JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed his winning record at Martinsville Speedway, tire testing at Sonoma this past weekend and many other topics. Full Transcript:
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN YOUR AND JIMMIE JOHNSON’S SUCCESS HERE AT MARTINSVILLE?
“Great race cars, great race teams. I think just the approach that we have had and that is built from having some success over the years. Hendrick has always given us great cars even from when I started coming here. I found something that worked for me and I have been able to go back to when I come here and not a lot has changed. I have mentioned that a lot of times, but this weekend there is the most drastic change I have seen in a long time because of the new ride height rules. But for the most part, I think not a lot has changed as far as how you approach the way the cars are set up and how you drive the track since I first started coming here. It’s nice to have something that you have learned that has worked and can be a constant that you can come back with and make it work over and over again. It’s probably similar for Jimmie since he has started having success here as well.”
DO THINGS CHANGE COMING BACK HERE NOW THAT YOU HAVE WON HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN EIGHT YEARS? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN COMING BACK HERE AFTER A WIN?
“It gives us more confidence. I have always had confidence here because we always run good and have been in position many times to win but we didn’t. Whether the caution came out or other things that maybe happened. So I have always had confidence coming here because of laps led and having cars capable of winning. But when you actually finish first and you complete what you set out to do it gives you added confidence and momentum going back to that track.”
REGARDING YOUR FIRST CUP WIN 20 YEARS AGO AT CHARLOTTE, WHAT DO YOU RECALL?
“That was such a huge moment for me. I look back at that and I was still just a young kid and it was amazing that I was just in the Cup garage, at Hendrick Motorsports and had the opportunity that I had. You really never know what you are capable of doing until you accomplish it. So every step of the way that I would go up to the next level and when you win for the first time you are elated and overwhelmed sort of at the same time. That is how I felt that day and it also gave me a lot of confidence that we could win more races, and then we went on to win the Brickyard.
“To do it at Charlotte not because it was the longest race, but it’s a prestigious race and people look at it as one of the toughest races to win – especially being longer. But also just that track in general because it’s not an easy track to drive and win at. So I think maybe not in the same category as Darlington but close to it. When you look at tough places to get a win I think a lot of people would think of the old Darlington as one of the toughest and I would say Charlotte is right up there with it as well.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE MENTAL TOUGHNESS THAT IS REQUIRED TO WIN THE 600?
“All the sudden we have got to talk about the 600 and I thought we were at Martinsville (Laughs). I think it takes mental toughness to win anywhere but when you do have a very long race like that its mental toughness throughout the whole team. There are a lot of pit stops and a lot of calls coming from the pit box by the crew chief and engineers. Then as a driver you go through some ups and downs and it’s such a long race that you just have to stick with it and it’s tough.”
ARE ANY OF THE NEW CHANGES AFFECTING HOW YOU DRIVE?
“I think any time the teams find more speed in the car it changes slightly on finding that limit of the car. Whether it’s rolling out of the brakes sooner or getting on the gas sooner or harder, or not slowing the car down as much getting in the corner. Those type of things. But usually the grip of the car tells you that and you are constantly seeking the limit of the car and finding that edge. So yeah, there is more grip in the car because of the spoiler and of the ride heights. Nothing has changed, the teams have made the cars faster and you are always having to push yourself and push the car.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT NASCAR DECREASING HORSEPOWER NEXT YEAR?
“No, I am not in favor of it. I think the reason they want to do that is to keep the cars bunched up more and it will do that. I would like to see things that create more passing that go along with that. I think more horsepower creates more passing, but it also can create more of a gap between teams, cars and drivers. So whatever is going to help the sport grow and continue to be competitive and entertaining – I am going to support it.
“I am old school so when they start talking about things like that I am one of the last to adapt to it or accept it. But what I do like is that they are planning for it with the teams, with the manufacturers, with the engine builders to do it the right way instead of just throwing a plate on it. That is not the way to go about it. It’s going to take some real planning because we saw some tire issues last week and if you put less horsepower on us then the tire issues are only going to become greater. We are actually going to be carrying more speed through the corner and not less.”
FOR DRIVERS WHO HAVE ALREADY WON THIS YEAR, DO YOU THINK THEY ARE BETTER CANDIDATES TO BE ROUGHED UP FOR A WIN AT THE END OF A RACE?
