JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS, TALKS WITH MEDIA ABOUT THE STRENGTH OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, RACING WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON AT MARTINSVILLE, TRADING SET-UPS, AND MORE HOW WAS PRACTICE? "Well, the time sheet might not look too good, but we...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS, TALKS WITH MEDIA ABOUT THE STRENGTH OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, RACING WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON AT MARTINSVILLE, TRADING SET-UPS, AND MORE
HOW WAS PRACTICE? "Well, the time sheet might not look too good, but we were in race trim. I think a lot of guys were in qualifying trim. But the car felt really good -- even though the speeds might not show it on the sheet. We're obviously a little concerned because we were in race trim and didn't get any laps in qualifying trim. If it dries up and we get qualifying in, it's going to be very interesting so we'll see what happens. But I know Jimmie (Johnson) made some qualifying runs, so hopefully we can learn something from them."
IS THIS AN INTERESTING WEEKEND BECAUSE YOU WANT TO GO BACK AND WORK ON THE NEW CAR EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE BACK IN THE OLD CAR NOW? "Now that we've gone ahead and we're racing the car of tomorrow -- we've tested at Darlington -- if that's the direction we're headed in and NASCAR is happy with it, I'd like to see us do more of it. The uniqueness about this car is that it's a little bit different from a drivers standpoint, but mainly different for the team in the set-up and preparation and the whole inspection process and everything. It's not that much for the driver. It makes for an interesting weekend because you bounce back and forth. The only good thing that's saving us right now is the downforce -- an intermediate track where we really haven't had the car of tomorrow, the Impala, on anything but the short tracks."
WITH HENDRICK ON A ROLL AND JIMMIE JOHNSON WINNING THREE OUT OF FOUR, HOW DO YOU VIEW BEING THE SECOND-PLACE GUY? "It doesn't really matter to me that it's Hendrick that we're finishing second or third to, it's anybody. I feel like we've been capable of winning already in a short period of time this season, and that's what I have to remind myself of. We're having a great year so far and it's early. We've had some great race cars capable of winning, but it's early. So I try to constantly remind myself of that. But what's frustrating at Martinsville was that it was the third time this year that I felt like we had the car to beat and we didn't pull it off and so that's definitely frustrating. But it has nothing to do with my teammates -- Jimmie, in particular -- winning those three races. I'm excited for Hendrick motorsports and how we're running and how things are going. And we're running equally as well and having those opportunities. But it's good to be frustrated over finishing second. And it's been a while since we've been in that position. So I'm for the most part pretty happy with that. But I'm a competitor. It's pretty hard when you're in that moment. And the microphone is in your face right there, man, and you're like, I wanted that win!"
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE FACT THAT THERE HAVE BEEN 12 DIFFERENT GUYS TO WIN AT THIS RACE TRACK AND NONE HAVE BEEN HENDRICK DRIVERS? "Obviously, nobody seems to have a script for it or we would have seen multiple winners here. But there have been changes in this track over the years and that's contributed to it. But to me, it's just a very, very tricky place to get the right combination of aerodynamics, horsepower, mechanical grip, and set-up and get comfortable as a driver with the speeds we carry here. Twice we've had cars that were capable of winning here. Once, I think it was the first year, when we got taken out when leading or running second. And then the other was when Elliott Sadler won and we had electrical problems. So we've been in position to win here -- just not recently.
"Recently we haven't been very competitive and that's been frustrating. It comforts me a little bit and I try not to put too much blame on myself (knowing) that all of Hendrick Motorsports just hasn't been that good here. So, it's something internally that we're working on. Anytime we don't have the combination we feel like is a winning combination like here or Richmond or Phoenix or Homestead, it motivates us to figure it out. We look at all the telemetry and everything we possibly can to get closer. I can't tell you all of what we've hit on this year, but the guys building the cars have just done a fantastic job finding a little bit in all these different areas. And the cars are just so much more comfortable to drive and that's where the speed comes is when that comfort is there. I feel like (if) any time we've had a chance of a Hendrick car winning here or ourselves winning here, it's this year.
WHY IS HENDRICK SO DOMINANT RIGHT NOW? CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE LEVEL OF COMPETITION BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR TEAMMATES? "When you go to work over the off-season and you look at your results from the previous year and what you worked on and so forth, it's just really doing your homework. When you're starting to hit on something, it takes a year sometimes for it all to materialize. We all said last year was a building year and it was. I really think it took a good eight, to 10 months to a year for us to really get into our own stride and be able to make the most of our own resources. When you tour Hendrick Motorsports and you see the ins and outs of that place, anybody would tell you in this garage area, 'How can you not be successful?' All the tools are there. We have great people. We had very little turnover from last year to this year. We had a championship with Jimmie (Johnson) winning. We had three of the four cars in the Chase. That's momentum to build on.
