Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, met with media and discussed his luck and disappointment in the season thus far, preparation for the Coca-Cola 600, side skirts, and more.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ALL-STAR MEMORY? “I think my favorite was the Jurassic Park No. 24 car that we had here. It was a special paint scheme and special promotion. Back then, they had three segments and we won all three segments; so we dominated, obviously that day. So that’s my favorite because we designed a new car for this race that was amazing. Back then, you could do that. You could have some creativity and bring it to the track and fit the templates and pass inspection but have a pretty big advantage. Now days, you don’t have that. You’ve got the claw and the common template and the way these cars are designed and the rules that we’re under now, you just can’t do that anymore. Or, if you do, it’s because you worked really, really hard and found something very, very small. So that was my favorite.”
HOW FAR ARE YOU WILLING TO DO TO WIN THAT MILLION DOLLARS? ARE YOU WILLING TO WRECK SOMEBODY? “You’ve got to push hard. You look at the highlights of this race and I’m glad that we’re back to this 10-lap shootout at the end because the highlights of this race will always show you two cars running side-by-side trying to get the edge through (Turns) 1 and 2, or (Turns) 3 and 4; one slides up and boom; hits the other one. There’s a lot of contact because people are putting everything out there on the line because they want to win this race. And that was back before it paid a million dollar. Now, it pays a lot more. There’s more on the line. There’s more prestige. The sport has grown. So yeah, you’ll do pretty much anything.”
DO YOU THINK YOUR LUCK WILL CHANGE WITH BEING ABLE TO RACE AT HOME IN CHARLOTTE? “I hope so. It’s been a while since we’ve really dominated or been in contention to win this All-Star race in the way we used to. But, I think we’ve got a race car and a race team that can do it this year; we just have to have more things go our way. I certainly hope we can show that this weekend; and really just get some momentum on our side because it doesn’t just happen in one race, but right now with the way our season is going, we’ll take whatever we can get (laughs).”
HOW WAS PRACTICE? “We didn’t do a qualifying run so we were down the list. We struggled. We’re trying some new things. It didn’t go great. But I don’t remember a practice for me in the daytime for a nighttime race did go great. It’s just kind of my MO you know. I’m really trying to find the balance. We would have liked to have been further up the board because we don’t want to go first for qualifying, so that might hurt us a little bit, track-condition-wise. But I don’t think it’s a reflection of how we’re going to run tomorrow night.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU USE THE ALL-STAR WEEKEND TO PREPARE FOR THE COCA-COLA 600 WEEKEND? “We need points and we need wins. So obviously the 600 is far more important to us than this All-Star race; but we can use this All-Star race as a test session for next week. So we’re going to go outside of our comfort zone and our box and try some new things and we’ll see how it goes. That’s why we’re down the list there in practice because It was more unique and different than we expected and it’s going to take a little bit more work and hopefully by tomorrow we can find it”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHERE YOU STAND IN MAKING THE CHASE THIS YEAR? “Well, it doesn’t look good right now. But we’re basing that off being in the top 10 in points. To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the top 10 in points if you’re running eighth every weekend. You’re not going to win the championship that way. So, to me it’s about winning races and I know that we’ve been capable of winning races this year even though the results don’t show for it. I don’t know what the secret is to figure why things haven’t gone our way. We need to change our luck; change something we’re doing. I feel like our cars are good. We’re running competitively and all we can do is just go to the next race and keep working to improve and get some breaks to go our way. And there’s no doubt (if) you win two or three races, you’re in the Chase. So we’re not counting ourselves out of the Chase at all.”
WHAT MAKES THE 600 SO DIFFICULT? “Well, it’s the length of the race as well as the start time versus when it ends. It’s one of the most unique races on the circuit, and this track is very temperature-sensitive. It always has been. So we start the race guessing on what the balance needs to be got the daytime and as the sun goes down, it changes drastically and you have to be prepared not only for those changes, but you can’t get too far behind at the beginning, but you also don’t want to be too good at the beginning. So it’s a challenge. It’s a long race and a lot can happen. And I think that suits us. I really do. I think a long race is one of our strong points.”
