NASCAR Media Conference
August 31, 2004
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, media, to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. A few brief announcements before our guest joins us. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is back in the Los Angeles area, in California Speedway, for the Pop Secret 500. The race takes place in the afternoon starting at 4 p.m. pacific time, 7 p.m. eastern. The race will be broadcast on NBC. The NASCAR Busch Series also will be at California Speedway racing Saturday afternoon in the Target House 300. It is set to start at 12 noon pacific time, 3 p.m. eastern, and will also be broadcast on NBC. Finally, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is off this weekend and will be back in action on September 9th at Richmond. Richmond will include a triple header of racing on consecutive nights. The Race to the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup is getting serious with two races left before the Top 10 is decided, heading into the race at California Speedway, no less than eight drivers are within 50 points of each other from the 8 spot through the 15th. In the meantime, race fans are also registering via their NEXTEL hand sets or NASCAR.com behind their favorite racer. NEXTEL leader bonus is up to $50,000 at California Speedway. Nextel Cup Series drivers can claim the NEXTEL leader bonus when he wins the race and is also the points leader following that race. Jimmie Johnson was the most recent winner to win the NEXTEL leader bonus, claiming $90,000 at Pocono on August 1st. No bonus was claimed this past weekend, thus the bonus rolled over another $10,000 and will every week the money is not claimed. The NEXTEL wake-up call will be back at California Speedway this Saturday with two drivers as guests, Busch Series regular David Green will be on hand and will be followed by NEXTEL Cup Series regular Brendan Gaughan. Breakfast will be served at the infield media center lounge at 8:30 a.m., David Green will be on hand at 8:45 to be followed by Gaughan. Let's turn to our guest this week on the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. He is arguably the best driver in the sport. The numbers don't lie. Jeff Gordon is a four-time Cup champion and has finished in the Top 10 in the points standing for 10 consecutive seasons, no doubt will be making that 11 after the 2004 season. This season Jeff and the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet are back in top form having posted wins at Indianapolis, Talladega, Sonoma, Daytona and the California Speedway race held in early May. His five victories this season bring his career total to 69 including three times at California Speedway. By the way, Jeff currently leads the 2004 NEXTEL Cup point standings by 24 points over teammate Jimmie Johnson. No getting around that No. 24, in most cases there's no catching it either. Jeff, welcome to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. Talk about coming back to California Speedway, a track on which you've enjoyed great success. What do you think has been some contributing factors to having raced so well at Fontana?
JEFF GORDON: First, I'd like to say thanks. You know, you really never know exactly what it is that attracts you to a place or racetrack or what makes the car work so well other than the total team effort. But I think our success earlier this year at California is when we really started to find the horsepower underneath the hood. I'm really looking forward to going back there. I felt like we had a great run. But a lot of things have changed since then. We're going to be under the lights a little bit there towards the end of the race. But, you know, it's a good track for us. I think it's a great place for us to get another victory and continue some momentum going into those last 10.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions from the media on the line.
Q. As we go down to these next two races, there's going to be a lot of racers on the track who are going to be jockeying just to be in the Top 10. Obviously, you've got that locked up and are trying to hold on to the top spot. Do you think the situation that we're going to see in the next two weeks is going to make for a different kind of racing or is there going to be a little more intense racing from these guys in 8 through 15 who are going to try to crack the Top 10?
JEFF GORDON: I think, you know, the guys are definitely -- you're going to start seeing the aggressive driving, you know, a little bit more risk-taking going on because everybody knows that if you're in the Top 10, that you've got a shot at the championship. It's not just getting into the Top 10 anymore; it's getting into the Top 10 to race for that championship. You know, I think that you're definitely going to see guys, and there are so many guys that are still capable of getting in there, that you're going to see them really, you know, pushing the limits of the car. I think the teams are going to be pushing the limits, you know, with setups, horsepower, gearing and everything. You know, California's a varied track, it's really wide, a lot of room to pass. You know, it's not like a Bristol where you've got to push and shove guys out of the way. I think you ought to really start to see this championship unfold, especially for those guys that are trying to get in that Top 10.
Q. Is there any one driver that's really not in the Top 10 right now that kind of would worry you if they actually made it in the Top 10?
