NASCAR Media Conference
February 1, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We have Jeff Gordon, driver of the Dupont Chevrolet in here now. Jeff, you got about a day and a half of testing in. How is it going so far?
JEFF GORDON: Going pretty good. Felt like yesterday morning -- we were just trying a bunch of stuff yesterday afternoon, felt like the speed came. We've kind of done the same thing today, in the morning, just taking what we learned yesterday, trying some different things, then work on speed in the afternoon. You know, it doesn't do you a lot of good to go real fast when it's cool, you know, the track has a lot of grip early in the morning. Real true race conditions when we come back here more in the afternoon. We're not the fastest one on the board, but car feels good. Got things working good with the team. We know what we need to work on. We're just narrowing it down and trying things, gathering information that hopefully not only helps us when we come here, but helps us as other tracks, as well.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions from mere in the media center. Lee in the back.
Q. Lee Spencer, Sporting News. You've had the whole off-season to think about what went wrong last year. You guys made strides in the Chase, but still didn't seem Jeff Gordon like. I know we have a lot of expectations from you, but you're a four-time champion. Can you talk about what were those weaknesses and what have you done to combat them?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I think the biggest weakness that we had was just performance. The cars on the mile-and-a-half tracks, we were way off. What we did was at the end of last year when we didn't make the Chase, gave us the opportunity to cut cars up, change the bodies and go test. We went to Atlanta and we just did a bunch of wild, crazy things to the body until it gave me a comfort feel that I was happy with. We realized that it was in the total opposite direction that we had been in, which is still really kind of the way the 48 is. I mean, Jimmie's driving style, Chad's setups, they just work for them. They just haven't been working for us. We decided to, instead of trying to keep it universal between the two teams, we've got to get what works for me. We did. We went in a much different direction. We started making headway through those last 10 races, especially on the mile-and-a-halfs. Our short-track program was strong. Our superspeedway program was strong. Our road course problem, we know what we ran into there. We had a transmission issue. I feel like we've fixed that. We just had some bad luck. I like to think that you make your own luck. I felt like through our performances not being what they should have been, you know, it put us into positions we weren't used to and got us into either a crash or a situation where we made mistakes. Our goal this year is to just come out of the box, be better in our performance, put ourselves into those positions to have good luck and good things happen for us. Chemistry with the team is obviously really important. Felt like through some of that frustration we lost the chemistry, lost the confidence in one another. I know I lost confidence in what I was doing out there. It's just about building that back. Luckily we saw some light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the season, even Homestead. That's carried us through the off-season. Here we are in Vegas. Things are still going well.
THE MODERATOR: Doug.
Q. Doug Kazarian, Channel 13 in Las Vegas. Here we are in Las Vegas, these blueprints for the big changes, including the track, but also for the fans. Talk about your initial thoughts, whether you like them, dislike them, kind of your take.
JEFF GORDON: I think they're good. I've always felt like this track needed eight degrees more banking, they tell me (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Good answer.
JEFF GORDON: I think 20 degrees of banking is a good number, evening out both ends of the track. Right now one and two is actually flatter than three and four. I think if they get both ends of the track 20 degrees is a plus. I think through what Homestead did where they came up with the progressive banking, I think we've all learned a lot about how the banking should be done. I'm not saying they're going to go progressive banking here, but there's ways to make I think side-by-side racing happen a little bit more. You don't necessarily have to do the progressive banking, but there's some ideas that I've heard being thrown about how just the process of the foundation, what's underneath, the paving process and everything. But I think 20 degrees is a great number, and I think it will -- this track is already a great track, but I think it will make it even better. I haven't seen all the infield stuff. I know Bruton has committed to spending a ton of money, I hear. In Bruton fashion, I'm sure it will be nice.
THE MODERATOR: Tom.
Q. Tom (inaudible), The Spectrum, St. George, Utah. How much of a premium are you placing on this test in relation to the rest of the season, being you go to mile-and-a-half places, Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, a few other places like that, how much of a premium is on this testing as opposed to for the rest of the season?
JEFF GORDON: We put a huge premium on this test, not only because it's a mile-and-a-half and it helps us prepare for other mile-and-a-halfs, but realize that NASCAR has now put us into a box, a small box, a small window of opportunities to test. They tell us where we can test, when we can test. Really this is going to be our last mile-and-a-half test for a long time. It's about getting the season kicked off and started, chemistry within the team, getting everybody acquainted with one another, getting me out there on the racetrack, getting prepared myself. I mean, I can work out all winter long, not that I did, but I can do all these things and mentally try to prepare myself. But until you get out into the car, out there on the racetrack, it's never the same. This is great preparation for us in many ways, not to mention what it can do for us for other mile-and-a-half racetracks, help us learn things for those tracks, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Debbie.
Q. Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee. Jimmie told us a bit about the safari in Africa. Sounds like it was an excellent adventure. Where abouts in Africa did you go? What was your perspective on it?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it was spectacular, probably one of the coolest things I think eve ever done. I'm so glad we got a chance to do it. We went to South Africa. There's a reserve there, very close to Kruger National Park. It was all South Africa. It wasn't Tanzania, out in the wide open. But we saw everything there is to see. Just puts a whole different perspective on life when you are in that type of an environment. It was a great way to spend the off-season.
THE MODERATOR: Kim.
Q. Kim Novak, SPEED Channel. It's at that time of the year again for our SPEED Channel Driver of the Year award. You've won it four times. Can you tell us what it meant for you to win it the first time, then to go on and win it a total of four times?
