NASCAR Media Conference
August 5, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us today on today's NASCAR Cam Video teleconference. It's in advance of this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International. That's the Centurion Boats at the Glen on Sunday. That's the final road race on this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.
Sunday is also going to be the sixth event in the Race to the Chase. That's a 10-race stretch that precedes NASCAR's playoffs, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Out guest today, at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, is Robby Gordon, driver/owner of the No. 7 Jim Beam Dodge.
Robby Gordon is one of America's finest road course racers. In 2003, he swept the Sprint Cup Series' two road course events at the Glen and Infineon Raceway out in California.
Robby, is it safe to say the Glen and Infineon, they're your favorite events? You've been in NASCAR long enough now where you're established in oval racing, too. Is road racing still your favorite stuff?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I still like the road racing a lot. It's something that I look at, we have probably a 1-in-5 or 1-in-10 shot of winning the race. We put a lot of effort into our road racing effort. Not that we don't put a lot of effort into our oval racing as well. This is something I've done for 15 years now and I have a lot of experience road racing.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks for that opener. We'll go to the media now for questions.
Q. I know you had maybe some times where you had no sponsors on the car. How are you looking for next year as far as sponsorship-wise? Do you think you're going to be set to have something full-time all next year?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think, you know, right now, next year looks a lot like it did this year, you know, where we have sporadic events. So there is opportunity.
Obviously, you know, sponsors and everybody want to be involved with a team that can win races. I look at this weekend as an opportunity of putting our team in Victory Lane. There's only been three teams this year that have been in Victory Lane. So if we could pull it off, that would be big.
Q. You said it looks sporadic for next year. How long can you keep going doing this? You can't continue to pay for it out of your own pocket, can you?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I don't do it out of my own pocket. That's the first thing there. I appreciate the interest on it. If I had to pay a driver, I'd probably be in trouble. But because I am the driver and the owner, we can do a little bit of give-and-take and get through like we're doing now.
Q. Your thoughts on the race at MontrÃ©al. Did you think the racing was good with the rain tires? If that scenario presents itself this weekend, do you think it will be fun?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I was kicking myself last weekend watching that because I do enjoy the racing in the rain so much. You know, it would have been a lot of fun. I think we were well-prepared for that. We've done a lot of rain racing in the past.
You know, our road racecar, the Nationwide Series car has defrosters, has windshield wipers, all the stuff we would have needed for that event. It was kind of a bummer we weren't there. But we were really trying to put all of our focus here on this Jim Beam weekend at Watkins Glen, where we're running both the Nationwide car and the Cup car.
Q. You might have your shot because scattered showers are in the forecast. Good luck.
ROBBY GORDON: Looks like 40% right now for Saturday. That will be interesting.
Q. Could you talk about Watkins Glen. So many people look at what happened at MontrÃ©al and the course there. If there are fans that don't follow road course racing, they glump them all together. Talk us through Watkins Glen this weekend.
ROBBY GORDON: First, I don't understand what you mean by that because it looked to me like everybody enjoyed it. I think the biggest problem they had was the window fogging up. The fans, they put up their umbrellas and they went for it. I mean, there's definitely some true fans there in Canada. They were very supportive of the event.
Q. Can you talk about the course itself at Watkins Glen.
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, Watkins is a good place for us. You know, I look forward to going to Watkins every year. You know, it's equal to me. Doesn't make a difference if it's Sonoma or Watkins. I think, you know, my results are about the same on both of them. You know, hopefully we don't run ourselves out of fuel here at Watkins and we put ourselves in a position to time the pit stops right. And if we do, I think we've got a legitimate shot at winning.
Q. We heard a lot last week at Pocono about the argument between Carl Edwards and his crew chief. I wanted to ask you, it's not uncommon at all for drivers and crew chiefs to argue over the radio, but that's not necessarily a reflection of what their relationship is really like.
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I'm not familiar with Carl's argument with his crew chief or not. All I know is at the end of the day, together they won that race. You know, they've done a really good job. Obviously, Carl's doing a good job driving, and the crew chief is doing a good job as well.
You know, their chemistry, you never know how it is. You know, one thing, drivers and crew chiefs, we argue at times. It doesn't mean we don't like each other after the conversation or after the argument.
Q. Here in Michigan there have been numerous reports that General Motors has talked about pulling out of NASCAR. Now there are rumors that even Chrysler might be pulling out. I never thought I'd even see this day. Since you drive a Dodge, what would that do with your situation?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, you know, I got to be honest. I mean, you hear all these rumors. I think at the end of the day, that's all they are at this time of day until it's factual. You know, GM just did a program with Tony Stewart to expand to another NASCAR team. So I think you got to be careful about the rumors out there and just take it one day at a time.
