JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 6TH
“To drive for one of the best car owners, if not the best, and drive the best race cars and work with the best people and that’s why I have the wins and championships that I have and why we did what we did here today in the final race battling for a championship. Ingrid, she goes through so much, all the ups and downs and what goes along with this sport. We both said going into this race what an amazing experience this has been this year, the last nine years of our lives together and this day, surrounded by friends and family and the people that matter most and work hard on this race team and all the love I’ve gotten from the fans and everybody in this sport, there’s nothing better than that.
WE’RE GLAD YOU’RE JUST GETTING OUT OF THE RACE CAR AND NOT GOING AWAY
“No, I’m not going anywhere. I had such a blast knowing that we had a good race car and could battle with these guys. Me and Martin (Truex, Jr.) had a heck of a battle there; but unfortunately it wasn’t for the championship. Congratulations to Kyle Busch. I got caught up there in my emotions of Rick (Hendrick) in the other interview. But, what a great driver. What a great champion. And with all he’s been through this year, nobody is more deserving than him.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS RIGHT NOW?
“Well, unfortunately I’m a little disappointed that we weren’t more of a threat for the championship. Beyond that it’s absolutely been a dream come true. To get an opportunity to race at this level, to have the success that I’ve had, to have the sponsors that we’ve had and to have the fans that we have. The first one to the car was the team and Rick Hendrick and then my family. That is all that really matters to me. Those people are so important to me and make this all worthwhile. I told everybody before the race that no matter what we are going to be happy and celebrate. That is exactly what we are going to go do.”
RICK HENDRICK, TEAM OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS:
“We’re going to do a lot of things together (he and Jeff Gordon); he’s not going to drive the race car, but he’s going to be in the booth and he’s going to help us with the team and we’re going to get to do some things together that we haven’t had time to do. So, it’s just a great feeling. I’m just so glad that he’s part of my life.”
DOES IT FEEL MORE FINAL NOW THAT HE’S TAKEN THAT LAST LAP?
“Yeah, it does. It’s hard to put into words. It’s like right now, the racing doesn’t matter as much as the relationship does. I would have loved to see him go out a champion; but he went out in the top four and not many guys do that. I wish we were a little better tonight. People are not going to really understand what Jeff Gordon meant to this sport until a few years down the road when you really look back and you think about all the doors he opened and TV and sponsors and brought this sport to a whole new level. What he did for me and my family and our company, it’s obvious; 93 wins and four championships; he brought along Jimmie Johnson and drove his cars first and just he’s just a special person.”
WHAT IS THIS FEELING LIKE? IT FEELS LIKE A WEIRD SENSATION TO THIS MOMENT
“Yeah, it’s real now. I think that’s what it is. Until right now when he got out of the car and gave me his helmet and said he wanted me to have it; that is real. And until right now, it wasn’t over. I’m very thankful that he has been a part of our company and a part of our racing deal and I’m just glad I saw him and got him in the car and didn’t have to race against him.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 6TH
THE MODERATOR: Jeff Gordon has joined us here in the media center at Homestead Miami Speedway, the No. 24 car tonight, AXALTA Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports came in sixth in tonight's championship finale.
Jeff, I know you gave it all you had, and certainly you went out on top, as your career comes to a close here tonight. Certainly it's got to be a day of emotions and so forth, and maybe just tell these fine folks what you're thinking right now.
JEFF GORDON: You know, gosh, I'll be honest, you know, the competitor in me got a little bit just so caught up in the moment of the race where we took the lead and I got really excited, and I thought, okay, we've got clean air, let's see what we have, and I knew we needed a few adjustments. The track was really slick. I actually felt like when I got ahead of Kyle that we actually pulled away from him. I kind of got excited and got my hopes up there, but then Kevin started coming on pretty strong, and then we had that restart, and you know, I knew when those guys got by me I just didn't quite have what they had. I was just lacking a couple little things.
And then the sun started going down and it really started changing and we lost a bunch of positions and just couldn't gain them back.
Right now there's definitely a part of me that is caught up in that moment that we couldn't make it a little bit better and couldn't keep up with it. But, I thought we showed what we're made of and what got us here. We fought really hard, fought back, and we finished sixth.
