NASCAR Media Conference
October 17, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We're hosting today's teleconference at Homestead-Miami Speedway. First a reminder for media attending the Martinsville event. The Nextel Wake-Up Call (indiscernible) 10 a.m. with (indiscernible) Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year Denny Hamlin as the guest. Hamlin will be followed at approximately 10:35 by Scott Riggs at Martinsville.
(Indiscernible) four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet. Jeff spent yesterday testing here. We'll have a second day of tests today. Jeff is 10th in the points but (indiscernible) victories, the best among active drivers.
Jeff, can you start a comeback this week?
JEFF GORDON: Well, we're certainly going to make as much of a comeback as we are capable of. You know, obviously it's been disappointing the last three races to have the problems that we've had. You know, our goals are to go into these last five races just giving it everything we've got to win races and get as high up in the points as possible.
The likelihood of having seven, eight guys in front of us have problems to get us back into the Chase I think is very unlikely. So we're kind of more relaxed now where we're just going out there to win. Martinsville is a great place for us to do that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go now to questions from the media.
Q. Jeff, when you get this far behind in the Chase, do you go into any sort of let's experiment some for next year in addition to going bonsai or do you stick with what you got and say we go all out?
JEFF GORDON: No, that's exactly what we do. We basically just do everything that we can to experiment, try things, but win races.
We'd done the test a couple weeks ago to prepare for Martinsville that allowed us to go to Martinsville and try something a little bit different, just to try to get ahead of the competition, to be better than we've been in the past. Even though Martinsville is a solid and pretty consistent track for us, we never stop trying to get better.
If we were leading the points right now, maybe we wouldn't go that route, but we're not. Yeah, right now it's about experimenting as well as just putting solid races together, going off of what we learned all year, what we know, and also incorporating some new things to just learn for this season and next year.
Q. With so many guys now at least (indiscernible) Sam Hornish will run a Busch race this year, Montoya, Villeneuve talking about coming in, Patrick Carpentier, even Ricky Carmichael, what does that say about NASCAR today with so many guys that have been so successful in other series, they just want to be a part of it and want to do something in NASCAR?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a great (indiscernible) of the popularity of this sport, especially in America. As far as motorsports go in America, this is the elite and the top level that you can get to. At one time, that was not necessarily the case. If you look at the Indy 500, IndyCars back in the '80s, even maybe I guess late '80s, early '90s, it just seemed like the sport of NASCAR just started to take off.
I was very fortunate to get involved with it in the early '90s and be a part of that. It's continued, you know, to take off among the American public. So you're seeing guys from other series that (indiscernible).
I think at one time our cars were just considered (indiscernible) taxi cabs and not real race cars. We've gotten the cars now to where they're fun to drive. Obviously the competition has always been there. We get to go to great racetracks as well. But the competition, as far as drivers and teams, you just can't beat it.
I think guys like Sam Hornish, who has accomplished pretty much everything that he can accomplish over there in IndyCars, is probably thinking, okay, now let's go try to do that in NASCAR. Juan Pablo, winning the Formula One championship, that's kind of the same situation.
Q. Jeff, after the words between you and Junior at Talladega, do you see the positives as far as targeting the sport with a Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson (indiscernible)? Would you rather patch things up so you can draft together and work together again?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I think the rivalry is more among our fans than it is Junior and myself. He and I have talked. There's no issue there. I have more issues with the way the bump-drafting is not being focused on or taken care of when we go to Daytona and Talladega more so than what Junior is doing.
What Junior is doing is the type of drafting -- he's a great drafter. He's got a car capable of pushing guys around, and NASCAR allows him to do it. He's not the only one. I think I probably used him as an example because he's the most extreme with it.
I told him that, you know. We talked about it. I think that, you know, we're in a unique situation because he's one of the guys that I have to beat out there. I'm not trying to make any friends out there. There's been times when he's pushed me that maybe has helped me but then there's been a lot of times he's pushed me in a way to get me out of the way.
I feel like there is a bit of a rivalry on restrictor plate tracks. But it's just different styles. He has a style and I have a style. They're both successful.
