JEFF GORDON, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 27TH
WHAT A CRAZY DAY FOR YOU. YOU HAD A SEATBELT MALFUNCTION THERE, WHERE IT CAME UNDONE ON A RESTART AND YOU HAD TO DROP TO THE BACK AND GOT IT CLIPPED, BUT THEN YOU HAD TO COME DOWN PIT ROAD ONCE AGAIN AND HOPEFULLY GET IT FULLY FIXED. WHAT HAPPENED?
“Yeah, it’s the first time I’ve ever had that happen with this type of mechanism where you just plug it in and it latches. I’ve had it happen under the old system with the old buckle. I was actually at Sonoma one time leading the race and we went right off the next corner when it happened. I was able to get that one latched. This one, I thought I had it latched because it happened actually on pit road one time. And I got it latched and lost some time. And then we were in a pretty good position on the restart and went to take off and as soon as I went into second and third, just that little bit of a side movement just pulled it out. It would go in and sort of latch, but when you wiggled it from left to right, it would pop right out. So, I don’t know if there is something lodged in there, or what happened or why it took so long for that to play out, but I knew I couldn’t go down into Turn 1 on these crazy restarts without a right-side seat belt. So, I came in under that stop. We worked on it and now it’s good. I have no clue. It’s unfortunate. The No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet is pretty good. We just need track position. We finally got it and I’ve been having some decent restarts and things were going good. I hate that that happened.”
JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS – Qualified 24th
“Well the first time out the car was pretty close, a little bit tight, but we should have been better that first time out and then we wouldn’t have had to go out the second time, but overall just too tight over the Tunnel (turn). The car is really good down in (Turn) 1. I picked up speed every time we went out. I think having to do that last run our third time on tires didn’t really give us a good chance to advance and get the lap that we wanted. It’s still a work in progress.”
JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Pocono Raceway and discussed his thoughts on last weekend’s race at Indy, staying hydrated, the challenges his faces this weekend at Pocono, his thoughts on if he will continue his fill-in role and many other topics. Full Transcript:
TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU’VE HAD GOING ON RECENTLY:
“Mexico was on business for Axalta. I’ve been busy. A lot of these things that were already scheduled and then to throw in these two races has definitely made it a very hectic schedule. I’ve not even been home to get a new set of clothes. So, I was doing some laundry this week myself as well. As far as Pocono, it was nice to get that race under my belt at Indy. I feel a little more confident in understanding the car and the limits and the competition and working with Greg (Ives) and the No. 88 team. I felt like they did a really nice job in Indianapolis. I didn’t do them any favors on the restarts, but luckily got a few back on that last corner to get a decent finish. This week a little bit different preparation than last week. Get fitted in the car, debrief with the team from Indianapolis and then preparation for Pocono. Didn’t have test video from some of our teammates for here like we did last week at Indianapolis and I didn’t have time to get in the driving simulator either. The first few laps today were definitely again a steep learning curve. This is a very challenging race track so it’s going to be a tough, challenging weekend, but I do like this track and a little bit to learn with this new package.”
DID YOU GET A CHANCE TO DEBRIEF WITH DALE, JR.? WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT TO WORK ON THIS WEEK?
“Yeah, I’ve spoken to Dale a couple of times. He and this team have a great relationship and he and Greg (Ives, crew chief) and so he likes to FaceTime. It seems like he is always on the treadmill every time I see him or talk to him. He is just real interested in what we are up to and how it’s going and things we are working on. I think also a lot of it is through this process is evaluating where they are at as a team and some of the set-up’s and whether I’m going to be making the same comments as he was making when he was in the car. So far, I feel like it’s been very similar. Definitely, any amount of information that I can get to help me prepare for every time I’m on the track is great information. I’m asking everybody questions just trying to get up to speed everywhere we go including Dale.”
HOW LONG ARE YOU PREPARED TO FILL-IN? IS THERE A PLAN FOR WATKINS GLEN?
