JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his week, winning at the Brickyard, how Ray Evernham interacts with the teams at Hendrick Motorsports, the upcoming road race at The Glen, the Knoxville Nationals and more. Full Transcript:
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR WIN AT INDIANAPOLIS LAST WEEKEND. WITH SIX MORE TO GO BEFORE THE CHASE, TALK ABOUT THE MOMENTUM THE NO. 24 TEAM HAS APPROACHING THE RUN BEFORE WE GET TO THE CHASE FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP.
“It was a big win. We all know that. When you win at Indianapolis, especially having the kind of year that we’re having where we are up front in the points, it’s a huge momentum boost and confidence booster. It’s been an amazing week. I’m feeling really good. The thing about our schedule is that it’s every week. You head back to the race track and you’ve got to do it all over again. All that was wonderful and could not have been better. We had an event at Hendrick Motorsports that was already in the plans for Rick’s 65th birthday and the 30th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports; a luncheon that was already planned. So, to be able to celebrate the Brickyard 400th win on top of that just made for an amazing week.
“And yet we get here and it’s back to business. We’re certainly going back to business with a different mindset of what we’re capable of doing as a team and what cars we’re bringing to the race track and things like that. This is Pocono. It’s similar to Indianapolis, but it’s unique and different enough as well that we’ve had to work today pretty hard to try to get some more speed out of the car.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO WATKINS GLEN, EVERYTHING SEEMS SO DIFFERENT NOW THAN IT DID A FEW YEARS AGO. WHEN YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT, DOES IT FEEL LIKE THE NEW SHORT TRACK TO YOU NOW? IS IT ELBOWS UP ALL THE TIME AS OPPOSED TO JUST GETTING THROUGH IT? YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN A GOOD ROAD RACER, BUT WHAT’S THE GENERAL FEEL OF IT?
“To me, just like we’ve been talking a lot about restarts, double-file restarts have changed the complexity of every race track that we go to, especially the short tracks and the road courses. All that excitement that you see that’s really kicked-in on the road courses is primarily due to double-file restarts because you don’t have these long sweeping corners; so you have to out brake one another so you can really run side-by-side through the first several corners. And everybody is jockeying for position and you go through a right-hand turn and the inside car maybe has an advantage in, and then the outside car has an advantage off. And then you go to the next corner and it might be a left-hand turn and then it flips where is the advantage. And (with) track position being so important, you’re just battling it out on those restarts and it makes for a lot of contact and a lot of excitement. That seems to certainly be the case at Watkins Glen as fast of a road course as that track is, as well.”
WITH THE WIN AT INDY AND PASSING KASEY KAHNE WHO HAD A REALLY GOOD RUN, HAVE THE NO. 5 AND NO. 24 SHOPS REALLY STARTING TO BREAK THROUGH THIS TIME OF YEAR?
“We’ve had a pretty solid season in general. The No. 5 car has had their struggles, but I was really happy to see how strong his car was last week. I thought that we both had the cars to beat there at the race, so we all want to see them get a win and get themselves in the Chase and they certainly had a great shot at that, especially if that caution hadn’t of come out. He passed me for the win here last year, and he looked good in practice, so I look for them to be really strong.
“I think the thing that I love about Hendrick Motorsports and the way our teams are situated and how they work together is that we’re constantly battling against one another from a competitive standpoint, but we’re working together as a team as well. And it just elevates the whole organization. So, when one team starts to do something well, we can lean on that information and hopefully see the results as well. And whether it be (Dale Earnhardt) Junior and their team getting off to a good start; Jimmie (Johnson) really getting on a run there, our team doing well, or Kasey’s team stepping up. But they needed to not only run a little bit better, but they’ve needed to have some things go their way. And it does look like they’ve started to turn that corner to put themselves in position to get that win.”
WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN TAKE FROM LAST WEEK AND APPLY IT TO THIS WEEK IN POCONO?