JEFF GORDON: I think, you know, there's any number of guys. I would say right now that the Evernham cars are the ones that I'm a bit surprised they're not in the Top 10, if you look at their earlier success in the season, and how strong they can be at times. I mean, Mark Martin has been coming on strong, as well. There are definitely some guys back there. I don't have the list in front of me to really go through it, but I think there's a lot of guys that I'm surprised they're not in the Top 10 and also if they get in the Top 10 can ultimately, you know, be a threat for the championship. I mean, the 10 guys that are in there now, there's probably another six or eight guys that aren't in it that I really think could get on a streak in those 10 races and be a threat. There's a bunch of them.
Q. Do you think we might see some team orders here at California and the next one at Richmond?
JEFF GORDON: You know, as a team owner, if you're looking at where you're positioned and how you're going to win a championship, I think, you know, if you've got teams out there that don't have a shot at it, and they can help you either get into that Top 10 or really be yourself in a position to win the championship, I think there absolutely could be some team orders. But team orders to what extent is the real question. I don't think you're going to have team orders for some guy to take one or another competitor out of the race or anything like that. I think it's just going to be maybe different type of testing schedules, if they hit on something that weekend, you know, how they can transfer that over to another team. If they're out there racing, how they can, you know, help the other one get more positions or earn more points, things like that. It's hard to say exactly how those team orders would be given.
Q. Going into these last two races before the cutoff, is there anything that you guys will do differently since you're so secure at the top?
JEFF GORDON: No, because to me, you know, I want to gain momentum going into those last 10. I mean, I want people to be focused on us and not on themselves. I mean, I was excited that we were on the pole at Bristol and took off there early. We were doing everything we could to win the race. You know, we got behind. We had a decent car. I mean, I was disappointed that we finished 14th. I felt like we had a top five car. The reason, you know, that we want to finish in the top five right now is just we're competitive and we race, you know, for the best position possible, and we also want to keep the momentum going. It's not about, you know, really just leading the points right now; it's about carrying momentum into those last 10 to build confidence in ourselves and kind of put a statement out there, as well.
Q. Is there, though, something special, now that we're for the first time going to be able to have a 26-race champion and then the runoff or the Chase to the NEXTEL Cup, to be No. 1 when the cutoff starts?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it doesn't pay anything, and there's no trophy that I know of. It only means five points really basically. You know, I'll take every point that I can get. We would love to be leading, just to have every little bit of an advantage. But it really doesn't mean anything right now because I truly believe, you know, if you're 10th in points going into that 27th race, and you're 45 points behind the leader, you certainly aren't in a bad position, and certainly have a shot at winning.
Q. Just talking about the points after 26, maybe you've commented on this and I missed it, do you feel the leader after 26 points should have more of a reward going into the last 10, maybe a 50-point lead or something like that?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, if I have any comment on the points system, you know, versus what we've had in the past, I think it's exciting that we're going to have this 10-race shootout, and we've got 10 guys that can win. I think that's great. But I think it needs to be spread out a little bit more between all the positions. I think the leader needs, you know, to have some reward for what he's done all year long and not just the leader, but the guys that are second, third, fourth and fifth, as well. Those guys have earned the right all year long, you know, to be in that position and then you're going to, you know, take it all away from them and it's only going to be a five-point difference between them. I just wish that it was maybe a 10- or 15-point difference between everybody so that guy that earns the right to be in the chase for the Top 10, the guy that is 10th in points, 9th in points, he's got to work -- he's still got a shot at that championship when it's all over. He's got to work, you know, extremely hard and do everything right. Right now I think the way it is is the 10th-place guy, if the other guy is if the top two or three or four guys have problems, he's right in the thick of it. That's my only real concern or comment on it.
Q. What would a fifth Cup title mean to you, especially with this new format?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, it's what we strive for. I mean, as a four-time champion, you know, our team only knows one thing, and that's to go for championships. Second, third, fourth, fifth is certainly not going to mean that we had a horrible season, but it's not what our goals are and what we feel like we're capable of. One interesting thing is that I've learned that Richard Petty and his seven championships, six of them were under different points systems. You know, I think things are going to change over time when you're in this sport, in this series for a long time. The points are going to change. All that really matters at the end of the day is whose name is on that trophy. We want to make sure our name and our team is the one on this trophy. I think it will be exciting. The sport is growing, it's changing. I love the fact that we won the championship when the networks took over the sport. I think it would be awesome to win the championship now that NEXTEL has taken over.
Q. Rusty calling it quits, Mark Martin, Terry Labonte thinking about it also. Your thoughts on that? When it's time to hang it up, your thoughts on that for yourself?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think that those guys have been in the sport, have been a lot for this sport, and have been very successful. I think you're going to start seeing that. There's definitely a list of guys right now that are probably considering, if you look at how long they've been in the sport, what they've accomplished, where they're at in their lives. I think the way the sport is right now, as intense as it is, as competitive as it is, I think the age that you see guys hanging it up or retiring, it's certainly going to start to go down. It's just interesting that we've got a lot of guys in that group right now that are considering it, and a lot of young, new faces that are coming up.
