JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his position in the Chase, the leaders currently in contention, great racing at Texas, winning at Martinsville last week, and more. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
WITH THREE RACES LEFT AND ALL THAT MOMENTUM COMING OUT OF YOUR WIN AT MARTINSVILLE LAST WEEK, WHAT’S YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR?
“I’m real positive; not just because of Martinsville, but in general; things and the momentum have been building for this team since Chicago. And we’ve run good at a lot of different race tracks. We’ve been qualifying better, which is something I stressed before we got into the Chase that we needed to do. And we’ve been doing that.
“Martinsville was fantastic. Of course it’s a short track and this is an intermediate. I think that test we did here last week and that race that we ran he earlier in the season was probably more of what we’re building our confidence on coming into this weekend more so than just that win at Martinsville. The win at Martinsville I think was a great team booster and was obviously good for points. But it’s really about having a car and a team and the set-up that you need to run well at a track like this that’s going to get us the results on Sunday.”
CONSIDERING THAT MATT KENSETH AND JIMMIE JOHNSON ARE THE TWO AT THE TOP OF THE CHASE, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE REALISTIC CHANCES ARE OF THIS BATTLE BUNCHING-UP?
“Every week will tell us. Even if you take that scenario a little further; one of them potentially having an issue is possible. But both of them, I think that even narrows the percentages down even more. So, all I know is that none of that changes our game plan and our approach. We’ve got to go out and execute and put the best results up that we can. What those guys do is somewhat out of our control.
“We’ve got to try to put pressure on them and put fast race cars out there to do that and then see what the results are after each race. Even last week, we win the race and we really didn’t really gain that much on those guys. They’re very solid teams, solid drivers, and they run good everywhere. And I expect them to run good these three remaining races as well.”
HOW CLOSE DO YOU NEED TO BE TO GET THEM TO TALK ABOUT YOU BEING A VERY CLOSE CONTENDER GOING INTO PHOENIX OR GOING INTO HOMESTEAD?
“I’m probably more thinking about going into Homestead of what those points need to be; it’s hard to make up more than 10 points on either one of those guys in a single race. So, I would think that you’d need to be within 10 or 12 points at Homestead. I do know we had a great test at Homestead. I felt like we have a very fast race car and I would love to be in that position at Homestead because I do think we could put some pressure on them. Those guys make very few mistakes.
“We’re not expecting anything out of them this week, next week, or the week after that. Again, all we’re doing is trying to do our job the best that we can. But it would be pretty exciting for our race team to go into Homestead and be maybe 10 or 12 points out. That would be pretty exciting.”
ALONG THOSE SAME LINES, TALK ABOUT GOING TO PHOENIX. THE FIRST TIME YOU WENT THERE, THE GEN-6 CAR WAS ALMOST BRAND NEW. DO YOU THINK THINGS WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME? WHAT SORT OF RACE ARE YOU LOOKING FOR THERE THIS TIME?
“Since they repaved Phoenix, it’s not our best track. We’ve got some work to do there. I came into this looking at two tracks that were on our radar of tracks we need to improve at; and that was Kansas and Phoenix. At Kansas we came out with a third place finish. If we could make those kinds of improvements at Phoenix, I feel pretty good about the other two.”
IS IT STRANGE TO HAVE THE HOPE THAT THESE GUYS (KENSETH AND JOHNSON) HAVE PROBLEMS?
“Man, the thing is, I love just the fact that we’re in the conversation right now. I’m just excited that we’re not talking about me retiring and what changes need to happen to our team. I mean, you’ve got to understand those are the conversations and questions I’ve been getting and asked the most this season and I understand. Our results and our stats have not been good enough to have any other questions be asked.
“So, now they are. Now we’re getting asked different questions. I’m fine with all of them. We’re not going into anything hoping or wishing anything bad on anybody. We’re just proud to be where we’re at and we just hope that we can keep that up. We’ve got momentum and we’ve got a lot of excitement within the team. We’re going to the race track having fun, whether we’re testing or racing. I just want to keep that going all the way to Homestead no matter what the results are when this thing is over, we’ll be able to hold our heads up high.
“But I would like it to be a little bit more interesting when we get there (laughs). At this point, you can ask me all the questions in the world and my answers are going to kind of be the same. Let’s wait and see what happens after this race. Let’s wait and see what happens after Phoenix. You can’t predict what’s going to happen. You can’t sit here and say oh well.
“There are a million things that can go wrong for every race team that’s out there. So, we’re just going to go and focus on the things that we’re doing to make sure we don’t have those issues and we have good results.”
IT SEEMS LIKE IN THIS SPORT, WHEN YOU TRY TOO HARD IT JUST DOESN’T WORK. DO YOU REMEMBER RUNNING FOR CHAMPIONSHIPS OTHER TIMES? DOES IT JUST SEEM TO COME TO YOU AND FEEL RIGHT WHEN YOU WON TITLES? DOES TRYING SO HARD WORK, OR NOT?
