NASCAR Media Conference
September 23, 2008
DENISE MALOOF: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series video teleconference, ahead of Sunday's Camping World RV 400 presented by Coleman at Kansas Speedway. Our guest today is four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet, who is one of 12 drivers competing in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Jeff is eighth in the Chase standings at the moment. He's 118 points behind leader Carl Edwards. He's also heading for a track where he has excelled in the past. He won of the first two series races at Kansas. Jeff, your thoughts as we approach race number three in the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm really looking forward to it. We've been working extremely hard on our mile-and-a-half speedway program. It hasn't been up to par for us this year on those tracks. We had a great test at Kentucky last week. I feel like a lot of the things that we learned there we can apply to Kansas. I think if any track is similar to Kentucky, it is Kansas. So we're looking forward to seeing if those things can apply and if we can get ourselves going down the right path. We've been searching all year long, trying to get that feel and comfort for me so that the speed can come along with it. Felt like we were on to a few things last week at Dover. Didn't perform quite as well in the race as we would have hoped to have. So maybe those things will apply a little bit better to Kansas this weekend.
So definitely looking forward to it.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's go straight to media questions for Jeff Gordon.
Q. More and more the last several years we've seen crew chiefs come under scrutiny the way head coaches do in other sports. Can you talk about the job Steve has done this season, if all the problems are Steve's problems, as a lot of your fans perceive, and if you're happy with the job he's done.
JEFF GORDON: I'm extremely happy with the job that Steve's done. You know, he's really a sharp guy. I think being a crew chief is definitely a tough, tough position to be in. There's so much more now to do as a crew chief, so many more people to oversee.
What does it take to be the perfect crew chief? That's the ongoing question for everybody because I believe that the crew chief, you know, has so many more jobs that are underneath them today than there used to be. You know, it's about delegating out those jobs, it's about overseeing people and managing those people, calling those shots on the pit box.
But you have to know your engineering, you have to know what the car's doing aerodynamically. There's just a lot to it. I think Steve is an amazing crew chief when you look at that umbrella that falls underneath him. He has his strengths and his weaknesses.
Whenever we're not performing, my fans seem to stay loyal to me, and I appreciate that. But I'm as much a part of this team and its performance as anybody else out there. You know, if there's going to be criticism, you know, I want it to come across the board. I feel like Steve has done an amazing job. And he and I work very well together. We communicate very well. Unfortunately we just haven't seen the results like we did last year.
I think that's the other thing. I think it's really easy to put aside or forget what we did last year, which to me was one of the best seasons I ever had in the Cup Series. You know, I think that looking at this year, just things haven't gone our way for whatever reason. But I believe he's the guy for the job and he's a confident guy that does the job well. I hate that he gets the criticism. But it is, as we're seeing with other crew chiefs, sort of the nature of the business.
Q. Several past champions are going to be coming to Kansas without a victory in the season. Does that surprise you? What does it say about Sprint Cup racing in '08?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think it just says how competitive it is. I also think with the COT, you know, the new Impala SS, it just tells you how tricky this car is and finicky that it is. When teams get on to something that's working, you know, how they can just continue to work on that and keep the progress going that season, when a team like ourselves hasn't been able to find it, how difficult it is to get it.
We've worked harder. I can say personally I've worked harder this year testing, working with the team at the racetrack, away from the racetrack, than I have in any other season that I've run in the Cup Series, and the frustrating part is that the results aren't showing for it.
So, you know, we know that we've got to continue that hard work and find everything that we possibly can to get ourselves more competitive, leading more laps and ultimately getting into Victory Lane. But, you know, we're not the only ones. As you pointed out, there's a lot of teams and drivers out there that aren't seeing success, or at least the Victory Lane success that we all would expect out of them and ourselves.
I'm not really sure what it says. It just says how competitive it is out there and how tough it is to find it with this new car.
Q. Could you talk about your daughter. She's getting to that 18-month-old stage now, walking, starting to talk. Talk about her and what it means to come home after tough races and see her and be with her.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, she just turned 15 months. It's the most amazing experience. You know, certainly with a year like this, the pluses and the minuses have been that, unfortunately with all the hard work we've been doing, I haven't been able to be home, and they haven't been able to travel as much as I certainly would like. But when I am with her, it is just the most amazing experience. There's nothing that is on my mind other than family and seeing her walk and try to talk and do some of the funny things that she's doing these days, things that just make you have a big smile on your face.
