Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media and discussed if non-Chase drivers should race Chase competitors differently, the top 35 rule, racing at Talladega with NASCAR's new generation race car, penalties assessed...
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media and discussed if non-Chase drivers should race Chase competitors differently, the top 35 rule, racing at Talladega with NASCAR's new generation race car, penalties assessed during the Chase, safety with the new generation race car, what it will take to win at Kansas Speedway and what a victory would do with other 1.5-mile tracks coming up in the Chase.
ON BEING POINT LEADER HEADING IN TO KANSAS WITH PREVIOUS SUCCESS HE HAS EXPERIENCED HERE: "It is hard to consider yourself the point's leader when there are so few points that separate you and fourth, fifth or sixth. It is so tight right now, other than maybe the two or three guys have had trouble, it is like we started at New Hampshire, it is pretty much even. We had a great run at New Hampshire, very excited about that, we had a great fight last week at Dover. It wasn't a great performance, but we survived, so that was important. Dover was one of those tracks that we were concerned about to begin with, performance wise and survival. I thought that getting through that race was really big for us. I like at the tracks on the schedule and this is certainly one that I really like and we run well at. I am excited about being here."
ON JACQUES VILLENEUVE MAKING HIS CUP DEBUT AT TALLADEGA NEXT WEEKEND: "I am a big fan of Jacques, but I think this is not the right decision. I didn't think it was the right decision with David Gilliland. Nothing against their talent, or anything else, I just look at that race in the Chase - Why? You want to run a race, go to Atlanta, go to one of the mile and a half tracks. I am very very surprised that was approved as his first Cup race. I don't agree with it, but I am not going to lose sleep over it either. Jacques did a nice job at the test, but you can't base anything on a test. I mean, that is just crazy. You have to have a race. I watched him in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race from Las Vegas last week. Yes, he did a nice job, but he wasn't really in contention so wasn't really in the thick of things; he just didn't bounce off of anything which was very good. I think that you need to get some experience in something else before you go stic k them in the Cup race at Talladega, especially when it is so crucial for the championship."
ON CHALLENGES OF GOING BETWEEN MONTE CARLO SS AND IMPALA SS IN THE CHASE: "The Impala SS is challenging enough in itself. We showed that the last couple of weeks. We had it working well in New Hampshire and not very well at Dover. To me there is just a big difference. If you look at the Roush cars performance from New Hampshire to Dover, they have really got their high bank program figured out for the new generation car. The Childress car, especially the NO. 07 and us, seem to have the flatter tracks figured out. That in its self is a challenge. You add on top of that going from the old car to the new car, it has been a challenge all year. It is going to be a huge challenge in the Chase for whoever is going to figure it out the best. That is why Dover was a track that we wanted to really get through because we knew that our banked track new car setup just isn't as good as say our Phoenix or Martinsville, those types of tracks.
ON CARL EDWARDS PENATLY FOLLOWING DOVER: "It is hard for me to say what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. All I know is that they have been harsh on things with the new car. It didn't surprise me and while, you can determine at what track being high is going to help and being low at another track is going to hurt you. There is a reason NASCAR has the height stick and why there is a green area. If you aren't in the green area, then, expect penalties to come. It doesn't matter if it happens to us or happens to anybody else. They have been pretty strong in that case. To me, while it may or may not have altered his performance or hurting or helping him on the track, it didn't meet their rules and that is why they are going to be harsh about it. $100,000 has been the standard and 100 points, their 25 points and $25,000 was sort of indicative of the fact that we are in the Chase. I kind of snicker a little bit when I hear how well positioned he is now because leading in to New Hampshire, it was Clint Bowyer WHO? Then after New Hampshire, it was WOW look at this guy, new superstar and he is the guy to beat for the championship. Then we go to Dover and the Roush cars run good and all of a sudden they are in position to be the teams to beat for the championship. It changes every week. Whoever comes out of the weekend with a strong run, that is up in the points, then that is going to be the story of the week. To me nobody is positioned above anybody else at this point, I think we have to run another three, four, five races before you are really going to find out who the team to beat is.
