JEFF GORDON, TEAM CHEVY DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 MONTE CARLO SS and four-time NASCAR Cup champion, met with media after the final practice session to discuss the 2007 season, the Impala SS Car of Tomorrow, and his impending fatherhood among other ...
JEFF GORDON, TEAM CHEVY DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 MONTE CARLO SS and four-time NASCAR Cup champion, met with media after the final practice session to discuss the 2007 season, the Impala SS Car of Tomorrow, and his impending fatherhood among other things.
WHAT ARE YOU THOUGHTS ON THE THREE DAY TEST SESSION AND ON GOING FOR YOUR FOURTH DAYTONA 500 VICTORY NEXT MONTH? "It was a good test. We've gotten a lot of good information. Three days is a long time here at Daytona. It's just a very time-consuming type of test and obviously there is a lot on the line. I'm very happy with the results of the new car that we built as well as our Shootout car - that was the car that we had all of last year. The speeds were pretty good. We made a couple of qualifying runs. The wind really picked up today so it's kind of hard to really figure out where you're going to fall with the guys who were here last week and the guys that are here this week, but I felt like we were one of the best here this week. And from what we heard from last week, we were pretty comparable to some of the faster guys there too, so I'm pretty happy."
I HEARD YOU GAVE TONY STEWART A RUN FOR HIS MONEY ON CLIMBING FENCES DOWN HERE. WOULD YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT? "Yeah (laughs). We got locked in the garage area the other night. I was doing an interview and (PR representative Jon) Edwards said, 'Now you're going to be able to get us out of here, right?' And then we left the interview room and we were locked in. Nobody had a key to any of the locks. And I was running late for another interview and so I finally had to jump the fence. It was pretty ugly (laugher)."
JEFF BURTON TALKED ABOUT THE UNCERTAINY OF THE CAR OF TOMORROW BECAUSE OF WHERE IT IS IN THE APPROVAL PROCESS. BECAUSE NOTHING HAS BEEN APPROVED YET, THERE IS A LOT OF ANXIETY IN THE GARAGE. DO YOU SENSE THAT? "Yeah. I think if it was up to the teams and drivers and crew chiefs, we would like to see this car thoroughly tested more this year. I think we recognize now how serious NASCAR is about this car and that it's definitely coming. We all would like to be just starting out the season in 2008 and not run it at all in 2007. There is a long list of reasons why I think we're in favor of that. You've got new teams coming into this series that are having to build two cars and one that's going to be obsolete next year. I think that creates its own challenges - not to mention just every team out there having to build two cars. It's kind of crazy. From what testing I've done with the car, I haven't seen where it's offering up what they're hoping for. That's good and bad because we are going to run 16 or 17 races this year, or 14, or whatever it is, hopefully if we need to make some big changes to that car, hopefully we can do it before we start 2008. So that's the positive side of it. Through the approval side of it, I feel like Hendrick Motorsports is probably in better shape than anybody else out there. But even so, it took us a long time to get our first chassis approved. And to get those cars built, it just takes an awful lot to go through the off-season and really try to change your focus from preparing for the Daytona 500 and then the California race and Vegas race too. Now we've got to build a lot of Car of Tomorrows. I'm just not a big fan of the way the car looks. Some of that relates to performance and some of it doesn't. If the car gets on the race track and we put on an awesome race, NASCAR is going to look like heroes. But up until that point, it's easy to criticize that car for many reasons."
DID YOU HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO DRAFT WITH MONTOYA SINCE YOU'VE BEEN HERE? IF SO, COULD YOU COMMENT ON WHERE HE IS IN THE LEARNING CURVE. IF YOU DIDN'T, DID YOU STAY AWAY FROM HIM ON PURPOSE? "Believe it or not, I deliberately tried to draft with him to evaluate his progress. Unfortunately he was behind me and not beside me or in front of me. He gave me a big push one time and I took the lead in the draft, so I was happy about that. But the one thing I've learned about Juan is he is extremely talented and he's a very fast learner and he's extremely competitive. He brings a lot to that team. I think you're going to see that team be forced to step up and be motivated to step up in ways that they never have before. And so, obviously, in this sport, you've got to have the car behind you in order to do it. But he brings a lot to the table and there is only so much that you can learn in draft practice. Until you get out there with a group of cars and you get into those races, and I don't care how much you've raced around the world or how talented you are, drafting takes experience and laps. But I think of any guy who is going to come into this sport, he is going to pick it up fast and do it well, I think Juan is at the top of the list."
