Darlington: Press Conference Transcript
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, met with media and discussed his setbacks this season, the need to win, the Chase, his morale, the upcoming All-Star race, and more. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
HAS THE TRACK CHANGED FROM LAST YEAR?
"It seems like it's lost a little bit of grip, which is always a good thing here at Darlington. It brings it back to the days I remember growing up here. It makes for a great race as well. It hasn't changed a whole lot. It's going to be really fast I think, tomorrow."
ON SETBACKS TO HIS SEASON SO FAR THIS YEAR, IS HE CHEERLEADING HIS TEAM?
"It's the same old story. We're running good. We have fast race cars. We're doing everything we can as a team and just having things like that happen to us. I don't think there is a lot of cheerleading that needs to happen right now. I think we just need to get as prepared as we can for the next race and go out there and try to perform well. And like I said after the race (at Talladega), you just kind of chuckle and shake your head and kind of laugh it off."
IS THERE A POINT WHERE YOU SAY WE WANT TO WIN RACES ALL THE TIME; WHAT WE REALLY NEED TO START WINNING RACES AND THINKING ABOUT A WILD CARD?
"I don't think there's too many questions about that fact that we're shooting for a wild card. I mean, we're pretty far away from the Top 10. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I think that the nice thing about that is we just go do what we always try to do, which is win races. And that's what we're doing every weekend as we get closer and closer to when the Chase start and we aren't going to be in the Top 10, then you get desperate to win and you've got to take much bigger risks. We're not in that place right now.
"We're just going to go and prepare and do the best that we can and try to go to the tracks that we know we can win on, like here at Darlington."
HOW WAS YOUR CAR TODAY AFTER BOTH PRACTICE SESSIONS?
"Not bad; it was pretty good. I thought we made a really good qualifying run early. It's so hard to tell what qualifying is going to be like after you practice in the heat of the day and it's going to cool down by the time we go out to qualify. But the car felt good there and while we didn't start off the best in race trim, but it felt like we really made some great gains by the end of practice."
DID YOU HEAR TONY STEWART'S RANT OR COMEDY ROUTINE AFTER THE TALLADEGA RACE LAST WEEK? DID YOU FEEL LIKE THERE WAS A DEEPER MESSAGE?
"No, there is no deep message there (laughs). I can't keep a straight face. That's what so impressed me about what Tony did. I wasn't even there and I was laughing. And right now, I can't keep a straight face. I thought it was unbelievable. I thought it was awesome."
"Why? Because all the things that he had to say are things that weigh on all of our minds as drivers and you want to get that message across but there's only a slight few that can do it in a certain way but gets the message out there as well very clear. I don't know. I thought that took some real skill, too. I sent him a text saying I thought that was awesome."
CAN ANYTHING BE DONE TO ADDRESS THOSE ISSUES?
"I still like the Figure 8 idea. I'm leaning toward the Figure 8."
DO YOU THINK IF DALE EARNHARDT JR. WINS A RACE OR TAKES THE POINT LEAD THAT MORE FANS WILL COME TO THE RACES?
"I think the way that they're running and the consistency that they have, I think there's a very good chance that he could take the points lead. There's no doubt that the core fans and the Junior fans have been waiting for that moment to happen. And there's still a lot of racing left to go, but the way those guys are performing, they've got a great shot at it. So I would think that the Junior fans would be pretty excited about that and it might even draw some other fans because it's going to draw attention from the media and all that's going to trickle down to people wanting to come and experience that in person."
ON THE ALL-STAR RACE, WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR WIN THERE?
"Oh, it was nuts. It was one of the more unique events that I've ever been a part of. The All-Star race is always pretty wild and crazy, but when you're on the pace lap and you see lightning and flashes and you know rain is just in the distance and they drop the green and it just starts pouring, you know you're in for a pretty crazy night. So, at that time when we wrecked, I wasn't thinking we'd get the back-up car out. But it didn't take long for us to figure that out and unload it. And we knew as long as we had a race car that we could win that race.
"You know, I think that was one of the first times when our preparation going to a race track really showed up about how well-prepared we were even with our back-up car. There was a time; it doesn't exist today but years ago, where your back-up car was not near as good as your primary. And I think we showed right there that we had a car that could come off the truck and still be very competitive to win the race, and it did."
JIM HUNTER IS GOING TO BE INDUCTED INTO THE SOUTH CAROLINA SPORTS HALL OF FAME ON MONDAY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT JIM MEANT TO THE SPORT?
"That's awesome. Jim was so passionate about the sport and passionate about Darlington and he's very deserving to be honored in that way. So I think that's great for Jim and his family."
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE ABOUT GETTING AROUND CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY?
"It's a fast race track with a pretty hard tire and so it's just trying to get the balance of the car right. I remember last time we were there, we were good on three-quarters of the track, but getting it into Turn 1, we really struggled and it really hurt us and kept us from being fore competitive. So, sometimes it's just getting the car to land in the bumps or in the compression areas that could be shocks or bump stops or springs; sometimes it's air pressure. There are so many challenges that track brings just because it's so fast and because of the multiple grooves it has."
