JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET, met with media and discussed the fast speeds at Michigan the upcoming road race at Sonoma, the preparation and expectations of repaved tracks, and more. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
CAN YOU ABLE TO GO FLAT AROUND HERE?
“No, no. I think qualifying is going to be extremely fast. And you’re doing to need to be as close to flat as we’ll ever come to this place. Some guys might not get all the way out of the throttle, but no; I think you’re going to have to lift a little. But it’s extremely fast. It’s fun to drive, but at the same time it’s a little hair-raising at times when you realize how fast you’re going.”
REGARDING DANGER WITH HIGHER SPEEDS:
“I feel like our sport is extremely safe until something goes wrong. And it doesn’t matter if you’re going 220 mph or 150 mph. You don’t want to hit anything. There’s always that dangerous side of it everywhere we go. And this weekend everything is perfectly safe and fun unless something goes wrong. But at these speeds if it happens at the wrong place you know, there’s some unknowns that are out there that are going to certainly; I think the speeds, to me, I’m not looking at it from the danger-side of it. I think it’s pretty cool that we’re going that fast. The cars feel good. They’re certainly stuck to the race track. But there’s no doubt in the back of all of our minds, you don’t want anything to go wrong at that speed. And, that’s part of racing.”
HOW WOULD IT IMPACT YOU EMOTIONALLY TO GO FOUR YEARS IN BETWEEN WINS?
“Ahh….(laughs)….yeah, when you go four months it’s tough enough. I think it all depends on the expectations. If you’ve won a lot of races and then you go into a slump like that then it weighs heavy; probably even more heavy on you because you came to not just expect it, but you feel like you’re capable and your team is capable of winning on a more regular basis. So when that all of a sudden doesn’t come, it’s much tougher to handle. But also, if you do get that win, it makes you appreciate it a whole lot more.”
ON DALE EARNHARDT JR. RUNNING CONSISTENTLY WELL BUT STILL NOT WINNING YET
“To me, up until last week, I felt like they were a team that was just strong and consistent and doing a great job, but not really a team that showed like they really had what it took to win. Last week they showed by dominating that race that they really stepped-up their game this year and have a real legitimate shot at winning races. And I think, in order to win the championship, I know we all say oh you don’t have to win, but I feel like you do kind of have to win.
“Somewhere throughout the season, you need to win and show that you’re capable of doing that. And I think they showed to me some great stride and steps last week, which I think makes them a lot more legitimate and real contenders. You can just see in the team and the debriefs when you’re talking to Junior, there’s more confidence there. And that definitely helps you make good decisions and have better performances on Sunday.”
HOW MUCH MORE WORK GOES INTO PREPARATION FOR A RACE LIKE THIS WHEN YOU’RE RUNNING ON A NEW SURFACE WHERE YOU DON’T HAVE A LOT OF NOTES TO REFER TO?
“Well we tire-tested here, so I feel like we got some really good information. The track is fairly similar to the way the test went and so I feel like we were able to do our homework. When we come and do a tire test, all that information is shared with our teammates as well; and then allows them to be better prepared. There are very few teams that either don’t have some kind of information about the track from the tire test, or can’t grasp it very quickly just by understanding what a new (surface is), the tire data; everybody gets the tire data, they have a pretty good idea that it’s going to be smooth and it’s going to be fast. And so you just really start maximizing everything on the car to get that speed out of it and get more aggressive with it. So, to me it’s just now little tiny fine-tuning that we do and just find the limits of the tire and the car and the track.”
DOES NASCAR NEED TO BRING TESTING BACK, ESPECIALLY NEXT YEAR?
“When I’m done racing I hope they do; that would be great (laughter). We spend so few days at home as it is now. We’re learning so much at the shop with simulation and 7-post and wind tunnel that I feel like we’re very well prepared when we get to the race track, more so than we ever have been. I don’t think we’re lacking in testing.”
NASCAR SAID THEY’RE NOT READY TO USE PLATES OR ANYTHING.
“What’s the plate talk? I don’t understand. What, because we can’t go 220 miles an hour on a straightaway? We’re not doing 220 through the corner. That’s the difference between Daytona and Talladega, you do 220 through the corner. And while 220 is definitely fast, I think by Sunday that pace is going to drop.
