NASCAR Media Conference
February 22, 2005
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teleconference. As we did last season, we'll alternate hosting this weekly call with our friends at NEXTEL Communications. Dan Passe from NEXTEL will be your moderator next Tuesday and throughout the season when NEXTEL hosts the call on Tuesdays. I want to give you a bit of housekeeping first. Elliott Sadler will be the guest for the NEXTEL Wake-Up Call on Friday at California Speedway. He'll visit the infield media center at 11 a.m. to take questions and chat with those of you who will be in California. Today we're joined by Jeff Gordon, who won last Sunday's 47th annual Daytona 500. It was Jeff's third Daytona 500 win and 70th overall in the NEXTEL Cup Series. He begins the 2005 season seeking his fifth series championship. And Jeff joins us from New York where he's in the midst of the champion's traditional post-race media tour. Jeff, I guess that third Daytona 500 victory is just as sweet as the first one.
JEFF GORDON: Even sweeter. Even sweeter. It's amazing, you know, how over the years you just learn to appreciate this race and our sport that much more and it seems like all the wins continue to be that much more meaningful. But I think just the excitement of the race, how it came down and unfolded, you know, everything about it has just been incredible. I'm very excited to have number three.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's take some questions for Jeff.
Q. Since the win, I have been listening and reading columns and stuff on radio, mainstream, not necessarily auto racing. The talk is that people who don't follow auto racing say that your career and NASCAR has turned the sport around. How would you respond to that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I think that it's a total team effort, just like winning the race, it's a total team effort. I like the fact that I've played a role, but I also know there's a lot of other people who have played a key role. I think NASCAR's marketing department, you know, their strategic planning in placing new venues and racetracks on the schedule over the years. I think our television partners with FOX and NBC have done a great job promoting the sport as well, reaching out to new fans, as well as our sponsors and all the marketing that they do. I've had a great ride. I mean, Hendrick Motorsports provided me a winning and championship-caliber team and cars. Just proud that we've been able to accomplish what we have and be in the midst of that growth period when we had our most success.
Q. Could this have happened with any other team, do you think, than Hendrick? Was this the perfect match?
JEFF GORDON: Are we talking about the Daytona 500 victory?
Q. Your career.
JEFF GORDON: I don't know. You know, certain things happen along the way where combinations come together. I mean, to me Jimmie Johnson and that Lowe's Chevrolet team definitely have shown that they can do that. You know, if he had come along when I came along, who knows, we could have been talking about him. I mean, I look at Dale Earnhardt, Jr., you know, he's transcending the sport as well right now with his popularity. His dad did that before him. People like Darrel Waltrip and Richard Petty, they all and so many have played a key role in that growth.
Q. I didn't notice you getting into any precarious positions on pit road on Sunday. Some people had said that Daytona, it's kind of sensitive getting in and out. Can you address if there's anything you believe could be done to make things safer on pit road?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I had my mishap at New Hampshire last year or the year before, I can't remember when that was. Ever since then I've just been a lot more cautious and aware of things going on around me, you know, on pit road. I think that it's key to make sure -- I think one thing that NASCAR did was talking about where you can't pass to the inside any longer going into a pit stall. Sure looked to me like Jeff Burton, when he got into the back of the 8 car, was inside of him. I didn't exactly know, maybe they came on pit road side by side. You know, you got to look at the video further back. But I think we all know that you've got to follow the car in front of you and pass to the outside. Then you also have to know where, you know, you're pitted and where other cars are pitted around you. That's one thing I've really been trying to do a lot more of, is not just knowing where I'm pitted, but the guys that are ahead of me as we come onto pit road, where they're pitted so I can anticipate when they check up and when they're going to move to their pit stall. Now leaving... I think leaving is a responsibility of a spotter or someone on your pit box to clear you out. You know, with what happened with Kasey Kahne and Jason Leffler, it looked to me like Kasey didn't realize that Jason was pitting. I think he thought he was leaving. It's hard to keep up with all of that, I will say that. But I don't know there's much more that NASCAR can do. I think they put some things in place that I'm pretty happy with.
Q. Can you talk about Robbie Loomis a little bit. Why did you decide on him a few years ago? What does he bring to your team, what do you like about him, his qualities?
