JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS TALKED WITH MEDIA ABOUT HIS POST-INSPECTION GATORADE DUEL PENALTY AND WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 FROM A 42ND PLACE START: ON THE CHALLENGES OF STARTING THE DAYTONA 500 AT THE...
JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS TALKED WITH MEDIA ABOUT HIS POST-INSPECTION GATORADE DUEL PENALTY AND WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 FROM A 42ND PLACE START:
ON THE CHALLENGES OF STARTING THE DAYTONA 500 AT THE REAR OF THE FIELD AND HOW HE WILL PRACTICE TO PREPARE "Obviously if you're starting up front, you can ride a little bit more and handling is not as much of an issue as it is if you're starting further in the back. We're going to have to have a really good handling race car and also a fast race car. I think we learned a lot yesterday in the 150's. We're just going to try not to take too much speed out of that car and really get that car to handle."
DESCRIBE YOUR EMOTIONS WHEN YOU FOUND OUT WHAT HAPPENED: "I was very disappointed. It was a great win for us and we pride ourselves on making sure we're within the rules. It's a job that NASCAR has to do and we're taking full responsibility. But it was a part failure. It was something out of our control - to an extent. We feel like a bolt backed off and therein lies the failure. We've got to make sure that doesn't happen as a race team. That's the only way we're going to be able to win races and to win this championship this year is to make sure those types of things aren't happening. Because the car was low in inspection, I'm totally in agreement and understand what NASCAR did and I feel like the crime fits the punishment because there was no unfair advantage on the race track. We convinced NASCAR of that and they are convinced of it and we feel confident of it."
ON THE HIGH OF STARTING ON THE SECOND ROW TO THE LOW OF STARTING SECOND TO LAST "The disappointing part is that we won the race. We had a great car and run and it was exciting. And all that gets taken out of your sail. We're going to try to maintain that momentum and the excitement that we had there and hold on to as much of it as we can. Obviously this is a dark cloud over that. But we did win the race. I feel like we won it fair and square. So we're going to try to do the best to get that DuPont Chevrolet from 42nd back to the front and hopefully do just like we did yesterday when with six or seven laps to go we're sitting there in the top 15 and can make some exciting passes and have some help from some other guys to be able to do it."
EVEN THOUGH YOURS WAS NOT INTENTIONAL, ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT PEOPLE MIGHT GROUP YOU INTO OTHERS WHO HAVE BEEN PENALIZED THIS WEEK? "Of course. You're always concerned with that and that's what's bothered me the most and kept me up all night is that people would think we did something to circumvent the rules. I will challenge any person in this garage area who is knowledgeable about how these cars travel on the race track to come and tell me that it was an unfair advantage - when they know all the parts and pieces of what exactly happened. It's easy if you say the car was low. But it wasn't low on the race track. The car was low in the height restriction that NASCAR goes through. That's why the penalty is what it is. If NASCAR felt this was more than that, we'd be in the same position as the other guys. I wouldn't have a crew chief right now. We'd have a points fine and a monetary fine. And so I think we've been able to live with the fact that we know that. I can say that is because if you know how these parts travel on the race track, by the time you get up to about 80 to 100 mph, the rear of the car is already traveling an inch or more. In the corners, you're traveling up to six inches. My car was not traveling any more on the race track, it was only not coming back up all the way when the car slowed down because the shock mounts wouldn't allow it because it came loose and got lodged at a lower travel. The bottom line is we were low. We take full responsibility for that. I'm just mad that it happened."
IS IT EASIER TO GO TO THE FRONT FROM 42ND AT DAYTONA VERSUS SOMEPLACE LIKE BRISTOL OR MARTINSVILLE? "No. You've still got to avoid the obstacles that lie in the way. You've got to make sure you don't create a wreck. You've got to make sure you don't get caught up in one. You need good pit strategy and everything. Believe me, it's going to take a lot. Trust me, there's a reason why nobody has ever won this race from that far back.
We want to be the first one to do it and I think we're capable of it. There are a lot of good cars at the back of the field and we can all work together and get to the front. 500 miles is a long way around this place too."
ON BEING TOLD THAT THE CAR DIDN'T PASS INSPECTION DURING HIS POST-RACE PRESS CONFERENCE AFTER WINNING THE SECOND DUEL "Oh, I was in shock. And I wish I'd said less because my comments made it worse because anybody thinks the car is lower and that's an advantage. But when I found out just what was keeping the car lower was the fact that something failed and the shock was just holding the car down, but not making it travel any more. The springs are what create travel. As soon as they released that shock, the car came right back up. And yeah, we were real low. There's no doubt about it. But I do feel comfortable knowing we didn't have an unfair advantage on the race track."
