JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AARP MEMBER ADVANTAGES CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his success at Martinsville, his past issues on pit road, the new SAFER Barriers, giving away a 2003 Monte Carlo SS to a fan who lost hers in a fire, his long relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and his sponsor, DuPont (now Axalta), and more. Full Transcript:
YOU’VE WON HERE 8 TIMES. AND NOW YOU’RE IN THE ELIMINATOR ROUND OF THE CHASE. IF YOU WIN HERE SUNDAY, YOU’LL BE IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. WITH THE NEW FORMAT, HOW DOES THAT PLAY INTO HOW YOU APPROACH THIS RACE AT MARTINSVILLE? DOES IT ALTER ANYTHING YOU DO?
“I think back to this time last year. We were in a very similar position coming here, to a track where we run extremely well and have a great opportunity and how we seize that moment. We are under slightly different circumstances with the fact that we were really strong at all the tracks, even the 1.5-miles last year, coming into this race. But we were still looking at and approaching this race very similarly to what we are now. And it seems like no matter what changes in the sport, with the rules and the engine package, we always seem to be able to come here and find speed. So, we certainly have that kind of confidence within our program. But at the same time, going over the debrief this week and the planning and all the things we’re looking at for this race, we are also reminded of how tough this place can be. And we were reminded of that earlier this year when we qualified fourth and we dropped back at the beginning and the track wasn’t taking rubber. It was kind of cool conditions, similar to what we have here, today; and we fought through tire wear and balance with the car for the first half of the race. But, we were able to find our way back to the front at the end, until we had the issue on pit road.
“So, I think that, to me, was great because it really put me in the mindset of there are no givens. It’s not just because it’s Martinsville that we’re going to come here and dominate; it’s not. We’re going to work hard. We’re going to grind it out like we have been. And if we do everything right, that we have a really legitimate shot of not only winning this weekend, but moving on to Homestead.”
THE SAFER BARRIER IS ALONG THE FRONT STRETCH AND THE BACKSTRETCH ON THE OUTSIDE WALL. IS THAT GOING TO CHANGE HOW YOU SET YOUR CAR UP TO GET OFF THE CORNER? DO YOU THINK IT WILL AFFECT THE RACING HERE AT ALL?
“Well, the funny thing is, I received a picture last night that came via NASCAR to my crew chief, of that SAFER Barrier. I looked at it and my eyes got pretty big. I was like wow, that’s a pretty big change. And then, I’d kind of forgotten about it and we started practice and I didn’t even think about it. I almost didn’t even notice it. I came in and I was thinking about it and I told Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) that I had forgotten all about that SAFER Barrier. It wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it was going to be. And then one of my crew members came over and said, ‘Did you touch the wall?’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ And then they said well, there’s a scuff on the right side. So I guess I was a little closer than I thought I was. So yeah, it’s going to make it interesting. It didn’t change things as much as I was anticipating, though. I think I was also quite surprised at the speeds that we saw in practice for qualifying, based on the fact that we lost quite a few feet if you think of coming off of Turn 2 and coming off of Turn 4, and putting those together.”
SO MANY DRIVERS COME HERE HAVING RACED ON HALF-MILE TRACKS AND HAVE REALLY GOOD RECORDS, BUT FOR WHATEVER REASON JUST CAN’T WIN HERE OR HAVE THE SUCCESS THAT YOU DO. WHAT MAKES THAT DIFFERENCE FOR SOME OF THE GUYS?
“This is a tough track. It is a really tough track. It goes against all of the normal instincts that you have as a race car driver. You’re goal as a race car driver is to drive as deep into the corner as you can, brake as hard as you can, get back to the gas as early as you can; and this is not that, at all. If anything, it’s not over-braking the car getting in the corner; it’s about rolling out of the brakes and waiting a split second before, and get the car pointed before you get back into the throttle. It takes a lot of patience here. I think that not only suited my style, but it also allowed me to communicate really well with the teams so that they could just fine-tune that set-up. It didn’t hurt that I’ve always had really good race cars here, as well.”