JEFF GORDON: Well, there's several things that brought him to my attention. One is he'd already been in the sport. He was an experienced crew chief, had been with a great organization. He had a great reputation. Ray Evernham, when he and I decided that he was going to move on to do something else, then we started talking about crew chiefs. Robbie was one of the guys high on his list. So that certainly meant a lot to me. But it wasn't until I actually talked to him on the phone at length to really get to know his personality a little bit further that I was impressed with him as much as I was. I mean, I think I felt like he had the qualities of patience, of driven-ness, you know, he's a competitor, he's knowledgeable, but at the same time I feel like he's so good at balancing out all those things and working with the people. He's a real people guy. I just felt like he'd make a great mix for our organization. I love having him as a crew chief. I think he's an awesome crew chief and perfect for me, especially at this point in my career. I mean, when I first started as a rookie, you know, I needed guy like Ray Evernham. But now that I'm older and a little bit more experienced, I need a guy like Robbie Loomis.
Q. Earlier during 500 week, there was a bus tour of NASCAR's historic spots in Daytona Beach. Junior Johnson was on that trip and said if he still owned cars, you'd be his driver. Someone asked him if you'd make a good whiskey runner. He said, no, that you'd probably have a heart attack when the red light of the cop car came on behind you. Would you have like to run a little moonshine with Junior?
JEFF GORDON: I'm sure it would have been exciting. But I agree with him, I don't think I would have made a very good one of those. I don't like running from the law. Definitely not what got me into driving a race car. But it means a lot to me that someone like Junior would consider me as a driver for his car. I mean, I look up to him. I think he's an amazing car owner, won a lot of races, and he's been with a lot of great drivers. So that's incredible.
Q. The spattering of fans booing, do you think they're annoyed by your success or even after 13 years they don't consider you one of their own?
JEFF GORDON: I don't know. It was one of those things I tried to figure out a long time ago and kind of stopped somewhere along the way when I just realized that, you know, my focus is to be a part of a team that goes out and tries to win races and championships, you know, be myself, be the best person that I can. The people that follow me, I'm very grateful for because I have a great fan base. But those who don't, you know, I think they're entitled to their opinion. They can boo, they can do whatever they want. I just learned to let it not really bother me. I think by making noise, whether you're cheering, booing, if you're putting effort into making signs up to say, "Anybody but 24," then obviously I've gotten their attention and that's a good thing.
Q. You were asked a little about your impact with NASCAR. I'm wondering if perhaps your legacy has something to do with young guys like Kyle Busch getting a shot at his age. I wouldn't call you an older citizen in the sport, but you're not one of the young guns. As you look at those young guys coming up, do you think you had something to do with it?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I feel like definitely when I came along, I was a very young driver at the time. But there have been other young drivers as well. Ricky Rudd was really young when he came into the sport. There's been others, as well. It did seem like that started a bit of a trend because it showed that car owners can take a chance on a younger guy and the sponsors are willing to take that risk a lot more today, so it can pay off, especially for your future of your team. And if they have experience in the Busch Series at a young age, they can come in and be great for your organization long-term. I think that's what every car owner's out there looking for. It just so happens in the past that it only happened with older drivers instead of younger drivers. I think that myself and Bobby Labonte, when we came along, even Kenny Wallace, we've played a role in that. And then it continued with Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. I guess Tony was a little bit older, but Kurt has certainly opened up a lot of doors as well I think.
Q. I want to ask you about a story this morning where people are talking about speeding on pit road, whether you think that NASCAR is to the point where they've got the technical advantage of knowing how to gauge how you guys are doing on pit road. Some of the drivers are saying you can't read the tags, what you guys are reading for the speeding is not real accurate yet. Can you sort of talk about that? Jimmie Johnson talked about it this morning.
