JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his past success at Martinsville, delivering a millionth meal to a local resident, the Hendrick plane tragedy, the traditional grandfather clock trophy and more. Full Transcript:
YESTERDAY YOU HELPED DELIVER A MILLIONTH MEAL TO SOMEONE ON BEHALF OF DRIVE TO END HUNGER. TALK ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE:
“I get to do a lot of really cool things. It’s opened my eyes so much to this cause and how many millions of people are dealing with hunger issues in America. And because of that, we get to do some pretty cool things. Yesterday was definitely one of the highlights. A woman named Freida (Evans, 89), who lives in Rockingham County very near by, to here, in North Carolina, who relies on Meals on Wheels to deliver her meals every day. She’s the classic story of individuals who need those meals desperately because she worked so hard to feed her family throughout her whole life and gave everything for them. And now, she relies on those meals. And it was pretty cool to be able to deliver that one-millionth meal for Meals on Wheels to her in the state of North Carolina.
“So, that was very special. I spent some time with her in her home with her family and she is such a sweet lady. When you live this close to Martinsville, they said that at times they can actually hear the cars going around the track. Her husband, who had passed away, was a big NASCAR fan and a lot of her family members are big NASCAR fans. She is a big Richard Petty fan; even brought up Lee Petty’s name. So that was very special to be able to do that and to help somebody like that.”
HISTORICALLY SPEAKING, MARTINSVILLE HAS BEEN KEY IN A LOT OF YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP RUNS. IS THERE A RACE OR A MOMENT OF SOMETHING WHEN MARTINSVILLE REALLY PLAYED A FACTOR IN ONE OF THOSE CHAMPIONSHIPS? HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU THIS WEEKEND KNOWING THAT IT’S BEEN A GOOD TRACK FOR YOU?
“I can honestly say never has it been more important than this weekend. I definitely think it’s played an important role. I haven’t gone back through the stats in history of exactly what this track meant to my championship runs in the past; I just knew that it’s always been a track that I’ve had confidence in. Our cars are good. Our team is solid here. And we come in here believing that we have a chance at winning; if it was under the old points format of trying to build a lead, or one that we tried to gain some points if we were a little bit behind. This weekend though, with the way this format is; don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like we’re in a ‘must win/have to win’ situation; I think we’re in a situation where this is a great track where we can win it. But getting a really good finish and getting it started off right is also almost as important. So we’re very focused on this track. We tested here and we’ve had a good day so far. Hopefully we can end the day on a positive note and just continue to carry that momentum that we have here in Martinsville and really kind of put our stamp on our championship contention and chances for Homestead.”
YOUR TEAMMATES ARE OUT OF THE RUNNING. HOW DOES THE FACT THAT YOU’VE GONE FROM HAVING THREE WITH YOU TO BEING ALONE IMPACT YOUR EFFORT? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE ON AN ISLAND AT ALL?
“I don’t. I feel like a lot of things don’t change. We always share information and work together and have our debriefs. The crew chiefs are constantly talking about set-ups in cars and how we get better as we go into each race weekend and our own theories. And I feel like that will continue. I think that the only difference is that we’re not racing them for the championship, so how you race one another when you race for a championship obviously, every split second counts and you race one another extremely hard. And I think if those guys have a chance at winning they’re still going to race hard.
“Beyond that, they’re very supportive. They’ve mentioned it to me already of how much they want to see us get that championship. So, it’s great to have their support. And we’ve been in this situation before to help, certainly with the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and we do all that we can to give them valuable information by being competitive each weekend if the opportunity presents itself. It’s just one of those things where on a restart instead of going down there and eight tires would be better than four, you race them hard but you race them clean and we just hope that we put ourselves in position with a fast enough race car to be able to race up front. And if we’re racing those guys, then hopefully we just don’t rub on one another or race one another so hard that we could cause problems to happen.”
NBC IS RETURNING TO COVER NASCAR IN 2015. YOU HOSTED SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE BACK IN 2003. I BELIEVE YOU ARE FRIENDS WITH LORNE MICHAELS, THE SHOW’S CREATOR. IF GIVEN THE CHANCE, WOULD YOU CONSIDER HOSTING THE SHOW AGAIN?
“It was an opportunity of a lifetime and I had a blast. I was also scared to death to do it. But, I’m glad that I did it. If I have any requests, just let me go through a Ricky Funk skit. That was my favorite thing that I did on the show. And I thought it was pretty funny. I would love to get the opportunity to do that again. But it’s one of those things where you can’t turn it down. If you’re asked, you have to do it. It’s just too much of an honor and an opportunity that you can’t say no.”
AFTER YOU GAVE THE MILLIONTH MEAL, WE HAD A TELETHON AND YOUR HATS BROUGHT IN ABOUT $2000 EXTRA.
“Oh, that’s great. I did not know that. That’s wonderful news. That’s what we’re trying to do with this program. It’s not just fund-raising. It’s getting the word out there for more people to understand how serious this issue is. And we need more volunteers. We need more people to be aware of it to really get involved and make an impact. And it starts in local communities and it spreads throughout the country and every little bit helps. I think, obviously Freida and her story and how important that meal was to her is the greatest way to spread that word.”
