JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PANASONIC CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Sonoma Raceway and discussed road course racing, how he works with his spotter, aggressive driving at Sonoma, and more.
TALK ABOUT WHAT IT TAKES TO REALLY BE SUCCESSFUL HERE AT SONOMA:
“It’s been a little while since we won out here, so I feel like you constantly always have to challenge yourself, and just push the limits of your car. Yet, here at Sonoma, you have to be very careful not to overdrive it of course as well. Same ingredients apply; a great race car always helps. Teamwork and communication – like for instance this weekend. We’ve got a really good car; very happy, but, I know that we have to make it better. In order to do that, I have to recognize the areas that we need to improve the car and try to articulate that to the team to find….I know they can help me in those areas, but I’ve got to be able to describe it in a way that they can understand it. Then, put those pieces together around the track.
“Once you get the green flag here on Sunday, there are very few adjustments you can make. So, it is really up to you to maintain the durability of the tires; they are really soft and fast in the beginning, but they are falling off quite a bit on the longer runs. So, wheel spin and trying not to lock-up front tires – managing that. As I mentioned, staying on course and being there for the finish when it counts. I am pretty comfortable this weekend, and I’m really happy with the way things are going. I’m excited to have Panasonic on board.”
HOW IS YOUR BACK NOW? HAVE YOU HAD TO DO ANYTHING SINCE CHARLOTTE THAT YOU DON’T NORMALLY DO TO MAINTAIN IT?
“Since that incident in Charlotte, of course I had the cortisone shots – that was the biggest difference in things that I hadn’t had to do before. Then there was waiting for that to wear off to see what happens. In between that, I’m just doing a lot of ice, some TENS, the stimulation – the electric stimulation, and then my normal stretching and exercise routine that I always do. Just trying not to push it too hard. I’ve really gotten into bike riding this year, and was in great shape right before that happened in Charlotte. I’ve had to stay off the bike, but I’m looking forward to getting back on it. It feels pretty good out here. I’m happy as hard as you are braking, and all the shifting you are doing out here, I was a little concerned, but it has gone really well. The plane ride out was harder than anything, sitting there for five, six hours.”
WOULD YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RECEPTION AT SONOMA AS COMPARED TO OTHER TRACKS?
“I got asked earlier this morning if this was my home track, and I had to think about it because it’s the closest track to my home, and a lot of my family is still here. But, I never saw this race track until 1993 when I drove my first Cup race. I mean, I drove by it; I knew of it. It is hard to say it is my home track, but this is home for me. I love coming out here, and yet had I not moved to Indiana, I don’t know if I would be here today, and get the reception we get out here, which is a fantastic one. It is awesome. Even my truck driver was saying that at the truck parade that was last night in Sacramento, he saw 24 hats everywhere. That is not necessarily the case in Johnson City, Tennessee. It is unique, and it is different. Of course the success we’ve had out here helps to contribute to that. People like to pull for the hometown boy, or the old guy these days.”
TALK ABOUT THE AGGRESSIVE NATURE OF THE ROAD COURSE RACES NOW, AND SECONDLY, YOUR COUSIN IS RACING IN THE K & N RACE; HAVE YOU SPENT ANY TIME WITH HIM?
“As far as the first part of the question, definitely road course races we’ve always seen aggressiveness, and sometimes mistakes by people trying to be overly aggressive and making mistakes. That has always been the nature of this track and road course racing because there are two opportunities to really pass, and you try and take advantage of those opportunities. Then when they did the double-file restarts - that is what really changes things. It changed things on the ovals too, but it really changed things on the road courses because it gives you that extra opportunity to be aggressive, to get the position and take some extra chances to try to get that position. Or maintain a position and causes a lot of incidents. We see a lot of people running into one another. But it has also made the road course some of the most exciting races that we have now on the circuit.
