Aaron's 499 - Talladega Superspeedway
Behind the Hauler Chat with Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont/Pepsi Monte Carlo SS
HOW WILL THE SOFT BUMPERS AFFECT THE RACE? "I think it's going to make guys think a little bit more about it especially the first half to three-quarters of the race. I think there's going to be times when you're going to have to use it a little bit. As long as we're not out there pounding on one another, I think it's a good thing. I think in the closing laps you're going to see guys using their front bumper no matter what. They're not going to care about overheating and things like that. It's going to be up to NASCAR to monitor from there."
HOW MUCH ARE YOU WILLING TO USE THAT FRONT BUMPER? "I never really wanted to use it to begin with. You only use it in desperate times or measures. It's a lot easier to pass when you bump draft so it makes it a little bit more challenging. Track position is probably going to be a little more this time than in the past. Like I said, I think you're still going to see some guys using it especially in the closing laps. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win the race."
BEFORE THE SOFT BUMPERS, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE TYPE OF RACING OUT THERE? "Pretty out of control. A lot of times I don't realize how fast you're running out there and how far you take things. There were times when you're getting hit extremely hard. Sometimes you're in the sandwich in between. You're touching the guy in front of you and the guy's running into the back of you from behind and you basically have no control of the car. I think it's something that needed to happen and needed to be addressed. I hope what NASCAR has done is going to be effective."
ARE THE SOFT BUMPERS THE VETERAN'S RESPONSE TO THE YOUNGER GUYS TO START DOING THINGS THE RIGHT WAY? "I think it's a response of being smart. It doesn't make sense if you're bump drafting and basically treating it like bumper cars at 195 miles an hour in a pack of 30 to 40 cars. I just don't think that makes any sense at all. I think it's a response of NASCAR starting to recognize that it's starting to get out of control."
WERE THE YOUNGER GUYS THE ONES MOSTLY DOING THIS? "What's Dale Jr.? Is he a veteran or is he a young guy? I would say that he probably did it as much or more than anybody. It evolves, everybody starts doing it. I didn't take it to extremes like some guys did but I found myself doing it more and more and more as well. We're all competitors out there. If that's an advantage then you're going to use it."
ON DALE EARNHARDT JR. AND BUMP DRAFTING: "I think he was the first guy that had a car fast enough to bump somebody. He had a fast car there several years ago. He just could get a run on somebody and if you didn't think you could pass him, he could really loosen 'em up and move them around by getting in the back of them. It really started when we had the roof rails. When we had the roof rails and that different package, that was kind of one of the only ways you could pass then as well. Then once we took those off guys remembered that and we got the cars driving good enough to where you could still do it."
DO YOU SEE GUYS OUT THERE THAT ARE MAD RUNNING UNDER THESE TYPES OF DRAFT CONDITIONS THAT YOU TRY TO STAY AWAY FROM? "No, I don't really notice that. I think that you maybe see guys get a little frustrated from lack of patience or they feel like they're running out of time or they're not in the position they want to be in. I don't think that's a whole lot different that what we see most places except for here you're at the mercy of the draft and you don't have as much control over it."
AFTER PRACTICE DO YOU SEE A DOMINANT TEAM HERE? "To me Talladega has always been the equalizer. Daytona doesn't necessarily mean what you're going to see here at Talladega. I think there are so many guys that can win this race. I think it's one of things that makes this race track so exciting from a competitor stand point and from the stands and everybody watching. I can't say that I see anybody with a distinct advantage. I feel really good about how our car is running and the speed that we have. I think your typical guys are going to run up front. Guys that are good in the draft and have good cars are going to rise to the occasion."
IS THIS TRACK MORE FORGIVING THAN DAYTONA? "It's more forgiving in the track being wider in general and less handling becomes an issue. It just puts us in bigger, tighter packs which can put us in the position to make more mistakes."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN RACING WITH DALE EARNHARDT? "I think it's pretty cool to see that black and silver car out there. It's got an 8 on it. It brings back a lot of memories. I learned a lot from Dale especially here. He was just the master of the draft and doing things long before a lot of other guys using the air and the cars around them. I feel like many, many of my wins on the restrictor plate tracks have come because of what I have learned by racing with Dale. There's no bigger thrill than finishing ahead of him at a place like this. I had the pleasure to be able to do that. I'm hoping to have the same results with the black car right now. I know he's (Dale Jr.) going to be one of the tough guys to beat out there."