For that I'm proud and excited.
Nothing could have topped the way my day started. I woke up. I was planning on sleeping in, and I was too excited, so I woke up a little earlier. Pulled up the shades on my bus, and my mom just happened to be walking by, and so that just made my day start so amazing, to be able to sit down with her on that day, first thing in the morning, and all the emotions and everything were just able to come out, and then we just had a great conversation. And then my stepdad came in and then a little bit later Ingrid and the kids showed up. It was just perfect. Just missed a little bit on the race.
I mean, overall I'm still just extremely proud and excited, not only the way that we ran this weekend and this year, but just my whole career. It felt so good to see Rick Hendrick. I wanted to give him that race helmet. I designed that helmet with the intent of giving it to him.
Q. Talking to Rick briefly afterwards, he said basically what you did, that he knows that the competitiveness in you, you wanted to win that race and the championship more than anything. But he was so impressed with everything that has gone on today and leading up to today with kind of NASCAR giving you a sendoff, and he thought at the end that almost maybe meant as much or more than if you had won. I just wondered what you felt about everything that has transpired.
JEFF GORDON: Well, we all know nothing would have been quite better than that and the win. But I've learned a lot in life, and there's no such thing as a perfect day and a perfect life. Just like there's no such thing as a perfect race car. They're really close and good and at times better than the rest, but it doesn't mean that they're ever perfect.
I think had I won this race and this championship it would have been perfect, and I don't think I could have accepted that. I wouldn't have known how to.
But I must say, everything that went on from the stories I saw, the folks in this room who have been covering this sport for a long, long time who know me, the things that were written about me, things that my competitors said. I was relaxing in the bus after that conversation with my mom this morning, and I said, oh, I'll look up Twitter, see what the fans were doing. Little did I know my competitors were going to be tweeting out things, and man, the emotions started going all over again. That's just unheard of. That's just to me unheard of that you're going to be going out competing against individuals, even the ones we were competing against for the championship, when Kevin Harvick took that picture next to my car, that to me, I don't know if it gets much better than that. In that sense, you're absolutely right.
That sendoff at the drivers' meeting, you know, drivers are so competitive, and they don't show, they might have it inside them, but to show it publicly, their appreciation for other competitors, just doesn't happen like that very often, and I really, really appreciate it very, very much. It was extremely special the whole day, and it's not over yet. I'm looking forward to the rest of the evening, as well.
Real quick, there's a guy back here I brought with me. This guy right here, it just so happens this is the timing of things, and there's been a lot of timing of things this week that's just been blowing my mind. But I've got a lot of big fans, obviously, and this weekend, I mean, I've seen so much incredible support, but this guy, I've seen this guy for years. This guy has been following me since 1995. Take that backpack off real quick. You want to talk about commitment and a loyal fan and a nice guy, this guy is awesome. Show it to us. Come on. Give us some love. Now that right there, folks, that's commitment. That is commitment.
But, I just happened to run into him on the way in here, and I said, man I didn't mean to show all that, I just wanted him to be here and be a part of it because he's a huge fan, and I appreciate him and all of our fans so much, especially what I saw this weekend.
Q. Would you believe me if I told you that I actually saw him about five hours earlier and interviewed him?
JEFF GORDON: I'm telling you, that guy is awesome.
Q. I know it. I'm on it. I wanted to ask you, and you touched on this a little bit, but you've been known to be a fairly emotional kind of guy, but I was standing at your car when you got out of the race tonight, and it felt like everyone else was the one that was getting emotional and you were kind of calming them down or placating them and saying, this is all a good thing. Could you talk about what your emotions were?
JEFF GORDON: Well, again, I told my mom this when I saw her, if you'd have been there you'd have seen a lot of emotions. I needed to get it out, and I did then, and I think it just kind of helped me keep it all in check.
I mean, I'm an emotional person, and I show it, but you know, I prefer to do that in private. Just sometimes the moment overwhelms me, and I can't hold it in. When I was there with Rick Hendrick after the race, it definitely, if he'd have kept going with the things he was saying, it was going to get out of control there.
