Continued from part 1 Q: Jeff, if you'll forgive a small personal note, but your rookie year was my rookie year, as long as you went without winning, the older I felt there for a while. JEFF GORDON: Me too (laughter). Q: I have more...
Continued from part 1
Q: Jeff, if you'll forgive a small personal note, but your rookie year was my rookie year, as long as you went without winning, the older I felt there for a while.
JEFF GORDON: Me too (laughter).
Q: I have more reason for that. But I wanted to ask you, everything you know, before you went on the track, you sort of have to say the upbeat thing, be positive. Now that you have one, was this always this track, was there anything about this track that got under your skin or was difficult? Was there a reason you didn't win here or was it just a coincidence?
JEFF GORDON: No, it's no coincidence. Steve can tell you, I mean, just in our debrief yesterday, I mean, I sat down I would say 90 percent of the tracks we go to I've got pretty good idea what I need in the car and what I need to do as a driver to get around that track and be fast. And I think that's what's helped contribute to our success. And then you have to have a guy like Steve who listens to you, believes in what you're saying and then goes to the engineers and finds those key things. And I'm telling you at Texas I'm just lost. This is just one of the toughest racetracks out there. The transitions getting into the corner, off the corner are unlike any other. Yet the corners are extremely fast. There's some pretty good bumps out there. I believe for me personally, as well as a lot of other guys who will probably back it up, this is the most challenging mile and a half track that we go to.
I mean, yesterday after practice I didn't have anything to contribute. I said I don't know. I'm lost. I have no idea what to tell you to do to it. I don't know if we're good or if we're bad. You know, we made one thing that I thought was a positive, and they dropped the green flag and things stuck like glue and I was like, wow, cool! And I was able to pass Reutimann and get the lead. Five laps I'm like here comes old Texas right back. I mean, I was sideways. You get frustrated. You're like, is this me? Why is this happening over and over and over again? And we faded. And I felt like it's because we were loose. But Steve, all he had to go off of is me. And I really just think this is not my best track. And I'm really I feel like we've had moments where we could win here in the past. And I hit the wall and we had electrical problems. Just lap cars, we've had issues. But even though this is not our best track and I feel like it's probably one of my worst tracks, I still feel like we've been capable winning, and we proved it today. And there's no coincidence. There's a reason for it. And it's just not a track for me. And maybe this will help change that a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, let me help interrupt. See if this helps a little bit: $541,874 for first place.
JEFF GORDON: That helps a lot. That's what makes it that much more upsetting when you don't win here (laughter). Thank you, Eddie. Fantastic. Appreciate it.
Q: As you know, there have been people in the last couple years or so that have questioned whether or not your better days are behind you: Maybe his championship years are done, is he going to win again, is he capable of doing the things he's done in the past to become one of the all time greats. I know you never bought into that.
JEFF GORDON: I thought about it a couple times.
Q: Is this, though, a little bit of I told you so for the people who doubted you the last year or so?
JEFF GORDON: Never looked at it that way. I mean, I learned a long time ago you've got to be careful what you read. I mean, the media and I have a fantastic relationship, have for many years. And it's because I have respect for their job. They have to tell a story and with as much facts as they have presented to them. And the facts are the facts. We just we had opportunities. We didn't win, sometimes it was my fault. Sometimes there were other circumstances. And so it doesn't surprise me that that was written, and it's okay. It's our job as a team to come together and prove that wrong for ourselves, not for anybody else. I mean, trust me, it doesn't beat me up any more than it beats us up when we go to a track and we're not competitive, we don't win and we're not bound for the championship and we go through our season like we did last year. Nobody does it eat up more than this guy and myself and this team. And we just never, I think, lost sight of that and gave up.
Honestly, I think it inspired us to go through that. It made us angry, not because things are being written about it, because we know we're better than that. And we know we're capable of it. And especially, like Steve said, you've got our teammate right there in our shop that's going out there and not only winning but he's winning the championship. And that's also inspiring, because you know that it's there, the tools are there. And I'm so proud of Steve. I mean, he stepped up and made some crucial changes in our team at the end of last year, as well as continued with that road over the off season. And I saw that effort being put in and that's when I decided, you know, to start training more, to make sure that my family had the opportunity to come to the race but not necessarily Friday and Saturday, so that I could give this team 100 percent of my focus as well as any time they need to test or do anything that I'm there 100 percent for him. And I don't know how many more years I do have left. So when you know that the cars are there and the team's there and you still think you've got it or you want to prove to yourself, I wanted to make sure there were no excuses, just like Steve says no excuses. And so I'm giving these guys everything that I've got and we're just we're doing things a little different, and it's all paying off. We're not doing a lot different. It's just the cars are right. The team is on. Our communication's good. I feel great because I've been working out a lot more, and that's positive mental and physical energy that's happening. And I don't know, it's working. That's all I know.