We talked yesterday a little bit more. I don't think there's any issues as far as he and I are concerned. I mean, I'm not saying it's good or bad for the sport. I think to have drivers that are popular and then fans that are against them, others that are for, I think that does create a rivalry among the fans, and it creates excitement. It seems to create a buzz within the media. I know that that's good for the sport.
But you can't create that; it just happens automatically.
Q. Were Junior's comments unfair about you not having friends on the track? In retrospect, do you regret questioning his tactics since he did bump you in front without wrecking you?
JEFF GORDON: My response to that is that I absolutely have no friends out there. Not trying to make friends. Don't want any friends. I'm proud of what I've accomplished in restrictor plate tracks by not having somebody that made some commitment to me that they're going to stick with me.
I work with my teammates the best I possibly can. I've explained to them, Hey, you do what you got to do to win the race. I'm going to do what I got to do to win the race. If we can work together and get there and put ourselves in position late in the race, then great. But if not, I'm not going to blame you for not working with me. I don't want you to blame me for not working with you.
You know, I think the only thing about Junior's comments is him saying that he pushed me to help me. Very few times has he ever pushed me to help me. I know how many times he's pushed me into the corner, in the corner, where I couldn't control the car, drove up the racetrack, he passed me. I can remember lots of those times.
But we're racing one another. You know, he's not my teammate. He's a competitor. I know you got (indiscernible) at the end of the day. I like racing him. I like drafting and racing with him. But my only real issue that I had, as long as NASCAR allows those types of things to go on, then bump-drafting is always going to be an issue and we're going to see big wrecks.
I'm not saying we won't see big wrecks without bump-drafting, but it only contributes to it more. When you've got the most popular guy, one of the best drafters out there, doing it to the extreme, it only sets the example for other guys where they think they can go out there and do that, too.
Q. (Indiscernible) with all the contact out there, there's potential for one driver to have a beef with another driver after the race. We saw that with Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt recently. How do you specifically deal with that afterwards in terms of maintaining relationships with other drivers? Do you like to confront somebody right away (indiscernible)? Is there another way of dealing with it?
JEFF GORDON: I think every situation is different. My experience has been usually you want to let things calm down a little bit, a day or two. If it was something that was really intentional or something that was just a really dumb mistake, then you make a phone call the following day and try to talk to that person throughout that week. If it was a little something that really was not that big of a deal, if you see the person at the next race, maybe talk to them, give them your side of the story.
We're seeing more and more contact all the time just because the competition is tighter, the track position is so much harder to get these days. We talk about this aero push. It just continues to get worse and worse and worse. You're seeing guys push one another around or fight harder for positions. It has caused a little bit more heated battles on and off the racetrack.
It is important to maintain relationships because you cannot go 38 weeks without upsetting somebody. But at the same time, at the end of the day, if you want to win the championship you can't have too many enemies out there. You have to pass those things (indiscernible) some way, somehow.
I've done them different every time I've gotten in that situation. Sometimes I just let it go away; other times I confront it right away.
Q. This is the first time they're testing the Car of Tomorrow (indiscernible)?
JEFF GORDON: I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of the Car of Tomorrow. I think there's some technology in there that's good. Certainly safety-wise, I think there's some things that I like. You know, I'm definitely -- I drove the car in Michigan.
By itself, it doesn't really drive that bad. I saw some guys have some cars here, at times they're off a little bit, but the cars out there on the track don't seem to be out of control or anything like that. They seem to be driving okay.
I heard a lot of guys are having issues with the cars pushing, that they cannot get the push out of the car. That doesn't surprise me. If you look at the aerodynamics of the car, it's very rear downforce heavy. You can get all the rear downforce you want in the car. The front downforce, you're very limited. We had some issues at Michigan. We addressed those to NASCAR.
I feel like what's happened with this car is not a lot of people took them serious, meaning the teams didn't take them serious. They were very serious about this Car of Tomorrow. Very few of the teams and engineers and really design people that could have been more involved were not involved because we thought that it wasn't something that seriously was going to happen in '07 or maybe '08. NASCAR took a stance to say, Hey, we are serious, this is going to happen. Here is the car. Either you like it or you don't like it, but you better get on board.
