CHEVY NSCS AT INDIANAPOLIS: Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick Press Conf. Transcript

(L-R) Jeff Gordon, driver of the #88 Axalta Chevrolet, and team owner Rick Hendrick speak to the media before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Getty Images)

(L-R) Jeff Gordon, driver of the #88 Axalta Chevrolet, and team owner Rick Hendrick speak to the media before practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Getty Images)

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

THE COMBAT WOUNDED COALITION 400 AT THE BRICKYARD

INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT

JULY 22, 2016

JEFF GORDON, INTERIM DRIVER OF THE NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, AND RICK HENDRICK, OWNER OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to discuss Jeff climbing behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as he continues to heal from concussion like symptoms.  Full Transcript:

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS OF GETTING BACK IN THE CAR?

JEFF GORDON: “I certainly woke up feeling good when I saw Dale Jr.s’ Tweet that he’s seen progress. I texted him right away as soon as I saw that. So, that is great news. Great way to start the day.  I’m certainly a little overwhelmed over everything that has happened over the last week.  But, most of all, I’m proud to be here and help his team out. This is his team. What we want most is to have him healthy and strong for the long term. Today is a great sign of things to come for him.  For me, my goal is to come here and give this team the best effort that I can, and give them the best result…hopefully a good one.”

WHAT ABOUT THE CONDITIONING NEEDED TO BE IN THE CAR JEFF?  

JEFF GORDON: “There is certainly a lot of preparation that goes into every race and every season as a driver, and as a team. All I can tell you is that I have done everything I possibly can over the last three days to get ready for this race the best way that I can. We’ll find out what kind of condition I’m in.  There are certainly going to be challenges this weekend, but I feel like I am capable of doing it.  Rick (Hendrick) and the whole team have given me a lot of confidence in myself my choosing me and asking me to do this. I questioned Mr. H several times when he was asking me on the phone about this. That confidence that they have in me and then to go spend time with the team, Dale has a great team, I’m so impressed with Greg Ives and everybody at the No. 88 team.  And everyone pitching in at Hendrick Motorsports to get me comfortable and to get me ready… to have the confidence in me. There are going to be challenges. There is no doubt about it. Qualifying is the first thing that comes to my mind, even before the heart. To me qualifying; to go lay down laps; to advance to second round and hopefully get to third round. Qualifying is very important here. To do that in a short period of time with the amount of practice we have today in the heat of the day is going to be tough.  As far as hydration and all of those things, that is the most important thing for me is to just make sure hydration-wise is to get through the race in good shape. They have advanced a little bit since last year as far as cooling is concerned that I actually have some- air conditioning that actually cools things. Jimmie Johnson has offered me his cool vest. They know that I’m old and not in the kind of shape that I was but… Of any track that I can think of coming to, heat or no heat, and come and do a good job for this team, it is right here in Indianapolis. “

IF YOU COULD TALK ABOUT HOW DALE IS DOING? 

RICK HENDRICK: “I think you saw the tweet this morning. Wednesday he came by the shop, and we got to visit. He looks good; he is encouraged. He is following the Dr.’s orders. We’re really excited. He is in great spirits. He wants to get back in the car. He wants to race, but he also knows that the regime they have him on will get him right for a long time. He’s following Dr.’s orders, but I can tell he is getting antsy. But, he is going to do what they say.  He is doing well.”

WERE YOU ON VACATION WHEN A LOT OF THIS WAS GOING ON? WHAT WAS INGRID’S RESPONSE WHEN YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO GET BACK INTO THE CAR?  WHAT WAS MR. H APPROACH TO THIS?

