NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 8, 2012Eastern Indiana Sports
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We are joined by Jeff Gordon, driver of the No.24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. The four?time champion scored his first win of 2012 and his 86th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory Sunday.
Gordon has rerouted from a 35th place ranking following the Daytona 500 and currently sits second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series wild card standings.
Next on the schedule is the road course race at Watkins Glen International, where Gordon have four wins and nine top?10 finishes. He has more road course wins, nine, than any other driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.
Jeff, you have mentioned in interviews following the Pocono win that the win put more pressure on the team over these next several race weeks, but you are up to the challenge. Talk about how the team has persevered throughout the season, and what are your expectations the remaining five races leading into the Chase?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, we've talked about it several times, about going through a season like we're going through this year where we've had great racecars and have for different reasons come up short for the victory, and even at time with solid finishes that put us far back in the points.
When you go through something like that, it really tests you. It tests every aspect of the team, personalities. It either pulls you apart or it brings you closer together. I think the fact that we have been able to persevere, it's brought us closer and stronger together.
But eventually you have to have a win. I know this is probably not the victory that we were really looking for or the way that we wanted to win it, but the way our season has gone, as close as we've been, you know what, even the win under these circumstances is still going to be a great boost for us to go through these next five races.
Now there is more pressure because four, five weeks ago I don't know if we really felt legitimately there was a shot at us getting into the Chase. We knew how badly we needed one win. Now we've got one win. Hopefully we cannot only just keep the momentum going but take on that extra pressure of we do have a shot at it now and step up.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
We'll now go to the media for questions for today's teleconference guest, Jeff Gordon.
Q. Jeff, you haven't won at Watkins Glen in a decade, but you've been in contention more than a few times. What do you have to do to stay out of some of that bad stuff that's happened to you?
JEFF GORDON: Well, the first thing we have to do is have a good?performing car. We've had that obviously a lot this year.
I'll be honest. In the past few years, we have not had that at Watkins Glen. We sort of lost that edge and great performance that we've had in the past when we were winning there at Watkins Glen. We kind of lost that.
I'm really optimistic because I feel like we made some great gains at Sonoma this year, had a nice finish there. Qualified good there, as well. Sonoma and Watkins Glen are different, but we feel like the test we did at Road Atlanta earlier in the year, the things we're finding to improve the car in performance is going to pay off at Watkins Glen as well.
I'm hoping that's what we do first. Then knowing now that things can go our way if we put ourselves in the right place at the right time, we're very capable of pulling off top?5 finishes and even a win.
Q. I know you have a lot of racing left in you, but you obviously had a landmark there with the birthday, 41. Do you have a target date as to when you want to kind of pursue other things in life or are you taking it one season at a time as you go into the later years of your career?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I can't say there's necessarily a target date. With the unique situation I'm in, with an equity position at Hendrick Motorsports, the lifetime contract with Rick several years ago, most of the decision making happens when we're dealing with sponsors and doing sponsor contracts because that usually has more of a lifespan or a date on it of when it might need to be redone or up for negotiation to extend.
Right now at this time we're running good. Last year was a great year for us, even though we came up short in the Chase. Won three races. My kids are getting older. Those are the factors that have always played into my excitement, enthusiasm and passion for being out there on the racetrack because that is a lot of it.
If we're performing well, if we're getting results, and I'm healthy, then I want to keep doing it. Now that my kids are getting older and understanding a little bit more, it only drives me to want to do it longer and to do it better.
My health, even though I'm still battling this cold I had at Indy, other than that health?wise things are going well. I think I've got too good of a race team to even be thinking about that right now.
Listen, I know it's in the future. I have to be smart and at least think enough about it to plan for it if it happens. You hope that it happens on your own terms. Luckily I've got a great team around me ? not just my race team, but my stepfather and people in my office, Rick Hendrick. I've been able to put myself in a position to do some fun things when I'm not driving. I'll look forward to that day when it does come.
Q. You obviously have one of the best winning legacies at Watkins Glen. You're part of their track Hall of Fame. How important would making a statement that you could still win there be? 'A bookend' is maybe not the best way to put it, but how important would it be to reestablish that you can win at Watkins Glen?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, that would be huge. To follow up what just happened in Pocono, to know what's happening with the wild card, the battle for the Chase, I think that we know while we've made some huge gains over the last several weeks, that we're certainly in no position to take a breath or be comfortable with one win being, what, 13th in points.