Q: Jeff and for Steve, you guys have to be so precise at your pit stops. Jeff, have you to make sure you hit Pit Road. You have to make sure you get in your box right and get into Pit Road and Steve has to be precise in his decisions as far as what he's going to do as far as adjustments to the race car. When you're doing that late in the race after 300 laps out there all day, how difficult is it for you all to maintain the momentum and not make mistakes at that point?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, that's when the races are won. And that's when you've got to be on your game. That's when you absolutely can't make mistakes. That's when the good teams rise to the top, in my opinion. And, you know, we were solid all day long. We fought a great fight. But just like that pit stop that got away from us at California and these boys made up for it this weekend. And I'm really proud of them. And he had an adjustment to make on the car at the same time. I tried to do my part. And I think each one of the guys on the team thought the same way, and they all did it. I got in the box a little bit hotter than I did all day long. They like it when I slide the front tires in the box, did that. And it looked like they were just on it. I hit the mark. They hit their lugs and the jack hit the post and it seemed like everything went perfect with that stop. And then on the racetrack, I'm sure Steve can talk more about his decisions and the pit crew, but on the racetrack, the first five or six laps the car was so stuck to the racetrack I didn't have to worry about making mistakes. I couldn't. I couldn't mess it up. But after that the bounce started going away and I kept telling myself don't make a mistake. Don't overdrive it.I did a couple times but recovered. And then it was just hitting my marks, not making mistakes, especially when I had Jimmie running me down, I knew it was going to be really easy. And I made a couple. I mean, it's hard not to. But the wind was playing a lot of havoc on things. That wind was blowing me around. And I'd get into one just like I did the lap before and all of a sudden, whewww, the car would just jump three feet. And I'd look up down the back straightaway to see if Jimmie had the same gust of wind I had. And sometimes he did and sometimes he didn't. But that's what I focused on, and I'm just glad that I didn't hit the wall on 4 and make the mistake I had in the past.
STEVE LETARTE: I guess to follow up, I mean, that's what we do. That's what it's all about. That's why you work seven days a week all winter long to come here to race is the first 300 laps are fun but there's nothing like the last pit stop or last adjustment. That's why I race. That's why I've always raced. The races are a little longer than what I grew up with, but that last fuel and that last pit stop I always tell my guys and I can always tell when I was on pit crew I noticed this. There are guys that belong on a pit crew and there are guys that aren't. And you need guys that they want the ball. They want to be play makers, they want to make the difference. We have seven of those guys who go over the wall, and we have a good group of them behind the wall. When I was looking for suggestions while we were running there before the caution came out, no one was afraid to speak up. Everyone had an idea. I guess to go to your point, actually a little bit harder to stay focused early in a race, because if you can't get focused on the last pit stop, then you're in the wrong business.
Q: Did you sense during this losing streak, the nine losing streak, 47 races, as that's going on, some fans who weren't necessarily Jeff Gordon fans were maybe rooting for you to win again, because when Jeff Gordon wins it's good for NASCAR, it's good for the sport.
JEFF GORDON: I can't say I ever saw that (laughter). I kept telling NASCAR that, you know. Tried to.
STEVE LETARTE: Now they're rooting for me.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah (laughter). If you read any of the blogs online, they weren't rooting for Steve. That's what makes it all the better, in my opinion. I know this is a big day for my true core fans, the Jeff Gordon fans out there are celebrating right now and having a great day and they're going to have a great week. They're already having a pretty good year. But this takes it over the top. And I have so often, people so positive: Today's your day. You're going to win this one. And it doesn't matter where we go, what kind of day or weekend we're having, they say that to me. And that's so encouraging and awesome to have somebody that believes in you like that. I think that people are all fans, and I'm a fan of other sports and I do the same thing, when somebody dominates, you want to see them get beaten. And when somebody is a winner, or are good at what they do, you want to see them struggle a little bit, but you also like to see them do good when they struggle. I don't think that's been any different in our case. And so I'm sure there's probably some people out there that maybe weren't big Jeff Gordon fans that saw us struggle enough and said, hey, it would be good to see them win, but I also know there's some that are just loving it that we were never winning. That's what makes this sport so great is that we have that kind of personal group and then those type of avid fans. But as long as you have fans out there that are supporting you like we do, it's a great sport. It's a great thing. And good to be me, good to be us, especially today.