JEFF GORDON: “If I could scroll through my phone, and look at the texts I have gotten from Rick that said ‘Call me’, I can tell you that you sit down when you call him in those instances.  It hasn’t happened a lot, but the times that it has it is usually pretty big.  I was in the South of France at that time. I think it was the second day of our vacation. Ingrid and I had planned a vacation to go over there.  I get that text, and I looked at her and said ‘Oh boy, here we go’.  I had no idea.  When Rick said to me ‘Are you coming to Indianapolis?’ I said ‘Yes I am. I am coming on Saturday’. He said ‘Well, you better bring your uniform’. I asked what he was talking about and he started to tell me about what was going on.  I thought he was messing with me. I knew he was messing with me. I knew right away the seriousness after that, and that he wasn’t joking. That it was serious. Honestly I didn’t have to think twice about it. When Rick calls, he has that confidence in me, and asked me to step-up and do something for the organization – whether it was driver, or other responsibilities. The way he has been there for me. The way this team and organization has been there for me over the years, I didn’t anticipate this. This is certainly the last thing that was going to happen. But I knew it was Indianapolis. I didn’t think about it. I felt like if there was one place that I was capable of doing it, it would be here. “

WHAT GOOD DOES THIS DO FOR YOU THAT YOU ENDED YOUR CAREER IN SUCH INCREDIBLE FASHION AT HOMESTEAD – WHAT IS IN IT FOR YOU?

JEFF GORDON: “I don’t think I am thinking of it that way. It is really just looking at how my role and how I fit in Hendrick Motorsports. How it has played a role in my life over the years. Not just for partnership, but the friendship that Rick and I have. He’s never asked me for many things that I can contribute and help that weren’t valid and weren’t something that I was proud to be able to do. So really, this is just me helping out the organization. I don’t know. We will see what happens on Sunday.  If we are out there having fun, and put a good result  together, I can tell you what is in it for me is to make that team proud, and not let them down. That is what I did as a race car driver. That is what I do with my kids. That is why I like to do with my involvement with Hendrick, and whether I am in the booth, or whatever I am doing, I like to make people proud of the effort I put in to it. I’m going to tell you, the last two days, I don’t think I’ve ever put as much effort in to preparing for a race, and crammed in all that I have in the last two days.  That process itself has been really interesting, exciting and fun and has me pretty fired up to get in the car and feel what it is like to be in there. I was at the GM simulator yesterday morning.  If we are racing simulators, I feel like I have a shot at this race. It went really well. Just seeing the team and their attitude and their effort and willingness to put me in there and feel good about it. That is motivating.”

CAN YOU DETAIL OUT WHAT YOU WEEK HAS BEEN LIKE? HOW MUCH HOMEWORK GOES INTO THIS?  HOW LONG ARE YOU PREPARED TO DO THIS?

JEFF GORDON: “First off I will just walk you through a little bit.  I got back from France on Tuesday.  I landed in New York; Mr. Hendrick was kind enough to have a plane there waiting for me to bring me to Charlotte.  I landed in Charlotte, drove straight to the shop and spent the evening with the team.  They had already put the seat in and the steering wheel and had been working with the No. 24 team that had access to everything the seat and the liner.  Luckily, we have archived and kept a lot of these things.  Really, this is basically my seat from Homestead, probably my steering wheel as well.  So, I spent the evening and it was really close, there were just a couple of little minor tweaks.  I came back the next morning to the shop and started that process.  I had to get a physical.  I had to do all the NASCAR requirements. I have an owner credential I don’t have a driver credential, so had to go through that process and spent the whole day there with Greg Ives.  The cool thing about Greg Ives is he reminded me that he worked for Robbie Loomis when Robbie was my crew chief and he was telling some great stories about working with Robbie.  I’ve known Greg for a long time and always been impressed with him.  But, I have never had the opportunity to work with him.  I’m looking forward to working with him.  I think he’s a great crew chief and they have a great race team.  I spent a lot of time with him and his team and the engineers going over data from the test that were here.  We have video, we have like Go-Pro video from inside the cars that I can watch Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, they both tested here and all their data.  And then it was not about 2015, it was about 2014 because in 2015 we had that huge spoiler… everything was different, but if you go back to ’14 even though it was more power, the traces are more similar.  I kind of like ’14 it was a good year.  I was happy to see that.  Then I took that information and went to the simulator the next morning in Huntersville (North Carolina) with GM (General Motors/Chevrolet) and they put those set-up’s and this aero package in the car in the simulator and I was able to drive it.  I had been in the simulator last year and I drove here as a matter of fact after a tire test that I did.  It was more of a verification trying to get the simulator continued to advance.  They have advanced a lot.  I thought that and I will be able to verify that today that is was very close.  Much closer than in the past of the breaking points, turning points, car handling, all those types of things.  I’m hoping that really pays off for me.”

