NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference April 6, 2004 Part 2 of 2 JEFF GORDON: IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT NASCAR THAT YOU DIDN'T EXPECT THAT WOULD BE A ROLE YOU WOULD PLAY AS A RACE CAR DRIVER? "Coming into the series, I didn't expect a lot of...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference
April 6, 2004
Part 2 of 2
IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT NASCAR THAT YOU DIDN'T EXPECT THAT WOULD BE A ROLE YOU WOULD PLAY AS A RACE CAR DRIVER?
"Coming into the series, I didn't expect a lot of things that have happened. I never expected to be co-hosting on TV shows like 'Regis and Kelly' or 'Saturday Night Live'. I never dreamed of commercials on television and the number of fans that have followed our sport all over the country. I can just go on and on and on. To me, it was just a blast to be able to get out there in a car and drive it as hard as you can and see where you ended up at the end of the night. Never once did I really think of how big a role the sponsorship or television or the fans would play. Other than selling $10 t-shirts out of the back of a trailer at a dirt track somewhere to try to get a few extra dollars to buy some tires, I never thought the business of the sport would go to the level that it's gone to."
WHAT'S THE KEY TO SUCCESS AT SHORT TRACKS?
"You don't want me to give it away to all the other guys, do you (laughs)? At short tracks in general - especially at Martinsville, the key is not to overdrive the corner. Having good brakes is extremely important. That's one area where we have drastically improved since Robbie Loomis (crew chief) has come on board. But with a flat, sharp corner like Martinsville, it's very easy to drive too deep into the corner. When you do that, it just messes up the whole corner. It takes away your ability to roll through the center. It takes away your ability to drive straight up off the corner. That's one of the things I learned early on there. Maybe I brought a little bit of that from the short tracks that I grew up on."
ARE NASCAR'S FINES FOR BAD BEHAVIOR EFFECTIVE OR ARE THEY JUST A SLAP ON THE HAND:
"I think it depends on the severity of the actions. We all know that NASCAR doesn't like anything happening post-race, especially on pit road. So that's a little bit more than a slap on the hand. If your intent was to break a rule that's in the rulebook, then that's very severe. That's why points are important along with money. Or, it would have to be enough money to really get your attention. They haven't gone to that level yet. We're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's going to get your attention. Twenty-five points starts to get your attention. Fifty points really gets your attention. It just depends on what actions are taken on the track are what NASCAR goes by.
"If you bump a guy and move him out of your way on a short track, and he doesn't wreck, that's just a slap on the hand if anything. If it's deliberate, and a guy just spins and backs you into the wall, action needs to be taken. We all need to have respect for one another and for our race cars and the effort that's put into race cars and the lives at stake."
DOES KASEY KAHNE'S SUCCESS WITH RAY EVERNHAM REMIND YOU OF YOURSELF IN THE BEGINNING?
"I do and I don't. Things I keep trying to remind people is that I wrecked a whole lot more at this point than Kasey has. It's hard for me to compare. I was the young guy who came out of open wheel ranks like Kasey. Kasey is a little bit quieter than I am. But I'm impressed with what he's done on the race track. So if anybody wants to compare me to him, that's a compliment to me. Rookies have a lot more pressure on them these days. The expectations are to win multiple races the first year. Back when I was a rookie, if you won a race it was a huge thing. I finished second and it was a big deal. He's done an amazing job and he's been very impressive. Ray and I are friends. I can see where Ray, and his relationship (with Kasey) could be a lot like his and mine. Ray is very good at being confident. He has more confidence now than he used to have, in being able to show Kasey things that he can work on to be better or things that he's doing well. I think Ray can really compliment those things. He is really good with a new driver who wants to learn and who has the talent. It's only going to compliment both of them."
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE IF THERE ARE SOME BIG NAMED DRIVERS LEFT OUT OF THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"I've heard everybody making a big deal out of people being 400 points out of the Top 10, but wouldn't they have been out of the Top 10 anyway? If you're having a bad year, and you're outside of the Top 10 and you have a shot of maybe getting into the Top 10, okay that's at least giving you an opportunity to be on stage at the banquet. But what it's really all about anyway, is winning the championship. Yeah, people want to be in the Top 10. But what they really want is to be on that stage as the championship. It's really about the chase for the championship, not about the chase for the Top 10 - even thought the Top 10 is prestigious. For some guys, being in the Top 10 is like winning the championship. To me that's not that big of a deal is you're not in the Top 10 and you're more than 400 points out because you would have been anyway. The focus wouldn't probably have been on you whether the point system was changed or not. If you go out there and win races and you're more than 400 out and you're not in the Top 10, you're doing the best job that you can to get yourself prepared for the next year. And I'm basing that on me. If I'm not in the Top 10 with 10 races to go, then I've had a bad year and I'll just salvage the end of the season the best I possibly can to get ready for the next."
