Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger/AARP Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway and discussed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. out of No. 88 with concussion, Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte, rule changes and other topics.
TALK ABOUT COMING TO CHARLOTTE RIDING A WAY OF STRONG FINISHES: “Thank you. It is exciting to know how things are going for us right now. It’s been a pretty crazy season for us; up and down. Not too many things have gone our way, but we’ve found a way to carve our way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Of course, then it started the way it did in Chicago. But, other than that, we’ve been on quite a roll; quite a streak. Really proud of this team. It’s got me excited to go to each and every race. We’ve just really improved our cars, and it has me driving with more confidence; giving better information back to them. I give so much credit to the team, and how hard they are worked. From the beginning of the season when we were good, but could have been a little bit better to also just fighting through so much adversity and frustration at times.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE LEVEL OF COMMITMENT OF SAFETY BY THIS SPORT NOW COMPARED TO WHEN YOU GOT IN, AND HOW MUCH SAFER THIS IS? “Sure. I was pretty fortunate that I came into this sport at Hendrick Motorsports, but also with Ray Evernham as a crew chief. Ray Evernham had experienced some pretty horrendous crashes in his career, and some major concussions that really ended his driving career. I think because of those combinations, we as a team, put a lot of effort into safety. I think if you go back through, we might not have been the first ones always, but a lot of time, we were kind of leading the way on seats and how they are mounted in the car. Seat belts. Shoulder support. Head support. All those types of things. Along the way NASCAR was making improvements as well, as well as race tracks. You learn from every wreck. Then there was that big leap forward after 2001, and with this new car. I look at seat designs, Hans Devices, seat belts-how they are mounted in the car, the padding, the safer barriers, the race cars…it’s so much safer now. But, it doesn’t mean that it is still not a dangerous sport. INTERRUPTED BY MUTANT NINJA TURTLES WHO ENTERED THE ROOM: I’ve got some guys with me that…don’t mess with me this weekend.
“I think a lot of times we think of where this sport has been safety wise; guys breaking arms; major injuries that either kept them out of their cars, or possibly even death at times. But the thing is, these days, we’ve made a lot of things better, but I think Junior is a reminder that these head injuries, we’ve seen it in other sports, can be very, very serious and not something you take lightly. You can hit your head, and two or three days later feel like you are okay to get back in the car. But, it is that sustained injury over and over again that can really be damaging, and long term. So, I’m proud of him for stepping up, and going to see Dr. Petty. I love Dr. Petty. That is who I would go to. I think a lot of people in this garage area value his expertise and opinions. I’m proud of both of them, because that was a tough call. Not only for Junior to go, it was a tough call for Dr. Petty to say ‘I think you need to sit out’ as well.”
HOW DIFFICULT A DECISION WAS THAT FOR JUNIOR TO GO TO THE DOCTOR KNOWING HE WAS PROBABLY GOING TO HAVE TO GET OUT OF HIS RACE CAR? TALK ABOUT WITH EMOTIONS A DRIVER HAS TO DEAL WITH TO DO THAT: “I have talked to Junior; but I haven’t talked to him at length and detail about some of those things. I don’t know if he knew going there that there was a possibility that could happen. I think he just wanted to diagnose what was going on. If you’ve got headaches day later after an accident, then obviously you’ve got to go see somebody. I mean I only have my own kind of experience. I think we all play a role; NASCAR, the NASCAR liaisons at-track, safety crews, us as drivers, teams…we all play a role in keeping this sport safe, and preventing injury. Sometimes that is just what it is – preventative. Something can happen, and it sends a signal to you and you’ve got to be the one to make the call and step up. That’s the first step. Then you have got to go see the right doctors, and rely on their expertise to make the right calls as well. And so on, and so on. It was a big step, I’m proud of Junior for doing it. I don’t know if he knew going in that was going to happen, but, from my own experience; I had that wreck at Pocono, and I know I was trying to leave the infield medical center. I knew I was a little loopy. I hit my head pretty hard. But as a driver, your adrenaline is still flowing; you go in there; its’ been a bad wreck. You go “Yeah, I don’t feel great, but I feel okay, I’m going to go’, and I was leaving and they said ‘Whoa, wait a minute’. They had the crash data box, and I don’t know if there is a red signal on it that once it gets up to a high G Load or something, but they said ‘No No, we’ve checked the box and you need to stay here, and we need to go get you checked out’. So I actually left there and went to a hospital and got an MRI that night because of NASCAR directly me to do that. Everything checked out okay, but, hours later is when you start to realize. At the time, you can go into the Infield Care Center right afterwards and feel fine. It’s usually hours later when some of the symptoms start to hit you.”
