JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Kansas Speedway and discussed his thoughts on competing this weekend at Kansas, his memories of the quarter midget car that local Kansas City students gave him a replica of prior to his media availability, his thoughts on his current position in the Chase and many other topics. Full Transcript:
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR MEMORIES HERE AT KANSAS SPEEDWAY:
“It’s interesting because obviously winning those first two races were special, but every time I come back here, now that we get a chance to do it twice a year, every time I come back I realize why I like this track so much. Obviously the whole team has got to put the effort together to be successful like we have been here, but I like this track. It just drives in a way that I enjoy it. The transitions, the smoothness of the track, the grip level of the track, there is just a lot to like here. It was that way the first time I came here and when you enjoy driving a track as much as I do this track as a driver it allows you to not have to think too much about what you are doing out there, but just fine tune on what you need out of the car. Just today, the first laps on the track, I’m like ‘yes’ good to be back here. It’s just a great track. There are a few tracks that are on the schedule that it seems like no matter what is going on with our team and our performance you can always count on going to those tracks and being successful or having good speed. Martinsville is certainly one that comes to mind, but outside the short tracks this is one of those tracks for me as well.”
DO YOU GET TIRED OF THESE KINDS OF CELEBRATIONS AS YOU HAVE GONE ON THROUGH THE SEASON WITH RETIREMENT? WOULD YOU RATHER PEOPLE FOCUS ON THE CHASE RIGHT NOW? HAVE YOU ALLOWED YOURSELF TO DREAM YET ABOUT HOW MAGICAL IT WOULD BE TO GO OUT AS A CHAMPION AND GET THAT FIFTH TITLE?
“When something unique is handed to you like this (local automotive students from the North Kansas City school district built Jeff Gordon a replica of his first quarter midget nicknamed “the fuzz car” prior to Jeff’s media availability) that would never get old. That is very special, especially when there is thought behind it as well. This goes further than just me this goes to my family. My kids are going to think it’s cool, but my step-dad and my mom that have memories of that first car. No, that doesn’t get old. I understand this is my final year and we are winding it down and the tracks are paying tribute and I appreciate that very much.
“I think I’m just so focused on what we are doing as a team. During the week I’m not sitting at home or going to the shop or on emails reminiscing about my career. I’m focused on what do I have to do at Kansas. What do we have to do as a team? We are having those kinds of meetings or thoughts or we are going to Phoenix and testing like we did this week. For me, it’s just working hard and yeah trying to make that magic thing happen. I thought we performed well at Charlotte, at a track that has kind of been tough on us the last couple of years. I thought we performed well there and we come to a track that I think we are capable of performing even better. Even if we don’t win here, I feel pretty good about Talladega as well. Even though it’s the wild card, our team and our cars have been really strong there. Can we dream a little bit? Not yet. We have too much work to do. But we are certainly working very hard to try to make that happen.”
IS THERE A PLACE THAT IS GOING TO BE DESIGNATED FOR YOU TO KEEP ALL THESE GIFTS?
“I’m going to have to make one now, after this year.” (Laughs)
THERE HAVE ONLY BEEN TWO SEASONS SINCE YOU STARTED IN SPRINT CUP THAT YOU HAVE GONE WINLESS. HOW DIFFICULT WOULD IT BE IF YOU DID NOT WIN IN YOUR FINAL SEASON?
“Yeah, we want to win and I think we are capable of winning at certain tracks. I feel like we had a couple get away from us this year that we had a shot at winning. To me, being competitive is the most important thing. If you are not competitive at this level on a consistent basis you are probably not going to win. Some of our competitors have really gotten the best of us this year as a whole, not just the No. 24 team, but Hendrick Motorsports. That is why we haven’t gone to Victory Lane as much as an organization as I think we would like to this year. I think we have been making some ground on that. We are peaking at the right time. We have tracks coming up that I think we are capable of winning at. This one is one of them I feel like. I think most important to me is being in championship contention at Homestead. If we win the championship without winning a race I would be completely fine without winning a race, I will have no problems with that at all.”
IS THERE SOMEWHERE YOU HAVE IN MIND TO KEEP ALL THESE GIFTS THE TRACKS AND OTHERS HAVE GIVEN YOU?
“I haven’t put a lot of thought into it yet. There are a lot of things that have to be sorted out when the year is over. Things that usually happen during the off season that will be one of the things on the list; we have a warehouse of things that are personal items of mine that we store. But we haven’t turned it into a facility where we showcase it, it’s not a place where people come and visit. But, there are always opportunities at the Hendrick museum, at the (NASCAR) Hall of Fame, at our offices, to showcase some of the items that we have.”
IF YOU ARE ABLE TO MAYBE NOT WIN THIS WEEK OR NEXT WEEK AT TALLADEGA HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU THAT YOU AND YOUR TEAM CAN ADVANCE TO THE NEXT ROUND?
“Again, I’m very excited about how we performed under the circumstances last week in Charlotte. We struggled in practice, we didn’t qualify well and yet in the race we constantly improved and moved forward and didn’t take ourselves out of it. I thought we fought really hard and ended up eighth. We had a shot at seventh there right at the end with Austin (Dillon) and just couldn’t complete that pass or get to him. I feel like when I look at this round I felt like if we could come out of there with a solid finish like we did, that would be very encouraging. Today I feel like our car is more competitive than it was last week. That is also extremely encouraging. I know Talladega is one of those things we all look at and go ‘aw man I don’t want to have to go in there having to put up specific numbers because anything can happen at any time.’ But, I look at the performance we have had on the restrictor plate tracks this year and they have been very strong so that is encouraging there as well. I feel confident we can move to the next round.”