THE LAST TWO TIMES HERE, YOU PROBABLY WOULD HAVE BEEN IN VICTORY LANE IF NOT FOR SPEEDING PENALTIES. WAS THAT HUMAN ERROR OR TACHOMETER AND DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS HAVE ADDRESSED IT AND SOLVED IT?
“Trust me. Nobody beats himself up more about it than me. It’s a combination. The last time, we were trying to accelerate in a zone that we felt like we were safe to do so. And I think we just underestimated the amount of speed that I could carry into the box. And we missed on that. So, that was sort of a combination error. The two times prior to that, I would blame it on myself. One time I came down pit road and I was supposed to be in first gear carrying whatever rpm it was, and I forgot and I was in second gear. And so that one is completely on me. And I don’t remember what the other one was, but it was on me, too. I like to think that I learn from my mistakes and don’t make the same ones over, and they’ve all been different scenarios, but they’ve all been related to pit road. So, I feel very confident in what we have planned for this weekend and in executing it.”
WE’VE BEEN TALKING A LOT WITH JOEY LOGANO AND HOW HE’S GOTTEN SOME HATE MAIL IN THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS AND I ASSUME KEVIN HARVICK WILL PROBABLY GET AN INTERESTING RECEPTION ON SUNDAY.
“That’s what happens when you ‘wrong’ (Dale Earnhardt) Junior (laughter) especially at Talladega. I’m very familiar with that (more laughter). I wasn’t even a part of it and I think I got some ‘hate mail’.”
YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH TIMES WHEN YOU’VE BEEN BOOED. THIS YEAR MOST PEOPLE ARE CHEERING YOU BECAUSE IT’S YOUR LAST YEAR, I IMAGINE. DOES IT PLAY AT ALL IN A DRIVER’S PSYCHE?
“Not if things are going well for you. I think if things aren’t going well, then you did something that caused that reaction from the fans, then that will eat at you a little bit. But, if you’re like Joey, he’s doing everything right, right now. I don’t think there is one single thing he can sit there and say, yeah, I wish I hadn’t of done that; that was a bad idea as far as Talladega is concerned. With what happened with him and Matt (Kenseth), that’s a consequence that he’ll have to weigh out and we’ll only see if that was a smart move, or not. He’s already locked-in. Were you doing it to keep Matt out of it? Or, were you doing it just because you’re aggressive and want to win. You can’t blame the guy for that. So, they’re doing everything right. They’re winning races and they’re the team to beat and I don’t think any negativity is going to impact what they’re doing right now.
“Harvick? They’re kind of on the fence there because they’ve shown some weakness and not to mention, I don’t think it sets well with him when Joey is doing well. So, it’s a double whammy for him. But, those guys have a great way, and Kevin is really good at recovering in those kinds of things, I feel like.”
WE SAW YOU GAVE A CAR TO ONE OF YOUR BIGGEST FANS EARLIER THIS WEEK. WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO DO THINGS LIKE THAT FOR PEOPLE?
“Yeah, that was really cool. You know, I met her in June and immediately when I met her she shared her story with me. My heart went out to her and I could tell what a huge fan she was. Anybody that has that car, anyone that has the 24 Monte Carlo from 2003, you know they are a big fan. I felt for her and it just so happened that my stepfather and I were talking about one of our own cars that we had and had collected for many years. We had it in the warehouse and we were talking about what our plans were for that car. I said, ‘I have an idea’, if we can track down this lady that I met, I think that she deserves it and I wanted to give it to her. And as you saw, that is what we ended up doing. Of course it felt good, but more important was to see the smile on her face and to see the reaction. When you see one of your biggest fans get the opportunity and an experience that they will never forget…..that is pretty much what life is all about in my opinion.”
DID YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE ONE OF THE LONGEST RELATIONSHIPS WITH A CAR SPONSOR AND A CAR OWNER WHEN YOU LOOK BACK?
