JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with members of the media at Watkins Glen International and discussed racing on road courses, double-file restarts and other topics. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ROAD COURSES?: "I feel like you're only as good...
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with members of the media at Watkins Glen International and discussed racing on road courses, double-file restarts and other topics.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ROAD COURSES?: "I feel like you're only as good as you're last victory. We haven't had the kind of success recently at Watkins Glen as we have had in the past. I still love coming here -- love the challenge of all the road courses, but this one in particular is really fast. It's a very challenging and fun race track to drive. I think it's really well-suited for our cars. We had a decent day today. We obviously had some delays out there with some guys having problems so that took away from some laps that we wanted to make. We need a little bit of speed, but we feel like we've got something that can get us in the top-10 for qualifying and then go after our race set-up for tomorrow."
DO YOU THINK JIMMIE JOHNSON NEEDS A ROAD COURSE WIN TO COMPLETE HIS RESUME?: "I don't think he needs to -- I think he's proven how good he is by winning at so many different tracks already. I'm sure in his mind he would like to add that to his resume to complete it. I know he's worked really hard at it. That's what make a good road course driver is somebody who is challenged by it and enjoys that challenge and goes after it. He certainly has. I'm not so sure, other than the first couple of years that he was at Hendrick, I'm not so sure that we've had the best package out there on the road courses over the last three or four years. When I won or was winning all of our road course races, I felt like we did have the best package and I did my part. I think if we step up our package a little bit, and hopefully that can happen this weekend. I think Jimmie (Johnson) can definitely challenge for a win."
DO YOU KNOW WHY THE RESULTS HAVEN'T COME AT WATKINS GLEN IN RECENT YEARS?: "You can create all kinds of excuses. One time I think we were on the pole and were taken out in the first corner and had to play catch up. Last year we had all sorts of radio issues. I spun out here leading with two laps to go. It's just that the margins that you have over your competition are so much less now. You can't get away with some of the things that maybe you used to be able to. We don't have the advantage over the competition that we did at one time. Especially with this car, this car makes the competition so much tighter and so much closer that it's hard to get an advantage. It's certainly hard to move up through the field if you don't have that perfect day. I think for us we have to get qualified solidly up in the field and then we have to have a flawless day and not make any mistakes. We, including myself, have made a few too many mistakes in the last few races here."
WHAT HAVE YOU NOTICED ABOUT DRIVERS TAKING MORE CHANCES THAN THEY NORMALLY WOULD?: "You're talking about the double-file restarts and that's what's created that. It's also what's created quite a bit of excitement I would imagine for the fans at home as well as the media that wants to write a good story about it or talk about it or show something good. It's definitely made for some good highlights. You're not going to get a driver in here, unless they win the race, that's going to say how great it is because it makes it extremely challenging and hair-raising at times for us. There are some tracks that the track is going to be able to take it and there are multiple grooves like Michigan. Michigan is perfect for double-file restarts -- it has so many different grooves at that track and it's not as hair-raising as a Pocono or a Bristol or here at Watkins Glen -- I think it's going to be really, really intense here. What happens is that you're as aggressive as you need to be based on what's happening around you. Especially last week you had guys that caught the caution, had four tires.