Q: Jeff, if you go with the theory that as we get older we learn from our experiences, what did you learn from this experience the last year and a half? How did it impact you, whether it was either in subtle ways or something in a greater sense? I get a sense some of how it is. But can you explain further a little bit about what you've learned from this?
JEFF GORDON: Like I said, it was motivation. It was motivation because it really, it makes you question how bad do you really want it, how hard are you willing to work to get back to Victory Lane and how hard are you willing to drive, what's your physical condition, where are you at mentally. Then you throw in being a new dad thing and that throws a whole 'nother twist into it, because that's a lot of work in itself. And then there's the pride and the joy of being part of this team, being a father, being a husband, being a son and wanting to make them proud of what you're doing. And I realized through last year that I didn't want to just be somebody out there riding around. I didn't want to be somebody that never won again. And I only can play a certain role. Sure, I can be somewhat of a leader to the team because I've been around as long as I have and won the races and championships. But I'm just a tool to Steve and the team and I just want to be the best tool and asset to them that I can be. And I was real honest with Steve over the off season and last year to say, man, you tell me what I need to do. You tell me what we're missing and how I can help, whether it be from my role at Hendrick to get him something that he feels like he's missing, or as a driver, committing myself to being the best that I can be. And I read all the stuff about can't drive a loose race car. Can't drive the Car of Tomorrow. It's got nothing to do with that. There's a certain way I drive. I can't change that. I've been in a lot of different types of race cars, and when the car fits what I need, we go fast. And we've proven that this year. And Steve again, I give him a lot of credit, because he looked at everything all the other teams were doing and what Jimmie and Chad and that 48 were doing to have success and other teams out there. And he's not afraid to say that won't work for us, because Jeff just drives a little bit different. But what could work in that that I think is really making them go fast that would work and make us go faster is this. And he dissects it down. And it's just when you back that up and we're proving it this year it only builds momentum and confidence in what we're doing that we're doing it right. And I believe we're really just, you know, just getting there. I think we can even get better.
Q: I noticed that Ingrid and Ella weren't here, was that because they had something else to do or because you didn't think you were going to win?
JEFF GORDON: We went through a pretty tough time in Texas last year at this race, and we kind of made a decision at that time that they were mainly going to come on Sundays, they were here all weekend. And I was having a rough time on the track because we weren't very good. And then I love going back to see Ella and Ingrid in the bus, but Ella was not sleeping too good. So I was up all night and stressed out and, again, it was no coincidence to me that we had the race that we had at this time last year. Because it was just a miserable weekend all the way around.
Q: So you're telling me you passed your hatred for this track down to Ella?
JEFF GORDON: Exactly. (Laughter) she was crying for me all night. But we just made a decision that this is a tough sport. You gotta take it serious, and you gotta be committed. And this is my job. And they come every chance that they can. And when it doesn't work out, you know, it doesn't work out. I really hate that they weren't able to celebrate with me today. But I think because of this win we're going to win more races this year and they're going to be there for those.
Q: And the other thing is that, let me call you on it, you whiffed on your sponsors. You had to actually go to the crib sheet and read them on the side of the car
JEFF GORDON: First win. I got the important ones. But you know what happens, maybe it doesn't happen when you just win the first race of the season. But it haunts me at night when we won a few races several years ago and I missed one sponsor and that's all I heard for the next week was, well, you didn't get them. So I just didn't want to miss anybody. So I'm just going back to the car, going to the patches, I want to make sure I take advantage of this moment. It's been a long time. And luckily they beared with me and hopefully the sponsors appreciated it.
Q: Jimmie talked about the win. You talked about it a little bit. It was discussed all weekend. Do you think that the Car of Tomorrow is harder to drive in conditions like this and how confident are you coming back in November with what you learned today?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, there's no car that's designed to get through this kind of condition. I mean, those were strong gusts that we had today. And it was challenging, because it was really a cross wind that was coming from Turn 4 over to Turn 2. And so you get in the middle of the turn, you know, one lap, no problem. Actually, you could use some of that wind to help you if your car was loose, it would tighten it up. But then you'd get a gust and the whole car jumps or slides in 1 and 2 then you go down to 3 and 4 and you have a headwind and you have all kinds of grip, but when you cross over to where the grandstands were is blocking the wind so you lose the wind. It was treacherous. But this car, it's big. The roof is taller, and everything is going to catch the air a little bit more. And that's why it punches a bigger hole, why when we're behind other cars it doesn't grip as good. And so I'm sure in a small way it is going, the wind's maybe going to affect this car a little bit more.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, congratulations.