JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – 13TH IN STANDINGS
"When you have high-banked, very fast short track in this stadium – in this “colosseum” – surrounded by the most avid NASCAR fans, the energy in the stands and on the track is electrifying. It just makes for a great event.
“I have a lot of great memories with this rainbow paint scheme. What I love is this paint scheme is for the fans. The fans wanted us to run this scheme again during my final season, and this Axalta Chevy SS definitely stands out. You’re not going to miss it.” JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed competing in his final race at Bristol Motor Speedway as a full-time driver, the first two practice sessions of the day, if he has any second thoughts about retiring at the end of this season and many other topics. Full Transcript:
UPON LEARNING THAT BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY WILL HAVE A JEFF GORDON GRANDSTAND TERRACE SECTION IN 2016:
“Thank you. That means the world to me. This place is awesome. I love coming here. I’ve enjoyed competing here, but this is one of those tracks that it brings the fan out in all of us. For you to honor me this way means so much to me. I get to enjoy this honor for years to come. I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished here and can’t thank you enough.”
ON THE COMMEMORATIVE PROGRAM COVER AT BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY HONORING JEFF GORDON:
“I’m so proud of Sam (Bass, artist) for creating that paint scheme to begin with all the way back to DuPont and now Axalta. I give them a tremendous amount of credit for bringing this back and the fans. The fans have spoken. I thought driving the rainbow paint scheme was in my rearview mirror, but the fans overwhelmingly fought for it and wanted to see it one more time. Thanks to Axalta for making that happen. What I love is if you get close up to it, it shows some of their modern technology and coatings. It’s a little fancier than it used to be. It’s very cool. I was very proud this morning to not only see all the cool gear from what all the fans were sporting out there, but to hop in that car. You forget how this car made an impact back in the day. As I got in the car, I don’t get to see it on the track, I’m driving it. You can’t miss this car on the track. It just stands out. Luckily when we ran this car in the early to mid-90s it stood out. It turned a lot of people into fans that are still life-long fans. Those people are the ones that are so grateful to have this car back on the track, but I am too. I was really proud to get behind the wheel.”
DID IT GIVE YOU ANY KIND OF NOSTALGIA WHEN YOU ROLLED IN TODAY AND SAW IT?
“It will if we pull into Victory Lane tomorrow night. I love competing here no matter what the car is. But when you’ve got a car that you’ve had tremendous success here, as far as the paint scheme goes, and we’ve run really well here recently. I always feel solid when I come here to Bristol no matter what is happening with the rules and track changes and competition I always feel good when I come here. We proved that when we were here earlier this year. To follow that up with a paint scheme that you just feel good about. Any little thing that you can add to your team to give you that little extra boost. The team is really excited about this as well.”
YOU’VE GOT THREE WINS AT KANSAS. JUST A THOUGHT OR TWO ABOUT GOING TO KANSAS FOR THE LAST TIME AND WHAT SUCCESS YOU HAVE HAD AT KANSAS SPEEDWAY:
“Obviously, I hope we get ourselves in the Chase so we can go and compete at Kansas for a championship. That is what is on my mind for Kansas. I’ve always loved that track. I love the configuration of the track. Even though it’s a 1.5-mile it has just a little bit different transitions from straightaway to corner. It is just a track that I’ve always enjoyed. I’m glad to know we are going to be running rules that we have already raced there once. Hopefully, we can make some improvements and perform a little bit better there.”
ANY CHANCE WE WILL SEE RAINBOW WARRIOR FIRESUIT OR CREW UNIFORMS THIS WEEKEND?
“I thought the car was enough (laughs). Forgive me if I’m not sporting a mustache and a mullet. It looks like (Kyle) Larson has the making of a mustache if he just shaves the rest of whatever he’s got growing there. Then, I will let him be nostalgic for me there (laughs). The car looks so darn good I didn’t think we needed everything else. I do have a special helmet paint scheme that I’m really proud of. I think it looks really cool, but it is more of a modern version.”
HOW COOL IS IT FOR DARLINGTON TO BE A RETRO THEME IN YOUR LAST APPEARANCE THERE?
“We are not doing anything, but I love what the others are doing and I kind of wish that we were doing a little bit more retro paint scheme, but I’ve heard and seen what some of the other teams are doing. I think it’s really cool. The Southern 500, Labor Day weekend that is definitely a throwback. It’s going to be hot, I know that and slick and that is also going to bring back a lot of thoughts and memories of the races that I’ve run at Darlington over the years.”
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR TEAM RIGHT NOW IN THE CONVERSATION OF CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS?
