JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA/PENN STATE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Pocono Raceway and discussed last week’s driver’s council meeting, the roughness of the Tunnel Turn at Pocono Raceway and many other topics. Full Transcript:
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE PART OF THE PENN STATE FAMILY HERE IN PENNSYLVANIA?
“It’s amazing. We had a chance to go over to Penn State and visit with the students and faculty and the group of engineers that are doing so much to be the future of companies like Axalta or the future of racing. I think Axalta has done some amazing work this year with how they interacted with their customers as well as reaching out to – we did it last year with Texas A&M and then this year with Penn State. It’s been very productive and successful for them. Them also being the title sponsor for this weekend they are doing some great work and I’m proud to be associated with them. Pennsylvania and here at Pocono we have always had great fan support, not just myself, but NASCAR in general. I think after having Penn State and those blue and white colors on our No. 24 car we are certainly going to have even more support. The pressure is on, but at the same time we are just excited about that relationship.”
YOUR TEAM HAS STRUGGLED A LITTLE BIT WITH CONSISTENCY THIS YEAR DO YOU THINK COMING TO A PLACE LIKE POCONO WHERE YOU HAVE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS OVER THE YEARS COULD KIND OF JUMP START YOUR SEASON?
“I certainly hope so. We have been working extremely hard trying to find the right balance that we need. We have just really been struggling getting the front grip that I need. It has really been breaking up the corner. It’s something that has thrown us off a little bit and we felt like we were making gains and started putting some solid finishes together and then we went to Charlotte and Dover and were not real pleased with it. We are having a really solid day here today. I think I can give the team a lot of credit for just never giving up and working as hard as they can to give me what I need. I’m trying to communicate with them the best I can to try to find those gains and the things that we have been missing. Hopefully the performance shows and starts to improve then we can put all the other pieces together to get ourselves a victory. So far today I have been pretty happy with the car, qualifying trim and race trim. It felt like the car just needed to work on some small things instead of trying to find any large chunk in any one area.”
I UNDERSTAND YOU ARE ON THE DRIVER’S COUNCIL OR WERE IN THAT MEETING LAST WEEK.
“Yes, that is right.”
CAN YOU TELL US WHAT THAT EXPERIENCE WAS LIKE? I ASSUME YOU HAVEN’T HAD A TON OF ORGANIZED MEETINGS LIKE THAT THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER WITH NASCAR:
“I’ve got to say I think this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen happen in this sport since I’ve been in it. I only wish it had happened long before my final year. I think to have an open line of communication between the drivers and NASCAR. I think we are all on the same page and always trying to pursue the best for the sport, but we have done it in a different way; whether individually you go and have those discussions or it’s happening via other routes. To be able to sit in a room and have a lot of drivers that have a unique perspective on it I thought the panel was fantastic. I thought the openness of the conversation was amazing. I thought that it was all very positive.”
DO YOU KNOW IF THERE IS A SPOT FOR A RECENTLY RETIRED DRIVER ON THE COUNCIL STARTING NEXT YEAR? OR IS THAT SOMETHING YOU WOULDN’T BE INTERESTED IN REMAINING ON?
“That was one of the reasons I hesitated in being a part of it just because I wasn’t sure what the terms were and if they wanted me on there. I really like the way that we went about choosing the drivers that are on there. I thought having the drivers choose it and having certain categories and ways to go about it. And just the openness that NASCAR had to pursuing that I think it is awesome. I really do. I think it is one of the greatest things that I have seen. When I look at maybe top 10 things that I see happening in this sport this is one of them. I sat in that room and was in awe and just wowed by this step forward. I will do whatever they want me to do. There are certain criteria that you have to meet to stay on the panel that you could get voted off if you don’t make the meetings. To me, I want to do everything I can to continue to share my passion for the sport and thoughts and ideas and that is certainly a great way to do that. I don’t remember if it ends at the end of this year or if it’s a one year thing from the first meeting. I can’t remember how that all happens, but if they want me I will be on it. If they don’t, I totally understand. There are plenty of great drivers that are going to continue to take that to the next level over the years.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE REPRESENTING ALL THE PENN STATE FACULTY, STUDENTS, AND ALUMNI THIS WEEKEND?