“Well, we have to cross that bridge when we get there. It seems like… it was great last Friday to see him say ‘hey I feel good today and made some progress.’ We want to just keep going with how he is feeling. The doctors are evaluating. I’m not speculating anything at this time. I wouldn’t be here in Pocono if I wasn’t committed to be there for Hendrick Motorsports and this team in any way that they need me. I think there is a balance between trying to make this transition. First of all, you want Dale to have the comfort of knowing that somebody is there for him. He doesn’t have to worry about that aspect of it through this process. Just get well at the pace that is the right pace to do it. So, nobody is putting any pressure or time frame on that. He may be putting that on himself more than anybody else. Then there is the side of who is the best person to be in the car to get the most points. And then there is the sponsorship side of it as well. So far, from what Rick (Hendrick) is telling me that seems to be me. That is why I was at Indy and that is why I’m here. I thought Alex Bowman did an excellent job at New Hampshire. I tell you after going through what I went through at Indy I have a much greater appreciation for him, because that was one of the toughest things I ever did. Not just getting in the race car after eight months, but trying to fill-in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. knowing the kind of attention that it gets. My heart was beating out of my chest, because of the pressure and the eyes that were on you as much as just not being in the car. Great job to Alex. I will be here as long as they need me. I say that very loosely.”
THOUGHTS ON RESTARTS AND THE FATIGUE ON HIS BODY AFTER LAST WEEK’S RACE IN INDY:
“I wasn’t tired, I was hot. There is a difference. I have been quite surprised honestly with how it’s gone. I got some texts from a lot of drivers this week talking about ‘Oh man, how are you feeling? Came back to the hottest race of the year, how did that go?’ The hydration system that I have had for years that was in the car, the cooling system upgrades that they had at the No. 88 team that was blowing the air in my helmet did its job. I was able to stay hydrated and stay ahead of the dehydration. I didn’t get any cramping. I did get hot. I didn’t feel like the air was cooling me as much as I wanted it to the second half of the race, but because I stayed up on the hydration, and I drank every drop that was in there, the red flag didn’t help it was really hot when that red flag came out. But, all things considered I thought it went pretty well from what I heard from some of the other drivers. Definitely, my body, the muscles that I haven’t used in a while were on fire Monday and Tuesday. That part is a little bit different. Even the activities that I have been doing over the last several months that are more outdoor activities not a lot of in the gym type stuff doesn’t light my back up like being in the race car, but I felt good today.”
“Well the restarts, I wish there was a way to practice restarts. We go and test race cars, but we don’t test restarts. Ever since the double-file restarts have come into play it’s changed the sport and the game in a big way. Some are better at it than others. And let’s clarify; a restart is not getting to fourth gear. A restart is going through Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 3, Turn 4, the first few corners in the lap and being on the outside or inside it’s not about going up through the gears. That part is pretty easy. I mean I feel like I do that as good or better than anybody, but it’s what happens when you get to the turn and how you are aggressively picking lines and making moves and making up positions. Also, I don’t think you can evaluate the leader either. The leader has control of it. They made a bigger restart box which only helps the leader, which is a good thing. I think the leader should be in control of that. Before it was almost too small and it was giving the others around them an advantage. But, Kyle (Busch), I think no matter where he starts is one of the best out there. There is some great… now that I’m on the TV side of things… there is great loop data that shows who the best restarts are. Kyle always is at the top. You take the fastest car, the best team, one of the best drivers and the best restarter and that is going to be a dangerous combination to beat. It’s something I wish I was better at. Some of it I felt like was some handling characteristics and air pressure in the tires, but a lot of it was just me needing to do a little bit better job paying attention to where the runs were coming from behind me or trying to get the runs ahead of me.”
HOW IS YOUR BACK? DO YOU FEEL HEALTH WISE YOU COULD CONTINUE TO FILL-IN IF NEEDED?
