Daytona 500 Media Day Daytona International Speedway An interview with: JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS Q. Do you have the feeling of spring training? JEFF GORDON: We're a lot closer to the season than spring training.
Daytona 500 Media Day
Daytona International Speedway
An interview with:
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS
Q. Do you have the feeling of spring training?
JEFF GORDON: We're a lot closer to the season than spring training. I mean, spring training is when we were here in January. You know, it's exciting. There's definitely a buzz. This event right here is really what kicks off the season. Every year when you show up here at media day, you know it's right around the corner and that you're going to be on the racetrack the next day. There's definitely a lot of exciting things about that.
We've obviously made a lot of changes within our team. We've got a lot to be anxious and excited about. We had a great test down here in January. Certainly looking forward to putting that car on the racetrack tomorrow and seeing what we've got.
Q. Does how you do at Daytona indicate how the year will be?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, well, I mean, one doesn't necessarily relate to the other. I mean, you know, our success here at Daytona doesn't have anything to do with the type of year that we had. Our restrictor plate program, it's like Martinsville, you know, you can say we've had a bad year, but we dominated Martinsville. That's the way we look at Daytona, is that this is a great track for us, great opportunity for us to win another race, the biggest race. We're well-prepared. We want to start the season off the same way we did last year. We want to go through the middle part of the season a little bit different than we did last year. That's what all the work he's done for the last 10 races of last year, through the off-season last year, that's what we've been working on to make sure we don't have that happen again, that we're in the Chase and ending the season the way we feel like we should.
Q. Did not making the Chase make you hungrier?
JEFF GORDON: Definitely. I think years like that make you hungrier, make you humble, make you appreciate the competition and teamwork and so many different things. You know, I look at one side where, you know, I hated to go through what we went through, the frustration through the summer, different races. I mean, you have no idea how disappointing they were even to ourselves.
But then at the same time it's kind of the best thing that could have happened for us this year because we were able to make a bunch of changes, the race car, crew chief, pit crew, a lot of different things, to get ourselves more geared up for this year. Really we tested things at the end of last year, you know, that we only would have had the chance to do January. We were able to do it in November. That definitely I feel like was a real positive that came out of that tough year we had.
Q. The five-year anniversary of Earnhardt's death. We were talking about nobody has stepped up to fill his role in the shop area. Is it possible for anybody to fill his role?
JEFF GORDON: I think nobody -- I don't think even Dale really chose to be the leader. It just kind of happened over time. His personality I think kind of led to that, and his success on the racetrack.
You know, I think that really just expecting someone else to be the leader, I don't know if that necessarily happens. I think we all play a role. We all play our own certain role. We do it together as drivers. It is our responsibility to bring up certain issues, try to do our best to keep the sport growing.
But the sport has been growing. It's been doing good. I don't necessarily know if it's the same as it used to be, where there's going to be just one guy.
You know, Dale chose to do that in some ways, and then other people chose -- expected him to do it in others. I don't know who that person is. I know that people have asked me, "Why haven't you done that? Why haven't you done that?" I never really felt like it was my place to do that.
I feel like over the years that I've been here, I've earned more respect. But I don't know if I'll ever have the type of respect that Dale had. I think because Dale had that kind of respect, you know, everybody really looked up to him. Whether they enjoyed racing with him or having dinner with him or not, they all respected him tremendously. And he enjoyed I think that side of using his voice and his opinion.
He had great relationships with Bill Jr., and Mike Helton and those guys. The sport is different today than it was then. I just don't know if there is ever going to be one individual in this garage area that feels like they've got the voice.
Q. Do you miss racing with Dale Earnhardt?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, it's just different for me personally because I loved racing with him, and I hated racing with him. You know, I mean, he was one of the most competitive guys out there. There were days where he'd push you and shove you right out of the way and frustrate you, then there were other days where you just saw his talent, you know, the passion that he had for it, and you had a blast racing with him. You knew if you beat Dale, especially at a place like Daytona, Talladega, Bristol or something where he was good, that you really had done something. Took a lot of pride in that.
You know, I think certainly the fans miss the excitement that he brought. I don't think there will ever be anybody to replace Dale. He was definitely a special individual and a special race car driver, you know, I believe the best race car driver I've ever raced against. If you look at a whole, you know, of his talents at so many different types of tracks that he went to, the intimidation factor, as well, that he had.