Not only do we understand ? and that's why there is added pressure ? how important it is to continue to keep up a high level of performance. I don't know if we need the second win as badly as we needed the first one, but it's not far off. Plus, we just have not performed at a level recently of being able to pull off a win at Watkins Glen like we have in the past.
Yeah, it would be huge. That would not only help solidify us for getting in the Chase but make us a much bigger factor if we do get in.
Q. Jeff, I know you drive a Chevrolet. Do you have any reaction today to the news that Dodge is withdrawing from NASCAR at the end of the season?
JEFF GORDON: It's always a question mark and somewhat disappointing when a great American manufacturer who has been part of the sport for such a long time, you know, is making that decision. I don't know if there's really enough to read off of the statement of all their reasons for it.
I've never driven a Dodge. When you look at the limited number of teams that they've had in the past, you kind of had to feel that this was something that was coming. They're not growing within the sport with more teams; they were getting less and less.
I'm sure Penske was questioning that commitment and what they're capable of doing, being the only ones with a Dodge out there.
I guess it's not a huge surprise to me, but it is unfortunate because you want to see as many manufacturers, especially somebody like Dodge who has a heritage in our sport and history, to look at the sport and know this is something they have to be a part of.
Q. They're testing a new car today up at Martinsville. Does the prospect of driving a different vehicle next year, are you excited about it, worried about it? What is the mindset of going into a new vehicle?
JEFF GORDON: I'm excited about it. I think things that NASCAR's implementing into this car, involving the manufacturers and the teams to the level that they are, is a great step, going to be good for us, good for the sport, good for the fans. That falls back to good for the sponsors and everybody.
I think it's a good thing. The car is great?looking, which is think is step number one. Look forward to talking to Jimmie to see how it drove. I think there are some things currently that are pretty far out there. You see these cars dog tracking, running sideways down the straightaways, it's to make the cars have more grip, drive better, go faster. But it's kind of whacky to see them like that. That's something that they're trying to take away.
They're talking about taking some weight out of it. I'd like to see some more weight come out of it, but structurally it's hard to pull off. The car is very safe, and that is an important aspect of it. It's hard to find where that weight can come out.
I'm certainly a lot more excited than I was when the COT first came out because I feel like we've learned so much over the years, and all that we've learned and NASCAR has learned will be implemented into that car.
I think it's great. The manufacturers are excited about it because the product recognition, being able to win on Sunday and drive that car on Monday, or a customer wanting to buy that car, it's something that's important, something that is definitely going to be a big part of this car for 2013.
Q. What are the differences in driving Sonoma and Watkins Glen? What have you learned as a racecar driver that you might apply to daily driving? What do you wish drivers out there would know?
JEFF GORDON: The fast lane is for the fast lane (laughter).
No, I think I'll probably answer your second question first. In a racecar you're so much more aware of your surroundings, understanding what environment you're in, using your mirrors. I think a lot of people think racecar drivers are more brave?hearted and wild and crazy, but really I think it's about calculated risk.
On the street it's about being safe, getting from one point to the next, doing it calmly and safely. I think being a racecar driver has helped me really understand that better than ever.
Sometimes my wife says I don't drive fast enough on the street. But using your mirrors and all those things I think obviously helps me understand what's happening when changing lanes and all those things.
The difference between Sonoma and Watkins Glen are tremendous. If you were to look at Bristol and Martinsville and say they're both half?mile racetracks, what's the difference? It's obvious. One is high?banked and faster. The other one is flat, long straightaways, tight corners and hard braking. That's the difference between Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen is very high speed, much faster overall average speed, so you're carrying a lot more speed through the corners. You rely more on the downforce there than at Sonoma. You rely a lot more on the downforce, whereas at Sonoma it's more of a finesse driving, not locking up the tires, not getting the tire to wheel hop, as well as drive?off and mechanical grip is very important there, whereas Watkins Glen most of that comes from the amount of downforce and grip that you have in the car. You got to be a lot more aggressive at Watkins Glen than Sonoma.
Q. Jeff, have you talked to anybody at Pocono since the incident with the lightning? Is there a policy with the tracks or NASCAR that might have helped in that situation?
JEFF GORDON: We are trying to get contact information to reach out because we definitely want to do that. It's a very unfortunate situation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody that's been affected, especially the family of the gentleman that lost his life. That's high on our list right now. We're trying to put all that together as fast as we can.
As far as procedures and all those things, I think NASCAR is always in a difficult position when it comes to weather. I feel like they do a really good job working with the tracks, working with local officials to try to come up with the best scenario.