“I think you’re going to have moments and blips of those types of speeds, but it’s going to be hot. There’s going to be more rubber on the track, just like we saw at Pocono. It’s going to be similar to that pace. To me, that pace was almost like a second off immediately on Sunday at Pocono. And I think you’re going to see something similar to here where the pace is going to be down enough where I think we’re going to be fine with the speeds.”
EVEN IF THEY PUT THE PLATES ON?
“It would be the worst racing we’ve ever had.”
THEY BUNCH YOU UP AND CREATE MORE POSSIBILITY FOR THINGS…
“We’ll go faster through the corners. And then they haven’t done anything. It would be a huge mistake. I think Daytona and Talladega are the only places that should ever have plates and I question them there. So, we certainly don’t want them here.”
DO YOU LIKE RACING AT SONOMA? DO YOU DREAD IT?
“I love Sonoma. For so many reasons I like going there. I love the area. Obviously it’s home for me and where I was born and family and friends come out. I love the wine country. That’s one of the reasons why I have my own wine. And that track has been great to us. To me, the challenges that come along with it are a lot of fun and one that I always look forward to as a driver.”
ON TESTING AT VIR AND ROAD ATLANTA
“I hope we made some gains. We had limited at Road Atlanta and that’s not the best track to test at for Sonoma. I think our testing was more for Watkins Glen than anything else. But it’s still good to get out there and check out the new EFI and try to make some steps forward with our road course program because we have not been as competitive, especially at Watkins Glen, as we have in the past. I think we’ve made some small gains and I look forward to putting them out there on the race track. I feel like we learned a lot last year on the road course. We definitely missed the set-up and I feel pretty confident we’re not going to do what we did there this last year, and I feel like we’re already going to be ahead of the game.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE SONOMA TRACK IN ONE WORD?
“It’s just challenging. It’s very challenging. To me, it’s a track where you have to be really precise and be more patient; where at Watkins Glen, you’ve got to attack really hard and be aggressive. I feel like Sonoma is the exact opposite of that. I think that suits me a little bit better.”
“There are several tracks we can win at. I’ll be honest; the way we’ve run on the road courses, Sonoma is not the one on our list. I look at Indy, Bristol, New Hampshire. We’ve run so good this year that I think there’s no reason why we can’t win this weekend or any other 1.5-mile, or even the short tracks. I feel like we’ve just been that good this year. And yeah, we’ve got to put it all together. We’ve just got to put some complete races together and it’s a lot to ask. I’m not saying it’s going to happen easily, but it’s certainly something that I think we’re capable of doing.”
HOW MUCH FASTER WOULD THIS TRACK HAVE TO BE FOR IT TO BE TOO FAST?
“Oh, it’s right there. I mean it’s right there on the edge of being too fast right now. It’s very, very fast. But too fast for what? For safety? We’ll find out this weekend. Only time will tell. We’re out there running single-car runs. Nobody has lost control or had any kind of a problem or failure, so at this point we’re all good. But until that happens, we won’t really know.”
THERE ARE MIXED OPINIONS BUT YOU SEEM TO BE EXCITED ABOUT IT
“I love Michigan. I’ve always loved to come here and go fast. We did the tire test here and we knew it was going to be fast, but if we didn’t have Safer barriers, seats, seatbelts that we have in there, the HANS device, I wouldn’t be saying that. But we’ve made everything safer. And I can promise you, I don’t want anything to go wrong. But if it does go wrong, I feel a lot more confident in what we have out there.
“And I feel like the pace is going to drop when we get into the race. I’m more concerned with what kind of racing we’re going to put on than I am with the safety aspect of it right now. It’s going to be tougher to pass I think than it was last weekend. You’re going to have to really respect the speed, the track, and your competitors out there. If we do that, we can make those speeds be very entertaining and fun this weekend.”
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT BUMPING AT THOSE SPEEDS?
“Somebody ‘tweeted’ me yesterday about bump-drafting. I had to laugh about that. We will not be doing any bump-drafting.”
ARE YOU WORRIED THAT IT’S GOING TO BE A BORING RACE?
