JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS – 7TH IN STANDINGS
“The goal was to advance, and now we reset (the points) and see what we can do in the next three. I’m excited about this weekend because we ran well and led some laps at Chicago, so hopefully we run well and are competitive at the remaining intermediate tracks like Charlotte this weekend.”
At Charlotte, Jeff Gordon has 5 wins, 17 top fives, 24 top tens and has led 787 laps.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed the importance of Charlotte Motor Speedway to him, what it would mean to win here on Saturday night, upcoming races in the Chase, T-Rex, his children, and more. Full Transcript:
ON CHARLOTTE’S ‘PAINT THE TOWN’ TO HONOR HIM
“It makes me feel incredible. It’s really overwhelming. It takes me back to that first time when I came to Charlotte. I was actually on my way out at Rockingham to drive those cars at the Buck Baker Driving School. I came by here, knowing that the speedway was here, and I wanted to see it. I was so impressed driving by this place. There are just not many speedways that have the look of this one from the road. And it was something really cool to see. It’s hard to believe now, 25 years later or more, that now I come driving into the track today and here’s this huge sign with my name on it and the No. 24; that kind of a tribute, as well as last night at the Hall of Fame, was really special to see all the cars that I had a chance to drive over the years that got me here and the ones that I was able to do some special things with since I’ve been here; and also, to know that my first victory came here. There’s always something very special about Charlotte and about this race track. I hope this final ride here will do something special as well.”
YOU’VE BUILT QUITE AN IMPRESSIVE RESUME AT THIS RACE TRACK. YOU’VE WON HERE A BUNCH, BUT IF YOU WIN HERE ON SATURDAY NIGHT AND GET TO GO ON TO THE ELIMINATOR ROUND, HOW IS THAT PLAYING INTO THE EQUATION?
“That could possibly be one of the biggest moments I’ve ever had at Charlotte if we do that. I think if you look at this round; certainly you look at who’s running fast like a guy like Kevin Harvick and the chance of him winning over these next couple of weeks is pretty high, but we know that if you get a victory here this weekend, the relief that you’re going to feel and to not have to go to Talladega and not have to worry about Kansas, is huge. It’s absolutely huge. I’ve been saying all year long that if we can make it to round three, I think our chances of making it to Homestead are actually very, very good; not because we’ve been running spectacularly, it’s because Martinsville is on the schedule. Martinsville is a track I feel like we can always go to, no matter what, and have a shot at winning that race. This is a big weekend for everybody, but certainly that would be monumental if we could go to Victory Lane here.”
IT’S ALWAYS DIFFICULT WHEN YOU HAVE DAY PRACTICE FOR A NIGHT RACE, BUT YOU WERE 6TH IN THE FIRST SESSION TODAY. HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER PRACTICE?
“Man, I’m used to being 26th in practice here during the day. So, the track had a tremendous amount of grip in it. There’s sort of a haze. It’s a nice fairly cool day, so the track conditions were spectacular. The team has done an excellent job with the car and that’s why we were up there, and I feel like we can get a little bit more out of it. So, we’re very encouraged by how we ran at Chicago. We didn’t qualify at Chicago. But I feel some similarities as far as the grip level and the speed of the car for this weekend. And I’m excited about that. We weren’t the fastest one.
“Just like practice in Chicago, we were needing a little bit of speed here and there, but the car has that feel. It has something in it that is giving me confidence and allowing me to push the limits of it a little bit more. We’ve just got to get the balance and get it right for the night race and for qualifying tonight. It’s going to be fast, though. It’s going to be really fast tonight.”
THE PICTURES OF YOU WITH YOUR KIDS AT THE HALL OF FAME WERE REALLY CUTE. HOW ARE THEY ENJOYING AND PLAYING THROUGH ALL OF THIS EVERY SINGLE WEEK WITH THE SPECIAL THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING?
“I can’t say it really fazes them at all. They’re 8 and 5. They’re more interested in what they’re doing. But, I think my daughter, Ella, if anything, has a little bit of a grasp on it. For them, they just want to play all the time and play games and do fun things. And last night was a lot of fun because they got to go do something different and jump in and out of all those cars. It was cool to see. Certainly, I enjoyed seeing all those cars but then seeing them getting in and out of them. But it was pretty obvious to me when I saw them get into the dirt champ, and I was like no; their racing career, if I have anything to do with it, is not going to go any further than Quarter Midgets. I could not handle seeing my child in the car that’s just all engine like that. But, yeah, I don’t think they can really put it into perspective from their side of things because I’m just ‘Dad’ to them. Yes, they see that on the weekends at the race track, but most of their lives, they’re just seeing us at home.”