“You’ve got to work at it one step at a time. I think that we know that we are behind. I think we are behind as an organization. I think we are behind as the No. 24 team. I think that if we can run to our potential or even what I think we are capable of right now I think that we make the Chase. What happens when we get in the Chase who knows? When you get a reset there are some tracks that are very good tracks for us in the Chase. Does that put us in the championship contender mode? I don’t know we’ve got a lot of work to do to do that. We are missing some speed and we are working hard to try to find it. It’s very competitive out there. Some other organizations have gotten ahead of us. You don’t just find that overnight. It is certainly not from a lack of effort, but we are in the position that we are in right now not because we are not performing well enough. It’s because we are having … the brake line at Watkins Glen, getting caught up in that wreck at Indianapolis, just things that are a little bit out of our control. If we can just do what I think we are capable of doing, we make it in. Then we get a reset, take a breath and then see what we can go do there. We are not where we want to be.”
THE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS IT’S BEEN DIFFERENT PACKAGES, TRACKS THAT ARE NOT IN THE CHASE, ARE PEOPLE READING TOO MUCH THAT THERE IS AN ISSUE? HOW DO YOU LOOK AT IT?
“No, listen we are realists. We see it. But, yeah, you can’t base it off of Indy and Michigan I can tell you that. Those packages are out the window and don’t show what I think we are fully capable of or what anybody really has. But, we are still not where we need to be with the ’15 package. The one thing about Hendrick Motorsports is that what makes us so great is the effort that we put in. And, the people we have are capable of doing a lot and don’t ever count us out.”
ARE YOU STILL SATISFIED WITH YOUR DECISION TO RETIRE AT THE END OF THIS SEASON?
“If you based it off of what has happened on the track solely, then maybe you would think that. But, if I can just kind of step back from … I’m very competitive. I want to be far more competitive than we have been this year. But if I just take one step back from that, this has been one of the best years I’ve ever had. Things like this, just reminiscing with long-time friends and family and people that have been a part of my career. Just interacting with the fans, talking with the media, this is a highlight of my career. I have thoroughly enjoyed many aspects of this year and I have no second thoughts about it at all. I’m very much looking forward to the future, but I’m also looking forward to working my butt off to give this team everything that I’ve got this year to close it out the best we can.”
YOU HAVE A NUMBER OF WINS BETWEEN BRISTOL AND DARLINGTON. DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE ANY EXTRA EMOTION AS YOU FINISH THESE LAST TWO RACES?
“Well, if we’re running better (laughs); you’ve got to understand that I chose to take this path in this season, because I wanted to close it out while I’m still competitive. And last year was an amazing year. And actually, this kind of goes back to that last question. If we were winning races on a regular basis right now, that would make it a little harder to accept than it is right now, the way things have been going. I feel like I still have what it takes. I feel like our team does. But we’re just missing some components. But, you can go to a track like Bristol or Darlington or Martinsville; there are just certain tracks that some of the components that some of our competitors are beating us with, don’t play as big of a role, like a road course. Well, we don’t have any road courses left. Talladega. Those are tracks that we can still win on. And if we find a few things within our organization and car, that we’re missing, then we might be able to win at other tracks, too. But, I’m so focused on that right now that I’m not thinking about anything else. And, that’s why it’s going to hit me like a ton of bricks at Homestead. But, I don’t think it’s going to hit me, really much, until then, unless we win.”
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR FIRST REACTION WHEN YOU FIRST WALKED INTO BRISTOL? YOU’VE WON HERE FIVE TIMES. IS THERE A #1 HIGHLIGHT THAT YOU’LL REMEMBER ABOUT BRISTOL?
“This track probably impacts me more today, when I walked in here, than it did the first time. The first time, I was like wow this is cool. But you’ve got to understand; I’ve raced at places like Winchester and Salem. So the banking of the track was not what caught me off-guard. It was the grandstands. It was how it is built in these mountains; the fans, and what stock cars can do at a track like this. That definitely got my attention. Of course, back then; we used to have U-Haul trucks to bring stuff over. And I was one of the guys kind of helping them do that. And boy, how things have changed now with tunnels and bus lots and the grandstands are bigger and greater than they’ve ever been, as well. And then, they’re going to have a football games here, I see. That’s going to be pretty awesome, too. This place is impressive. There’s no doubt about it. And it was the first time. But, I think now, I just have a greater appreciation for what goes on here and what’s been created here and what it means to the sport to have this track, and for our fans. So, every time I come here, the night before the weekend starts, I come out here and I walk the track. I was out here when they were parking the trucks last night and I saw the fans out here and it was so cool just to see them that excited about trucks coming in and parking. It’s a special track.”
YOU WERE ONE OF THE FIRST DRIVERS TO USE THOSE COMMEMORATIVE PAINT SCHEMES. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THOSE RESONATED WITH FANS BACK EARLY IN THOSE DAYS, AND ALSO HOW THE RAINBOW PAINT SCHEME HELPED YOUR POPULARITY?