PEOPLE ASSUME THAT BECAUSE JIMMIE (JOHNSON) HAS HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS HERE AT CHARLOTTE, HE’S GOING TO HAVE AN ADVANTAGE HERE SATURDAY NIGHT. BUT, IF YOU LOOK AT HIS THREE OR FOUR RACES, HE HASN’T DONE THAT WELL. YOU KIND HAD A REALLY GOOD STREAK HERE AT ONE TIME, AND THEN YOU HAVE SPELLS TOO. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU OWN A TRACK, AND THEN IT KIND OF GOES AWAY? DOES IT PLAY WITH YOU MENTALLY? “It’s just advancement in technology, and set-ups, and speed in race cars, and tires, aerodynamics. You start to advance forward in some areas that start to make the cars go faster, and it takes away a little bit of that magic set-up that you had. Tires change as well. Goodyear is constantly advancing with safer, more durable tires, and sometimes tires have more grip. Sidewalls are changing and different. Any of those little things can change that feel that you have. I don’t know if any of that is leading to the last few races for Jimmie. He always runs good here; he won the All Star Race, so I expect for him to be really strong this weekend. That is my experience. I remember we really did dominate here, and we came here and we started getting off. At the time Jerry Nadeau was my teammate, and he was running really fast, and he had this huge right rear spring. We were all laughing going ‘you can’t run that’. He was super-fast with it. We had to adapt to that. Somebody else puts it in and they go fast, you go ‘let’s try it’. It’s not just that you throw it in and it’s magic. There’s times when that happens; but rarely. It is something you have to adapt to as a driver, and get a new sense and feel and security and confidence in that it is going to stick. That happens, and it just goes through these little waves. When you have been in this sport for 20 years, I’ve been through a few waves.”
DALE, JR. SAID AFTER THE KANSAS WRECK THAT HE CONTINUED TO RACE EVEN THOUGH HE FELT DINGED. HE OBVIOUSLY HAD A CONCUSSION AS WE’VE FOUND OUT. HOW OFTEN DO DRIVERS DO THAT? YOU ARE IN WRECKS ALL THE TIME, IMAGINE YOU GET DINGED QUITE A BIT. WHEN DOES IT GET TO THE POINT WHERE MAYBE IT IS DANGEROUS FOR SOME OF YOU GUYS TO BE ON THE TRACK? “When I think of it, it is just trying to get peak performance out of your body and your brain, and giving good information back to the team to try to make the car go faster. I don’t think it is a danger to anybody else; it’s just the potential of it being a danger to yourself having another impact. That’s the thing. Sometimes that first big impact, yes, it rings your bell, and it gets your attention sometimes. I think usually we use the sign if you are knocked unconscious. I’ve hit my head really hard many a times, never have been knocked unconscious, but I’ve probably still had a concussion, or a mild one. To me, as long as I feel fine going into the weekend, and don’t have any headaches and feel like once I get in the car, I’m driving the car to the best of my ability, then I feel like I’m fine. I’m not saying that is correct. And, I think we’re getting into it other sports, and we’ll probably get into it a little bit more now in our. It is just trying to really properly diagnose a real concussion, and try to acknowledge it as well as educate on the dangers of having another impact with your head. It could be a small impact that could be very damaging.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO POSSIBLE RULES CHANGES REGARDING TESTING AT TRACKS YOU RACE AT AND ELIMINATION OF TOP-35 RULE, YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT: “Those aren’t confirmed. I thought those were confirmed. KERRY THARP-NASCAR: “Jeff, I think you can speak freely about them.” (LAUGHTER) GORDON CONTINUED: “Ok, thank you. I was confused. We had this meeting, or whatever it was last week, and could have sworn that I heard Mike Helton even say it will be on Twitter 30 seconds after we leave this room. (LAUGHTER) I waited five minutes. I thought that was plenty. I was just going to re-tweet others. (Brad) Keselowski I thought for sure would have it out there. Then I was the first one to put it out there, then I felt bad because I thought I did something wrong. I was wondering why we didn’t just have a bulletin handed to us when we walked in there. It wasn’t really much of a meeting, it was more of a ‘here is what is going to happen’. I think that the testing especially, and we saw this with this current car, them open up the testing to get more laps and more information for Goodyear, for us, for NASCAR, and all the teams to just get as comfortable with a new body style; new rule changes, and with this new car. I think that is a very good thing. I will be interested to see if that continues past next year.
