NASCAR Media Conference
September 29, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's NASCAR CAM Video teleconference in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Kansas Speedway. That's going to be the Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods, which is the third race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Joining us today from Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, we have four-time series champion, Jeff Gordon. Jeff is eighth in the current series standings. He won the first two Sprint Cup races held at Kansas in '01 and '02. That victory in '01 was more or less the clincher as he went on to win his fourth series championship in '01.
We are going to start off today with a quick fan question, came across NASCAR's Twitter account. A fan named Max in Arizona, he wants to know: What are your chances of winning one of the upcoming Chase races starting with week at Kansas where you won a couple of times?
JEFF GORDON: Well, thank you Max for the question. I think our chances are really good. I've been really excited about the mile-and-a-halfs in the final ten races in the Chase. I feel like that's something that we have really done a great job with improving from last season, and I feel like that's where this championship can really get turned around for us in the DuPont Chevrolet. We haven't had the best start especially compared to our teammates. But this last week in Dover was certainly a good performance. Didn't get the finish we were hoping for but I feel in Kansas, we are cable, very capable of getting that win that we need to really move ourselves up to where we need to be to battle for this championship so hopefully we can pull that off.
Q. You said last week that you're every bit as hungry for a championship as you've ever been, still don't like to finish second or worse. How does it wear on you like at Dover being up in possible position to win and slipping back, and then having those two teammates out of the same stable who are able to stay up there and win races and finish second? How does that, what kind of emotional or mental wear and tear is that on you?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, doesn't really matter if it's your teammate or not, when you've had the kind of year that we've had with the DuPont Chevrolet and we've been competitive and we've been consistent and it all comes down to those final ten races in the Chase as to whether you're going to win the championship or not, and the first two don't go the way you'd like them to and you could get beat by anybody, and then your teammates are up there winning the first two races; it's very frustrating. It's frustrating that we are not living up to our full potential, but at the same time, we are only two races in. It's not something that we are really overthinking or spending too much time on, we certainly are working hard and we have had some things that haven't gone our way.
But at the same time, we could have been a lot worse in New Hampshire and we could have been a lot worse in Dover. We are still in this thing in our mind, and eight races, a lot is left to happen. And all we can do is just go try to turn things around this weekend in Kansas, and we know that if those guys continue the way that they are, we have got to win to gain points on them. And that's certainly a lot to ask for. But in my opinion, it's still doable. The nice thing is when your teammates are running that good, you have all the data and information at your fingertips to be able to pull from.
Q. Last week you said you had to have a Top-10, and you got a Top-10, but you probably didn't move up as far as you wanted to. What do you got to have this week?
JEFF GORDON: Well, we have got to live up to our full potential. We were second, third place car last week at Dover. We didn't finish there, so Jimmie and the 48 team, by far, they had the best car, the best team, and they won the race. So you have got to get your absolute best, and we haven't done that the first two races.
You know, ten races is a lot of laps. It's a lot of points that can be lost and gained. There's going to be a lot more drama over these next eight, and all we can do is go and get our absolute best. I just hope that this weekend in Kansas, our absolute best is a car and a team that's capable of winning, and we pull that off. If not we are still shooting for Top-5s, and if we are 14th and we finish 10th, then that's a gain. If we are fifth and we finish second or third, that's a gain. But you really have to be in the Top 3, I believe, to be able to be a winning car, and that's where we have got to put ourselves in position for.
Q. After winning four championships in seven years, did you ever think it would take this long to win another one, and why do you think it has taken this long? Has it been mostly just a matter of competition getting better? Has it been something more to do with your team?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I never thought I would win four championships or three, two, or one. I mean, I just never thought I could come into this level of competition and you know, I remember when I signed with Hendrick, I had people doubting that decision and they had never won a championship.
So, you know, I have exceeded all of my expectations, but at the same time, as you win championships and you win races, it raises your goals up to another level, and sort of creates new expectations.
So you know, I really thought that we have had some years in it to pull off the championship, and you know, one or two things here or there, didn't go our way, we didn't win it, but we have been competitive many, many years since 2001.
But the Chase has changed things. This format I think doesn't suit my style quite as well as the old one but I'm as hungry and as eager as I've ever been to get the championship, because it's something I feel like I've never accomplished and this team has never accomplished and it's something that we desperately want to do. We know because our teammates won the last three, and this year, two of our teammates are right in it, that we have got as much of a shot at it as anybody else, as well.
So we are excited about that opportunity and hungry for it, and it's not about what you did in the last race and not about what you did last year; it's about what you do in the next one coming up and the next season and these next eight races. So that's what we are focused on.
Q. If you don't mind me looking ahead to Martinsville, a track you've had a lot of success on, can you tell us what it takes to run well and win there?