“Explain what you mean about commemorative.”
WELL, LIKE FOR SPECIAL PROMOTIONS. I KNOW YOU DID LIKE JURASSIC PARK CARS. SOMETHING LIKE THAT. HOW DID THAT RESONATE WITH FANS AND THEN JUST THE RAINBOW, IN GENERAL?
“Well, that had everything to do with the whole die cast market. The die cast market exploded back in the mid ‘90’s. Earnhardt Sr. had a lot to do with that, Fred Wagenhals and Action Performance. And so they were coming to a lot of drivers and teams wanting to do these one-off special paint schemes and promotions. It was really cool and sold a lot of die casts and the fans really reacted to it and I think we actually flooded the market and ruined the market in so many ways because of that. So, I don’t know if it was just the demand was there and it’s not as much there today. But, it was fun being a part of some of those promotions and looking back on it, I think we all enjoyed it. But, I definitely like the throwback paint schemes. And, when you’ve been in this sport as long as I have been, you’ve had a lot of different paint schemes and it’s fun to go back to those and bring back some great memories.”
WE’VE TALKED ABOUT NOSTALGIA AND KANSAS IN THE FUTURE. HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER TODAY’S PRACTICE ABOUT TOMORROW’S RACE?
“It was a unique and interesting practice session because we saw the Xfinity Series was up high against the wall right away. And a lot of times in the past couple of years we’ve come here, it’s taken a while to get the groove up there. And sometimes we didn’t see it as much in practice, but yet that’s where we spent most of the time in the race. And so, we want to work up there. We want to get the cars up there and see what it’s doing to give us more information for how to tune the car for tomorrow night. And so we were up there a lot. But it’s during the heat of the day. So you’ve got to be a little careful not to fool yourself with some of those things. I think there’s a good chance we’ll be qualifying up there, as well. And, I thought our car was good. I thought it was really solid. But, I think we’ve got to make it better (laughs).”
YOU TALKED ABOUT NEEDING TO GET BETTER, AND ABOUT UPCOMING TRACKS WHERE YOU KNOW YOU CAN WIN. ARE YOU FEELING THE ADDED PRESSURE OF NEEDING TO GET A WIN, NOT ONLY TO GET IN THE CHASE, BUT ALSO BECAUSE THIS IS YOUR LAST YEAR AND YOU ONLY HAVE 13 RACES LEFT?
“I want to win, there’s no doubt about it. I always want to win. When you drive for Hendrick Motorsports every season, there’s always pressure to win because you know that you’re with one of the best organizations. And I feel like we’ve had a few opportunities that have slipped away from us, like Martinsville. But, we’ve got another Martinsville coming up, which I’m excited about. We’ve got Bristol. This is a track where we ran very well earlier in the year. So, there are some tracks that we could win at if you look at the stats and you look at our performance. But, I’m not going to let that ruin this year for me, or add any more pressure than there already is. We’re doing everything that we possibly can to be the best we can be; to communicate and work together and come out of this thing knowing that we gave it everything that we’ve got. And so, we don’t need a win. A win would be nice. And a win would certainly make things a little easier over these next couple of weeks, but when you say ‘need’ a win, I’ve won 92 times. I don’t need a win. I want to win. That’s all.”
IT WILL BE COOL WHEN YOU COME BACK HERE IN THE SPRING; YOU’RE WORKING FOR FOX TELEVISION AND YOU’LL BE ABLE TO LOOK ACROSS THE WAY AND SEE THE JEFF GORDON TERRACE. THAT OUGHT TO BE A GOOD EXPERIENCE.
“Oh, absolutely. For years, I’ve been a part of this sport where I go to different tracks. Bristol certainly being one of the highlights; and you see a driver’s name on that grandstand, and you only hope that one day that you’ve maybe done something significant enough to earn that. And you just did that for me, here today; and Bruton (Smith) and all the folks here at Bristol; that means the world to me. So, thank you very much. I did the Xfinity race with FOX here earlier in the year, and this was a fun one to do. So, I’m looking forward to doing 500 laps around this place with DW (Darrell Waltrip) and Mike (Joy) up in the booth next year.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 24TH
IT LOOKED LIKE YOU WERE JUST LACKING A LITTLE BIT OF SPEED. WHAT WERE YOU MISSING?
“Well, I don’t know what the other guys are fighting, but my car is just real tight on the exit and pretty loose getting in. We didn’t qualify very good here the last time we were here and heck, I think this time we were worse than we were the last time. But, we raced really good. I thought our race runs looked decent today. It’s hard to pass. The groove is up top there, so I was hoping we were going to qualify better than this, especially with this pretty awesome Rainbow paint scheme that Axalta has this weekend for us. But, it just wasn’t meant to be. I don’t know. We were just really struggling when we put it into qualifying trim.”