"Over the off-season, the crew chiefs and engineers and everybody really did their homework and that's paying off. And I'm not saying that other teams have not done their homework, it's just that whatever direction we were moving into that we focused on that we thought was going to make us better, has. And that's a good thing.
"I think this who car of tomorrow shows you which teams are strong, which teams are united, and which teams have the best overall combination. Obviously Hendrick, right now, is on top of their game. I think Gibbs is, as well, and Childress. It's not so much Chevy as it is just the teams. Chevy provides us great tools as well. But I look at those teams.
"As far as teammates, over all the years, I can remember when Terry (Labonte) and I were going for that championship. Jimmie and I are a lot closer in age and also in the friendship we've had for years. Terry is a more reserved guy and I never really got to know him on the level that I have Jimmie. There's no doubt on the race track that we're very, very competitive. And yet off the race track, we can laugh about it. Early on, we talked about as teammates keeping things (that happen) on the race track, on the race track and letting things go off the race track. And it gets tough at times because we were bumping and banging pretty good there at Richmond. But we laughed about it at the test at Richmond and on the phone afterwards. Having other teammates that run good, and that are solid like we have right now, only makes all of us stronger. I believe in that. The whole organization believes in that. And yes, there are challenges with that because sometimes you have to beat yourself almost, or your teammates to win these races. But all of us recognize the information we share in the meetings we have and the unity we have among the crew chiefs that that's a very good thing for us as a whole. Let's let it come done to one of us winning this race or one of us winning this championship. We just hope that one of us gets it."
THE CREW CHIEFS SEEM TO BE FRUSTRATED WITH THE TIRE LIMITS AND TESTING LIMITS. DO YOU THINK NASCAR SHOULD OPEN UP THE NUMBER OF TESTS AGAIN ON THE TRACKS YOU ACTUALLY RACE ON? "Oh, my goodness, I've been testing so much this year I don't know what to do with myself. I can't imagine that. We've been testing so much this year -- even with the car of tomorrow. I can't believe they're saying that. But I don't like testing at all (laughs). But that's just me. I've been here 15 years. Testing is a necessity and I know the importance of it, so you kind of muscle through it. I don't know. I don't know if they've really solved anything by cutting back. We've been going to different tracks and testing different tire manufacturers. We're still going to these places anyway, so are they really resolving anything? I can't necessarily say that we are. I think it's important for NASCAR to have some limitations on testing in the number of places.
"But as far as limiting us on getting the tires -- that had to do with going to Kentucky. Manufacturers had the track rented out every day for the whole year and teams just kept going and going there all the time. That wasn't necessarily a good thing. But trying to find ways to limit it even more is going to be tough for NASCAR. But I do think that trying to get us some tires back is something they should do. For us to run on other manufacturers tires when we race on Goodyears and believe in Goodyear, is not necessarily a good thing.
REGARDING THE CHANGES TO THE BUMP IN TURNS 1 AND 2, HOW MUCH WILL THAT CHANGE YOUR ABILITY TO PERFORM ON THIS TRACK? HOW MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE DOES IT REALLY MAKE WHEN YOU'RE IN THE CAR? "I didn't even know they'd made the changes until a couple of days ago. We talked about it a little bit this morning before I went out there. I wanted to know what they'd done because I didn't know how elaborate the changes were. But, I think they're so minor that you really can't tell. I'll be honest; I only made about four laps. But had it been a major change and I didn't know about it, then shame on me, or shame on whoever didn't get the information to us. But I don't think it is. I think it's very insignificant, which I'm glad. I'd rather it be a minor change than a major change without us being able to test on it. I was afraid they'd cut a whole section out or something. But so far, what I could see and what I felt in the few laps I was out there, it's very minor. But the bump down in (turns) 1 and 2 over there by the tunnel gets worse as you go higher up the race track. And I never got off the white line, or yellow line, or whatever it is here. So I don't know. I saw sparks flying off of all the cars going through there, so I'm guessing it wasn't all that different. We don't have telemetry on the cars during race weekend. Going back to the question about testing, I've pitched a few teams on the idea us have telemetry on the cars maybe on Fridays and letting us have the information. We wouldn't need to test as much if we could do that. That information would be very valuable to us. It's all based on what I feel. And I wish I had the telemetry to take back to the team and we could see the difference and know for sure."
