Notes from Martinsville

Notes from Martinsville

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JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 6TH

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE WHAT IS LIKELY YOUR LAST RACE HERE AT MARTINSVILLE? AND LIKELY YOUR LAST TIME BEHIND THE WHEEL OF A NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES CAR?

“Well, I had a lot of fun out there. It is great to be here in front of all these awesome short track and Martinsville NASCAR fans. It’s just a special place to me and I had a lot of fun and had a great car. This No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet was really good. I knew we didn’t have the short run speed for some of those Gibbs cars. I don’t know where Jimmie (Johnson) came from, wow; he is just so good here. You get him out front like that and he is just unbelievable. Congratulations to those guys stamping that victory and getting them to Homestead that is amazing just like we did last year. Had to overcome a lot of adversity, but that last run I don’t know if it was from running so many caution laps there trying to figure out the scoring, which was kind of a disaster, but that was a tough one for NASCAR to figure out. I don’t know if that had an effect on our tires or what, but the car just didn’t feel the same on that last run and had to settle for sixth.”

ON JIMMIE HAVING HIS SHOT AT A SEVENTH TITLE:

“When things are on the line and things matter most, Jimmie and that team know how to step it up to another level. They showed that today. He’ll be showing that again in Homestead. I was back there in sixth or seventh place just watching him go after the No. 11 car (Denny Hamlin). That was just phenomenal driving and racing. Then he just drove away.

“Well seven is a number to a lot of people, but to me he is already one of the all-time greats. That number might just solidify that in the history books and maybe for some others. Maybe it might be special to him personally.”

IS THIS YOUR LAST RACE AND ARE YOU HAPPY WITH SIXTH PLACE FINISH?

“Well, I would rather have won. I felt like we had a fourth or fifth place car the run before that so I always wanted to get the most out of it. I was a little disappointed it didn’t take off there at the last yellow, but very proud of this team proud of my performance. Best finish I’ve had in this car. Good way to finish my run this year in the No. 88 Chevy.”

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JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed if this is indeed his final Cup Series race, what he has learned this season being an interim driver, his thoughts on this year’s Chase and many other topics. Full Transcript:

YOU ARE BACK IN THE NO. 88 THIS WEEKEND TALK ABOUT RETURNING TO MARTINSVILLE AND DEFENDING YOUR TITLE AS RACE WINNER:

“It’s exciting to be back. I love this track. Obviously, I have amazing memories from this race last year. I guess there was a part of me that wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back and take away from that, but at the same time I’ve always said if there is one track that I feel like I could get back in the car and feel comfortable and competitive it’s this track. For that, I’m happy that I’m here. It’s been a good day so far. I feel like the car has pretty good speed and the comfort is there. Just working on the balance and having fun.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON SAID HE WAS GOING TO LEAN ON YOU MORE THIS WEEKEND THAN BEFORE BECAUSE YOUR CARS ARE BUILT IN THE SAME SHOP AND YOU HAVE MORE IN COMMON. HOW ARE YOU GUYS GOING TO WORK TOGETHER? AS GOOD AS YOU BOTH ARE IS THERE UPSIDE FOR YOU GUYS TO HELP EACH OTHER?

“Well, there is certainly upside. I mean anytime you can tap into your teammates and look at their data and just have those conversations it’s beneficial. I feel like we have always worked well together, but like you said just a little bit about how the No. 5 and No. 24 just the slight differences of some of the things they may do to build their cars versus the No. 48 and No. 88. They are built in the same chassis shop and certain parts of the body are hung the same, but once they go to the shop there are just some slight things that they may do a little bit different. I mean I feel like my car feels very similar to a No. 24 car that I’ve driven in the past. It has good comfort, good speed and is doing a lot of the things that I like. I have been joking this year about when like at Dover I get to drive a Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus car and set-up. I was looking forward to that. Same thing is the case here. Because of that it allows us to really share more information, have more discussions and obviously we want him to win the championship. It’s a great track for him, so is Texas, so is Phoenix, so three great chances for them to get to Homestead. We will do everything we can to work with him and also with our other teammates to try to come out of here with really good finishes and then I’m super focused on myself on what I can do. I’m going to be tapping into those guys as well. I would love to get these guys a great finish if this is my last race.”

SHOULD I WRITE THIS IS PROBABLY YOUR LAST RACE? POSSIBLY YOUR LAST RACE?