HOW LONG ARE YOU PREPARED TO DO THIS?

JEFF GORDON: “Let’s not speculate.  Right now it’s through Pocono.  We were very encouraged by Dale, Jr’s tweet today and comments and the way he is feeling and hope that continues to progress and that he is back as soon as possible.  The one thing I was encouraged by when I saw him on Wednesday is his passion for racing, how much he loves being in the car and how much, like Rick said, you know he is getting antsy he wants to get back in there.  We just want him to be there when he is ready and when the doctors say he is ready.  I will do whatever I need to do, but I’m also thinking what is going to get the team the most points and give them the best opportunity to advance into the Chase.  You’ve got the two sides.  The owner and the driver side of that.”

HAD YOU AND MR. HENDRICK DISCUSSED THIS POSSIBILITY AT ALL LAST SEASON?  OR WHEN THE REQUEST WAS MADE WAS IT A COMPLETE SURPRISE?  HAD THIS OF BEEN PART OF THE FOX PORTION OF THE SEASON WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN AVAILABLE TO DRIVE?  IS THERE ANY OPPORTUNITY DURING PRACTICE FOR YOU TO PRACTICE PIT IN AND OUT, AS WELL AS, STARTS AND RESTARTS?

RICK HENDRICK: “No we never talked about it because you gave me a helmet when you got out of the car, so I thought you were done.”

JEFF GORDON: (Laughs) “I should have given you the seat and the steering wheel.”

RICK HENDRICK: “We never thought about needing him in a pinch like this.  We talked about all… no, I know we didn’t.”

JEFF GORDON: “Well the crazy thing about all this I was asked to drive Tony Stewart’s car in Daytona to start the season out with his injuries and the incident that happened there.  No, I wasn’t able to do it because of my commitments to FOX.  Now, Rick has some amazing ways to convince people into things that the average person might not be able to.  So, I don’t know maybe he could have called Eric Shanks (President, COO and Executive Producer of FOX Sports) or something, but no I don’t think so.  That is what to me when I think about this whole scenario… I mean I’m driving in the track last night just going ‘wow’.  The last seven days have just been a whirlwind.  And the fact that it’s Indianapolis, I don’t know it’s kind of hard for me to really wrap my brain around it right now.

ANY CHANCE DURING PRACTICE TO PRACTICE PIT IN AND OUT?

JEFF GORDON: “Oh yeah, what I will do is pretty much every time I go out and make a run, I will hit pit road hard.  Because that is the other thing, the digital dash, I’ve never run with the digital dash before.  We didn’t have it in the car last year for me.  Some of the Hendrick cars did, but I did not, because we wanted to stick with what we had all season long to go to Homestead.  So, that is new and that is one of the things I’ve been playing around with while I was getting fitted in the car is the placement of all the gauges and things that are on the digital dash.  So, I’ve got to work on that pit road lighting system.  They have worked out the bugs, so it’s going to make it easier.  I will hit pit road, do my down shifts and get down to pit road speed, carry pit road speed and then when Greg (Ives) is ready he is going to tell me where I can come in and stop in a box.  Just kind of get a feel for how the car stops.  The biggest thing is going to the No. 88 stall, not the No. 24 stall.  (Laughs).  Twenty-three years I went to that No. 24 stall.  We have already talked about the processes of assuring that doesn’t happen.”

IS IT GOING TO BE A LITTLE WEIRD CLIMBING INTO A CAR WITHOUT THE NO. 24?  AFTER YOU READILY AGREED TO FILL-IN WAS THERE A LITTLE BIT OF HESITATION AFTERWARDS?