“As I mentioned a little earlier, there are some similarities. The tunnel turn is a lot like the turns that we have at Indianapolis. But the other two are quite a bit different. So, we take something that we learn from every track we go to and try to apply it. And I think we’ve applied some of those things this weekend that should work well. I’m curious to see how qualifying goes. I thought we put down a really good lap there at the end of practice but yet the time wasn’t high enough up there in my opinion. So, either we’re a little bit behind, or the time of day that those guys made those fast lap times was enough of a difference that we’ll hopefully see it work out in qualifying. But we had a pretty awesome race car last week and I like that track. It would be nice to be able to have those same types of results this weekend but we won’t know until we get out there for qualifying and the race on Sunday.”
YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED WITH THE KNOXVILLE NATIONALS FOR A FEW YEARS NOW. YOU’VE ALSO SPONSORED SHANE STEWART’S CAR. HOW BIG IS THAT EVENT TO AN AVERAGE NASCAR FAN WHO DOESN’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT SPRINT CAR RACING? ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GOING?
“Oh, I can’t wait. I love going to Knoxville. It’s always been special to me. When you go way back to when I got a chance to race in a couple of races at Knoxville, I only made one Knoxville Nationals but competed in a few of them for the weekend. But, I love it. I’m so thrilled that our Kick-It program has really taken off in that series. They’ve just embraced it. Their schedule works out to be able to get drivers involved and communities involved and raise a lot of money for pediatric cancer; and have fun playing in the kickball tournament.
“So, Knoxville is a big weekend for us and we’ve got some marketing dollars that we’ve put into it, which happens to go on Shane Stewart’s car. He’s a great spokesperson for us. And it allows me the opportunity to go to the Knoxville Nationals at least on Wednesday. Thankfully, they race Wednesday through Sunday, because otherwise I wouldn’t get to do it other than watching it on TV.
“It’s such a huge event. It’s a lot like a big, big NASCAR event where people are camping out, the whole town is just taken over by race fans, and people that are big Sprint Car / Dirt Track fans are very avid and loyal and to them, nothing’s better. It’s hard to argue against that. The dirt track racing there is amazing. So I certainly love it and enjoy the opportunity to go there every year. We’ve got a heck of a Go-Kart event this year (with) Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne and me. I think I finished second last year. I’m sure I got beat by Kyle Larson (laughter). I’m almost positive. But we did pretty well last year. Tony had gotten hurt so it is great to be able to have him this year. I don’t know if Kasey competed in it last year. And I don’t know what other Sprint Cup drivers might come out, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. Their Sprint Cars, with wings on them, on this little Go-Kart track; they throw baby powder down on it and all of a sudden we’re just slipping and sliding around everywhere.”
YOU WERE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR 20-SOME YEARS AGO AND YOU’VE SEEN THEM ALL COME AND GO. WHICH OF THE TWO ROOKIES RIGHT NOW (AUSTIN DILLON AND KYLE LARSON) DO YOU THINK MIGHT WIN THAT HONOR?
“I said it before the season started and I’ll say it now. I think Austin is great, but Kyle Larson is a special individual and talent like that comes around only every so often. Because I am a huge fan of Sprint Cars and came from that background, to see what he’s done in a Sprint Car at such a young age and to make it in the Cup Series at such a young age, to me he’s been pretty spectacular. They’re both great. Both are certainly very capable of it. But if I had to pick one, I would definitely pick Kyle.”
ON THE IMPACT OF A CREW CHIEF SUSPENSION.
“I think it depends on your communication and overall team morale. But the quality of the cars doesn’t go away. They’re working on those things at the shop and in some ways, being able to spend a little bit more time at the shop preparing those cars and thinking about things outside the box. If you have a lot of depth in your team, then I don’t think it’s as big of an impact. But with the Chase format the way it is this year, I couldn’t imagine going through those ten races without Alan (Gustafson) calling the shots. You build this special relationship and line of communication with your crew chief. You’re talking with them throughout the week. You’re talking to them on the radio and on the weekends. It would be strange and awkward to be doing that with someone other than Alan, for me; especially at such crucial races in the Chase. I think it’s impactful, but I don’t think it means you can’t win races or win the championship, for a short period of time, without them.”
ON RAY EVERNHAM’S RETURN TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, WHAT HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT HE’S BROUGHT BACK TO THE COMPANY?