Now the teams have seriously taken -- are serious about it. They've gotten on board. I think we're going to start to see where we can start to massage that car and make it what I think the potential of it is.
The biggest issue I have with the car is it doesn't look like a race car. To me I think a Car of Tomorrow, I think of the ingenuity, technology, things we could have done to incorporate what NASCAR has wanted to do. We need to slow these cars down through the corners. That's why we have the big aero push. We probably need to punch a little bit bigger hole, (indiscernible) on the cars.
The splitter and the wing are good ideas. Make the car safer. That's great. But I think we could have done it by also making it look like the Car of Tomorrow, have some futuristic things in it that look cool. It doesn't have that.
Q. What kind of driver are you off the track?
JEFF GORDON: I'm pretty calm. I mean, I don't -- I haven't had any speeding tickets in a long time. I feel like that record kind of speaks for itself.
I'm get from Point A to Point B. That's the whole point of driving really. I enjoy listening to the radio and having that downtime in the car when I'm driving by myself. I enjoy driving.
I'm not a speed demon or anything like that, if that's what you're asking (laughter). I'm like anybody else. If I'm running late, I'm in a hurry. I got to speed a little bit more than I would. If I'm not in a hurry, I'm pretty calm.
Q. (Indiscernible) Jeff Burton with Roush?
JEFF GORDON: I would say it's Richard Childress Racing and two years of hard work. The setups and the things that they are experiencing this year that have been working for them, they've been working on that for two years. A year and a half ago they were so far out to lunch, you could see they were trying crazy things. You could see the way the attitude of the cars, the cars being very edgy, not look very pretty as far as under control. The drivers really struggled with them. But they were trying things outside the box. I think that has really paid off for them.
You know, they were probably one of the first teams to have a seven-post rig in their facility, at their shop. I think that piece of equipment showed them some things that they needed to be doing that now all of us are pretty much doing because they were kind of the first ones to go that direction, they struggled with it. Now it's paid off for them. I think their cars are handling good. Their teams are together. They've got great drivers. You got Harvick and Burton. Harvick now has quite a bit of experience under his belt. Of course, Burton has had a little the experience, what he's been through in the sport. You have Bowyer, who is a talented young driver, adding something to those teams, as well. They just have their act together.
Q. You've had your share of bad breaks the last few weeks. In spite of all the (indiscernible) and hard work that goes into a race, how much of it do you think comes down to plain old luck at times?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm not a big fan of the word "luck." I know that plays a role in everybody's lives and in racing. But I think you make your luck by being in the right position at the right time, being in the wrong position at the wrong time.
I look back at all of our situations. There's always a solution. There's always something that you could have maybe foreseen and prevented. That's what we try to do. I think it's one of the things we do best at Hendrick Motorsports is that we when find a problem, we get to the bottom of it, try to make sure it doesn't happen again.
All the issues that we've had in the Chase are issues we've never had before. So it's kind of hard to foresee those things. You know, I still look at them and say that they could have been prevented. Like the situation at Talladega, I made -- I was leading the race and I chose the wrong lane to block, got shuffled back. We came in and made a pit stop. We ended up getting back further in the field than I felt like we should have, got caught up in the big one.
I feel like all those things -- luck can be prevented by qualifying good. Bad luck can be prevented by qualifying good, having good track position, putting yourself in the right place at the right time, not to mention hard work, all those things. I'll go with that a lot more than I'll just go off of just luck.
I think if you look at the guys that are up front in the Chase, I think they've prepared themselves very well. You can call it luck or preparation, but that's the way I like to lean on it.
JEFF GORDON: Well, you're in a good position, bad situation. I mean, for me, we came -- the first two races were awesome races. We finished third in both those races. I felt like -- I really felt like we had the team to beat for the championship. We were running good, finishing good, putting ourselves in good positions, creating good finishes.