But yeah, you know, Jordan, who handles all my what we call driver comforts, he does a lot more than that, but he takes care of my seat, my helmet and steering wheel, all these things that get me ready for a race weekend, and he almost got me going right before the race started because he's usually the last one that gives me a fist pump before I take off, and he's all choked up crying when he did it, and I was like, man, you can't do that right before I'm getting ready to pull off. (Laughter.)
So those guys, they mean so much to me. But, I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to see all them, and I get to hug on them all night tonight. We're going to go have a little party afterwards, and it's going to be fun, whenever you guys are done with me here.
Q. Are you inviting all of us?
JEFF GORDON: Unfortunately I've got way too many friends here. It was supposed to be for 200. Now, we've got 400 that showed up. I don't know how that happened. What's another couple hundred?
Q. Jeff, what was your reaction to the fans today from the huge roars during driver introduction to that mob scene as you walked in here with everyone just trying to get hats and the whole thing? What did that mean to you and how did you balance like you were signing things and people were crying because you gave them a signature right at the end? Just that whole emotion from all of it?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, to me the moment that really struck me if you guys were in the garage area, and I know there was a lot of photographers there at the time, but when I got in the car for the final practice, just happened, there was just a lot of people there, and it was, I started to sign autographs as I was going to the car like I normally do, but it just kept growing and growing and growing and growing, and the way the infield suites are over the garage area here, there were people up there, and all of a sudden they just started chanting my name, and it was a surreal moment. I had friends that were on the outside looking in, and even they were commenting on it.
There were team members and just different people that were in the garage area that made comments to me, and that one really seemed to hit me the most over the whole weekend.
Today the thing is, you've got to understand, even though it was my final race and everything and I wanted to be as gracious and give all that I could back to the fans, I just I had to hold back a little bit, because I did want to stay focused and stay on my schedule and my routine that I normally go through, because I wanted to put the best out on the racetrack that I possibly could. So it was very cool and I enjoyed it very, very much, but at the same time, in the back of my mind I'm blocking out some things, getting ready for the race.
Those are the things that over the next days, hours, days, weeks, months that I'm going to go relive and just, again, get a huge smile on my face, and probably emotional, as well, for things like that, the way the fans were, you guys. I mean, my gosh, my parents and people keep telling me, don't read that one right now. You don't want to read that one before the race. Wait until after the race.
But very complimentary, very appreciative, and I look forward to pulling all those together and seeing. It's very, very cool that the fans and the competitors and the media treated me that way, and I'll never forget it.
Q. Getting back to the race and the car was obviously not handling the way you wanted it to, what was the frustration factor, and I presume at some point in the race you probably figured out this was going to be one of those deals that was going to take a real crazy deal for you to win this thing?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, but you never stop trying to improve it, trying to find things out there, trying to advance positions. You never know what's going to happen. I didn't know what was going to happen on that final restart.
To me, you can't ever give up. That's the way I work. I get frustrated, and I get a little snappy in there, because of that frustration, the adrenaline in the heat of the moment. But luckily, I've had people working with me that understand what goes through my mind in there and just and Alan was incredibly, incredibly amazing this whole weekend, this whole year, even though we had our moments. The way that he's handled this team, I think those guys are really destined to do some great, great things in the future, and I'm excited for them.
Today, yeah, we kind of lost the handle, the track was, I just really had a tough time getting the balance, getting a hold of the track. I was tight getting in, and every time we tried freeing it up I started getting real loose off. My car would be good for two laps and then it would really go kind of haywire, and cars would start sort of attacking me, and if I could run about three, four, five more laps then I'd actually start pulling away again.
That's frustrating, and it was a struggle, but we fought through it, finished sixth, and I'm happy the way it ended. I am. I was happy to have a restart where I made spots up on the restart. That's something I can be proud of as well as all the other things I'm proud of.
Q. You've gotten a lot of gifts this year. You gave one to all the drivers today. I guess it was a ring box or something?
JEFF GORDON: You can use it however you want. The dividers come out, but the way the dividers are in there I guess you could take it as a ring box, which I think is kind of meaningful for this sport and the rings that we collect.
