Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media and discussed being the current points lead, closing in on his first win at Texas, if he feels any extra pressure, the differences in competing for this championship versus...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media and discussed being the current points lead, closing in on his first win at Texas, if he feels any extra pressure, the differences in competing for this championship versus his past championships and other topics.
ON HAVING A NINE-POINT LEAD IN THE STANDINGS AND SETTING THE FASTEST LAP IN TODAY'S PRACTICE: "It's just great to be in the points lead no matter whether it's by one point or nine points. It says a lot about the type of year that we're having. Even Jimmie winning the last couple races, we're still in the points lead so it tells you the kind of consistency we've had and the type of performance that we've had as a team. Then to come in here and run as well as we're running right now is exciting. We put the pressure on them, they put the pressure on us and now we got to put the pressure back on the rest of the competition and today we got an opportunity to do that."
ON CLOSING IN ON HIS FIRST WIN AT THIS TRACK: "It would be fantastic to be able to pull that off. This year has been very special in many different ways and one of those special moments to me was at Phoenix being able to win for the first time there. Something that would add to this season would be to get our first win here at Texas. We've been working hard trying extremely hard to get our first win here and we've been so close over the last three or four races that we've been here we've been strong enough to pull off wins and we've had little glitches here and there that have cost us that win. Your ultimate goal is to come out of here with a strong finish, a top five, not have that bad but boy it would be awesome to be able to start up front and we know how tough it is pass here and track position being important and to be able to pull off that first win would be incredible especially at this point in this Chase with everything on the line and as much as thing is heating up."
ARE YOU FEELING ANY EXTRA PRESSURE WITH THE CLOSE BATTLE WITH YOUR OWN TEAMMATE? HOW DOES THIS FEEL COMPARED TO SOME OF THE CHAMPIONSHIPS THAT YOU'VE WON BACK A FEW YEARS AGO? "Anytime you're in a points battle it's intense. Every single moment you're on the track, the way the car is handling, the position that you're in, everything that's happening going through your mind is extremely intense and a lot pressure. There's just no points lead that's comfortable enough. It's almost better that it's close because when it's a wider gap sometimes you take an extra breath and think that you've got room to relax and you really don't and that's when it reaches out and bites you. So I like that it's close. We can just go out there and do our jobs, get the best finish that we can. Sure the pressure is on. With the point system the way it is now with the Chase and the 10 race shoot out, it starts out extremely intense because you want to see if you've got what it takes to separate yourself from the rest of the field but then when it starts to wind down to two or three or four guys then that intensity starts ramping back up. So with three races to go especially Jimmie winning the last two races, the pressure is extremely intense. Every season, every time that we've been in a championship battle let alone win four of them, it's always different. The pressure maybe is similar but how you go about it and how you handle it and how you go race to race and the finishes that you get race to race are always different. To me it's almost tougher to go through the week of thinking about it then it is once that engine starts and you get in the race and go. That's more the comfort zone. Last week it was so up and down. There were some intense moments during the race but it's during the week.I didn't watch any racing shows. I didn't read anything in the paper this week. I just wanted to enjoy a little bit of Halloween but also be able to just take my mind off of everything and come here and be ready."
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN WHY JIMMIE JOHNSON AND THE 48 TEAM IS SO GOOD IN THE CHASE? "I think that there are just certain teams that have what it takes to step up when the time comes. It's no different than why did Clint Bowyer and that 07 team come into the Chase pretty far back in the points and now here they are in third where nobody thought they would be. I think there are just certain combinations out there that know how to step it up when the time calls for it and plus they got the team that can do it. This year for us it's the first time I've ever really felt the equipment, the team surrounding me, the support and the excitement to be able to go in to each and every race with a shot at winning and being able to challenge for that championship and keep the pressure on. That's the easiest way to deal with the pressure is to be able to perform out there on the track. Those guys have done a great job with it but there's no doubt Jimmie and Chad are a great combination and we know what the equipment is capable of and it just has taken us a little while to g et ourselves back into a position similar to what they're in to be able to go step it up as well."