“In my experience over the years, most of the times when you try too hard you fail. You’ve got to push yourself within the limits of the car and within the limits of yourself. And there are some tracks you have to mentally and physically push yourself. This is one of them here for qualifying. This is a track where the grip level is very high. It is an intense lap. And you’ve got to mentally push yourself harder and push the car harder than you think it’s capable of running. There are moments like that when maybe you need to try a little harder.
“But, I would say, most of the time it’s just trying to find those limits and be within them. The closer you are to the limits, the more chance of mistakes that are made. As we all know, every green flag pit stop and entry on to pit road, every restart and every lap is so crucial that it’s all about being calm and that’s the thing that I think separates the top five or six teams from the others that are out there right now is that those teams all have quite a bit of confidence in what they’re doing.”
WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON TIED FOR THE LEAD IN POINTS, ARE YOU STILL SHARING INFORMATION TECHNICALLY? OR DO YOU KEEP IT NOW TO YOURSELF IN CASE YOU CAN FIND TECHNICAL ADVANTAGES IN YOUR CARS?
“No, we’re business as usual at Hendrick Motorsports now. If we get to Homestead and we’re in the thick of this thing, then I don’t know. That might change slightly. People are human and people are competitors but at this point, it’s just going along as we always do. We’ve got a database full of information. We have a system that’s all about what information is put in there.
“After that, it’s wide-open to our engineers to gather that information and what they do with it. So, just even today, we were comparing driver inputs and data from each run that we made (including) set ups and all that stuff. It’s pretty much close to being live information. I’ll let you know how the debrief goes tomorrow (laughs).”
IS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT PRODUCES SOME GOOD SIDE-BY-SIDE BATTLES TOWARD THE END OF A RACE?
“The thing is, we pretty much know that to be a factor for the championship, you pretty much know that you have to be good on the 1.5-mile tracks. That’s been known for the last several years. You get down to this point in the season and you start to narrow it down to those teams that are running for the championship and pretty much all of them are going to be good on these 1.5-mile tracks.
“This is a track that has really matured and aged well and that has offered more side-by-side racing fall-off in the lap times, which I think contributes to some great racing. And then you have the championship battle going on, on top of that and those guys being competitive. It definitely has the makings of great racing.”
JEFF BURTON IS GOING TO HAVE LESS OF A PRESENCE NEXT YEAR, MAYBE NO PRESENCE ON THE CUP RACING. DOES HE HAVE A STATESMAN STATUS WITHIN THE GARAGE AMONG OTHER DRIVERS AND CAN YOU ENVISION WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE NOT HAVING HIM AROUND THE GARAGE AREA NEXT YEAR?
“You don’t want to really comment on it until you know what it’s really going to be. I spoke to Jeff (Burton) when we were here testing and he didn’t necessarily allude to me he wouldn’t be in a car next year. That is possible and if that was he will certainly be missed. I have known Jeff almost my entire Cup career, certainly the whole time I have been in NASCAR. I came into the Nationwide Series and Jeff was a very strong driver in that series. I have always had a lot of respect for him, other than that time he wrecked me here (crowd laughs). He’s a good guy. I think he is a smart race car driver. I value his opinions that he has when he is analyzing the sport and the cars just kind of looking at the broader picture. He has got a good perspective and very level head about it. He seems to be very excited about his son racing right now as well. I think he will be a part of the sport next year and as long as he is he is going to be contributing something that is valuable.”
YOU KNOW JIMMIE JOHNSON SO WELL IS IT POSSIBLE TO FLUSTER HIM ON THE TRACK? DO YOU OR MATT (KENSETH) KNOW WHAT BUTTON TO PUSH ON HIM?
“It’s just the speed button you just have to have more speed than him that is why it’s very rare it ever happens. Those guys are just really good. They have a group that has been together for a long time and they have been through a lot together. They get into this position and they know how to step up at the right moments. It’s hard to put pressure on them. I think everybody talks about it. The 10 tracks in the Chase are really good tracks for him. I think that they go into every Chase feeling like they can win it because they go to the majority of the tracks feeling like they can win. The fact that he finished fifth at Martinsville that was a huge let down to him because those guys are so good there. When a guy goes to a track and he’s let down because he finishes fifth that tells you how good they are. So we saw last year that they are not flawless. Anything can happen in racing, again, I’m going to just say my answer is kind of the same. It’s not about them, it’s about us just going and doing our jobs. Hopefully, we can continue to step up a little bit more and try to find a way to put some pressure on them. That I think is the only thing and I don’t even know if it’s really been done yet where anybody has really put pressure on them other than a little bit last year.”
CAN YOU THINK OF ANY OTHER SEASON IN YOUR ENTIRE RACING CAREER WHERE YOU WERE CHALLENGED OR FACED THE SAME CHALLENGES AS YOU DO NOW AS YOU RUN FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
“Oh I’ve faced much larger challenges than this. I mean not even being in the conversation is a bigger challenge. Not even being in the Chase is a bigger challenge. I’m pretty excited we got that win last week because we have had seasons where we didn’t win races either. I’m not saying we couldn’t still be in this conversation without winning that race, but I’ve had a few years throughout my career even before I got in the Cup Series and in the Cup Series that have been more challenging than this one. The challenges that stand out to me this year is just how when we had the cars capable of getting results earlier this year we just couldn’t seem to get it.