You know, I can't say enough about being a dad. It's truly been an amazing experience. It's been a lot of hard work. It's certainly made me appreciate the things that are most important in life, you know, which is family. You know, I don't feel like it's changed how I drive when I'm in the car, but it's definitely changed how my schedule works and balancing out being at home and being on the road. It makes me certainly want to be home a lot more than I am.
But, you know, right now is a great, great stage, you know, the things that she's doing. She's just constantly trying new things, trying to say new things. You know, she's not walking, she's running (laughter). It's just a great, great time in our lives. To be a dad is amazing.
Q. With NASCAR announcing this past weekend its revised substance abuse policy to add random drug testing, one thing it didn't change is that NASCAR will continue to prohibit to misuse or abuse of any drug, so there's not a particular list of banned substances. Is that clear enough for you or does that present questions or concerns about what you can take and what you shouldn't be doing?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think that when we maybe can sit down with the group, Dr. Black and his group, you know, taking allergy medicine, we just want to make sure we're clear on all those things. But I think it's pretty clear. You know, I mean, it's abuse, it's taking substances that are either illegal or are going to be performance-enhancing. Who knows what they can be.
But to me it's very clear. I know that I have nothing to be concerned about. I think, you know, it's a great move on their part. I've been saying for a long time that the only real way to go about it is to do random testing. And so I think this is a great step forward for the sport. I think that they're doing the right thing.
Q. You led virtually all of last year's regular season, didn't win the championship. Now Kyle is basically going to go through the same thing. Can you sort of relate to what his emotions are right now, feel for what he's going through?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, it's a little bit different than what we went through where we missed it just by a small margin. We were in the thick of it all through the Chase. But, you know, you never can count those guys out. I mean, they've been so strong. When you're a team that's won, what, eight races up to this point in the season, then you can't count those guys out. You know, they can come back and put a string of wins together.
I've been saying all year long that the real test for Kyle and that team is going to be when the pressure's on for the championship, you know, how mature not only is Kyle but this team, when it's the adversity they have to overcome and these types of challenges.
I think it's going to be a great lesson, a great test for those guys, show us all what they're capable of doing. You know, I still think there's no doubt in anybody's mind what kind of talent Kyle Busch is and will continue to be in our sport. And I know that it's probably been very frustrating for him because two weeks in a row it's been something out of his hands. So all he can do is come back and do everything that he possibly can to get that team back into Victory Lane.
He's going to be on full tilt, I know that for sure, which Kyle typically is. But he certainly will be trying to make up all the points that have been lost.
Q. We saw a pretty good battle among teammates last weekend. You and Jimmie went through that last year. What is really going through their minds as they try to compete for a title? Are they going to be like you guys? What is it like for the owner?
JEFF GORDON: I don't know. You know, it's going to be interesting to see. I saw some of it from a distance. I was running sixth or seventh place at the time. It looked like they raced really hard. Great racing. It's awesome to see. I mean, you want to see that.
And as teammates, you know, you kind of are torn because if that was one of your other competitors outside of your team, you might rough 'em up a little bit more than you would your teammate. But it looked like those guys were racing hard. They all three wanted to win really bad. And that's what we want and need to see in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing out there, whether you're teammates or not.
And I think that last year, Jimmie and I and our teams, whether we showed it to the media or to the fans or not, we wanted it really, really bad, individually as well as for Hendrick Motorsports. You know, there was a lot of challenges thrown at us. You know, the competitor in each of us came out to want to win and do whatever it took. Sometimes that was beating on their bumper, closing the door on them, whatever it took on the racetrack. But off the racetrack it's all about sharing information and making sure that we put the best racecar and race team out there week in and week out that we could. Very interesting to see if that is how the Roush teams handle it. But certainly looked like the way they did this past weekend.
Q. With all your success at Kansas, can you talk a little bit about the keys to winning there without giving away too many secrets, what it takes to win there?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, this year you can throw everything out the window. You're talking about a new car, different tires. Even though Kansas is the same racetrack, what it takes to be competitive there, other than having the fastest car, is going to change a little bit. We've really been searching this year on the mile-and-a-half's. That's what I said. I feel like the testing that we've been doing at Kentucky, especially this one we did last week, should pay off or at least the things that we learned should transfer over to Kansas better than any track we go to.
