EFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his trip to the Congo, Carl Edwards and other topics.
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the fifth annual Sprint Media Session here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Leading off for us is Jeff Gordon. He's seventh in points. Has two wins on the season. Has won here at the big track before.
Couple things I want to ask you. Coming to the Brickyard, one of the more prestigious events on our schedule. Also, the first race in the Sprint Summer Showdown where you can get a million dollars for you, your charity and a lucky fan.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, no, it's always really exciting to be here at Indianapolis. It's just a very special place. I think everybody has some sort of a special memory as a kid growing up, whether they were watching or somehow were here as a part of this event or just racing here over the years.
So for me all those things are true. As a kid racing quarter midgets, we would come here to Indianapolis and visit with some friends that built our quarter midgets. We'd come over here and see the track prior to or day after the 500. On one lucky occasion, maybe two, we got a chance to actually sit in the grandstands for the Indy 500.
Then racing around Indiana later with the midgets and Sprint cars, it was a dream to race here.
Now with the Brickyard 400, getting that opportunity, the four wins we've had, this track is just so special. Always look forward to coming here.
Very excited this year with our win in Pocono, the way we're running this year, has me very excited that we have a legitimate shot at winning this race. Can't wait to get out there on the track.
The Sprint Summer Shootout, I think that's cool what they're doing. We've experienced something like this in the past with previous series sponsors. I thought it brought a lot of excitement to the sport for the fans, for the competitors, and was fun for the media to write about and get involved with and talk about as well.
I can't wait. Hopefully we can get ourselves qualified right here this weekend. That would be fine with me.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. Talk about the eye-opening experiences you had with your trip.
JEFF GORDON: I left Sunday after the New Hampshire race. Took me about 28, 28 and a half hours to get to where I was going in the Congo. You get there and there's nothing else like it that I can compare it to. It was very eye-opening from the struggles that the people there are going through just trying to make 10 cents or a dollar or five dollars, to the roads, the structure of the military, the government. From every aspect, it was an experience that will change me forever.
I really hope that our efforts there and our fact-finding mission that we were on, we can come together with the Clinton Global Initiative lead groups to help.
Q. Very difficult track to win at. Six past winners. You've had more success here than anybody else. What about this track suits your particular style?
JEFF GORDON: You know, it's hard for me to answer that question in the context that you put it because I don't necessarily feel that way. As good as a driver can be around this track, have as good a feel as I've had here in the past, we've also struggled here recently. Is it me or is it the car? I think it's a combination.
I do like this track. I like how it challenges you. You have four corners that look the same, but they're all uniquely different in the way the transitions are, the bumps. There's a few little dips, the way the wind blows, the radius, everything.
So as a driver, you do want to be able to recognize those differences that can give you small advantages to knowing those things, but the car has to be right. Around this place, the car has to be right. You need power, downforce, a car that's comfortable, that turns good. To me in the races that we've won here, we've had either one of the best cars or the best car. I'm hoping we can get back to that. I think one of the keys to us winning here in the past and Pocono was qualifying up front. Passing is very difficult to do these days. We've seen that, especially on this type of racetrack. So qualifying up front I think is going to be key for us. We'll work very hard on that.
I'm anxious to see just how the car feels. Like I said, this year we've been strong. I feel like the team's worked really hard since Pocono to get us prepared for this race. I'd like to give myself credit, but I don't know how much credit I can give myself when we haven't been successful here the last several years.
Q. Looks like it's going to be in the 90s here this weekend. What kind of problems does that present for you as a driver?
JEFF GORDON: It's only a driver if I have an alternator issue. It was pretty hot in New Hampshire. Short race. Not a very demanding race. When that alternator went out for us, I had to shut off the loads to all of our blowers. The air that we blow in around me, in my helmet and everything. That really took a toll on my body, dehydration kicked in in a big way, cramps and everything else at the end of that race. I think it actually contributed to our right front tire blowing out as well. We were having to switch on and off, on and off with the blower.
As long as those things don't happen, we've got a great system in the car. I actually have a new helmet, not new to maybe some of the other guys, but it's new to me, the way the air comes in on the top of the helmet. With my Rye helmet, it's not something they've done a lot of in the past. This is something we did at Daytona and we'll have it here as well. So I think that will definitely help keep me cooler. But, you know, I've already started working on hydration this entire week 'cause this racetrack can be one of the hottest ones we go to, even though physically it's not one of the most demanding tracks. The way the winds blow around here, the grandstands block it so much, you get very little airflow. When it's hot here in Indiana, it can be very tough on you.
Q. (Question about winning the big races.)
JEFF GORDON: Yes and no. I feel like it does seem like the best teams, the best drivers when they're paired up together do seem to excel at those races that are the big ones. So to me they're a sign of, you know, a great team, no doubt.
It takes different things to win at those different tracks. So maybe a driver can definitely come into play on that.
