Daytona 500: Jeff Gordon - Friday media visit, part 1

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his new Foundation initiative, winning the first Gatorade Duel at Daytona, expectations for the Daytona 500, Mark Martin as a ...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his new Foundation initiative, winning the first Gatorade Duel at Daytona, expectations for the Daytona 500, Mark Martin as a teammate, his focus for this season, discussed the effects of the testing ban, the big wrecks at the end of pate races, going winless last season and other topics.

DO YOU THINK PROGRESS ON CHILDHOOD CANCER IS IMPROVING? "The stats are all over the board from finding better ways of treatment as well as getting closer to cures. There is a lot that I do with the Marrow Foundation and bone morrow transplants as well as the research and development that is going in to (umbilical) cord blood and how we are going to be able to utilize cord blood in finding closer matches to save more lives. There are a lot of lives that are being saved, but what is happening is different forms of cancer are being presented and creating more challenges for the doctors out there. The reason why I support cancer, especially with the children so much, is one-because I see a lot of children throughout every year that are dealing with it. But, I also am able to see the success stories and see the children that are in remission and speak to the doctors that say we are so close. We found this last week and we've got it. We need more research and we need more funding because we are getting closer to finding this. I really believe that the cure is out there. It is not that we are not getting closer to finding it, we are. It is just that we've got to keep the fight up and that is why I am dedicated to continue the funding. And it is not just the funding I am creating; it is the awareness of the need that is out there to others. Other foundations, other supporters and to the public in general that this is something we can find a cure for and that is what our mission is over the next 10 years. I hope it happens and I think things like this will get us there."

TALK ABOUT HAVING YOUR FOUNDATION IN PLACE FOR 10 YEARS. "1999 is when we officially formed it but I had been doing some work with Ray Evernham prior to that. A lot of it started with Ray J. when he was diagnosed with leukemia and went through a bone marrow transplant. Then just through the NASCAR community I can remember going to Winston Salem to the Children's Hospital there at Brenners and being able to see firsthand what these children are going through. That is when it hit me 'Hey, I need to do more.' I think it happens to everybody at a certain stage in their lives and their career especially when you are successful on the track and you are seeing your paycheck coming in and you are saying, you know what, there is a lot I can do with this, this is not just about me. It is about a lot more than that. I didn't start a foundation to try to encourage others to start a foundation. I just wanted to do all I could to give back. I am very proud of this community and the drivers. I can't say I am the first one, I don't think that I am, but I think it has been fantastic to see how this community embraces giving whether it be for pet care. Whether it for children, breast cancer, so many different things. But this community does more than any other community I have ever been a part of and seen to do their part in donating their time or their money to give back and encouraging others as well.

HAS YOUR FOUNDATION EXPERIENCED THIS YEAR A DROP IN THE GIVING YOU RECEIVE? "I will be honest with you, a lot of the support that we get comes from a lot of different areas, but a lot of it comes from our fund raising programs that we have, our go-kart event; our dinner. We haven't gotten to those events yet to see what the support is going to be from our sponsors and from the people that come out and actually attend those events. Basically, there a sponsor comes through sponsoring a team let's say at the go-kart event or at the bowling event. Or sponsoring the event as a whole. When we get done here, we have some folks here from my foundation, Trish and Jules, they answer those questions to see where we are from last year as far as that support is concerned.

"Because we have had fans over the years give and be a part of like our Corvette raffle, let's say. Those are $100 raffle tickets and we give away a Corvette and pay all the taxes and title fees and we give away a Corvette basically for nothing except these raffle tickets and it has been a tremendous program for us and I am very proud of it. The impact of that is going to be tested this year by economy. I don't think we have started that program so far this year. This is a way for us to directly get fans involved. This is the first time we have ever done this. So I guess the reason I can't answer 100% of your question is because this is going to be the first time we have really ever done this. We have never really asked for the fans or anybody outside of our programs to play a part in giving back. This is a way, I think especially with the economy, you are talking $10. Certainly you can give more than that if you wish and like I said, I am going to match it. Whatever it is. We did create a cap and I don't think we are going to reach our cap. I tell you what, if we do reach our cap, I'm probably going to extend the cap which is $250,000 because if that many people are out there in this economic time wanting to give back to help these children, then you can believe that I am going to make sure that I don't stop matching them.

"I am not sure I have a great answer for you because it's the start of the season, a start of a new year and this is really our first way to get things kicked in 2009. Until we get in to the planning for those other programs and events we are having, we'll really find out just how much it is being affected."

