I think Kyle is a tremendous talent and just constantly shows it over and over again. But I think there is still a learning process to go through there in patience and maturity for him and that team. And while I didn't think that they would have the issues that they had at the beginning of the Chase, I really thought the No. 99 and the No. 48 were the guys to beat, but I thought they would be right there on their heels."
IN SPITE OF ALL KYLE BUSCH'S WINS IN CUP, NATIONWIDE, AND TRUCKS, WILL IT JUST BECOME A FOOTNOTE AT THE END OF THE YEAR? "That's why I don't care if I win. I want the championship. It's all about who is the champion. You can win eight or 10 races and if you're not the champion, you get forgotten pretty easily. But it's been an amazing year for them. They should be very proud of that. They're a new team and he's such a young guy. They certainly shouldn't hang their heads over that and I think it'll only make them stronger for next season."
COULD YOU DESCRIBE KYLE BUSCH'S PLAYOFF SEASON IN ONE WORD? "Disastrous? I'm sure that's probably the way he would describe it. It's obviously not gone the way they had hoped. They had so much momentum and hype and I think they had what it took to live up to it, but it certainly didn't go that way."
WHAT INDICATORS HAVE YOU SEEN THAT MAKE YOU THINK YOU'RE CLOSE TO A VICTORY? "I think we've just made improvements. The car is better. Track position is so important in this day and age. You can have a great car, like we showed at Charlotte where we had that trouble and I got into the wall twice and we were a mid-field car. We were decent but not great. We got out front and were just smoking everybody. And so to me, if the car is close and you get the track position, you can win. That's what it comes down to."
YOU WON SEVEN TIMES IN 1999 BUT DIDN'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP "Yeah, '99 was one of those years where I do remember we had fast cars, but we were a little inconsistent. To me, it was a time when Ray (Evernham) started to butt heads a little bit. I felt like I knew more about what I wanted and I think he continued to want to operate the team as he had for all those years. I wish we could have gotten through that time because I think we could have gone on to have some more championships. But we're still friends today. From 1993 to '98 was a pretty amazing time.
WHEN YOU WERE BATTLING EARNHARDT AND MARK AND RUSTY AND THOSE GUYS BACK IN THE '90'S FOR ALL THOSE CHAMPIONSHIPS, AND YOU LOOK AT IT NOW, WAS IT MORE FUN AS A DRIVER? "It's fun when you're competitive and you're battling for wins and you're battling for championships. That's what makes this sport fun. I've been fortunate through a lot of years starting as a kid, to see that checkered flag wave and that's what's driven me to want to be a race car driver and to aspire to be at this level. So it doesn't matter if it was in the '90's or now, today, it's still a lot of fun to see that. But when you don't see it, it's very frustrating and very tough; especially when you've had as many wins as we've had. But it's all good life lessons, the way I look at it. It only makes you stronger in the long run."
SOME OF THE DRIVERS HAVE SAID THIS SPORT IS NOT RECESSION-PROOF. HAVE YOU SEEN EVIDENCE OF THAT HERE AT TEXAS? "Is any sport or anything recession-proof? I don't think so. We still have an incredible fan base. Here is a facility that seats close to 300,000 people and while maybe there's not going to be 300,000 or 400,000 people here, there's still going to be hundreds of thousands. And that to me, speaks volumes about how big our sport still is. Through times like this, all of us suffer. We're very dependent on our corporate sponsorships, not only as teams, but also NASCAR and the TV coverage and the fans and how they are customers to those sponsors. All of it ties together. There is no doubt that it affects each and every one of us."
HAS THE SPORT GOTTEN TOO BIG? "Yeah, if they add more races, that schedule can be (laughs). No, I think this sport has not reached its peak. We're going through tough times like a lot of people are. I think this sport is amazing. You're talking about 200 mph, inches away from one another, fantastic racing, great personalities and competitors; I think this sport is in an amazing place still. And it still has even more room to grow. They bring it closer to the fans and build the excitement and we keep putting great races out there. So, I think we're still very, very healthy."
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE TALK ABOUT TWEAKING THE CHASE FORMAT BECAUSE JIMMIE JOHNSON IS DOING SO WELL?" "Why do you have to tweak it when a guy does good? That's what I don't understand. I don't think that has anything to do with it. Here's a guy who didn't win the most races and wasn't leading it going into the Chase, and they've outperformed everybody. To me, the Chase format it still fantastic. There are little tiny tweaks here and there that maybe could be made, but for the most part I think it's very solid."
-credit: gm racing