JEFF GORDON: “Well, first off, there are so many strange scenarios that play out in this situation.  I mean, I’m going to be racing against the No. 24 car out there.  I mean, none of us anticipated this happening.  You can’t plan.  You don’t know how you are going to react to it.  To me, once I get behind the wheel and I’m inside the car I don’t know what is on the outside of that car.  It’s a race car and I’m going to be focused on driving, not focused on anything else.  But, when I’m standing outside of it and I’m looking at the No. 88 car and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s name over the door… it is certainly a unique situation that I don’t know how that is going to impact me.  Mostly, I’m just thinking about Dale, Jr. and what he is going through and how tough this has been on him and this team to have driver’s getting in and out of the car.  They want him back and we want him back.  I’m just going to be focused on doing my job the best I can and hopefully walk away with this experience with them in a good place and where I can hold my head up high about the job that I did.”

YOU SPENT THE FIRST HALF OF THE YEAR IN THE MEDIA.  DOES THAT GIVE YOU A GREATER APPRECIATION FOR HOW IMPORTANT SPECIAL STORIES LIKE THIS ARE? NOT JUST FOR THE MEDIA, BUT FOR TRACKS LIKE INDIANAPOLIS AND POCONO AND THE FANS IN NASCAR?

JEFF GORDON: “Certainly.  Yeah, absolutely, we are looking for big stories because you know that when they come along it creates a lot of buzz and interest and gives you a lot to talk about.  So, I’m sure the folks at NBC are going to have plenty to talk about here on Sunday.  Yes, there is no doubt that I have a greater appreciation for that.  It’s hard for me to think about that right now, just thinking more about what the job at hand is.”

GIVEN EVERYTHING THAT YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH IN RACING AND PERSONALLY, HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO OFFER ANY PERSPECTIVE TO JUNIOR AS FAR AS A ‘ONE DAY AT A TIME PHILOSOPHY’ MOVING FORWARD?

RICK HENDRICK:“Dale and I talked earlier about multiple years beyond next year and I was involved when he went to the doctor. And then the doctors really rook over and then we text back and forth. And then I got to see him face-to-face. But, I care about him as a friend and someone that means a lot to me and I want him to be healthy and right when he gets in the car and the doctors are going to dictate that.

“The news has been really good. And the tweet this morning was really good. He looks good. He’s sharp. So I’m excited about getting him back. But I’ve just tried to leave him alone. But then he will text me. I don’t Tweet, so he’s got to text me. But, I really enjoyed spending time with him Wednesday. He misses this. He misses his team. He went to see his team. He saw the guys and it really lifted them. I think between Jeff agreeing to drive the car and Junior walking in the shop, the team is really excited. Jeff’s situation with our company, everybody there knows him; and when some unknown person is going to get in the car, or clearly not anyone of the talent that Jeff has here at Indy, so that excited the team. But more than anything, when he walked in that building it just lifted everybody up. So, we’re really excited. Everybody is there for Junior and his health is number one priority. But, we feel good about where we are right now.”

WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE EVOLUTION OF DRIVER AWARENESS OF THEIR PERSONAL HEALTH? THERE’S THE GREAT STORIES LIKE WHEN RICKY RUDD TAPED HIS EYEBALLS OPEN. THAT’S GONE. THAT’S EXTINCT. HOW HAS THAT EVOLVED DURING YOUR CAREER, JEFF? YOU HAD BACK ISSUES BUT YOU WOULDN’T GET OUT OF THE SEAT. HOW HARD IS IT FOR A DRIVER TO MAKE THAT DECISION? WHAT DOES IS SAY ABOUT DALE THAT HE MADE THIS DECISION HIMSELF TO SEEK OUT THE DOCTORS AND BE PROACTIVE?

JEFF GORDON:“That’s one of the things that immediately stood out to me was how proud I was of Dale to seek out those doctors and to recognize….  And he’s somewhat been through something similar to this in the past. And he set a great example then and I think he’s setting a great example now because if he didn’t seek out those doctors, then I don’t know if he would have known exactly what was going on. And now he’s much clearer on that and I think it’s going to benefit him long-term, not just as a person, but as a race car driver, as well. So, I’m very proud of him for doing that and it sets an amazing example to others.