“Yeah, absolutely. I think that there is such a huge advantage to them to be relaxed and go about business a different way than the rest of us who haven’t won yet. I think you always have to look at both sides of it. They are looking at it as ‘okay, we can be more aggressive with set ups and what we can do to prep for the next race or winning the championship’, but you also have to remember there are a lot of other guys are out there that haven’t won yet and are really hungry to get that win because we see how important it is.
To me it’s not just important to lock yourself in the Chase, we are all here to try and win the championship. And it is a huge step forward to winning the championship because of the mindset that you go into and how you approach each race after you have gotten a win.
JIMMIE SAID YOU HAVE TO BE ULTRA AGGRESSIVE HERE AT MARTINSVILLE TO GET TO VICTORY LANE, WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH?
“That must be why he has been winning a lot lately and I haven’t because that is not the way I win at Martinsville. You have to be aggressive on restarts and that is just in general to where we go these days. There are some tracks that I feel I have done a good job with that and others that I haven’t. For me, this track is about finesse. This track is about patience. If it comes down to a late caution then I think yes, it comes down to aggressiveness but also what line you are in. You want to be in that inside line and if you are in that outside lane then you can be as aggressive as you want but it’s not going to do a whole lot for you to get down and into that inside lane. So yes, I have a different approach to that.”
HOW MUCH OF A FACTOR ARE BRAKES STILL HERE AT MARTINSVILLE?
“That is probably one of the things that has changed a lot. I think if anything the brakes have gotten so good you have to be more careful of melting the bead on the right-front tire than you have to worry about brakes. The brakes, the cooling has gotten so much better, the efficiency of the brakes has gotten so much better that I haven’t had to worry about brakes in a long time here. I’ve had to worry about over heating other things, but not the brakes.”
FROM WHAT WE HAVE SEEN SO FAR WHAT DO YOU THINK THE RACING WILL BE LIKE AT TEXAS? DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEE ANY ISSUES WITH THE TIRES THERE?
“I think we will see issues there. We saw issues there last year. I think as a team we are already looking at things that we were doing last year that we can look at trying to improve as far as abusiveness on the tires for Texas. My question is did Goodyear test there? Because from what I understand they didn’t test in California and I think that that was obviously a mistake. Because I think some of those things may have shown up in that test. Did they test in Texas and if they didn’t then I hope they have a back-up plan because I do think that we are going to have some issues there.”
YOU TESTED TIRES AT SONOMA THIS PAST WEEK DID YOU HAVE ANY DISCUSSIONS WITH GOODYEAR ABOUT FONTANA?
“I did not. No, I’m too mad at them to have a discussion with them about that right now. I went and did everything I could to put the best test together that I could there to learn what we could to go to Sonoma and win. Tires aren’t an issue there when it comes to that type of situation we had at Fontana. I did not discuss it with them.”
SO THEY NEED TO COME UP WITH SOMETHING THAT ISN’T NECESSARILY HARDER BUT SOMETHING WHERE THERE ARE NO BLOW OUTS?
“Don’t get me wrong we all play a role in it. You can easily sit here and say ‘oh well the teams were not conservative enough, there were teams that weren’t having issues.’ Well I mean we saw issues on Saturday and we detuned our car from a tire abusive standpoint. We still had a great race car but we were having problems throughout the whole day. We were one of the fortunate ones that never had one that came apart. Every pit stop there were plenty of signs that it could happen to us just like it happened to anybody else. I think when you have that many cars that are that close to being on the edge or going over the edge then the tire is too aggressive or something else needs to be looked at. The teams have all gotten, with the ride heights and everything they are doing, they have got more aggressive no doubt about it. But that is what it’s going to take to win races and if no tire test happens at that track then I think that I would question why not.”
WHY NOT JUST MANAGE YOUR TIRES BETTER? BUT IT’S DIFFERENT WHEN THEY ARE BLOWING OUT RIGHT? IT’S NOT A MATTER OF TIRE WEAR?