“I fought through it the last few years. I could fight through it longer if I had to. I prefer not to. I am looking at this as a very temporary thing. I’m really more excited right now about my engagement at Hendrick Motorsports and helping Rick (Hendrick) and Doug Duchardt and Ken Howes and Marshall Carlson and everybody there trying to find out where we can be better, how we can be more competitive and that role in those meetings more so than driving the race car. But, being in the race car does help me do a better job with that as well.”
HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS OVER THESE FEW WEEKS IN THE CAR?
“I think what this is like for the team is getting a second opinion. I think every driver out there sometimes would like to have a second opinion of their set-up or their car. To me, if I’m saying the same things that Dale is saying, if you are seeing the same results in qualifying, let’s say, then there are obviously some things that need to be worked on besides the driver behind the wheel. This is going to be a very difficult thing for me to evaluate, because not being in the car enough, like today we had limited practice because of the weepers. I needed every lap that I could get, as much time as possible to give a fair assessment of where we are at. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for weather tomorrow. I didn’t make a great lap in qualifying trim, the one run that we had today, I clipped the apron down in (Turn) 1. I think we have more speed in the car than that. And then I think the other thing is just trying to keep the excitement and spark in the team and make sure that in a time like this they don’t get down. That you keep them up, keep them energized, and keep them motivated for when Dale comes back. Any kind of momentum that you can gain by a good lap, a good qualifying run, a good race, they had great pit stops last week, so I felt like from a team standpoint and I told Dale this, he should be really proud they’ve got a great team. What I want to make sure I do is give them the results that they deserve and I don’t know if I’m quite there yet, but just like last week over the runs during a race I felt like I started getting comfortable and being in the position to give them what the car was capable of. We need to start further forward, better track position and less restarts. Last week was just a teaser for restarts. They will be five, six-wide going into Turn 1 here. I can’t wait (laughs).”
DO YOU SHARE SOME OF THE SAME FEELINGS ON WATKINS GLEN THAT BRAD KESELOWSKI EXPRESSED EARLIER TODAY?
“Yes and no. I think there is no doubt that on a road course it’s hard to create the best ways to absorb impacts of these angles and things, especially when you have a track that has a set of corners that we don’t use, so we are shortening up the circuit. We have some of that in Sonoma, we have some of that at Watkins Glen, but the first thing is to not have a brake failure. To me, that is a bigger concern is to make sure there are no brake failures. I have some concerns with the aero package being less downforce, less drag and a new surface like Watkins Glen you are going to be driving in the corners much deeper and using a lot more brakes. We have already seen brake temps being an issue at some of the tracks this year. So, I would be concerned with that. All I can tell you is Watkins Glen is a hundred percent or two hundred percent safer now than it was when I first started racing there. I was there when Tommy Kendall had his wreck in the GTP car. I can tell you that they have made huge strides in how impacts are absorbed and those angles and those run offs. I think all things considered what he (Brad Keselowski) went through I think to see him walk away and for it not to be worse I thought that was actually something that needed to be applauded as well. But can we do better? Absolutely, always and every track needs to be evaluated each time we go there and find areas that it can be improved, but I don’t know if we are in a position where we shouldn’t be going to these race tracks.”
FOR YOUR FANS AND DALE JUNIOR’S FANS AND FANS OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, WHAT’S THE LIKELIHOOD WE’LL SEE MERCHANDISE REFLECTING THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS LIKE A DIECAST OR A T-SHIRT?
“Zero chance. Not produced by us; we consciously made an effort that there wasn’t going to be ‘Gordon’ on the car anywhere. It’s not about that. I just have too much respect for what Dale is going through and you’ve got to understand that while there are a lot of fans that are excited about this and there are some good storylines, there are a lot of fans that thought they’d never see this before and are having a hard time accepting it, too. Beyond that, to me, it’s just about I am a fill-in driver for Junior. It’s as pure and simple as that and there is no need to try to do any merchandising on that.”
