Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Farm Ville/AARP Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, met with media and discussed racing at Bristol with the new surface changes, racing with teammates, the importance of sponsors in the sport, taking risks, and more.
WHAT DO Y0U THINK OF THE RACE TRACK? “Right now, it’s just normal. I think actually the left-side tire that Goodyear has brought here is probably the biggest change I’ve seen so far. We’ve been challenged with trying to figure it out and get the car to turn in the center but not too loose getting in. I haven’t ventured up (the track) too high. I watched the Truck race the other night and yeah, it narrowed-up the groove and makes side-by-side racing a little bit more challenging, but it’s pretty minimal so far from what I’ve seen.”
WHY DID YOU REACT TO DALE EARNHARDT JR. ON THE TRACK LIKE YOU DID IN MICHIGAN LAST WEEK? “It would have been my reaction to anybody. At the time, those re-starts are crucial, and on those restarts, I was already three-wide and a little bit loose and you want to gain as many spots (as possible) on those restarts, not lose any spots. And so he went in there and did what he had to do. That’s fine. And I was mad but I got over it fast. It wasn’t that big of a deal but it kind of became a bigger deal with the way that the messages got misconstrued. But I get fired-up, man. I saw things all the time. I guess you guys (the media) don’t air it or listen to it when it’s not towards Junior.”
DON’T YOU SEE WHY IT’S A BIG DEAL? IT IS BECAUSE IT’S THE TWO OF YOU “Yeah, but why can I not say anything to him but I can say that to somebody else and it’s not a big deal? To me, at that moment I’m not thinking about that’s my teammate. I’m thinking I had to check-up to keep from wrecking us and it just cost me like five more spots, so I was mad.
“I sent him a text immediately when that race was over. I didn’t feel like I had to do it; I just wanted to make sure that he understood what I said and, and that we could move (past it). Listen, when we had the incident here, he called me. That stuff happens. I think people don’t understand what teammates are or something in this sport. Teammates are you share information and you get along but you’re still competitors out there and some days you don’t get along. There are moments like that that can maybe be even tougher because you’re teammates. You’ve got to work together and you’re going to see one another at the meeting coming up on Tuesday, so you’ve got to work out your differences pretty quickly.”
ARE YOU AT THE POINT WHERE YOU HAVE TO WIN OR YOU’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE THE CHASE? “I think we have to win. I feel like we’re right back to where we were before Pocono. And had the last couple of weeks gone better for us, and then I don’t think that would have necessarily been the case. And it might still have been. When you’ve got guys like Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman, guys that can win at any time, that pressure is on that you’ve got to step-up your game and win too. But we were in a much more uncomfortable position where we might not have had to win, but now we have no other choice. We pretty much have to win because I don’t know if we could gain those points back. But all we can do is to go to each race and fight has hard as we can to try to win and get the best finish we can. And we’re going to end up where we end up.”
CAN YOU TAKE ANY MORE RISKS THAN NORMAL? “I always love this question. I don’t know how I take any more risks than I already do every weekend, because I’m trying to win every weekend. Can we try to run it out of fuel? Yeah, we could do that. But there are calculated risks and that’s what we’ll do. I mean, we’re in a position where we know how bad we’ve got to win, so yeah, as a strategy and two tires versus four tires, fuel, all that stuff, we can be more risky with that and we may be; if it works to our advantage and it looks like that could help us win a race. But there’s not much more I can do other than bump-and-runs and stuff like that. And if we’re in a position to win the race, we’re going to do what we’ve got to do win the race. It wouldn’t be any different.”
CAN YOU STILL PASS WITHOUT DOING A BUMP AND RUN? “Well, I saw (Brad) Keselowski’s paint scheme and man, that brought back some great old memories. So, I hope I don’t get them mixed up that it’s Rusty (Wallace) still in that car. No, I don’t think what they did to the track really is going to make that that much more significant, but if that’s what it takes to win, then that’s what it takes to win.
“Every scenario is different. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Other times, it’s just getting position on them and trying to complete the pass. Sometimes its two tires are better than four. There’s a lot of ways to try to make it happen. Unless they go back and make the groove on the bottom the preferred line; it’s hard to recreate what they had there before. And it’s going to be kind of hard for that bump and run to be as good as it used to be.”