I feel like Kansas is a little bit flatter mile-and-a-half track, similar to Kentucky. Kentucky's got a lot more grip. I'm really anxious to get there and see if the things we've been trying and learning will pay off there. That's purely just balance and speed and grip. As far as driving the track, you know, I'll probably drive the same line and approach the track the same way that I did even with the older car. Just not going to be able to push quite as hard, just not quite as much grip. And that track's been changing each and every year. The groove's been widening out. The racing just continues to get better and better.
You know, the success we had there the first couple years is not necessarily what's going to be the same to have success there now.
But getting the car balanced out there and comfortable to where you can just free it up and continue the momentum through the corner, that's I think what we're going to be really looking for this weekend.
Q. Jimmie is on the threshold of doing something that only one other driver has ever done, and that's Cale Yarborough. He could win a third straight championship. What would that say about Jimmie and his place in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history? Talk about his progression as a driver since he's become your teammate.
JEFF GORDON: I mean, there's not enough I can say about Jimmie and that 48 team. Him and Chad Knaus, they've been dominant, to say the least, over the six, seven years -- I don't know how many years it's been since they've come in. I mean, they've been the team to beat. The last few years, they've shown that with the two championships.
But you can never count them out. This year's no exception. I mean, I thought earlier in the year, it just wasn't going to be their year. Yet here recently they've been on a tear, doing everything they need to do. Even though Biffle has won the first few races, they've been right there, right in the thick of things, putting up a good fight. Those have not been their best tracks. I think their best tracks are coming.
The one thing that I hesitate to really go into too much detail about is the history of our sport and comparing what's happened since the Sprint Cup has come along versus with the Winston Cup or the old points system. There is no comparison. I think you can't really compare history. Even though there's been one three-time champion, that's Cale Yarborough, how he did it and where that put him in history versus Jimmie, this is new history. It's equally as challenging and substantial, but I don't think you can compare the two.
I think it would be an amazing accomplishment and maybe even more so because I think it's even harder to win a Sprint Cup than it was to win a Winston Cup probably because I haven't won one (laughter).
Q. Toyota dominated early. Now it seems like Ford has kind find taken over. Seems like Chevy or GM in general has not found its place. To what do you attribute that?
JEFF GORDON: There's only one difference or maybe two differences these days in manufacturers. One is horsepower. The only real difference in the cars is the engine. Everything else is identically the same. The only other option I would throw in there is technology, engineering, and manufacture backing from the engineering standpoint.
You know, these cars are so identical that it's not about whether one manufacturer's aerodynamic has an advantage, like it used to be. You come out with a new car. I remember in 1995 we came out with the new Monte Carlo. That Chevy Monte Carlo was the dominant car by far. I mean, it wasn't about, you know, who was going to win the championship, it was just which Chevy was going to win the championship. That's not the case any more. So now it's about horsepower and taking the tools that Chevrolet gives us and making the most with them under the hood.
Hendrick Motorsports does a great job in the engine department. Also they give us wind tunnel time. They book testing at certain tracks. It's about taking advantage of those opportunities to try to make the most of the setups and get the most out of the car.
So I don't see where anybody has a real distinct advantage. We've seen where the Toyotas have been strong on restrictor plate tracks. They seem to have something working really well for the restrictor plate engine package. You know, other than that, I feel like our engine and power and everything else at our disposal is equal to all the other manufacturers out there.
Q. Yesterday it was announced that Brad Keselowski was going to run a couple Cup races. What are your thoughts on his ability and what happens if he does prove himself because of the car count being at four?
JEFF GORDON: Well, Brad has done an amazing job. He continues to impress me. He's done a lot of testing for our team. Not only has he impressed me at the test, but what he's been able to accomplish in the Nationwide Series even this past weekend. Even though he didn't win the race, to get behind, have the problems they had in the pits, and to be able to stay calm and come back and have a great finish like that is really impressive. So I think he's got a great future ahead of him.
I'm excited that he's linked to Hendrick Motorsports through JR Motorsports. I think that's what he calls his team. But I think having them at Hendrick for a couple races this year is fantastic. Like I say, he's got a bright future. We've got Mark Martin in the car full-time next year. And I think that having another year in the Nationwide Series with maybe some more Cup races under his belt is going to be something that we're all going to be anxious to see how it goes and look forward to. If it goes well, I think he's got a bright future, not just at Hendrick Motorsports but in the Cup Series in general.