Then we went to Kansas. We had our problems. From that point on, you start to lose that confidence and say, Okay, now we have to rebound next week. You go to the next week, you don't rebound, it just starts to get harder and harder and harder.
I said all along, you don't have to be dominant to win this championship, you just got to be consistent. If you look at the guys that are up front, yeah, Burton has won a race, but other than that he has not been super spectacular. But they've been solid all the way to the checkered flag, and that's what it takes. That's what we haven't been able to do.
I think we've performed well enough to win the championship this year. But doesn't matter how well you perform if you don't finish it off at the end of the day. Right now at this point, we just kind of go out there and relax and have fun and just try to turn things around and put the best (indiscernible) we can. No matter what we do, I don't think it's going to win the championship.
JEFF GORDON: Oh, yeah. You're battling against nine, ten other guys. That in itself makes it more difficult. You close the gap of the points down. That makes it more difficult. There's no doubt in my mind that the Chase makes it more challenging, more exciting and makes it more rewarding when you do win it.
Q. As you look at the points standings, as you look at the nature of the next track, Martinsville, do you think the waters are going to clear quite a bit after this coming weekend?
JEFF GORDON: For who?
Q. As far as the Chase goes.
JEFF GORDON: I mean, there's just no guarantees any weekend. Any given weekend there's potential for disaster, whether it be a failure, a crash, a mistake made on pit road or on the racetrack. It can happen any weekend. Burton can lead this thing all the way up to Homestead, have a problem at Homestead. It can happen anywhere.
I think it's going to be clearer and clearer each and every weekend as to who the guys are that have a shot at it once we get to Homestead. Right now it's not that clear. You got Burton out there. He's obviously a clear favorite. But other than that, you really have no idea who else can come on strong or who might be able to take this thing besides Burton.
I think everybody's looking at Burton, saying he's got this thing under control right now. That can change in a hurry. It can happen this weekend. It can happen at Texas, Phoenix, Atlanta, anywhere.
Q. The Car of Tomorrow, you said you would like to see it look cooler, better. Can you draw comparisons to another car in another series that you like the way it looks?
JEFF GORDON: Well, the challenge with that is we got to keep it, one, as a stock car. This is stock car racing. We also have to accomplish what NASCAR is trying to accomplish safety-wise but also speed-wise. They're trying to slow these cars down through the corners because this aero push, we talk about the lack of passing, it's because the cars are going so fast through the corners, we're so dependent on the aero.
I mean, just look-wise, I think the Trans-Am series. Just take our race cars that we have today and put them on steroids. I think just beefing up the fenders, different areas of the car, to give it a little more rake and slope.
There's too many smart engineers out there. NASCAR has some working for them. The teams have them. The manufacturers have them. Just too many smart engineers that could have gotten together and designed a car that accomplished the aerodynamics that we were looking for, the safety that we were looking for, and also make it look like the Car of Tomorrow.
Q. There's been talk since the Chase started about tweaking it. Do you like the way (indiscernible) changes you'd like to see made?
JEFF GORDON: I'm not big on change. I wasn't crazy when they made the change to the Chase. Now I'm sold on the Chase. I like the Chase. I don't know if I want to see much change.
The one thing I've always said for years, even before the Chase, I felt like the points structure that we have pays so much for consistency. I'm not a big fan of going through a wreck, having a car that's tore up, having a team throw fenders back on the car, tweak this, tweak that, a car that's really not capable of being out on the racetrack at speed. Yet we get out there just to gain one or two positions and finish 45th or 34th, just to make up five or ten points.
I think if the points structure was about what it currently is now down to 25th or 30th place, then it paid the same amount of points for everybody there on down to start the race, I think we could give up some of our bad races, we wouldn't have to put race cars out there, throw debris all over the track. I think it still would make guys -- the incentive to go out there and win would still be there.
We keep talking about raising the points to the winner. I don't see how we can go out there and do more than what we're doing now to try to win. Everybody wants to win. Not that a guy goes out there and says, Third or fourth, this is where I want to be. It's that we do settle for that because of the consistency of the points structure. We realize that a third or fourth place finish is good enough to win the championship and be in the Chase.