WHAT HAS YOUR FOUNDATION AND CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL DOES AROUND THE RISING COST OF HEALTH CARE FOR LOWER INCOME FAMILIES? "We do grants at every year at the end of the year. There are a certain number of those grants that we commit right to a family to help them, whether it be housing it be housing while their child is at the hospital be it another room or whatever it takes that family because a lot of times they are a long way from home. We'll commit a certain amount to make sure we are helping them. The Hendrick Marrow Program does some of that as well, they do a great job with it, so we sort of learned from them. We have a lot of different ways that we utilize the funding we get. Not just research and development. Not just the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital. But also helping family directly. We also, whatever programs that we pick and chose and we support, we make sure that we go in and basically audit them and pick them apart to make sure that they are the best in their field. That there is not one cent that is not being committed to what we are all about, which is saving lives and finding a cure. I'm not trying to put any programs down, but there are those programs that are at the top and those are the ones that we really target. Trish and Jules and our folks at the foundation put a lot effort in to researching which organizations do the best job. We pride ourselves in the amount of giving that we give. If you look at percentages in costs versus the amounts that are given, I challenge any foundation out there to match us in the percentage that we give. I try to make sure I take care of all the expenses personally. That I take care of any outside costs and that everything we get is given to exactly to where it should be going which is these other organizations and foundations that are fighting for what we are fighting and have the same passion that we have."

THE LACK OF TESTING HASN'T SEEMED TO AFFECT THE QUALITY OF RACING AT DAYTONA, HOW DO YOU THINK THE NON-TESTING IS GOING TO COME INTO PLAY WITH THE 1.5-MILE AND TWO-MILE TRACKS? "Without testing I think what you're going to see is two things. One is the teams that were strong last year say at California, Vegas is a little bit different thing because none of us have been there since last February, March but we've been to California fairly recent. We did test in the off-season the prior year at California so we've got a lot of data from that track. So I'm not sure that's the best track to question but I know what you're saying. I guess what I'm getting at is the teams that were strong at the end of last year I believe are going to be strong again this year but then there's that other factor where some teams that weren't strong are going to just kind of roll the dice and go for broke and really look outside the box and could possibly hit on some things. It's sort of that double-edged sword every season. When you're successful, you're afraid to change much. You want to keep things pretty much on par where you were and just try to make small improvements and you think that will get the job done to keep you ahead of the competition. Sometimes that can be good and sometimes that can hurt you. Without testing I think that those teams if they were successful last year they're going to probably continue on. I feel like for us, we're that team that has to go a little bit more outside the box. We made big gains toward the end of the season but we still were not where the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson), the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) and the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) where they were at. We get to see first-hand what they were doing with the No. 48 team and we know that we're right there. We've just got a few adjustments that can work with my driving style and also we see things that they are doing that I need to step up to and can improve and make ourselves better. As a whole we were just focused on the team. I think that it's going to be very interesting to get to the next few races after Daytona and I'm kind of jumping around here but to me, we've got to take advantage of Daytona. Daytona is a place that we're strong. It's an opportunity that I felt got away from us not only last July but also last February and I don't want that opportunity to slip away especially after yesterday's race. We know we've got the car and the team that can win this event but we also know when we leave here we've got to step it up. We're probably not going to be this strong against the competition when we leave here. That's going to be a work in progress as the season goes on."

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT TOMMY BALDWIN'S TEAM AND JEREMY MAYFIELD'S TEAM MAKING THE DAYTONA 500 FIELD WITH ONLY LIKE 30 DAYS PREPARATION? SECONDLY DO YOU RECALL THE 1979 DAYTONA 500, HEARING KEN SQUIRE CALL THE RACE AND WHAT YOU THOUGHT OF THAT? "I think it's a real tribute to what NASCAR has done with this car. By putting you in such a tight box and the grid that you have to go through there's just so few things that even a well-funded team like Hendrick Motorsports we're just so limited in so many ways. I'm sure that NASCAR had a big smile on their face in a lot of ways to see that because it shows that you don't have to go out there and spend millions and millions of dollars just preparing for Daytona. I think it's also a tribute to Scott (Riggs), he did a great job driving and Tommy (Baldwin) he's always been a fantastic crew chief. I think that they've got a very steep mountain to climb not only this weekend but moving forward but this certainly is going to propel them into a level that I don't know if they expected to be in at this point. That's going to help them get sponsorship, it's going to help them stay on their feet and hopefully be a team that is around for a while instead of a team that's just going to do a few races.

"I certainly didn't see it live. I've been fortunate enough to hear and see it many times from video clips. From whether it's Ken's (Squire) voice, the race itself it's just very cool to see something that really truly was history in the making of where this sport is today and a lot of people could say and not be contradictive on that event. That single event could possibly been credited as the number one thing that got this sport to where it is today."

