JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) and discussed last week’s post-race incident with Brad Keselowski, his outlook for this weekend at PIR and many other topics. Full Transcript:
ON HIS CHANCES THIS WEEKEND AND BEING IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE AT HOMESTEAD:
“We did have a good run here earlier in the year. We had a good test here a couple of weeks ago. The track was certainly challenging today. We had what I felt like was a lot of confidence coming out of that test and in practice today the track was reacting different than what we expected. It is not going to be easy. This team doesn’t seem to like to do anything the easy way, but we are certainly highly motivated and excited about our chances. Nobody is better at being able to finish out a race weekend like our guys. I’m looking forward to it. It was certainly a good motivating factor for us to have that solid run here earlier in the year, because ever since the repave we have struggled a little bit.”
ARE YOU SICK?
“I was kind of fighting a sinus infection last week and it has just kind of continued and lingered on.”
LOOKING BACK TO LAST WEEK THE AFTER THE RACE INCIDENT. DOES THAT ESCALATE THE WAY IT DOES IF (KEVIN) HARVICK DOESN’T HELP YOU OUT?
“Well, it escalates because Brad (Keselowski) didn’t want to face the situation. Those pit crew guys were kind of in the middle of that. The thing that I feel terrible about is getting my guys involved with it. I feel like if we could have just had a face-to-face there would have been no incident. But Kevin (Harvick) played a role; there is no doubt about that. I didn’t realize who it was at the time. I thought it was him, but it wasn’t until I went back and saw it later on video and got a good chuckle out of that one that I realized what had happened. It certainly played a role.
“Let me address this. I think there is a little bit of misunderstanding. I have no issue with a guy being aggressive and making a bold move. If you win the race and the guy that you slam finishes third or fourth I will be the first one to stand up and say that was awesome, that was a great move. But when you don’t win the race and you ruin a person’s day then there are consequences that you are going to have to deal with. How you handle yourself after that is a part of that. To me if you are going to compare to the greats of this sport that have been aggressive over the years, you also have to compare how they handle themselves in those situations afterwards. The ones that I have had to deal with on that, they know how to not make enemies, they might not have a lot of friends out there, but they also don’t have a lot of enemies. If they do, they seem to find a way to patch that up fairly quickly.”
HOW MUCH DOES IT HURT THE NO. 24 TO HAVE THREE GUYS SUSPENDED AND NOT HERE FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON:
“It didn’t help. In some ways it’s highly motivating because those guys are as passionate about what we have had this year as a team. The good things that have worked for us as all are they are sending me text messages. ‘Go get this thing done this weekend’ and ‘do this for us’ those guys were there to protect me. I believe 100 percent that they weren’t there to fight. They weren’t there to go after a driver. They were there to make sure I was safe. For that I really… that is the only regret I have is that it got them involved and got them in this situation to be suspended. It’s going to affect us because it is a change. You want those guys in there, they are the best and that is why they are in that position. It’s going to make us have to step up our game.”
OBVIOUSLY YOU ARE STILL MAD ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED SO HOW DO YOU RACE BRAD (KESELOWSKI) GOING FORWARD?
“I’m not mad about it. I’m ready to move on and focus on Phoenix. I race people the way they race me. If I am in a situation that I feel like I can make a bold move that I think is going to help me win the race and he stands in the way then I’m going to do the same thing that he did to me last week. The difference is if the same results happen how I’m going to deal with it afterwards and face him on that. So, my goal is to make sure that we have the fastest race car that we possibly can in qualifying, practice and the race. To go out there and win this race, that is our goal. I can’t think about what may happen, what might not happen, how I’m going to approach each restart and all that stuff. You just don’t know. But, I also know that the way I have raced over the years that have gotten me here is that balance between aggressiveness and patience and feeling like when it is worth taking the risk and when it’s not worth it.”