Q. What led you to pick that?
JEFF GORDON: Shoot, man, I don't have it, Edwards. Yeah, I had it with me all day, a money clip that Richard Petty gave me in '92, and so I don't know why I held onto that thing, but I just did. I mean, forever I just have had this thing, and I've always held onto it. It's always been special to me, and so I wanted to do something for all the drivers that I was racing against today. I basically used his. I said thanks for the memories, just like he did, because I thought of all these things, what can I say, what can I say, and I thought, no, he nailed it. So I put that on there, and I also put the starting position on there, so of course there was a number where everybody started. Of course, Keselowski didn't get it. He didn't understand what that number was for. (Laughter.)
But the box, I mean, it's a cool carbon fiber beautiful box, and you know, I just wanted everybody to have something as an appreciation from me to them of what they meant to me racing against them over all the years, and seemed like they appreciated it.
Q. Did you individually present them?
JEFF GORDON: Well, we planned it in advance. They were actually stuck in customs up until Thursday, which was frightening, but no, I had my dad, my stepdad, he went and presented it. He told me he saw in person about 30, 32 of the 43 drivers.
Q. And then my question is, Kyle Busch started his career at Hendrick Motorsports with you. You knew him as raw and temperamental and all those things. As talented as he was, did you ever think that he could grow up enough to win a championship?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I don't know if "grow up enough" is the right term. His talent is so strong, and that team really found some things this year. But I will say that what he went through this year, I see a changed Kyle. I don't know what it is. I've never talked to him and got into details about it. But when he came back, not only was he driven and just inspired by it, but you can tell he was racing smarter, with more patience, just being more deliberate, and I think he just, between having a baby, the thing that happened to him at Daytona, the time with his wife, and other things, maybe Joe Gibbs, I don't know, family, friends, I think that time, he had a lot of time to think about a lot of things, and I don't know what he did, but he came out of it even better than he was before, and I think he showed it right away when he came back that there was a pretty good chance he was destined to win this championship.
Q. Your decision to retire and the way this whole season played out for you, how important was it to you to go out competitive and go out swinging?
JEFF GORDON: Extremely important. Extremely important to me. You know, I made the decision for a lot of reasons. I don't want to go into all that, but you know, the timing of it, I knew that I still have a team and the ability to be competitive out there.
I think last year only helped me make the decision, because we had such a great year, it only made it easier for me because I knew it was coming. I felt like this was the right time. A lot of things added up to make it the right time, and I was just proud of what I did last year. To me, last year was a great year that I could have walked away from the sport, and it was like, yeah, I feel like I went out pretty much on top.
So this year was disappointing in so many ways for a good portion of the season because I thought we had the ability to run like we did last year. I didn't think that our competition would catch up as much as they did, as well as the rule changes with the power and the aero would affect us as much as it did.
You know, that kind of caught me off guard, and I can't say that I was enjoying the competition halfway through the season, but then I saw a change, and I saw it start to turn a corner, and I started to think, okay, you know, there's still a chance that we can end this season by doing it competitively the way that I want to do it. That doesn't mean that I had to win a championship or even compete for a championship, but I wanted to win a race at least, and I wanted to show that I still have what it takes.
I think the Chase truly showed that. I'm extremely proud of my driving and our team effort over these last 10 races. I think that that's something that is going to stick with me for a very long time, and how I made the announcement and how we approached the season and how we finished it.
Q. Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton were around your car.
JEFF GORDON: How cool was that?
Q. Do you see yourself in their league?
JEFF GORDON: Nobody is in Mario Andretti's league. That's like a whole 'nother league. I don't think of things like that. I have a lot of respect for other forms of Motorsports. I've always been a huge fan, my mom was a Mario Andretti fan, I was a huge fan of Mario, especially because he ran sprint cars and USAC and knowing he ran stock cars I believe he's the greatest driver of all time, Formula 1, all the things he did.
Lewis I met a couple years ago at the Super Bowl. I've liked Formula 1 ever since I drove the Formula 1 car. I always have been fond of that sport, and I've followed it, I don't want to say religiously, but if you asked me what sport do you watch the most besides NASCAR, I'd say Formula 1, then NFL. And so I was already a fan of his, and then he went and won the championship, and we just stayed in touch, and then this year I've been in touch with him and cheering him on and just communicating with him.