ON NASCAR'S METHOD OF ISSUING PENALITIES "In my opinion and in my history in this sport, NASCAR creates penalties based on the intent of these rule infractions. I think NASCAR was very confident and Robin Pemberton said so himself that yes the car was low and so a penalty has to be put on the No. 24 car, but there was no intent to try to create the car to be lower. I wish I had a diagram to show you guys so you could fully understand it. But there is not a person in this garage area that if they have the facts, that wouldn't understand what happened and how it could happen and our job is to make sure it doesn't happen again because you don't want to go out there and win the race knowing that car is going to come in (and not pass inspection). It would be silly to do that. So we would never do that. That's why we are going to make sure this doesn't happen again based on the mounting of how we mount that shock."
BASED ON ALL THE CHEATING THIS WEEK, HOW FINE A LINE IS THAT FOR THE TYPE OF EXPOSURE THIS SPORT HAS HAD THIS WEEK? "That's the upside and downside of this sport. It's great to have the attention. And controversy sometimes draws more attention than positive things. I'm just hoping we can get everybody -- all the teams that have come in here and had issues - that we can get all of this behind us and go into this Daytona 500 and put on an exciting, awesome race and have a lot of people at home watching that enjoy the races."
DO YOU THINK YOU GOT OF LIGHT WITH THE PENALTY NASCAR ISSUED? "The only people who are going to think we got off light are the people that aren't knowledgeable about what the intent of what happened and how it happened. That's why I challenge anybody. There has already been a TV analyst for ESPN that's made a silly comment based on a lack of knowledge. You'd think it would come from somebody who has a lot of knowledge. If that person understands what really was going on, they would probably change their opinion of what was said.
"Hey, we've all been in these situations before. I've had situations like this before. In this garage area, it's hard to say that anybody hasn't had some issue along the way as they go through NASCAR inspection. But to me, it is extremely important because the integrity of our team and our sponsors in this sport is built on the intent to go out there and compete on an even playing field with the rest of the competition. That's why I'm a little bit upset with ourselves right now than anything else that we had something so silly that happened that makes it appear that we're trying to get around the rules and yet I feel good that NASCAR made the decision they made because it really does prove that they understand there was no intent.
"The first thing that happens is as soon as somebody says or hears that the car was an inch low, your first immediate reaction is oh, my gosh. If I heard that, I would go ballistic. That's why I'm saying that if you know the facts and know exactly what happened, and Robin Pemberton said so in the Media Center last night, and we can diagram it and try to show...heck, I want to go over to that TV set with that car and show a shock mount so we can explain it to the people. We can't do that. We can't explain it to every single person. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But there is no favoritism going on here. I feel like the penalty really fit the crime and had nothing to do with that win. That's the other thing I feel good about."
YOU'VE GOT TO FEEL CONFIDENT THAT YOU CAN GET UP TO THE FRONT IN THE FIRST 100 MILES OF THE RACE "Well, if I get there in the last 100 miles - that's where this race is going to be won. For me, it's not about how quick you can get to the front, it's about just getting there in the right time. If you get the right guys pushing you and get the right pit strategy, you can make up a lot of spots in a short period of time."
YOU'VE GOT TO FEEL LIKE THIS IS A MINOR SPEEDBUMP "No doubt about it. I'm way more concerned about how we get the car handling better and how we get to 42nd up to first and how we avoid the wrecks and all the things that come along with this great race that are going to help you or prevent you from winning this race."
EVERY DAY THERE SEEMS TO BE ANOTHER ISSUE GOING ON DURING SPEEDWEEKS "The penalties have fit the crime. When the intent is there, they're going to come down on you hard. Daytona is so important and so big and there is so much riding on it - especially for a lot of teams who are outside the top 35 in points - it's risk versus reward. And because this is such a big event -- and this starts your whole season off - guys are pushing the limits too far. NASCAR continues to crack down on it and make harsher penalties that it only makes everybody question those things that much more."
DOES EVERYBODY TRY TO GET AROUND THE RULES OR BEND THEM A LITTLE? "Hey, as long as this sport has been around and as long as it continues to be around, people are going to push the gray areas. Sometimes they're going to push it too far, and they're going to get penalized. There is a big difference between knowing that you're trying to get around a rule, and a (parts) failure that happens that prevents you from getting through the inspection."
HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW TO BE AMONG THOSE PENALIZED FOR CHEATING? "Yeah, I've just been happy through qualifying that we haven't been a part of it. And then last night, it just crushed me when I found out that we were going to be right in the middle of it all. If this were to happen to us, I would have rather that it happen to us during qualifying instead of the 150's because I think we could have rebounded with a good started position right now. We're in the hole starting way in the back.