CAN YOU COMPARE THE EXPERIENCE OF DRIVING DURING THE REGULAR SEASON VERSUS DRIVING AS ONE OF THE 12 DRIVERS IN THE CHASE? "There's really no comparison other than maybe the year in '97 when it came down to me, Jarrett and Martin. That was a tight battle. Even Terry and I.I've battled my teammate for a championship before and it's fun, it's exciting but it's intense as well. Every championship that we've either won or we've lost to me if you're performing well enough it takes the pressure off. If you don't have failures it keeps the consistency there and that's what's going to determine the championship and that's what I feel so good about this year in our team.
"The one issue that I have with the Chase is just that we still try to compare seven time champions to what's going on now and there's no comparison. There's absolutely no way that you can compare past champions before the Chase to current champions because if that was the case we'd have a couple more numbers up there ourselves. I like what we have. It's exciting. It's extremely intense and I think that it's the way that our sport should be and grow to the future but there's no way you can compare it to past champions and legends in our sport."
ON CLINT BOWYER STILL HANGING IN THERE FOR CHAMPIONSHIP AND EACH WEEK MAINTAINING HIS POSITION: "He's been extremely impressive. That whole team has. Even last week Jimmie and I were running pretty good. At times up in the front we had our issues but it was like the 07 I haven't seen him then all the sudden boom there they were. That's a sign of a strong team is when at the end of the day they're pulling themselves out of wherever they were and moving forward or making good decisions to be up front. We saw it with them, with us and of course with the 48 by winning that race last week so that's a sign of teams that are brining their A game when it really counts. It's good to see. I think it's nice to see a fresh face like Clint's and he's got a great attitude about it all. He's obviously a great racer and his background proves that. It's refreshing to see somebody new and somebody who's excited to be up there."
GIVEN IT'S LIKE RICK HENDRICK WILL WIN ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP, CAN YOU PUT IN PERSPECTIVE THE KIND OF JOB HE'S DONE? IS HE THE BEST TEAM OWNER IN THE HISTORY OF THE SPORT? "Well I certainly think so but I'm biased. I've been with him for 15 years and can't imagine being anywhere else. I think Rick is a guy that has great balance on life and great balance in business and one of the things that makes him so successful is that he's extremely competitive so he wants to put all the right ingredients and people out there on the track to be able to win and pull off these championships but he doesn't put the kind of pressure on you on a day to day basis that affects what these guys are capable of doing. He allows the people to really control a lot of their own destiny and prove themselves and be accountable for their actions and what they do whether it be good or bad and I think that he only steps in when he needs to but he sets such a great example all the time that I think that's one of the things that separates us from a lot of the teams out there. We obviously go to him or Marshall or Ken Howes or Doug Duchardt and say here's the tools that we feel like we need that we're missing and we figure out how to make that happen and Rick figures out how to make that happen. Then in the mean time he is a great people person, knows how to get the most out of the people. He likes to be involved but I think he's not overly involved where some car owners can get involved in a way that can affect them negatively instead of positively."
REGARDING PHOENIX, DOES THE TRACK CHANGE A LOT FROM THE SPRING RACE TO FALL? "Honestly, I haven't even thought about it. What time does that race start? Is it a day or night race?"
STARTS AT 1:30 P.M. "Yeah, that would be the biggest thing. Track conditions last time we were there were nighttime basically and the track is consistent with probably a little bit more grip. It just depends on the weather. If the sun is beating down on the track it's probably going to have less grip. Handling is going to be more of a premium and how hard you can push the car is going to be the real challenge there. So, it can change things for us. As good as we were the last time there, we're going to have to be mindful of that when we go back."