OVER THE YEARS JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS BEEN THE EPITOMY OF THE CLEAN-CUT CORPORATE PITCH MAN AND HE SHOWS UP THIS YEAR WITH A FACIAL BEARD AND JOKING ABOUT ABUSING HIS LIVER IN JANUARY, BRUSHING OFF TALK THAT CARL (EDWARDS) IS GOING TO BE THE FAVORITE THIS YEAR AND ITS VERY UN-JIMMIE LIKE AND I'M WONDERING IF YOU CAN EXPLAIN HIM? "You're asking me to explain him? I don't know if I can explain him. I think that Jimmie has taken some criticism in the past that I don't think is really fair. When I came along I got criticized for similar things but yet then I got credited 10 years later because it helped the sport move into the corporate world. Now here we are in the corporate world and here's a guy that's doing it all right, winning the races, clean-cut, just an example of what sponsor's are looking for and not every sponsor is the same and then he gets criticized. I think that its just probably Jimmie coming out of his shell a little bit. Being himself, being a little more comfortable with who he is and what he's about and listening to some of the outside criticism. I don't think he is trying to change his image, I think he's trying to maybe change the perception of his image because what people perceive him to be and what he really is when he's not at the track working. They're probably two different things and he's kind of been challenged with that and I think it probably bothers him a little bit."

AS YOU LOOK BACK THIS PAST WEEK AND LOOK AHEAD TO SUNDAY, HOW DOES THE LEVEL OF COMPETITION AND THE NUMBER OF POSSIBLE CONTENDERS FOR SUNDAY COMPARE WITH RECENT YEARS AND HOW DOES THAT MAYBE IMPACT HOW YOU LOOK AT THINGS AND START TO PREPARE FOR SUNDAY? "I just think that Daytona and this car, there's just no way you can pick anyone to be the favorite. I think that there's just so many opportunities to pass, there's opportunities to move from the back to the front. I think it's going to be a little bit different on Sunday because it's a 500-mile race and there's probably going to be some green-flag stops. Tire wear on the long runs is going to play a little bit more of a role. I do think that the teams that have their act together as a whole are going to kind of rise to the top but the thing is that this race, I remember the last time this race was won on the long-run toward the end of the race. It seems like it comes down to short runs. It's anybody's race. I said this I think yesterday or a couple of days ago, last year Ryan Newman I didn't think was even like a top-10 guy. He was maybe fifth through 10th. He wasn't a guy that was standing out and he won that race. That to me shows that anybody can come in and win this race. If you get the push and if you've got a teammate or a friend out there whatever it may be if you get the momentum and you make the right moves you can win this race. To me it's the most competitive that I've ever seen it and it started with this car last year in February and its only continued on this season. Yesterday were shorter races so I think you didn't see maybe as many guys, like a Harvick, wasn't able to get toward the front because a lot of guys were being conservative. They know that this was their 500 car so you're going to see a lot more risk taking for the 500 and I also think you're probably going to see the race come down to the end on the shootout."

IT DOESN'T SEEM LIKE SINCE YOU HAD ELLA THAT YOU HAVE CHANGED YOUR DRIVING STYLE. I WAS JUST WONDERING IF YOU EVER CAUGHT YOURSELF THINKING MAYBE I SHOULDN'T MAKE THAT MOVE OR TAKE THAT RISK? "I might sound like a terrible father here by saying it but when I start the engine and put the helmet on I'm not thinking a whole lot about family at that time. I'm thinking about winning the race. But I can tell you that the second that checkered flag was waving the first thing on my mind was that I can't wait to see Ingrid and Ella in victory lane. Maybe it's just that switch that's up there for me. There's no doubt that being a parent has changed me. It's not how I drive it's my focus on driving that's changed because I'm not used to getting up at 6:30 in the morning. I'm not used to going to bed at 10:00 or 10:30 at night. It's taken me a year to really get into that mode and I think a lot of it is because I'm interacting with her so much more now that's she's talking and she's growing. I see my role as a father just becoming more and more involved and I love it. I don't think I ever said last year that it didn't take a toll on me that it wasn't affecting me. It just wasn't what everybody else thought. Everybody thought oh you're just being more conservative, you're not being as aggressive. That's not it. That's not it at all. It's that I'm not sleeping. I'm showing up to the race track trying to hold my eyes open because I'm sleep deprived because she was up crying at 3:00 in the morning. I'm trying to be a good husband not necessarily just a good father and play my role. I think now here we are twenty months into it and I think both me and Ingrid just have a better understanding of the routine. Just like yesterday I spent the night in the bus because I knew that it was important for me to get a good night's sleep. I'm going to do the same thing on Saturday night. I learned that last year. At Texas, our worst race that we had, our first race at Texas we're like okay it's time, she's sleeping now through the night, we'll bring her with us to the race track and she was up all night. I knew my car was not where I wanted it to be and I knew that Texas was a challenging track for me already and I had the worst day that I could ever imagine and it was because I didn't get any sleep. It wasn't because I wasn't wanting to run it loose. It was way too loose. I just couldn't hold on to it. I think we learned a lot from that, the way our travel habits played a role. This year those are some things that are going to help me focus. One I go to bed earlier so I don't mind getting up early and it allows me to make sure that I'm getting the sleep that I really need to do my job as well as be a dad."

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports