An Interview With: Jeff Gordon
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today’s NASCAR CAM video teleconference in advance of this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. With us today is Jeff Gordon, he's the driver of the No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. This will be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held on the newly paved Super Speedway.
Our first question today comes from Tony in Newport, Rhode Island via Twitter: "Do you think the Infineon race with all of that hard racing and beating and banging will make it hard to find drafting partners at Daytona this weekend?"
JEFF GORDON: It's certainly an interesting aspect to going into Daytona after coming from Sonoma that a lot of guys are going to have to consider and think about.
It’s going to be -- it's going to make the week go very interesting. I'm sure there's already been calls being made because a lot of times you have your drafting partner set up from maybe Talladega or maybe earlier in Daytona and if you made that guy angry, on Sunday at Sonoma, it's going to make that phone call a little tougher.
But more important, for me, I feel fortunate, you know, we had a great working relation with Mark Martin, our teammate, at Talladega and we continue to do that and plan to continue to do that in Daytona this coming up weekend. He and I had no issues on Sunday, and unlike last year, I kept it pretty clean this year at Sonoma.
So hopefully I don't have too many other enemies this weekend out there, also.
Q. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is really not a fan of the two-car draft, and has always that he likes to control the race like a prizefighter controls the fight, and that that's how he does best. How much does it change the playing field? Do you understand what he's saying about controlling the race versus the pre planning of it?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, absolutely. You know, drafting has changed a lot since he's come into the sport and it's certainly changed a tremendous amount since I came into the Sprint Cup Series, as well.
You know, it used to be a lot -- there used to be a lot more strategy and planning that went into every pass. If you were able to get the lead, you did control things a little bit more; you weren't a sitting duck, and that has definitely changed. We have seen 25, 30 years ago, where being up front, the guys could get that slingshot move on you, and now that's more what it's like, but in big packs. And now, also, you throw in the two-car draft, and that changes it up quite a bit.
So you really have to find somebody to work with. And you have to really compromise, because there are some times, you may be getting pushed and other times where you're going to be pushing. When it comes down to the final laps of that race, which position you want to be in, it's critical, as well as you might not be in control of it.
So I definitely understand what he's saying. But as we saw in Talladega, you know, there's a lot of different strategies and ways for it to play out, but the results are going to be extremely exciting right down to the finish.
Q. It seems like racing at Daytona has evolved, the racing now is not the same as five years ago and that racing was not the same as five years before. Is that that because of changes in car models? Is that because of the changes in NASCAR rules? Is that because of changes in asphalt? What's going to dictate the next level of evolution in racing in Daytona from now to whatever the next thing is?
JEFF GORDON: It's certainly hard to plan for that. But the next big thing that's coming is the car of the future, the 2013 car that they are working on right now. It doesn't seem to be a big evolution from where we are at, but you never know, with all of those details that are going into that car, what they can produce.
But yeah, you know, you pretty much hit on it. The surface had been the same for a number of years, but the aerodynamics definitely were changing. Technology was changing. So you would start to see small differences each year in drafting.
Then there was the big change with the car, the new car that the bumpers line up, totally different aero package, a lot more downforce than we are used to and a lot more drag on the cars. And that sort of led us into the direction that we are in now with those two-car drafts, but you didn't do that at Daytona. You did it at Talladega, because the grip level, that track had been repaved, you had a big, wide racetrack, very easy transition.
Then the repave came at Daytona and a lot of us didn't think that even with that there would be enough grip to do the two-car draft at Daytona, but as we saw in February, that's not the case; you certainly can.
You're going to do whatever it takes to win the race.
Now the one other factor coming into July is the heat. You know, is the heat going to take away dirt from the racetrack to where it's going to be a lot harder to do the two-car draft. You know, there's still some unknowns, and it's going to be very interesting on Friday when we get out there on the track.
Q. Could you describe the differences in the two-car draft between being the following car and the leading car, and is there a way for y'all to communicate with each other not via the radio to know when not to go low and high and all those things?