Q. Can you explain a few of the skills that separate you from those of an average stock car driver?
JEFF GORDON: (Laughter). I mean, I laugh all the time when you hear people say, "This is the best driver, that's the best driver." I don't think there's really any way, you know, to compare or to really find out what makes one better than another. It's the whole combination. You know, I've always said I'm fine if I'm not considered the best or if I'm not the best driver. But as long as I'm getting the victory and the statistics at the end of the day, whether it's because my team is better, my engines are better, my car's better or I'm better, doesn't really matter to me. So I really never try to analyze that. What I work on and what we work on as a team is to have the best group of individuals, the best race cars, the best engines, the best combination of things that we possibly can get to go out there and be competitive and first, in position every single weekend. I mean, I would say that when you get to this level, you've got the skills and talent it takes to win. It's all about just positioning yourself with the team. I don't know. I'd say that, you know, there is certainly some talent that you have to have, but I don't know if there's any one thing that I can think of that separates one driver from the next. There might be some skills. For me, I think experience certainly is paying off right now. But I think, you know, you've got to build confidence in your team, you've got to have it in them, they've got to have it in you. When you have that, it certainly separates you from the rest.
Q. You're a champion driver and a polished communicator. Which came first, your driving skills or your speaking skills?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I've been racing since I was six years old (laughter). I don't think that any of the rest of it came first. But, you know, my mom and my stepfather, who got me into racing, they deserve a lot of credit for a lot of things. I mean, obviously they put me in the race car. Along the way, for whatever reason, they had me in front of cameras. There were a couple of kids' TV shows that followed me at the racetrack when I was younger. I didn't say two words to them when they were there. Over time, as I got more comfortable with it, and my parents worked with me on it, you know, I started sort of speaking, and now I can't stop (laughter).
Q. I'm trying to explain to our listeners here about the black flag incident at Bristol. Can you talk about what you understood about the lucky dog rule and what NASCAR officials are trying to say to you?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it's clear as to what the situation is. It's unclear as to the judgment call that was made. Basically when you get the lucky dog rule, you come in, make the pit stop, then you go tail the longest line. There's a gray area on the tail end of the longest line because there's some cars that may have damage or wrecked that don't want to pull up. There's some guys that may be several laps down. Who knows what their reasoning is for not wanting to be up at the front of the field. Plus Bristol is a half-mile racetrack, things are happening in a hurry. When they threw the one to go, I felt like I gave ample time, you know, and allowed the cars behind me to pull up and pass me so I could get to the tail end of the longest line. As we got to the back straightaway, there were a lot of cars behind me that were not pulling up, were not passing me. Then Kyle Petty waved me by him, Dale Jarrett waved my by him. The guy in the pit, the inspector in the pit said, somebody waves you by or there's cars that are damaged behind you, it's okay to go ahead of them. Now, that's the way I looked at it on the racetrack. I felt like I was in good shape. But NASCAR felt like there were an awful lot of cars behind me that I didn't give that opportunity to. That's where the dispute was. It's over with now. Next time I'll just stop out there on the front straightaway, make sure every single car goes by me, and hopefully I'm not in that position again in the future anyway.
Q. With all the changes that are made week to week, race to race, would you like to see the changes that way race to race, track to track, or should NASCAR put in a rule at the beginning of the year and just stick with it and make changes at the end of the year?
JEFF GORDON: Well, yeah, I mean, I think there are some times where exceptions are made. You've got to make adjustments. I mean, I definitely know as we've made some changes with when we enter pit road, the whole lucky dog rule - they don't call it the lucky dog rule, but just that rule - I think my big thing was, let's just get it done before these last 10 races. Let's get it in effect, practice with it, so when we get in those last 10, we don't have any miscommunication. I'm glad this happened to me now and not those last 10, because those last 10 is when everything is going to be so intense and on the line and we can't have mistakes being made by our team or by NASCAR.
Q. I was at Bristol Saturday night listening to the fans boo you when you were introduced. Of course, at Indy you're always cheered. Why is it the fans in the south seem to have you as their enemy more than being a favorite?
