JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – 12TH IN STANDINGS
“When I think of things I’ve accomplished in NASCAR, the Iron Man record is one I think ‘…damn, that’s a tough thing to do,’ especially when you see what happened to Kyle (Busch) or Denny (Hamlin) or Tony (Stewart). It could be an illness or a broken bone or an accident or a lot of things that can easily take you out of one race.
“Since I was five years old, I have missed only one race that I was scheduled to do and that was because of poison ivy.”
At New Hampshire, Jeff Gordon has 3 wins, 6 poles, 16 top fives, 22 top tens, has an average starting position of 9.7, an average finishing position of 11.4 and has led 1,371 laps.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media and discussed becoming the ‘Iron Man’, his memories from New Hampshire Motor Speedway over the years, his thoughts on the incident last week between Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick and many other topics. Full Transcript:
MOVING FORWARD LOOKING AT THE CHASE COMING OFF RACE NUMBER ONE OF THE CHALLENGER ROUND TALK ABOUT YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND:
“Obviously that is the most laps I think we have led other than maybe at Martinsville this entire year. Certainly the most we’ve led on a 1.5-mile. I’m very encouraged with the teams’ efforts and the racecar. So much about what we do out there, especially as drivers, is having confidence, but also throughout the team, crew chief, you have to have confidence. These last couple of weeks has built our confidence up that has been knocked down this year. Richmond was one of our most solid races that we have put together all year long if you just look at pit road and restarts. Just the way the car ran, the adjustments, the communication and then to follow that up with Chicago and that strong of a racecar, even though it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, our confidence is high. That is going to help us this weekend. The qualifying run that we made looked pretty good. We have to get through qualifying and see how we can evaluate what we have for tomorrow. When we hit it at this track, anything is possible for us. We feel like we are peaking at the right time. Certainly doing it at the beginning of the Chase is important, but we can’t afford to have things happen like what happened on that last restart (last week). I can’t do that here on Sunday with 10 (laps) to go. Lesson learned, hopefully.”
IF KEVIN (HARVICK) HAD HIT YOU WOULD YOU HAVE HIT HIM BACK? WHAT IS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF NASCAR’S POLICY ON CLOSED FISTS?
“Did he hit him? I wouldn’t call that a hit. Do you call that a hit?”
YOU DON’T THINK SO?
“I thought it was kind of a shove/hit.”
YEAH, MAYBE SO, IT WAS A CLOSED FIST, BUT WANTED TO GET YOUR TAKE ON NASCAR’S POLICY:
“I wouldn’t call that a hit. But I don’t know what their policy is. I have no idea what their policy is. I don’t want to know. I wasn’t in that situation, so you don’t know how you are going to react in those situations until you are in them. I think we all agree that maybe Jimmie (Johnson) should have waited a little bit longer before he approached Kevin (Harvick) on that one. I think when I look at Jimmie his sincerity of trying to patch things up with somebody I believe he respects on the track and try to at least give his side of it is admirable. It just maybe was off on the timing. Then I go to the flip side of Kevin. I can completely understand the frustration and anger that would be built up in a situation like that. I can’t see where he did anything wrong. He tried to restart and didn’t get as good of a restart as he wanted. Somebody got inside of him and he was holding his ground and they made contact. It was a racing incident in my opinion, but it reminds me of the incident that I had with (Brad) Keselowski last year where a guy is just being aggressive and making a move. That is all fine and good right up until your tire blows. Then you need to understand the consequences or the level of anger that is going to be built from that; especially if it takes you out of the Chase. That is why I reacted the way I reacted and I’m sure that is probably the reason why Kevin reacted the way he did.”
DO YOU THINK THE POINTS LEADER AT THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON SHOULD GET SOME KIND OF BONUS?
“I’ve always felt that way. To me we are not giving near enough credit to somebody who has led the points for 26 weeks. That is a very difficult thing to accomplish. I think it needs to be rewarded in more ways than it is now.”