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR IMPENDING FATHERHOOD. HOW MUCH THOUGHT HAVE YOU GIVEN TO HOW MUCH THIS MIGHT CHANGE YOUR LIFE AND ALSO YOUR CAREER - GIVEN THE SCHEDULE YOUR WORK IN AND EVERYTHING? "No doubt. There will be adjustments that will have to be made with scheduling and things like that. Obviously, coming up June and July, I'm keeping my schedule fairly open so I can be prepared for the month after that to spend as much time as I can with Ingrid and the baby, and then assess it from that point on as to how we structure everything because racing is a priority and I've made commitments there that I plan to live up to. As far as what I'm going to do on the race track and being competitive, once I put that helmet on and I flip that switch, there is really nothing that's on my mind that is going to change my competitiveness and wanting to win on the race track. It's not so much about that I think, as about the responsibilities and the sleepless nights and some of those things. I'm just going to be like any other father and do those things and do what I can and try to do the best that I can at my job.'
ARE YOU GOING TO CHANGE DIAPERS? "Of course I will. I'm going to be an involved parent, for sure. It might not be like that if I were 21 or 22, but I'm 35 and I'm extremely excited and it's something that we've actually planned and looked forward to. It didn't take as long as what we thought (laughs). When the wedding day came, so did that (laughs). But it's something I can't wait for and something I've wanted for a long time. I've found the right person at the right time in my life for that to be able to happen. So you make the most of it."
YOU FATHER SAID YOU WOULD PROBABLY WANT YOUR CHILD TO SEE YOU PERFORMING "I think it's something Ingrid and I have talked about. I think a lot of fathers in this garage area are proud of what they've accomplished and where they're at, and for their children not to really be able to see that and be a part of that would be taking something away from then. I hope I can stay in this sport and be competitive long enough for them to get an appreciation of what it is that I've done for all these years to help provide the life that they're going to have. Maybe if they're interested in racing as well, it could come from that. But until that day comes, I don't really know what to expect. Like anybody else, you just try to be as prepared as possible, but there's no way you can really be prepared. I'm going into it with an open mind and with excitement. I'm reading as many books as I can and talking to as many other parents as possible and we'll see what happens. But I think it can go either way. You can have a child and wrap yourself up in that child and say now everything makes sense and everything else just gets put aside. Or, you can be excited and be so encouraged about life and how happy you are in life and it can actually make you better in your job. So, I have no idea until that time."
KURT BUSCH SAID HE LIKES EVERYTHING ABOUT THE CAR OF TOMORROW. THEY ARE TESTING IT TODAY OVER AT PENSKE HERE AT THE TRACK. WHAT IS ONE THING YOU COULD CHANGE ABOUT IT IF YOU COULD? "Well, just for instance, they're allowing us to have bump stops on the Car of Tomorrow. They don't allow us to have bump stops on our current car, which I think is a mistake. I think we should have bump stops on the current car. I heard they went to Iowa with the Car of Tomorrow and are basically riding on skid pads and dug Rusty's race track up. They just dug grooves in it because they're riding the car on the skid pad basically to set the height of the car so that you don't wear down the splitter. That's just one thing. When I tested the car at Michigan, it was punching a huge hole so down the straightaway you have all this turbulence and you really suck up to the car in front of you. But as soon as you go into the corner, if you're not five-wide trying to find some clean air to your car, you're along for the ride. So to not even be able to enter into the corner behind the other car, I think it is going to create some real challenges. When we're not at a Michigan that has five different grooves - I didn't to the test at Talladega; I think the wing and the splitter and some of those technologies and some of the safety features of that car are definitely positives. But I don't know if they are all fully complimenting one another right now. This big greenhouse and big roof is great for the tall guys, when you're in the car, but I haven't found the car any easier to get in and out of. And I'm a little guy. And I'm closer to the door bars on the left side than I am in my current car. It does have energy absorbent material that backs that up, which is good, but if we're closer to the door bars, are we just canceling out the advantages that we have there with the energy absorbent materials? I can just go on and on. If you get an engineer in here to talk about the engineering of that car, they can give you a long list. I hope more than anything that the car performs well and we put great racing on and that the fans love it and the sponsors love it and the ratings go up. I hope for that. But based on asses sing it right now, I can just tell you that I'm not thrilled about it. I'm glad Kurt is though."