ON IF HE THOUGHT 25 POINTS WAS A CONSIDERATION GIVEN: "Yes, that is what I think. I don't anything from what NASCAR's decisions were. But, every other penalty with the new race car--now there were similar penalties to this with the old car that were 25 points, $25,000 or whatever it was--but there has not been one penalty that I have seen with the new car that is under 100 points and $100,000. To me, it doesn't matter what it is, it is $100,000 and 100 points. But, I think they took in to consideration the fact that they are in the Chase and that is why it is less."
ON IF TOP DRIVERS IN THE SPORT SHOULD BE HELD TO A HIGHER STANDARD: "That should be your focal point as a team. I will be honest with you, right now, if we don't run as good as some other guys; it is because we are being conservative. We aren't pushing the limits because we know what the outcome can be. We are making sure we go through inspection, we meet all the cold templates and every other thing that they have on the new car. We are doing everything we can to make sure that is the case going in to the race and that is the case coming out of the race. We might falter too, but we are playing more on the conservative side, we might give up a few positions on the race track because of that, but we have been hit with it and we learned our lesson. So, we are playing it conservative, I would think that is going to be case with the No. 99 now."
FIRST-FYI BOTH THE NO. 5 AND NO 70 WERE FINED 25 POINTS AND $25,000 AFTER THE FIRST NEW HAMPSHIRE: "Oh, you are right. That was with the new generation car. You are right and thank you for pointing that out. So, I guess I am wrong, they are not all 100 points and $100,000, that is just me. (LAUGHS).
ON INCIDENT AT DOVER BETWEEN DENNY HAMLIN AND KYLE PETTY: "When you are mad, you are mad. You can throw all reason out the window. I think that Kyle probably felt like he was in a position to where that he was not as fast as some other guys out there. He was running his line. He wasn't necessarily in the guy's way. Maybe he just didn't move out of the way. But he was running his line and you just had to move around him. It seemed like he was being consistent with that with everybody all day long. For whatever reason, Denny got a little impatient there and it really cost him. Obviously Kyle didn't appreciate it. I didn't see anything wrong with it. The guy was upset and I am sure Denny was upset too. I think it is ok to show your emotions, you just have to know where the limit is. Obviously for Denny, that limit was the flipping of the shelf. When he (Kyle) touched his shield, that kind of flipped the switch a little bit."
IS THERE A CAR THAT IS OUT OF CHASE YET? "You are never out of it until you start winding down the number of races you have left to make up those points. What Jimmie (Johnson) did last year was pretty extraordinary, but you have to take in to account what the other guys contributed to it. Not only did he come back and perform, but also those other guys had problems. More problems than they should have, including myself, we had three straight bad races as far as failures and crashes and blown engines and stuff like that. To me, we lost the championship as much as Jimmie went out there and won it. When that is the case when you are behind that much, you can't just do it based on just our performing them, they are going to have to run in to some situations like you did. I think everybody is probably going to have at least one bad race. I don't know if the winner very often is going to have more than one. Hey, every guy has to fight. They have to believe they are stil l in it. And they really are, until mathematically you are out. That is the only point that determines when you are no longer in it."
ON TALLADEGA TEST: "The Impala SS is going to change everything there. It is going to be spectacular, it really it. As a driver, even the old car with the old rules, were a little more spectacular than as a driver you want. But it puts on a heck of a show and I think you are going to see the same thing, but even more so. We had 20-car packs; it got pretty dicey at times. When you put 43 cars out there, it is really going to be something else. I think that this car, I don't think their intention was to design it for Talladega, it is just the way the body style is, the way you can run a bigger restrictor plate, the wing with the wicker - all of that is only going to enhance the entertainment at Talladega. I expect for it to be pretty wild, be pretty crazy and be a heck of a show for the fans. "
ON NUMBER OF CAUTIONS INCREASING AT TALLADEGA: "I am not sure, I haven't really thought about it. Competition has a lot to do with it. The competition is great, much tighter, so everybody is running in tighter packs because there is a much smaller difference in the speed of the cars. I think everybody is competitive. That is the thing that this new car brings to the table, it is going to tighten the cars up that much more. It is going to be pretty difficult to lose the draft. You might get shot back, but I don't know if you are ever going to truly ever lose the entire draft. It is hard to say. The tighter the packs, the easier it is to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. At Talladega you make a mistake, there is a 20-car pile up.