I think NASCAR has survived and automobile manufacturers have a good understanding that the sport -- we have a lot of fans out there. And those fans, they buy automobiles. And our cars do resemble the cars that you can buy on the street.
So, you know, it's just rumors at this point in time and day.
Q. Do drivers who come from open-wheel or sports car backgrounds have any advantage on road courses or does that get negated just in the different kind of car in NASCAR?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think in the beginning, you know, people used to think that that made a difference. But the NASCAR drivers, you know, throughout the last couple years, I'm going to go back even as far as 10 years, they've started to put a lot of effort into their road racing because it's one of the 36 races or two of the 36 races. And if you run the Nationwide car as well, it could be four.
So there's a lot of good road racers. I mean, Mark Martin has been a phenomenal road racer for as long as I can remember. I teamed up with him in the late '80s. We won the 24 Hours of Daytona together. Obviously, Ron Fellows winning in the rain, how you say, a normal, traditional road race driver, probably has some experience or some experience advantage in rain situations.
But if you go back, I mean, you look at what's happened the last eight years in Cup races, it's been a NASCAR regular that's won all these races.
Q. Is it harder for a person to go from an oval background to a road course or someone from a road course background to primarily ovals?
ROBBY GORDON: I think it's probably difficult each direction. The biggest thing on the oval is, you know, back off early, get it into the corner, then get back on the gas. It's similar to how I run the road races as well. I try to roll the middle as fast as I can. And I think, you know, that's helped me on the road courses.
But, you know, the short ovals I normally run pretty good at, so it seems like that works there, too.
Q. Are you committed to running a second car next year? If yes, would you consider Scott Riggs? Looks like he'll be out of a job.
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think Scott Riggs is a very good racecar driver. We'll start there. Committed to running a second car? You know, we'd love to run a second car. I think our team and our facility and our systems and procedures and policies, all that stuff, is in place now to run a second car.
You know, we still haven't won with one car, but this weekend's race hasn't happened yet either. It's important to make one car run good first. And we've been able to stay inside of the top 35. But, you know, at the same time we'd like to position ourselves to win races.
I think, you know, a second car's going to help in that, though, because you're going to find solutions for our problems faster. I think Scott's a good racecar driver. So that's obviously something that I would look at. Obviously, the thing out there is who's gonna pay for it, how are you gonna do it and what sponsors are going to be involved in it.
Q. We see a lot of altercations at short tracks and road courses. Do you go into a road course race with the same mindset that you do in short track? Do you have to leave your feelings at the door?
ROBBY GORDON: You know, the competition's so close, especially with the Car of Tomorrow, the way it is today. The cars are pretty equal. So sometimes you got to take a hole -- if there's a hole there, you got to take it. Sometimes two cars get together. Obviously, you know, short track racing and road racing is probably similar because the speeds are down low in the middle of the corner.
I think any race right now is tough to win and I think the competition's close.
Q. The Michigan track, it seems to be a fan favorite, a driver favorite. Talk about what it's like to go and race there.
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I personally like Michigan a lot. What I like about it is is it gets so wide throughout the day. You got one guy that - how you say it - Tony Stewart, he has always been a bottom feeder at Michigan. He'll make his car work at the bottom. And you got Michael Waltrip that makes his car go pretty fast right up next to the wall.
There's a lot of racing room there. You can run four-wide in the middle of the corner. I think that's why us drivers like it and probably why the fans like it as well.
Q. Tony Stewart is going to be a driver/owner next year. Any words of wisdom you can give him going into that?
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, I think he'll do a good job at it. The only words of wisdom that I gave him was, and I only mean it in fun and games, be careful what you wish for, you might get it.
You know, it's a chore to be the driver and the owner. But at the same time, provided you hire the right people and they do their job and follow through with it and take ownership in it, it's not that big of a deal. It's when you have to get involved in certain situations.
Q. When you don't maybe necessarily have a good read on what your budget and stuff is going to be like for the following year, how hard is it for you to maybe build and expand upon your team to make it better from what it is now?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, you know, one thing about budgets for next year, and trust me, we know exactly what it costs from year to year. The fuel cost is changing our travel just a little bit. In the big scheme of things, it's not affecting it a lot. Shipping hasn't seemed to affect us very much because a lot of our parts come out of Charlotte here where we're based.
