NASCAR Media Conference
January 7, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: We're joined now by our four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon and three time champion of the Daytona 500. Jeff, we'd like to hear a little overview and outlook of winning the 500 again. First I understand you have something regarding the Jeff Gordon Foundation on your test car.
JEFF GORDON: You know, for the last few years, we've seen where we've had paint schemes on our test cars down here. I guess it kind of came about with Action Performance, now Motorsports Authentics, wanting to do something for the fans. We just wanted to take it to the next level this year. We actually not only are creating a die cast with our test car that has Jeff Gordon Foundation on it, the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital, just a way for us to create more awareness for you all, the kids that we're fighting for, why we have the Jeff Gordon Foundation, the fund-raisers that we have.
It's been fun to be able to do this this year and the car looks really cool. We haven't had it on the track yet, though. We're going to draft with that car. We've just been running laps by ourselves with the other car.
HERB BRANHAM: The 50th running of the Daytona 500. What would it mean to make this one your fourth 500 victory?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, you always want to win the Daytona 500. It's the ultimate. But it's certainly cool when I come in here and I see the trophy. It makes for a lot of incentive. I'm fortunate to have a few of these, but none of them have gold on it.
I think obviously NASCAR and Daytona Speedway are doing a lot for the 50th running. I've been a part of some of that as well. So we know how big of a deal it is to be running in the 50th anniversary race, as well as how big it would be to win it.
HERB BRANHAM: Questions for Jeff Gordon.
Q. What do you expect on Wednesday in the draft? What do you expect the difference, if any, to be between the 500 and what you saw at Talladega?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it's going to be a lot different. I think we're actually going to get a chance to get out this tomorrow and do some drafting. Hopefully we'll know before Wednesday. But just already right now, like at Talladega, it's so smooth, corners are so big and wide, that you really can just set the car down on the ground there, where here, the transitions are a little bit more drastic. There's a lot more bumps here, some big swells actually through both ends of the racetrack. And so, you know, it's really much tougher just to get the car to drive better, not to mention drafting.
So, you know, right now we're just trying to get the cars to drive the best we can by ourselves so we can get prepared for the draft and to try to find speed as well.
I can't really answer that question till we get out this and draft. I can tell you one thing, it's going to be a lot different than Talladega. You're not going to be able to hang out in the back all day and cruise. Track position's going to be important. I think that it's going to be a lot harder to pass. I think the handling is going to be an issue. So, you know, it's gonna be a little bit more typical Daytona.
But with these cars punching the hole that they have, the restrictor plate we have, that's the unknown that I'm not sure about, is how good they'll suck up and pass.
Q. I remain a bit confused about the Car of Tomorrow. At a basic level, could you explain whether it enables the most skilled drivers to show their ability or whether it sort of equalizes the ability among all drivers.
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm glad you're confused because so am I (laughter).
I'm not really sure. I mean, it equalizes the cars, which means that the little details are what matter most. So I think the driver definitely plays a big role in that, but I think the team still plays a huge role in it, too, because if on our seven-post rig that we have at our shop, which a lot of teams have that now, or in the wind tunnel, or in computer simulation, or during testing, you know, if we can find something that allows us to get an edge, then that's going to be huge because the cars are so close.
I think that it doesn't necessarily -- if one team or driver does well with this car, it doesn't necessarily mean that driver is better than anybody else. It means that maybe he just adapted to this car better. It's not an easy car to get through the corners. We're just so limited on the things that we can do to it, to really make it handle the way we'd like it to.
So I think that the driver and crew chief and team communication is probably more important than it's ever been in the past, and I also think the engineering that the teams come up with is more important than it's ever been before.
I don't know if I really answered your question, but that's the best I know how to do it. I'm confused, too, so...
Q. You've seen enough drivers come and go at Hendricks. How long do you think it will take Dale Jr. to acclimate to the equipment. Do you expect him to be up front right away or is that not fair?
JEFF GORDON: Obviously, there's going to be a lot of focus on that, which is one of the reasons why I really applaud the move that he made because, you know, he could have been just kind of sitting comfy at DEI and just have his normal pressure of stepping it up.
Now he goes to a team that's won a lot of championships, won back-to-back championships, and so now it's like, okay, this is the true test for Junior. And I don't think that's necessarily fair in a way because, you know, it still takes time for the team to gel. Just because the equipment is there, it doesn't mean everything. You know, you have to have all the people working in the right direction.
But I think the fact that he's here today means a lot. It shows where his focus is and how fired up he is about this season. I think they're going to have a great season. What that necessarily means, I don't know. I think -- I mean, we'll just have to wait and see. I know that the equipment is there. Everything is there. But you've got to get the chemistry and you've got to get all the another ingredients that it takes to be successful.
And now, as well, with the new car, I don't even know what we call this car anymore, because it's no longer the Car of Tomorrow, it's the current car. You know, with this car, it equalizes the competition so much that what advantage we may have had in the past years at Hendrick, we might not have that advantage this year. I guess everything is just going to have to be compared to the other drivers at Hendrick. That's probably going to be the true measurement.
Q. At this point, leading up to now, talk about the anxiousness of getting back in this car.
JEFF GORDON: It seems like yesterday we were in Homestead. I mean, things just fly by so quick during the off-season, I cannot believe that here we are testing, getting ready for the new season.
But I'm excited about it. I think when you have the type of year that we had last year and you come up a little bit short, especially with your teammate, I think it just makes you that much hungrier to go out there and try to get one, get one step closer, or get the ultimate trophy.