I've been trying to get him to come to a race, and it just so happens today was the race that he was able to come to, and I can't think of a better race for him to come to.
Having those two guys and I don't know if they had ever met before. I'm not sure because it was so cool having them at the car together and getting a picture with those three, and Lewis was so cool. He was asking a million questions. I mean, he wanted to know everything about the cars, the competition, the tires, the track, everything, my steering wheel. You know, he's a racer, and I love that, and Mario was just cool as can be, just, "Man, go do what you know how to do, you've got this, man." That was a great moment.
I don't necessarily say I'm at their league. I just have great respect for them, and I was happy they were here supporting me and being there at the car.
Q. Do you think Kyle Busch could ever be in your league in the sense of could he win 90 races and four championships?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, yeah. He's more talented than I am. If he keeps racing the way that he did this year, to me the edge that I always had on Kyle, as talented as he is, as fast as he is, is that sometimes he never knew where to stop pushing the car to the edge, and especially at a track like this when you're right up against the wall, taking the right side off of it, and we saw it even in the XFINITY Series, you know, yesterday. If you can put pressure on him, you can kind of force him to push it over the edge because he's capable of pushing it so far.
But this year, I saw a new Kyle Busch and one that he held back at the times when he needed to, and that's important. And if he continues on that path, to do that and the team continues to give him the equipment they gave him, then yeah, yeah, absolutely.
I'm always a big believer on somebody who's been close to winning a championship, but not, but hasn't pulled it off. I've said this about Jimmie before he got his first championship: If he ever gets one, watch out, because once you believe in yourself and you get confidence and you know what it takes to do it and you're not second guessing what you're doing and you pull it off, watch out, you can go on a tear, and Jimmie did that, and I think Kyle is another one of those drivers that can do that, as well.
Q. You mentioned the money clip The King gave everybody in '92. Have you actually kept that with you week to week?
JEFF GORDON: No.
Q. Do you have it during races?
JEFF GORDON: No, originally I just had it in a drawer in my bedroom with other things that were memorable to me, USAC championship rings, and I'm trying to think of other things that were pre-1995 where I won a championship. And then the drawer turned into a safe, and that was one of the things that I've always held on to with other memorable things, and as I've collected rings from races and championships, that's always something that's stayed in that safe along with those other things.
Q. What do you think tomorrow morning is going to feel like?
JEFF GORDON: I'm going to be hurting.
Q. Besides that, once the aspirin and everything gets going.
JEFF GORDON: You mean tomorrow afternoon.
Q. Or Tuesday or whatever. What do you think it's going to feel like without a next race to look forward to for the first time in a very long time?
JEFF GORDON: On one hand I'm really looking forward to that, because I put so much into wanting to be the best and be competitive that I can be for my team every weekend, that, you know, I'm kind of ready to take a shift in that. I'm still going to, I think, apply that same kind of competitiveness to doing my job up in the booth and some of the other things that I'm going to be doing. I know I just have that in me naturally, but to know that I don't have to go out there and run the car an inch off the wall, try to find another tenth or two, some of the restarts, testing, I'm definitely looking forward to not going and doing any testing. Jack and I talked and he said, hey, would you be willing to go do some testing? No way.
So that I feel really good about, that I'm not going to miss.
But, when you watch a competitor go out there and pull off a great win or pull off a championship, you know, there's nothing like that feeling, and I'm going to miss being a part of something like that.
Q. You didn't win tonight, but seeing everything that went on today, the fan support, the support from the drivers, do you take some bigger feeling out of this than maybe just a championship?
JEFF GORDON: Again, right now it's hard for me to, give me an hour and a little bit of alcohol and absolutely, I'm going to be, there's going to be so much love in the air, and I am going to be just, everybody I see, talking more about the career and the moments and what it's meant to me to, the thing that, it's so hard for me to describe, because when I see these, and this is why me and my mom having this conversation was so important to me, because like we talked about some, I had no idea, there was a TV station that came and filmed our Quarter Midget race and me in particular at that Quarter Midget race when I was like six or seven years old, and I never understood why. I was like, why did they come do that? Well, I found out I was on the cover of this kids' magazine with my Quarter Midget, and this is the genius of my stepdad. He thinks about stuff like this. I don't know how that all came about, but somebody in San Francisco saw that magazine, they wanted to do a story because they needed content, and they decided to come follow some kids at a Quarter Midget track and said, We're going to put the main focus on this young kid Jeff who's doing well and winning races there.