JEFF GORDON: Lately it's been kind of like the championship again; Jimmie Johnson -- Martinsville has been a great track for me since '94, '95, maybe even '96. It's just been a track that we clicked on with the setup. I learned a lot about being patient at that track. And that's really what it takes. It takes being patient and not overdriving the entry to the corner, really waiting to pick up the throttle through the center part of the corner and letting the car roll through the center. And then what you have to focus on as far as information, giving the team, is getting the car off the corner really strong to get down to the straightaways.
Every race we go there, we are run of the fastest cars or one of the cars with a shot at winning. And we love to get back into victory lane, but our teammate has been really strong, Denny Hamlin has been really strong and I don't feel we have had quite the edge we have had. So we are working hard to go back to Martinsville this next race and get that victory. I think that's a race we definitely have highlighted on the schedule in the final ten that we can gain some points.
We just have to get the car to do a couple more things that we haven't had it do as well as the guys that we've been getting beat by, and that's what we are focused on doing when we get back there.
Q. Which you talk about?
Q. Can you talk about Rick Hendrick and his role and how vital he is to the success this year?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, Rick I think brings a lot of business savvy. He's really a great boss and he doesn't put any kind of unusual pressure on the team. He just really tries to gather the best people, he listens to the people, what they need to make every aspect of the race team better, whether it be in the injury department, the chassis department or each team with the crew chief, or every person.
And so it really has grown over the years with all of the wins and all of the championships, that has only gotten stronger. But I've got to tell you, not a day goes by that we don't have concerns about this being a very volatile business, especially with this economy and sponsors. We are at the mercy of that, and it's a big organization with a lot of people with a lot of overhead and it certainly has it's challenges and I think that those challenges are what keeps you pushing hard to make it all work. But we have just been very fortunate with Rick's guidance and all of the other great people that we have here, that we have been able to make it work very, very well. We have hit on the right things and gone in the right direction, whether it be from an engineering standpoint or just a leadership and teamwork angle. We just try to really pay attention to all of the little details that we possibly can, and that's all led from the top down with Rick and his business sense and experience and transfer that into the race teams.
Q. You're just such a great guy, you come into victory lane and I saw you there the other night and you're congratulating Jimmie, and a lot of drivers, Mark Martin was a little flustered when he was asked about what Jimmie has got going on, but everyone is asking it, seemingly everyone. And then you were mentioning a few minutes ago about how you have all of the information from Jimmie Johnson's team so that's really helpful. You above anyone would know what they got. What is it that they have got, and I appreciate your patience in asking about him, and I thought it was cool that you came into victory lane to congratulate him.
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, one thing, I'm a team player and it was at a great organization, and as frustrated as I was at New Hampshire, I wanted to go and congratulate Mark because it was a job well done. And same thing last weekend with Jimmie. You know, we are competitors, but there's also, you know, the right thing to do. And sort of put it to Jimmie, you know, when you do what he did, it deserves a congratulations from everybody in the garage and in my opinion, because it was impressive.
The thing is, there's going to be times where your teammates are going to out run you, they are going to do a better job of all of the details and you have to give them credit when they do it, but it makes you work that much harder to get those details put together for the next race so that you can go out and accomplish the same thing.
Q. What you see that they have, you see all of the information, what is it that they have?
JEFF GORDON: If I knew that, you know, I would tell you.
You know, it's nothing huge. I think that they did a great job on Friday qualifying on the pole. That was a huge advantage for them, because they were able to get out of the pits first. Clean air was just unbelievably big this past weekend, and it is every weekend, but I saw it being an even bigger advantage this past weekend. But they just had the balance right on the car.
I had a good car, a very good car, but it wasn't perfect, and there was a little bit we were missing in turns three and four. And there are always slight differences in how a crew chief goes about their theories on springs and shocks and building the car and everything, and so even though we have all of the information, it doesn't always mean we are identical. And there have been times where we have been, you know, quite a bit different than them and been faster than them and there's been times when we have been exactly the same and made them faster than us. It's driving style and it's track position, it's so many things that make it up. And you know, I feel like we were very close to them this past weekend, but there were some slight differences and that might have been the difference in the speed.
Q. I wanted to ask you, regarding crew chief methodology, as happens, from time to time, when you seem to be up close to position to winning and then drop back, I get a certain amount of feedback by fan e-mail, etc., questioning Steve Letarte and wondering, yet again, if he's giving you everything you need. What would you say to your fans who question Steve and also we have been on you a lot of years about your driving style versus Jimmie's and maybe the difference in sometimes the way that two teams run. What about Steve's style, vis-a-vis two guys who are getting very high profiles right now, Alan Gustafson and Chad Knaus?
JEFF GORDON: I feel like they are different as well as Steve is different than Lance; every crew chief goes about it in a different way. It's really about the results.
You can say whatever you want to say. I feel like this year we have had some of the best cars that we have had in a long time. I give Steve a lot of credit for that. There's been times when our pit crew has been as solid as they have ever been and I give Steve and that pit crew a lot of credit for making those improvements. The thing is that we all have our strengths and weaknesses you really have to take advantage of those strengths and try to make those weaknesses not so big and take away that week with as much as you possibly can.