BECAUSE IT IS SUCH A LONG RACE, WHAT IS THAT LAST 100 MILES LIKE? “My first 600 I would have told you it felt like it was a thousand miles. It just seemed so, so, long. And I can remember asking if we were half-way yet. We weren’t even half way. Oh my gosh; I thought we were getting close to the end. It’s just such a long race. These days I’ve learned, you just don’t really ask until you think you’re getting close to the end. And your team does a good job of keeping you up to date on what’s going on. But I would say the biggest challenge for me is just trying to manage my fluid intakes and getting something in my stomach because you can get really dehydrated in this race if you’re not careful.
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANYTHING WITH THE CHANGE IN THE SIDE SKIRTS? “We’re trying some unique things on the set so we weren’t very good. We struggled. So, I’m not basing that off of side skirts. If you look at what we learned in the wind tunnel, there’s a slight difference but not huge. We didn’t expect to see a big difference in that. I can’t say that I did.”
ARE YOU A SUPERSTITIOUS PERSON? IF SO, HAVE YOU CHANGED ANYTHING TO TRY TO GET YOUR LUCK TO CHANGE? “I’m not a superstitious person. I feel like I’ve been dealt everything along the way throughout my career. I’ve been racing a long time. I’ve gone through all the different scenarios of trying lucky charms to not focusing on lucky charms; and I’ve been successful with both and I’ve been unsuccessful with both. To me, it’s hard work.
“It’s preparation. It’s just being a solid team and going out there and in this case, we’re being tested for a reason. We don’t know what that reason is right now, but we hope that it’s to make us stronger and better and be more prepared when it’s time to win the Championship. It boggles your mind, I’ll be honest, when the race is over like last week and you’re just shaking you head going, ‘Really? Did that just happen?’
YOU USED TO SEE GUYS LIKE A.J. FOYT AND MARIO ANDRETTI COME AND JUMP INTO A CAR AND WIN AT DAYTONA. BUT ANY OPEN WHEEL PERSON WHO HAS COME OVER HAS REALLY HAD A LONG TRANSITION. IS IT BECAUSE OF THE COMPETITION? “I think how diversified you were as a race car driver back then was a big part of racing. Mario; A.J. is another one, but he’s driving Dirt Champ Cars, Sprint Cars, IndyCars, Formula I cars, stock cars. I think that, also back then, I think the F-1 cars and the IndyCars were the ones, and Mario would be the best one to ask about this, but there’s a point where you weren’t driving a car that was all about down force. And you’re just driving the car kind of sideways and managing all those skill that you had to have to drive those cars like that. I would guess that there were some characteristics that seemed to be common with those types of cars, back then, that you could go to all these different forms of racing, be in good equipment because everywhere he went he was in good equipment, and be able to drive the cars and not be so drastically different. But today with aerodynamics, tire development and all those things, I feel like there are big drastic differences between our cars and Formula I cars and IndyCars.
“I do want to touch on something on these side skirts. I’m glad that NASCAR is going in that direction and I think it’s a baby step, but it’s a baby step. And I think they know that. But what everybody needs to understand is that when we started dealing with aero tight and track position being so important, is when we started sealing these cars down to the ground. I can remember here in 1994 and 1995. My front air dam was this far off the race track in the corner (demonstrates approx. 6 inches with hands). There was air going under the car and coming out the back. The cars had a smaller greenhouse. There was more air getting around the car going to the car behind. So that’s why this aero-stuff wasn’t as prevalent back then. Mechanical grip was more important than or equally as important as downforce.