You look at Daytona versus Indianapolis. To me the two biggest races that we have. They're completely different in what it takes from a driver standpoint and a car standpoint to win. I think when you win at those two tracks, I think it does separate you and put you into an elite group.
Q. What does that say about the great drivers of today?
JEFF GORDON: Well, they're young. They've got years left ahead of them. Not sure. I'm not sure. I mean, I look at Rusty Wallace, one of the great all-time drivers, he really excelled on the short tracks, didn't do as well on the bigger tracks, especially the superspeedways. What does that say?
I think to me whether or not Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards win at these tracks is not going to take away from to me how great a driver they are, especially if they win a championship. I think a championship trumps the two races. So I would put that first, then I would go to those two tracks.
If you win all three, then add the other two that you mentioned, Texas I'm guessing is one of them.
JEFF GORDON: The 600, okay.
You know, you add those to your list, that's his list, right? Texas is a big race (laughter).
Q. Which would you rather within, Darlington or Texas?
JEFF GORDON: Texas. It pays a lot more (laughter).
Q. But you don't do it for the money, right?
JEFF GORDON: I never do it for the money. It just pays the bills (smiling).
Q. You talked earlier about your trip to the Congo being an experience that will change you forever. How do you see how that's already changed you and how do you think it might impact you?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, you know, you come back, I feel guilty about buying a bottle of water for two bucks. I mean, you look at your refrigerator. You go, Oh, my gosh, so much waste here. You just start to look at every aspect of your life and the things that you take for granted.
I can tell you the first thing that I just wanted to give my kids the biggest hug ever in my life. I mean, obviously there's a lot of things over there that are disheartening to see. You can't help but be compassionate towards those needs. It's frustrating because there's very little you can do. There's so many blockades in your way of preventing you from just doing something, but yet there's a lot of good work that's being done. It takes time. But when you come back, you can't help but have that impact every decision you make, the way you look at things. It just makes me want to cut back on a lot of things that I would say are not necessary.
They call it reentry. It's when you spend enough time there. I was only there two and a half days. But had I spent much more time there, the reentry would get more and more difficult of coming back to our life and our lifestyle that has so many luxuries.
Q. Are you surprised? You said in New Hampshire you knew this was going to be an eye-opening experience. You felt in a way somewhat prepared.
JEFF GORDON: You can't ever prepare yourself for that. I mean, it wasn't like I saw just sick children and people everywhere. In that sense I was a little bit surprised. But in the other sense, seeing two-year-olds walking around barefoot on the side of the road with nobody really watching them, we're driving by 30 miles an hour covering them in dust, and they just kind of wave at you as you go by. Groups of women just carrying large sacks of coal and different things on their backs for hours walking to get 10 dollars. Those types of things I just didn't expect. You can't grasp that until you're there.
Q. You just noted you feel like this is one of the two biggest races. Why does it matter so much to win here? Is it getting into the elite fraternity of this place?
JEFF GORDON: It might be different for everybody. But for me, remembering back as a kid watching A.J. Foyt and Johnny Rutherford, Rick Mears, my heroes, racing at this track, always dreaming of racing at Indy, the history that this track has because of the Indianapolis 500, and then I remember what a big deal it was to have stock cars here. I was bummed out I wasn't here for the first test. I really wanted to be here for that. But being here for the first race, seeing the crowd, knowing that no other race had been run here, other than the Indy 500, to me I still have those memories of how big it is that we are here and how special it is.
I just finished with Chevy giving rides, pulling out there on the track. I remember as a kid before I was racing NASCAR coming over here and how difficult it was to get out on that track. They just don't let anybody out on it. It's sort of that prestige that comes around this place.
To me, I still have those. I still have those memories of that. I don't know if everybody does. But I think probably more than anything, it's just the history of racing here at this track. You look at who has won here and you definitely are in an elite group of drivers and names. I think that definitely adds to the prestige and the importance of winning this race.
Q. Looking between now and Richmond, do you expect to see a lot of desperation from some of the guys, there may be more fuel mileage gambles than we've ever seen?
JEFF GORDON: When we get to this point in the season, I'm always interested in the thought process of the competitors and the media because we do everything we can every weekend to try to win. I hear where you're coming from. I don't disagree with that. It's risk versus reward.
Right now if you're outside the Chase or you don't think you have a shot at it, especially with the wins now, I think that definitely adds another element to it to take more risk. But if you're 10 laps short, that's not risk, that's stupidity. So that might be what you do. You go to that level of almost being stupid risky and it could pay off if the cautions come enough, if you find a way, some miraculous way to make up that fuel mileage, then go for it.
That is not something we would do. That's what I'm saying. To me it's risk versus reward. The further back you get in the points, the more risky you can get.
But we're all pushing the limits to try to win every weekend. Everybody is. Those guys that have not won yet this year, they're doing the same thing.