IN THIS SPORT, IS THE TERM TEAMMATE SOMEWHAT OF A MISNOMER? ESPECIALLY ON RACE DAY? YOU'RE NOT HELPING YOUR TEAMMATE (JIMMIE JOHNSON), YOU'RE BATTLING HIM "It depends on how you use the word teammate (laughs). No, it's not at all the same. Our team is made up of Steve Letarte and all the guys on the No. 24 team. Our teammate in racing is a guy and a team that we share information with. We work together. And the only reason we work together is to try to improve ourselves. If you're really going to be honest about it, we're not really out there trying to help them. We're helping them so that they can help us. And unless you're at Daytona or Talladega where drafting is key; and even when we're helping one another there, we're still doing it to help ourselves. So what we try to do with our teammates is, we're open and honest about things. And I think that's one of the things we have at Hendrick is that also separates us is when we go into our debriefing sessions and we're filling out information to go onto our network that all our crew chiefs and engineers can look at, we're very honest about it. We're not holding anything back. We 're not trying to hide anything. We want to give everything to make sure we're getting everything we can from them. And when we're out there on the track, we probably cut them a little bit more slack than we would anybody else, and vice-versa. You say you work with your teammate and what that means is if your teammate looks up in the mirror and you're running him down from a straightaway ahead, you hope that when you get to him that he makes a little easier on you. But at the same time, if you're racing him for the championship, that doesn't necessarily come into play. Jimmie and I have raced one another very hard here throughout the Chase. Last week I was underneath him a couple of times late in the race and he raced me really hard, which I expected. And so at that point, you're really not teammates. It's leading into the race and what happens during the week and sharing information with the crew chiefs and everybody. And we're in a very unique situation. We're teams in the same building with our crew chiefs having offices right next door to one another. Steve and Chad are good friends, similar to me and Jimmie. We have guys in the shop during the week that carry the No. 24 and No. 48 logos on their jerseys. So there are no bias relationships and opinions while they are building those cars and preparing them for the race. From everything I could tell and from everything that I hear, the guys are extremely pumped up and excited that these two teams are battling the way that they are with a great shot at the championship."
IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS RACE ON HOW YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON FINISH RELATIVE TO EACH OTHER RATHER THAN HOW HIGH YOU FINISH? ARE YOU TURNING THE HEAT BACK ON HE AND CHAD BY BEING FAST IN PRACTICE? IS THIS A HIGHER RISK PLACE THAN MOST? "The risk is high everywhere you go. It doesn't matter where you are. When we first started coming here, we had wrecks on the first lap and in the first corner. This place has aged and improved in that sense quite a bit. To me, it's still narrow. It's still tight. And there is always that risk. I would say it is certainly less than what it used to be. We try to go out there and put those numbers up every single weekend. Sometimes its there and sometimes not. I said early on that there are tracks that we are strong on and they're strong at and we've got to live up to our full potential at the tracks that we're strong at. And I expect them to do the same. We kind of flip-flopped there from Martinsville and Charlotte. But we're getting the numbers we need to get. We've already gotten a couple of wins. When we're not winning, we're putting good top five and top 10 finishes in there. And to me, we just came into here. We've run good the last few times we've been here. And th e car just felt good. When a car feels good, you drive it as fast as it will go. So far, it's been good. We drew a good late number and I would love to be able to put some pressure back on those guys. That's part of competition. Somebody closes the gap on you and gets a couple of wins, then your goal is to kind of stop them in their tracks and turn things around. We had the momentum after Talladega and Charlotte. They've probably got the momentum now. So, it's our job to try and slow that down. But the only thing I disagree on is that we're not only just focused on them. It's very easy for Clint Bowyer to make a charge at this thing. He's hovering there and doing what he needs to do. If we have a bad day, he's right there. To me it's not just a two-man race yet."