DURING YOUR FIRST COUPLE OF YEARS OF CUP RACING DID YOU HAVE ANY IDEA THAT YOU COULD GO THIS LONG AND NOT MISS A RACE?
“No, it’s not anything that I really thought about a whole lot. I think now looking to see where I am and looking back on it I recognize my commitment. My commitment has been there for many years, long before I even got to the Cup series. You have to understand if you are a sprint car racer you are racing 100 times a year. Coming into the Cup level and racing 30 times a year, now 38 times a year, and it’s a lot more work that goes into 38 weeks than what went into 100 races in a sprint car. But, still, to me if there was a race and I was scheduled to do it then I was going to do everything I could to be healthy and to be focused and to give 100 percent. I think just by having that mindset and that effort that is what got me here. It’s not that I was looking at ‘hey I want to set an Iron Man record’ or anything like that. I remember when Ricky Rudd did that and Terry Labonte and other guys that had these incredible records and streaks. I thought ‘man they are old. I will never be around long enough to set that record or achieve that.’ Now here I am. Yeah, I’m old too, but now I appreciate what those guys did and the effort they put into it and the commitment.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR APPROACH FOR THE CHASE RACES?
“Nothing has ever changed for me for the last 39 years, however long I’ve been racing. I mean you go out and you try to make the car go as fast as you can. Now that it’s such a team sport at this level you communicate the best you can what you are feeling inside the car back to the crew chief and the team to make adjustments to try to make the car go faster. Once the green flag drops, your role is to get the most out of it and not to make mistakes. That is to me what the other guy’s role on the team is as well. That has never changed. The approach somewhat changes in how we have meetings and debriefs and talk about cars and how the crew chiefs are planning out the schedule, cars for what tracks and wind tunnel testing and computer simulation and some of those things. I think their job continues to get harder and harder. I think the competition on the track gets tougher and tougher. That part of the job maybe has changed slightly, but how I go about it has never changed, unless I had a big lead in the points under the old format. I was like ‘okay we just have to survive here, get past this, have a good finish here and do this.’ I hate racing like that. You are protecting and all that. It was a terrible way to go about it. Every time we ever did it I felt like we only lost points instead of just going out there saying we’ve got to win, if we can’t win we get the best finish we can. To me that is what you have to do every week throughout the Chase.”
HOW SPECIAL DOES IT BECOME, YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY, TO EARN THE IRON MAN TITLE AT THIS FACILITY?
“Well, it’s not just the track. The track is certainly significant when I think back throughout my career. We have had some big wins here and big moments here. I think it has contributed towards the success I’ve had in this sport. I’ve always enjoyed it. I’m happy that it is happening here. This is a cool track. To me looking back throughout my career I never planned for this. I never thought about it a whole lot, but now as I’ve gotten closer to it…I remember talking to some people within my team over the last year. When you start getting closer to that number then you start recognizing the significance of it. Then, the ‘wow’ factor comes in. I like stats. Stats are good, especially when they are wins and top five’s and poles and championships. This is not a stat that I have ever thought about, but now that I’ve reached it I’m thinking about it a lot and I think it’s one of the most significant stats that I’ve had.”
THE TRACK IS GOING TO GIVE YOU A DUCK BOAT TOUR OF THE TRACK. HAVE YOU EVER DRIVEN ONE OF THOSE THINGS? DO YOU WANT TO GET BEHIND THE WHEEL?
“I like to drive. I like to drive about anything and everything, but on Sunday I’m going to leave that up to somebody else. I’m looking forward to driving the No. 24 Chevrolet, hopefully to Victory Lane.”
LOOKING BACK ON YOUR CAREER CAN YOU NAME ONE OR TWO SPECIFIC MEMORIES GOOD OR BAD THAT JUMP INTO YOUR MIND?
