JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS, TALKS WITH MEDIA ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT SR., TONY STEWART'S COMMENTS, RACING AT TALLADEGA AND MORE: ON HIS BUSY WEEK SINCE WINNING AT PHOENIX: '"It's been busy. We went straight to Sonoma ...
JEFF GORDON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS, TALKS WITH MEDIA ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT SR., TONY STEWART'S COMMENTS, RACING AT TALLADEGA AND MORE:
ON HIS BUSY WEEK SINCE WINNING AT PHOENIX: '"It's been busy. We went straight to Sonoma after the win and got to cook for the media, which was pretty unusual. We talked about fatherhood coming up and also talked about wine. And then to get to come here and continue talking about the 50th running of the Daytona 500 and the Jeff Gordon Foundation and so it's been a great week. Luckily, I won; because as much as I've been talking this week, had I not won, they would have asked me when I was going to get my first win (of the season), so its been a very fun and positive week."
WITH ALL THAT HAS BEEN GOING ON, ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE TIME TO PREPARE FOR THE RACE THIS WEEKEND? "Yeah, that's the one thing about Talladega. When you come here, the first two days are pretty easy. The guys had to be here early this morning and go through a hectic inspection. But on Sunday is when my job really starts up. To that point, hopefully it's going to be pretty uneventful."
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE REACTION OF SOME OF THE EARNHARDT FANS LAST WEEK? WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN IF YOU WIN AGAIN THIS WEEK? "Well, I wasn't surprised. Dale Junior helped me out a lot with that, that's for sure. But I knew why I wanted to do it and that's all that really mattered. I knew there would be people who took it the right way and some who would take it the wrong way. And those are the people that I'm not going to be able to make happy no matter what I do. And so, I thought all in all, it really worked just the way that I hoped it would - that it would be a tribute and an honor to Dale (Earnhardt Sr) and I felt like it definitely did. So I'm glad that we did it. I had questioned it a couple of times - just because I was afraid of rubbing some people the wrong way. But I'm so happy that we did do it. It turned out great.
"And you know what? Nothing would make me happier or more excited than to see the reaction of the fans here by doing it (winning) this week. Dale owned this place. And we've had success here as well. Getting booed over the last several years is something that I've become accustomed to. That would be fine by me. I'd love to do it. We've been having a great year. Just like we were not sure when that #76 (win) would come, we don't know when or if that next win is going to come either."
ON DALE EARNHARDT JR'S COMMENT ABOUT NOT THROWING BEER CANS, BUT THROWING TOILET PAPER INSTEAD? "Sounds to me like there's going to be plenty of toilet paper being thrown (laughter) whether I win or not. But he's got a huge fan base here and he carries a lot of weight with the messages to the fans. We've been here, me and him, battling, where they gave one to me and then the fans reacted and threw a lot of cans out there. It can be very dangerous. That's the message that needs to get out there. (It's a danger) not just to the cars going around there, but to the fans in the stands that don't make it to the fence or over the fence. I don't think it's a smart thing to do - no matter what happens - after the race."
A BEER CAN SHOWER SEEMS TO BE WHAT THEY DO HERE "Oh, I got some of that at Phoenix. If they do that at Phoenix, you can only imagine what they do here at Talladega. The fans are entitled to their opinion and their reaction and their passion and that's what makes them NASCAR fans. And so, you've got to understand they're going to react some way if it happens."
HAVE YOU PERFECTED YOUR BURNOUT TO TAKE CARE OF AN EXTRA AMOUNT OF BEER CANS UNDER THE CAR? "No, I think I showed last weekend that burnouts and me really don't match up too well (laughs). They are pretty weak burnouts. When you win, and you're having a good time, it doesn't matter how good your burnout it. It's such a thrill. To get into victory lane this past weekend was just incredible. It felt great. I didn't care how good or bad the burnout was. It's just being able to celebrate with that team and know how hard we'd worked to get there. It was worth every bit of it."