“Ray is just one of those guys that when you put him on a project, he knows how to attack it and get results. So, the whole key to me, to have him be impactful, is how he sat down with the crew chiefs and engineers and people within Hendrick and explained to them what his goal was. His goal was to try to take on some projects that they felt like they were important, but maybe they didn’t have the time to do it and needed somebody with his expertise to take on those challenges. I think that the first couple of things they suggested to him, I think he did a great job with it and gave them good results very fast. It built confidence (that) everybody had in him. I think some people are intimidated by him (by) being the crew chief for that No. 24 and all the success we had. I think when Ray comes in it’s like oh, you know, what’s his real role here? What kind of position is he taking? And I think he really made everybody feel comfortable when he made them understand that hey, I’m just here to help and be a part of this organization again and Rick’s asked me to do this, this and this. And it’s been great having him back. We’ve always had good chemistry. He’s a longtime friend of mine and I think that he’s a super smart guy. It’s always good to have somebody like that on your side.”
YOUR WIN AT THE BRICKYARD WAS BIG FOR THE SPORT. WHAT IS YOUR AWARENESS THAT NOW YOU ARE ONE OF FEW DRIVERS IN THE SPORT TO DO THAT AND DRAW THAT KIND OF ATTENTION ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY? IF YOU SHOULD GO ON AND WIN THE TITLE, WHAT’S YOUR IMPRESSION OF WHAT THAT WILL MAKE FOR THE SPORT?
“I’m not that aware of it. I feel like I’ve kind of been out of that for the last several years. Maybe building respect among competitors and those that follow the sport because of the history that I have and the success I’ve had in the past, but it’s been a while since we’ve won a big event. And so, to me, my awareness is purely just how it impacts our team and my family and me, personally. When things are not going well, I don’t try to get too involved in things that are being written or being said. It’s hard not to with social media these days because of the way we like to interact with our fans.
‘But, the flip side of that is when things are written that are really good and positive, I’m probably not seeing as much of it either. So, I think that’s what just allows me to focus on doing my job. It’s great to hear those things and I appreciate that, and I think we all hope that our role in the sport is contributing to make the sport better. And I think we all recognize that there are names and faces that make a bigger impact than others at time. And I think that we all recognize that whatever’s good for the sport, we support it as long as the love is being spread around (laughs). We don’t want the sport to just grow to all new heights and we’re sitting there at the bottom. We all want to contribute and be a part of it and be successful and you hope that plays a role in the sport’s success as well. That’s about as much as I really want to be aware of at this point in my career.”
AFTER YOUR WIN AT INDY, WAS THERE SOMETHING YOU LEARNED THAT YOU DIDN’T REALIZE AT THAT MOMENT BUT LEARNED THIS WEEK?
“We happened to have a birthday party for (son) Leo this week, so I had the chance to be around a lot of family and friends. When you haven’t won a big race like that in a while, and you win it, you’re in such disbelief that it takes a couple of days for it to sink in as to how much you respect and appreciate and how you just don’t take for granted those types of moments and days. I think for me, it was just a great week to reminisce with all my friends and family who either watched it on TV or were there in person. Those are the greatest moments as a race car driver or competitor that you can go through. I just feel fortunate that not only did we win, but the event I told you about at Hendrick and to be able to go there and have the whole organization patting you on the back and saying thank you and shaking your hand; to get that opportunity and then to have the birthday party where you’re around your closest friends and family and have those same kinds of conversations, it just doesn’t get much better than that. So, I think that’s the biggest thing is just being able to try to take in as much of it as you possibly can of how much you appreciate it and enjoy it.”
YOU HAD BACK ISSUES EARLIER AT CHARLOTTE. HAVE THEY FLARED-UP AT ALL SINCE THEN? ALSO ON HAVING 90 CAREER WINS AND INCREASING THAT NUMBER.
“I don’t think my back is ever going to be the same after what happened at Charlotte. I don’t know what exactly transpired there, but it’s not the same. And I have to be much more careful. I’m just having to treat it more with ice and stem and be more careful and do more stretching. Is it going to flare-up again? It could. But I’m just trying to be more cautious with the things that I do that I feel like contribute to that. But, yeah, it’s not great, that’s for sure.
“Oh, and you can’t think about 100 (wins) until you get to 99 the last time I checked. So, I’m pretty excited to be at 90 and I’m enjoying 90. I hope we can get to 91.”