YOU HAD TWO RACES LAST YEAR WITH THE LOWER DOWNFORCE PACKAGE AND LAST WEEK AT INDY. HOW DID IT FEEL ONCE YOU GOT IN THE CAR TODAY? WAS IT A HUGE DIFFERENCE FROM WHAT YOU EXPERIENCED HERE IN THE PAST?
“Well, this is a tough race track. So, that part is the same (laughs). It hasn’t changed. The fact that I went into the Tunnel Turn getting up to speed and almost wrecked, told me that the package doesn’t have quite as much grip as I was anticipating. Yeah, it’s tough. This is a big, big challenge for me. On one hand I’m excited about that, that I’m pushing myself to do this and taking on this challenge, and I’m proud of that. On the other hand, I’m sitting there feeling like I’m in the twilight zone. I walked into the debrief at Hendrick Motorsport on Tuesday, grabbed me a plate of food and sat down to do a driver debrief. I did not see that one coming. So, it’s been pretty strange and weird and awkward and fun all mixed together. But, I’m a race car driver and I take it serious. I’m more focused on putting solid laps together and getting good speed out of the car; and in my opinion I didn’t do a good enough job of that today, so far.”
NOT ONLY ARE YOU HANDLING THE PRESSURE OF GETTING BACK INTO THE CAR, BUT DALE HAS BEEN SLIDING IN THE STANDINGS AND NOW FINDS HIMSELF ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN. HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH ALL THAT THESE LAST TWO WEEKS?
“Well, that’s a big priority for me. And I think I mentioned this at the end of last week’s race and probably didn’t put it in the best words, but on those double-file restarts I was trying to balance out risk versus reward, because let’s say it was a one or two race off-thing and I had nothing to lose and just could go wide-open and get crazy and do some crazy things on restarts and maybe make up some spots to get in the Top 10 or Top 5 or whatever, but I’m trying to keep them solidly in the points from an owner standpoint. And that’s important to Hendrick Motorsports and to this team. And so, in that sense, I think it was sort of a mission accomplished. We didn’t gain a bunch, but we didn’t lose a bunch either. We gained on some and lost a few on some others. And so, that’s definitely a big part of the goal this weekend, is to come out of here with a solid points day. Obviously that’s always the case. You want to get the best finish you can. But I also can’t just go do anything kind of crazy and silly and cause this team to lose a bunch of points, either.”
WHAT DID YOU DO WITH ALL YOUR RETIREMENT GIFTS? DID YOU KEEP ALL OF THEM? ARE YOU DRINKING LIKE 18 LITERS OF WINE AT THE BLACKJACK TABLE IN YOUR HOUSE?
“That’s a great idea for a photo shoot (laughter). I like that.”
ARE THE PONIES PARKED NEXT TO THE BANDOLERO? DO YOU KEEP STUFF?
“Well, I’m kind of a hoarder when it comes to things like that anyway. When somebody gives me things, I’m maybe too superstitious to give anything away or do anything with it. So, we have a warehouse in North Carolina that all those things are stored in. One day, I’ll look forward to revisiting those moments and those things and enjoying them. Nobody is ready for a Bandolero in my family, so that hasn’t happened. We’ve enjoyed the ponies. They surprisingly went over well in the family. But, we haven’t done any Blackjack and haven’t drank any whisky or wine or any of those things. Well, I mean I have (laughter); I drank plenty, but it’s just not from the collection I was given as a gift.”
WE TALKED ABOUT SHAKING OFF THE RUST LAST WEEK. YOU TALKED ABOUT THE RESTARTS. BUT NOW YOU’RE AT A RACE TRACK WHERE YOU’VE WON SIX TIMES. NOBODY HAS DONE IT BETTER THAN YOU OR MORE THAN YOU HERE. WHAT’S YOUR COMFORT LEVEL WITH ONE UNDER YOUR BELT AT A PLACE WHERE YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS?