JEFF GORDON: Well, I will say that there's an issue -- there's been an issue for a long time. I've been one of the drivers, with others, that have really been bringing it to the attention of NASCAR because what's been going on is it's been done by hand, by several people, you know, in the tower looking down trying to measure the distance versus a time clock. I just don't see how you can do that on 43 cars. We've got the technology now. We need to start utilizing that technology. The problem is that all of us drivers have been used to doing it the old-fashioned way, and we can get away with a lot. There's bigger tolerances when they're doing it by hand. Now if they start doing it by computer, those tolerances are going to be knocked down and they're going to be true numbers and there's going to be no way of getting around it. I remember John Darby saying, "Be careful what you wish for here." I think that drivers, there's two parts of it: Number one is drivers are going to have to really knock those tolerances down and be a lot more careful. Two is that NASCAR's got to give us an accurate measurement of the speed. Our tachometers are not the most accurate thing in the world. The other is that if there's a pace car up there leading the pack and you're in the eighth row, you're not going to get an accurate reading. There's too much movement, cars moving around you. I know I've already mentioned this to John Darby, and others have. We're trying to find a way to accurately measure our tach up against their speed that they want, and calculate it correctly so we can be right on. Then if they're going to call down those penalties, which I think they should, I think we'll know exactly where we stand for it
Q. For the fan, can you accurately gauge you as Jeff Gordon coming in, you're looking at your tach, how hard is it?
JEFF GORDON: Well, okay, for instance, Daytona, my speed was 4100 rpm on my tach. So, you know, I know that they're measuring it with a system now that's more accurate. So I come in and I basically ran 4100, 4150, because there is a bit of a tolerance there, and I made sure when I got to that line with the cone, where it pit road speed starts, that I was at 4100. I would run that all the way down, you know, ran it all the way into my pit stall. The toughest part is leaving. That's where guys get in trouble because you leave in first gear, and you take off, you go past -- because the 4100 is second gear, not first gear. For me it was. You take off in first gear, and you're trying to get up to speed as fast as you can, but you don't want to go over the speed. So as you shift to second, as soon as you shift, you want it to be right at 4100. If you go over that, you better slow down or you're going to get in trouble. Then what happens is you got that rabbit out there. You've got other cars that are leaving pit road and you just don't want to give up any distance on them at all, so you start squeezing that throttle just a little bit, ever so slightly. That's when NASCAR is going to start penalizing you so you got to run that pit road speed all the way to that last cone.
Q. Describe again, if you could, the intensity of those last exciting laps on Sunday.
JEFF GORDON: Oh, my goodness. You know, I still have not really seen it on video. I've seen clips of it here and there. There was so much going on. Intensity, I don't even know how to describe the intensity level because, you know, one is you got a huge race on the line, you've got a shot at the win, and you're trying to do everything right. You know if you make one mistake, somebody's going to take advantage of it. I went to the outside because I knew I couldn't pass Tony Stewart on the inside. I knew Dale, Jr. was going to go with Tony, I knew he wasn't going to go with me, but I was hoping some other cars would line up behind me. And it happened to work out that way. Jimmie Johnson was back there, Scott Riggs, I think maybe even Kurt Busch. You know, there was times when they could help me, times when they couldn't help me. But when Dale, Jr. got by me and then almost got by Tony, I was like, "It's over. I took a risk that didn't pay off, now I've got to figure out how to get the best finish I can." About that time Junior got in the lead and Jimmie Johnson just give me this huge push. After I seen this one particular clip, I kind of see what happened where Kurt Busch -- Tony Stewart and I were side by side in the tri-oval. It looked like somebody was pushing Tony. He got a little bit sideways, had to move up the track. That allowed Kurt Busch to get underneath him. That put Junior out there sort of all by himself. Now I'm getting a push from behind by Jimmie Johnson. I've got the momentum, I'm going forward. He was stalled out there and it allowed me to get up beside him and get past him and make the pass for the lead. Then, of course, the caution came out and the rest is history.