“Your guess is as good as mine. I can promise you I had no intentions of this happening, but here I am. Never say never is all I know what to say (laughs). I really don’t think that I will be getting back in a Cup car again, but go ask Rick Hendrick. That really has more to do with him than anything else. I hope in the future that the drivers don’t have a situation like what we had with (Dale Earnhardt) Junior where they need somebody to fill in for them. This little bit of experience has been kind of good for me, good for the organization and we have had a little bit of fun with it as well. If I had to do it, then certainly I would, but I don’t anticipate it.”

HOW DO YOU LOOK BACK ON THESE EIGHT RACES THAT YOU HAVE FILLED IN FOR DALE EARNHARDT, JR.?

“I go back to the original conversations with Rick (Hendrick) and Doug Duchardt (General Manager, Hendrick Motorsports) and Marshall Carlson (President of Hendrick Motorsports) and talking about going to Indianapolis. Of course there wasn’t much hesitation from me when that occurred, because I love Indianapolis and the track has been amazing. Honestly, Indianapolis didn’t end well for me last year. I didn’t hesitate one bit, but it was a tall challenge when I got there it was really tough. Things didn’t go as well as any of us had hoped. I didn’t plan on going to Pocono and some of the other tracks, but at the same time I realized that jumping back in it I needed more laps and needed more experience if I was going to give them a better result. So, I was kind of happy to do more, sad about the situation, but if they needed me I wanted to do a little bit more to get more comfortable with the team and the cars. I wanted to drive the cars with less downforce this year and see what it was like. It does me a lot of good when I get back in the FOX booth to kind of connect those dots and was a great experience. Each time I’ve been in the car I feel like I’ve gotten better and better at giving the feedback that they need. It was nice to get that top 10 at Dover. I’m hoping we get a little bit more here.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE CHANCES ARE OF JIMMIE JOHNSON FINALLY GETTING CHAMPIONSHIP NUMBER SEVEN? WHAT DO YOU THINK THE CHANCES ARE OF KYLE BUSCH PULLING OFF A REPEAT?

“Well, we did a show with FOX and Race Hub this week and I had to go off of a prediction that I made before the season started that I did with Larry McReynolds and Mike (Joy) and DW (Darrell Waltrip). I basically wrote down Kyle Busch. I felt like coming off of last year as strong as JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars are still I just feel like they are going to be really tough to beat at Homestead. I also didn’t anticipate the No. 48 being as good as they have been since the Chase started. With this new format, I think his achilles was that second round and by him getting through the second round and being in this round, this is an excellent opportunity for him. I feel very confident they are going to go to Homestead. If you watch the show how we narrowed it down to the four at Homestead man it’s so tough to figure out if they can compete against (Kevin) Harvick and maybe Kyle (Busch). I think those are two of the toughest competitors that they are going to go up against at Homestead. This is all predictions and things like that, guesswork. Those guys are good, but boy when you get the No. 48 in a final race for the championship, they do things that are extraordinary. I think their chances are pretty good. I feel very confident they are going to be there in the thick of the battle.”

AS A CAR OWNER AND A TEAMMATE OF JIMMIE JOHNSON’S FOR SO LONG WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU FOR HIM TO WIN THE SEVENTH CHAMPIONSHIP? WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WOULD MEAN TO THE HENDRICK ORGANIZATION FOR HIM TO JOIN RICHARD PETTY AND DALE EARNHARDT, SR.?

“Even when I was up against Dale (Earnhardt, Sr.) and Rusty (Wallace)…I mean Mark Martin was my teammate so I got a chance to see firsthand just how good he was. The other drivers that I’ve competed against it was always well how good is their car, how good is their team and you always had that question mark. With Jimmie (Johnson) I know. We are driving similar equipment. I get to see what that team does every year and what Jimmie’s talents are. Because of that, I think he is the best that I’ve ever raced against and possibly the best that there has ever been. Even days where I felt like I had a car that could compete with him he did extraordinary things to get more out of it. He is a pretty calm, cool guy, but boy when you put that helmet on him and you get him in the race car he just becomes another person and takes it to another level. He doesn’t have to win the seventh to prove that to me, but I also know that stats and numbers mean a lot out there in the world of comparisons. I think that would be great for him to have that to show the rest of the world that he is one of the best if not the best.

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO THE ORGANIZATION?