“Yeah, tire wear I have no problem with tire wear. I know how to manage tire wear. But when it’s the sidewall and you don’t know is it the bumps on the back straightaway, is it the apron in turn three and four, is it speed, is it air pressure, camber? I mean I heard where people were low on pressure came up on pressure and that didn’t seem to fix it. When those things are happening it definitely makes you nervous because you don’t want to be that close to the edge. I think we all were very close to the edge.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE RACING WILL BE LIKE AT TEXAS?
“I hope you like the racing in California. I thought the racing was really amazing. I didn’t like that we had to have a caution every 21-25 laps. To me Texas is always harder on tires than California. So that is what makes me a little bit concerned. I have loved going to Texas the last few times because I’ve had good race cars and I love how the groove widens out and you can run all over the race track. But I want to make sure we can go through a full fuel run too.”
SO WAS THE FACT THAT YOU WERE SET-UP FOR A LONG RUN IN CALIFORNIA WAS THAT BY DESIGN OR WAS THAT JUST THE HAND YOU WERE DEALT? HOW WOULD THAT IMPACT TEXAS STRATEGY?
“It is sort of my M.O. it’s part of the way I like to drive the cars and something that is sort of worked for me throughout my career. I like a car that runs good on the long runs. I feel like taking care of tires and managing that has been one of my specialties over the years. Part of it is because that is my approach. Sometimes that hurts me on the short run sometimes that hurts me on the restarts with two to go or five to go. I mean last week that is just to me the way the car was. It took a couple of laps for it to come in, but boy when it came in it was unreal. There at the end I knew that Jimmie (Johnson) had more issues than I had and I tried to push him hard. Because one I wanted to keep pressure on him and not make it easy for him and I wanted to pass him. As it turned out as soon as I got to him and pushed real hard I started having the vibration which I thought was a tire issue. As it turned out the tire was going to make it. I’m not sure where the vibration came from we never found it. At that point I backed off and then Jimmie had the problem.”
WITH THE PROSPECT OF EVEN MORE TIRE WEAR AT TEXAS COULD YOU BE PERSUADED TO CHANGE TO A SHORTER RUN STRATEGY?
“You never want to be the first one to have tire issues. So if anything I would probably go with the opposite. I would go with making sure that you never bring out the caution because of a tire failure. The other thing is being out front, actually being in cleaner air helps. To me I wouldn’t do anything any different. I felt like we were in perfect position to win that race. Had we been in the outside lane on that last restart it would have been a whole different deal. We wouldn’t be talking about how terrible of a restarter I am and finishing 13th at California.”
THAT LONG RUN STRATEGY DOES THAT IMPACT YOUR RESTARTS AT ALL?
“It does. I don’t know how everybody else approaches it. I only know how we approach it. Sometimes your car just has short run speed not by design it just does. I would say more times than any our car has long run speed and it’s because of what I’m looking for in the car. Rarely do I go into a race practice going ‘I want to see my name at the top of the board to put that one fast lap up and be great for five laps and then it fall off.’ I’m always like ‘I don’t care about the board I care about a 10 laps average, a 20 lap average, a 30 lap average and being good in the middle to the end of a run.’ That is just how we approach it. You could say ‘oh well, but more races come down to short runs now.’ They do, but sometimes they don’t and so I mean that is just the way we race and the way we build it in there. Then you try to change air pressure and do some things to maybe make it better on the short run so you can have the best of both worlds.
“Honestly, last week was not because our car wasn’t good enough on the short run at the end, my car was plenty on the short runs. It’s because we started on the inside lane and Kyle Busch about knocked me into the grass as I got underneath him going into (Turn) one. Then they go three wide on the outside of me and we were done. That is all it takes is that quick of a thing to happen and all of a sudden your race is kind of gone.”
WHEN NASCAR CHANGED THE QUALIFYING PROCEDURE THIS YEAR IN YOUR OPINION SHOULD THEY HAVE DONE THE SAME THING FOR THE SPRINT ALL-STAR RACE? OR SHOULD THEY HAVE LEFT THAT THE WAY IT WAS BECAUSE IT WAS ALREADY KIND OF DIFFERENT?
“It’s unique and cool and different and fun. I’m not saying they can’t maybe blend what we are doing now and enhance the all-star qualifying and mix it together, but I love making the pit stop. Incorporating the whole team into it is pretty cool.”