JEFF GORDON: It's spectacular, isn't it? I love it (laughter). But, you know, I see an awful lot of red shirts up there. I think that pretty much says it all. It just depends on the fan base that's there at the racetrack. Dale, Jr. has a tremendous fan base there. His father had a tremendous fan base there, a lot of tracks in the south. I think if there are people that are booing, they're booing because you're not their guy. If they are as avid about their driver as my fans are about me, then they're going to pull against you instead of pull for you. That's the only way I know how to describe it.
Q. After you won Indy, what did that do for you as far as heading into the rest of the season, as far as mentally and so forth?
JEFF GORDON: Well, to me it's one of the biggest races of the season, so that was huge. I mean, that is a tough track to win on, it says a lot about your race team, where they're at at that point in the season, where your focus is, how good your race cars are. To me that win not only came at a good time, but an incredible place. I think that definitely is going back to the momentum that I talked about. That type of effort is something that really has put us in gear to really be up there for that championship.
Q. Michael Schumacher won his seventh title. AJ Foyt won seven titles. Petty won seven titles. You're going for five. Is seven a goal for you?
JEFF GORDON: I've always just thought of it one at a time. I want to get number five. We've got a lot to run for the drive for five. I can't think about seven till I get to six. I can't think about six till I get to five. I can't really say it is right now. That's too farfetched for me to think about. I mean, we got three right away. You look at how fast we got through, you go, "Oh, man, on your way." But you don't realize how difficult it is to get each championship. You never know when the next one's going to come.
Q. Can you talk about what piqued your interest initially on scuba diving?
JEFF GORDON: I was in - where was I - Grand Cayman. I was on a vacation and the resort that I stayed at offered, you know, a course to do scuba diving. Plus Grand Cayman is well-known for their scuba diving. I went there, like a three-, four-hour course that they do. You go with a guide and go scuba diving. I thought it was cool to be underwater breathing. I did the dive and just saw how amazing it is 40, 50 feet below the surface of the water, the life that's down there, the beautiful colors. I think there was also a shipwreck that we were looking at, too. There's also in the Grand Cayman a place where you get to swim with a bunch of stingrays. It was an amazing first experience for me. I went and got certified shortly after that and have been hooked ever since.
Q. How many years ago was that? Has this kind of helped you swim with sharks on the NEXTEL Cup circuit?
JEFF GORDON: To me, swimming with the sharks is a lot safer than the racing (laughter). I think that was probably, I don't know, six or seven years ago I'm guessing. It probably was around -- it might have been longer, '94, '95, something like that. To me, it's just a relaxing, fun experience for me to do in my off time. I don't think it has much to do with what I do on the weekends.
Q. A question concerning the 10-race shootout for the championship. After that 26th race next Saturday night in Richmond, for these final 10 races, do you feel that the television coverage by NBC and TNT will be focused more on the drivers who are gunning for the championship rather than the ones who have already been eliminated? Do you think it's fair for a lot of sponsors whose drivers are out of the chase to feel that lack of exposure?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, the way I look at it is, you know, I think the whole points system has drawn a lot of attention and has kept things very exciting, which is good for the sport. You certainly have got to recognize that. You've got to recognize the fact right now there's probably more focus on the guys that are trying to get in the Top 10 than even the guys that are at the front of the points - unless they're battling for the win. I think that's going to be the case going into those last 10 races, and certainly at Richmond as well. There's going to be a lot of focus on trying to get in the Top 10, there's going to be a lot of focus on who is trying to win the race. If you look, in the past, we were in the same situation, most of the attention would be on the points leader who is racing for the championship, and basically who's in the Top 10 in points anyway. If you're outside the Top 10, it's not the points system's fault, and you don't blame the television coverage because you're not getting your exposure for your sponsor. You've got to look back on what you did all year long to put yourself in that position. If you're in that position, then you better do something spectacular towards the end of the season to try to get some exposure. You better be leading a lot of laps, winning races, doing things like that. I really don't see it being that much different other than it's going to be exciting and draw more attention for the sport in general.
Q. The 400 points provision of the rule, is that a good number or should it be larger to get more people in? Just what do you think of the 400 points as a number?
JEFF GORDON: I think 10 is plenty (laughter). I mean, I think that we need to spread the points out more between even the Top 10. I definitely don't -- I mean, it doesn't matter to me how many people we have in it, but I think we certainly need to spread those points out. I think that five points in between those ten is not enough. Of course, that's because I'm, you know, up towards the front, not 10th. You know, I don't think so. I think some years 400 is going to work, other years 400 is going to seem too low. But, no, I think there should be 10, I really do.