CAN YOU GIVE US AN OVERVIEW OF WHAT YOU SAW IN TESTING? WERE THE TOYOTA'S FAST? "I guess the cars that I thought would be quick were quick. The No. 38 was fast. The 11 car was fast. If anything I felt like the Toyotas weren't as fast as I thought that they would be. But I'm hearing that they have truck motors in the cars right now; that maybe only Michael Waltrip has an actual race motor or car motor. So there are a lot of unknowns there. I can remember coming down here and Dodge sandbagging until we got here. So you never know what's going to happen here. So I thought it was fairly typical other than that. The Ganassi cars ran stronger than I've seen them run in the last couple of restrictor plate races. So that was an improvement there. Our restrictor plate program has been pretty strong the last several years. Jimmie came down here and tested last week and was one of the fastest cars. So that certainly has us encouraged to come here and luckily when we got here we noticed the same things. What you unload with, you can pick up a very small amount from the time you unload to the time you leave here. You can play around with all those little things but it seems like nothing is really that big thing that you're hoping to find. And so it was pretty standard where had some cool things on our list to try (like) some aero and some mechanical to try to make the car go through the corner better. A lot of it is just attitude of the car and the aerodynamics - trying to figure out what gets that spoiler out of the air the most within the rules. That's pretty much what we were all here doing and that's pretty standard for us. And of course, we also had the drafting practice. This is a different right side tire than what we've had here before. It's really hard. We've seen a little bit of blistering on the inside of that tire - not so much today because it was cooler. Yesterday we saw that. And so we were just trying to get the car use the tires well and have some grip. You lose a little grip when the tires are harder. So we were playing around with the aero package and chassis to make sure that w e've got enough downforce and grip and speed at the same time."
DID YOU NOTICE MUCH CHANGE IN THE CHASE BETWEEN 2004 AND 2006 AND WHAT MIGHT THE EXPANSION OF THE CHASE IMPACT THINGS THIS YEAR? "The competition gets greater every year. The team that really can perform well, but not necessarily just dominate, but that has consistency is the one that's going to win. That's the way I felt to be true again this year. The cool thing about the Chase is that when you get into it, everybody feels like they have a shot and can win it. And I felt like that in the first two races we were second and third or second and second and I thought, hey, we've got something for these guys here. And then we had our dnf's and we were out. The whole key is to not have those dnf's during that time and if you do, you had better come back really strong. That's pretty much how it's been every year.
"Anytime you throw more cars in there - obviously if (Tony) Stewart would have been in there last year it would have changed things a little bit. So anytime you add cars it can change it. If your momentum really shifts and changes in the last third of the season and just sneak your way into the Chase, but all of a sudden you've hit on some things and momentum is on your side, you can still win that championship. And from what I'm hearing about some of the things they're going to do with the points, that could really change things as well about who is going to be leading the points when that Chase comes around. We all assume it's the points leader, but I think you'll be surprised."
LOOKING BACK, DID YOU THINK THAT BECOMING A TOP THREE-TITLE CONTENDER WOULD BE A THREE-YEAR PROCESS? WAS THERE A POINT THAT YOU THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO TAKE A LOT LONGER THAN IT DID, OR DID YOU REALLY THINK YOU COULD BE THERE LAST YEAR? "There were points during the season when I thought okay, we're really starting to get there. So I felt like there were moments that we were capable of winning the championship. But I didn't really see it on a consistent basis. So I went into the season really looking at changes to the team and not making the Chase the year before that, we just needed to make some improvements and not set our goals too high, but get ourselves into position to be in the Chase and then be a championship contender this year and hopefully years to come. I feel like last year was a great lesson for us and experience that was much-needed for Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and myself working together and the whole team, really, working under his leadership at the shop and at the race track. And I think now people recognize him as the real deal. He's really taken over as a great leader and has really lived up to the expectations that I felt like he was capable of. And now he's showing other people. So he's got me pretty excited about what's in store for us this year. Knowing that Hendrick Motorsports won a championship last year; that just motivates all the teams just as much to think we can do it again."