DID YOU HEAR WHAT KESELOWSKI SAID LAST WEEK ABOUT HMS CARS DOING TRICKS? I’ve said this all year long. Our guys work hard; and they’re smart. And our cars have been through NASCAR tech more than anybody’s this year. And each time we come out of there without an issue. So I say, one. You need to ride behind your own car before you talk about other people’s cars because his car looks his car looks just like every other car, in my opinion. The other one is just go to work, you know? Our guys are working hard. That’s why we’re where we’re at and we’ve got some good stuff happening.”
ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT NASCAR WILL MAKE SOME RULE CHANGES IN THAT AREA OF THE CAR? “We’re concerned every weekend. You never know what they’re going to do. They make decisions on the fly and we take them as they come.”
DO YOU THINK IT HELPS TO RUN IN DIFFERENT RACING SERIES? “Some guys it might help. It hurt me. When I drove the Nationwide Car, the cars are so much different I was running back and forth and back and forth; I felt like it was a distraction to my program over here (Cup). I didn’t feel like I was giving my team over here 100 percent doing that. And if I had felt like it was a gain, what I was learning on the track, then I would have continued to do it. To me, it actually hurt me. The cars drive so much different. You go out and qualify your Nationwide car and then you jump in your Cup car to go qualify, and I felt like they had to drive so much different that it made me miss my points and my check-ups and braking points; and just the way I went through the center of the corner in my Cup car, and that’s why I don’t do it anymore. But I really have to guess that most guys run the Nationwide Series, not because they are trying to gain something for Sunday, they do it because their car owner has a program that needs to be funded; or they want some extra money. There are guys that love the competition and it’s fun and exciting, or if you’ve got a guy like Kyle (Busch) who started his own team. Most guys who are doing it aren’t doing it because they’re thinking it’s really going to gain them a lot. That’s my opinion, anyway.”
HOW MUCH OF YOU BEHAVIOR IS AFFECTED BY THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE A SPONSOR? DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR SPONSOR IN EVERYTHING YOU DO? “Well, that doesn’t mold you into who you are. It just either adds to what you do and who you are, or it kind of puts you at certain limits. I mean, DuPont is a Fortune 500 company that’s pretty conservative and so I try to represent them the best way I can. Drive to End Hunger is a cause-driven sponsorship and I try to represent them the best way I can. Luckily for them, and for DuPont, I believe in the their philosophies and their business sense and the way they go about things, so it helps me to not have to bend that much from who I am. When PepsiMax comes to me and wants to do a viral video, I kind of step outside the boundaries of which I am and have a little more fun. I don’t mind that either, but it’s not necessarily always who I am on a day to day basis, but a lot of people enjoy it because they get to see a different side of me. So, absolutely our sponsors play a big role. If your sponsor is AMP Energy drink, then you can do more edgy things.”
DO YOU HAVE TO WATCH WHAT YOU DO AND SAY BECAUSE YOU HAVE A SPONSOR? “Oh, let me tell you. Sponsors and the commitment to our sport and what they put into our teams has changed this sport forever. It plays a very significant role because we can’t operate out here without a sponsor. And if we do something that puts our sponsor’s commitment to us in jeopardy, it affects us in a big, big way. And so, I know where you’re going with it and I agree with it and so, when people sometimes say oh well, the driver can’t be himself so they’ve got to kind of hold back, absolutely. Absolutely. And that will never change as long as sponsors are what’s driving that driving that team for being out there on the race track.”
HOW MUCH ARE YOU LOOKING AT ATLANTA AS THE DEFENDING WINNER AS MAYBE YOUR ACE IN THE HOLE IF YOU NEED TO WIN? “Honestly, I feel like we have pocket aces and an ace king suited for Richmond. I feel like this is a great track for us. We’ve run very well here in the last two or three times we’ve been here. This is a track that we can win at. Atlanta absolutely we won there last year another track we can win at. Richmond is a track that we have run very well at but we struggled the last time we were there so we have some work to do there. I still feel like we can get that, improve that. The next three tracks are great tracks for us. They are also good tracks for some other drivers.”