“I don’t think it’s going to be boring. I’ve never been to a boring race, I’ll be honest. From where I sit, it’s never boring. From the spectators’ standpoint, it could happen. But we know that going into a repave. That’s just the nature of a repave, and yet we go to Pocono and that was a great race. I thought we saw some things there that were very promising for a repave. Unfortunately they didn’t use the same pavement here. So this is a little bit trickier. We’re not going to have as much fall-off and groove widening-out as much here. But yet, it’s going to happen. You’ve got Nationwide and ARCA before our race.
“We’ll find out so much more by Sunday. It’s a little earlier to really know how wide the groove’s going to be and what kind of passing is going to happen and what kind of side-by-side racing is going to happen. I can promise you that you’re not going to want to go in there side-by-side at 218 mph. You’re right on one another’s door. That’s not going to be good. So, some guys are going to use that to their advantage, you know? And that’s where I talk about that respect level of at what point do you push that and take it too far? The guy on the inside has got to be smart; the guy on the outside has got to be smart. And it could be a heck of a race. Who knows?”
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF GOING BACK TO DAYTONA FOR THE SECOND TIME AROUND AFTER THAT REPAVE?
“It’s more than a second time isn’t it? But yeah, I think it’s going to be a race similar to the one we saw in Daytona in February. It will be a little bit hotter and slicker, but at this point I’m not even really sure if NASCAR has decided what the rules are going to be for Daytona in July; what the opening’s going to be, what the plate is going to be. So, I really haven’t even started thinking about Daytona.”
“To me, after last year with what Tony (Stewart) did, I look at the Chase and the championship and the points right now in a totally different way. They mean nothing other than you’re in. And to me, I’ve not seen one stand-out team or driver to this point in the season yet. And I don’t think we will because Tony was nowhere in sight and just got on fire, you know? And so who knows who that team can be when the Chase starts. Matt Kenseth (current point-leader) is such a great driver and a consistent driver with a great team, why would you not put him down as a real threat? I think there’s a handful of guys out there right now that you can say that about.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT KASEY KANE HAS BROUGHT TO THE TEAM?
“I’ve always felt like those guys have a lot to bring. It’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to see him come to Hendrick. Kasey is a great driver. Kenny (Francis) is a great crew chief; but they’re both pretty quiet and to themselves. And so, it takes a little bit of time when you come into Hendrick Motorsports and how we go about sharing our information, I think it’s unique to any other organization out there. But it’s one of the things that has gotten us to this level and I think it’s the thing that’s going to keep us at this level is that open communication. You have to believe in your own skills and your own team and what you can do. When you believe in that, you have no problems with opening up about the things that you’re doing and trying that might be different than other teams. And that’s what I’ve seen evolve with them over the last couple of months.”
HAS KASEY KANE BEEN MORE OUTSPOKEN RECENTLY?
“Well, I feel like they’ve gotten more competitive. And whether it’s things that they are doing a little different or just finally started to click with our cars. Our cars are different than what they’ve had in the past. But because they’re starting to have something that they feel like they can add to the meetings. Where before it was, we don’t have anything to add because we’re not running good enough; but now they’re running good enough and they’re saying okay, we did this and we did this and we did this. And the lap times are backing it up. And so others in the room feel like hey, we need to make sure we’re paying attention to what they’re doing because these guys are capable of winning races. They’re smart and that’s value.”
DO YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO LOOK AT THE STANDINGS AT ALL?
“Not when you’re 22nd. I don’t look at the standings where I’m at. And I even rarely do that. Unless you’re kind of right there in 8th to 11th or 12th that to me is the highest pressure place to be in the points because if you don’t have the wins, you could fall out. To me, the most consistent drivers have to be those guys because the pressure is on them to maintain and stay in the top 10. And usually when you’re in that position, you’re good enough to be there, but not good enough to (not worry), and so you have a little more pressure on yourself. When you’re back where I’m at, you just have to win. It’s the only chance you have. And so, it’s like this is it. Probably unlikely that we’re going to make it but we’re good enough and running good enough that we can win races. So, if we finally start to put it together, we’ll make it in. And if we don’t, we’ll start working on it next year.
“If we were running 25th every weekend, I would not be real happy. But when we’re up-front leading and top five and tires and blown engines and silly crazy things that we’ve had happen to us, some of that is self-inflicted and those are the ones that are the hardest ones to accept are the ones that we put ourselves in that position. And it’s not been a fun year. It’s not something that we’re used to being that far back in the points, but we also know we’re a lot better than that.”
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