ON TONY STEWART'S REMARKS ABOUT BOGUS CAUTIONS AND PRO WRESTLING "I think Tony is just bringing more heat on himself. If he wants to stay away from controversy and the media center after a race, then he might want to be careful what you say on Tuesday. I can understand why there can be a frustration. He's been in a position to win a lot of races this year and it just hasn't happened. And there have been some cautions that have been questionable to a lot of us out there. But never once did I ever think that NASCAR was trying to fix the race or change the outcome of the race. A lot of times, there may be debris out there and they don't want to call a caution because they're trying to get a confirmation about what the debris is. There was a large plastic bag out there (at Phoenix) for a number of laps. I think they were hoping to maybe see it go away. And it didn't, so they threw the caution. We've been talking about debris cautions for years in this sport.
"They usually fall in the right time for some people and not for others. And so somebody is going to be happy about it and somebody is not going to be happy about it. I'm not sure where Tony is coming from in all that. I know it's gotten him a lot of heat and he had an early morning this morning (6 a.m. meeting with NASCAR officials). That was one thing that was misquoted about me - or maybe it was the way I said it last week. Maybe it didn't come out the right way. But I said if Tony wasn't here, it would be a huge loss for the sport - not for Tony - because he's a phenomenal race car driver with a great team. He's like the Rosie O'Donnell right now (laughter) of NASCAR. Controversy is something he's been used to and it brings quite a bit of flair to the sport."
TONY STEWART SAID HE ENJOYED BATTLING WITH YOU AT PHOENIX LAST WEEK AND THAT'S WHAT HE LOVES ABOUT THE SPORT "I didn't take that as him being upset with me. From the reports I got, that wasn't the case. He's a very competitive guy and that's understandable and I think there are some frustrations about some other things that have happened and I'm not sure what those are. We obviously found out on Tuesday that some of the cautions have frustrated him."
DO YOU WANT NASCAR TO HESTITATE ANY MORE THAN THEY DO NOW WHEN THROWING A CAUTION? "What we always want is consistency. If you're going to throw a caution for debris, throw it as soon as it's there. That's what I've seen a little bit of is inconsistency. Sometimes they throw it right away. Sometimes they don't. Unless you're sitting up there in that tower and you are them, it's a lot easier for all of us at home watching on TV or for us in the cars as competitors to say we would have done it this way or that way. Until you're the one controlling the race, it's hard for us to really judge them. They've got a tough job on so many levels. I'm not always thrilled with the way they do things. I mean, be honest. I also know they have a very tough job and you're not going to please everybody."
DOES YOUR TEAM MOMENTUM TRANSLATE RIGHT OVER TO THE PLATE TRACKS? "I think our plate program is strong and our team is strong and this is a good track for us. When I left Phoenix and Texas - Texas, leading the most laps and Phoenix, winning the race - I felt like we can win anywhere. And that's a great momentum-builder and confidence-builder for this race team and I hope we can keep our strong runs alive and kicking. That doesn't necessarily mean we're going to win this weekend, but I think we're going to run well and have a shot at it."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN THIS WEEKEND AND SURPASS DALE EARNHARDT'S MARK HERE? "That would be pretty ironic because he taught me how to win here. He taught me how to use your mirror and how to use the draft and how to use cars around you. Nobody was better than him. I think I may have beat him one time here and thought it was one of the greatest accomplishments in my career because I watched him just wear guys (down). I can remember being in a race, riding along toward the end, trying to make some moves happen and Dale was nowhere in sight. All of a sudden the checkered flag is waving and I'm like, who won? They're like, Dale. You've got to be kidding me. That guy was nowhere even in the hunt. He was amazing here. To be able to win here meant a lot to me - especially when I raced with him. I just take that along with me and it would be a great victory to be able to do that here. Obviously it would be quite a statement as well to break that record here. But you know what? We waited since last July to try to put a team together and cars together to pull off that 76th win. Who knows how long it's going to take or when it's going to come for that next one."
