Q and A with Jeff Gordon Jeff Gordon met with members of the media at Dover International Speedway and discussed his DuPont sponsorship contract extension, the season to date, the upcoming race at Eldora, the Pocono facility, and more.
ON COMING BACK TO DOVER. “I’m always excited to be here in Dover. I love this track and we’ve had great success here and of course we always get an opportunity to go up to Wilmington and see all the great employees at DuPont so being in their backyard this is always a special event. Of course yesterday we announced our extension signing with DuPont through 2010 so it’s been a great week and it has been a pretty good day so far too.”
HOW ABOUT CLARIFYING THIS, THE FIRST THOUGHT THE PEOPLE SAW WHEN THEY DID THE RELEASE THAT SAID DUPONT AND JEFF GORDON, THEY THINK WELL DOESN’T JEFF GORDON HAVE A LIFETIME CONTRACT WITH HENDRICK. IS THIS JUST DUPONT RE-UPPING WITH HENDRICK OR IS THIS ALSO A PERSONAL CONTRACT BETWEEN YOU AND DUPONT? IN OTHER WORDS I’D LIKE TO KNOW EVERYTHING YOU’RE WILLING TO TELL US. “I try to cover everything between the lines. I don’t have any personal agreement with DuPont. I feel like I’ve been an employee of DuPont’s for 16 years. They’ve been a great company, the only primary sponsor we’ve ever had. What happened is when you sign these contracts a lot of times they’re three year contracts or two year extensions and so that was the case in this one. We basically just are talking about our sponsorship agreement.
“I do have a lifetime agreement with Hendrick, I won’t be driving for anybody else. I’ll be driving that 24 car and hopefully a DuPont 24 car as long as I’m driving the car. It’s really just about the sponsorship agreement because unfortunately we don’t have any lifetime sponsor agreements. We’d like to have that but haven’t found a way how to structure that one yet.”
YOU’VE BEEN ON BOTH SIDES OF THE FIELD WHEN IT COMES TO HAVING GOOD SEASONS AND NOT HAVING GOOD SEASONS AND THIS SEASON STARTED OFF A LITTLE SLOW RIGHT NOW, A LOT OF TIMES DRIVERS SAY IT’S THE CAR. “It’s never been my fault.”
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A SEASON HONESTLY LOOKING BACK WHERE YOU GUYS DIDN’T DO WELL BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T ON YOUR GAME? “Sure. There’s no doubt that the sport goes through transitions with cars changing, engineering and technology evolving and sometimes, I always say its hard to teach an old dog new tricks and so what happens sometimes you’ll see a young driver come in and just have a lot of success early.
“And sometimes its because his driving style and aggressiveness might fit the way the cars are handling or set up at that time so when you’ve been in the sport as long as I have, you go through all the different changes that the cars go through from back when we used to run small sway bars and smaller springs and big front springs. Now its opposite so you have small front springs, huge sway bars and gigantic rear springs and then we changed to a new car and there’s a transition to bump stops, towing the rear housing and all those things and there’s no doubt that the longer you’ve been in the sport the harder it is to sometimes adapt to those changes and it just take you a little longer. I think the quality drivers and quality teams should always eventually come around through hard work and the commitment and I think that’s kind of where we’re at this year.
“I think two things for us this year, I feel like the competition while we were focused on winning a championship last year, the competition was focused on this year and so they got ahead of us a little bit. The other thing is that we’re on 1.5-miles this year and technology has evolved and guys are doing different things and we got behind and we’ve had to play catch up. But I think the nice thing about the Chase is you can be off a little bit right now and still feel like you’re a threat for the championship if you can make it in the Chase because we feel like by September we can get the cars doing what we need them to do.
“This week at Pocono I felt like I was a rookie. I was apologizing to the team. I was like guys I know the car is not doing what I want it to do but I can’t tell you if its because I’m not driving it the way I should be driven. The key to that is that my team no matter what, they have confidence in me because of my past success. So they say, we’re gonna get the car to handle the way you need it to and vice versa, I have confidence in them that they’re gonna get me what I need. Especially when we have teammates that are running good. The difference between me and maybe some other guys that maybe haven’t had that type of successful relationship is that the team can loose confidence in them quickly and when they do its hard to ever regain that back. With us I feel like that confidence even if it gets down it can be regained.”
YOU’RE GOING BACK TO ELDORA ON WEDNESDAY, SO IS JIMMIE JOHNSON THIS YEAR, SO IS A CAST OF THOUSANDS IT SEEMS. “Scott Dixon, right. Can you make a plea to Scott Dixon. Somebody told me I’m supposed to give him a call and beg him to come. He’s not coming for sure?”