ON THE INCIDENT WITH CLINT BOWYER SEVERAL YEARS AGO AT PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY:
“That wasn’t racing. There is a big difference between racing side-by-side going for an opportunity. That was something that spilled over from being taken out of a race in Martinsville, contact being made after that and an incident that happened here that caused me to lose it. Listen, I regret that too. I wish I hadn’t done that. That cost me tremendously. I know it cost (Clint) Bowyer a lot too, but it didn’t go without a penalty, trust me. That was a big penalty in a lot of ways, not just the points and the money. I have dealt with that. I have dealt with it with Clint (Bowyer) and I’ve dealt with it with the penalties and fines.”
DO YOU LOOK BACK AND SEE ANYTHING DIFFERENT YOU WOULD HAVE DONE, AND DO YOU THINK CREW MEMBERS SHOULD NOT BE ON PIT ROAD AFTER RACES?
"I look at every situation at what I could do to do a better job no matter if we won the race. I looked to see what we could do better. I would have liked to have gotten a better restart, no doubt about that. The thing is Brad (Keselowski) did an excellent job on that restart getting behind Jimmie (Johnson) and pushing him and getting that run. I spun the tires a little bit, but not really that bad. I didn't get a terrible restart, but because I didn't have somebody pushing me, our line didn't go as good as that inside lane. In that situation, Jimmie is hedging to make sure that Brad didn't take him three wide on the inside. So, that gap kind of opened up because my focus is on getting a good run through the top of (turns) one and two and trying to get by a Jimmie like I did the run before that. Never imagine somebody would actually think that is a realistic move to do that. Was there a big enough gap? Yes, for a very split second. Do I think it was worth doing that? No. I wouldn't have done that because I think I would have known what the result was going to be which is pretty much what they were.
"There is nothing wrong with crew members being out there. But I think what their role is in that kind of situation is...I think it is just back off, and let the drivers handle it. Let them handle that situation. Not to get involved."
DOES YOUR TIRE GO FLAT AND YOU SPIN IF THE SIDE SKIRTS AREN'T FLARED OUT? IS THAT THE REASON?
"I love you Bob (Pockrass, journalist who asked the question) You're awesome. (LAUGHS) That's a good question. Certainly debatable. You don't know....the tailpipes stick out too. And as hard as the impact was, it's possible that the tailpipes may have done it. But it doesn't help that those skirts and the whole fender...everything is being pulled out on the pit stops the way they are. It is definitely getting a little bit out of control. NASCAR is probably looking at it as 'okay, we have two races left. Let's address that next year'. I don't think they are really in a position to address that right now.
"I didn't choose the inside because I thought that Brad would possibly do even more things on the inside. I'll be honest. I thought the outside...and I just passed Jimmie on the outside on the restart before that. I still feel like the outside was the right place. It is what it is. It happened; it's over. I think the only thing I would have done different was to just try to get a little bit better restart. Knowing what I know now, would I have hedged to the inside a little bit more to run a tighter line? Yes, I guess so."
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN A SITUATION WHEN YOU APPROACH SOMEONE ON PIT ROAD LIKE YOU DID BRAD?
"To be able to just have a conversation to discuss what their decision making process was at that time. Yes, it ruins your day; you want somebody to have a little bit of sympathy. Doesn't mean you have to take back what you did...it means you have to understand what it did for the other person. And that certainly is not the way that one was handled."
WHERE DID YOU GET THE THREE REPLACEMENTS (TO THE CREW):
Jingle (Jason Ingle) our engine tuner, he's had some kidney stones this year since the Brickyard, so we've actually had someone in place for him when he had to miss some weekends already. So that same person is in place. We've got a lot of depth at Hendrick Motorsports in that 24 team. We've adjusted, but that is a better question for Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) on exactly how he chose the individuals that are in there. We've had back-up truck drivers as well that are there. On these west coast trips like this, we usually have two truck drivers anyway."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO WIN THIS WEEKEND TO ADVANCE?