WAS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT JIMMIE JOHNSON WINNING AT MARTINSVILLE KNOWING THAT YOU SHARED YOUR SET-UP WITH THE NO. 48 TEAM WHEN THEY WERE STRUGGLING? "If anything is going to get blown out of proportion, it's that one. I mean how many times have I been asked about Jimmie's set-ups and race cars and us using it and running good with it one weekend? That had very little to do with it. We do that every weekend. Sometimes we'll be out there on the edge, trying something unique and different and they'll be running their standard package. And if we don't really find some speed with what we're doing, we go back to what they have. And vice-versa with the No. 5 and No. 25 as well. I feel like they were really trying some special things. They knew they could do that because we were running a fairly standard Martinsville package that's not too far from what we'd normally run. So they knew they could try some stuff. That's all they did. That part is definitely blown out of proportion. That had nothing to do with it. It had everything to do with that I finished second and I felt like I had the car -- even with the set-ups being as close as they were -- I felt like I had a better car. We showed that throughout most of the day. Track position played a role. He did everything he should have done. He raced perfectly. He picked up the pace when I got there. He ran a line that made it very difficult for me to pass him. And I felt like I did everything but wreck him to try to make the pass clean. That was what was frustrating to me was that I wasn't able to make a clean pass. And that when I caught him, we didn't actually have a good enough car to pass him."
MORE EXPLANATION ON TRADING SET-UPS: "I'm mainly going back to when Jimmie and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) first came on board and everybody was saying that oh, they took Jeff's cars and Jeff's set-ups and they're beating them with their set-ups and so on. Us giving them our set up this time was no real difference than what's happened in the past. Jimmie has won a lot of races over the past few years, but we've had our success too where sometimes we've gotten our information from them too and used their set-ups and finished ahead of them with their set-up. But we've found that where we've gotten to where we're much closer than we used to be, but we still know that I have to run a little bit different -- like maybe a little bit more left rear spring, but we can be very close."
AT TMS, YOU'VE GOT MORE SUCCESS THAN JIMMIE HAS, WOULD WE BE SPLITTING HAIRS TO SAY ONE OR THE OTHER OF YOU HAVE PICKED UP SOME SET-UP? ARE YOUR SET-UPS THAT CLOSE NOW? "Let me explain the process a little bit better. It happens every weekend. Basically, we set up a time when all four drivers and crew chiefs and engineers from each team can get together. It's usually after final practice. Sometimes the Busch race affects that. But we just go through everything we did through practice. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and I explain everything that we did and what we tried -- lap times, set-ups and so forth -- and I'll give the feel of what I think I need to go faster. We all do this. Based on this, Steve and I might get together and take one piece of somebody else's set-up and piece it together. Sometimes at the end of the day those set-ups will be identical. Sometimes they look on paper totally different but we get the same results. So that's the process that happens. Sometimes you use a set-up that ends up being the same and sometimes you don't.
"That's probably how it got blown out of proportion at Martinsville because if you looked at it, there probably were some differences in my set-up and Jimmie's set-up. But they weren't happy with their results after practice and I was feeling pretty good about mine. And so we laid it out there to them and Jimmie has really done a fantastic learning how to drive Martinsville and I think they just agreed that they thought they needed to go more toward what we had."
IN ALL YOUR NON-TECHNICAL CONVERSATIONS WITH JIMMIE, HAVE YOU TALKED ABOUT REPEATING HIS CHAMPIONSHIP? HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO REPEAT TODAY THAN IT WAS 10 YEARS AGO? "I think it's harder in general to win championships because of the Chase. You're battling with nine other guys in the past -- this year, 11 other guys -- and I think that in itself just makes it more competitive; and the fact that they pretty much just level the playing field once the Chase starts. No matter how much momentum you had going into that, it just takes it all away and you have to start over. So it's already just increasingly harder to win, period. So obviously that means that repeating can be even that much tougher. But I think it's always been tough to repeat championships. But if you really connect and you have very little turnover and if your organization and your team particularly hits on some things and continues to move forward and continues to have success like they've had this year, it increases your chances to be able to repeat.
"Have Jimmie and I talked specifically about it? I'm trying to think of specific conversations that we've had. I think we've maybe touched on it -- about maybe not getting overwhelmed with the increasing responsibilities that come along with it. But I can't think of any real sit-down, serious talks about it."
-credit: gm racing