JEFF GORDON: The best way to do it is by having one spotter talking on both radios, or if you're the leader, you can actually talk to, whether it's your teammate or whoever is pushing you, if you're on the same radio. That seems to be something that's really evolved since February that we saw a lot of at Talladega and we'll see more of in Daytona this week, where you have numerous car channels in your radio programmed in there, preprogrammed, of guys that you plan on working with or potential teams and drivers that you might be working with.
You know, to me, if you're just following or you're running along by yourself and you're not in a big pack, it's pretty easy. If you're the car in back, you just follow that rear bumper and try to keep as much air getting into the radiator as you possibly can, and you just follow that car wherever it goes. And each lap, you will get a sense of where the driver that's leading, where their line is and so that you can kind of anticipate that.
Once you get into a pack of cars, especially towards the end of the race when you are trying to make passes, you've got to make some pretty evasive moves if you're the leader.
So it's really key for you to communicate which direction you think you may be going as you come up through there so that that car behind you can stay with you, because that's the most important thing is having somebody pushing at all times all the until to till checkered flag waves.
Q. How hard is it to make moves, if you're the leader or follower, on a typical race weekend, you can go where you need to go and not worry about another car being hooked to you. How different is that?
JEFF GORDON: That's very different. You know, it's not the preferred situation to be in, whether you're being pushed or whether you're the pusher.
It's just the way it is. You're going to do whatever it takes to win the race. We try to do that every weekend. And that's the way you have to win at Daytona and Talladega these days.
At Daytona it's a little bit trickier, because the transitions, even though it's a new repave, the track is smooth and has a lot of grip. The transitions are still a lot more significant and abrupt at Daytona, and as we saw in February, it's pretty easy if you get in the wrong position behind that car or if you're the lead car and you make two evasive of a move getting in the corner or exiting the corner, you can spin out and possibly wreck.
The two guys have to work very well together. I'm really excited about working with Mark Martin this weekend like we did at Talladega. We worked a lot together at Talladega, worked really well together and had a shot at winning the race there late, and I think we are going to be able to evolve with that and make it even better for Daytona this weekend.
Q. The next couple of weeks we have a couple of wild cards in Daytona, of course, and Kentucky. But after Kentucky, a couple of tracks coming up that have been good to you over your career, three victories at New Hampshire. Why has that track been so good to you?
JEFF GORDON: You know, it's hard to really pinpoint why any track you favor, or it favors you. Some of it's driving style. Most of it is the car setup and the team.
So I feel like New Hampshire is just one of those tracks that I had a chance to run in the Nationwide Series before the Cup Series was even racing there, and ran well there, had some good success and transitioned that into the Cup Series.
It's just one of those tracks where it's a very flat, narrow-groove, tight-corner racetrack, but it's one that seems to suit my style and it seems like as a team, we can communicate well to get what we need out of the car to go fast there.
Q. And Indy has also been a place that you've cherished. Do you think back often on winning that inaugural race there and where did that rank in your career highlights and your trophy case?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, it ranks up there, possibly No. 1. It's an incredible victory. It's funny, I just finished building a house and did a trophy display area, and the prominent trophy in the middle happens to be the smallest one, and in my opinion, the memories that come along with that are the most significant, and that's my inaugural Brickyard 400trophy. It's about this big (indicating), it's not much, but it sure was a big victory and something I'll never forget. And any time I'm ever asked about either my favorite win or my biggest win of my career or the most significant one, that one always rises to the top.
Q. I know we talked about Dale Junior saying he hates -- maybe not hates, but isn't a fan, and all four of you guys at Hendrick really kicked butt at Talladega. Is this maybe Junior's best shot to snap that long losing streak he's got, coming from a guy who you yourself snapped a 66-race race streak earlier this season?
JEFF GORDON: I feel like those guys have really been clicking this year on the 88 team, and you know, we have seen how good they have run, how consistent they have been. And I think when I think it of going to restrictor plate races, even though things have changed, I still think that Dale Junior is one of the best out there.
And I'm not sure, you know what their plans are. I think they are probably the same as ours were in Talladega where they are probably going to work with the 48 car. So we saw how good they were putting themselves in position to win, with Jimmie getting the win. There's no reason why that can't continue and Junior happens to be leading instead of being the pusher and maybe Jimmie can return that favor.
But I think they will definitely be very strong this weekend.
