NASCAR Winston Cup Preview
Topics: Winston Cup
January 18, 2003
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
Q. What is Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team looking for in 2003?
JEFF GORDON: We are looking at a lot of great things, just try to evaluate our season from last year which we always do; whether we win the championship or finish 10th in points or 4th like we did last year; just try to find all of the areas that we could have been better and try to improve in those areas. Some of those areas were failures. So we are all paying a lot of attention to that; whether it be in the engine department or we had some rear gear failures and some things like that. We're just trying to make sure that we don't have any mistakes that are going to cost us points in the championship. We feel like we can make a few improvements, obviously one being in the racecar and we got the new Chevy Monte Carlo. We feel like it is going to put us closer to the Dodges and Fords week in and week out, so we are excited about that. And we've added a few people, you know, just to try to make sure the workloads don't get too heavy. Some of those people end up being on our pit crew too, so we feel our pit crew is going to be a lot stronger and hopefully a little quicker. Track position, being as important as it was last year, we are going to try to do everything we can to get as good a track position as possible. Qualifying is one of the things we are going to work on a lot and not so much -- yeah, we work on that at Daytona, but it's the other tracks that we want to focus on qualifying to start the race off with good track position.
Q. All of this talk about the garage area and autographs and all of that stuff, do you feel that that's a good idea to sort of separate the two, that there is a work time and autograph time? Do you feel a responsibility that if there is a cutoff of autographs that you make more time to make up for that in some way, at some other time during the weekend?
JEFF GORDON: Yes. I always think that is a trade-off, there is a compromise. I don't think any of us are wanting to cut off the access that the fans have to the garage area, or the access that they have to the drivers and autographs. What I think we saw were the number of people in the garage area started to get so big and the requests of autographs got to be so big that sometimes, you know, just moving through the garage area become very difficult. I never had an issue with that up until it's time to work. And when it's time to get in the car and focus on that and work with the team, you know, debrief the team, whether it be before or after a practice, I think that's the most important time for us for that race weekend because we are there to race and so I think that this is a great stepping stone in that direction to allow us that time to focus on it. But as drivers, I think it's going to be our responsibility to make sure that we just don't show up in the garage area, you know, 20 minutes before practice, and leave five minutes after practice. I think that we're still going to have to make sure that we do allow these fans access. I think there is two sides to it. I think there is one that we want them to understand that we are there to do a job and the other is that we need to make them understand that we want them in there and we want them to enjoy that accessibility but it shouldn't be ... to me it got recognized in the last couple of years as the opportunity to get autographs and turned into an autograph session and I think that as not really the idea of it. But yet when they are in there and drivers are in there, they should have every bit of access to get autographs and we should be willing to give them.
Q. a significant number of races were essentially won last year on pit road. Is there any reason to think that's going to change this year?
JEFF GORDON: No. I wish I could say that it would but, you know, looking at the cars this year and the amount of down force that they have and tires that we have, I think competition is going to be even tighter than it was last year and I think that track position and pit strategy is going to be more important than it ever has been. I think now that we have all the manufacturers basically on the same page as far as the shape of the body, the down force numbers and everything should be very, very close. I think now NASCAR might be able to start making adjustments, whether it be to the spoilers or the roofs, or noise or whatever, and be able to do it kind of evenly across all of the manufacturers where before, I think that they were a little hesitant to do that because with the shape of the old Monte Carlo spoiler and different things. If they cut a certain amount off one, they have to do it on another and it just made things very confusing. I think now they might be able to do some of that.
Q. Do you expect that to be short-term or long-term for what they might do?
JEFF GORDON: What's long-term to you and what's short-term? I would imagine before the halfway part of the season, you will start to see some adjustments made to everybody. And until we get enough down force out of it - we can't do anything with tires. Goodyear would love to have us on a softer tire, but as much down force and as fast as we are going through the corners, they can't risk it. Until they either come up with a tire that will take that abuse, or we get enough down force in the corners, I don't think you will be able to see that. But when you do, I think you will see maybe some softer tires which I think will be a big plus. Then guys would need to come in and get four tires. I think it would be nice to get back to where you almost have to take four tires.
Q. The appearance on Saturday Night Live and things like that have come to you because you are certainly one of the big names in this sport. How do you like those kind of things? Are those the kind of things that you ever thought you would do and do you enjoy them while you're doing them?
JEFF GORDON: I never dreamed of doing anything like that. Of course, I keep telling everybody I did things on that show that I never thought I would do in front of a mirror; let alone on live television, but I wouldn't do it if it wasn't fun. I love it. It's something that I enjoy, but I only enjoy it up to the point where my schedule, racing schedule, allowed me to do it and when the right opportunity comes along, I'm going to jump at it. The Saturday Night Live thing came to me a year and a half or two years ago actually and I turned it down several times because, (1) it didn't fit in the schedule and (2) I didn't have the guts to do it, to be honest with you. I've got a lot of friends in the New York area and with that show. Even though it's nationwide, there is a lot of people up there that knew people that hosted it and had been there and experienced it and when I was offered it this last time during the banquet, I told some of my friends. They said 'you are going to do it, right?' I said, I don't know. And then I talked to Loren Michaels, the producer, and he said, hey, if there is anything you are not comfortable with -- that's one thing I was worried about, I was worried I was going to get on there and do a skit that I wasn't comfortable with and I got pressured to do it and that wasn't the case at all. They treated me like gold and it was an awesome experience and any time an opportunity comes up, I'm going to jump at it if it fits into my schedule.