“Well when you have a stat like this and an award like this, what starts to happen is you go ‘what were the close calls? What were the weekends that it almost didn’t happen?’ Obviously last year at Charlotte was one that comes to mind. When I think of what I went through in 24 hours to make sure I could get in the car on Sunday. I think that certainly stands out in my mind when I’m lying on a table and they are injecting big long needles into my back so that I could race on Sunday. When you look back on it you go ‘you know that’s kind of crazy. Why did I do that? I probably didn’t need to do that.’ But I did because I wanted to be in the racecar. When I think back to some big wrecks that I had like at Pocono, at Texas, especially the Texas one because that was pre-safer barriers and HANS devices and carbon fiber seats and the seatbelts we have now. I feel very fortunate to have survived that wreck in the way that I did and to only come out of it with bruised ribs and be able to still race even though I was in pain at Bristol two weeks after that. I don’t think had I not had that weekend off after that race I don’t think that I would have been able to make the next race. That was a close call as well. I went through a little pain at Bristol, but it seemed to be okay once the green flag dropped. Those are the moments that stand out to me.”
YOU TALKED ABOUT YOUR INCIDENT LAST YEAR WITH BRAD (KESELOWSKI). HOW DID YOU GUYS DRIVE DIFFERENTLY IF AT ALL AFTER THAT? HOW MIGHT THINGS BE DIFFERENT FOR JIMMIE AND KEVIN IF THEY ARE TOGETHER ON THE TRACK?
“I don’t know if those guys have spoken or what is going to happen. I don’t know. I will use a better example in my opinion, which is me and Martin Truex, Jr. I crashed him at Sonoma; I don’t know how long ago this was, three years ago or something. It was completely my fault. I had Juan Pablo Montoya attacking me into a breaking zone. I moved down to block him. I looked up in my mirror to see if I was going to clear him and I over shot the corner. I hit Martin Truex, Jr. and took him out. I felt bad about it. I texted him, talked to him and he refused to talk to me and I was like ‘okay that is fine.’ It was my role, I felt like, from that point on for a certain period of time to race him as clean and respectful as I possibly could to earn his trust back and for him to recognize what I had done was a mistake. That is not who I am, that is not how I go about it. It was about a year and a half later at Bristol I remember racing him for like second or third down to the wire and I finally went up to him after that race and said ‘now Martin I hope you will agree I have done everything that I know possible to earn your trust back and make you realize that I messed up. I admit it, but I cannot continue to race you as clean as I’ve been racing you if it’s for second or for a win. I mean I’m going to have to lean on you a little bit here and there.’ He didn’t respond too much, but I think he got it.
“I’m just giving you an example. That is one that is the way I would handle that situation. As far as Brad (Keselowski) is concerned I get he was racing hard. He was desperate. He had to win that race in order to move on. He was racing for that. I will throw in the fact I have no problem with that. What I had a problem with is that my left-rear tire was cut down at that time. I missed (moving on) in the Chase basically because of that. I’m going to hold onto that until Homestead. That’s just the way it works. I’m not saying that I owe him that or a payback, but if I’m in the same situation I can guarantee I’m going to do exactly the same thing that he did. I’m not going to think twice about what it does to him. I’m not searching for that, it’s just there. I have no idea how Kevin and Jimmie are going to handle that situation.”
THAT IS DIFFERENT TOO, I HAVEN’T TALKED TO JIMMIE YET, BUT IN YOUR EXAMPLE YOU SAID YOU WERE TO BLAME, I’M GUESSING JIMMIE DOESN’T NECESSARILY FEEL HE IS AS MUCH TO BLAME IN THAT INCIDENT SO HE MIGHT NOT FEEL THE SAME WAY…
“You will have to ask Jimmie and Kevin about that. I cannot speak for them.”
YOU HAVE SO MANY ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND SO MANY FAVORABLE STATISTICS WHERE DO YOU PUT THIS RECORD? DO YOU THINK IT WAS A MATTER OF YOUR LONGEVITY OR YOUR TOUGHNESS?
