2010 NASCAR Pre-season Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Friday news conference transcripts
January 15, 2010
An Interview with Jeff Gordon
DENISE MALOOF: Jeff Gordon is here, everyone. Our four-time series champion, still going one for the thumb, as you were kidding here with Ron a while ago.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, but he just won one last year.
DENISE MALOOF: Any off-season fun to tell us about?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, you know, these days it's all about family vacation and doing things with Ingrid and Ella. I felt like we had a great time, and it always goes by fast. But some great quality family time. Ingrid's family came in from Belgium, and so that was certainly a treat.
We did the Macy's Day Parade in New York for Thanksgiving. That was a lot of fun. Ella had a blast seeing all the balloons.
We went down to the Bahamas and swam with dolphins, and sea lions and stuff in Atlantis. It was all about Ella. It was a good vacation, though, and looking forward to getting the season started.
Throughout all that, Steve and I had a lot of conversations about what we can do better as a team, as individuals, and just dissecting the team down to what can make us better, and I'm really excited about some of the small changes that we're making, some of the directions -- the direction that we're going in. I feel good about it.
Q. Two quick questions: Number one, the Daytona 500 is such a unique race because the outcomes don't always -- the races don't end the way you always expect. You've won it three times, if I'm not mistaken. But there are a lot of guys who never win it or have to wait 20 years to win it, and there's people that you wouldn't expect. Why is the Daytona 500, why does it produce such a variety of winners?
JEFF GORDON: It's a restrictor plate race. I think that pretty much speaks for itself. You know, we've seen the same thing at Talladega. It gives more people the opportunity to win because it equalizes the cars, and drafting is a whole different monster than just trying to figure out the balance at Charlotte Motor Speedway, let's say, or Atlanta, or something like that where the driver of the car and the team play such a vital role in the speed of the car.
Where here, your pit crew has got to get you on and off pit road without making any big mistakes. And even if they do, a caution brings you right back into it. There's not any real pit strategy, so then it just comes down to drafting. While there is definitely some skill in drafting, I think that a lot of times it's just getting shuffled at the right or wrong time and getting the right push. And that can create a unique winner that you wouldn't maybe expect.
Q. And totally unrelated to that, can you talk about your feelings about the France family and what they've accomplished over 60 years and how they built this? Are you amazed at what they've been able to not only build but to sustain?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, when you hear a lot of the stories that went on in the decision-making, it makes you think, wow, these guys were pretty genius, and they were very brave to put themselves out there like that, to build a speedway like this and have the vision for not only here at Daytona, but for the sport in general to be able to grow and move on beyond dirt track races in the southeast and be as big as it has become. It's pretty incredible. I'm certainly thankful for that vision. And not only the vision, you can have a vision but not be able to execute it. They've done a great job visualizing it as well as executing it and turned it into an incredible sport.
I say this all the time at different events that I do. I've been racing cars for a long time, but never until I got into NASCAR did I ever see 50-plus thousand people in the grandstands. I had gone to the Indianapolis 500 before and saw the hundreds and thousands there, but no other race did I ever go to or compete in where you see the mass of people following the sport as avid as our fans do or have a racetrack that packed them in like we do every single weekend. That is completely due to the France family, and what NASCAR has done and stock car racing, and how our fans follow it and have attached themselves to it, and that's pretty amazing.
Q. Without giving away the store, can you talk a little bit about where the team can get better, where you can get better? And then finally, in the years past you've been pretty up front that you're not going to race forever. Have you even begun to think yet about when that time is going to come and how you're going to handle it?
JEFF GORDON: You know, as far as the team is concerned, we had a good year. I mean, we finished third in the points. It's not like we need to reinvent the wheel here. But we've also been getting our butts kicked by our teammate one, now two, and you've got to look at the other competitors out there, as well. You never know what they can create and come up with over the off-season. So all we can do is focus on the things that we feel like we can do better.