HOW MUCH WERE GUYS TESTING THE LIMITS OF THE SOFT BUMPER IN PRACTICE? "I felt guys being really careful. I had somebody barely touch me. I barely touched one guy one time. Sometimes you can't prevent it. There's a difference when you got a run on a guy and you just don't check up and run into him as to when you're right there on his bumper and you just barely touch him. I think most guys are being pretty careful. At least I didn't see it or feel guys pushing the limits of it."
WILL THE AVERAGE OBSERVER BE ABLE TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE WITH SOFT BUMPERS DURING THE RACE? "No. I think it's going to be just as exciting (with) four and five wide and big packs. Maybe even more so. I think the bump drafting made it easier to pass so I think you can maybe see some guys do things before that they won't be able to do now. We'll probably even be in tighter packs."
ON ADJUSTMENTS JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS MADE TO HIS RESTRICTOR PLATE DRIVING STYLE: "I've seen him really mature on the restrictor plate tracks a lot overall in the years he has been racing. I feel like he was maybe a little bit too hard on himself and I thought the media was a little bit hard on him as well on some things. He got caught in some incidents, some maybe he could have prevented but some he couldn't have. I think it was just the fact that he was in them more than one occasion that put him under the microscope. It looks a lot easier than it is out there. You really just have to watch your mirrors. I think if Jimmie learned anything it's to have enough patience to give up a spot or two at a particular time in the race and know when to really be that aggressive and really watch your mirrors more and more and anticipate those things happening. I think his run at Daytona proved that."
DOES ALL OF THIS JUST COME FROM LEARNING? "I think so. You learn from your mistakes. You just try to get better and better every time you're on the race track no matter where you're at."
HOW MUCH HAS DARLINGTON CHANGED NOW THAT THE RACE IS UNDER THE LIGHTS? "It's changed a little bit. Track conditions definitely suit it better. That track is so slick during the day anyway. I think at night it's a little bit faster with a little bit more grip. The only thing that's really changed at Darlington is our set-ups and downforce on the cars. We've gotten the cars working a lot better. Other than that, it's just the same old good Darlington."
IS THERE AN ADVANTAGE THIS WEEKEND AS THE DEFENDING RACE CHAMPION? "No real advantage other than that our restrictor plate program is really strong. I think all of us at Hendrick Motorsports feel really good about the power that we're making, our bodies and just the effort that we're able to put out and see the results here at the restrictor plate tracks at Daytona and Talladega. I just feel good because my car is running good. I don't think what we did in the past really is an indication of what kind of confidence we carry here."
TYPICALLY YOU'VE HAD A VICTORY BY THIS POINT IN THE SEASON FOR EVERY YEAR IN THE LAST DECADE. WHAT'S THE CHALLENGES IN NOT HAVING A WIN YET THIS SEASON FOR SOMEONE WHO IS USED TO WINNING SO MUCH? "I'm not concerned about it now. If we get to July or August, I might be concerned because I know what kind of heat would be coming down on me from you guys (the media). It's something that is on your mind. You're trying to win every race everywhere you go. The Chase changes things a little bit because you're real goal is to be in the Chase. We don't need to win any races right now but we need to win those last 10 (races). As far as I'm concerned, all we're doing right now is getting ourselves prepared to be in the Chase and to be a challenger for the championship. We're not there yet. I've admitted it before. It's a work in progress and we're working really, really hard at trying to figure out how we can do better at the majority of the 1.5-mile tracks but we're a little disappointed in our run at Phoenix last week too. Other than that, our team is better, stronger, our pit crew, everything is better. It's got me very excited about when we do get things going. Once we get the performance of the car working for us, we're going to be really tough to beat."
HOW MUCH OF AN ADJUSTMENT IS IT FOR SOMEONE WHO WON SO MUCH AND DOMINATED TO NOT PUT AS MUCH EMPHASIS ON WINS RIGHT NOW? "I appreciate the wins a lot more now and don't expect them. You've got to work really hard to get them. It doesn't matter what you did in the past. That doesn't guarantee anything. The thing that I carry around with those wins is that I know that we still can win. I know what I'm capable of and our team is capable of. Our teammates help us understand that as well. When those guys are running good or however they're running, it allows us to gather information to still keep that confidence up that we're going to win some races. Bristol we had a bit of a missed opportunity there, same at Martinsville. We have road courses coming up. There are tracks that we can win at but I don't want to be just thinking about those tracks. I want to win at other tracks as well."
ARE YOU CONCERNED YOUR LAST WINS DON'T REPRESENT A DIVERSITY OF TRACKS? "I agree. It's definitely something that is on our minds for the Chase. Absolutely."
