JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AARP MEMBER ADVANTAGES CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed rules packages, different challenges of racing at Pocono and his memories of this particular track, how he feels about making the Chase at this point in the season, his feelings about going to various tracks for the final time as a competitor, and more.
LOOKING AHEAD, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING INTO NEW HAMPSHIRE AND BREAKING RICKY RUDD’S IRONMAN RECORD?
“Talk to me about it when we get there (laughs). My body is aching a lot more these days than it used to. So, there are no guarantees in the world and in racing and so, it’s something that when I look at today and the streak that I’m on currently, it’s something I’m very proud of and it’s not an easy thing. When you look at those numbers, it’s pretty staggering. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish and so, we certainly hope to pull that off and I think it would certainly be a great notch when I think of all the stats that I’ve achieved in this sport, that would certainly rank right up there. The stats that you want to achieve are the ones that know are very challenging and difficult and I think it speaks a lot of my commitment and our team’s commitment and to safety and for me, of staying healthy and strong and focused on being at every single event that I can possible be in."
EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE RACING NEXT YEAR, WHAT DO YOU WANT NASCAR TO DO WITH THE RULES PACKAGE FOR 2016? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE DONE?
“Whatever package is going to create the most exciting racing; I like the fact that NASCAR is really pushing the envelope and experimenting with different packages and ideas. The thing is, every track sort of demands a little bit something different and that makes it very tough on the teams to swap packages from track to track. If there was a way to find that balance there with costs as well as performance, that also mirrored something with Goodyear and the proper tire for each track, I would be very supportive of that. I think we all want to see a little bit more of the cars running, I don’t want to say ‘in packs’, but we don’t want to see them spread out, but we also want to see more passing. It’s hard to get both of those things. Some tracks offer that when there are multiple grooves and some tracks don’t. I liked what I saw at Kentucky. I thought that was some great racing at a track that traditionally maybe we haven’t seen as many lead changes or passes and the way the cars drove there I thought was a great challenge for the drivers, as well. So, it’s good when you see all the numbers kind of coming together and the drivers liking it. Indy was something I can’t really comment on. I wasn’t out there long enough. I think I would have liked to see that package draft down the straightaways a little bit more. I don’t know how we create that where we create this great suck-up and the cars can just pull out and pass. I don’t know how we do that. But that’s certainly what is trying to be done. And maybe at Michigan it will work a little bit better there. It’s hard to say. But, right now, I’m leaning more towards the lesser downforce package."
LAST WEEK SO MUCH WAS MADE ABOUT YOUR LAST START AT INDY. WITH THE FINISH YOU HAD THERE, YOU ARE STILL IN THE BUBBLE SPOT OF FIGHTING FOR THIS CHASE. HOW DO YOU FEEL BEING IN THAT POSITION? DO YOU FEEL SECURE WHERE YOU ARE? IS THIS TEAM READY TO MAKE THE CHASE?
“Well, I was feeling a lot more secure going into Indianapolis. Obviously, having a bad finish like that can shake things up in a hurry. I think our team is very capable of getting ourselves in the Chase, but we want more than that. We want to be battling for wins and we’re fighting extremely hard to do that. We know what a win can do in securing that spot. But, we’re also a strong team that has overcome adversity in the past and we’re going to fight all the way through Richmond to make sure that no matter what, whether it’s by points or with a win, that we get ourselves in there."
SONOMA IS A HOME TRACK FOR YOU. INDY IS A HOME TRACK. DO YOU CONSIDER POCONO TO BE A HOME TRACK?
“Oh, I can’t say a ‘home track’ because I don’t consider New York a home either. But certainly what stands out to me when I think of racing in Pocono is I go back to racing on dirt around Pennsylvania and Ohio and Indiana, and Sprint car racing and what huge and how big racing is in this state. And I think that was very evident to me immediately when I got into the Cup series and started flying into the airports here, it was always the biggest crowds of fans that we had anywhere we went, standing there waiting for the teams and the drivers to arrive and wanting to get a glimpse, a picture, an autograph; and that’s been maintained throughout all of the years. And when I put a fan club together, our largest number of members were from Pennsylvania if you took it by state. This is a big racing part of the country and I think that’s why this track has continued to do so well over the years because they have people that love racing and love NASCAR racing. And when I think of the memories that I have here, of course I love the challenge that this race track presents on track. I’ve been driving for a team that has great performance on tracks like this as well. We’ve been known to get down the straightaways pretty good. This place has a lot of straightaways. But I also like the shifting and the unique corners that are here as well. So, whether it’s on the track or off the track, it’s always been a pleasure to come here. I’ll certainly miss things like that when I’m no longer driving."
IN LOOKING AT YOUR CAREER, IS THERE A SINGLE MOMENT THAT STANDS OUT TO YOU HERE AT POCONO?