JEFF GORDON: You know, it tells a lot about your season. Unfortunately we don't do Team of the Year because I think that's probably more of what it should be. The driver gets a lot of the accolades when it's a total team effort. The car's running good, makes me look good. Last year, car wasn't so good, I wasn't so good either. It all goes together. I think it's obviously an honor any time you get awarded something like Driver of the Year. Our goal is by the end of the year to have that because then we know we had a good year. Usually Driver of the Year means that you're ending up with a championship as well - not always, but usually. That's what our real goal is, to get that championship and hope you that you vote us as SPEED Channel Driver of the Year.
Q. Contra Costa Times. How important is the Daytona 500 as far as setting the tone for an entire season? A good run there, does it help psychological or any other way for the whole rest of the season?
JEFF GORDON: It does. Didn't do me much good last year, did it? You know, I think that -- Daytona is probably the coolest Victory Lane and coolest type of experience and moment by winning that you'll ever have in motorsports. It's bigger and better. It's hard to even put it in words what that experience is like. Each time I've won it, it's only gotten better. Last year was incredible. And it did carry momentum for us. I felt like it carried momentum so much to where we overlooked the fact that we really were horrible in the mile-and-a-halfs. We went to California, we actually ran pretty well there. I think we blew up right at the end. We were running in the top five when it happened. I think we were halfway decent here. It kind of overshadowed the fact we weren't really as good as we thought we were. So it definitely carries momentum. But at the same time I'll trade a Daytona 500 win for a championship. That's what we want. We want that championship. Daytona 500s are great, but there's nothing like the championship.
Q. Derrick Wilson, Vacaville Reporter. Tell us a little bit more about how the chemistry has changed from last year to this year.
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think, you know, any time you make a change within the team, especially a significant one like the crew chief or significant ones like we've made with our pit crew, that always just builds excitement. You get yourself into a position of trying to fix everything. It's not so much that we had to fix things. I think, you know, we just needed to make some changes. A lot of those changes were going to be happening anyway. Just because we ran bad and didn't make the Chase, it makes it look like all of a sudden we just started -- you're moving people around. It's not necessarily the case. A lot of those moves are going to be made regardless. I think just bringing somebody like Steve in who has fresh ideas, he's young, he's talented, he knows the team, he knows the people. His youthfulness just brings that bit of excitement and confidence, and the rest of the team builds around that. What I'm so proud of is that he didn't come in and just say, "Okay, I'm going to be the crew chief, but we're going to keep everybody in place." He said, "I'm going to be the crew chief, and in order to be the crew chief, I need the support of everybody." Anybody that doesn't support him, they're gone. He wasn't afraid to make those moves. I love that. As young as he is, he's got enough confidence in himself, has seen enough, been around enough great crew chiefs, organizers and managers, of course Rick Hendrick, as well, that he wasn't afraid to just step in there and take control. He's got guys over there right now that will do anything they can for him because they support him. That's what is going to make us a strong team. I told some people at the media tour a couple weeks ago that we might not be the best team right now that's out here, but I think that we have the potential by halfway through the season to be the best team and be championship contenders by the end of the year.
THE MODERATOR: Lee.
Q. When you won the championship in 2001 --
JEFF GORDON: You get two questions? You get special treatment out here, huh, Lee?
THE MODERATOR: She does come every year.
JEFF GORDON: As you should.
Q. Thank you, sir. When you won the title in 2001, we said, this is the guy that can tie Earnhardt, Petty and possibly be the guy that wins eight championships. Then I read quotes from the media tour where you don't expect yourself to be around perhaps long enough to accomplish that task. Where do you see yourself going? Is it still there or has the competition just kind of jumped up and equalized it even more? It's harder to win more so than it was in the last '90s?
JEFF GORDON: Number one is I never said I was going to win eight championships, seven championships. My expectation was never that. I won the first championship and I was blown away. I was like, "Wow, I won the championship." I won two championships and I was like, "Holy cow, I can't believe this. How can this happen?" Then three and then four. Every time along the way, just more and more surprising. So those expectations, we work our butts off to go out there and try to win championships, but we never expect to win championships. The reason why I said that on the media tour is because, you know, I got to get to five before I can think about six or seven or eight or any other number. Our goal is to get to five. If we ever get there, you know, by the end of my career, you know, great. Who knows, we might go on a rampage, go three straight. I don't know. But, you know, with as much work that's gone in to getting four, I can't imagine that three or four are going to come very easily. To have years like we've had, you never know when, if those are going to come together. I still think we have what it takes to win championships or I wouldn't be out here. I feel like I'm going to keep going as long as I can. I know I'm going to be at Hendrick Motorsports, I know they're going to provide me the resources to go out and win championships. It's just whether or not I'm going to be healthy enough, whether I'm going to be enjoying it enough or competitive enough. That has to do with desire and all those things. I still have that. I still love the competition, getting out there and competing against the best guys out there. I'm not going to do this until I'm 50. I don't know what day that may come. I hope it's under my own choice of when I step away from the sport, but I don't know when that is. I guess to me, looking at the expectations of winning seven or eight championships, I'm more of a realist, and I realize unless I did some really crazy stuff over the next four or five years where we just went bananas and nobody could touch us, then, yeah, maybe we can do that, but I don't think that's reality. I think we've got a shot to get one, maybe two more. Honestly, if I get two more championships, I will retire after that championship. Seven is not what I'm here to do.
THE MODERATOR: I think that's going to wrap it up. Thanks, Jeff, for coming in. I want to thank Jeff last night for being our keynote speaker.
JEFF GORDON: You guys had a great turnout. I was proud of what you did. Glad to be a part of it.
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