Q. I read an article about you being the older statesman of NASCAR, with the fact that Rusty is leaving, Martin is going, Terry is going to be gone, a few other drivers. Do you see yourself soon to be in that role or do you want to say, "Wait a minute, I'm way too young, stop"? How do you see this?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I look at it more as the level of experience and time you've had in the sport far more than your actual age. You know, I came in at a young age. I know I'm still young, but I have been in the sport for I think this is my 13th season. You know, to me, that's what dictates where you stand. I definitely know that I'm no young gun out there. There's some great young talent out there. I'm more comfortable now in the role that I'm playing and the age that I'm at than ever. I'm enjoying it, enjoying be a part of a great team, an organization, and a great sport. You know, I'm going to play my part as long as I possibly can. It's sad to see some of these guys go because I don't know any other way, I've been racing with these guys ever since I got into it. You know, you just don't think of being out there without them. It just says a lot about where the sport's heading and what's taking place. I'm excited for them in some ways because I think they're going to get to enjoy their lives in a unique and different way than they have in a long time.
Q. Did you have any thoughts on what went down between Tony Stewart and your driver Jimmie Johnson after the race?
JEFF GORDON: I haven't talked to Jimmie since the race was over. He came and congratulated me in Victory Lane but I haven't really spoken to him. It's been pretty crazy. But, you know, it's intense. It looked to me like Jimmie slipped the track a little bit, gave Stewart an opening, and he shoved his nose in there, and made a little more room than probably was there. Jimmie and him got together. You know, I'm sure Tony was frustrated because he led so many laps and had a shot at winning. But, you know, it's a closing laps. A lot of craziness is going to happen. I think what NASCAR doesn't want is when the checkered flag waves, and everybody is slowing down, that actions don't need to be taken out on the cars, on the track, when the race is over. You know, Tony was definitely frustrated, obviously. They kind of got together. I don't know what happened after that, honestly.
Q. On the pit road stuff, explain to the layman, why can't we just put speedometers in the car? Electronic thing is why we don't do it? Why is it you can't solve this problem by putting a speedometer in there?
JEFF GORDON: Well, that's the real question. I wish we had telemetry in the car to where we knew exactly what our speed was, where we had a digital gauge telling us exactly how we're running. Every other motorsport out there has that. We're one of the few. Now, obviously, NASCAR has done an amazing job of keeping the technology down and helping the cost of the sport. I think it also keeps competition tighter. But the tachometer is actually more accurate in figuring out the speed limit, the miles per hour. It's just a different way of reading it. So we're getting the same thing. We use tachometers in the car because we're measuring the gearing and everything so much, and it has so much to do with the engine and how it runs, where our power band is. So we really don't have room for a speedometer. But I think that, you know, there are some other things that we can come up with. If you put a speedometer in there, you know, it's how you measure what wheels -- it's off of wheel speed. I don't know. I'm not sure if that's something that is in a rule book that said we can't run a speedometer. But it's something that might end up coming and might resolve some things.
Q. Reflecting back, 2004, what is your assessment of everything with NASCAR NEXTEL, the points structure, having 20/20 hindsight?
JEFF GORDON: I think it's pretty ingenious, if you ask me. I mean, I think it's amazing to see NEXTEL come in and, you know, it just seems so seamless in how they've adapted to the sport. They've done an amazing job. I think it was good timing to do something different in the points system. It's so difficult because as a competitor, you want one thing. As a series, being NASCAR, they're wanting to continue to keep it interesting, exciting, entertaining for the fans. You don't always make the competitors happy when you do some of those things. But looking back on it, you know, I think that it was an amazing finish to the year. So many people were part of the championship battle till the last lap of the last race. I think for the sport, it's definitely a good thing. Would I like to see a few little adjustments? Yeah, maybe. You know, minor things, though. I think the shootout, the 10 races to go, I think it's awesome.
Q. Your team worked very hard during the winter to get that car prepared for the 500. You worked really hard to get it to Victory Lane. Was it then hard to hand over your 24 to Daytona USA for a full year?
JEFF GORDON: Not at all. All that hard work, it took about five to six months to build that car, wind tunnel tested, fine-tuned, all the things, all the little rubbing and things that you do to get that car ready for that 500. So it is a lot of hard work. But you work that hard because you hope that car is sitting over there in Daytona USA. It's going to be tough when we got to Talladega, we go back to Daytona in July. I don't know if we're going to have time to build another one that's going to be as good as that one. But we're going to do our best. That's the only motivation for those guys to build another great one like that, so we can keep it going. I think our team has enough depth to be able to pull another car out of our stable or build another one and be ready to go win some more races. But to me it's an honor to have it over there.
