JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media and discussed the bumpy Kentucky track, his thoughts on marking Kentucky off as the final track on the schedule he has yet to record a victory at and many other topics.
TELL US HOW PRACTICE WENT FOR YOU GUYS:
“It went pretty good. This is a tough place obviously you hear a lot about the bumps. We expected that coming in. It’s hot and slick like normal as well, but I thought the Drive to End Hunger Chevy was pretty good. I’ve been happy with the grip level just working with the balance and then we switched over into qualifying trim and had a pretty good run there too. Yeah, right now I’m fairly pleased.”
IS THIS TRACK HARD ON YOUR BACK?
“Yeah, I mean this track is hard on everybody’s back. If they could just repave the front straightaway I think we would be good here. I love the corners. I love the challenges of the grip, the cracks, the bumps and the corners. Those don’t bother us. That front straightaway is pretty absurd. Yeah, it’s going to play a slight toll on my back, but that kind of stuff is not what really bothers my back like what happened at Charlotte.”
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HOW STOKED YOU WOULD BE IF YOU CROSSED THIS ONE OFF THE LIST AND HAD WON AT EVERY SINGLE TRACK ON THE CIRCUIT?
“Yeah I mean I have thought about it a little bit. It would be very cool. Most of my energy is spent with do we have a shot at winning at this track. I feel like we have run solid here the last few times we have been here. I feel like as good as our cars are this year that this is probably the most legitimate shot that we’ve had of crossing that one off the list. It would mean a lot. It would be quite an accomplishment and it’s something that I would love to say I have done.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SECRETS TO SUCCESS TO WIN AT THIS TRACK?
“Being out front when the checkered flag waives which is the secret of success everywhere. Last year it was a day race on Sunday and I feel like we were really in position and I just didn’t get the best restart. That was one thing. The challenge is that you are practicing during the day when it’s hot and it’s slick and you are racing basically at night. It’s that guessing game of what the track conditions are going to be like, how the car is going to react, how the pace is going to pick up and what your car is going to do. Especially these days we’ve got these ride heights down so low on a rough track like this it’s about trying to keep that splitter sealed up or as low as possible and the platform being right on the car. Yet you are crashing into the race track like you do here it’s a compromise. The team that does the best job managing that I think is going to be the team to beat that is going to have a fast race car. But the tire is so hard. This is such a conservative tire. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Goodyear about what challenges this surface has for them. Because they have an ultra conservative tire which is making track position so important.”
WHEN YOU SAY THEY BROUGHT A CONSERVATIVE TIRE WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
“That means it’s really hard, not a lot of grip and it doesn’t wear at all.”
YOUR TEAMMATE DALE EARNHARDT, JR. WAS PRETTY AGGRESSIVE AT SONOMA. DO YOU THINK THAT JR FEELS IT? YOU KNOW THE FEELING OF KNOWING THAT YOU’VE GOT A SHOT AT A CHAMPIONSHIP DO YOU THINK JR. FEELS IT THIS YEAR?
“I think when you hear people say ‘oh that guy’s got confidence that is a different driver’. The cars are giving you that feeling. When it happens week in and week out on a consistent basis it doesn’t matter if you go to a road course that you don’t typically run well at or what track you go to. You have confidence that you can get the job done. When you are in that position it makes you drive a little harder. It makes you get up on the wheel a little bit more and just gets you more excited. I feel like other than Kasey (Kahne) having some bad luck that is kind of how all of us feel at Hendrick right now.”
DO YOU SENSE ANYTHING DIFFERENT ABOUT DALE, JR. THIS YEAR?
“I haven’t seen anything different other than the confidence. I have seen that ever since he and Steve (Letarte, crew chief) got together. It just seems like the communication is more open he is sharing more and I think he feels like he has cars and a team that are capable of winning on a weekly basis. I think his driving is showing.”
WHAT IS THE KEY TO FINISHING UP FRONT AT DAYTONA?