You know, I know the fans have got to miss that a lot. No matter where he was in the field, he was always the story. That's because, you know, of what he generated, the excitement he generated.
Q. Share one of your Dale Earnhardt racing memories with us
JEFF GORDON: Well, we were racing at Pocono one year, and I came up on him. Any time you came up on Dale, you know, you knew he wasn't going to be easy to pass. So I came up on him, and I got underneath him, made a clean pass on him. You know, I looked up in my mirror and realized it was too good to be true because he kind of just let me go by. He always used to do that, he'd let you go by, come back underneath you. Instead of coming back underneath me, he was able to on underneath my bumper, push me back down the back straightaway. When it came time to let off the gas and hit the brakes, he was still on my bumper.
I finally got on the brakes, and he turned me completely sideways. I didn't spin out but I went all the way to the wall. He went with me. We both went all the way up to the wall. I thought, man that was dumb. Lost both of us however many positions. I was really angry.
About a month later we were testing at Indianapolis, and somebody came and brought me a picture. They had the picture, they had it from turn three looking through my windshield. And you could see Dale in through the back windshield, you know, in the car. And I mean, you could just tell he was so far up underneath my rear bumper. We were both, you know, sideways with the wheel. I said, I've got to have that.
I rushed down to his truck immediately with that picture, and I went in there. 'Cause we had already talked about how he, you know, got me loose. He's like, "No, it wasn't me, I didn't do anything." So I had proof. I said, "I told you." I was like, "Man, you were six inches underneath my rear bumper." I had him autograph the picture. It's the only autograph I've ever gotten from a driver, you know, that I've raced against.
Q. How do you like the new Monte Carlo?
JEFF GORDON: New Monte-Carlo. Monte-Carlo SS, by the way. It was good. You know what I mean? There's very slight differences in the body change. We didn't expect there to be just this huge difference. We knew pretty much in the wind tunnel what we had. We made slight improvements to the car. We felt pretty good about it.
It's hard to tell gauging against the competition out there just where we stacked up, but felt at times really good and other times felt like we really had some work to do.
Q. On being criticized when having an off-year
JEFF GORDON: Right. Yeah, I think the criticism's come a little bit stronger, you know, come more often. For me, I understand why. We've won four championships, a lot of races. We've prided ourselves on being competitive every year and battle for the championship. When we're not, we recognize as well as everybody else we're having an off year.
What bothers me is, you're having a horrible year. Won the Daytona 500, three other races. That's not a horrible year, but it's not the year that we hoped for.
But, yeah, you know, I think we build those expectations for ourselves as well internally within the team. It's not a big surprise that it's talked about among the media. Sometimes we're surprised maybe how big of a story it can get. You know, I've been a part of it. I've seen it. I somewhat understand it.
Q. Has Dale Earnhardt Jr. handled himself well?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think so. You know, I mean, you got to give him credit for how he's handled himself under the circumstances. I mean, here is a guy that came into the sport who was the second most popular driver when he came in day one - even before he came in, when he was in the Busch Series.
You know, living up to that name, his father's shadow, you know, it's got to be very difficult for him. I think that, you know, he wishes that he could just get out there and race because I think he's truly a racer. You know, I think he's got the talent to be very successful. It's hard to say exactly why they haven't been maybe more successful.
But, you know, again, it's a double-edged sword. He's going to have more criticism more, but he's going to have more praise when it does happen. If the wins the championship, I mean, my gosh, you know, he'll be in outer space. Not him, but his legend that follows him.
Q. Has the new point system made it tougher to win a championship?
JEFF GORDON: It's definitely made it tougher. I would say that, you know, with the points system being the way it is, it's more competitive, it's harder to win the championship, which makes it that much more rewarding, in my opinion, to do it under this points system. I think it is going to make it tougher for guys to get multiple championships.
It's tougher to win, but at the same time I think it's easier to have the opportunity to win because if you think about it, as long as you're in the top 10, you got a shot at winning, where in the past going into the last 10 races you had to be in the top three. Your opportunity is still there, but to pull it off, because now you're racing nine other guys, 10, however many make it into the Chase, the chances of actually winning it have decreased. It makes it tough.