Q. As you get ready to move on to Fontana this weekend, how much adjusting does the Rainbow Warrior Team have to make from going from that restrictor plate track onto a non-restrictor plate race?
JEFF GORDON: We've been in Daytona for 10 days and doing nothing but focusing on restrictor plate racing. We get to Fontana and it's going to be the exact opposite. It's going to take horsepower, it's going to take downforce, balance of the car, handling, as well as the total team effort of a pit crew and everything else. I mean, to me, this weekend's a true tale of who is going to be strong throughout the year. I'm looking forward to that opportunity. I think we've got a great car and a great team. I'm just hoping we use this as momentum and keep up the great work.
Q. Tony Stewart is obviously a lightning rod in the sport. Do you find him to be good for the NEXTEL Cup Series over all?
JEFF GORDON: I find Tony to be extremely entertaining, in a positive way really. You know, the guy is passionate about what he's doing. He wants to win as bad as anybody or more out there. He's talented. I think he's one of the most talented drivers that we have on the circuit, one of the most talented drivers I've ever raced against. You know, he's got a short fuse, and it shows up sometimes. But it's only because he cares. You can't knock a guy for that.
Q. You've had a great career at Daytona. That's your third victory. You've had five top fives, seven top tens. One stat that really jumped out at me is that you've only lead 29 laps. Are you surprised at that?
JEFF GORDON: That I only led 29 laps yesterday, Sunday?
Q. I believe that's for your whole career at Daytona, that you've only led 29 laps, if I'm correct.
JEFF GORDON: Definitely not correct. We've led quite a few laps there actually over the years. I think maybe I only led 29 laps there the other day, on Sunday.
Q. Up here in Canada, we watched the race. We had a record number of fans watching that Daytona victory. We're used to watching Champ Car because we have Canadian drivers. It seems if you don't have a good position, if you're not in the top two or three rows, you have a hard time winning a race. In NASCAR, it seems anything can happen. Can you describe the mayhem of NASCAR, that it doesn't really matter where you place, you always have a chance to win?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the type of cars that we race. We're total opposite of an Indy car or CART car. We have very little downforce compared to the amount of tire we run. I think that allows the handling and the driving of the cars to be crucial, not to mention as long as our races are, we have a lot of pit stops so there can be a lot of shuffling going around. I think the biggest thing, though, is we're on oval tracks. I think what makes great side-by-side racing, what makes cars come from the back to the front, is oval-track racing. When we're on the road courses, you see a lot less overtaking, cars moving from the back to the front, even though it still does happen, but you don't see it near as much. I think that's why our sport's taken off the way it has. I think in the near future, maybe seeing us racing, we got to build a track up there, we don't have one yet, but we need to be up in Canada. I think staying within North America is important. We're going to Mexico, at least the Busch Series is. I think the next step would be Canada.
Q. Considering all that you've accomplished throughout your career, both on and off the racetrack, it was mentioned earlier about Rusty and Mark and Terry saying good-bye to the sport, when it's all said and done, what would you like for your legacy to be?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, boy. It's not something I put a lot of effort into thinking, you know. Right now I'm just so focused on driving, trying to be a part of a great organization that provides winning cars and championship-caliber team out there. But, you know, obviously I've accomplished more than I've ever dreamed of. To have the career I've had, grow up at such a young age, racing quarter midgets, go-karts, moving onto midgets and Sprint cars, having success along the way, winning big events. Then getting into NASCAR and the Cup Series, knowing that I've won three Daytona 500s, four Brickyard 400s, four championships, a lot of other races, I mean, to me there's nothing really that I have left that I feel like I have to accomplish. I've accomplished more than I ever dreamed. I guess I just want to be known as somebody that put their heart and soul into driving every lap to pull off victories, that played a role at Hendrick Motorsports and in the sport, being a part of it as it's taken off to a whole new level.
DENISE MALOOF: Jeff, thanks for joining us today in the middle of what I know is a very busy schedule. Good luck out there in California.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
DENISE MALOOF: For all the media, Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO, will make a major business announcement today at 2:15 p.m. eastern time. The call-in number for the media is 1.888.694.4739.
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