“I have no idea. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a very good job of it. In Daytona this year we got fortunate and missed the wrecks and were there at the end. It felt great. We didn’t pull that off in Talladega. We will try to go back in July and do the same thing. Daytona in July is a little bit different because it’s hot and slick and the car has to handle good. It’s really just these days to me it’s just pure luck. There are some guys that seem to do a better job of it than others that find their way to the front and get to stay there and avoid some of the big ones. Most of all I think it’s just purely coincidental and luck.”
DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEE THE SAME CHAOS WE SAW AT TALLADEGA DURING DAYTONA KNOCK-OUT QUALIFYING?
“Oh yeah it’s going to be hairy. It’s going to be chaotic. As much as we all sit there and go ‘okay qualifying is not that important here’ we still all want to be starting up front. It’s obvious there you want to be the last car off pit road at the back of a big pack and everybody is jockeying for position and playing all kinds of games. It gets really interesting. It was pretty exciting in Talladega. I think we all learned a lot from that session that we will take to Daytona.”
WILL YOU TRY TO RUN QUALIFYING AGAIN LIKE YOU DID IN TALLADEGA WITH ALL THE HENDRICK POWERED CARS TRYING TO GET TOGETHER?
“We didn’t do that in Talladega. So we will probably do a better job of that in July at Daytona.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS CHASE FORMAT WILL BE LIKE WITH THE KNOCK-OUT ROUNDS? WILL IT JUST BE SUPER AGGRESSIVE?
“I think so. I think it’s going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to it. It’s certainly going to be intense. I think everybody keeps talking about how important it is to win. I don’t think it’s that important to win the first couple of rounds. I think it’s important to really run solid. I think that after those first knock-out rounds you are going to have to be on your ‘A’ game. I think the best team is going to win like usual, but it’s which team is going to be rising to the top and the best at that time and through those final 10 races is what is going to be so interesting. Then can they be the best in that final race at Homestead.”
TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY SINCE DOVER IN 1996 WHERE A FULL FIELD DID NOT SHOW UP. SHOULD ANYBODY READ INTO ANYTHING ABOUT THE HEALTH OF THE SPORT OR IS THAT NOT SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE A CONCERN?
“We don’t need 43 cars out there to put on a great race. I’m not really that focused on it. There is no doubt that times have changed with how much the cost has gone up. How much we are asking out of our sponsors and some of the crowds have gone down. We are searching hard to find the income to match what the cost is. That is about the only thing that anybody should make of anything that is going on out there. Whether there are 35 cars or 45 cars to me that doesn’t really make a big difference.”
CAN YOU PUT WHAT JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS ACCOMPLISHED IN THE LAST FEW YEARS IN PERSPECTIVE AND WILL WE EVER SEE SOMETHING LIKE THAT AGAIN?
“I don’t see how we will ever see that again. I think it is incredible. I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit for it and I think down the road he is going to have to struggle at some point in his career for people to really appreciate it and maybe give him the credit that he’s really due. It is so difficult I don’t care how good you are, how good your team is, it’s so difficult to do what they did and very impressive. They are a great team and Jimmie is a great driver and I think that he deserves more credit for that.”
YOU’VE HAD THESE BACK PROBLEMS AND SOME OTHER INJURIES THAT HAVE SLOWED YOU UP IS SOMETIMES JUST THE PHYSICAL WEAR AND TEAR THAT YOU TAKE BEING A DRIVER DOES THAT PRECLUDE SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENING AGAIN?
“It’s a long schedule it is hectic there is testing. We all have health issues, maybe family and friends that we have to attend to. All of us have obstacles in our life so when you look at a 38 week schedule that you have to be basically at every one of those races and then you have to be on top of your best ‘A’ game. Then you look at all the obstacles that are in your way in each race, especially those final 10 how difficult that is. That is to me what makes it even that much more impressive to go do five in a row like that.”