You know, I think our team has been working hard. I've had a chance to get away, relax, spend time as a dad, with my family. I'm certainly energized and ready to go. Things are going well so far today. I'm looking forward to next couple days, see what we've got. Really looking forward to Vegas and California tests because that will truly show what we've got. Here it's a restrictor plate, so it's kind of hard to gauge what we're going to have for the whole season. But those other tests should show us.
Q. Were you surprised to see Junior here today? Secondly, how can you and Jimmie and Casey kind of help smooth that transition? Are there things you can do to make him feel more part of the group or is it just like when a baseball team like the Yankees signs A-Rod, you put him in the lineup, he fits right in?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I was surprised. Most drivers, if they're not here testing, they don't want to be here. So I was surprised. I think it says a lot. And it's smart, you know, on his part. So I'm really proud of him for doing that because he's going to be here without his teammates next week, however the points thing worked out the way it did. We've got three of us here and one of us next week.
I think, you know, it really shows a lot, that he's here. I think that was a really smart thing on his part.
I mean, as a teammate, you know, you have to welcome them in, you have to support them. That's certainly been the case with Junior. But he's got to make that extra effort, as well, to get to know us as teammates as well as his own team. That's just going to take time.
So far, I mean, the transition, everything I've heard -- it helps a lot that Tony, Jr. is there, as well. That bridges the gap at the shop with the guys there, with the other crew chiefs, the other teams there. That really allows things to come together a lot faster.
He came to a bunch of races with us last year, so he got a chance to see everything that goes on through a race weekend. So it will take some transition period to get through some actual races, go through the debriefs and stuff with Junior, as well, before we can really tell what kind of chemistry we're going to have. But so far it's gone really well.
Q. Jimmie was on a little while ago, talking about going for three straight, four championships overall. Are your feelings mixed on that or is it all good?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I would think that that should be his goal, to win the championship every year. He's certainly been able to be the best out there the last couple years. You know, my job and my goal is to go out there and to the same for our team.
I think that in some sense what we've accomplished at the Dupont 24 team, you know, is a bar that is set and a goal for a lot of people, and that's very cool. That's something to be proud of. To me, you know, your goals every year are just to go out there and win races and win the championship. That certainly wouldn't surprise me with Jimmie. He's the best. That team's been the best. I think we all look at them as a team to beat for many years to come.
Q. You've conquered challenge after challenge. Are the challenges of a new season greater now or is it more like business as usual?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, with the new car I guess it's a little bit different. Typically we'd come down here and I'd be bored to death already with the Daytona test because we're making qualifying runs. With the new car, it does present a new challenge that makes us excited and anxious and all those things. It would be the same way throughout the week when we're drafting, then it would be the same thing when we go to the Vegas and California test. It's going to be that way at every track we go to that's a new track that we haven't run this car on.
Then you throw in the other challenges of being competitive, trying to win races, be a threat for the championship. So all those are unknowns. I understand that testing is a crucial part of that as well as a lot of hard work that goes into the off-season, but you really can't truly know what position you're in, how competitive you're going to be, until you start running the races.
So right now, you know, the challenge and the focus is to put as much effort into these tests to try to make us the best that we can be.
Q. Obviously a great year last year by every estimation, calculation, but you didn't win. What did you learn coming out of last year and where is that last little bit? Have you changed anything?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, again, this is the different car, so that's going to change things a little bit. But I think, you know, looking back, there's not a whole lot we could do different. I think the only thing maybe we could have done different, you know, was be a little bit more aggressive in the setups. I mean, looking back on it, you know, Jimmie was a little bit faster than us really throughout the year. We were just more consistent. I attribute that to the great work that Jimmie and Chad and that team did. Chad is not afraid to push the limits on the setups, and Jimmie's not afraid to drive them. Chad's really good at convincing him to drive them, too. I think that that might be the only place where we missed out a little bit, was that we probably didn't push those limits far enough.
You know, I actually told Steve, I was like, you know, Don't be afraid to push me a little bit harder when it comes to some of those things. Sometimes he's got to sell me and other times I've got to sell him. That's what makes great chemistry among crew chief and driver. I really believe Steve and I have tremendous chemistry. I think that might be the only thing this year that we just push the limits to get more speed out of the car.
I will take the consistency that we had last year, and I would take it again this year. Knowing that we got beat having that kind of consistency, it's going to push us to try to get more speed, which is our job every year, try to go faster.
Q. Jeff, the 50th Daytona 500 is coming up. I'm sure everybody is aware of that. Looking back at your first win here in '97, do you ever think to the pass you made on Elliott in the middle of the barbecue pits?
JEFF GORDON: I just wish they never put that yellow line down there.
Q. When you think back to that over 10 years ago, do you shake your head at that pass? What do you think of it from this far away from it now? Think back to what that win meant for your career overall at that stage.
JEFF GORDON: Oh, no, it was a great win, to win the Daytona 500 for the first time, and doing it in that type of fashion with an exciting pass, that's your dream. That's what you want. From the driver's seat, that wasn't as crazy of a move as they made it out to be or what it may have appeared to be on TV.
When you know what the car is capable of doing and there's that much room down there, then you use it. Now we don't have that capability any more, so we make the most of what we can now. It's harder to make passes because that line is there.
But when I do think about it and look back on it, it was cool. It was cool that it kind of came down that way. Had I not made that move, then I might not have won the race. I certainly wouldn't have done it any different.
HERB BRANHAM: Jeff Gordon, thank you.
JEFF GORDON: Appreciate it.
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