Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DupontAutomotive Finishes Chevrolet Monte Carlo
A comment on rules.
"These rules are not what's going to make the racing better at other race tracks. This only works for Talladega and we're hoping it works for Daytona. It's going to be different even here than it was in Talladega. I think it's going to work pretty good for us here. I believe NASCAR may have announced this, I don't want to be the one to announce it, but I believe they'll have a test in the near future -- maybe at a flat track -- where we do a test like we did here at Daytona last year to come up with a rule package for Talladega. They get the drivers, the teams, their engineers involved, get NASCAR involved, and we come together with a number of different people and you come up with what the best situation is. You get each team to try logical things, because what works at one track doesn't work at another track. We want to make sure that everywhere we go that if you're faster than that guy in front of you, that you're able to get up there and at least have an opportunity to pass. Last year, the speeds were so fast through the corners, and the aerodynamics packages were so good, that we were just notable to pass the car, even though you could be faster. It took away from the races and we'll try toget that back a little bit. But this package only works for the super speedways."
Do you find that you have to push yourself to new limits?
"I always have to push myself to new limits. When you see the speeds increasing the way they increase, it means you have to drive the car different than you used to have to drive it. So I've got to makesure that I don't get set in old ways. One of the things that I pride myself on that I've always been able to adapt myself to situations, new types of racecars, and new types of set-ups. As quickly as things turned last year to the different type of set-up we were running, I don't feel like I adapted quick enough to them. I didn't get the confidence level that I needed. I think that that was an area that Jerry Nadeau helped me, and probably an area where Dale Jr. or Matt Kenseth helped me just by following them or watching what they're doing. And I think you always have to pay attention to stuff and learn from anybody you can to get better. I'm not too proud to say that I'm not going to learn from anybody, whether it's a rookie or a veteran."
Can you comment on the tire situation for this year?
"I'm real happy with the Goodyear tire situation. I feel like it's a safe tire, but I also feel like it has not lost that much grip -- not as much as I think Goodyear probably hoped we would. The cars are still really fast and the aero package we have here for Daytona I think everybody obviously, is excited about that. And I'm biased about that because I'm a guy that qualified good last year and one round or two rounds wouldn't have really mattered for us. Now, this year, one little slip and you're going to find yourself taking a provisional. So, it's going to make things interesting, but I think it's also going to allow the teams a little more time to work on their race set-up and make for better racing."
Are you anxious to get the new season started?
"It's exciting to get back into it, and this is like one of those things you look forward to. This is the beginning of a new season here,and it's time to get back to work. I'm excited about it. I've had some time off, and I've been able to do a lot of fun and relaxing things, but I've also seen the team work extremely hard at getting us prepared for where we're at. And I feel like I'm prepared too, both mentally and physically. So I can't wait to get it all going. It's a nice way to start because you have the Budweiser Shootout, and then the 125's and then you get to the 500. So it does get you back into the mode. I think if the Daytona 500 was our first race and our only race we had for the weekend, you'd see a lot of us struggling and in trouble. So, it's nice to get a few laps under our belt."
How do you think you stack up against Labonte and the No. 18 team for Daytona?
"Well he's very capable. He's won poles here before and that team has won races here. So I think that it's up to those guys. The championship is very exciting and there's nothing you'd rather do, but at the same time, it puts alot of pressure and attention on you for the next season in trying to defend it (the title). I think that they'll be strong again this year."
Is speed really an important factor in putting on a good show?
"I've always said that speed at Daytona and Talladega doesn't matter. People look at those speeds and those numbers, and I think what we'd all rather have is a good race. You know people talk about restrictor plates, and right now if we didn't have restrictor plates on these cars, yeah, maybe we'd go 230mph and everybody would say wow, you know, 230 or 240mph. But then they'd drop the green flag and there'd be one guy half a lap ahead. I think that things are a whole lot different now where we want to put on a great race and keep it safe. When you've got 43 cars side-by-side, all bunched-up together, you don't want them all doing 200-plus miles per hour. So the speeds really aren't really an issue. It's more about how the cars draft and how competitive it is and how good of a race you put on. And I think we're going to put on a good one."