To come from that, all the way to this, and have these experiences, it blows my mind. It blows my mind.
So yes, when I think, start getting into that and thinking of that, there's no doubt that just being here a part of this day, wrapping up this amazing career, there's no doubt in my mind that it didn't take the championship for me to come out of here feeling like I'm on top of the world, and I am. I just can't help the competitor in me still is cutting into that slightly right now.
Q. What does a boy talk to his mother about on the morning of one of his momentous days?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, you're a bad man. Well, of course it started with just, I mean, as soon as I saw her, I got emotional. Before she even came in the bus, I just saw her, and I said, yeah, I'm bringing her in here right now.
You know, she was not prepared for what was about to happen, I promise you. She walked in, and we started hugging and talking, and I just started thanking her over and over and over again for all that they did for me. To experience this weekend alone, because she wasn't at the track, my stepdad was, and he'd go back to the hotel and tell her some of the things that were happening or they were reading some of the articles that you very generous and sweet people were writing because that makes parents very, very proud of their child.
So she was firstly just started being very, very thankful of getting here and being a part of this and how special it was that I saw her at that time because I didn't know they were coming to the track at that time, and it just happened to happen. It was perfect.
And then, yeah, we just kind of followed along those lines with some of that stuff, and I just said to her, "Mom, I wish you could have been here yesterday and saw when I walked over to the car. It would have blown you away because it blew me away," and she's like, "Yeah, John told me a little bit about that and that's so cool and then we read this article and then we read that. That's awesome. We're so proud." And that led to some other things, I was talking about.
And then we got off to a completely different subject, just talking about my sister and family and life and what's going on here and there and just stuff like that, had a coffee. We had coffee together.
Q. When you talk about emotional, is it tears?
JEFF GORDON: It's boohooing as loud as a person can boohoo. It was when she got in the bus. She was holding back. She got emotional, but she was keeping herself in check. I think she was wanting me to not lose control, so she was trying to be the stronger person, but I didn't care, I was like, I want to get it out right now before I walk out of this bus. So there was tears pouring down my face. I was like, yes, perfect, with my mom, before the race day started, I can recover from this. I think I can get through the day now.
Q. That's what moms are for.
JEFF GORDON: Love it.
Q. Jeff, we've talked about mom, but your stepdad said a couple weeks ago that after this weekend it's not only an end for you, it's an end for him, because ever since you were a child he's been involved in some way. He's had something to do, someplace to go, and now he's not sure what's really next for him, either. What conversations have you had with him?
JEFF GORDON: What are you guys trying to do to me right here? My gosh. This is out of control. Ugh. Can you serve some alcohol at this? My gosh. Food and alcohol would be very, very appreciated right now.
He says that? I don't know if I believe him. I'll be honest, this guy loves to work. He loves what he does, and the best thing that ever happened to me was him stepping away and then us reuniting and getting back together, and life and business and everything has never been better.
But he has orchestrated, as he does so well, an incredible team, surrounding me with people at Jeff Gordon, Incorporated. He's just such a team player, and I hope that doesn't ever go away. That guy likes to keep himself busy. I don't see him ever going away. We both want to take a step back and maybe do some different things, and I'll be utilizing his expertise as often as I can.
But I think, you know, for both of us, to change our career path or our lives in a big, drastic way after this year, I think is only fitting. You know, it makes sense to me. I couldn't be more proud. I think he's very, very proud of what he's accomplished, and it wouldn't have happened without him, and however he wants to transition, I support it 100 percent.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff Gordon, I've said it before and I'm going to say it again, class act.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you all. I appreciate it very much. I'll be coming in here as a member of the media in the future, so you'll be seeing more of me. But this is the last time you'll see me in a driving suit, but it's been a pleasure. Thank you.