EVEN WITHOUT THE INDY 500 WINNER IT SEEMS LIKE THAT EVENT HAS GROWN IN JUST TWO TO THREE SHORT YEARS TO A REAL PRESTIGIOUS EVENT THAT LOTS OF GUYS WANT TO WIN, CAN YOU KIND OF TALK ABOUT WHY THAT’S BECOME SUCH AN ATTRACTION FOR GUYS LIKE YOURSELF AND WHAT MEMORIES YOU HAVE OF IT FROM LAST YEAR? “I had a blast last year. Just getting back on to the dirt, sliding sideways. I think there’s just no pressure, it’s a fun event. I think that the way the teams prepare the cars and the way that Tony (Stewart) prepares the track and the fans, it just takes you kind of back to the roots that you started with. A lot of us started on dirt tracks. When you come here there’s so much on you, there’s so much pressure on everybody. It’s a business. You’ve got sponsors that you have to try to make happy. You’ve got timing and scoring, you’re trying to move up and go faster all the time. It’s just you don’t have that pressure when you go there. You go there, you’re sliding sideways, you’re having fun and it doesn’t matter if you win or loose or where you finish, you just had a good time by being there. It’s for charity and the fans are fired up to see these drivers that they see on TV all the time come out sliding sideways because I think that a lot of the short track racers you know they think that we’re just these big time drivers that never really had to cut our teeth and work our way up and they forget those times. Sometimes we do to so to get back to that I think it shows the fans what kind of competitors we are, what type of people that we are and to see us all having fun doing that knowing that we’re not getting paid millions of dollars to do it I think it speaks volumes about the drivers that are there and for Tony to go through all he’s going through for charity. I don’t know it’s just a cool, fun event and you have to go there and see it for yourself to experience it and understand it. For me, I was a little hesitant to go because I’d never driven one of those dirt late models. I hadn’t been on dirt for a long time and man on about the third lap I was I remember these days and it was just a blast. Just a lot of fun and enjoyed it very much.”
DUPONT HAS ALWAYS BEEN SUCH A HUGE PRESENCE IN DELAWARE, THEY’VE BEEN ONE OF THE LARGEST EMPLOYERS HERE FOREVER, THE BIG ROAD OUT THERE IS DUPONT HIGHWAY. DO YOU SENSE WHAT THEY MEAN TO DELAWARE? DO YOU EVER FEEL YOU ARE REPRESENTING NOT JUST A COMPANY BUT A STATE TO A CERTAIN DEGREE? “I’ve been coming up here for like I said 16 years. You go to Wilmington and it’s almost like its DuPont. It’s like their city. They just employ so many people. That building is spread around the entire city and they have such a presence throughout not just Wilmington but all of Delaware and you can get that understanding and sense when you’ve been going to their headquarters. They have their own hotel, not a whole lot of sponsors out there have their own hotel and it’s a really nice quality hotel too. They are an amazing company. Its so funny when they first started sponsoring us a lot of people were like what is DuPont, what do they do. Why are they in racing and they had their automotive finish side of it so it kind of made an impact and it made sense but now they realize that racing can be beneficial to all their businesses from what they do for building homes, Tyvek, Corian and different things to agricultural products. Their slogan is miracle of science and truly their miracles are happening every day in everything we see around us at all times. We just don’t always know because its not branded DuPont but pretty much every product out there you can imagine has DuPont in it and that’s very cool to represent that type of company.”
DOES THAT TRANSLATE TO A CERTAIN LEVEL OF SUPPORT HERE? DO YOU EVER SENSE THAT? “I think it definitely motivates us to do well here. I remember in the early years coming up here and having our big NASCAR day that we have up there at their headquarters and all the employees coming out and supporting us, I felt a little extra pressure to step it up here in their sort of home town and home state and fortunately we went on to have some great runs and great success here ever since then.”
TALK ABOUT LAST WEEK AND WHAT HAPPENED WITH YOU AND KYLE BUSCH AND DO YOU THINK THE THINGS HE SAID OVER THE RADIO ABOUT YOU AND HIS OLD HENDRICK TEAMMATES IS SOMETHING AGAINST YOU GUYS BECAUSE YOU ARE EX-TEAMMATES OR IS THAT JUST KYLE BEING COMPETITIVE? “I heard rumors during the week about some stuff that was said on the radio and we say a lot of things on the radio that I don’t pay attention to. Things that I say sometimes as well, so I’m not going to put too much into that. The issue that Kyle and I had is really a non-issue. I raced him pretty hard when he came up to pass me earlier in the race, and Kyle’s aggressive, and he got aggressive back with me when that happened and so we had a little misunderstanding then. He went on his way and he just came up to me the wrong time after the race trying to talk to me about it. So we talked at Pocono, it’s a non-issue. I think that if you just look at the circumstances, I’m sure that he’s not happy about the way he left Hendrick, but I would think he’s got to be pretty happy where he’s at right now and things that are happening. Its just Kyle being Kyle. If he did say those things I think that’s just a part of his youthfulness and his personality and that’s not anything I’m really concerned about.”