"That would be nice. That would certainly solve a lot of problems."
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU NEED TO DO TO ADVANCE?
"Finish further ahead of the guys that are in front of me, and make up the points gap. The thing is, how do you know? You don't know what is going to happen with the No. 22 (Joey Logano). You don't know what is going to happen with the No. 31 (Ryan Newman). They have a decent gap, but I'm going to tell you they don't have a...it reminds me of the position we were in in Talladega. I'm going to tell you that is not a fun, comfortable position to be in when you know the way the restarts are here. When you know there is some potential for some tires issues here. When you know you can come down pit road, do a pit stop and the caution comes out right after you leave pit road. There are just so may variables there that there is just no cushion that is really comfortable and so everybody is going to aggressively trying to win this race because that is the only think that you can do to make sure you get through. That is our goal."
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER ABOUT SOME OF THE GREATS THAT HAVE BEEN AGGRESSIVE ON THE RACE TRACK AND HOW THEY HANDLED IT. IS THERE A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND?
“Well, I got wrecked a couple of times by Dale Earnhardt Sr., and I can tell you the first thing that he did was try to put his arm around you and say, ‘Hey man, I didn’t mean to do that. I really apologize.’ And while you didn’t necessarily believe him (laughter), it had an affect. It did. There are just some guys you can race like that and some guys you can’t race like that. I don’t know one specific example. Most of the time with Dale, you thought it was your fault. You caused it. And he was pretty good at doing that, too. But if it was his fault, he had a way, usually with a bit of a sense of humor, to sort of ease your concerns. I don’t believe that you’re out there to try to make friends. But you’re not out there to try to make enemies. Nobody needs enemies out there. That doesn’t help you win races and championships.”
SO JUST TO CLARIFY, NEITHER YOU NOR BRAD KESELOWSKI HAS REACHED OUT TO THE OTHER SINCE LAST SUNDAY?
ARE THE MODERN DRIVERS JUST GETTING AWAY FROM SOME SORT OF ‘CODE’ OR WAY OF SHOWING REMORSE?
“Well, I don’t believe in the whole texting thing and calling. I like face-to-face. But there’s a period of time that needs to go by before; sometimes you can do face-to-face. But typically, I want it to happen immediately on both sides. And then, if that doesn’t occur, then I’d like to wait until the next weekend when I can see them face-to-face. Or, if I run into them somewhere, I don’t know. But I’m not one to do the calling and texting. That’s just not the way I believe it should be done. I can’t speak for what other guys say and do and how they should do it.”
YOU MENTIONED THAT THE INCIDENT WITH CLINT BOWYER COST YOU A LOT OF THINGS, AND YOU MENTIONED THE WORD ‘POINTS’. ARE YOU FAIRLY CONFIDENT NOW THAT NASCAR IS NOT GOING TO DOCK YOU POINTS DURING THE CHASE? NOBODY HAS LOST POINTS DURING THE CHASE. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE A HALL PASS IN THAT REGARD?
“It kind of appears that way. I don’t know. I never know what to expect. It seems to change. It doesn’t seem to be very consistent, so I have no idea. I don’t make those decisions. I just accept them when they come my way.”
JUST A FOOTNOTE ON LAST WEEK; JIMMIE JOHNSON SAID EARLIER THAT IF YOU DON’T CUT THE TIRE, THERE IS PROBABLY NOT A FIGHT. IS THAT A FAIR STATEMENT IN THE SENSE THAT IF YOU’D JUST GOTTEN SHOVED AROUND ON THAT LAP THAT MAYBE IT WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED?
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s just like I said a bit earlier. If he won the race, I don’t cut the tire, I finished third or fourth, I’m going to be on camera saying, ‘That was awesome. Good job’. But that’s not how it happened. That’s not how it went down. And when you make those kinds of choices and decisions, you have to sometimes weigh-out the consequences.”