NASCAR Media Conference
July 21, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's teleconference. We are in advance of Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. That's NASCAR's annual Sprint Cup Series race at famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Special guest today, we have the four-time champion of the 400 and the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Jeff Gordon. Jeff, he is currently second in the Series point standings; won the inaugural 400 back in '94. He has also won the race three other times. He is trying to tie F1 star Michael Schumacher's all-time record of five Indianapolis victories.
Jeff, thanks for joining us. We are going to start off today with a quick question we got from several of our fans from NASCAR's Twitter account. The fans wanted to ask you if in the future, way in the future, after your driving days are done, do you sort of envision yourself staying in NASCAR with Hendrick Motorsports in another capacity?
JEFF GORDON: I certainly hope so. That would be my wish and my dreams, seeing-- of course, you never realize that being a race car driver and having the success that I've had at this level would ever even happen. If it did, it is kind of hard to plan ahead.
But I have done the best that I could in that sense and got myself certainly aligned with a great organization, a great person in Rick Hendrick. And I feel like there's a great opportunity there for me whenever that day comes, hopefully not any time soon.
I'm loving driving, especially when we are having seasons like we're having year this year when we are so competitive and a shot at the championship only inspires to keep driving longer and longer.
But one of my last contract negotiations, which was a while ago because I signed a lifetime contract, in that I was able to get equity in not only my team, the 48 team and a small percentage of Hendrick. So that certainly is where I'm banking my future, is in Hendrick Motorsports. And when I'm not a driver, I hope that I can add value to the organization with my experience to only keep the great success going at Hendrick Motorsports.
HERB BRANHAM: All right, Jeff. Thanks. I know the fans appreciate that answer.
We'll go to the media now for questions for Jeff Gordon.
Q. Jeff, I wanted to ask you, what value is there in momentum this season? And I ask because only 33% of the race winners this season went on to finish in the top ten in the race after their win, and that is down significantly from the last few years.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think it's a great sign of the competition and how-- you know, I think the weather has played some crazy factors in there as well as you've got the new organization Stewart-Haas doing well. So you have got some new kind of faces, if you think of it from a team sense, you know, with Reutimann and Michael Waltrip Racing as well as Tony.
Then you've got Mark Martin who has kind of also played a factor in there and been not a newcomer but certainly a guy that hasn't had this kind of success for a number of years. And Hendrick is strong and, you know, so it Roush and Penske.
And so I think, you know, what I'm seeing this year is it is very difficult to get momentum on race wins, but I think the momentum is there to challenge for the championship for a couple of guys, Stewart certainly being one of those guys right now that's really standing out. I think same for the 24 team. I feel like we've shown consistent strength all year long, and I think consistency right now is almost as important as momentum.
I think the momentum is really going to be key just prior to the chase, who can get that momentum and go into the chase and even start the chase with that strong momentum and continue it on. That's, I believe, what's going to separate the team-- or the top teams that are going to go vy for the championship.
Q. I know part of your answer will be based on your sort of Indianapolis roots and background. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is really special to a lot of people. It's special in the history of racing, and I understand why NASCAR is there. Was the damage-- last year's race, is the damage able to be overcome and does NASCAR still need to be at that racetrack?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I'm certainly biased because, you know, as a kid growing up, I always dreamed about racing at Indy and thought those dreams had gone away when I was moving down south and starting my NASCAR career.
I love the fact that the Brickyard 400 happens every August-- or July. And it's just a spectacular event.
I think it's-- I don't know the financials and everything that go along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But, you know, to have two successful races there a year, I think, seems to make more sense than just one. But, you know, the history of the Indianapolis 500 has kept that place alive and doing so well for so many years that maybe it can sustain just one race. And I think that certainly had a lot to do with prestige and history of not only that event but as to the meaning of the Brickyard 400 when it came along.
Since then, you've had to Formula 1 race and now MotoGP. So there's certainly decisions that go beyond my capabilities and depth, but I think it's an important race. I think that you're going to see us come out of what happened last year with the tires, you're going to see a whole different type of race. And the issues with tires are not going to be from wearing them down to cords in eight or ten laps like last year. I'm very confident in the tires. I did the last test there and was very pleased.