“Call it luck, call it whatever you want, we just weren’t executing, we weren’t putting ourselves in position and we certainly weren’t getting the results. Then the times when nothing went wrong we didn’t have the performance to get the results. This has been a pretty big turnaround for us. We never stopped fighting which is what I’m most excited about. But we also did that last year. Last year we struggled to get in and of course we all know about that Richmond race last year, but to me what we did in the Chase was actually very similar to what we are doing now. Just getting in seems to be the bigger challenge to us than when we are actually in it. Now, of course making up 27 points on Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth that is a big challenge. At this point I don’t even think we are really focused on that gap. We are really just focused on doing our jobs because I think realistically we know that unless those guys have a couple of bumps in the road probably not going to make those points up on them throughout three weeks.”
IT LOOKED LIKE YOU REALLY ENJOYED THE WIN LAST WEEK AT MARTINSVILLE. I’M JUST CURIOUS IT’S BEEN EIGHT YEARS SINCE YOU WON THERE WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THE GRANDFATHER CLOCK?
“I enjoyed it immensely. That was awesome. I was actually proud of my burnout, it had been awhile. It was very late when I left that race track just because I wanted to soak it all in and see the team enjoying that and my wife and Rick (Hendrick) just everybody. You have got to understand the Grandfather clock you see is not the Grandfather clock we get. That is more of a prop. Ours is shipped to us in a box. I don’t even know if we have taken delivery of it yet, maybe we have. We have not made any decisions with it just yet. Certainly want to put it somewhere where the team can view it and enjoy it. My offices are right above where the No. 24 and No. 5 shop are. Maybe we can find a way to display it where everybody on the team can look at it.”
CAN YOU GIVE US A SENSE OF WHAT THE STORM IS LIKE TO BE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TITLE CHASE?
“This is one of the busiest seasons I have ever had. The testing rules changed things this year. We have done two Goodyear tire tests on top of that. With those changes a new car, compared to last time we had open testing I didn’t have two young children as well keeping me busy when I am at home. We also our whole team debriefing meetings that take place now that didn’t used to exist. This year just the new car, testing, everything that goes into trying to be competitive not to mention taking care of our sponsors has been one of the most hectic ones that I have had. It’s been good in a way just to your point it takes my mind off of how crazy this season has been for us. Now being in the Chase and moving up in the points being that busy it has just really kept us focus on traveling and testing and trying to make the cars fast and all those things. I can’t say I have over thought it anyway.
“Today it’s interesting how things can change in one week. I don’t think we are really in the thick of this thing enough for everybody to all of a sudden throw us in there. I think we have got to make up that gap. That is why I say let’s see what happens after this weekend. But other people want to make it we win, got momentum, we have been moving up in the points and now we show up here and there are cameras all over us and it’s like ‘we didn’t make up that many points folks’. So perception is pretty interesting. Within the team it’s really just more positive things are happening and we are just enjoying ourselves and we are just enjoying being a part of the conversation.”
DRIVERS WILL TALK TO EACH OTHER AFTER A RACE AND I WAS WONDERING BECAUSE OF THE CHASE AND TRAVEL SCHEDULES, GREG (BIFFLE) SAYS I’M OLD FASHIONED I’VE BEEN TRYING TO CALL JIMMIE (JOHNSON). JIMMIE SAYS THEY HAVE BEEN TEXTING. IS THERE AN UNWRITTEN RULE, UNOFFICIAL STATUE OF LIMITATIONS IN THE GARAGE HOW LONG YOU HAVE TO TALK TO ANOTHER DRIVER AFTER YOU HAVE HAD A BAD RACE INCIDENT?
“I think it’s ridiculous that we are texting and calling one another after incidents like that. There is only one reason you call the guy and that is because you don’t want a confrontation. You don’t want an issue, you don’t want the guy to wreck you at the next race and you are worried about where you are going to finish in points and all that stuff.
“So you are just trying to smooth things over so you don’t have any enemies out there, but you are only doing it for your own benefits. There are very few guys out there that your friendship and bond off the track is stronger than your competitiveness on the race track. I don’t think that exist a whole lot if any at all. To me if you have made a mistake and you have done something that you regret and you feel bad about it and you generally feel that way you should reach out to that guy.
“But it doesn’t have to happen over the phone or by text, maybe it could. Maybe it’s you wait until you get to the next race or maybe you are at a test and you see them and maybe you let a couple of days go by and calm down and have a conversation. Again, I mean it’s usually only the guy that is concerned about what is coming back to him, it’s the one reaching out.”
DRIVER’S HAVE A MEMORY LONGER THAN WIVES WHEN THINGS HAVE GONE WRONG?
“Absolutely. I don’t remember a whole lot of things, but I can tell you every time that I was wrecked by somebody and where they rank on the list (laughs).”
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