I kind of refer back to them as far as the details that that involved and let you make your own assessment.
Q. AJ Allmendinger said he called you after the positive test for some advice. Can you talk about that conversation and what you advised?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it was a private conversation. But I've always liked AJ. He reached out to me. I felt that as a friend and fellow racecar driver, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, to talk, see if I can help him in any way, understand what went on from a competitor's standpoint as well as from a friend.
I think he's going to work hard on that road to recovery to get back, and I think he understands the responsibility that he in his choices made that put him in this position, how much of a mistake it was. He's ready to do whatever it takes to get back into racing.
I certainly applaud him for that.
Q. Jeff, with the season going the way it has, with so much bad luck, if you want to put it that way, I've had a lot of race fans ask me, How in the heck does something like this affect his family life? Does he try to leave it at the track? Does he get with the family and become a very quiet person? Does he go out and try to have some fun with the family to get your mind off of things?
JEFF GORDON: That's a great question.
You know, as a father of two, and anybody that is a father understands, especially when they're 5 and 2, whatever happens at the racetrack really doesn't matter to them a whole lot, except maybe things that happened like this past weekend when they got to go celebrate with the team, get their picture taken, see the trophy, touch it. They were pretty excited about that.
When I've had a bad day, yeah, certainly my wife and I, we discuss it and talk about it. For about 24 hours it weighs on you, you're upset and disappointed. But, I don't know, I've always been somebody that has been able to keep things in perspective, stay humble, understand the things that are important in life.
As hard as I work at racing, it's been good to me over the years. There's going to be bad days. You just have to put it behind you and move on.
Sometimes I think it's been tougher for my wife to understand than me because she hasn't been in a competitive sport as long as I have. She's getting better at it. Certainly, like I said, days like Sunday make up for it.
It's been an amazing experience to enjoy that with all of them. When I have a bad day, I come home and it's just all about them, their routine, the things that they want to do. That makes me happy and it gets certainly my mind off of if we did have a bad day.
Q. Obviously the big celebration, you talked about that. What has changed the Jeff Gordon before family life? In any occupation there's time commitment balance, priority issues, and how have you handled those things?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, I feel like prior to having children, you know, you try to prioritize things, you're committed to racing, you're committed to certain levels of time and input that you put in, whether it be work on my foundation, time with my wife. But now, adding two children to that, it makes it very challenging, no doubt about that.
But my priorities juggle. When I go to the racetrack, I put my head down and I focus on the racecar. When I'm at the shop with the team, I sink myself into that. The rest of the time, the family is my priority.
Juggling that gets tough at times. Fortunately, I have a very understanding wife. She knows how important racing is to me. But I make it a point to make sure she knows that her and our kids are the most important thing to me. I want to do everything I can as a dad to be the best dad that I can.
You know, it certainly creates challenges throughout the year 'cause we travel a lot. Racing takes a lot of time. But every bit of time I have when I'm not racing, I'm with the family. Every bit of time I'm not with the family, I'm focused on the team.
Q. You've been around the sport for a really long time, dating all the way back to '92. You've seen a lot of changes. Can you compare the racing now from 10 or 20 years ago?
JEFF GORDON: It's certainly far more competitive from the rules that NASCAR has provided us on how we build the cars as well as the teams, the drivers, you know, everybody has just gotten better, smarter. It makes the depth of the field far greater. Track position has become extremely important. That's just evolution of technology. Most of it's aerodynamics. But all that leads to something else. You find something that makes your car have more grip, you go down that path. You get to a point where all of a sudden Goodyear has to redesign a tire because of the faster speeds to stay more durable. So on and so on, domino effects into each other.
I think back 10, 15 years ago, the first time I ever said, Starting to get tight in traffic, aero tight, losing downforce, and it was something that we talked about but we didn't really put a lot of energy into it. Then all of a sudden that just turned into dominating your every thought of what you do to the car from an engineering standpoint.
Then for the driver, especially a driver like me that has been around for as long as I have, adapting to a different grip level, a different pace. That's also turned into more physical fitness, working out, because you're pushing the limits of the car more, and it's pushing the limits of your body more.
Yeah, from that standpoint a lot has changed.
Q. Do you like that it's that way or do you wish it was maybe a little less about aerodynamics and technology and all that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you like the way the car drives because it has a lot of grip and it sticks good to the racetrack. But I think, you know, there's times when it definitely makes it harder to pass, harder to get side?by?side.