"You had some that took two tires and then you had other guys that took four tires and so you had quite a mixed bag there of options that guys had. Really the cars that had been dominating the race were pretty far back in the field and you had some guys whose cars were good that were at the front of the field that were trying to win the race. It definitely made for some crazy, crazy moments. I would agree, I put myself in that same category where there were some times it was nuts. That's going to happen pretty much everywhere we go from now on with double-file restarts at tracks that really don't have multiple grooves for the whole lap. What happens at Pocono, the first corner, you can kind of manage through the first corner, but then as you get to the tunnel it narrows down and then as you get to (turn) three, even though it's wide, there's really only one groove through there that's optimal and it was creating a lot of excitement."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE SUCCESS THAT MARK MARTIN IS HAVING THIS SEASON?: "I think it's awesome, especially because he's my teammate and I love seeing it happen for that five team and Hendrick and for Rick (Hendrick, team owner). Plus I've always had so much respect and admiration for Mark (Martin). He's a good guy as well as a really talented race car driver. It's great to see him have the success, but it's funny when you talk to him because he's so stressed out about the points and trying to just make it into the 'Chase' and I'm sitting here going, 'I'm just worried about this guy once the 'Chase' starts as to how we're going to beat him for the championship because of how strong they've been.' That's just Mark (Martin), but I think it's great."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHY TURN ONE HERE IS SO CHALLENGING?: "I think what's challenging if you're not driving the course -- they should start giving van rides to all the media and the fans for that matter around the track so you guys can understand what we're talking about. Going into (turn) one, just through all the years of all the cars and the pressure from the down force and the force of the brakes and the tires of trying to stop the cars, it's rolled up the pavement down there going into turn one and its just basically made these waves which at speed feel like bumps. When you first drive in there and get on the brakes, the car bounces in the rear and so you have to be real careful on the brakes, but then it smoothes out and has a nice transition down to the apex. So you've got that challenge as well as say restarts -- it looks like there's tons of room plus you've got the run off on the exit and so it gets guys to get pretty aggressive getting down in there. Some guys will misjudge the braking and over shoot it and other guys will be more aggressive and take it three-wide and four-wide. There's a lot of crazy stuff that happens down in turn one and I guarantee that if you're leading the race here this weekend, the last thing you're going to want to see is a caution. I don't know which lane is going to be the preferred lane either -- inside or out -- because even though it's a right-hand turn and you think you would want the inside, if a guy can hold on your outside then he can carry that momentum off the corner. There are a lot of factors that turn one is going to play at this race this weekend."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RACING AT ATLANTA ON LABOR DAY WEEKEND AT NIGHT?: "I'm excited about racing there at night. We ran one night race there, it wasn't scheduled to be at night that I can remember, but I think we won that race. Atlanta is just a fantastic track and I think it should be even better under the lights at night and I always look forward to going to Atlanta. I think it's one of our best tracks. The schedule change -- whatever works out for the track owners and NASCAR, I want it in the 'Chase' and it's a track that is a good one for us. I can't wait to get there."
IS THERE A PROBLEM RUNNING THE WHOLE NATIONWIDE SCHEDULE IN TERMS OF DRIVERS AFFECTING THEIR SPRINT CUP EFFORTS?: "I think this is so funny and so ironic because five years ago it was, 'Man, all the guys that are running the Nationwide Series are running in the top-five in points. Do you think you should be running more Nationwide races and is there a correlation to that?' Now here we are saying that none of them are in the top-five. I will say the biggest difference is that the cars are so much different. I think there is so little that you can learn from Saturday's races to the Sunday races because the cars are so much different with the new COT. Once they move over to their version of the COT, there might be a little more correlation and that. Now you've got guys that are not just running Nationwide races, they're running whole seasons for the championship. I give those guys a lot of credit for flying all over the country and doing what they're doing. That's definitely not something that I'm interested in doing. To me, the intensity of the Cup series is enough, the schedule is hectic enough and I can totally understand those guys wanting to run eight or 10 races a year on the companion weekends. But the guys that are going for the championship -- that's a lot to take on and I could see where it could be a distraction."
WHY AREN'T RAIN TIRES GOOD FOR THE CUP DRIVERS ON SUNDAY?: "I guess the drivers aren't good enough on Sunday to be able to do that. I don't know. We have enough challenges trying to stay on the track when it's dry and I can't imagine what it would be like in a Cup race if it was wet. I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it rain up there in Montreal a couple years ago or last year, whenever that was. That was highly entertaining, but I was very glad that I wasn't inside the car. One of the biggest reasons, I think it would be fun to actually drive the cars in the rain if you get a consistent rain and you can feel the grip level, but as you saw, the windshield wipers don't work, the de-fog doesn't work. When you have a guy with a Swifter trying to clean your windshield off -- there's something wrong. That car should not be out there in the rain. We're not going to come in and fix that, you're going to keep going. I'm not sure why they do it in Nationwide and they don't on Sunday. I know we used to have them here. I went down into turn one and my windshield wiper went off into the kitty litter down there. I don't know, I really don't know, but I'm not going to go over there and stand in line and beg them to put rain tires on us, I can tell you that."