Q. Awhile back there was talk about because of the stress and everything else that the new retirement age was going to be about 38 to 40, and of course Mark Martin sets his own standard there. But turning 40, I'd like your comment on that and how you look at the future.
JEFF GORDON: I've never looked at it from an age standpoint. The Chase definitely heightens the emotions and the stress level and the pressure to go out there, not only once you get in the Chase for the championship, but trying to make it into the Chase.
So, yeah, there's definitely some significance there. It makes you have to be in better shape physically and mentally as the season winds down, and I think you used have to -- so it takes more of a toll on you as you get older.
But I've never really put an age limit on where my career is going. You know, I've always said that it's really three components that's going to make those decisions, and when that time comes, that it's time for me to maybe move on from driving full-time, and that's being healthy, enjoying what I'm doing, and being competitive. And I feel like all three of those things kind of link together.
I mean, we are having a great year right now. I'm excited about where we are at. We have got a couple wins. We just moved into ninth in points and I feel like we actually have improvements to be made as a team, and especially the new working relationship with Alan and myself.
I think there are far more positives about being on a channel that can control both cars.
So to me, that rejuvenates you as a driver, and adds years to your life and your career, and so I'm not even thinking about anything beyond the next few years right now.
Q. Do you ever talk with guys about your same age about their feelings, Stewart and Burton that are close in age, do you ever talk about that at all?
JEFF GORDON: I'll be honest, it's not a topic that's really been brought up between us. But now that you mention it, I'll throw it out there to them and see what they say.
Q. Jeff, with the new two-car draft and the style of driving for Daytona, what is your thoughts on the multi-car communication?
JEFF GORDON: You know, I'm not a big fan of being on somebody else's channel, let's say, if I'm the follower or the car pushing. But at the same time, this type of racing, I think that it's the best way to go about it. There's no other way that you really can go about it. You need one spotter telling you what's going on.
It gets a little bit tricky when you're trying to communicate with your team. Say you're coming in for a pit stop and we're having to transmit information through another spotter in that situation. So I kind of like being the lead car, having my spotter, and being on my radio so I can communicate to my team. But you know, that's a part of it that you have to compromise, depending on where you're at position-wise.
So I think there are some negatives to it. But I think there are far more positives about being on a channel that can control both cars. It allows to you guide yourself through the pack a lot better, through crashes, or the cautions or anything else that might be going on, how you can communicate as drivers back and forth about trying to keep the car cool when you want to swap if you need to.
As far as having several other teams in your radio, it is odd to me, you know, to give those channels up to the other teams. It's not something that we are used to doing. But you know, restrictor plate racing has always brought a unique style of racing and going about things different for all of us involved in the throughout the years.
So that's just kind of something we expect and anticipate when we come to restrictor plate races, and that's just one of the new things that we are doing that is certainly different, but you have to accept it.
Q. You mentioned earlier that the new Car of Tomorrow that NASCAR is working on, with this new car, do you think that NASCAR might be working with the companies a little bit closer than in the past? Because word is flying around that a couple of the car companies are saying, these cars don't look like the products that we sell and they want people to cheer for the products that they produce.
JEFF GORDON: That's a great question and I think the best answer is to look at the Nationwide Series right now. It has a lot of the same philosophies in that car that were originated through what we called the Impala, or the Car of Tomorrow, that we are currently running in the Cup Series. Yet they incorporated some of those body lines that really are significant to the car manufacturers.
And so I think that's definitely something that everyone is talking about moving forward with this new car. It's so important. The manufacturers, like Chevy, are so involved in what we do, they are so important to what we do, and we want to make sure they are getting the most out of their involvement with the sport.
And you know, that philosophy is still true; that what wins on Sunday sells on Monday. I think if we are racing cars out there that have more than just decals that simulate or look like the cars on the showroom floor; we actually have certain designs in the car that signifies that, I think that will help them sell more cars and want them continue to be involved in our sport long term. I see nothing but positives.
But I can remember the days when the car they designed for the road, played a significant role to the performance of the car on the racetrack. I'd like to see some of that play out, as well.
Q. Wondering with Kentucky coming up, a new track, do you do anything different as far as preparation or anything that you'll do differently before you get to the track next week on Thursday?