“I wrecked really bad in Turn 1. That stands out (laughs). It’s funny that those types of incidents stand out to you I think as much as some of the good moments that you had. You never forget moments like that. Let’s put it that way. I can remember coming here early on and maybe even watching a race here or an Indy Car race here on TV prior to me ever racing here and just being in awe of how long the front straightaway was and how fast the cars were going into Turn 1 and I always said boy, you don’t ever want to have a brake problem going into Turn 1 at Pocono, and I had one and experienced it. And that stands out to me. I’m sorry, but it does. Beyond that, I’ve just always liked the challenge that this race track presents. To drive hard down into those corners, stand on the brakes, and downshift on what we call basically an oval, is something that we don’t do anywhere else. That in itself makes it unique and I love that challenge. You’ve got to take your hand off the wheel, use the brakes, keep the car underneath you, you’ve got to give good feedback back to the team to try to get the car to work better through the corners and then you have three unique corners that you have to drive different and set-up different. When I think of Pocono, that’s what I think of. I know they call it the ‘Tricky Triangle’, but it’s true. It is a very challenging and tricky place to compete at."
WAS THAT IN 2006?
“Well, I hit pretty hard. I couldn’t tell you exactly what year it was. I remember seeing the sky when I was going down there and that was not a fun feeling to have. I don’t remember what year that was."
REGARDING YOUR BACK PAIN ISSUES, CAN YOU PUT IT INTO PERSPECTIVE WHAT KYLE BUSCH HAS DONE IN THE LAST COUPLE OF MONTHS DESPITE THE FACT HE REALLY HASN’T BEEN 100 PERCENT?
“When I think of Kyle, I think of Tony (Stewart) and guys that have gone through some major injuries; stepped outside of the car and had to go to extensive rehab. And I’ve always heard just how painful and how tough it is to go through that, and you really find out a lot about what you’re made of in those moments. I’m thankful that I’ve never had to go through that experience, but I admire those that have and how they’ve pushed themselves to the limits. And I think that’s what I’ve seen the most from Kyle this year. When we saw that incident and heard about how bad the injuries were I think all of us thought, oh man, six or nine months before he comes back. And even when he does, what’s it going to be like? He got back sooner than everybody thought and he’s been on a tear ever since. I think a lot of us would like to have a little bit more time off at home, but none of us want to do it that way. And so, yeah, I think it’s pretty amazing what he’s been able to accomplish."
AFTER LAST WEEK, THE OUTPOURING OF FANS ON TWITTER WAS PRETTY INTENSE. DO YOU EVER SEE A POINT WHERE YOU WOULD GET BACK IN A STOCK CAR FOR A ONE-OFF RACE? OR, ONCE YOU GET OUT OF THE CAR AT HOMESTEAD, IS THAT PRETTY MUCH IT ON THE CUP LEVEL?
“Right now, I don’t have any plans to. You have to understand it’s far more than just what maybe I would desire or want to do. It takes a team to do it. And that’s a total disruption to the organization to go do a one-off race. It’s not that it can’t be done. But, as somebody who is an equity owner in the organization, I recognize the challenges that would come along with that and what it would do to our four teams competing for the wins and championships. So, I probably wouldn’t ask them to do that. And if I were going to do it, it would probably be at a short track like Martinsville or something like that. But, I have no plans to do that."
YOU WILL BE BACK AT THESE TRACKS AS A BROADCASTER. BUT DO YOU ALLOW THE SENTIMENTALITY OF THE MOMENT SET-IN WHEN YOU GO TO THESE TRACKS FOR THE LAST TIME?
“I’m so focused on the competition and trying to compete at a high level and trying to get ourselves in a position to win the race, win the pole, be in the Chase; I just haven’t been able to allow that to sink in. It might not happen until the race is over at Homestead. I have no idea when that’s going to impact me or sink. I know it will at some point. But I don’t know exactly when. But, it hasn’t so far. There have been moments that have been really special to me, and that have stood out that I’m very appreciative of; and it started with some of the things the tracks were doing and some of the things the fans were doing during the races on Lap 24 and things like that, which are very, very cool. And to see billboards for a brief moment and go oh man, that’s awesome that they did that; thanks. But, once you’re under green flag conditions, and you’re in a race or your practicing, you’re just intensively focused on what my job is and what I’m trying to do. I have a team that’s putting everything they have into it and I’m just trying to do the same as a driver. That’s really limited my ability to let it sink in and the finality of things."
DO YOU THINK IN TEN YEARS DOWN THE LINE YOU WILL BE COACHING YOUR KIDS IN RACING FROM THE SIDELINES? OR, DO YOU THINK YOU ARE LOOKING FOR ANOTHER CAREER FOR YOUR KIDS IF THAT’S WHAT THEY DESIRE?
“You said it. It’s their desire. They have to find what it is they’re passionate about. That’s what I’ve always said is the most important thing to me. What happened with me was my parents presented something to me, which happened to be racing, that I was immediately attached to and became passionate toward it. It didn’t matter how hard I had to work. I loved it. And I want them to find that. But, as parents, we’re going to be presenting a lot of things to them. Heck, my daughter surfed for the first time this week and I was blown away that she was standing up on a surf board. So, you never know what it’s going to be. You try to read what their personalities are like and what things they’re enjoying. But there’s not doubt both my kids will drive a race car for fun at some point. And if it’s something that they really attach themselves to and want to do more of and keep tugging on me and their mom and say they want to do more of that, then we’ll progress with that. But, I’m not going to push that on them and make them think that’s what they have to do or try to follow in my footsteps."