For the average layman, can you describe the main handling difference
between Talladega and Daytona?
"Well, at Talladega, the corners are very sweeping. You really don't have to get the car stuck to the racetrack. You barely turn the steering wheel. Compared to Daytona, it would be like leaving Charlotte and going to Martinsville. It's really that much different, and people don't understand that, but it really is. It gets very hot here. The tires wear out. They get hot and the rubber goes away. And if that happens, the cars don't stick to the racetrack the way they did when they (the tires) were new. And now all of a sudden, the drivers have to lift off the gas pedal to get the car to turn the corner and it becomes a handling issue where the guy that can keep the gas pedal to the floor all the way around the corners, every lap, that's going to be the guy you have to beat."
Do you think that eventually we may see a restrictor plate issue come up
at Atlanta, or maybe an aero package change?
"Maybe an aero package change. I'd be surprised if we saw a restrictor plate because even though maybe we run qualifying wide open, we don't do that in the race. We have to lift. I think what we're trying to get away from is running those types of speeds in the race. I think that you do see a drop-off in Atlanta. There might be some aerodynamic things that might be able to happen to slow the cars down without putting restrictor plates on them. None of us want to see restrictor plates anywhere else besides Daytona and Talladega."
Mike Skinner, No. 31Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo:
Have you tested this year?
We've tested at Daytona, Talladega, and Las Vegas. Two of the three were pretty good tests. The speedway tests went real well. And I think we learned a lot for Vegas. It's my kind of racetrack and there's no reason why we can't run real good out there. Hopefully NASCAR helps us out with a little bit of rule change to give us some downforce,and we can keep up with them."
What is it going to take to get some more downforce on your Monte
"I think the more you make it towards the Pontiac and Ford styles, I think it's going to be better. But that's not up to me to come up with that kind of stuff. It's up to the Chevy engineers and I think they've got a plan and presented it and hopefully it was received well."
Did you participate in anyof the aero testing in Las Vegas?
"No, I really didn't. I know that Vegas is a flat racetrack. I'm not sure that we need it there as much as we need it at Atlanta and Texas. I mean I'm the poster child for blowing right front tires, and running well. You're sitting there running in the top five, top 10 and blow a front tire with no warning, we're going too fast. Is the aero package the answer? I have no idea. My hat's off to NASCAR for making an attempt to do something about it. Like I said, I don't know what the answer is. If they ask my opinion, I've got several opinions. I admire them looking at it trying make this sport safe so that 50 years from now everybody will still want to come to the races. I wouldn't want Mike Helton or Gary Nelson's job. It's a tough deal. I know they set all of us drivers down in a room over here when we came up with this aero package and said, 'What do you guys want to do?' And nobody wanted to talk. Everybody wants to complain, but nobody wants to help with the decision. I just kind of have to go with the flow. If they asked me what to do, it's obvious. If you lower the cubic inches and you lower the horsepower and you put big blades on these things and make them stick good, you're going to have good racing but you're going to have a little slower speed. You don't want them all bunched together. You don't want a situatio nwhere you take the driver out of it. You want the driver to be in the car. I don't want anybody to do my job. I want to do it where they need me in that race car. I think they need to come up with a package where there's still a lot of handling involved -- don't take the crew chief out of it, and you've got to have heads-up driving. You do that, all these fans will be in the grandstands but they won't be using the seats, they'll be standing up every lap. That's why you're here and I'm here and we all have a job. We need to keep it that way."
You have a new crew chief, how is that relationship coming along?