“Well, all championships are good. There has never been a bad one that I’ve known of. I think it would mean a lot to Rick (Hendrick), but I think it’s really more personal to Jimmie.”

HOW HAS BEING A DRIVER HELPED YOU IN THE TV BOOTH? AND VICE VERSA, HAS BEING AN ANALYST HELPED YOU AT ALL GETTING BACK IN THE CAR?

“It helped me being an analyst by getting out of the car, and being fresh out of the car from last year. It gives you a much better perspective on what is happening. What the drivers are going through. Trying to put yourself in their position. Seeing things on the track that are happening and understanding what the aerodynamics are like. What the setups are like. What the grip is like. Now that they took some of the downforce out a little bit; changing the tires – there is still a little piece of the puzzle missing. So getting back in the car a little bit this year will help connect those dots even more. So now they are going to take another chunk for next year. So it was good to see the difference of how the cars drive this year versus how the cars drove last year. I give a lot of credit to these teams for what they have done with less downforce, a combination of Goodyear and the engineers and crew chiefs that build these race cars. I was pretty shocked that these cars really haven’t lost anything. “

DO YOU LIKE THE PACKAGE?

“I like it. I think there are some tracks that it is really well balanced out. The tracks that have a little more fall off in the tires. I’d like to see a little more fall off of the tires at some of the other tracks. Some of the newer surfaces are harder to do that with. I think it just continues to go as a step in the right direction by taking more and more downforce and grip and cleaning up the air around the cars to connect to the cars around them. At Dover I thought I was losing too much front downforce when I got too close to cars. So there are still somethings that need to be worked on there.”

WHAT WILL IT MEAN TO THE SPORT TO HAVE DALE, JR. BACK ON TRACK AT DAYTONA?

“It is one track that he has shined at. You mentioned his family has. I don’t know if that was ever really part of the plan. It is more about what is going to help him heal faster and get to 100%. I’ve seen a huge shift and change over the past month since that decision was made. I know one thing he is going to be ready to go by Daytona. I’m excited for him. I’m excited for Hendrick and I’m excited for the sport. I think the fans are going to be overwhelmed…or overwhelm him with their reception of having him back in the car. It is going to be a big deal that it is happening at Daytona.”

HOW DO YOU MEASURE TONY STEWART AND HIS CAREER?

“Again, I didn’t drive his race cars or the teams he drove for so it is a little bit different comparison. But, when I think of Tony, I just think of one of the fiercest, toughest competitors. He kind of reminds me of Earnhardt (Dale, Sr.) in a way. You just never count him out. You might see the car isn’t handling the way he wants it; maybe they have fallen off; maybe they lost a lap. And the next thing you know, you are battling with him for the win before the race is over. That just speaks volumes to me of what kind of a person and competitor Tony is. I wasn’t that surprised he won at Sonoma this year. I know a lot of people maybe didn’t see that coming. When you get that guy and you put a target out there, or you give him a goal – nobody reaches for it harder and has raw talent to be able to pull things like that off than Tony. I think he has had a lot of distractions over the years. But when he has been able to be focused, he just zeroes in on something and just takes ahold of it. I have had some tremendous battles with him over the years where we butted heads. But through all of that the respect level that I have for him and continue to have for him has only grown. Fortunately, we have become much better friends over the years to talk about a lot more than just driving race cars at the Cup level. I love the guy, I really do. We are going to miss him a lot. I don’t know that we’ve ever really had someone like him come into this series, so it is hard to replace somebody like that. I know the fans are going to miss him and I will as well.”

HOW WOULD YOU RANK TONY’S 2011 CHAMPIONSHIP IN THE MOST AMAZING FEATS IN CUP?

“I rank that up there about as high as it gets. I still think back to that 2011 closing 10 races and it just boggles my mind. He had counted himself out completely and said he didn’t belong in the Chase and then goes and dominates. Wins half the races and has to win the final race in the tie breaker, and does it. I think if you could have put a camera on Carl Edwards face in the closing laps of that race. I think that would have put it in perspective.”

JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER, NO. 88 NATIONWIDE CHEVROLET SS:

“You kind of like to leave a place with a win and I definitely don’t want to mess that up, but it’s also a track that I like and feel confident at. I don’t see why we couldn’t go there and contend for a win. We won there last year and I don’t think a lot has changed. The question is ‘were we the best car there?’ To me, I think we’d have to be a little bit better than we were last year to be in that position.”

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