WHEN YOU DROVE THE T-REX CAR TO VICTORY IN THE WINSTON IN 1997, WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT WEEKEND AND WHAT IT MEANT TO YOU? WHAT DOES YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH AXALTA MEAN TO YOU NOW THAT THEY ARE GOING TO DALE JUNIOR?
“It’s amazing that the T-Rex car still has a story line this far into the future from when that happened. But, we had a guy named Rex Stump who came from GM who was a designer. He worked with Ray (Evernham) and a lot of other individuals and they looked at the rule book. I remember them going through the rule book and just reading it in detail over and over and over again, just trying to find every little area they could maximize the potential of the car that could maybe find a little bit of extra grip or a better aerodynamic balance. And they did all those things.
“They did it for the Winston, because you couldn’t even take the rear gear out of that car because of the way they built everything. It was so tight in the tolerances. And we used to change rear gears back in the day. Or, if you had a problem, you’d have to change it. So, we didn’t feel like it was a car we could take to a points race, but we wanted to try it in a non-points race. And if it worked, then we’d try to tweak on it to incorporate some of those things on our car in the future.
“Well, then we went and won all three segments and it was obviously a huge hit. And, it happened to be sponsored by Jurassic Park with a T-Rex on the hood. So, Rex Stump, T-Rex; and then the dominance of that car. But, I think what everybody really remembers about it was the way NASCAR reacted to it. And there’s some speculation on all that. There was nothing illegal about that car; not until they changed the rules in the rule book to make it illegal. That’s pretty cool.
“To me, if you’re a crew chief or an engineer or a designer, one of the greatest things you can do is to see rules change in the rule book because of something you did on the car. I think that speaks volumes about the ingenuity that you have and that you put into it.
“As far as Axalta, I’m excited about it. They are doing some amazing things right now. They are fully committed. Their business is thriving. And they’re doing more marketing and sponsorship and having more growth than I’ve ever seen. That’s exciting to see right now. And that’s a company I’ve been involved with for my entire career. Because they’ve been bought-out by Carlyle and they went public, they’ve got a lot of new people that are just taking it to a whole other level, and it’s exciting. Obviously, I’m going to continue on with them from a personal services role and representative, but to know that they are going to continue to be on Dale (Earnhardt) Junior’s car is great for them and great for Dale Junior. He’s going to have a lot of fun working with them. Most importantly, I think it’s just great to have a sponsor right now that’s that committed to our sport and really in it for the long-term, not just for a short period of time.”
THERE’S ONE THING MISSING FROM THE CHARLOTTE LIST AND THAT WAS 1990. YOUR VERY FIRST ATTEMPT IN ANYTHING IN THE WORLD OF NASCAR, RIGHT HERE. IS THAT CORRECT? AND NOT A GREAT QUALIFYING ATTEMPT, RIGHT?
“Well, it rained. So we didn’t get to qualify.”
MARTINSVILLE, FOR THAT. YOU WERE IN A LAST 20-LAP QUALIFYING?
“Yeah, same thing here. It rained here. We practiced. We were pretty quick. We did the last chance race and I wrecked, which was a real theme for a long time. Fast, but wrecked. And then we went to Rockingham and sat on the outside front row; and wrecked, something like 23 laps in. And then we went to Martinsville and blew an engine in the last chance race because it rained in qualifying there, as well. But this was the first place I ever tested a stock car at. And, it was that Outback Steakhouse Pontiac as well as a first-place. I tested a Cup car as well, here. That was actually for Cale Yarborough. A lot of people don’t realize that.”
WITH JUST 7 RACES LEFT IN THE SEASON, HOW HARD IS IT FOR YOU TO SEPARATE THE EMOTION OF THAT LAST CHECKERED FLAG AND CHASING THE TITLE?
“I get moments; there’s just moments where something happens. Just like a couple of weeks ago when we broke the streak for the Iron Man thing; that meant a lot to me. I felt the emotion of that, that day. And certain things, if I see a video and some old clips and some different things, it might hit me a little bit then. But once I get to the race track, all the focus is on the race car and the race team. There’s no doubt. If we walk out of here Saturday night with a win, that would be extremely emotional. It’s just like there’s just these moments where it hits you. And it just hits me all at once. And that’s why I anticipate that’s going to happen at Homestead on race day, whether it’s before or during or after the race. But, so far, at the race track, I guess I just haven’t allowed my mind to go there, because I’m just so focused on trying to be as competitive as I can be to give the best I can to the team, and because I want to end this season on a positive note. I want to get a win. Our fans want us to get a win. Our team wants that win and have been working hard for that. And, if we can win a championship or find our way to Homestead, I think that would be huge, as well.”
ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SAY TO THE FANS WHO HAVE BEEN WITH YOU OVER THE LAST 20 PLUS YEARS?
“Well, that has been the greatest thing about this season. I’ve been torn this year, because on track things have not gone the way that I had hoped and that our team had hoped or our fans. But off the track spending time with the fans, whether it’s one-on-one interaction with them and hearing some of their comments about how long they have been following me, how they feel about me retiring or how they feel about if I’m no longer going to be out on the track how they are going to feel about NASCAR racing. All these different things have put a huge smile on my face and made me really proud of all the things that I’ve accomplished in the sport and the fans that I’ve built. If I just measured this year by that, by social media, by the media themselves and the articles and the fans this would be the best year I’ve ever had in NASCAR.”
BUCK BAKER TOLD ME ABOUT YOU AND HE SAID ‘I’VE GOT THIS LITTLE S.O.B. THAT’S AT MY DRIVING SCHOOL’….
“That sounds like Buck. He probably called me that to my face too.”
HE SAID I’VE GOT THIS GUY HE IS REALLY GOOD. HE IS GOING TO BE A DRIVER. ALL THESE YEARS HERE YOU ARE… JUST LOOKING BACK WHAT IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENT THAT YOU CAN THINK OF THAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED?
“I’m still shocked. When I went to Buck Baker driving school … I mean how often do you hear about somebody today that went to one of these driving schools and ended up getting a career built on that or straight to the Xfinity Series and two years later in the Cup Series? It’s just unheard of. I drove my heart out when I was there and I really appreciated what Buck and his family did for me to not only not charge me for the school because we put that on ESPN and I’m hoping it gave them enough students in the future to pay for that. But also to recommend to Hugh Connerty who had an Xfinity car there, which ended up being that No. 67 Outback Steakhouse car, which Hugh is going to be at Homestead this year… it’s pretty exciting of where it all started from. To get that opportunity was extremely significant.
“I guess since then it’s hard to say, so many moments, so many things. To me winning the night before the 500 in Indy at IRP in the midget was significant because that opened up a lot of eyes and ears and opportunities because of ESPN and winning that race and other races on ESPN. Certainly sitting on the front row at Rockingham was huge, because that got Bill Davis and the folks at Ford’s attention. Then, that race at Atlanta that I won got Rick Hendrick’s attention, but since then it’s certainly that inaugural Brickyard 400 is the most significant. My life changed dramatically after that race in so many ways. I was more confident, because I knew we could win races and possibly win a championship – we did that the next year. It built the whole team up. It built my brand up and the rest is kind of history.”
RAY EVERNHAM WAS YOUR CREW CHIEF ON THAT NO. 67 CAR WHAT DID YOU SEE IN HIM THAT MADE YOU WANT TO CONTINUE THAT RELATIONSHIP IN THE FUTURE? WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR LEGACY TO BE IN THIS SPORT?
“Well, I don’t really feel like it’s my choice or my decision. I think to me as far as legacy is concerned I put my heart into what I did on the racetrack and I did everything I could off the racetrack for the sport. For the fans, for children that are dealing with life threatening illnesses and so that was my part. The rest and where that puts me is up to others to decide.
“As far as Ray Evernham, yeah, that whole story is just incredible. It started from what I mentioned about Hugh Connerty at Buck Baker driving school it just happened that Hugh Connerty was married to Leo Jackson’s daughter. Leo Jackson owned Harry Gant’s car, whose crew chief was Andy Petree who was friends with Steve Barkdoll. The Barkdoll’s were the ones that housed that car at their shop and prepared it and they said hey we need a crew chief for this. Andy said ‘hey well I kind of know a guy that has been asking about a job and trying to get into NASCAR. He works at the IROC Series, maybe we give him a call and give him a chance’ – that was Ray Evernham. All I know is I was fast. Everywhere we went, we were fast. I didn’t know what I was doing, had no clue, but I was driving the car. He believed in me and I believed in him. When I went to Bill Davis in 1991, Ray did not go with me and I got the chance to work with another crew chief and I realized how good Ray was.
“Those guys were good, but I realized Ray was really special in the way we connected and in how we believed in one another. That is why we brought Ray on in 1992. Of course we won some big races and then that is when Rick Hendrick came along and we decided ‘hey let’s keep this going a little bit longer, a little bit further and see how it goes.’ He was the only one that I trusted, I believed in, that I even knew as a crew chief. I knew nobody. I knew nothing. I was fortunate I got introduced to one of the best right from day one and did my best to hold onto it as long as I could.” Join thousands of fans in signing up for the Jeff Gordon newsletter where you'll automatically be eligible for free giveaways, receive the latest info & more.