IS IT BETTER THAN HAVING A BEER SPONSOR?
“I’ve never had a beer sponsor (laughs). But I would say, yes. I’m my own beer sponsor. Yeah, I think this is way better (laughs).”
THREE OF THE EIGHT DRIVERS CURRENTLY IN THE CHASE HAVE WON CHAMPIONSHIPS EARLIER IN THEIR CAREERS. DO THOSE THREE HAVE AN ADVANTAGE? OR, BECAUSE OF THE NEW FORMAT IS ANY ADVANTAGE OMITTED?
“So, it’s me, Brad Keselowski, and Matt Kenseth. Yeah, it’s so hard to compare. My championships were won under a completely different format. All of them were under a different format than this one, this year. So, I don’t know if it gives an advantage to anybody. I think the best team that has handled pressure well and that these upcoming tracks suit them well; those are the ones with the advantage. It’s obvious there have been some surprises as to who is in and who is not. But, the way I look at it, the four that I feel like have been the strongest teams all year long are in there. And that’s the No. 22 (Joey Logano), the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski), the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick), and ourselves. I’m not saying that’s going to be who makes it to Homestead, but those to me, are the teams that have the best chance.”
THERE WAS A STRETCH WHERE EITHER JIMMIE JOHNSON OR DENNY HAMLIN WON EVERY RACE. YOU WERE IN THE MIX, BUT BEYOND THAT THERE WEREN’T MANY GUYS WHO REALLY CHALLENGED. NOW, KURT BUSCH WON IN THE SPRING. MATT KENSETH WAS STRONG IN BOTH RACES LAST YEAR. IS THERE ANY REASON WHY THE DOMINANCE OF THE NO. 48 AND THE NO. 11 AND THE NO. 24 HAVE FADED A LITTLE IN THE LAST FEW YEARS?
“The competition is always trying to get better. You watch your competitors. You see what they’re doing. It’s amazing the spy photos going on around this garage area these days of how we’re getting information; whether it’s the cars on the track or in the garage area. And so when you look at your competitors and you look at somebody who starts to do very well, you start looking at those details as to what it takes. Sometimes it’s things they’re doing with their cars and their set-ups.
“But the spring was a strange race because Goodyear changed the tire. And that tire I know, for me, was very far off. We really struggled with that tire. We were wearing left rear tires out. The track wasn’t laying rubber down. And it was a very odd race for us. And that’s why we decided to test here. And then they went and switched the tire back to more of a 2012 tire, but similar to what we had here at the end of last year. And it really brought my car back to life to what we had that worked so well. So, that’s sometimes all it takes is just changing a tire that can throw your set-up that’s worked so well and throw it off and bring others into the mix.
“But I think everybody is always challenged by Martinsville and how difficult this track is. And the top teams and drivers look at that challenge and take it on and say we don’t want this track to be our Achilles. We want this track to be a track where we can be a real factor. And I look at Matt (Kenseth) in that sense. This is a track where he’s struggled and then that year he was really strong and we changed to a different which obviously showed that team had something that worked really well here. Denny (Hamlin) has been very successful here and they were able to capitalize on that as well. So, sometimes it is a set-up. Sometimes it is in how you produce your car. And sometimes it’s just looking at data and driving styles as well.”
TEN YEARS AGO AT THIS RACE WE HAD THE HENDRICK PLANE TRAGEDY. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT IT MORE THIS PARTICULAR RACE AND IS THERE ALWAYS A PAIN IN YOUR HEART WHEN YOU GET TO MARTINSVILLE?
“Yeah, especially this particular one. We celebrated the memories of those folks this week by recognizing this being the tenth anniversary. We wanted to celebrate because they brought so much to people’s lives and they are missed so much. We had a memorial type event this week. So, it’s certainly on our minds and we’ve got that decal on the car that is going to again bring focus and attention to that because we never want to forget them. That was a tough, tough day for all of us. Every time we come back here we try to pay tribute at this particular race to those families. It was good to see some of the faces of those that have had to move on and live their lives with a very heavy heart. So, we try to honor them by doing something special. The ultimate would be a 1-2-3-4 finish for Hendrick Motorsports. I don’t think you could do any better tribute than that. So that’s our goal for the weekend.”
THE GRANDFATHER CLOCK TROPHY TURNS 50 YEARS OLD THIS WEEKEND. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO ADD ANOTHER ONE TO YOUR COLLECTION?
“By the way, Freida had a Ridgeway clock in her living room. It was so cool. I loved that. Sorry, just a little note. That trophy is extremely special. It’s unique and a one-of-a-kind. When you get the opportunity to have that clock delivered to your home or to the shop, it’s very special. I cherish every one and I look forward to that opportunity and we’ve got a great opportunity this weekend. Everybody always says oh man, do you ever have trouble finding places for those? No. We can win more and more and more and we’ll never have a problem finding a good place for it where it’s going to be well respected and displayed properly.”