Q. Those guys right now who are within a hundred points or so, are they all cooked? Do you think somebody can come back from being 97 points behind you and still make it in the Top 10?
JEFF GORDON: You mean the guys that are outside?
Q. Trying to get in the 400-point provision.
JEFF GORDON: You know, I don't think -- I really don't think that 400 number is realistic because even if something happens to me, it's probably not going to happen to Jimmie Johnson and Dale, Jr. I think those guys, all three of us together, especially me and Jimmie right now, are going to keep it probably tough to get that 400, to the 400 mark. I think it's really more just about getting to the 10th place.
Q. A couple guys we've been talking to have said this could be one of the best California races because 70 laps will be run under the lights. How much different do you see this being? Do you think this could be one of the best races at California?
JEFF GORDON: Well, track temperature is everything at a racetrack, especially at California. You know, it's a big track, the corners are big. You know, when you put -- you take the sundown, cool that track temperature off, have the track run under the lights, then the characteristics of the track are definitely going to change. I think it's a great way to do it. Wish it was on Saturday, not Sunday, but I think it should be a very exciting race, and I do think that things will change. We see that at Charlotte at the 600, we see it at other tracks that we go to, as well, that when the lights come on, it definitely changes the characteristics, and should make for an exciting race. I agree.
Q. You've won at California with Ray as a crew chief, Robbie as a crew chief. Can you give an insight as to Robbie has helped you out with California?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think what Robbie is so good at is delegating out to make sure we put the best effort, best race car we possibly can out there. He's so good at working with the people. You know, I think the reason why Robbie came to work for us, that was a tough decision for him to leave Petty Enterprises, he thought the world of Richard, that family, he was part of their family, but he saw the resources that Hendrick Motorsports has, an opportunity to put a championship-caliber team and winning race cars out there week in and week out. I think he steadily has improved on, you know, each and every year, is just building the communication with myself and the rest of the team, building a relationship with him. It goes back to that confidence that we talked about. When you go to a racetrack and you feel like you can win, then you got a better shot at it. That confidence continues to carry momentum week in and week out. Based on our performance earlier in the year, we're definitely feeling good about going back there.
Q. In the past, the races here in Fontana have been mileage strategy. Do you think racing under the lights at night, is that going to change or still pretty much the same with long green flag runs?
JEFF GORDON: It's always a factor at a racetrack that's the way California is or Michigan. What happens is when you have a track that has three, four different grooves that you can run on, there's a lot of ways to pass. There's not a lot of cautions because if you're faster than the guy in front of you, it's not like a short track or some of these one-groove racetracks where you go down in there, you have to loosen them up by taking the air off the spoiler, that's usually what can cause a caution. You have so much room to race on, there's a lot of give and take. Seems like there's a lot of ways to pass. Fuel mileage is always going to be an issue, no matter whether we're under the lights or not.
Q. It seems to me that a lot of the drivers are taking the next year or two to do their last bow together, a lot of the veterans. Do you think there's any link to all the changes we're seeing in NASCAR today?
JEFF GORDON: I think, you know, we have an intense schedule, you know, the demands on the teams and the drivers is increasing. I think that, you know, being young is something that you're going to see more and more of in our sport. I think also you have to look at, you know, what those guys have accomplished, and they've accomplished a lot. You know, they maybe have reached a lot of their goals and are at a point in their lives where they're thinking about the next step. The schedule is very tough - not just what we do on the racetrack, but what we do off the racetrack for our sponsors, as well. It's asking a lot. I think you're definitely going to see guys, you know, that are stepping away now and also at a younger age.
Q. How much of a mental balancing act was it for you to see your points move upward while your teammate began to experience problems? I guess some mixed baggage there.
JEFF GORDON: You know, when the race is all over and it's all said and done, you try to find the positive in everything. Certainly was a positive that Jimmie ran well. But I'm first and foremost a driver and a competitor. I was disappointed with our efforts. I was disappointed with what happened with the call that NASCAR made. So, you know, we are a race team that's going for a fifth championship. That's always the first thing that's on our mind. Anything less than that is going to be a disappointment. But, you know, Jimmie is there, Chad is there doing the job they're doing. I think it gives Hendrick Motorsports a great opportunity to win a championship between the two of us. You know, I hope if we can't do it that they certainly can.
THE MODERATOR: With that we'd like to thank our special guest, Jeff Gordon, for coming on board. Obviously we wish you big success this weekend at California, a chance to sweep both races there in Fontana, and for the rest of the season in your race for the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you, I enjoyed it.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|