“As far as James (Bickford), yes I am excited for him. This is his first season in K & N, he’s young, he’s 16 years old and he’s doing really, really well. I know he was nervous about running his first road course. He’s never had to shift, or downshift on a road course before. We were here for a tire test earlier in the year, and I spent a lot of time talking to him. It looks like he's doing fairly well, before I left the truck, looks like he was ninth on the board so that is pretty good. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him because when I am off the track, he is on the track and when I’m on the track, they are off the track. We’ll see if I can catch up with him before his race.”
REGARDING THE PANASONIC SPONSORSHIP, WILL YOU BE DRIVING THE CAR FOR THE ENTIRE TIME OF THE SPONSORSHIP?
“I love it. I love it. We have a lot of sponsors signed for long periods of time. And I know I’ve said in the past that’s how we kind of dictate when I’ll be in the car or I won’t be in the car. But Panasonic has been with Hendrick for a number of years. They’ve just never been on the car and this is a great extension of that for Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 24 car. It doesn’t necessarily say or mean anything of how long I’ll be in the car driving. But, I don’t plan on quitting any time soon. Don’t push me; don’t talk me into something I’m not ready to do (laughs). I was smiling when I said that. Just wanted you to know in case I came across too sarcastic. (laughter).
TALK ABOUT YOUR SPOTTER:
“We depend on our spotters so much at the ovals; sometimes too much, in my opinion. We blame it on the spotter when we’re still in control of the car. And so I think on a road course, when you know there are blind areas out there and that they have bad angles as well and they can’t see everything, you take that into account. Obviously in the closing laps you’re going to take more risk and you expect them to take more risk, but what I normally do here is I talk with my spotter before race day. And I ask where he’s having trouble or where he can see really good and where he can’t. So, in those areas, when somebody is in that blind spot in that area, I’ll probably give a little bit more, or just know it’s at risk in those areas.”
HAVE YOU DEVELOPED ANY SUPERSTITIONS OVER THE YEARS? DO YOU PUT A LOT OF STOCK IN THAT?
“Yeah, I can’t say I put a lot of stock into things like that. I think if my routine were to be broken up, and my routine is the schedule that comes prior to getting to the race track that weekend. I look at it. I glance at it. And I have an idea of what the expectations are going into each day, especially on race day. If that changes at the last second, it does get me off; and so, we try to make sure that doesn’t happen. Other than that, I like to get dressed at a certain time. I like to have our team meeting at a certain time and get to the car at a certain time and all those things. But, that’s just routine. I don’t feel like it’s any superstitious thing. It’s just preparation for what you have in store for that day.”
CAN YOU PUT THE FANS BEHIND THE WHEEL TO DESCRIBE DRIVING A ROAD COURSE?
“It’s always hard to describe whether you’re at Daytona or Bristol or at a road course. I love it when I get to talk to people within our sport, or our fans, or anybody out there who gets a chance to get behind the wheel because they’re always blown away at what it takes, and the focus, and how hot it is, and their heart rate and all those things. But on a road course, especially this track in particular, you want to really charge into those corners and brake as deep as you can, but you have to be extremely careful of braking too hard and shifting the weight balance to the front. It really creates a light feeling in the back of the car where the tires start to skip and hop.
“And then probably the toughest thing is that braking and matching the rpms and the downshifts. We don’t have paddle shifting and some of the technology that’s out there in cars on the street. So, all that happens through a rhythm and timing of how you go about it. The fuel injection has really helped that quite a bit. It’s just more precise and crisp, so that’s nice. And then the next challenging part is handling the wheel spin. We’re 860 horsepower with a tremendous amount of torque in these engines and not a lot of grip once the tires start to fall off. I could spin the tires in probably every gear if I wanted to.
“So it’s just trying to maximize the rear grip and just feed that throttle like there’s an egg underneath it and try to maintain that grip and then go up through the gears. You’re bouncing off curbs. It’s sort of like controlling something that’s completely out of control is how I like to describe it on a road course because it’s pretty amazing that we throw these big heavy cars with so much power around at a track like this, and yet keep it on the course.”