"I think that bump drafting has contributed to it a little bit more. When I first started in the Cup Series, you almost couldn't bump draft. The way the air worked on the cars, when you closed in on a car, it was almost like a bubble that formed in between the bumpers. You would have a lot of momentum coming on the guy in front of you and it seemed like you never really got through that. Course maybe it was because we used to lift at that point to and now we don't. Along the way you start to figure out how to break those bubbles and then we started figuring out how to make our bumpers stronger and more solid to be able to take those bumps. That is the one concern I have right now with this car, while the bumpers are big and they line up, they are soft. So, we were asking NASCAR to allow us to put in some extra bars there, because we were getting to the point where we were pushing in the bumpers creating a gap as you go in and pushed it and it got soft, you t urn the car really easy in front of you and get them squirrelly. So I am hoping that we can work around the front/rear bumpers a little bit before we go back there."
ON JEFF BURTON: "Jeff is respected in the garage area. I think he is a guy that is not afraid to share is opinion and he seems to be very level headed on his opinions. Most of the things that he brings up are legitimate, have some rationality behind it and I think that is good. It is good to have a guy like that speaking his mind and people want to listen. I feel like he has been in the garage area long enough to not be afraid to step up and say things. You need people like that, but they also have to be respected and have to have been around long enough to be able to step up and say that."
CONCERNING PENALTIES, SHOULD EVERY VIOLATION HAVE THE SAME PUNISHMENT? ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHEATING AND UNINTENTIONAL VIOLATIONS: "Well, we could be here for hours in this discussion. My opinion is that in some ways by creating these templates that go over this car and all these different heights. Too high and too low. Every thing that NASCAR does to make the cars more equal and make the competition tighter, it also puts NASCAR into a tighter box to have cars not meeting those requirements when the race is over because you're in a much narrower window for everything to be right. If you talk to these crew chiefs, they'll tell you. It's almost nearly impossible to know exactly what a spring is going to do and be exact every single time and the shock, there are variances in there that we can't live up to. We're actually having to redo every side of the Car of Tomorrow every single race because just the flex of going through the race makes the sides buckle just enough where it won't meet their templates. And so while we're trying to save money and not have all these magician body men, we're having to redo t he sides every single race because their tolerances are so tight. To me, what's happening is the tighter the tolerances, the more the chances are of us not meeting those tolerances, especially after a race. But even before the race, going though inspection is going to be tougher. So yes, there has to be judgments on what's plainly deliberate and trying to figure that out, but at the same time, if you don't meet the inspection, there's got to be some kind of penalty. I have issues not making the five-minute clock for qualifying. To me, we've been seeing guys be 10 to 15-minutes, I think Kenseth changed gears somewhere, went into the garage area and changed rear-end gears, came back out and qualified at like Michigan. There was no penalty at all. He came out, made his two laps, and qualified. So to me, everybody needs to be held accountable. If they're going to make those rules, you have to be within them. If you don't meet them, then there's got to be a judgment as to why you didn't meet it. If they can determine that it's deliberate that you didn't meet it, and they've got to go through a lot of different things. There are all kinds of rumors going through the garage area right now that No. 99 (Edwards) lowered their car throughout the race and expected the shocks to hold them up. I don't believe all that stuff because it's just that these things happen all the time. I think NASCAR has to try to determine what those penalties should be. I don't think they should be the same all the time. But I think the reason they were so harsh on us was not that what we did was so severe in enhancing the performance of the car, it's that they said don't do this and we did it and they wanted to set a precedent for this car; send a message not only to us, but to everyone out there, as to what they mean on these tolerances. To me, it doesn't matter if you're high or low or what it is, I think there is going to be a penalty coming. I just wonder if NASCAR really wants that to happen. Do we want to get to Miami-Homestead and the winner of the championship comes through inspection and he's an eighth of an inch low and is that 25 points? What is that? Does that win the championship or not? It's great what they're trying to do with this car. It's safer. It's definitely more competitive than I've ever seen it among cars in the difference in the speeds. But that's also putting us all into a box that's going to make things very challenging and difficult for them to make those judgment calls."