“There became a point when we started realizing how important the downforce thing was, we started twisting the bodies, we started gaining all this downforce; sealing the car down to the race track and pitching the car to get the downforce and we started going really, really fast. And ever since then is when the trailing car started becoming a bigger disadvantage and being out front became a much bigger advantage. So, like I said; it’s a baby step and they’ve got to figure out how to get more air around the car to the back as well as more air underneath. The skirt is just a way to eliminate some of the sealing off of that front car; but as long as we have a splitter, then we know we’ve got to have it sealed. If you were watching that truck practice today, they showed that truck pop-up behind the other one down the front straightaway. That, to me says it all. That tells you exactly what aerodynamically is going on with all the cars. And it’s not just on a straightaway. And so it’s great that they are understanding that, and addressing that, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
AND THE HOPE IS THAT MAKES IT A LITTLE BIT LESS OF AN ADVANTAGE TO BE THE LEADER, RIGHT? “I agree with you. We’ve got a long way to go before that’s going to happen. I mean it’s a step. And in the middle of the season, you can’t just reinvent everything. But and I’ll say this too: We’ve got away too many smart engineers on all these teams working on these cars to make them go fast, that I don’t feel like we’re tapping into, to come up with those kind of ideas and far better ones.”
IS THIS SOMETHING THAT CAN BE ADDRESSED WITH THE 2013 RACE CAR? “Last time I checked, those things were moving into production. We can put the skirts on it, but it doesn’t have the things that I think really need to happen.”
DO WE NEED TO HAVE A SYMPOSIUM OR A MEETING OF THE MINDS SOMEWHERE AND REALLY THINK ABOUT RE-ENGINEERING THIS WHOLE DEAL INSTEAD OF TAKING BABY STEPS EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION? “The 2013 car, the teams were far more involved with designing this car with NASCAR and the manufacturers than we’ve ever been before. So, I think that was a step forward. But, it’s one of 10 steps.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT MARCOS AMBROSE AND JUAN PABLO MONTOYA THAT MAKES THEM SO GOOD AT WATKINS GLEN? AND WHEN YOU GO, ARE THOSE THE 2 GUYS YOU HAVE TO MEET? “Well we finally got some really good road racers into the qualify teams that also have experience on a week-to-week basis with the team with understanding the cars. We never had that before. We had these road racing specialists come in on a one-off race with like a third-tiered team and they didn’t have a lot of experience with the team or the car. Once you got some guys who had those kinds of skills, they show what they’re really capable of doing. And it made everybody else step-up.
“So, I look at like A.J. Allmendinger this year. I think in a Penske car, A.J., I think he’s going to be really tough to beat. Marcos is fast and I expect him to be competitive. Juan is hit or miss. Keselowski surprised me with how strong he was. We’ve seen Kyle Busch be strong. We’ve seen Tony Stewart maintain strength. So, those are the guys that I would put on the list right now. We’re really hoping we can make some gains there because we feel like we’re either missing something. We’re either missing the driver or missing the car. But we’re bound and determined to try to figure it out with the package that we have.”
GIVEN YOUR POSITION RIGHT NOW IN THE STANDINGS, ARE YOU AT THE POINT NOW WHERE YOU HAVE TO TAKE MORE RISKS OR GAMBLE WITH SET-UPS AND THE THINGS YOU DO IN THE CAR TO TRY TO GET A WILD CARD SPOT? “There’s nothing more we can do. We’re trying to win every weekend. It’s not like we’re riding mid-pack and didn’t have a problem. We’re battling hard and what more can you do than what we did at Martinsville? I even look at Bristol. We had a really strong car that day. The No. 88 (Earnhardt Jr.) got into me and cut my tire. Those types of things; I mean there’s nothing more we can do. It’s always interesting what people say. Oh, now you can take more risks. We’re taking risks all the time. There’s nobody out there trying not to win.
‘We’re all doing whatever we can to win. Now, if I’m running second to somebody and I’ve got a chance to get to them and get myself into the Chase or win that race, you can be sure that that is an opportunity that has not come along that much for us this year and we’re going to take advantage of it. And I hope that person knows that I’m sorry before it happens.”
IS IT ALMOST MORE FRUSTRATING THE WAY THIS YEAR HAS GONE THAT YOU HAVE RUN WELL AND HAD THIS POOR LUCK? “I’ll be honest. To me it’s more frustrating to get beat for the championship and finish second than what we’re going through. To me, when you finish second in the championship, you weren’t good enough. That’s not the case right now. We are a good team and we’re just having some bad stuff happen. And we’re being tested and I hope there is a reason why we’re being tested that’s going to make us stronger because of it; and that we do recover and get out of it and learn from it.”