EVERYONE HAS BEEN TALKING ABOUT THE HENDRICK ENGINES AND THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT THE TEAM IS REALLY ON A ROLL RIGHT NOW. WHEN YOU HEAR SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS SAYING ABOUT HOW HARD IT IS TO BEAT THE HENDRICK ENGINE DEPARTMENT RIGHT NOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE THEY ARE ALMOST DOWNPLAYING THE SKILLS OF THE DRIVERS?
“We are driving great cars. I think that Rick does an excellent job of hiring quality people and I think that is behind the wheel as well as the people that work on the cars. All the way from crew chiefs to the people that build the engines and chassis. Yeah, I think you would be discrediting all of those efforts and across the board. To go down the straightaways you’ve got to get through the corners pretty good too. Right now I think we are doing both. I’m pretty proud of that. A lot of effort has gone into that.
“I definitely saw some cars at Michigan last week that were not Hendrick cars that didn’t need to be complaining about their engines. They were getting down the straightaway plenty good. We were really beating them in the corner though. All I know if over the years when other teams are complaining about us that is usually when things are going really well for us. It’s like getting booed. When you are getting boos that is usually a good sign. We are just going to focus on what we are doing and continue to try to maintain that kind of high level of competition on the track.”
CHEVROLET HAS BEEN IMMENSELY SUCCESSFUL AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY. CAN YOU SPEAK ON WHY THAT IS?
“It must be all that horsepower. I just think that Chevrolet has great teams. We are certainly seeing that this year and a lot of others are going to focus on the Chevrolet’s. That is fine, that is great. Certainly they deserve that. But I think and I’ve seen this throughout my career, you also have to look at the depth of the teams. I think that Hendrick has a lot of depth, Stewart-Haas has a lot of depth and Richard Childress Racing has a lot of depth. All of the Chevrolet teams that are out there are just doing a really good job and have some great components to work with. When you get to Indianapolis you need all of those ingredients. You’ve got to get down the straightaways, you’ve got to get through the corners, you have got to have good pit stops and Chevrolet teams right now are leading the way in all those departments and have a lot of momentum and I am looking forward to hopefully another Chevrolet being in Victory Lane there.”
YOU ARE THE ONLY DRIVER WHO HAS COMPETED IN EVERY SINGLE BRICKYARD 400 WHAT DOES THAT RACE MEAN TO YOU?
“To me as a kid even when I lived here in California and I was racing here it was sprint car racing and the Indy 500 beside the quarter midget racing that I was doing that was what I dreamed about. It’s what I followed and when we traveled back to Indiana when I was racing quarter midgets visiting the Stanley family we would go over to Indy. I was just in awe of the museum, the track, the race and so to get that chance to race there is unbelievable. To know I have won it four times and look at those trophies sitting on my shelf at home is something I am very proud of.”
YOU WERE SAYING IT’S BEEN AWHILE SINCE YOU WON HERE, BUT IT’S ALSO BEEN AWHILE SINCE YOU WERE THE POINTS LEADER. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW IN YOUR CONFIDENCE IN WHERE YOU ARE IN THE STANDINGS AND HOW THAT WILL DICTATE WHAT YOU WILL WANT TO DO AND HOW YOU RACE?
“I mean we are a very strong team right now with great cars. I think we have had one of the best starts to the season that I can remember possibly ever having. When you are in the position that we are in we are happy with that, but at the same time we know we have to keep pushing harder and harder because we have Jimmie Johnson right there next to us with two more wins than us. We know that we need to get to Victory Lane a few more times and I think we are capable of doing that. I think that we are a team that can be very consistent and yet also be a real threat to win. This year the way my cars are running everywhere we go I’m excited to get in it, push the limits of it and I’m having a blast. Every time they drop the green flag I feel like we have a car that can compete for a win. That is very exciting and I’m proud of the effort that has been put in to make that happen.”