I feel like Steve and I can in-race communicate -- our in-race communication can be better. I feel like we started off a lot of races this year as one of the best cars, but I don't feel like we maintained that throughout the season or throughout the race and to the finish, and I feel like a lot of that is just information I'm giving him and some of that interaction.
I think we're going to make a few pit crew changes. I don't know all the details. Maybe John Edwards knows, but Steve can certainly be the guy to ask there. And then I think also just really looking at engineering and how we're utilizing it, what we can do better with it. I think you always look at your cars and how you can try to improve them. We're so limited in what we can do now.
Now it's just bump stops and timing of the bump stops. There's just so many little details. Of course, now the spoiler thing is going to throw a little bit of a hitch in there where we're going to have to learn about that to see how much different that's going to make the car react. But hopefully it's a good thing.
But honestly, there's not a lot -- I mean, it's not like I can just change my driving style. I can't. I've got to take what I have and the skills that I have and what's worked for me so well in the past, and we've got to make sure that the setups and the cars and everything that we have are working with that. But I definitely think there's some things that I can do better.
I'm definitely in better physical shape. You talk about my back; I have been working out so hard, I don't know if my back hurts anymore because I hurt everywhere else from working out so much. I'm a lot stronger, and I'm excited about that and maintaining that throughout the season. I've been able to finally do something and keep it regimented. I started this last January at the end of January, I guess, and I was going to do it all year and then this off-season, December and January, so I'm excited about that.
And that kind of leads into how long can I do this, too. As long as I'm healthy, I wanted to do this for a long time. Mark Martin certainly is an inspiration to all. He's so competitive at his age, and his physical fitness, I think, has played a big role in that.
But I think it depends on how long Rick wants to keep me in the car and the sponsors want to sponsor the car, and as long as I can stay healthy, then I'll keep doing it.
Q. With the change to the spoiler, how much testing do you anticipate you're going to have to do? And do you anticipate the change helping any certain drivers?
JEFF GORDON: Well, we're still limited on testing. Can't do any testing. Going to a little short track doesn't do much good for us, doesn't give us -- we need to be at a high speed track to really understand it. Now, we'll probably -- shoot, if I had to get, we've probably already have got a car in the wind tunnel with a spoiler on it. If that's possible, then it's happened. They probably started computer simulation on it as well, as soon as the talks even started about the spoiler.
Now, obviously I think NASCAR has scheduled a test in March, so we'll be a part of that because we have to be. We have to learn and gather information as well as give information to NASCAR that they're going to need to implement that. I don't really expect any big revelations. I mean, I don't think it's going to like be night and day, but I might be wrong.
I think that their goal is to meet the downforce levels that we have now. I'm sure they've done some wind tunnel testing, as well, to figure that out.
Q. Two questions: The first one being very weighty, that this was the off-season of Ella. I wanted to know what she thought about Sesame Street.
JEFF GORDON: My wife Ingrid, she DVR'd it, so it happened while we were on vacation, and so we came home. Ella watches Sesame Street every morning, so it's just a natural thing on our DVR. But now it's on there, and she says I want to watch papa, I want to watch papa. I don't think she quite grasped -- the first time we watched it, it was hilarious because I was sitting next to her, and I didn't want to watch it because I don't like watching myself on TV. But I did for her. She's like looking at the TV and looking at me and looking at the TV and -- she was having a hard time figuring that out, but she seemed to like it. That's cool.
I mean, the coolest thing was that she got to go with me on set and meet a bunch of the characters, obviously Elmo and Zoe and Abby Cadabby, whatever her name is. She's a big fan of the show, regardless. That was a very cool experience. I wish she had been a little bit older when we were there because I think she would have even appreciated it more today than she did. I shot that thing in January of last year, and it took a long time for it to air.