“For me, I do have confidence at this track. And I’ve gained confidence from running the race last week. And with the team, I feel comfortable with all them. But when you’re not in the car week in and week out and going through that process on a regular basis, it’s hard to get into a rhythm. It’s hard to be smooth and be consistent. And so that’s what I’m seeing right now. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good feel for the grip level of the car, so then it comes down to getting the balance right. But, because of the inconsistencies there….trying to understand how deep can I drive into the corner? Do I need to back-up the entry? Do I need to arc it a little bit more with this aero package? There are a few little details that are different in the way the cars drive and just how the teams have advanced with the set-ups and the geometry to maximize this package that makes the cars drive slightly different than they have in the past. Similar things, but just slightly different. And so for me, I’m out there trying to gain that confidence and consistency back, and then I’m also trying to evaluate the car to give them feedback on how we can make it go faster. It’s not easy, I can tell you that. But, it’s going fairly well. To me, it’s all about doing it when it counts, not about what time is on the board. It’s about when we go to qualify and when they drop the green flag for the race. Other than that, everything is a learning experience for me and the team up until race time.”
YOU MENTIONED YOU GOT COMFORTABLE AS THE RACE WENT ALONG. WAS THERE A TIME THAT IT HIT YOU THAT YOU WERE BACK TO WHAT YOU WERE USED TO ALL THOSE YEARS?
“No. It hasn’t hit me yet. It’s a surreal experience. I don’t know how to really describe it. It’s just something that you can’t plan for or anticipate. It’s even more odd that it went from one race to two races. And then will it be more? I don’t know. I’m just thankful that the team believes in me and that gives me confidence in myself. I think Greg (Ives, crew chief) said I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m always striving for that in myself and in the car. And so, I beat myself up and I push myself to want to be the best out there. And if I’m not doing that, I’m going to be hard on myself. I get over it quickly. So, this whole experience is something that is one that I want to enjoy and take a little bit more lightly, but I can’t. It’s just not in me. It’s just not who I am. And so, I wish Dale a speedy recovery. I’d like him to be back in the car. But at the same time if he’s not, I feel like each time I’m in the car I’ll be more confident and comfortable to get better results.”
(INAUDIBLE) REGARDING THE OPEN WEEK ON THE SCHEDULE FOLLOWING WATKINS GLEN
“That’s a question for Dale. I don’t want to speculate or give any comment on that. I want him back when he’s ready and I think that’s what this team wants and I think that’s what Dale wants. And only he and the doctors truly know when that will be. You’ll know next Monday or Tuesday when I know.”
REGARDING THE KNOXVILLE NATIONALS, WHAT HAS THAT WEEK MEANT TO YOU?
“I love that weekend. I love that race. There’s a lot to be learned for someone who just loves motorsports and is engaged in the sport from every aspect, it’s sort of like the Daytona 500 or the Indy 500 and the Knoxville Nationals are the races that I think of that are an event, a happening, a spectacle. It draws an amazing ambiance and energy. Not to mention, I just think sprint cars are really, really cool; especially at Knoxville and at Eldora. But, I look forward to going out there. We’re going to have our kickball tournament. We’re going to have our Go-Kart event, which has become very popular. To be able to mix it up with Tony (Stewart) and (Kyle) Larson and Kasey (Kahne) and others….and any other Cup drivers that want to come out and mix it up with us, that would be fun. We’ll love that, and sprint car drivers or NASCAR drivers, in general. It’s a cool event. I love it. I love everything about it and I like going there and to me, it still shows that motorsports is still alive and well. When you have the right event in the right venue and the right ingredients, you get a standing room only crowd and you get a lot of interest from sponsors and you see some of the best talent that exists behind the wheel. And that to me, those events that I talked about, Knoxville is one of them.”
JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS – 17TH IN STANDINGS
“I really liked working with Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the whole No. 88 team. I’m looking forward to going to Pocono.
“I want Dale Jr. back in the car as soon as possible … but to go to Indy and finish a decent 13th, I think I can do better this week for him and then we’ll just go from there. We are all going to work together to do our best to continue to keep that excitement and momentum in the team there for when he is ready to come back, so he comes back and doesn’t miss a beat and can win some races.”