YOU WORKED WITH BOTH STEVE LETARTE AND CHAD KNAUS. ON THEIR STYLES AND TEMPERAMENTS, IS STEVE A BETTER FIT FOR YOU? "There is really no comparison. They really are totally different. One thng I've learned about being in this series for 15 years is that there are a lot of ways to get there. They don't always have to be the same path. Ray Evernham had a certain style and way that he got the most out of the teams and built the cars. And then you have Robbie Loomis who got the same results but did it in a different way. And now I have Steve Letarte. To me, Steve is a balance between Robbie and Ray. That's what I love so much about Steve. He knows how to be relaxed and enjoy life and his family, but he knows how to be intense as well. He knows what I like. He's been around to see how I do things and what's been the best results for me as a driver. So I love that side of it. And Chad, I've never worked with him as a crew chief. He was a pit crew member and a fabricator and when somebody said to me that Chad Knaus could be a good fit for this new team that we were starting up, I laughed. You mean Chad, the guy who used to work in the shop? No way. Who made him a crew chief? And I admit, I was wrong on that one. Brian Whitsell gets the call for that one. Chad has surpassed everything that any of us expected. Chad is an intense, competitive guy. He reminds me somewhat of Ray. He's got arrogance about him but it's an arrogance that works and fits. For whatever reason, his personality and Jimmie's personality, while they are opposites at times, they seem to get the results. I've said many times that Chad wouldn't work as my crew chief. With my personality, I just don't know if that would work. As a co-car owner over there, I'm extremely happy that it's worked for them. This has created quite an intense battle for the championship. It's only going to get more intense. But I think it's an awesome thing to be happening to have these two teams battling for the championship no matter what the results are."
ON HIS OWNERSHIP ROLE WITH THE NO. 48 TEAM, IS IT SORT OF AWKWARD FOR YOU? "No, not from that side of it. I've said that I don't consider myself a car owner in this sport. I consider myself a driver even though on paper, I am. My role there was to help get that team started. Jimmie was one of the first key parts of it. Brian Whitesell had a lot to do with it. I made a suggestion about Jimmie being a driver and bringing this fourth team at Hendrick a reality and I was told, are you willing to put your money where your mouth is and I'm glad that I did now because it's worked out. But it's one of those things where I look at it as if I can't win the race, then you hope that the No. 48 does. Now we're in a situation where we're battling for the championship and all I can say is if we can't win the championship, I certainly hope that he does. But I can tell you what I want more. I want to do it as a driver. It's more lucrative for me as a driver, I can tell you that, if you're going to throw that side of in there. But that's not the way I look at it. I'm just a competitor. And as a driver, that competitiveness comes out in me and I want it for me and our team more than anything. At the end of the day I hope it comes to Hendrick Motorsports either way."
NEXT WEEK IS THE LAST COT RACE OF THE YEAR. HOW FAR HAVE YOU COME WITH IT? WHAT'S YOUR REPORT CARD AT THE END OF THE SEASON? "Well, I wasn't there in Atlanta for the test and I haven't even followed up to see how that test went. But when we go back to the same track for the second time, obviously we hit it pretty good at Phoenix and at a lot of the tracks. We hit it closer than I thought we would. And the cars felt better than I thought it would. So while going into the season I was giving it about a C-minus, I'd probably step that up to a C-plus or B-minus. There is just no way for me to give that car a good grade when I'm driving the car that I'm driving here sticks to the race track. It does things that you want a race car to do. The COT doesn't do any of those things. And that's why you hear a lot of us talk about it. So, once we stop comparing it to this current car, I think we'll actually start to see some real progress and have some fun with it. I'm curious to see how that test went. A key aspect of it is giving Goodyear the amount of time to build the proper tire for it and I hope that they can do that. If they can't, then it's going to fall back on NASCAR to make some changes to that car to give it the tools that we need to adjust on it. We're very limited on the tools that we can adjust with and allow Goodyear to get the right tires on the car so that it's comfortable and so we can go out and race side-by-side the way that car was designed to do."
-credit: gm racing