“No, you could have never anticipated that. I felt like I was making a decision to go with a top-quality organization that gave myself the best opportunity to win races and hopefully one day battle for a championship. I had no idea that it was going to turn out into what it was. At that time, we didn’t even have a sponsor when I made that decision but Rick assured me that it wasn’t going to prevent me from being out there on the race track – although I would like to have that conversation with him now to see if he would have actually changed his mind. But, it all worked out and we signed with DuPont and we continued with them for many, many years. And even with Axalta now, it’s basically a DuPont company. It is pretty amazing to see how this thing has unfolded and I wouldn’t change anything because it’s been amazing.”
YOU SAID THE DUTCH INN WAS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACES
“I said that? I was being sarcastic.” (Laughs)
WHAT WILL BE YOUR LASTING IMPRESSION ON MARTINSVILLE?
“Man, I tell you. I had an event with Pepsi last night at the local Wal-Mart and we had an incredible group of fans that came out. And the interactions, conversations and the memorabilia they brought out rivals the biggest fans that I have throughout the country. That is what stands out to me is the loyal support that I have here. Obviously winning here eight times helps, but still, these folks have a lot of choices as far as drivers that they can pull for and how avid that they pull for that driver. I saw it at the height of it all last night during that event.”
WHEN YOU STARTED AND JOINED RICK HENDRICK AND HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, WHAT WERE YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
“I was never one, especially back then, to be a long term thinker. I was just thinking that I saw an opportunity and tried to make the best, instinctive decision that I could with people that I was surrounded by like my parents and Ray Evernham. My roommate at the time, Andy Graves, worked for Hendrick and that gave me some confidence because he was bragging about them all the time. He would come home and say, ‘oh man we are working on this, and this is going to be awesome. Man, we are going to win this race, then we are going to do this and do that’. And he was a guy that I had confidence in because he was a guy that I worked with in Indiana in midgets, sprint cars, and we had gone way back. So it was important for him to speak so highly of the organization. Then Ray, whom I also had a high amount of confidence in, was speaking high of them. Then, the interaction that I had with Rick and how genuine he was, how personable he was. And listen, he has lived up to everything he said he would do and then some. You can only base your decisions on that and I had no idea it was going to lead to all of this. I don’t think anybody could have anticipated that. I felt like I was making a good decision at the time.”
DID YOU HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN?
“No, I didn’t have a back-up plan. I was feeling pretty confident because not only was Bill Davis feeling pretty angry and fighting for me to stay there, but Cale Yarborough had asked me to drive his car and I had tested for him. We had some folks from Ford that were talking to us a lot, and we were winning and running very competitively in the Busch Grand National Series. So, we certainly seemed to have things going our way at the time, but as you have seen, those opportunities seem to come when things are doing well. All it takes is for things to take a downturn and all those things go right away. So, I was able to capitalize on those opportunities at the right time and turn it into what it’s turned into.”
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS MORE IMPORTANT HERE AT MARTINSVILLE. CONSERVING YOUR BRAKES, CONSERVING YOUR REAR TIRES, OR CONSERVING YOUR TEMPER?
“Lately I can’t say you have really had to conserve the brakes. I can tell you that you can melt a bead on a tire, because the brakes get hot if you are not careful. If you are in traffic and you lose the fans in the front or you damage the front end and the ducting, that can get you in a lot of trouble. When I say we have struggled here the first half of the races, you will notice that this place is not taking rubber the way that it used to. A lot of it is the cool temperatures and the rubber compound that Goodyear has here, and it really wears the rear tires out in a hurry. And that is the thing that we have probably struggled with the most. I feel like I have done a pretty good job of handling my temper here over the years. Here anyway, other places, maybe not so much. But here for the most part. But that can change too and I would say between rear tires and temper.”
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU AND YOUR CAREER TO ADD ANOTHER WIN HERE?
“That would be pretty amazing. There is nobody that has any more motivation and reasons to get that ninth victory than our race team this weekend.”