One thing leads to another. If that's the case, then pit strategy and pit stops, qualifying, all those things play a much bigger role. So there's a lot of excitement that is geared towards that.
You know, I think it's hard to know what kind of would be accepted by the fans and the media, the general public, of having one or two drivers just dominate the entire season. I feel like, yeah, Hendrick's on quite a roll right now. Jimmie has been strong. Junior is up in the points. But we've had a lot of different winners this year even with that being said.
It's hard to say. From a pure competitive standpoint, driving the cars in traffic, racing around the competitors, yeah, I kind of like the old?school stuff. But I think most guys that have been in this sport for 20 years would probably say that. Some of my best years were in the mid to late '90s when that's the way the cars were.
Q. At Iowa Speedway following the Nationwide race, I think it was Richard Childress and a couple other people said they would like to see a Cup race at Iowa. If they make the proper improvements, would you like to see that?
JEFF GORDON: I love the track. Every time I've seen a race there, it seems like a great race. It kind of reminds me of Kentucky in the way the fans support it. A much different racetrack. I think it offers even more side?by?side racing and better racing than Kentucky did, but it has that fan following out there that seems to be strong.
Paxton Waters, who worked with Rusty on designing that track, is somebody I'm working with on the track up in Canada. I think they really caught on to something and did some great things out there to create great racing, multiple grooves, a fun race to watch.
I've not driven on that track, but I certainly would like to. I think it would be a lot of fun. I don't know, we'll just have to kind of see where that goes.
Q. With having the most road course wins at Watkins Glen in the Sprint Cup Series, does that add any pressure this weekend?
JEFF GORDON: There's always pressure to every race and to win. It seems like we've been the team to beat at Watkins Glen. I don't feel like we have a tremendous amount of pressure on us this weekend from all the competitors looking at us from the team to beat.
If our weekend goes like it did in Sonoma, then throughout the weekend we might put a little extra pressure on ourselves. That's a good problem to have.
At this point going into it, I think people are looking at some other competitors like Marcos Ambrose, maybe Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo, a couple others that have been really strong on the road courses the last couple years, probably put them higher up on the list. I think there's more pressure on them than us right now.
Q. Jeff, this fast season has been a hot season with the drought, record heat across the United States. How does that affect drivers, team members, who have to work the pits, the garage area?
JEFF GORDON: I feel like we help droughts out tremendously when we come into town because the rain seems to follow us everywhere we go (laughter).
I feel like it's something that all of us have to be mindful of. I mean, our pit crews, they work out so hard during the weekend. Obviously here in Charlotte, North Carolina, it's usually hot and humid. Staying hydrated and working in the heat is something they're used to and prepare for. It's something that on a hot race weekend, I know Alan, my crew chief, he makes sure that he reminds the guys how important it is to be mindful of the heat, and also why it's important to be in as good of shape as you can be in. But hydration is a big part of that, as well.
It gets tough. You know, there's certain tracks that it's harder to adapt to than others. As a driver, I'm fortunate that these days. It seems like the cars inside are much cooler than they have been because of some of the ducting. The hot, humid races where there's not much air moving around, like a Bristol or a Martinsville, it can get pretty tough.
How you handle your hydration is extremely important and can be a big part of making sure you don't get cramps and fall out of the seat during the race.
Q. Your team and you have gone, since Charlotte, one or two positions every week for the last eight races or so. How do you feel going into the next five races with that kind of record?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, with the position that we've been in in points, it's sort of hard to say. I don't think a lot of people have really even put much emphasis and recognize, other than ourselves, how consistently we've been top 5, top 10 the last eight weeks. That's what's moved us up into the position we're in. That's what put us into position to win that race on Sunday.
If that was the first race we ever won, I certainly wouldn't want to win it that way. That's 86 for me. I've won plenty of races like that and lost plenty of races like that.
For us, we've been building momentum for several weeks with great finishes, as well as just really solid runs. That's the difference from the start of the season. We had great runs and just weren't putting any kind of results together.
So we put ourselves into this hole that we're in. But the last eight weeks, even with a few glitches along the way, we've been getting ourselves out of it. I hope the next five weeks we continue to do that.
THE MODERATOR: That concludes today's teleconference. Thank you very much for joining us today, Jeff.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Congrats again on your win at Pocono and best of luck at Watkins Glen this weekend.
JEFF GORDON: I appreciate it. Thanks a lot to everybody.