So I think certainly a lot of damage was done. It might not take one race. It might take more than one race. I hope it happens and we get a chance for that to happen because the fans are supporting the event and, you know, knowing it could take more than one race to repair that. But I believe it can happen.
Q. Following up on that, Jeff, the reports are that ticket sales are pretty sluggish for Sunday. I'm sure some of that is due to the economic downturn, but I'm sure some of it is due to fans staying away because of last year's race. I don't think anybody would question that you guys and Goodyear have done a lot of work to try to fix the problem. Do you think the problem was remedied a little bit too late and it was only a month ago you guys declared it had been solved? Do you think there might be a little bit of lag time for fans to sort of react to realizing that, hey, this race may not be that bad and we should get tickets?
JEFF GORDON: I think some of that will build as we get closer to the race. We have seen a lot of that this year in general with the economy. I think, you know, a lot of fans are waiting it out for -- it could be a number of reasons. It could be their own finance issues that they're dealing with, like so many others, basically everybody that's dealing with something with the economy and holding off on that. It could be, you know, waiting for less expensive ticket prices and seeing if that happens later leading up to the race.
And I think, also, with Indianapolis, it's-- a lot of it is what happened last year. So it might-- that's why I say it might take a couple of races, at least one I'm hoping, to really kind of win back those fans that were very disappointed. And they should have been. I think we were all pretty disappointed in what happened there.
But we all had to come together to work it out, and I think Goodyear took the brunt of it. And it is not just all their responsibility. I mean, those tires were wearing out for a number of reasons and, yet, they took it and ran with it. And it took a long time, I think a lot longer to figure out what tire and what compound was going to work there.
But it took longer than I think they expected, all of us did, but they did get it. That's what I'm happy about, is that they have found it.
Q. If I could follow up, when Formula 1 had its tire debacle a few years ago, everybody sort of returned from that series very contrite. When they were at Indy next year, the drivers went out of their way to do autograph sessions. I know Michelin did a lot, too. Does NASCAR have a responsibility, drivers, series and sponsors as a whole, to maybe welcome Indy back into the fold this year and try to do more to reach out?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. Absolutely. I feel like, you know, we already have a series that's built around that. We do so much for the fans, whether it be autograph sessions and different types of meets-and-greets at the track or away from the track during the week for our sponsors.
I mean, I don't think any sport is more accessible than ours is. I think just this year in general the economy the way it is and really trying to show our appreciation for how much we do appreciate our fans and how loyal they are and avid they are and we are still getting great crowds.
We have been doing it all year. But I know that we are scheduled to do more at Indy this weekend. I know there is an autograph session, I think, Friday and Saturday but don't quote me on that. But I know I'm involved with, I believe, the one on Friday.
Q. Jeff, something you alluded to actually a couple months ago, David Reutimann's improvements this season, from your perspective, how much better is he performing and is that team performing compared to the last couple years?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, what you're going to have is if you have a crew chief come on, here he's going to say his driver is driving better. If you have a driver, he says his team is building better, faster race cars. I think it all comes together when you put the total team effort and then the race cars and everything that goes along with it, the pit stops.
You know, a guy like David Reutimann is going to show what he's capable of doing. And I think there's certainly a reason why Michael Waltrip picked him to drive that car, and he's showing the reasons why this year.
You know, I think experience in the CupSeries with this car and that team is definitely improved. I mean, even seeing Marcos Ambrose, how strong he's been running this year as well tells me that team has definitely stepped up in a big way.
You know, another guy that's in there and battling for the top 12 is Juan Pablo Montoya. I think his experience in these cars now is starting to show and pay off.
You know, there's just any number of guys that I think are right there on the edge of really breaking through, and a couple of them already have and David is one of them.
Q. Do you feel like with what Reutimann has been able to do this year and what Mark Martin has been able to do this year, could that open up doors and opportunities for guys pushing 40 to land top rides in the CupSeries, in your opinion?
