February 5, 2004: Highlights of Driver Q&A Sessions with the Media at Daytona International Speedway. JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: ON THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP "For the first 26 races, you're going to race basically...
February 5, 2004: Highlights of Driver Q&A Sessions with the Media at Daytona International Speedway.
JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
ON THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP "For the first 26 races, you're going to race basically like you did before. It's going to be important to be in that top 10. After race 26, it's totally different. That's exactly what they wanted to do. It's going to come down to being aggressive, being smart, and being lucky. That's going to make things exciting. I like the tracks in the last 10 races. They're good tracks for us. Our chances are good. We've got to make sure we're in that top 10. Then, I think we'd have a great shot at winning more championships.
IS IT TOUGH NOT TO BE WINNING AS MUCH AS YOU HAVE IN THE PAST? "Not really. I recognize that we had some very spectacular years and those weren't normal years when we were winning 10 or more races a year, year after year. I recognize how special that was then and how what I'm doing now is really more normal. My focus has turned so much more on winning the championship now. The way the point system has been in the past, winning a lot of races doesn't necessarily win you the championship. This year, the focus is going to be more on winning - especially during the last 10 races. I think you're going to see us racing a little bit different. You'll see guys making bigger decisions and taking more chances.
"Of course the tires and the downforce on the cars is going to change as well. But it doesn't bother me. I've had enough success in this sport and I've enjoyed a lot of great things - championships and wins - that if I don't win 10 races, it doesn't bother me."
WERE YOU A TRAILBLAZER FOR THE YOUNG GUYS COMING INTO THIS SPORT? WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO NOT BE THAT YOUNG GUY? "There have always been young guys in the sport. But when Kenny Wallace and I came into the sport back in '93, it opened the doors for good rides and top sponsors and teams looking at young guys. Guys like Tony Stewart and Dale Jr. and Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson have been able to come in with really good rides. It proved that a young guy could come in and be successful right away if he has the right equipment."
DO YOU THINK THE SOFTER TIRES WILL FAVOR DRIVERS WITH MORE FINESSE? "I'm hoping they compliments drivers with finesse and that have more patience and I think they will. But at the same time, we have a lot more downforce than we did six or eight years ago when we had a tire like this. We've learned too much about aerodynamics and engineering to ever go back to that. But it's still going to be a different type of racing now. But I'm excited about it. It's definitely going to change how we pit the car, the strategy, and how we drive. Over a longer run, if there aren't cautions, I think it will benefit veteran drivers who are used to driving the car with a tire that goes away where you have to manage your speed and the tires. Basically, it's just been wide open from lap one to the last lap. Tires were a non-issue. They're definitely going to be an issue this year - even at Daytona."
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVISE FOR A ROOKIE LIKE BRIAN VICKERS? "Yeah, I tell him to stay behind me (laughs). It's hard to tell young guys things. They're full of Adrenalin and youth and they want to learn what they can but they also kind of want to do it on their own. He's with a great organization. I'm very impressed with him and his personality and his talents on the track. I think he'll do well."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO START AND FINISH THE SEASON AT DAYTONA? "Whatever they want to do. I don't know if I want the championship to come down to a restrictor plate race but I love Daytona. It's our Super Bowl event. It would certainly add something to the entertainment value by having Daytona toward the end of the season. But it really needs to be at the beginning or the end in my opinion. "
ARE YOU MORE LAID-BACK THESE DAYS? "Yeah, I think I am. I'm very comfortable with who I am right now and what my role is and what I have to do on and off the track. I'm enjoying my thirties. I'm enjoying life and I take a lot of stuff with a grain of salt. I don't get too excited about some things and yet I'm more serious about other things. I look forward to getting it all going and getting on the track and letting the actions speak for themselves."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT DAYTONA THAT'S SUCH A CHALLENGE? "It's the drafting. There is definitely a skill and an experience level that's very important here at Daytona. You can't describe it. You can't explain it. It's the one place I do think the rookie has a disadvantage. Your experience in using your mirror and knowing how to block and using the air around you with other cars on how to make a pass or to keep somebody from passing are definitely factors. But the tires are going to change things a lot here. The tires are going away fast here. Handling is going to be really important. We're going to learn a lot Saturday night (Budweiser Shootout) on what we really have in store for us."
DO YOU LIKE THE SHOOTOUT? "Yeah, I like the whole aspect of it - working with your spotter, your crew chief, your team, and everything. It's a great race. It's also a tool for us for the rest of the week. There is a lot more pressure in the 125's (qualifying races) because your starting position in the Daytona 500 counts on it, and you don't want to tear anything up. In the Shootout, you can go for broke and it doesn't really matters other than the win. In the 125's there is a lot more at stake."
DO THE FANS REALLY UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DAYTONA 500? "Anybody who knows anything about sports knows the importance of it. Even people who don't know much about sports know the importance of it. It's a huge event. I just came from the Super Bowl and there is a lot we can take from that to make this even bigger and better. I see NASCAR and the Speedway stepping that up each year. I just love how big they do things. They make it a happening. A whole city just flips upside-down over this one event. The Daytona 500 can be very similar to that."
ON ALL THE CHANGES FOR 2004 "It's a lot of change but you can't control them. I don't focus as much on the changes outside of the race car. My job is still the same and that's to win races. Other things like the points system and all that don't matter. I'm going to race however those points are. I see some exciting things happening that are good for the sport. That's the way I look at it. I'm not afraid of change."
ARE YOU SUPERSTITOUS OR DO YOU LIKE A CERTAIN ROUTINE? "I'm definitely a routine guy. I've been doing it for so long. I like things to be organized before the race starts. I don't like chaos. I have things I like to do. I eat, I dress, I stretch - I like as few distractions as possible. But I wouldn't say I'm neurotic about things to where I would call them superstitious."
WHY ARE THE NEW TIRES SUCH A HUGE CHANGE? "Everybody wanted a change just because follow-the-leader racing wasn't as exciting. The veteran drivers who have been a part of side-by-side racing and tires that gave up were in favor of that and made suggestions to NASCAR. And this is what they've come up with. There will be some places we're happy with it and some places we're not happy."
DO YOU AGREE WITH DARRELL WALTRIP WHEN HE SAYS IT'S THE MACHINE THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE VS THE DRIVER? "That's true. I do think the race car is much more significant and a bigger factor than what it used to be. There are still tracks where drivers can make a difference like the short tracks and road courses and the draft at Daytona and Talladega. But at the majority of the tracks that we go to, the race car is extremely important. Now this year with the tires being different, that'll help that a little and bring more back into the drivers' hands.