Jeff Gordon talks about Daytona 500 rule changes

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Team Chevy Racing press release

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET met with media and discussed his feelings about the rules changes for the Daytona 500, what it would mean to him to win it, which drivers are showing strength right now, and more.

Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING IN THE GATORADE DUELS YESTERDAY? “Yeah, we learned a lot. We were pretty much not a part of the race, so we’ve got to look at what we can do to make sure that doesn’t happen in the (Daytona) 500. We had some overheating issues pretty early-on in the race, which didn’t allow us to get very aggressive and be able to push anybody to make some moves. And then also, the pit stop exchange. I mean it’s a unique race because of the length of the race, but you might still run into that situation late in the race. And so you’ve got to be prepared for it. Just like we always know that race is, it’s a test session. It’s the ultimate test session that we have this entire week to prepare for the 500. And we feel like we obviously have to do better than that.”

HOW DO YOU PLAN TO USE THE FINAL THREE PRACTICE SESSIONS TO BE READY? WHAT DO YOU STILL NEED TO DIAL-IN? “There is very little we can do in these practices because you can never simulate what we had yesterday or what we’re going to have in the 500. And so we’ll probably put our race engine in. I don’t know. I talked to (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) yesterday on what our plan was versus what our plan is today; it might be a little bit different. You’re probably not going to see many cars do a lot of practice.”

GIVEN YOUR SITUATION YESTERDAY, ARE YOU LOBBYING NASCAR FOR SOME HELP TO COOL THE CARS DOWN? “I’m not necessarily saying we need to lobby for anything just because if you give us more opening to cool down, then we’re going to be pushing again. So, I would prefer to have to deal with this than to be pushing throughout the whole race. I haven’t said a word to NASCAR. I think there is no doubt we can still win this race even with it. I mean, we weren’t the only one. Everybody is dealing with it. What it does is not makes it that much more important to be in those first four or five positions. And even then, we looked at the data from the No. 48 car (Jimmie Johnson) yesterday and their stuff was pretty hot, too, before he started pushing. So, it’s just going to weigh more into our strategy for the race and how aggressive we’re going to need to be when they drop the green. We’re starting 16th so we know we’re in a vulnerable position right from the start of the race of either being in the conserve mode or go into high-risk type of situation where you’ve got to be super aggressive. So that’s what we’re weighing out right now. It’s not necessarily anything we’re going to be doing or trying during practice; it’s more about our thought process as we get closer to Sunday.”

CAN YOU TAKE SOME CLUES FROM TONY STEWART’S TEAM? THEY SEEM TO DO PRETTY WELL WITH ALL THE SAME DEALS AND THE SAME EQUIPMENT “Well, he had somebody pushing him. That’s a totally different situation. When you get all 43 cars out there, I think it’s going to be different. But, what they did do is they did a great job. Tony is a great drafter and those guys are always strong down here. And I promise you that they’re dealing with the same things that we’re dealing with. There’s no difference. The difference is he was able to stay in clean air right from the beginning of that race. And that’s where they did a good job. We’ve got to make sure that we do; but starting 16th is not going to be so easy. But it doesn’t matter what car it is out here. I think any car you put back in 16th and drop the green and if you don’t get clean air to the nose, you’re going to hear them talking about overheating.”

IT SEEMS LIKE THERE IS SO MUCH TIME BETWEEN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT AND THE DAYTONA 500. IT SEEMS EVERY YEAR ONE OR TWO GUYS POP OUT AS FAVORITES. WHO HAVE YOU SEEN SHOW THE MOST STRENGTH SO FAR? “Definitely Tony (Stewart) looks strong. He almost won the Shootout and he won the 150 yesterday. The Fords look very strong as well. I thought (Dale Earnhardt) Junior showed some good strength yesterday as well. I mean up until yesterday, I felt like we were the strongest car out there. And we still are. We just didn’t get the opportunity to show it yesterday. And so I’m still really looking forward to the 500 because I know how fast our race car is. But, you can’t always anticipate some of the heating things that you’re going to deal with. I got held up by one car and that one car kind of took us back for the rest of the race. But I would say I thought (Greg) Biffle’s car looks very strong and obviously all the Roush Fords look good; but other than that, it wouldn’t matter what I saw on the race track, I would always put Tony (Stewart) in that category just ‘cause he runs so well at Daytona.”

DID YOU SEE DANICA PATRICK’S CRASH YESTERDAY? “Yes I did.”

THE IN-CAR CAMERA SHOWED HER REACTION OF TAKING HER HANDS OFF THE WHEEL AND PUTTING HER HANDS UP. IS THAT AN INDYCAR REFLEX AND SOMETHING THAT MOST DRIVERS DO IN THAT SITUATION? “It was a scary wreck. When I saw her car heading to the wall at that angle, I was really nervous. But I was very impressed with the way the Safer Barrier worked; (and) the car, the seat, the Hans. To see her be able to walk away from it the way she did, I was very happy to see. The hands-up thing I think is an Open Wheel thing. Those cars, the way that their steering works, if you leave your hands on the wheel it jerks the wheel and it usually breaks a wrist or a thumb or something like that. I’ve never taken my hand off the wheel in a crash in a Cup car. I’m not going to say that that’s right or wrong. I just know that’s the way I’ve always done it and I’ve not ever had any issues. I was more worried about her crushing her hand in the head support with her helmet. But that seems to be something that she instinctively does now. We’ve seen it in other crashes and hey, it’s whatever works for her.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR TEAMMATES IN THE SHOOTOUT AND THE DUELS? “Oh, I think that’s fine. As long as we’re not pushing like we were last year, then there’s really no reason to communicate with them quite like that. But we’re still communicating through our spotters and making sure that our spotters are aware and our teammates’ spotters being close by where we can communicate with them if we have to.”