JEFF GORDON: If you've got the talent, you know, and if you're as physically fit as Mark Martin is, you know, then I don't-- age to me is really not, you know, an issue. I was talking to Bill Elliott a couple weeks ago at the last race and I said to him, I said, hey, how's it going? And we were just talking. And he said, Jeff, he goes, I still feel like I'm 25 years old. He said, when I'm in that car, my mind is still just as in tune of what's going on with the car and different things than when he was 25.
And so I think experience is very key in our series. Knowing how to balance out the patience and aggressiveness, and if you have that ability, I don't think it ever goes away, doesn't change. I think it is either in you or it's not. It doesn't matter how old you are.
So I think the physical side of it starts to play a bigger role than anything else. And so I think, you know, if you're a guy like Mark Martin, there is no doubt you are going to have an opportunity. And I think he's one of the rare few that have that much talent and that physical fitness that goes right along with it. I think he is one of the very few. I haven't seen many out there like him.
Q. Jeff, even if you take the tire situation out of the equation, we've seen some real slippage in terms of attendance at the Brickyard over the last few years. I wonder, is the novelty wearing off of this thing or not? Do you feel like this is still an event with a long-term future on the NASCAR schedule and we are still going to see it 20 and 30 years down the road?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, you never know with the Hulman-George family. This is their baby. I think we're all privileged to get the opportunity to race there as long as we have. And if they decide they don't want to have the Brickyard 400 there, that's up to them. I think the fans have responded tremendously over the years.
Has the novelty worn off? Hey, that happens in a lot of different sports and events. So maybe it has. But we still attract a huge crowd there, even if it's dropped a little bit.
And so there's certainly a lot of attention around it. From the competitors standpoint, it's one of the biggest races that we have right next to the Daytona 500 is where I would put it.
So I think it's still a popular event. I think it's one that we always like to see continue on forever. But we as competitors don't always make that decision.
Q. Jeff, I wanted to ask you about Joey Logano. I'm wondering how specific you can be about what you see of him on the racetrack that tells you is going to be a top driver for years to come? Also, have you spent enough time around him to sense his maturity off the track?
JEFF GORDON: I've heard the first part of the question. I mean, you watch Joey and what he has been able to accomplish all the way up to this point and he started very young and he has been successful and he has been a winner and he has been a champion.
So I think those probably play on as much as anything else. Racing against him on the track this year, I mean, it's hard to say. You know, I've seen him really struggle this year more than I thought that he would struggle. And so there's been moments in times where I've said, I don't know if he's got it.
But then as the season's gone on and I remind myself of my rookie year, you know, I think he's actually going to go a long ways and do extremely well.
But I think it's really taken him a little bit longer than even he probably expected to adapt to this car. You know, this is a tough car to get ahold of, especially when he has run the Nationwide Series. They are just two total opposites.
I think he will be one of the top guys in our sport in years to come. How long is it going to take? It could be, you know, a year. It could be two years. But I think in the next three or four years you will see that happening.
Q. And his maturity off the track, have you been around him a while?
JEFF GORDON: I can't say that I have. I mean, I see him at driver intros, driver media. It wouldn't be fair for me to answer that.
Q. There's been some talk about changing date and/or time of the Indy 500. Wanted to know if that would be something you would consider trying to do if it was convenient with the NASCAR schedule?
JEFF GORDON: You know, I guess I'm just one of those guys that I respect far too greatly what it takes to not only drive those cars around Indianapolis for one lap but to be prepared well enough to be competitive when it comes to qualifying as well as in the race.
And, you know, I'm just not the kind of guy that gets in something and just wants to drive around for fun. And plus doing 230 miles an hour at Indy, I'm pretty sure that's going to get your attention and not every lap is fun. So, you know, I-- if that opportunity had come earlier in my career, I would jump on it, absolutely, because I dreamed about racing at Indy.
But now that I've been embedded in NASCAR for so long, it is just not me. That might be for some other guys, but it's just not me. It would almost more have to be something to where I was no longer driving in the Cup Series full-time and battling for the championship and I was able to spend a quality amount of time with a quality team to go and be competitive. That's the only way I could ever see that happening, and I don't see it happening with a full-time Cup schedule.