“I guess the first thing that comes to mind is just the thought of the fan base that we have in Pennsylvania that we’ve had for many, many years. And now, looking back on it and recognizing that a lot of those NASCAR fans or No. 24 fans are also Penn State fans or maybe students or people, who are associated with the school in some way. It really sunk in when we went to the campus and saw the excitement of that campus when I drove this Penn State, blue & white car on campus. I was able to do some little burnouts and different things and rev-up the engine and drive around there and wave to all of them and get all the cheers and stuff going. It was awesome. And so, that got me really motivated for this weekend. I think the car looks great. I like that it’s running good. And we know that there’s even added pressure. It’s just like when we did the thing with Texas A&M, there’s added pressure to go out there and get it done on the race track to make them proud of the car that they’re being associated with on that No. 24 car.”
THERE WAS SOME CONCERN AFTER PRACTICE THAT THE TUNNEL TURN WAS SLICKER AND ROUGHER THAN IT WAS LAST YEAR. DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANYTHING LIKE THAT?
“It’s not slicker. It’s rough; really rough. Last week at Dover I thought the bump going into Turn 3 was rougher there too, so I think the combination of how the teams are pushing the springs and the shocks and aerodynamics in the platform of the car; and then, it does seem like there’s been some areas that have settled a little bit more than I’ve seen in the past. And it’s extremely rough. It’s going to make it an interesting race, for sure. It seems like at speed, you can get through there and get over pretty good. It gets your attention, but if you were inside of a car or something like that, it’s really going to get your attention. We’ll maybe see what we can do to address that when we leave here if there is something that can be done because it did catch a lot of us by surprise. But I don’t know. It might make for a great race and add some unique challenge that we weren’t expecting.”
LAST WEEKEND JIMMIE JOHNSON INCHED THAT MUCH CLOSER TO DALE EARNHARDT SR ON THE ALL-TIME WIN LIST. HE SEEMS TO HAVE A SENSE OF THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THAT. WHAT DID THAT MILESTONE MEAN TO YOUR CAREER? WHAT DID IT MEAN THEN AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN NOW?
“Having the opportunity to race with Dale and know his greatness and what he meant to the sport and how tough he was as a competitor and how many races he won, it overwhelmed me that I ever got to that mark. When I started following the sport it just seemed like he was winning everything, and had done it for a long, long time. It’s just a matter of time, really, for Jimmie. This will be just one of the many records he continues to break and surpass in putting his name in the record books as one of the all-time greats. It doesn’t seem like that’s going to slow down anytime soon. It’s hard to put it into perspective maybe when you didn’t get much of an opportunity to race against somebody like Dale. But I know how much it meant to me to know him as a friend and a competitor. But Jimmie’s got a great sense of the sport and what he’s doing and I know how much it means to him. So, I know that something like that will mean a lot to him as well. I hope he gets proper respect when that day happens.”
HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS BEEN DOMINANT AT POCONO. HOW LIKELY DO YOU THINK THAT IS TO CONTINUE AGAIN THIS WEEKEND?
“Well, I certainly hope it continues (laughs). We’ve always prided ourselves on power and paying attention to detail. There’s not a lot you can do anymore with gearing. Even the box that we’re in with aerodynamics and adjustments in the car has narrowed slightly, except for the track bar adjuster. But, we’ve seen this year where track position is big. Restarts are huge. Add the bump in there and the competition. There are a lot of different competitors that can win right now. We’ve seen how strong Martin Truex, Jr. has been lately. So, I’m certainly hoping that we continue our Hendrick dominance and streak here and maybe this is our opportunity to get ourselves locked-into the Chase. Right now, for us, all I’m focused on is just performing better each and every week and stepping up what we’re doing, and getting a direction that we can go into in a positive way so we can make gains on not just trying to get ourselves in the top-5, or into Victory Lane, but do it on a consistent basis.”
YOU SAID THE ROUGH TUNNEL TURN MIGHT MAKE IT AN INTERESTING RACE. CAN YOU DEFINE THAT? WILL YOU GUYS BE ABLE TO ADAPT? OR, IS IT SOMETHING YOU REALLY CAN’T ADDRESS?
“I go old-school, Humpy Wheeler, when I think of bumps in tracks. At Charlotte, there was always what they called the ‘Humpy Bump’ and a lot of people think they put it there on purpose just to make it more challenging and create some drama in the race. I’m not saying they did that here, but I’m just saying that when you have a challenge like a bump that’s in a crucial part of the corner, right in the center of the corner, where you’re getting back to the throttle and you have double-file restarts, you want as much room around you as possible for the car to hop and bump and be able to be forgiving in that area. If somebody is pinning you down and they’re on the outside of you, you hit that bump wrong or if you miss the heights a little bit on the splitter, the car could jump out from underneath of you pretty easily and create some interesting moments over there.”