Q. Second thing racing related, it seemed as if last year there was maybe a shift in the way people approached Chase strategy. It seemed as if Montoya didn't stroke the first 26 races, but certainly when the final ten came, he had something more. They rolled out new cars that were really good. And it seemed like the 48 kind of did a similar thing. I know they were good throughout the first 26, but the last ten they were great. Is there a change going on there, and do you think there's maybe a different way to approach this thing based on the success those two teams had last year?
JEFF GORDON: I think every year that the Chase happens, we all experience it and learn from it. You certainly are going to look at those teams that are having the most success and how they've gone about it. I don't know if it was just by coincidence that the 42 was rolling out new cars, and those cars happened to be as competitive as they were, and that was just something they were working on and it worked out at that time of year. But you've got to be careful. You know, it's not an easy thing just to make it in the Chase. I mean, I've been there where I didn't make it and was trying everything we possibly could to make it in. It's not like you can say, okay, we're going to use these old junky cars and come out with all of our new cars during the Chase. You find yourself outside the Chase and it didn't do you any good. You've got to bring your best stuff all the time.
That's where I give credit to the 48, because they seemed to have another gear that they go to. I feel like we're digging as hard and as deep as we can every weekend. I don't know where we find another gear. But we're going to have to if we're going to have competitive and go for another championship. We've got to find that other gear. Some of it is in the strategy of your cars and bringing your best stuff, and some of it is physical, just mental and physical abilities to be able to get to that next gear.
I'd say that's the only reason why I haven't felt like my work out regimen has been as important to me in the past, besides just trying to strengthen my back up, it's -- to me, in the past with a regular 36-race schedule without the Chase, not saying you could cruise, but you didn't have to go to that next gear in the final ten races. You had to spread it out through the whole year, so you paced yourself. Now I don't think you have to do that as much, and I think that's sort of what the Chase has created.
Q. A lot of the people in here before you talked about the spoiler and what it would probably do to affect the rear of the car. What do you think it'll do to the front of the car?
JEFF GORDON: I guess people have different theories. The first things that I've heard from our engineers is that a rear spoiler should add total downforce to the car, which might change the balance and give it a little more front to it, which I think would be a great thing. But everybody has different theories.
Until we get out there on the track -- and the wind tunnel is not always the most accurate way to test these things. But we need more front downforce. Every weekend, every team out there is complaining the car won't turn in the middle, won't turn in the middle, won't turn in the middle. I'm up for anything that would get the car to turn in the middle.
I don't think we should be adding downforce to the car to be honest with you. I think that if we really want to make the racing better, we need to take some downforce away. But this car's high CG and all the right side weight and all that stuff, maybe it does need more downforce.
Q. Back to the 42 car for a second, what's your sense of what Juan Pablo and having raced against him now for three years, what's your sense of what he might be able to accomplish in this sport?
JEFF GORDON: Well, here's a guy that's just got a tremendous amount of talent. You see it in any form of racing he's ever been a part of. He's fast, really fast. You know, and I think that this year I think his experience level in the stock cars started to finally show through. I think the talent has always been there. And then I think the team started to finally back up what he needed. They started finally putting the cars and the team together to show case his talents.
You know, I think that what happened to them last year is going to give him a lot of confidence to be even more competitive and stronger in 2010. I'm anxious to see how that plays out, what level they're able to take it to.
Q. You had a better view than any of us of what's going on with that 88 team, what's good, what's bad. What is your take there, and what do you think about the prospect of if he gets off to a good start, he gets a couple wins, just the confidence alone might shake things up over there.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, it's so tough to say. I'd say Mark and Alan probably have a better perspective on it than I do, just because they are under the same roof. But you know, it doesn't take much to get off track. I mean, it's so competitive out there. And I know that sometimes it looks like they're way off. But I don't think that they're off as far as people think. And I don't think -- I think it just is going to take a fresh start, a few things.