IT SEEMS LIKE THE TEAM HAS BEEN PERFORMING BETTER OVER THE LAST MONTH. IS THERE SOMETHING TO THAT? ARE YOU MAYBE JUST MAKING FEWER MISTAKES THAN YOU WERE EARLIER IN THE SEASON? OR IS THERE SOMETHING MORE DELIBERATE THAT YOU GUYS ARE DOING THAT HAS ALLOWED YOU TO PERFORM AT A HIGHER LEVEL?
“Man, just a lot of focus and energy and effort that has been put in to improving things. I think the cars are improved. I feel like our communication, because of all we have been through this year where we have had some really tough times, whether it is the performance of the car or a restart or pit strategy or a pit stop. We have gone through some times where we were really at one another and we lived through that and actually strengthened our communication as a team through that. When you can get through that and be better because of it, if the timing works out you usually find a way to shine through that. That is what I think we are doing right now. I think you said it best, we are just executing. We did not execute very well earlier in the season. And it showed as bad results and we weren’t very good. We have improved our cars slightly, but we are executing and the results are showing because of it. Our pit crew was really spot-on last week as well. That was nice.”
CAN YOU REMEMBER THE DAY YOU CLIMBED INTO THAT QUARTER MIDGET THE VERY FIRST TIME AND WHAT IT MADE YOU FEEL LIKE?
“I can barely remember what I did last week (laughs), which is probably why I need to retire (laughs). No, I don’t. I know this car through photographs. I have certain memories. I remember crashing the car one time at a track. I remember I wasn’t real happy about it. I think it was the first time I had ever flipped over and I think that was in this car. But, I only remember the memory from inside the car. No, other than that I don’t unfortunately. I wish I had more memories. I kind of remember the first time we went out to the fairground there in Vallejo (California) and started it up for the first time. I have a little bit of a memory of that.”
DO YOU THINK THE EVOLUTION OF THE RACE CARS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS HAS TAKEN AWAY YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO GET TO 100 WINS OR FIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS OR SUCCESS?
“Well first of all, my career goes much further back than the Cup Series. But if we are talking about Cup, I think two things about the comments and your question. One, if Ray Evernham (crew chief) and I could have survived through 1999 and stayed together we would have won a lot more races and championships. I believe that. He is just that kind of a special person and leader. We both can joke about it now as friend’s years later. He had a great opportunity to go with Dodge and start his own team. I had a great opportunity to stay with Hendrick and it worked out pretty well for both of us.
“You can look at all kinds of things that have happened in the sport over the years as to what has changed and what has suited a team or a driving style or contributed to wins or lack thereof. I think that had Jimmie Johnson not come along and dominated the way he has I could have all kinds of excuses, but he kind of obsoletes all that because he did it and we were basically getting beat by him all the time from 2004 until current (laughs). I think that for me, yeah, it’s just change in general. A repave, let’s say, of a racetrack. Take Phoenix for instance. They repaved that racetrack. I won the very last race and then they repaved it. We struggled at that track thereafter. Anytime they have repaved a racetrack I think it has taken away from our ability to stay as competitive. I would say this track is one of the tracks I probably have come back the best after a repave. That is just it’s a different tire. The rules maybe have changed a little bit with the cars. It’s just a different feel and the way you go about driving the car. You don’t have the multiple grooves to really go and search around on. I like that kind of a track. I could go on and on and on and list all kinds of things.
“Certainly the Car of Tomorrow was to me the car of not tomorrow (laughs). It just changed a lot of things. It changed for us as an organization because we weren’t able to utilize our resources as well to equal out the competition, which is great when you are looking at lap times, but creates less passing and creates, I think, less opportunity for us to utilize the wind tunnel and the engineering. All the things that we were known for to be creative and get an edge on the competition; I don’t know maybe those things were designed against us, but the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed the cars. I’ve enjoyed the balance of them and the tires and the things we have had. Last year especially, we were very competitive and we hit on that. I do like a car that has more power. When they took away the power this year I think it hurt me. I would prefer to have something that you have to control the wheel spin and how hard you drive the car in the corner, when you get back to the gas and I think that did hurt us a little bit, me as a driver and us as a team. And we finally started getting a little better with that the second half of the year.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 3M CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 6TH
IT SEEMED LIKE YOU GOT BETTER EVERY RUN:
“Yeah it is something that we have been lacking a little bit in this three-round qualifying, especially on the mile and a half’s, great effort by Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and the team on this 3M Chevrolet. That first time out I thought I put down a good enough lap, but when we got knocked down to 19th or 20th we got really nervous, so fortunately that worked out. Then the second run pushed the car really hard and got on the splitter. We got it off the splitter and the speed just kept coming from there, so, yeah great car. I love this place. I love driving laps around this place. The car feels awesome so that is a tremendous qualifying effort for us to start sixth.”
HOW WAS THE CAR IN RACE TRIM TODAY IN PRACTICE?
“We really just made a couple of runs and just kind of getting some baseline information for tomorrow. I felt like we learned some things that helped us for qualifying and we learned some things in qualifying that are going to help us for tomorrow’s practice and get it tuned up for Sunday.”