But as far as our budget, you know, this year's been our first year of Car of Tomorrows. I'll be honest with you. We've run the same five cars for the last three months, so we have inventory built up. We continue to build new inventory, build new cars, which are only better. And we do that throughout the season. So I can't see for any reason why next year would be a lot more money than it was this year to operate one of our cars.
Q. As far as not having a read on a sponsor, full-time sponsor, that doesn't change anything about how you're preparing next year?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, we know what it takes as sponsorship to go and do this thing. And I feel confident that we'll get a sponsor for next year and we'll able to continue on. I also have a lot of confidence that Jim Beam will return with us, as well.
Q. Can you compare and contrast Sonoma to Watkins Glen, how you attack it, the strategy you use to try to win.
ROBBY GORDON: Strategies are still about the same. Pit strategy has a lot to do with it. Fuel mileage has a lot to do with it. And timing a caution right.
As far as racecars, you know, our cars have been fast at Sonoma. We ran inside the top three for the first half of the race till we pushed it on fuel mileage. We hung ourselves out. But, you know, on one side of it, you know, I think the tracks have elevation change pretty similar. Watkins is a faster racetrack as far as top speed than what we have at Sonoma. But both of 'em, you still got to turn left and you got to turn right, and the car has to be very consistent on the tires, not abuse 'em too hard.
Q. I read an interesting stat on you. You're in the top five for most green-flag passes at Watkins Glen. Talk about what's key about being able to pass there and make moves. Is it the car, driver, braking points?
ROBBY GORDON: I'm gonna call it out to bad pit strategy. That's why we've had to pass those cars. We normally run really good at those races. We qualify well. We've either not gotten the fuel mileage to have the pit strategy or we made some bad calls or a bad pit stop.
You know, as far as passing, Watkins, Sonoma, they're both about the same. You know, our cars seem to stop really good, and that helps. The other side is, you know, a lot of my competitors know that we're good on the road races, so sometimes they give me way. You know, if I start to show that I'm there, they'll just let us have the position.
So, you know, I think there's a bunch of things that equate to what that stat shows.
Q. What's the hardest part of being a driver/owner? What, if anything, did you expect to be difficult that really wasn't?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I think the hardest part, the first part, was getting the operation up and running. Now that we're in our fourth year as team owners now, that's pretty surprising when you look back at it. But we showed really good consistency. Every year we've climbed the ladder in points and we work ourselves up into a higher position. I'm confident by the end of the year this year we'll learn from some of the mistakes we made again with the Car of Tomorrow.
You know, it's our first year of running the Car of Tomorrow year-round. When you're a single-car team, it takes a little longer to find solutions for some of the problems.
You know, the people side of it is probably the most difficult, getting everybody on the same team. It sounds crazy. You would think everybody working together would be on the same team anyway. But you have a lot of cliques, a lot of groups. There's a lot of egos in this sport. So trying to get everybody to work together and be a team to make the best product that we can possibly make and bring it to the racetrack every weekend has probably been the hardest thing.
And the schedule. We look at the NASCAR schedule, and people say it's 36 weekends. You know, we do the Dakar rally. It's a 16-day race. But the NASCAR schedule is like the Dakar rally all year long. By the time you get home on Monday, you got to be already having cars ready so that they can roll on the truck on Wednesday and go the next weekend. You have to be really well-prepared. You've got to really look into the future of what you're going to need to make your team better.
It's hard to work on your stuff and go to the racetrack and make improvements. You know, if it was a goalpost that stood still, it would be pretty easy to kick field goals. But every week the competition gets a little bit better. The field goal moves a little farther down, and you got to push your guys and push your team to be better and stronger.
Q. What, if anything, did you expect to be difficult that really wasn't? What was easy for you?
ROBBY GORDON: I think the easy part of it's always been the driving part of it. Making our racecars fast, making our racecars light, making our race team efficient has probably been the most difficult thing.
But, you know, like I said, we're four years into it now. So if an opportunity opened up for a second car, we do have a lot of our policies and procedures in place, and our systems where we're kind of routine now. And we're not racing the race of Wednesday or Thursday to get the car in the hauler. We're actually racing the race on the racetrack, and that's the most important thing.
HERB BRANHAM: Robby Gordon, thank you very much for joining us today. Best of luck this weekend. In addition to racing Sunday in the Centurion Boats at the Glen, NASCAR's Sprint Cup race, you're also racing Saturday in the Nationwide event, the Zippo 200. Good luck this weekend.
ROBBY GORDON: Thank you very much. Good talking to you guys.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media who participated today. As always, we appreciate the coverage.
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