JIMMIE JOHNSON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS AND JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS were among other former Daytona 500 winners that met with media members and talked about what winning the Daytona 500 means, taking...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS AND JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS were among other former Daytona 500 winners that met with media members and talked about what winning the Daytona 500 means, taking chances to win the Daytona 500 and more.
ON WHAT WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 MEANS:
JEFF GORDON: "I don't know how to put that into words. I just remember the very first time that I ever drove through the tunnel to come here and test the Busch car and how in awe -- of course the track is legendary and has a lot of history, but you really have no idea until you drive through that tunnel and see the steep banking and just an incredible race track. Of course you go into it and they're just like you run wide open. Maybe Eldora in a winged sprint car was maybe the only place I could ever think of running wide open and that wasn't exactly easy, so I was like man I hope I can do that. I just remember getting out there and in my first lap I was running along there and I was like okay I'm ready, I think I can do it and I was already wide open. So I was like okay this isn't going to be as difficult as I thought to run wide open. That first experience to me is what set the tone and every single time I drive through that tunnel I get that same feeling that I did the very first time.
"It's just a really awesome, very cool place to race to perform and then over time you learn the history of our sport, the history of Daytona from the beaches over here to this incredible speedway. Who's won it, who hasn't won it. When you do go to Victory Lane for the first time, it's very, very special. I feel like the third time was even more special than the first time because I have a greater appreciation today than I've ever had not for just the sport and the history, just how competitive and how hard it is to go to Victory Lane especially in this race."
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I couldn't agree more. The only thing that I would add is for myself growing up in southern California and racing in the off-road industry, NASCAR was worlds away. So to find my way into this sport and to drive for Hendrick Motorsports and all the things that take place and then to win the Daytona 500, I never thought it was attainable. To be able to experience it and go through it, it's impossible to put it into words. There's nothing like it."
JEFF, YOU'VE WON TWICE HERE BY MAKING RELATIVELY BREATHTAKING MOVES GOING INTO TURN ONE, CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THOSE TWO INSTANCES. DID YOU MAP THOSE OUT A LAP OR TWO BEFORE OR DID THEY HAPPEN WHEN THEY HAPPENED?
JEFF GORDON: "Well I think one thing I learned early on in Daytona was that the momentum that you would get off of turn four through the tri-oval into turn one is where most moves used to happen more frequently before the yellow line rule.
"When they paved all that down there, then what happened is you could get the momentum to run high and get out of the guy's mirror in front of you and then shoot across his rear bumper before he could really make a move and be inside of you. As long as you got position, you just had to figure out how to get back up on the banking before you got into turn one. While it looked pretty hairy from outside and at times it was pretty hairy from inside, it just kind of was the norm. It just was the way you saw the guys do it and the way you did it. When it's for the Daytona 500 in the closing laps, I mean right now we still see extremely bold moves, it's just in a narrower window and we know where those boundaries are and before that, there were no boundaries. If you could have gotten away with the move on the apron, I think you would have pulled it off. Maybe that's why they changed the rule, I don't know.
"I think that time when (Ricky) Rudd was running off of pit road there kind of slow and we went to make that move on Rusty (Wallace) it looked worse on TV than it was in person, but it could have gotten pretty nasty. I think the Daytona 500, that's what it brings. That's what big races bring. The intensity level rises, everybody is pushing as hard as they can and you're hungry and you want to get that win and you'll do just about anything to get it and hope that it works out and for me it has worked out."
ABOUT GOING FOR THE THIRD CHAMPIONSHIP IN A ROW IN '99:
JEFF GORDON: "We didn't have a chance in '99. I don't really remember thinking about that a whole lot. I guess I was remembering too much about that lost opportunity in '96 that we could have had four in a row. I think that '99 we had such an incredible '98 that I really didn't know what to expect in '99 other than it was going to be hard to top '98. In '99 we just weren't together. We won some races but we just didn't have the consistency. You could tell there was a transition period at that time for our team. That was our seventh year together between me and Ray (Evernham) and there was a lot going on with him with the Dodge stuff. There was a lot going on with me with contracts and I don't know if those were distractions or what they were but '99 to me, I remember it just being a transition year.
"I think that Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) and those guys are in such a different position. I feel like yeah there's pressure but they're so together, they're so on top of their game and Hendrick Motorsports is on top of their game as a whole better than we've ever been. The only thing that can throw a kink in there is this new car. That to me is the variable that we really don't know 100% about. I have a lot of confidence in our organization but I've seen what Jimmie and what Chad and that team can do. Throwing out the three-in-a --row, I would pick them to be the team to beat for the championship this year and give them a very good shot at doing three in a row."
ON 50 YEARS OF RACING AT DAYTONA
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It's special to see the names that built this sport and made it what it is and to hear the stories. I wish I were here throughout the morning to hear these stories. I'm too new to the scene to really have these great stories and someday I'll be up here hopefully telling great ones and keeping them laughing. These guys, the stuff they did. They raced without roofs, wore leather caps for the most part and raced on the beach, that's amazing. That's what our sport was built on and they're true characters and put the sport where it is. I'm honored to be a part of it. I'm honored to be a champion and a Daytona 500 winner and I can remember watching this race and how big and impressive it's been in so many fronts. So to be a part of it is very special and to see these guys. Some of them, it's the first time I've met them and it's been a pleasure."
JEFF GORODN: "I think Dale (Jarrett) is probably the best guy to talk about this. Nobody understands the history better than Dale does with growing up in it. For me, I grew up in California and sprint cars and the Indy 500 was what I grew up with. It's just the type of racing that I followed. I didn't know a lot about stock car racing so that's been one of the biggest challenges for me since 1990 when I really first started paying attention to NASCAR and stock car racing. Of course I knew the Daytona 500, really the only race I knew was the Daytona 500. So I remember ever year watching the 150 or the 125's and you always paid attention to Ken Schrader because Ken Schrader was an open-wheel racer. He was really the only name that I really knew. And it wasn't until I really started driving, I would say 1991 or the transition between '90 and '91 when I got that call from Bill Davis, from Ford to come drive their car that I was all of sudden wow I need to educate myself on these cars, on these tracks and this team. So I started watching footage and old races and things of Busch races and that's when I became aware of who Mark Martin was and Dale Earnhardt, from the Busch races that they were running. You know that's always been a challenge for me because my history, growing up as a kid, was always open wheel racing and a little bit of the Daytona 500. So I look at my knowledge and history and being in awe around all these great champions is what I've seen on TV since I've been here in '91. And that's why I say my third Daytona 500 was that much more special because it gave me the time to really learn more about the history of the track and the sport and these great names that I'm very fortunate to have my name listed right along with them."
-credit: gm racing