Q. Anger management issues have always been a pervasive theme in NASCAR, obviously Kyle Busch has emerged as a poster boy for that, if you will, in the last few years. I know it's a matter of individual personality. But, personally, how do you deal with situations when you feel, you know, you might just lose it on the track? And have you changed your approach over the years in terms of maturity or anything of that nature?
JEFF GORDON: I think there is part of your personality that is at the beginning of your career and goes all the way through. It is just you can't change it. It is who you are.
And I think your purest emotions come out in the heat of the battle like what is happening on the racetrack when the adrenalin is flowing and the competition is fierce, whether things are going good or bad. That's your true personality coming out in its fullest form on the racetrack.
And so that's why I have always said a lot of times you can take the number and the paint off the cars and I could tell you who's driving the cars from 60, 70% of the guys out there just because you see their driving styles as well as the personality coming out.
I definitely think that we all mature as we get older and with maturity you typically you gain more patience. And I think also it is just experience. It is hard to judge which one is happening: Is it experience that's just making you more patient or are you maturing and that's giving you more patience?
Again, like I was saying earlier about Mark Martin, you either have that aggressive attitude in order to win this race, I have got to go now, I have to do this, I have to put the car on the edge. You either have that or you don't. I don't think that really goes away.
As you mature, you pick and choose the moments when you're going to do that because you know you can't do that all day long. Putting Kyle Busch back into the picture, when Kyle came along, I mean, he was super fast. I was his teammate so I got to see firsthand, super fast. But he was running 110% every single lap and the last lap he didn't do anything, he was the fastest guy on the track.
The problem is when you put yourself on the edge like that you are going to hit a lot of things. I really believe where Kyle's maturity is from he has knocked it down a much.
He hasn't knocked it down much. He is still close to the edge, but he is not going over the edge as much and I think he's seeing more consistent results because of it.
Q. You've obviously been very good at Brickyard winning the first race here. Can you talk about impact of racing at the Brickyard and following, the IRL split has had on NASCAR's popularity?
JEFF GORDON: Well, there was certainly 1994. The impact was huge. I mean, huge I feel like to Indianapolis but more so for NASCAR and the CupSeries. I mean, the buzz, the buildup, the event itself. I'm not saying that just because I won it. I was just-- I was so thrilled just to be there and be a part of it, driving through that tunnel and pulling in and out of the garage area.
Again, as a kid, I used to go to certain days in the month of Mayor a test day and go watch and just stand there and just dream of actually racing there.
So, you know, to me it's never going to have that much hype or that much prestige as that inaugural event had. But I still believe it is because it is Indianapolis and the history that Indianapolis has in the event that they had there. Everybody knows it is the biggest of that series. It could be Indy cars. It could be stock cars. It could be motorcycles, Formula 1 cars. But it is the biggest and one of the most prestigious, and it's really history in the making each time you go to it.
Q. You have won there four times. What is the difference in winning there? I mean, what do you have to do to win there now compared to what you did the first year? Has it changed a lot?
JEFF GORDON: No, I still think it is very similar. I think track positions may be a little bit more important now than it was. If you remember back in 1994, me and Ernie Irvan swapping positions every lap, and you don't see as much of that happen.
The older cars, it seemed like out front you would get a lot looser and then, you know, have a hard time carrying the speed through the corner. And the old car didn't get quite as aerosensitive as this car. This car now, it's such a premium to be out front. It is punching such a bigger hole, it makes it more challenging for the car behind.
But I think a lot of things apply if you get off of turn 2, off of turn 4 into those straight-aways is key. Having great power is certainly important; being aggressive, especially when it comes to qualifying to get that good track position to start with is still important. And those were the same things back then.
HERB BRANHAM: Jeff Gordon, appreciate it. Best of luck this weekend at Indianapolis.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you. Appreciate it. And certainly looking forward to it. Looking forward for our annual bowling tournament as well for the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. It will be a great weekend. I think we've got a great shot at a victory as well. So I'm excited for many reasons.
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