ARE YOU SURPRISED AT JUAN PABLO MONTOYA'S PROGRESS TO MAKE THE 'CHASE' THIS YEAR?: "I'm not surprised at all. If there's any surprise it's that it's taken this long to get that team into contention. I think Juan Pablo's (Montoya) one of the most talented drivers that I've ever seen drive a race car and I think their program has been off a little bit and it's taken him a little while to adapt to this type of car and these tracks and just the type of racing that we do in these cars. I really see him racing smart and doing a great job in the races when he gets in position. I think they've definitely shown that they've got some strong cars, especially on the mile-and-a-halves lately. They have been really strong so they've obviously improved that and given Juan (Pablo Montoya) something to perform high with and now it's just about putting it together consistently and they seem to be doing that lately. It would be great to see them in the 'Chase."
ARE THE CUP DRIVERS BETTER AT ROAD RACING THAN THEY USED TO BE?: "I think there was a period of time where you could give up races for the championship and it would be okay. You excelled enough at the rest of the tracks that if you went to the two road courses a year and finished 15th that you were okay with that. Then I think as the competition increased you started seeing teams getting better and better at every track we went to. I take the '98 season with us for instance as an example. Page 20
"We won at every different type of track and we were just incredibly dominant that year, but it wasn't just at one certain type of track -- it was at all types of tracks. I think that forced everybody to step up and not look at road courses as a giveaway. I think it forced the drivers and teams and everybody to step it up. I think that has shown all the teams and drivers that you have to do that. Once you put your mindset into that you have to make our cars better and as a driver you have to be better on the road courses. Now the cars better and so I have to be better. They don't just go into it saying that they are going to step out for that race and let somebody else drive the car. It's really not acceptable anymore to do that. Everybody is getting paid a lot of money, sponsors expect them to be in the car every week and if you can't perform on the road courses, then you might be out of a job. I think it forces them to step it up."
DO YOU THINK THE ECONOMY HAS PUT MORE PRESSURE ON DRIVERS MAKING THE 'CHASE' THIS YEAR?: "I hadn't really thought about that in that way, but I definitely think that sponsors are tough to come by right now and that's how we put those race cars out on the track every weekend. There's a huge amount of responsibility for the members of the team, our shops and everything we put into it. All of those things, it takes sponsorship to do it and as the economy has gone into the mode that its in, there are fewer and fewer sponsors willing to spend that kind of money so I think it is that much more important to be in the top-12. I really think that the focus from a driver's standpoint is purely competition, purely this is your goal is to be in the 'Chase' and then once the 'Chase' starts your goal is to win the championship. That's every competitor out there -- their goal is to do that. But there are definitely some other things that come along with that, if you do make it into the 'Chase' like better sponsors or keeping a sponsor or the potential of losing a sponsor if you don't."
HOW IMPORTANT IS A GOOD KARTING PROGRAM TO YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY WHO WANT TO GET INTO RACING?: "It's not so much just karting. I think it's important to start at a young age in whatever type of car that you can get in to, whether it be a quarter-midget or a go-kart. I think that there's a lot of different options for kid these days and I think it's just extremely important to get into a series that's safe, that's organized and that you can afford to be a part of. If you can have those three factors in there then I say go out there and get as much experience as you possibly can at a lot of different types of tracks. If you excel at a level then you need to move up to the next level and if you excel in a certain type of car then you need to move on to the next level. Quarter-midgets and I didn't do a lot of go-kart racing, but the go-karting that I did do, I felt like it definitely honed my skills and made me a better driver."
-credit: gm racing