For me, I mean, the seven championships has always been outside of me. I mean, I was happy to get one. Then two came along, three and four. I was like, oh, my God, I can't believe it. I still can't believe it. I hope I get five. You know, that's our goal, is to get the next one, and that's five.
Q. Is it hard to maintain a winning streak?
JEFF GORDON: Definitely, definitely. You know. I appreciate that because we won four right away. We won three right away. You know, so, it looked like, "Hey, you're on track, you're going to go do it." This is a competitive sport. We did have our act together for five years straight. We were awesome. But it's hard to maintain that.
One of the things that I think made Dale so special is that, you look at the period of time that he won seven championships, it didn't just happen seven years in a row where they just figured something out, he did it over a period of time. You got to grow with the times, setups, engineering, all these things that change with the cars, racetracks and everything else. That to me is proof of a great driver.
I'm proud of the fact that we did it from '95 to 2001. We battled for the championship in 2003. But, you know, to do it year in and year out, it's tough.
Q. On Loomis leaving and Letarte becoming Gordon's new crew chief
JEFF GORDON: Well, we learned when Ray (Evernham) left the team that change is not always a bad thing. That taught me a lot about racing, taught me a lot about life. You know, sometimes those things can be positive and good.
It definitely creates excitement. No matter what the change is, you got the excitement. You just hope you made the right change. The fact we won a championship with Robbie Loomis, another crew chief, only added confidence to our program, to our organization. That's why when this came about, it wasn't a difficult decision, even Steve being 26 years old. It was that we need to make a change. We were already planning on making the change. This is the guy.
That same thing, we got a lot of excitement right now. People believe in Steve and the team and everything. The confidence is back in there. I just hope we can maintain that, because that's what's going to win us a championship.
Q. What do you think about Loomis joining the Petty organization?
JEFF GORDON: I look at Petty's organization, I think this is one of the best opportunities I've seen since I've been racing with them to really put some good numbers up there. It's not just any one thing, like it never is. They got a good combination of people. Robbie, it was a great move for him. Petty was always like family to him. That was no surprise. You know, Bobby Labonte, it was a bit of a surprise. But I think, to know his connection to the Pettys over the years, he's always been close with them, lived near them, everything else. It wasn't a huge surprise. I know Robbie's close friends of Todd Parrott, so that wasn't a big surprise either.
It's a great combination they have. If they can put the resources behind them, those guys can have success.
Q. Do you think Earnhardt's crash changed the way drivers look at things?
JEFF GORDON: Definitely. You know, when the biggest name in your sport goes through a crash and doesn't survive it, it's a wake-up call to everybody. I think, you know, if there were things -- I know for me the HANS device is something that I tried. I wasn't really comfortable with it. After that, I was like I got to make it work. I felt like we were always kind of on the leading edge, one of the teams on the leading edge of seat design. Ray Evernham was great about a lot of that stuff. He incorporated that into our team. Hendrick Motorsports was always big on the way the chassis were built, being safe as well. That was always something that was on our minds.
I think you can always take it to the next level. Sometimes your focus starts to shift a little bit more towards being competitive and less towards safety. I think that that was a big wake-up call for us to all readjust how much we focused on both.
Q. Would Earnhardt think differently about safety today or not?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah. I think he'd think a lot about the same as he thought when he was here, you know. It's like getting too big, not enough focus on the racing. You guys are all too worried about safety.
You know, I think -- you know, I mean, look at how much change from when he started the sport to where it was in his last days. The trends were already set and they were happening. He was adjusting or had his opinion on at that point.
I don't think it would be a whole lot different, his opinion of it today.
Q. On the car of tomorrow
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I think the process behind the car of tomorrow, the ideas, the potential of that car being safer, being more competitive, is definitely there. I mean, I love what they're trying to do. It's not there yet, but the potential is there. There's a lot of work left to do before it gets ready. I look forward to that.
I think anything that incorporates all those ideas that you can start from scratch, it's fantastic. I would like the car to look a little bit better. I know that looks have a lot to do with performance as well. Right now from what I've heard I'm not thrilled about the performance of the car. That's what we're going to be working on to make sure that we get that where it needs to be.