ON RETURNING HERE DURING THE CHASE AND HOW TRACK RESURFACING WILL AFFECT THE RACE: "You can run from the white line, yellow line, whatever line it is here, all the way to the wall here as it is. I think it will be fantastic. I'm curious to see how they take care of some of the bumps that we deal with now. Some of our set-ups we have to adjust for that. I think you're still going to see great racing. It will be nice to have a smooth race track here. I look forward to it as long as they don't change anything. I think it'd be a huge mistake for them to change anything on the race track as far as banking and variable banking and all that stuff. It's just not necessary here."
IS IT FAIR THAT KYLE BUSCH MAY NOT BE CUT ANY SLACK BECAUSE OF WHO HIS BROTHER IS? "That probably adds to it a little bit having the name Busch. It probably also helped him in a lot of ways. He's a great kid. He's extremely aggressive and very passionate about what he does. Sometimes his emotions get the best of him. You've got to remember how old he is. He's not even 21 yet. He's going to go through that phase and learn a lot. He's got pressure on him. He's got a tremendous amount of talent. He has a great team there. He should be excited about the way things are going and not get too caught up in all the hoopla that happens outside the race car."
ON HIMSELF BEING THAT YOUNG ONCE: "I wasn't quite that young. I was 21 when I came into Cup, turned 22 that year. I'm not saying that's a lot older but a year makes a big difference in this series. He's got a different personality than I do. He's just got to learn how to make the most of that personality and his talents. I think a lot of times when you're young you're so under the microscope, everybody is coming down on you and the whole world is watching and it's hard for you to take all that in at times and it only makes it tougher for yourself."
ON NASCAR EFFORTS ON SAFETY AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVING: "A little bit of it is safety. Trust me, when we were out there before we'd rarely think about safety. We'd think about speed and going fast and winning races. That's the difference. The cars grip better, they're faster, more horsepower. Everything is just faster. When you're younger, you're more aggressive. When I came in in '93, if you push that hard you wreck. You had to do the opposite. In '93 and '94, it was all about not pushing too hard and conserving and running a pace you were comfortable with. You get half way through the race then you start getting yourself in position. Now it's just wide open from lap one to pretty much the last lap. Anytime you're that aggressive you're going to make mistakes."
WHAT WAS THE ISSUE WITH YOUR CAR IN TECH? "The same issues we always have any time we come to a restrictor plate track. Aerodynamics are so important. We just push the limits everywhere we can. There were just a few little issues with the front bumper that they didn't like in the template. We didn't want to fix it so we tried to massage it. We wanted to try it on a day like today (Friday) because it's impound. Had we come into this race where we just had to go out and make qualifying runs, no impound, we would fix those things a lot sooner."
ON HOW KYLE BUSCH HANDLED THINGS WITH CASEY MEARS AFTER PHOENIX: "I don't think it's age as much as it is experience and respect. When you're new to the sport, guys don't respect you as much. If you're young like Kyle is and making a lot of aggressive moves, then those things are only going to earn you less respect. He's got a tremendous amount of talent. I think everybody respects his talent. I think being Kurt's brother doesn't always help things. I think Kurt helped him in a lot of areas and put him under a little bit more of a microscope at times too. I think he handles himself well. Sometimes I think he's a little bit over critical and defensive when those things come down on him."
ON CALLING DRIVERS YOU'VE HAD AN INCIDENT WITH DURING A RACE: "Personally I don't think that issue (with Kyle Busch and Casey Mears) was enough to call somebody on. He didn't wreck Casey. He didn't push Casey. The red flag came out and he was mad. I don't know. I don't think there was anything really to talk about. I think maybe he could to talk to him so nothing transpired in the future. I don't think Casey is necessarily mad at him so why would he call Casey."
IS IT HARDER TO BE VOCAL ABOUT ISSUES ON THE TRACK WHEN YOU ARE YOUNG? "Sometimes you're a little bit intimidated by that factor. Again depending on the situation, a lot of times I'd go see them first thing when I got to the race track or sometime during the weekend. Rarely did I ever call anybody. I don't have their number to begin with. I guess you could track it down. I probably call more guys now than I ever did then. It might be a good or bad thing. I don't know."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING A MODEL FOR BEHAVIOR IN THE GARAGE: "I hope they don't use Bristol as that model (laughs). It's all about your personality. I'm pretty calm and low key but I can get fired up too. Everybody has to let their personality rise to the occasion good or bad. Sometimes your emotions get the best of you. It happens to all of us. I don't think you should be ashamed of that. You've got to be you yet you know there are limits out there to how much of you you can add."