Q. Jeff, last year, in many respects, might have been an investment year for you, building, not only your team, but also building Jimmy's team,. Jimmy got a lot of cars that were probably your cars last year. How is that going to pay off this year?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think that one thing that we learned, which was one of the reasons why we built the teams the way we did under one roof, was the sharing of information. The more information that we gather together and the closer we work together, the better we are going to do. It obviously worked out because we finished 4th and 5th in points. That was our goal and that's what worked out. I think Jimmy and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) hit on some things that didn't have anything to do with the racecars. It had more to do with the setups that they hit on early in the season and we learned from that. And at the end of the season you saw we were able to take advantage of it. So it goes back and forth. I think that we've grown and gotten better and gotten closer and I think that we're going to be able to continue to take that further. Jimmy and I always shared a lot of information back and forth and become good friends. And I've seen Chad and Robbie become much closer too and share a lot of information. And I've seen it transfer over throughout Hendrick Motorsports. I mean, I only see it in a way of being positive and working out for both of the teams. It really couldn't have worked better than it did other than we didn't finish 1-2 in the points. We finished 4th and 5th. The only way we can take it to this next level is battle for the championship at the end of this year.
Q. Jeff, Robbie (Loomis, crew chief) said at some point last year he was concerned about his future employment with Hendrick Motorsports?
JEFF GORDON: Robby is a nervous guy. He never had to work.
Q. What did you discuss to ease his concerns?
JEFF GORDON: You know, Robbie is a funny guy and sometimes he puts a little more pressure on himself than he needs to. I think what happens when you come over to an organization like Hendrick Motorsports and you come to work on the No. 24 car, you see their history, it puts a lot of pressure on people. And especially when you are the head guy over there you get the majority of the pressure. Robbie handles himself great. He handles the people great, and I think that all of the criticism coming down on all of us, maybe he took too much of that and put it on his shoulders. I've always said and I said to Robbie and I said to everybody, there is no one person that makes it, makes the success happen, there is no one person that makes it fail. And when we work together, we win together and lose together. So I hope that that experience last year and everything that we went through only made it stronger. I think it did and when you come out of the season with some momentum making gains, leading laps, having a shot at winning races like at Phoenix, and then you finish 4th in the points, I think it just made our off-season that much smoother and got us where we needed to be to be prepared for this year; especially when you are putting new bodies on cars and putting new chassis, you need some positive things and momentum. All of those things seem to fall in the right place for us towards the end of the season. During the off-season, everybody had a great attitude toward getting this season started. If you end the season with things kind of falling off and things not going well, it makes it really hard for those guys over the off-season to build all these new cars and to get pumped up and get ready for the next year.
Q. Two years ago, 19 different guys won; last year 18 different guys won. Is the significance of winning less now than it was a few years ago because now ever everybody doing it?
JEFF GORDON: Come on, now. I think to me, it's more difficult to win. I think that what's happening, you're seeing more guys win but not as many guys win multiple races. So to me, that says how competitive it is and how difficult it is to win and there is never a time any luster is taken off winning a Winston Cup race. It's special and everybody knows it. When it's your 13th win of the season, I can tell you there is not quite as much luster on it as there was on the first couple. I think the trend that we are seeing just goes back to this whole track position thing. You can take a guy that's maybe running 10th and he gambles and doesn't take tires, or just stays out or whatever, and all of a sudden he wins the race. It makes it that difficult. When you are in the top 3 to 5 positions, it's so difficult to make the right call because if you stay out there, they are going to do the opposite; they are going to come in. If you come in and take 4, somebody is going to take 2. If you come in and take 2, somebody is going to stay out. So basically you almost want to be in the position of being about 6 through 10 with 30 to go and guys come in and get tires and you stay out. You are almost better being in that position than being the leader.
Q. Jeff, the common templates, do you think that's going to quiet the manufacture's lobbying? Last year we saw a lot of changes after testing and then a lot of complaining to us. Is this a new era in NASCAR?
JEFF GORDON: I think it should be a lot quieter. The cars are very, very similar. I can't say that they are identical. There are a few little differences. I know that from where I'm sitting, if I heard my guys complaining about the car then I'm going to tell them to go to work. Or if I'm complaining about the car, I'm going to tell myself to shut up and go to work because the cars are very, very close. If we are not winning races or competitive enough to win races, it's something that we need to work on, not something that any lobbying needs to be done. I look at the cars and they are pretty darn close.
Q. Focusing on this event in particular, a lot of fans are going to be here to get your autograph, and meeting you for the first time. What are your general impressions of this event? Do you guys have a story to tell when you were a fan of someone and actually got to meet that person for the first time?
JEFF GORDON: I look at this event, the most die-hard fans that you have in the country, they are here. You've got to remember what they're going through to get here. They are traveling for long distances. It's cold. They made it a little easier on them in some ways where they don't have to bear some of the temperatures and sleep out on the sidewalks like they did a few years ago but still these are real die-hard fans. Anybody, that would come to an event like this, travel long distances and sit up there, you know, and wait to get an autograph of their favorite driver, obviously, they're a big, big fan. For me that's a great thing. To be able to experience that from my side and maybe try to go back to some memories of mine when I waited at Indianapolis for Rick Mears' autograph and finally got it; how much that meant to me. So, it's good for us to try to put ourselves in other peoples' shoes and recognize how special it is and how much it means to them. We are very fortunate to have people to come out and support us as drivers, our sponsors, our team and the entire sport.
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