NASCAR gets tougher and stronger and they learn more. As they create smaller boxes for the teams to work in, they you've got to get more creative. Their job is to have a rule book that states things very clearly. Our job is to push the limits of those all the way up until you exceed it and be in those boundaries. That's the only way you're going to be competitive out here is to push it to those limits. But you can't push it over the limits. That's clear. NASCAR's made it clear. We make it clear within our own garage and we know that. We've been in that position before and it's not fun. We don't want to be in that group now and that's why it's so upsetting that this has happened by a failure, not by our intent."
WHAT ARE YOUR CHANCES? "I think our chances are still good. We had a car that I felt could be a little bit better yesterday and we won with it. Today we're going to work hard on getting it to handle better. I think we've obviously won this race before - not from this far back. But anything is possible. To me, we've got to work on the car in practice, get this race started, and then see if we can slowly but surely work our way forward."
HAS WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN HERE CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? "Conditions change. Tires change. Aerodynamics change. Restrictor plates change. The weather changes. All those things are factors in what it takes to win here. Sometimes it takes pure speed. Sometimes it takes a good handling race car. Sometimes it takes both. This year, with the Goodyear tire we've got, I think it's going to take a good handling race car to win this race."
DID YOU LOSE SLEEP OVER THIS PENALTY? "Oh, yeah, I lost sleep over it. The win got taken out of our sails. You saw it live in the media center. When they brought that up, it was shocking to me. I knew that we had already scheduled a media session today and that we were going to have to deal with that."
HOW STRONG IS TONY STEWART? "He's strong. He's real strong. I think he's shown it every time he's been on the race track. Those guys are really good at having not just a fast car, but a really good handling car. And then you take a driver like Tony Stewart --- they've got a great package. They've got horsepower and a good handling race car and a good crew chief and I think those guys are the team to beat out there right now."
HOW WOULD IT FEEL TO TIE DALE EARNHARDT FOR THE NUMBER OF WINS? "When you know that your next win can tie a great like Dale Earnhardt, it just makes that win that much more special. Dale was such a special person. He's somebody that I couldn't even fathom that I would ever be even one (win) behind a mark that he had set. So it will be a very proud moment and I hope it happens soon. I hope it happens Sunday."
EVEN THOUGH YOU HAD A FAILURE, THE ATMOSPHERE IN THIS GARAGE PUTS YOU IN THE GROUP OF BREAKING THE RULES INTENTIONALLY "NASCAR has a tough job to do. They've got to govern the rules. When people break them, they've got to make penalties. The penalty has to fit the crime. Really, when I've looked at everything this week, I feel like every penalty fits the crime. If you look at intent and you look at the things they focus on that are big no-no's, I feel like we're going to be grouped into that just like anybody else. My biggest thing is that anybody who has knowledge of how these cars work and those parts and pieces and how the cars travel on the race track and off the race track, they're going to go look at the part just like Jeff Burton said he did. And they're going to say yep, that part failed. Somebody either didn't tighten it down, or it came loose in some way or fashion. Shame on us. And because it didn't meet the height stick, they've got to make a decision. And they did. They put us to the back of the Daytona 500. But I don't think that when you know all that, in any way, shape, or form, that you would change what infraction came."
DO YOU HAVE TO FACTOR IN THE INTENT TO CHEAT? "I think the first thing is intent. If they can prove that you intentionally did something to try to get around your rules to make the car go faster, that's your first strike. Now, if what you did was going to be such a huge advantage.. That's why when you're messing with that restrictor plate, airflow, or fuel - even anything around the spoiler - those things are all very severe. When you mix in intent and what it was and how much speed it can actually gain you, that's how you've got to pick and choose and how strong you're going to act."
WHEN YOU HAVE CLEAR INTENT, THAT'S ONE THING. WHEN YOU HAVE INTENT PLUS ADVANTAGE, THAT'S ANOTHER THING "Absolutely. How else can you do it? Unfortunately it's can't be as easy as black and white.
"Hey, we've got an issue out here right now where guys are getting hit from behind from bump-drafting and it's changing the aerodynamics of the car from the rear from the damage that's being done? What do you do about that? What about the guy who punctures a tire on the last lap and comes through that inspection line and the car is low because there is no air in the tire. What are you going to say about that? So of course you have to take every scenario and weigh it out and you've got to make penalties.
NASCAR has to make those decisions. It's no fun for them. They're not having a fun week. I'm hoping we can get this behind us and we can go into Sunday's race and we have an exciting race, and the cars go through inspection with no issues.
"We're up against the fact that unless we can take every media member and fan and every driver and crew chief in this garage area and show them exactly what happened and allow them to understand it, they're going to make their own opinion. We understand that and we take full responsibility for is. I feel like it didn't have anything to do with our win. But now we've just got to put it behind us and go out there and get that DuPont Chevrolet fired up and ready to go for this race. And the only way to turn it into a positive it go out there and drive to the front on Sunday. And then, we have to go through that inspection again after the race and get through that clearly. We have every intention of making sure that happens."
-credit: gm racing