WHAT ABOUT THE UP-AND-COMERS LOOKING AT JOINING NASCAR INSTEAD OF AN OPEN-WHEELED SERIES?
"It's great that these guys are getting the attention they're getting. Midgets and sprint cars are some of the hardest race cars there are to drive. It takes talent to drive them - especially to win. Even though it doesn't prepare you one single bit for a stock car, it prepares you to be able to handle a car in any situation. You can adapt to the heavier stock cars quickly because you've got something that allows you to drive a very difficult car. The reason I say that is because I never had to shift or use the clutch or make a pit stop. I only ran races that were about 40 laps. It's everything against what I had to learn when I came into stock cars. Maybe with the cars gripping a little better now than they used to, it makes them a little bit easier to take that lightweight car and transfer over. It takes a lot of talent."
WHAT IS RELAXING ABOUT THE CITY OF NEW YORK?
"I don't know if it is as relaxing as it is just a nice getaway. That's relaxing in itself. You can walk down the street and find everything at your fingertips. When you spend the amount of time that I spend there or that Jimmie (Johnson) spends there, you see a different New York than you do at the banquet. For years I went there and did the banquet plus a couple of other times. When you're there for the banquet, you're doing all the tourist things like Broadway and the restaurants. You're pretty much uptown. Since I've made friends up there and actually had an apartment where I stayed there - I don't have an apartment there anymore, but I used to - you just find all these different neighborhoods and wonderful things to do that you never knew existed. I love downtown and Union Square. It really makes the city come to life for you in a totally different light."
HOW DO YOU COMPARE THE QUALTY TO THE NO. 24 WHEN YOU STARTED TO THE QUALITY OF THE NO. 9 NOW, OR EVEN WHAT JIMMIE JOHNSON STARTED WITH A COUPLE YEARS AGO?
"I knew that the resources at Hendrick Motorsports were the best out there. But we had a start up team that started from scratch basically. Our team maybe compared a lot more to Jimmie's than to the No. 9 car. Jimmie's team was a start-up team his rookie season. They were able to rely on the resources of the No. 24, the No. 25 and the No. 5 teams. By winning championships, Hendrick Motorsports has just gained great personnel and continued to grow in resources and technology. I can't say it was at that level when I came into it. But it grew pretty fast into that. Jimmie was able to benefit from that. This is the No. 9 car's third year. It doesn't surprise me. If you look back, it was in Ray (Evernham's) third year with us that we won the championship. Ray really knows how to put an organization together and how to put people together to build a strong program. I don't think he expected - nor did anybody else - expect that to happen in the first year or even in the second year. In the third year it doesn't surprise me."
HAVE YOU BEEN USING THE CARBON FIBER SEAT THIS SEASON?
"Yes, all year. Every race. What I like about it is that every seat is exactly the same. When we mount them in the car, they are identical. It's more like a cocoon or a tub-type seat like the Indy cars or F-1 cars. They're very stiff. There's very little movement in an impact. I feel much more confined, but at the same time I feel much safer. One of the things I really like about it is that because it's a bigger seat, you pour the liner inside which is a foam insert that molds to your body. That is very nice because it molds to every curve. It's custom to your body. But it really isn't saving us in weight right now. It's actually probably a little bit heavier than we've had in the past. But we know it's so much stronger and more durable. Even in an impact, that seat can be used over again. If it was Aluminum, you'd probably have to throw it away."
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE IN IT SO FAR?
"Since it's customized, mine has a rib support. A lot of guys have gone away from the rib support and just have the shoulder support. Maybe my days driving Sprint Cars have made me feel secure. I've always had rib support in a stock car to hold me in the seat and give me the confidence I need to drive the car. We're always working on safety as much as we can, but we're also working on comfort to be able to drive the car at the speeds that you need to. I'm very happy with it. It's been a long working process with the guys at Hendrick. They've done a superb job and I'm looking forward to getting the other guys in the seat soon."