IS IT IMPORTANT TO GET A SENSE OF LIKE ATLANTA USED TO BE A TWICE ANNUAL STOP AND NOW YOU GO ALMOST A YEAR WITHOUT GOING BACK IS IT HARD TO GO IN THERE WITH THE SAME CONFIDENCE? “The whole key is for the track to not change and the tire to not change. If that happens then it’s just looking at how the cars have changed. I feel like the cars have evolved since last year. It’s whether or not we can incorporate some of those engineering ideas into that track. It’s very abrasive which makes it very grippy for the first couple of laps and then the fall off is huge. Mechanical grip and down force is key. It’s always that balance between is mechanical grip overriding the down force or is down force overriding mechanical grip. We’ve gained in down force so will it work or will it be too much of a penalty for mechanical grip so we will find that out when we get there and I feel like we are going to be very competitive.”
INAUDIBLE “They have ground the track and they have changed the left-side tire. It’s always something new. They are changing tires here, repave here, those are the biggest challenges that I see. Kansas is such an unknown because we have no clue what it’s going to be like of course we don’t have to really worry about that unless… I mean we have to worry about it but we will worry about it later if we get in the Chase how significant it is to us.”
THOSE VARIABLES ARE BAD FOR YOU GUYS DO YOU THINK IT HURTS THE SHOW A LITTLE BIT NOT TO HAVE MORE CONSISTENCY? “Well I’m always challenging Goodyear to keep bringing a tire that has a little more grip at the beginning and falls off a little bit more as we run because I think that makes a better race. I think that is their goal what they are trying to accomplish. I applaud them in that and I hope that they continue that but it would be nice to see them do that over the off season so that it stays the same for both races if there is a track that has two races.”
LAST YEAR YOU WON THAT RACE (AT ATLANTA) DURING THE DAY IS THERE MUCH DIFFERENCE IN THAT TRACK IN THE DAY VERSUS AT NIGHT?“It is going to change things a little bit for us. Usually the cars get a little big freer at night because the front just turns better. We will have to adjust and adapt to that and think about that when we are setting the car up looking at the weather versus what we had last year. During the day the track is a little slower loses a little more grip. What it takes to be good during the day is defiantly a little different than what it is going to be at night. I prefer the day race obviously. I think we can get it for the night race as well.”
HOW HAS STEVE LETARTE EVOLVED OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS? “Steve has never lacked in confidence to open conversations up and be conversational. He likes to talk and that is good because it loosens things up and I think that you know like with Junior, he took it on real seriously as a project and they connected. He found a way to connect with him. And then they started getting results and started to build confidence. I think for me, being my crew chief when you don’t do good it’s all your fault, right? And that is not necessarily how it should be the case. I am certainly not perfect and make plenty of mistakes and the sport is always evolving and I try to do my best. But when Junior is your driver, I feel like with them not having that much success I feel like when they did start having success it just allowed him to have event that much more confidence. With me it’s like even if you won a few races it’s still like well why didn’t you win four, five, why didn’t you win the championship? With Junior they can show consistent good runs, win a race and he’s a hero. I think they have really been able to build on that. I think it’s fantastic.”
EVEN WITH THAT CONFIDENCE DID STEVE (LETARTE) HAVE TO ADJUST TO THAT ROLE? “He was born to be a crew chief. He had to adjust to being a boss and managing people just like every other crew chief. Crew chiefs can be great and understand the cars, the teams, drivers, but when you become the boss and you’re in charge of all these things there are challenges you can never prepare for. He’s always been a confident leader and I think that has only grown.”
WHAT DID HE HAVE TO DO TO PROVE HIS LEADERSHIP TO YOU? HOW DID HE DO THAT IN YOUR EARLY DAYS TOGETHER? “We finished second in points in 2007. We always got along really well. He is easy to get along with. Even though Junior and I have two totally different personalities he still has found a way to connect with him. That is the kind of person that he is. He is very personable. I think he understands that dynamic is very important to build in a relationship and trust in one another. That is what he did with me. We already had that working together and we worked together for years. He and I always had a good connection. We didn’t have to work on that. Obviously, it didn’t take that long for him to work on that or make that happen with Junior as well.”