JOEY LAGANO IS MAKING HIS DEBUT. TALK ABOUT THE PRESSURE YOU FELT WHEN YOU CAME INTO THIS SERIES AND WHAT HE’S DEALING WITH. “I wish I had as much as success as he has had in a stock car prior to coming into the Nationwide Series and Cup Series because I’m sure he’ll be there before long. There’s no doubt that so far this kid has lived up to all expectations and has been very impressive. Joe Gibbs seems to find those guys and he’s going to a great organization. I look certainly for him to have a lot of success. He’s gonna have a lot of pressure on him. I’m a little confused because somebody said his birthday is on Saturday? Somebody said this Saturday and I’m like how is he practicing on Friday then. That’s pretty cool to be 18 years old and have that kind of future ahead of you with that type of organization. Certainly we will all be watching.”
EARLIER THIS WEEK THE FAMILY THAT OWNS POCONO SAID THEY’RE NOT SELLING THAT TRACK. THERE’S BEEN SOME SPECULATION ABOUT THIS TRACK’S FUTURE MAYBE LOOSING A RACE OR TWO IF THAT HAPPENS. WHAT’S YOUR FEELING ABOUT SOMETHING LIKE THAT? “I love the Mattioli’s and I’m a huge supporter of them but their race track is out dated. It needs a ton of upgrades. I think that the fact that it’s in the Northeast is a positive thing but I’m shocked that they’ve had two races as long as they have and I’ll be surprised if that stays that way for the future. Just because of the way this sports grown and the markets that we need to be in. The type of races that we put on at our miles, 1.5-mile, and three quarter mile tracks. I’m as curious as anybody else is to see the future of that track. Obviously there’s a lot going on right now with Kentucky and New Hampshire and with Bruton (Smith). I’m as anxious to see how it all unfolds as anybody else. When they create this schedule, that’s where we’ll go.”
WHAT ABOUT THIS TRACK, WOULD IT UPSET YOU IF SOMETHING WERE TO HAPPEN TO THIS TRACK? “Yeah, I love this track. I would hate to see this track go anywhere. I haven’t heard anything about this track and I know that it’s a group that owns this track and Nashville and one or two others so I think this is the type of race track that we need to be on. We need to be on high-banked, one-mile, fast action filled race tracks running 400 miles. To me this is it. Could we pick this track up and locate it in about three other locations, that would be fantastic. Right now as far as I know it’s here in Dover, Delaware and I hope it stays.”
ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EXTENDING HIS CONTRACT WITH DUPONT, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR HIS FUTURE? “It means that we have full sponsorship until 2010. I think people are maybe reading a little too much into it. I haven’t made any decisions for what’s going to happen one way or the other past 2010. I’ve always been the type of driver that I never look too far ahead. I wanted to secure my position at Hendrick Motorsports and that’s why I worked as hard to be an equity owner and do a lifetime contract with Hendrick Motorsports because I knew that’s where I wanted to be as long as I’m driving a race car. The sponsorship thing is sort of a separate deal. You’ve got to have sponsorship and if you extend sponsorships out too far, sometimes you could be losing money because we don’t know the expense of the sport too far in advance. So what you try to do is secure sponsors, companies you want to be aligned with, that have been loyal to you and you have been loyal to them, that put the effort into the race team and give you the dollars to do what you need to do to be competitive, and also the marketing behind it. And we have a great package between DuPont and Pepsi and Nicorette and Georgia-Pacific and Quaker State. We just have a great package. And all that really means is we have a great package through 2010 and we really don’t want to think past that because we don’t know what the expenses will be past that. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop driving after 2010, it just means that we won’t start negotiating to see what happens past 2010 until the beginning of 2010.”
BY THE TIME THIS EXTENSION ENDS, YOU’LL BE 39 GOING ON 40. HAS BEING A FATHER CHANGED YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RETIRING? “Being a father at 37 this year, makes me realize how old I am because she (daughter, Ella) is running around all over the place and I can’t keep up with her (laughs). I need more energy. That’s the only thing I look at as I get older is with the wear and tear on your body, it gets tougher to stay in good physical shape and withstand the heat and the longer races and the longer seasons. To me, this has been one of the more tougher seasons for me, simply because we’ve tested so much. I’m a dad, so I want to spend more time at home and I’m constantly doing things for my sponsors. And so the whole schedule has just been completely crazy for everybody. As I get older and want to spend more time with my family it’s made it that much more grueling and tougher this year. And those are the only things. I’ve always said that as long as physically, I can be in the car and be competitive and I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I’m going to keep doing it. And even though I want to spend more time at home, I still love coming to the track and being competitive and feel like I’m capable of being completive out there on the track.