"It seems to be coming along. I know we're going to have ups and downs. We haven't had any yet. We seem to be pretty patient with each other's decisions. I'm pretty adamant about hey I want it this way. He might tell me he thinks I'm crazy, but he'll let me try it. And he might say this direction or that just isn't right. If it doesn't work, we'll go back and try it another way. With some give and take, I think we'll get along fine. We're fixing to find out. I don't think it'll take nearly as long to communicate as one as if you'd brought in another guy who didn't know the system. It's not like we've got to learn each other. We pretty much know each other. When Larry moved over hear, I needed a psychiatrist, not a crew chief. We really had a lot to learn with our patience. When you get to Winston Cup, you try to do what you was doing to get there. And that's being really aggressive and drive every lap like it's the last lap and take no prisoners, and race your ass off. And when you get to this level, everybody is equally talented. You have to use your head a little more. You've got to become a little bit more of a strategist and that was hard for me to do. But, at the same token, I'm through that. I still make mistakes and so do a lot of other people. But I don't need that guy to hold my hand and pat me on the back every time I make a smart move anymore. I need a guy that's going to be in there making smart calls in the pits. I need a guy that's not going to argue with me when I tell him I need a different right-front spring. I think what comes with having a bit more experience is the knowledge to know kind of what you want in your race car. And if Royce (McGee) can give me what I'm asking, we'll win races."
Was Larry McReynolds a great guy to get you to that point-- a patient,
walk-through type of guy?
"I don't know about the patient-part. Larry is a coach. He's not only a great crew chief, but he is so dedicated to whatever he's doing. He stays focused on it. I think for me at the time, the reason it probably didn't work was Dale, and that's probably the reason it wouldn't work for me in my future career. But the reason it worked so well for me at the time was because I needed that right then. And Larry McReynolds is a great friend and a great guy."
Can you comment on the competition this year?
"It'll be as big and bad as ever. We've been under the gun a little bit with our Chevy's the last year. The new Monte Carlo hasn't been what we really expected. We've had to fight city hall hard on getting the things we need on that race car to keep up with the Pontiacs and the Fords. And now the Dodges are coming in. It's going to be tough, but the only thing we can do is be the best we can be."
Robby Gordon, No. 4 KodakChevrolet Monte Carlo
Comment on being fast in 2 practice sessions.
"Horsepower is the key. I hopefully just brought some light to the Morgan-McClure Team. I had a really hard time last year making horsepower. That was one of my big decisions. I went up to Larry's (McClure) shop and saw their engine program and how much effort they put into the program. That made my decision a lot easier to go there. And obviously the Morgan-McClure Team knows how to make a lot of horsepower."
Is the No. 4 car just focused on Daytona?
"Obviously Larry loves this place. He really enjoys coming to Daytona. Actually we had a meeting just last week about it. Like I said, one of the decisions (for me) to come here was their engine shop. They have some pretty nice race cars. But if we work real hard on the intermediate and the short track stuff as hard as they work on the engine side of it, this team will become competitive week-in and week-out. That's one of my goals is to help in that area as much as I can without crossing the line. Larry has been pretty open to suggestions, and we had a meeting the other night that lasted five or six hours long taking about Rockingham, Vegas, Atlanta. I knew we'd be strong here. The No. 4 car always runs well here and we are going to work equally hard to be equally competitive at other racetracks. It may takeus a while to turn that around. But we had a pretty good test at Rockingham; our Vegas test wasn't that good. We know we have some work to do."
How fortunate do you feel to get a ride after trying to run your own
team last year?
"I don't know if I take that as a slap or not. I actually liked running my own team, and I didn't mind that too bad actually. I think if we can keep the communication open, we'll have a good situation here. Looking back at it, we sold some cars to Tim Brewer, and I took it as a compliment that those were the quickest cars they had. They were 250 pounds lighter than the cars I'm racing today. So one of the big areas we missed was in the horsepower area, and this team makes horsepower. If we take a number of things we learned last year and roll them into this program, I think we'll bereally good. We led laps at Vegas last year right out of the box, should have run the road courses. Both my road course cars are up at the No. 4 car shop and we're working hard trying to get ready for the rest of the races."
Did you get a clean lap?
"I almost got in a little bit of trouble down there on pit lane because all the cars started passing on the left-hand side. So I just went down there and parked on the left-hand side and waited my turn because I wanted to make sure I got a clean lap, so yes, it was clean. I think the last two runs I was behind Bobby Labonte and he was at least the whole back straightaway ahead of me both times so I felt we were clean. We didn't get any draft."
What's left in your car?
"That's a good question. We put a qualifying engine in the car, at the shop. So what we have right now is on the table. I know a lot of guys are out there changing engines and getting prepared, so the question is how much do they have to gain."