“One of the first things that pops into my mind is the decision to go to Hendrick Motorsports. To make a decision to go to an organization that has provided the kind of equipment that they have provided me. I never had to think twice about whether I was going to have a ride. It was how good of a performance or result are we going to get that day. I’ve never had to worry about whether we had a sponsor or not. We have always been very secure in that instance. There are plenty of people that put a lot of effort into it, but maybe just hadn’t had the fortunate circumstances that I’ve had over the years. That is one of the things that stands out to me. I was talking to Matt Kenseth about it, I think he is next in line, but he is several hundred behind me. I don’t know the full significance of this in today’s more modern era versus say with Ricky (Rudd). I certainly didn’t go through what Ricky did. The things that he did to make it into a race make my needles in my back look like nothing. But I’m curious to see what happens with the more modern era of safer cars, safer race tracks and how that affects what drivers do in the future. Will they not race as long and they not get to it? Or will they blow this number out of the water and it won’t even be significant? I don’t know.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 7TH
ON HIS DAY:
“We had a tough day that is for sure. We had to make some adjustments on the car to get it tuned up. I was really proud of Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and the team. They did a great job getting the car where we needed it to be. It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly a top-10 or top five car. We didn’t have much go our way, but at the end we finally did have something go our way, which was Alan made the call to put four tires on and had a decent restart and had a long green flag run. That is what we needed and maybe a couple of the guys to run out of fuel too.”
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 7TH
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. Talk to us about your race today.
JEFF GORDON: Well, as expected, I knew we were going to have to fight really hard. This is a tough racetrack. It's just ‑‑ the flat turns and the long straightaways and the compound of the tires, there's just not a lot of grip. You know, I was a little bit worried. We started the race off, and the balance was way off. The grip wasn't great, and I thought, man, this is going to be a long day, but a lot of credit to Alan and the team. They did an excellent job making adjustments, improving the car. You know, we had a bunch of things that didn't go our way, and then luckily there at the very end, we had it go our way where we came in and got four tires, had a decent restart, and were able to drive all the way up there. Luckily we had that long green‑flag run and I know a couple other guys ran out of fuel. That was the best we were all day, and pretty happy to finish it off like that.
Q. I'm wondering if you can kind of reflect a little bit about the success you've had here in New Hampshire. I talked with Red MacDonald who owns the USA Speedway. He talked about you racing down there, but just kind of the state, particularly of this track in your career.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, when I think about racing here throughout all the years, one of the things that really comes to mind is coming here the very first time with the Busch Grand National series, and I think it was in the Baby Ruth car. You know, it was an interesting time in the sport at that time, because this was a new track that was being praised. It was great to have a track like this in the northeast, which is something that didn't exist as a true oval this far north, and so we knew there were a lot of big race enthusiasts and teams and drivers up here.
But, the rules back then for Busch Grand National South versus Busch Grand National North had differences. You could run V‑8s in the North series; you could not in the South series. You could run a different rear end up here, and you couldn't down there. So we got our butts kicked when we came here that first time. That's what really stands out to me, and maybe that was '91, I don't know, I thought it was '92, but you know, I'll never forget that, and then coming back here with the Cup Series, I felt like I had a great idea of what this track was like and what it had to offer, and I think it paid off for me over the years in the Cup Series.
Q. I know you and your crew took the duck boat out before coming out. Can you describe the morale, any stories, any other laughs that the guys had?
JEFF GORDON: It was very cool. I mean, first when I laid my eyes on it, I was like, that's awesome that we get to ride in this around the track. It's a unique experience, and thanks to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for doing that, and my family got to go with me. It's rare that we get the team and my whole family and they get to ride around the track with me like that, so that was very special.
It certainly seemed like the fans were pretty excited about it, as well, the way that they were reacting. It was really cool. Yeah, great way to get the day started.