I think they're thinking about adding some points to the top there. That might make guys risk a little bit more. That's the thing, it's about risk versus reward. If you're second and you think it's worth the risk, then you might take that extra risk which to me means there probably will be more 'green-white-checkered' finishes at some of these races if they do that.
Q. What about the idea of making the Chase the 10 Chase guys within their own points structure?
JEFF GORDON: I like the idea of once we get into the Chase of having a separate points system among the 10 guys. I like that. I think that's a great idea. Means that we're still racing with the other guys out there. Everybody's racing to win races, get the best finish. To be able to finish further back and have like a ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. You can spread it out a little bit more, kind of like the F1 series, but just among those 10 guys. I think that could be very interesting.
Q. The next active driver behind you in career wins is Mark Martin with 35. What has been among the tougher challenges for you in winning every year? Is it a case with all these changes that the sport won't see anybody win more than 50 any more?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, you've got Kasey Kahne who has six wins under his belt this year. I think you're still able to see guys win a good number of races if your team gets on a roll, you hit on some things.
I will say the Car of Tomorrow, one of the things that that Car of Tomorrow is going to do is make it far more competitive among all the competitors out there. I don't think you're going to see a big advantage to one team or one car, one driver that you've seen in the past. That could definitely change that. It will be interesting to see how that goes.
I think the crew chief, the pit strategy is going to become extremely important. I don't think you're going to see guys just driving up through the field from the back to the front like you have in the past.
Yeah, it's a very interesting question. The challenges for me have just been the evolution of the cars and the setups. The cars get faster every year. How you adapt to those speeds, to the changing environment, the competition, has been the biggest challenge. Something I'm extremely proud of is the fact that we've won a pole every year that I've been in this series, and the streak we have for race wins. It boggles my mind to look at it. Honestly, I think how in the world did I win 75 races? I have no idea. I know we had some great years there, but I think of a 10 race, a 13 race, I still don't know where the 75 came from. Still don't know where 75 came from.
There certainly have been many challenges along the way, and they'll only increase over the next several years.
Q. Frank Kimmel just won his eighth championship in ARCA. Pretty impressive feat, is it not?
JEFF GORDON: I think anybody in any series out there that wins that number of championships is an awesome accomplishment.
I think the reason why you don't see that happen more and more towards the Nextel Cup or Busch, some of the other top series out there, is that in ARCA it's just rare that you get one or two guys that competitive that stay in that series. Usually when they're that competitive, they move on.
Frank is in a unique situation. He's a little bit older than a lot of guys out there, but he's got a great team. He does a great job. They know that series. They know those tracks extremely well. As long as he continues to stay in the ARCA series, he'll probably continue to battle and win championships.
Q. Does the difficulty of attaining a single win in Nextel Cup (indiscernible)?
JEFF GORDON: Say that again.
Q. Does the difficulty of attaining even a single win in (indiscernible), does that affect your team's confidence?
JEFF GORDON: You mean in the Chase?
Q. Or getting to the Chase.
JEFF GORDON: I mean, we won two races this year, so I'm confused by the question.
Q. It's so difficult to attain a win. Does that affect your performance, your team's confidence?
JEFF GORDON: I see what you're saying.
Yes and no. I mean, obviously winning heightens your confidence level a lot for every team, any team out there. But I will say another way to build that same amount of confidence is to put consistent top five finishes together. That's one of the things that has gotten us in the Chase, what really built our confidence prior to the Chase was that we put together a pretty good string of top five, top six finishes that to me were impressive.
If you look at total points earned 15 races prior to the Chase starting, I think we were right there with Harvick, first or second among earning the most points. That in itself builds your confidence up just as much as winning.
I think that's why it's so important to win early in the season. I think winning a race early in the season can really keep you going for a long period of time. Then I think you've got to do it again in the middle of the season to get that back and to carry it into the Chase. Of course, if you can get one in the Chase, then it carries you throughout the Chase. So wins are very important, definitely.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Jeff. Good luck this weekend.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you.
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