The organization puts so much effort into every team and every car that the ingredients are certainly there. I think that probably what's left is just to get that confidence up. It happens with everybody. If the driver is confident, then the crew chief is confident, and if the crew chief is confident, the pit crew is confident. It just trickles all the way down.
Hopefully all the hard work that they're putting in over the off-season will help them get started off on the right foot and be able to not break that confidence down too early, because once you get it broke down, it's hard to get it back.
Q. Given the financial difficulties the manufacturers have been having over the past year, I'm wondering, is the level of support still there like it was before? Have you noticed it falling off? And for you, I remember last year you mentioning that you were looking at flying commercial more or taking a second look at the dollars and cents that were going out --
JEFF GORDON: Still flying commercial. Flew commercial to the banquet.
Q. So you're still operating on a lean revenue?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, the thing is if you're not finding ways to make more money, then what do you have to do? You have to find ways to save money. That's the thing is that to me the economy is affecting everybody. I mean, maybe not Jimmie Johnson, I don't know. But I would say besides Jimmie Johnson, I think across the board, sponsorship dollars are down. It depends on when you had to negotiate your contract, too, with the sponsors. But certainly the manufacturer's support is not there as much as it used to be. And I think they've been pretty open about that.
I think that Hendrick Motorsports is in a fortunate situation where we've been able to have a lot of success that has been able to keep us going through some of the cutbacks. But we've made our fair share, as well. And you know, if you run a good business, then you look at your income and you can project out your income, and you've got to plan your expenses accordingly.
I like to think of myself as a businessman and that I can be smart about those personally as well as Hendrick Motorsports and how we do things, as well.
Q. Another Ella question. Jimmie's impending fatherhood should be some sort of factor in him trying to win another one. I was wondering, having that happen in the middle of the season, how hard is it to -- you're dealing with new priorities, life-changing event, screaming baby, all those things together, how hard is it to do that and still be a full-time NASCAR driver?
JEFF GORDON: Sure. I'll say what I said when I was asked this question about how it affects me. It doesn't affect your desire to want to win. It doesn't affect you in the car not wanting to take risks. It didn't affect me that way, and I don't think it's going to affect Jimmie. I haven't seen it affect other drivers that way. Where it affects you is a very important part of your life that is amazing and you want to experience it to the fullest, and there's no way that that can't affect your priorities a little bit or a lot.
Now, the biggest way I think it impacts you is sleep. You just don't sleep the way that you used to. Shoot, I'm still trying to figure that part out. I think it's important to have a few nights of eight hours of sleep -- it is for me anyway -- to be focused at my job. That's why Ingrid and Ella -- and I'm fortunate that Ingrid recognizes that and is open enough to not travel throughout the weekend until race day, unless it makes sense or we're on the west coast and we're in a hotel and I can go stay in the bus or something the night before the race.
It's taken certainly a transition. So I think it's going to be similar for him. I think Jimmie is going to be a great dad. I know how excited he is about it, and I know what kind of person that he is as well as Chandra. They're going to take it all in. I don't think it's going to affect him as a race car driver. I think it's going to affect him just as a person going through life and having a job, the same way it would any other parent.
Q. There was a great turnout, all the fans. Talk about the importance of having something like this and giving back to the fans and keeping them excited during the off-season.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, during these types of events, you really get to experience and see the most avid fans that you have, you know, and to still see the passion. I mean, that's what this sport was built on. That's what it's really all about. They're the ones that keep this thing going. It becomes so much more evident of what our responsibilities are back to those fans when you go through tough times in the economy, you're depending on your sponsors. But most importantly, it's all really depending on those fans up in the grandstands and watching at home, and this sport has become a very big business and expensive to do, and it all basically starts with the fan, the customer, and sponsors that see them as valuable customers and have an avid fan base.
So to see them out there with all the cars and the shirts and standing in line and cheering and crying, it's always humbling and very cool to be a part of it.
DENISE MALOOF: Jeff, thank you, as always. We'll see you back here soon.
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