DOES THIS RACING HAVE THE FEEL OF WHAT THE PLATE RACING WAS THREE, FOUR, OR FIVE YEARS AGO? AND IS THAT WHY IT BRINGS YOU AND JUNIOR AND TONY BACK INTO PLAY? “I’d like to think so. I really enjoy this type of racing. I feel like there is a lot more strategy in it and not having to worry about this one drafting partner that you work with all day long; the risks that are involved with pushing the cars around the race track lap after lap, and kind of doing it blind, is something I’m not a fan of. We didn’t have to deal with the heat issues that we’re dealing with right now, but as far as just pure racing and the handling of the cars, and being able to pick the lines and go with the momentum, and make some moves that you can kind of generate on your own, but then need a drafting partner to complete them. That’s the way I won the Daytona 500 back in 2005. So I definitely like what we have out there right now.”

ON RACING AT PHOENIX, DO YOU LIKE THE TRACK THE WAY IT IS NOW? “No, I like the old one better. But that’s sometimes what happens with a re-pave or a new design. And the way that they did it, it changes the tire. It changes the track and how you have to drive it. And so we have to adapt to that. And one of the things we worked heavily on during the off-season was preparing for that race to make sure that when we go back there we don’t have the issues that we had the last time we were there. We had break issues. I wasn’t comfortable with how the car was handling. We started to get better as the race went on, so I’m more confident this time than I was the first time we were there (since the repaving). And I feel like we have good data from our teammates. Not only (did) Tony (Stewart) ran well, but Kasey (Kahne) and (crew chief) Kenny Francis did very well there obviously winning the race. So I feel pretty good about going back there.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF PEOPLE SHOOTING THE APRON ON THE BACKSTRETCH, THE DOGLEG, AND HOW THAT COMPLICATES THE RACE AT PHOENIX? “I think that’s when you know you didn’t design it properly when you have to go on the apron and that’s your better option. I think that had they to do it over again, they probably wouldn’t have done quite what they did back there. Each time we go back there we’ll learn a little bit more. You race however you can to win. So, we’ll deal with that when we get there.”

IS IT HARD TO KEEP TRACK OF A GUY WHO JUST SPLITS LEFT AND DISAPPEARS, YOU DO THE DOGLEG, AND ALL OF A SUDDEN THERE HE IS AGAIN? “No, when he disappears you pretty much know where he is. To me it’s just really a way not only to try to get an edge, but the cars when they are side-by-side through there because it is more of a turn now, can really get loose through there if you’re side-by-side. So you’re basically just trying to get away from the guy that’s on your outside.”

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST GAINS YOUR TEAM MADE DURING THE OFF-SEASON? “I feel like we made gains in our pit crew, our team communication, and just really building the cars to suit what I need to make sure that when we get to those final ten races that we have a car that can win or be in the top five every week. And I feel like our off-season went really well.”

IF YOU WIN ON SUNDAY, ARE YOU PREPARED TO DO THE MEDIA TOUR STUFF? “Hey, I’ll do whatever they want me to do. If you win the Daytona 500, you know that there’s a lot that’s going to be thrown at you but it’s all worth it.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER A YOUNG GUY WHO WOULD LIKE TO REACH THIS LEVEL OF RACING? “My advice is to work hard, win races, and try to get yourself to the right place at the right time.”

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE THAT YOU GOT? “Well, my stepdad is the one that helped me get here. And so any advice that I got was pretty much from him. He made me have to work at it. It didn’t come easily. He made sure that I was picking up the phone and calling people to try to get rides and sponsorships and put myself in the best equipment I possibly could. And I raced anything and everything there was to race.”

INAUDIBLE “I’ve seen guys get to the Cup level and not be the most talented race car drivers that exist out there. But they worked so hard at it that they took the talent that they had and meshed that with work ethics and made for a very successful career. Sometimes having a lot of natural talent makes you lazy and you don’t work hard enough at it. And so I think there is a fine line there; a combination between the two.”

DO YOUNG DRIVERS GET TO RACE MORE? I LOOK AT SOME OF THESE KIDS WHO ARE 12 OR 13 YEARS OLD AND THEY’VE ALREADY WON A LOT OF RACES. ARE THEY ABLE TO DO MORE AT A YOUNG AGE THAN YOU WERE ABLE TO DO? “Yes and no. I was racing Sprint Cars. There’s more racing geared toward younger kids. I was racing against adults and I feel like that experience took me to a whole other level in a very short period of time. And so I don’t know if that opportunity is quite there today as much as it used to be. But there are so many other great forms of racing that are very competitive. My thing is you always have to be in a different kind of car and on a different type of track racing against different competitors all the time, as young as you possibly can. That’s what’s going to make you diverse enough to be able to come to this level and win on road courses, win on short tracks, and win on high banks and flat tracks and superspeedways. You’ve got to be able to adapt to all different types of situations all the time.”

IT’S BEEN A WHILE. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “I think that it would mean more than anything to me right now. My life is so great right now between family and being in my 20th year in the Cup Series, and being extremely successful in 20 years. I have nothing left to prove. It’s just that it’s something that I want badly. This team, I think, has earned it and deserves it. They really are a great team. I want to be able to complete that for them. I feel we’re the best team that I’ve been a part of in a long time right now. When you’re a good team and you know you’re capable of it, the ultimate goal is to win that Sprint Cup trophy.”

INAUDIBLE (ON THE BRAGGING RIGHTS) “I think Tony (Stewart) kind of did that last year, but we want to keep it going for Chevrolet; we want to keep it going at Hendrick (Motorsports), and we know that’s not going to be easy. But I feel like I’ve got one (championship) left in me and we’ll see if we can make that happen at least in the next several years.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, hendrick, jeff gordon