There was no offer. There was no opportunity to go IndyCar racing.
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, Mark Martin, our teammate, did a tire test there. So we were able to gather some data to put on our seven post (ph) as well as our computer simulation. I tested there probably a couple of years ago, is the last time I was there.
So I talked to Mark about some differences in the track compared to that. He shared a little bit of that information with me. We had a debrief today talking about Sonoma, getting ready for Daytona but we also did talk about going to Kentucky and our plans.
Basically, I can't say there's a whole lot of unique things that are going to come with six hours of testing the day before we have to race there. So that's certainly going to help us get a lot of information. And I try not to go in with too many expectations. You know, we try to plan from the last mile-and-a-half track and the things we have learned with the car this year up to this point, and a little bit of what we have learned from the tire test Mark Martin did.
And then as a driver, I'll just go in and start putting laps together and trying to figure out what we can do to continue to go faster as the weekend unfolds.
Q. Do you anticipate the bumps to be a problem in the track or is that just part of the track's character?
JEFF GORDON: Well, the one thing that came up from the test that was unique is something about the bottom groove. I know that they are repaving this track after this race. Some of it's due to the surface. Other parts of it probably have to do with the bumps, because there are some very significant bumps.
You know, for the race, I feel pretty good about that. When I went and tested there, we pretty much did race runs and the bumps were significant and rough, where I feel like -- and you have to get over those bumps. Well, especially the way we are getting the splitters down on the ground these days. But that's not too much different than all of the bigger tracks that we go to. We are always having to deal with some types of bumps.
But what I think is going to be unique for Kentucky is trying to go qualifying. I think those bumps really come into play when you start driving the car in a lot deeper like you will on a qualifying run. So you may focus a little bit more on that on that test day.
Q. Do you plan to get in the fuel injection car? I assume you guys will have one that day?
JEFF GORDON: I have no idea. I don't have -- you're so far ahead of things that I'm even aware of that I have to come to you for information. You'll have to let me know on that.
Q. I want to take you back quite a few years when you ran the Sprints and the Midgets, and you got fairly proficient at. That what really made you go stock car instead of IndyCar?
JEFF GORDON: You know, I got asked this question the other day, and it's a pretty simple answer. There was no offer. There was no opportunity to go IndyCar racing.
You've got to understand, IndyCar racing back in the late 80s, early 90s when I was -- when I moved to NASCAR, there were not a lot of oval tracks. There were not a lot of open-wheel Sprint car midget drivers going into Indy cars. And that might have had a lot to do with the series breaking up the way they did and reforming into what they are today and why they have a lot more ovals and American drivers in there, as well.
Had that been the case back in, say, '89 or 90, maybe it would have been different and maybe I would have gone that direction. I would have loved to have raced in the Indianapolis 500. That was a dream of mine as a kid growing up as a race car driver.
But I had a guy named Larry Nuber who did some broadcasting for ESPN for NASCAR back in the day, and he said: Hey you should go look at NASCAR. I went and drove the cars and loved it, and just happened to meet somebody that just offered to me to drive it, and that was really the bottom line.
Q. So Larry Nuber was a personal friend of mine. Follow-up question, are you going to enter the $5 million race at Las Vegas at the end of the year?
JEFF GORDON: No, I think if you look at my career, and you look at the way that I've done things over the last, well, I don't know, maybe 15 or 20 years, I put my focus into one team as much as I possibly can in one series.
Especially now having two kids, I really don't have any extra time on my hands. But I try to give everything I possibly can to the team that supports me week-in and week-out in the Cup Series and gives it my best. And I feel like sometimes you can spread yourself too thin trying to do too many things.
And I respect the guys that race in the IndyCar Series far too much -- on these ovals, the cars are so much different than what I'm used to driving, that it it's not -- you don't just go and say, hey, Roger Penske or hey, Chip Ganassi, put me in your car and let's go win this race. It takes a lot more than that. To me, I don't have the time to really invest and take away from my Cup Series program, as well as away from my family, to go and properly do that race with a chance at being competitive enough to win it.
THE MODERATOR: We appreciate your participation today in today's NASCAR CAM with Jeff Gordon. Thank you for your time and good luck this weekend at Daytona.