So yeah, I mean, I guess if you have nothing to lose, then you could. But I'll be curious to see how people handle it.
I still think that there are plenty of teams out there that can win one or two races that are outside the top 10 in points that can get themselves in that way without doing it that way.
Q. Because of that, do you expect Richmond may end up being a last-chance slugfest?
JEFF GORDON: I'm not every driver out there. I only know how we would go out there. We would put the fastest racecar out there, and if it came down to taking a little more risk, then we would do it. Would I want to spin a guy out on the last lap to get the win? Depends on who I was racing and what kind of history I had with him and what kind of position I had with him (smiling).
I wouldn't do that to just anybody.
Q. What do you contribute the parity to in the series?
JEFF GORDON: Interesting question. I look at early in the season, the Roush cars were extremely strong, especially Carl. I felt like the Hendrick cars were off a bit. I felt like we've caught up. I think we've paid attention to what we're seeing in the garage area, worked hard at making improvements aerodynamically. I think that's gotten us closer to them. I think some other teams have done the same thing. I think the Childress teams have started off strong and have been able to maintain. Then you look at Gibbs. I feel like they've been kind of up and down, up and down. I really thought that this is the year that Carl was just going to dominate. But sometimes when you start the season off strong, it can work against you because it's hard to maintain that. And the teams, whatever you learned over the off-season, they get to see it. This is the only form of motorsports I know of that they lay your shocks out. After you win a race, two weeks later, they lay your shocks out on the table and say to the competition, This is what they had. When you're parked in next to one another in the garage area, you see what other teams are doing, watch them go through inspection. You see the areas that NASCAR is focused on, the areas they're talking to the team about. When a team is running good, you pay attention to those things and go to work on them. Sometimes you find what they found.
So this year seems to be one of those years where nobody seems to just be taking off with it. But I really think when the Chase comes around, you're going to see somebody have a little bit more domination. It just seems like it happens every year. When it comes time, the best teams just bring out their best stuff and rise to the occasion.
Q. (Question regarding parity.) JEFF GORDON: You never say never. I mean, we've seen what Jimmie Johnson has done. He's dominated, and that's with this new car. This new car to me really equaled the field out with the how the templates work, how they scrutinize the rules on this car. It's really put us into a tighter box, which to me has made the competition a lot closer. Because passing is such a tough thing to do, if somebody catches a caution at the right time, gets themself track position, they can win a race. So to me it doesn't seem like with those factors that somebody would be able to dominate, but yet we still see it. I think that's when you got to look at personnel, the driver/crew chief combination, personalities clicking and working together, then the team rallies behind that. It really comes down to the people that make the dominance more so than just the racecar. I still think it's possible, but I'll be curious to see how the second half of the season goes.
Q. (Question regarding Carl Edwards.)
JEFF GORDON: Well, like I said, early in the season, I thought these guys were going to go on a tear and be unbelievable. Carl is a great driver, so you know if you put him in a strong car, he has the ability to dominate. There's a few guys in this sport that are capable of doing that. It just seems like whatever dominance they had, the competition has caught up a little bit. So they haven't shown it as much recently.
But this is a big event. You're going to see that come back into play here. Just seems like here, when we get here to Indianapolis, the teams that are capable of taking it to that next level seem to always find a little bit more. So I wouldn't be surprised to see them very strong this weekend. But for the rest of the season, when I look out at it, I still think they're a real major threat for the championship. But I don't know if they're going to do it in as dominant of a fashion as I thought they were earlier in the season.
Q. Carl has been in the news a lot lately because he hasn't decided where he's going next year.
JEFF GORDON: I tell you what, I think that's a big factor. I think, you know, whether or not he's staying or going, it's a big distraction, a lot on his mind. I think it's unfortunate in some ways because I think this is the best year I've seen Carl have with a team and a car capable of winning the championship, if those things are all playing out... Let's say he's going somewhere else, they're done. I just don't see them winning the championship knowing that they're leaving. I might be wrong. But if he stays, it might have just been a blip and then get back on track. So I think that's definitely playing a factor. I'm not saying that just for Carl. It would with anybody. Anybody that's going through a contract renegotiation year, things are up in the air, it's always going to be a distraction.
I feel like it's one thing with Jimmie Johnson, with myself, with certain drivers, it's been very comforting to know you're in a secure position, where you want to be, you don't want to go anywhere else, it allows those discussions to take place without really distracting you because they're really pretty easy decisions. It allows you to just stay focused on your team, what you're doing as a driver.
Q. Are you surprised it's gone this long and he hasn't made a decision yet?
JEFF GORDON: I'm not surprised. I spoke to Carl years ago when he stayed with Roush. We talked to him, as he talked to every team. I saw his negotiating tactics at that time. It's not surprising to me (smiling).
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thank you so much.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you.
By: team chevy