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE JIMMIE JOHNSON ABOUT DEFENDING HIS TITLE SINCE YOU WERE THE LAST ONE TO DO IT? "Well, I didn't do it after I won my first one. There are very, very few guys that do it after their first championship and I don't know what that reason is other than it's overwhelming. It's a huge thing to accomplish and you're on Cloud 9 just experiencing everything that comes along just experiencing everything that comes along with being the champion. There are responsibilities that come along with that, that sometimes can be a bit overwhelming. It's so tough to come back and repeat just because your schedule changes and pressure changes and there's just a lot that goes into it. I thought Tony Stewart was going to be more dangerous after he won his second championship than after his first championship because now he's more comfortable and relaxed and getting really set with what works for him in the sport and what it takes to win a championship. I think that's what happened for me in '97. After I won the second one, I was just a little bit more relaxed and understood what was going to be coming at me and we could plan ahead. So that's what I would tell Jimmie. Just try not to let all that overwhelm you and take over your schedule and life and try to really find time to relax and get away and learn to say no. It's the hardest thing to do because you're the champion and you want to do it all and all of a sudden you start getting hit from every direction and it's hard to say no. Sometimes that can really affect your ability to be 100 percent out there."
HAS HE COME TO YOU AND SOUGHT YOUR ADVICE? "We've talked a lot and hung out. Mainly we've just enjoyed the championship so far. We haven't gotten into that. I think if anybody can do it, Jimmie can because he's so grounded. He's got a secure, stable life at home and he's a good person and he's got good people surrounding him at Hendrick Motorsports that can help with those things. But we have not had that conversation. I haven't really felt like it's been needed. He kind of had his own little wake-up call during the off-season. I haven't had to cut in."
THERE SEEM TO BE MANY CHANGES IN STORE WITH NASCAR. IS THERE ANY REASON TO THINK NASCAR IS RUNNING THE RISK OF ALIENATING SOME OF THE CORE FANS? "I think it's risk versus reward like anything else in life. They took big risk changing to the Chase format and I think it's turned out to be a pretty positive thing for the sport. It's nice when you're not afraid to take risk, but sometimes you can go too far with it. There is a lot of change this year. I don't think that's going to be the case. I think there is more excitement in curiosity that's going to bring maybe more fans, but who knows? They are taking some risks right now. This Car of Tomorrow is a big risk. We all hope it pays off because we're all in this thing together and we're all one big team. Sometimes we're not always on the same page and sometimes we are, but at the end of the day, we're really and truly all in it together. And we're all hoping it's going to be something that's going to help the sport grow in the future."
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT BENNY PARSONS? "I'm having a hard time talking about it because I'm still blown away. Most of us thought, okay, he's cancer-free and he's going to be back and be Benny. And for that to happen so suddenly, it's really heartbreaking. Benny has just been one of those solid people - not just to me, but to everybody. I don't think I've ever heard anybody say a bad thing about Benny Parsons. He's added a lot to the sport in what he did on the race track and what he's done in the broadcast booth and around the sport. The guy, every weekend, would just walk through the garage and talk to just about every driver and crew chief and car owner and crew member and I think that said a lot about what type of person he was. He was somebody that was really good to me early on in my career --- I don't even know if I was in the Cup series at the time. He had moved into a new house and had a lot of friends and people over. Somehow I got on that list and found myself hanging out at Benny's and it was really a cool thing. I think we both liked Vegas games (like) Blackjack and Craps and we kind of hit it off with that. I'll never forget one day when he said, "You've got to come over to my house. You're missing out on something. I want you to meet this guy and he gives these amazing massages and you need to get a massage. So I went to Benny's house and got a massage (laughs). It was a little strange, but it turned me into somebody that recognizes how important massages are. And Benny was the guy who kind of introduced me to that; and I think he felt like maybe earlier in his career he should have gotten introduced to massages, so he was kind of helping me out. So that was just one of many funny stories with Benny and what a great, generous person he was."
-credit: gm racing