“The top-35 rule, I have no opinion on that. They can go either way on that. I’m just not the right one to ask honestly. I think that it is really designed for deeper in the field of figuring out what is best for those guys to get out there week-in and week-out. Not saying I won’t ever be outside the top-35 in points, it could be. I just don’t have good experience at it. I thought I was going to this year at time. The qualifying draw thing is the one that threw me off. Now they aren’t going to go off of practice. KERRY THARP: “Who else has a question?” (LAUGHTER) GORDON: “You said I could speak freely. But ok, I’ll wait until it’s official.” (LAUGHTER)
DR. PETTY SAID THAT 90% OF CONCUSSION INFORMATION COMES FROM THE PATIENT. GIVEN THAT INFORMATION, IF WE WERE AT TEXAS OR PHOENIX, IF DALE EARNHARDT (JR.) WERE LEADING IN POINTS, WOULD HE HAVE GONE TO SEE DR. PETTY? NO ONE WOULD HAVE KNOWN EXCEPT DALE HOW HE FELT. IF HE’S WITHIN A RACE OF TWO OF WINNING THE TITLE, WOULD YOU GO TO A DOCTOR AT THAT POINT IF NOBODY IS GOING TO KNOW EXCEPT YOU? “No. Honestly, I hate to say this, but no, I wouldn’t. That’s why I say we all play a part in this. If I have a thought at the championship, there’s two races to go, my head is hurting, and I just came through a wreck, and I am feeling signs of it, but I’m still leading the points, or second in the points, I’m not going to say anything. I’m sorry. You know, that is competitor in me, and probably many other guys. And, that’s to a fault. That’s not the way it should be. It is something that most of us, I think, would do. I think that is what gets a lot of us in trouble.”
WOULD YOU BE OFFENDED IF NASCAR CAME OUT WITH A POLICY THAT BASICALLY SAID YOU RECEIVED X-NUMBER OF Gs IN ANY TYPE OF ACCIDENT DURING THE RACE, THAT YOU HAD TO SEE SOMEONE LIKE THE DR. TO HAVE YOUR HEAD CHECKED BEFORE YOU COULD COMPETE AGAIN? “I don’t have a problem with that. But if you ask me if I am going to volunteer if I’m in a championship battle. Those things just don’t come along very often, and I think…and I applaud Junior for stepping up. Whether he felt like he was out of the championship or not, the fact that he felt like he needed to I applaud him. And I think that you would wish as an individual, you would do the same thing in that situation. But, I can’t say that I would. But, if I was in that position of being in a championship, I’d almost guarantee that I wouldn’t. So, I would think that yes that would be a good thing. I don’t think that was much of an impact though on the race on Sunday. It’s that Kansas one that was what led to this. I had heard he took a big impact at Kansas. So I think after an impact that it would be got to see a doctor Tuesday or Wednesday, and then at that point they would monitor you for the next week or two. I would definitely be in favor of that, yes.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT ALL THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE SCENES THAT MAKES IT ALL POSSIBLE THE PIT CREW, CREW CHIEF, THE BODY SHOP, ETC.: “They are everything. I sit up here and get the credit and I question it all the time because I’m the same one that drove the cars when we didn’t do well. All of a sudden something starts to click and you are going ‘well what happened’. You just start driving the car with more desire, more aggression, like all of a sudden the car starts working. These guys they are amazing in how hard they work, how many hours they put in. I’m very fortunate that I have people that believe in me so when things aren’t going well they work harder and try to find different areas to work in. Then when things are going well there is nobody that just sits there and rallies behind you more than the group of guys I have. We have had it tough on pit road this year, but we have all stuck together. We are running better and qualifying better. That’s amazing how when you step up so does everybody else and those guys have been stepping up on pit road as well.”
I HEAR YOU ARE PROBABLY HAVE SOME SPECIAL ‘TURTLE POWERS’ TONIGHT WHEN YOU GO OUT AND TRY TO GET THE POLE: “I hope so we had a good practice, fifth on the board. All we did was qualifying runs and I feel like we have a little bit more left to get up there. It’s going to be very fast cool conditions. Great draw going out late, I will enjoy it while it last. It’s been awhile since we have practiced this well for qualifying here at Charlotte. I hope that we can back it up.”