IS IT A RELIEF TO NOT RACE FOR POINTS NEXT WEEKEND IN THE ALL-STAR RACE?
"Yes and no. That race is hectic and it's intense because there aren't any points on the line but I think it's to me, proof that we're not out there thinking about points like everyone thinks we are. We're out there to race and to push as hard as we can to try and get the best finish that we can and try to win the race. It doesn't matter if points are on the line or not. And so, to me, I don't approach the All-Star any different than I do any other race. It's just if things don't go well, you go listen, this is a win-or-nothing kind of situation here so okay, we didn't win, we didn't lose any points, so you can kind of leave and still have a smile on your face. It's when you finish second, third, fourth or fifth and you didn't win, that's when you're disappointed at the All-Star race."
YOUR FIRST RACE WAS RICHARD PETTY'S LAST RACE. HE IS COMING UP ON HIS 75TH BIRTHDAY LATER THIS YEAR. WAS HE SOMEBODY THAT YOU LOOKED UP TO?
"Well, I don't think there is any kid growing up racing when I was growing up racing that didn't know who Richard Petty was. I was not a big NASCAR fan, so I didn't know everything there was to know about Richard Petty; how many wins and championships he had and all those things. I knew he won a lot of Daytona 500's and championships or I wouldn't have known who Richard Petty was. But it didn't take me long when I started driving in stock car to really understand how big and how powerful and the numbers and stats and what he meant to this sport. It might have taken a year or two, but I got the idea pretty quickly after that."
HAVE YOU HAD ANY INTER-ACTION WITH HIM OR DONE ANY SPECIAL EVENTS WITH HIM OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT?
"I've always gotten along great with Richard. He's always got words of wisdom; unfortunately I have a terrible memory so I don't remember enough of them but he's such a cool guy. I love seeing him and how he goes about interacting with the fans and the memories he has of racing. I think he'll tell you, you've got to have a good team and a good car and be able to do your job as well. And that's what they did better than anybody else out there for a long, long time."
REGARDING THE NEED TO WIN
"Well, we've had a rough year. We need to start getting wins because our only chance of getting in the Top 10 or getting the wild card is wins. And I think it's going to take two or three. So, the way our season is going, we'll take everything we can get. A win right now would be unbelievable for us."
ON THE TEAM MORALE
"It's not great. Our guys are awesome. They all believe that we can do it, but to stay on top of your game and highly motivated each time we have a weekend like last weekend, it gets tougher and tougher."
WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN A COUNSELING SESSION WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON?
"Well, for one, Jimmie has no experience of going through a bad time in this sport; so I don't know what I would learn from him (laughs). But I think Jimmie is one of the best in this business and I feel like if we were struggling, competition-wise, then I would definitely be tapping into him because those guys do such a great job everywhere we go. But we're running good. We've got a good team here. We have fast race cars. That's not the issue."
HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY ENCOURAGEMENT FROM ANY OF THE DRIVERS?
"Oh, yeah. Mark Martin and I have been friends for a long time. He's probably the one that vocalizes it the most to me personally. I always love getting texts from Mark because he just cracks me up; and he's always making me smile and keeping that positiveness going. And talking to Rick (Hendrick) and talking to Alan (Gustafson); it's not about saying it. It's just about getting out there and getting the results. It is tough when you're running good and things aren't going your way. It's tough to get out of that. But there's no doubt we can do it."
HOW COOL WOULD IT BE IF YOUR PIT CREW GUYS WIN THAT COMPETITION?
"That would be great. They change the format of that so much I can't keep up with the rules. But we've got a great pit crew and they work really hard. And you'd love to see them get that recognition and the results when it's on the line like that. Again, for us, we're looking for any little pieces of morale and boosters that we can possibly get like the pole last week (at Talladega). So hopefully we can carry something good out of here at Darlington and we can follow it up with a great performance at the Pit Crew Competition."
ON HANDLING HIS CHILDREN REGARDING SEEING DRIVERS IN CRASHES DURING A RACE OR ON TV.
"My daughter is young and so it doesn't all really add-up at this time of what could happen. So I was able to watch it with her and have it not be an issue. But as they get older, there's no doubt. And our sport is very safe today, but still; things like what happened with Eric (McClure) can happen and that was a major, major accident. I think it's also a testament of how safe our cars are and how the Safer Barriers work. The fact that he's even walking and talking is unbelievable to me. But at the same time, there still are dangers and you try, I think for me as a parent, I try to look at my kids and I see what they're exposed to and how they handle those situations, and I take it week-to-week and month-to-month of how they advance with things they're afraid of or not afraid of, and I like to share as much as I possibly can with them about my job and the ups and the downs; and not de-sensitize them, but just educate them."
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