But they are there and there's so many things that you can do exactly the same. You can take every team out there and give them exactly -- giving exactly the same car, but you are still going to have somebody finish first and somebody finish 43rd. What we try to do is come together as an organization with four teams and make the most of it by gathering information, sharing information and if we get beat by them, we get beat by them. It just makes them work that much harder to be better.
I can't change my driving style. At this point in my career, I can't change that. I have a certain feel and a balance that I'm looking for out there in the car versus Jimmie, Mark and Junior because all of us can describe a certain feel totally different than the other. So it really just comes down to the results. I think Steve is that guy. I love what he brings to the team. I think he's very smart, and there's going to be criticism, but you go into Texas like we did earlier in the year and we lead the points and everybody praises him and says how amazing he is; or same for me and then you get into the Chase and things don't go our way, it's easy to say, oh, well, this isn't the right combination or it's this and everybody points fingers. But that doesn't happen within the organization and that's why we still have a shot at this championship.
Q. So as far as you and Hendrick are concerned, Steve is still a lock in that position?
JEFF GORDON: Yes.
Q. Looking ahead at the schedule in these Chase races, what do you think your best opportunities are to gain some points and are there tracks that I guess you expect to do well versus tracks that maybe you hope you do well?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I feel like our mile-and-a-half program has really improved this year. So I am excited about Kansas. I feel like we learned a lot from Chicago earlier in the year. Obviously Mark Martin is very strong in Chicago and I look for him to be strong again in Kansas but I feel like we have a great shot at winning there.
California was a track earlier in the year where I felt like we let one slip away. And I'm hoping that we can get that one back the next time we go. Martinsville I feel like is a great track for us but we have been getting beat by Jimmie and a couple other guys have been doing a little bit better than us there. So we have got to make some improvements.
I feel like Talladega is a great track for us. I feel like Texas, I can't wait to get back there after the win earlier in the season; it's totally changed our attitude about being able to go and win at Texas. I feel like we have been really good at Homestead, not a winning car but I feel like we have been a Top-5 car and maybe we can make that into a winning car.
The only track that I see that we have to make big gains on is Phoenix. I feel like all of the other tracks, we are very capable. We have got to do our job in every aspect from me driving the car on the double-file restarts, getting the most out of it to communicating well with Steve, getting the right adjustments made on the pit stops, having good, solid pit stops, especially in the closing laps or the final pit stop, I mean, those things are all crucial that they have to happen at the right time. That can be the difference between winning and being sixth, finishing sixth, and that's something we have not done collectively as a team well enough in these first two, and we all are aware that we have to do that. We have to do it perfectly these next eight.
Q. And speaking of Homestead real quick, your average the past couple of years has been a fourth-place finish. Can you now knock that one off the list, do you think, in the finale?
JEFF GORDON: I think we are very capable of it. It's one that we don't have a win at but I think that our performance the last, you know, few races there have been very solid as you mentioned. I think that it's a mile-and-a-half track that we have made big improvements on this year. Homestead we only run once a year, so it's really an unknown for a lot of the teams, all of the teams out there, but it's certainly one I'm optimistic about. You know this championship is going to go all the way down to the final race at Homestead. I just hope that we are one of the ones in contention when we get there.
Q. You alluded to the fact earlier that you don't think the Chase format suits your style as much as the old points system. Why is that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, if I could take ten races from the schedule and put my best ten races together, I would throw out a couple of the ones that are in the Chase. I feel like you ask Jimmie Johnson that question, he will say that those are pretty much, other than maybe Talladega, those are ten of his or nine of his best tracks. You know, I think that that certainly plays a role. You have to be good at all of the tracks to win the championship. The timing of it, you know, you can have a great year, you can win as many races as want, but you've got to have everything going your way in those final ten.
I still think it comes down to the best team, overall team, that's going to win the championship. So I'm not against it. I love the format. I just think that it has not suited my style as much as the old one, because the old one, it's about being consistent over 36 races, not just being able to knock it out of the park or be consistent over ten races.
In '07, we did as great of a job as we can do and we are still lost. So you know, I think that I don't want to make excuses; I want to win the Sprint Cup Championship under this format, and I would be so proud and honored to do it, because I know just how tough and challenging this has been on us.
Q. We are hearing that they are testing a wider tire here in a few days, first of all, do you think is that going to be a welcome change, and second, do you think it's going to change the racing drastically?
JEFF GORDON: Don't know anything about it. I've heard talk of that for years. This is the first to my knowledge about it. I've just been out of the loop on it.
Until I can drive on it myself or hear back from somebody who has driven on it, I really couldn't tell you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you and thanks to Jeff Gordon, four-time champion, best of luck to you.
JEFF GORDON: Thanks to everybody that tuned in and asked all of the good questions and have a great day.
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