MORE ON DALE JUNIOR'S COMMENT ABOUT THROWING BEER CANS AFTER THE RACE "Well, I take that as a compliment. The more people boo and throw things at me, the more I realize I've accomplished something that's gotten under their skin and something very meaningful. I'm not asking people to do that. But when it does happen, I hope they don't think I'm taking it the wrong way because I'm not. I think there are some safety issues as to why it shouldn't happen. And it's been incredible through all this to have Dale Junior supporting our efforts. He looks back at times when his dad and I were talking about racing and things off the track and he was there and a part of that and so he knew. I was at DEI years ago, spending some time with Dale talking about some things, when Junior was getting ready to run one of his Busch races. He took me in there to show me the car he was going to be driving and Junior was there and I was giving Senior a hard time because I thought the car was something old that they had pulled out of a barn (laughter). And those memories stick out in Junior's mind and he knows that Dale and I raced one another hard and the fans had their opinions; but that we had a lot of respect for one another."
JUNIOR SEEMS TO HAVE HAD IMPACT ON EARNHARDT FANS THIS WEEK "I don't think that any of those things are any secret. It's that perception and that rivalry among our fans and I think Junior fans and Gordon fans are always going to be rivals. I've had more Earnhardt fans over the last couple of years tell me, 'Hey, I'm always an Earnhardt fan and always will be, but I know how much Dale respected you and I respect you as well.' So, there are those that are going to not be fans. They might not respect me at all, but I also know there are a large group of them that share that type of feeling. Junior has only certainly helped that along. And I don't know why. I didn't ask him to do it and I'm not trying to get Earnhardt fans. I'm just out there doing my thing and racing and I love battling with Junior. I think he's going to be extremely tough this weekend. All those things show out there on and off the race track."
ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE PASS IN THE GRASS BY DALE EARNHARDT, WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THAT WHEN YOU WATCH IT OR WHEN YOU WERE A PART OF THAT? "It's one of many incredible moments and passes that Dale pulled off in the sport and what made him the Intimidator and what made him seven-time champion with all those wins. It's always cool every time you see it. It's amazing. There are not too many guys who could pull that off."
AT YOUR CURRENT RATE OF 3.5 WINS PER SEASON, YOU'LL PASS THE NEXT THREE GUYS IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS. YOU'LL PASS DAVID PEARSON IN ABOUT 8 YEARS. WILL YOU STICK AROUND LONG ENOUGH TO DO IT? "I guarantee I won't be passing David Pearson with 105 wins. No, I hope that I can get above my average and win some more races; I'd love to do that. But I know I don't plan on racing until I'm 45. I've had a great career and I want to keep going as long as I'm healthy and having a good time with a competitive team. But as this sport is changing and with fatherhood around the corner, I don't think I'm going to want to be at that competitive level - or be out there and not be competitive - at that age."
DO YOU THINK TONY STEWART'S COMMENTS HURT THE INTEGRITY OF THE SPORT? "Yeah, a little. I do. Hey, there is nothing wrong with giving your opinion and he's got strong feelings for racing. He's passionate about racing. But this sport thrives on integrity and viewers and fans and it's a trickle-down effect. You've got the people that are watching it. You've got sponsors. You've got people who build your race cars and make up these teams. It's a huge group of people that make this sport. What helps that is the sport being strong; and what can hurt that is the sport's integrity being questioned. It can definitely affect the sport. I do think his comments have affected it in some way. I would imagine that the conversations he had early this morning (with NASCAR officials) were a reminder of that."
NASCAR IS BEING FEATURED ON PRO WRESTLING NEWS NOW AND BY SPORTS COMMENTATORS "You can joke about it all you want but I can tell you that yes, they (NASCAR) wants it to be entertaining. Who wouldn't? Do we want Formula I that's not entertaining at all but yet the integrity of the hard-core racing is there. We don't want that. I don't want that. I want a sport that can compete in America as a great racing series that is very entertaining to the fans. What makes it entertaining is cars that can pass and cars that bump and bang and have these great finishes like we had last weekend like Jimmie (Johnson) and I had at Martinsville. Those things are all what make it entertaining in this sport. And caution flags help make it entertaining as well. It's something that NASCAR tries to balance out - the entertainment side of it as well as the hard-core racing side of it. And sometimes it's a tough balance. But you know what? I don't think the sport would be what it is today if it weren't for that."
-credit: gm racing