THIS IS THE FIRST YEAR SINCE '83 THERE HAS NOT BEEN IROC. AS A RACER, FOR WHAT IT WAS INTENDED TO BE, HOW MUCH OF IROC DO YOU MISS? "After experiencing IROC, I wish more than anything I wish there was an IROC-type series but it needs to be recreated and rethought to be a little bit different. Really, in all honesty, it was a NASCAR IROC series. Yes, it was nice to have guys from other series' come in, but they were at our tracks in our types of cars and that's what I think made it so special when a guy like Al Unser Jr. won races. It meant that much more to them because they were out of their element. To me, to make a true IROC series, you've got to have an experience kind of like the Race of Championship they do overseas where you're in identical cars on dirt, on pavement, and you switch different cars. My vision version of it is a very expensive series and that's the problem. It got too expensive as it was. Jay Signore did a great job with it, but just couldn't get the support from the sponsors and manufacturers to really create what the IROC Series should truly be, which is to test drivers' skills in a ll different types of tracks and cars and really determine a real champion driver who is versatile."
NEXT WEEK IS THE LAST RACE WHERE WE SEE TALLADEGA SPEEDWAY (DALE EARNHARDT JR) FANS IN RED. HOW UNUSUALY IS THAT GOING TO BE TO GO TO TALLADEGA NEXT YEAR AND NOT SEE IT BE AWASH OF RED? "Well, Kasey Kahne has been battling that red thing with him for years. Everybody has been trying to figure out how many of them are Kasey Kahne fans. Now we don't have to figure that one out. Trust me, you're always going to know who are Earnhardt fans out there and who's not. It doesn't matter whether they are wearing red or not. They're vocal and they make their presence known and their avid. And you've got to love that. I think that will certainly be the same. For me, I still hope they're throwing things at me if we win races there. I'm not encouraging anything under green flag conditions (laughs)."
THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT ADDING A MASSIVE HOTEL & CASINO COMPLEX AT THIS TRACK. CAN YOU COMPARE THAT WITH THE WAY IT WAS WHEN THE TRACK FIRST OPENED? "I as saying that just on the way in last night. None of this was around here. To see it grow the way it has with all these businesses and restaurants and hotels, it's fantastic. I hope that you can use this as a model of what you can do with a NASCAR race track in your area and that it shows you can take a community and build around the excitement of this race track and create jobs and businesses. You look at the Seattle track and the reception they got there and how they were saying they didn't want it. If they came here and saw what has happened in this community and this area, I think they'd re-think that. It's pretty extraordinary what they've been able to pull off here. I think it would be a no-brainer to add something like a hotel & casino right here at this race track would be pretty awesome."
REGARDING JACQUES VILLENEUVE ENTERING THE TALLADEGA RACE, HAVE YOU TALKED TO ANY OTHER DRIVERS ABOUT THAT? "You know what? This one just got thrown to me 30 or 40 minutes before I came over here. I didn't even know anything about it until then. I'm fired up about it. I'm focused on a championship and the Chase here and I'm trying not to get too caught up in it. There's a lot I'd like to say about it and it has nothing to do with Jacques Villeneuve or Bill Davis. I think it's great what they're doing and I want to see him in the Cup Series. But not at Talladega. There is too much on the line. It's a track that is not for rookies. And I think no matter whether he's one of the most experienced race car drivers in the world, it's just not the place to start. There are so many other tracks to start at, why start there? It makes no sense to me other than the fact that NASCAR approved Gilliland last year under a similar situation and they kind of got themselves into a box with that one."
-credit: gm racing