“Every scenario is different. It’s different when you’re dealing with things that have to do with your brain versus your finger or an arm or a foot or whatever. I think every athlete and every race car driver drives with certain symptoms that they feel like they can manage that are non-related to concussion-like symptoms per se.  And I think that when it’s back or an illness; you know you push through a lot of things but there becomes that moment where you know okay, this is not something that is worth pushing. And you only hope that others, moving forward, will say hey, Dale Junior was able to make this decision, and so can I.”

DO YOU THINK THEY WILL BECAUSE HE DID IT?

JEFF GORDON:“I hope they will. I’d like to think that in today’s world that they would make that choice. Listen, you have to know your own body. So, if you are recognizing things that are happening that aren’t normal that are affecting you in your day-to-day life or in the race car, you have to take some responsibility, as well. And then you need to turn that over to the doctors to let them make the right decisions for you because stepping into that doctor’s office is the first step. The next step is paying attention to professionals that understand those kinds of conditions. And so, I certainly would hope more, if they’re dealing with things like that, would do that.”

YOU MENTIONED THE MORALE BOOST ABOUT HAVING DALE IN THE SHOP THIS WEEK. IT’S BEEN A ROUGH STRETCH FOR YOUR TEAM AND IT SEEMS LIKE THEY ARE IN A BIT OF A SLUMP. HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO HAVE ALL THIS GOING ON WHILE YOU’RE TRYING TO CATCH THE COMPETITION ON THE TRACK? DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE BEHIND? CAN MAYBE JEFF HELP EVALUATE WHERE YOU’RE TEAM CAN IMPROVE?

RICK HENDRICK:“It seems like when it rains, it pours. I think at Daytona we wrecked three or four cars. And then we went to Kentucky and wrecked again. We were in good shape in New Hampshire, but wrecked again. I’ve been doing this long enough that you can’t stay on top forever. You have to work hard to get back. And I think we’ve made a lot of improvements. I think we’ll see some, hopefully, this weekend. But, you never like having a curveball. This is kind of one of the toughest things you have to go through as one of your star drivers can’t drive. And so, the encouraging news is that everybody just stepped-up and is working harder. We’re determined to work in every area from the engine to the chassis and aero and everything. And the teams are excited. It’s kind of our ‘refuse to lose’ belief. But we didn’t need this, for sure. We didn’t need the wrecks we’ve gone through. Our place looks like a salvage yard where all of the cars have been tore up. But that just makes us dig harder. I think Junior, coming to the shop, was a big lift.  Jeff being here is a big lift. Hopefully we’ll turn the corner here pretty quick.”

JEFF GORDON:“If I may just add that to me, when Hendrick Motorsports is dominating this series, that highly motivates your competition; and they go to work. And sometimes you get torn down while you’re getting your butt kicked. But, you start to find a way to get yourself better than you were before and hopefully get yourself in position. The resources and the type of people that Hendrick Motorsports has is sort of what’s happening to us right now. We’re being highly motivated by other organizations and teams that are out there and are getting great results. But, we’re too good of an organization not to find a way to only make ourselves better and stronger and our cars faster to get back to that place.”

THE FOLKS AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY STARTED TALKING IN FEBRUARY ABOUT JEFF GORDON DRIVING THE PACE CAR AND BE THE FIRST CELEBRITY DRIVER TO DRIVE BOTH THE INDY 500 AND THE BRICKYARD 400; AND WERE ON THE VERGE OF ANNOUNCING IT BEFORE HE CALLED. CAN WE GET A RAIN CHECK ON THAT?

JEFF GORDON:“Absolutely!  I owe you one, for sure, on that; and I would be honored to be able to do it. Thank you for considering me and yeah, that was another part of this. I sent Jon Edwards a text and said, ‘Um, have you spoken to the speedway?’  And he goes, ‘Yeah, the announcement is getting ready to come out’. I said, ‘You need to hold off on that announcement.’  So, I apologize about that.”

WE’D MUCH RATHER HAVE YOU OUT RACING HERE, BUT IF YOU’RE NOT RACING NEXT YEAR WE’D CERTAINLY LOVE TO HAVE THAT CONVERSATION

JEFF GORDON:“I do not anticipate coming back to the Brickyard unless I get a text from Rick Hendrick.” (Laughter).

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