TALK ABOUT THE KENTUCKY TRACK YOU SAID A LOT OF DRIVERS AT FIRST WERE CRITICAL NOW THEY LIKE THE CHALLENGE WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
“Nobody enjoys it from about 100 feet off of Turn 4 to about 200 feet getting into Turn 1. There is nothing enjoyable about that, but we put up with it because it’s on the straightaway and it’s just uncomfortable. Once you get in the corners this place is fun. We all like a challenge of the grip level going away, maybe a crack or a bump that you have to get over and you can use that to your advantage. Just search around the race track before somebody else gets out of shape and you take advantage of that. So the corners here are great. We don’t want them to repave this track, none of us do. But I would like for them to pave that front straightaway.”
WHAT IS THE HOTTEST YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN THE RACE CAR AND DO YOU REMEMBER THE DAY JIMMIE JOHNSON CAME INTO YOUR COACH AND ABOUT COLLAPSED OF HEAT EXHAUSTION?
“Well I went to his. He had the text message that said ‘help, mayday, mayday’ he was in bad shape that day. He had run that Daytona Prototype race in July. I don’t know the air conditioner or drink system something failed in the car and it usually doesn’t catch up to you for about 45 minutes to an hour after. Boy it did and I happened to be parked next to him and his fingers could only dial a few different numbers and it got to me. I was happy to help him out and get him to the infield care center to get him some fluids.
“I have been through some situations not as bad as that but that was about the worst I have ever seen. It shows you just, especially when I watch LeBron James go through what he went through recently it reminded me of Jimmie actually. It was even worse than that. The hottest I’ve ever been, the only time I’ve ever had cramps like that was after a Pocono race where there were a lot of green flag runs and I just didn’t hydrate myself well enough throughout the race. I started cramping after the race. The hottest I can remember being inside the car was one year at Sonoma it was really hot and they had a red flag late in the race and we just sat and cooked inside the cars on the back straightaway. I remember that. We are doing such a better job of cooling inside the cars and hydration and preparation just in general now. I’ve been in pretty good shape so far.”
HOW PHYSICALLY DEMANDING IS KENTUCKY?
“Well I mean the bumps are not physically demanding they are just aggravating. It’s just you are sitting there getting beat up. You just kind of ride it out. The day after, yeah, you might feel the effects. In the corners it’s pretty slick the tires don’t have much grip and the track is fairly abrasive so it loses grip very fast. Other than the bumps it is not physically demanding expect for the humidity and how warm it can be inside the cars. Compared to some of the other tracks, Charlotte to me is the most physically demanding because the speeds that we carry, the G-Loads that we have in the corners especially when it’s cool there. When it’s hot it slows down so you don’t pull the G’s but yet you hot set the car. That is kind of where we are at here. It’s not the most physically demanding because of the speeds and the grip level in the corners, but the heat definitely and the bumps get to you.”
CAN WE COUNT YOU AS A FAN OF KENTUCKY?
“I am a fan. Yeah, I like it because it’s a challenging race track and I like a good challenge and our cars have been good here the last few times and so if I feel like we have a shot at winning I usually like that track.”
DO YOU DO ANY TYPE OF BEEFING UP THE SUSPENSION WHEN YOU COME HERE?
“I was talking about that earlier. I think that most of our suspension components are beefed up so much that we find out just what they are truly capable of when we come here. I don’t know if we beat up anything as much as we beat it up last week at Sonoma bouncing off the curbs the way you do there. That is probably about as much abuse as you could put on a car. But if you throw in the high speeds here, yeah, this is definitely a good test. As far as I know we don’t. I hope that doesn’t bite us, but I think that we have a pretty good indication when we go through a race after a race is over we look at what is cracking, what is showing signs of stress and we address it. Unless something completely out of left field is going to pop up on us here I think we feel pretty comfortable with it.”
DO YOU THINK THEY SHOULD PAVE THE TRACK OR LEAVE IT ALONE?
“I don’t want them to pave this race track. I want them to pave the front straightaway. But I don’t want them to pave the rest of it.”