Q. You mentioned how much the testing and the hard work has helped you and the team. Let's face it, you really have had some bad luck this year. Going into the race, how in the heck do you get that bad luck out of your mind?
JEFF GORDON: Well, first of all, I said we've been testing. I haven't said it's been going very well (laughter). I wouldn't necessarily say we've had bad luck this year. I'm just somebody that's not a believer in bad luck or good luck. I believe that you make your good fortune through hard work, through putting the right tools in place, the right people in place. And when you do those things, then the things that you're working hard at are going to go your way.
For whatever reason, we just haven't been able to hit on it this year. Maybe a few times we've had what I think is the best car on the track, and we had some problems along with that that prevented us from going to Victory Lane. So I think we've had a few shots at Victory Lane this year that just haven't worked out. But for the most part we haven't performed. And the reason why we've been where we've been in the points, the reason we haven't won races, is that it's so competitive that these days to win races you have to knock on that door constantly, you have to be up there leading laps, you have to be getting off pit road first, you have to constantly evolve with the changing conditions of the track and also this car, which I play a big role in as well as the team, and make sure you're putting yourself in position, top fives, top threes, and then you're going to win races. We just haven't put ourself in position enough times and we haven't really taken full advantage of these tests and all the hard work that we have put into it.
We've worked as hard as anybody, I know that. Unfortunately we just haven't really seen the results. The only way we're going to see the results is to continue to work hard and hope that we find something that really clicks. And it's going to click for me and our team and our setups on the way that I want the car set up or the theories on how Steve wants to set up the cars, and that's what's going to make it all start to come together. We've got eight more races to go and I know we can win some races before it's all over.
Q. Not all fans might understand the efforts your team allots to changing track conditions race to race. Could you enlighten them on that?
JEFF GORDON: This past weekend at Dover was a perfect example. All the practice that we did on Saturday, the track was constantly changing because rubber was starting to be laid down into the grooves and the crevices that are in the track. And when that rubber gets laid down, it changes the grip level of the track. Same thing happened on Sunday's race. We started that race off out front, clean air. Car was good but it was really loose. And as the runs went on, the car just kept getting tighter and tighter and tighter. Tighter in, looser off. We constantly had to adjust.
The toughest thing about adjusting is while you adjust maybe for one thing, you've got to pick one thing that's hurting you the most speed-wise. For us, you know, we felt like the exit of the corner was hurting us the most. Every time we tried to adjust to try to fix the exit of the corner, it hurt the entry of the corner. Those are the challenges that the teams are faced with every single weekend. It's the team that does the best job of keeping up with those conditions as they change or has the setup that's going to be best when those conditions sort of finalize maybe halfway, three-quarters of the way through the race, that's going to be the team to beat.
Q. Did you notice that Kansas came in quite a bit better last year? Looked like there was a lot more side-by-side racing, better quality of racing, is that correct?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. If you look at the surface, if you look at how it's weathered over the years, the banking, the transitions, it's a great racetrack. There's more polymers in some of the newer pavement these days, as we're learning. It takes longer for tracks to age, I guess you could say, for that groove to widen out. So, you know, it's something that Goodyear and the tracks and everybody is really looking into to try to figure out how to go forward in the future with either new tracks or repaves, where right now Kansas I think has one of the most perfect surfaces out there, great racing, great side-by-side, three-wide action. I think you're going to see probably one of the best Kansas races this coming up weekend that you've ever seen just because of how that track has weathered and has improved in what we like to see with the track actually giving up grip and the groove widening out.
Q. You announced recently that you're going to have a new look to the 24 in '09. Can you talk about that, what the timeline is for release of that look, how exciting it is to debut a new car and new look for your fans at the Daytona 500.
JEFF GORDON: It is very exciting. Unfortunately, I can't talk much about it because it's under tight raps with Dupont, our primary sponsor. They would like to release it on their terms. So we're going to stand by that. But it is something that Sam Bass, myself and Dupont have been working really hard on. I'm excited about it. I think the fans are really going to like it.
I wish I could give more details, but I just can't. But I do know that an announcement should be coming in the next few weeks and the unveiling of that car. We'll have to wait and see and we can talk a lot more about it then.
DENISE MALOOF: Jeff, thanks very much for your time today and good luck this weekend.
JEFF GORDON: My pleasure. Thank you.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|