Daytona 500: Jeff Gordon Media Day interview

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media to discuss family life and the new baby, special Daytona 500 moments, Hendrick Motorsports, his goals for the year, multiple wins at both Daytona and Indianapolis, Dale Earnhardt Jr. joining ...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media to discuss family life and the new baby, special Daytona 500 moments, Hendrick Motorsports, his goals for the year, multiple wins at both Daytona and Indianapolis, Dale Earnhardt Jr. joining Hendrick Motorsports, and more:

TALK ABOUT HOW YOU BUDGET YOUR TIME WITH YOUR FAMILY NOW THAT YOU HAVE A CHILD

"Well, it just goes in stages. I can only talk about 7 0x00bd months. It goes in stages. The first couple of months are very, very tough. You're trying to get sleep and I told somebody once, it's the best I've ever felt on that little sleep (laughs). And it's an amazing emotion but it's a roller coaster ride because there is so much they're going through and learning and you're also trying to work and do your job and so it takes a team. The best thing for me is that my wife, Ingrid, was so understanding of knowing that while I'm at home I'll do all I can and when I'm not, it's important for me to do my job the best that I can and stay focused on that. It's amazing how it keeps getting better and better and better -- especially for the guy, I guess, because we're not carrying the baby inside of us. That first moment you see her you're just in awe and can't even describe the emotions. But then, it goes through a period of time and it's like, this is my baby. But she just pretty much wants to eat and sleep and make a mess of her diaper. But now she's starting to recognize things and starting crawl and it's those experiences that just bring you closer together all the time."

ARE YOU WORRIED THAT YOU MIGHT MISS YOUR DAUGHTERS FIRST STEPS AND OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS?

"Well, Ella is going to be traveling with us. We outfitted a brand new bus this year. We've got a crib, a playpen, I'm pretty sure it's the only one of its kind and that's because I love for my family to travel with me. And while I know I'm busy a lot and going to miss things from time to time, I want to do everything that I possibly can to make sure that I don't. Just before I came her she's this close to crawling and I'd like to think that officially she did crawl this morning because she finally got her legs up underneath her and kind of lunged forward. And so I was like, yeah, that's official. But I haven't missed much. There have been some busy weeks when we were testing and things like that where it was a struggle and I really missed being away from her and Ingrid. But I've also been very excited when I get home."

HAVING TIME DURING THE OFF-SEASON TO SPEND WITH FAMILY

'Oh, yeah, that was the best part about my off-season was how much time I got to spend with Ingrid and with Ella and be a dad. Off-seasons have always been short, but this one seemed to be the shortest because it just wasn't enough time where I could spend with them. I'm just thankful that now Ella is traveling good and she's healthy and doing great and that they're both able to travel with me so we can always spend time together even though I'm at the race track doing my thing. As soon as I go home, there they are."

YOU WERE THE YOUNGEST DRIVER TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500. NOW THAT YOU'VE HAD A FEW YEARS TO REFLECT BACK, WHERE DOES THAT RANK ON YOUR LIST OF PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS?

"I think you always remember your first and your last. The first Daytona 500 win was incredible. I feel like I learned a lot in the draft from Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett. They were great drafters out there and it gave me experience in '97 to go out there and know what I was doing and feel comfortable enough with my skills to be able to pull off a win. Plus, we had a fast car that year. And luckily we did pull it off."

TALK ABOUT GREAT MOMENTS IN THE DAYTONA 500. A LOT OF PEOPLE SEEM TO FORGET ABOUT THAT GREAT MOVE YOU MADE THAT ONE YEAR GOING INTO TURN 1 WITH RICKY RUDD AND HOW YOU WEREN'T GOING TO BE DENIED TAKING THE LEAD.

"Well, it was a lot different back then. You had a lot more room to race. They didn't have boundaries and yellow lines. Those days, when you got the momentum, and you had to try to make the pass any which way you possibly could -- especially in the Daytona 500. I think I remember in that media center afterward, somebody was saying oh that was crazy. It's not crazy if you know what's at stake. That's the Daytona 500 and this is the ultimate race. It's the one that you push the hardest for and you make moves like that. If you can pull off a move like that, it's probably going to win you the race."

PEOPLE HAVE CALLED HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS THE NEW YORK YANKEES OF RACING. DO YOU THINK IT'S MEANT TO HAVE ALL THESE BIG NAMES ON THE SAME TEAM?

"See, you're speaking to a Yankees fan (laughter) and to me, that makes me smile. I think that's a great position to be in and I think there is a reason why guys want to be on the Yankees and why these guys that we have want to be with Hendrick Motorsports. Really, all it comes down to is who has the best organization of people and resources to put the best equipment out there and give you the best opportunity to win. Everybody is given the same opportunity that we're given -- every other team out there. It's what we do with it. And it's no different than the Yankees. There is no guarantee that they are going to win the World Series every year. They've won it a lot, but it's the same with us. It doesn't guarantee anything but at least on the inside, we know that we've got the tools to get it done. If we don't get it done, it's our fault."

ON MARK MARTIN'S SECOND PLACE DAYTONA 500 FINISH LAST YEAR, DO YOU AGREE WITH THE WAY THE RACE WAS CALLED AT THE END?

"I definitely agree with how the race ended. There was no other way. You've got a car upside down in the grass. It was still an exciting finish right to the line. And no matter what, even if they'd gone back racing, there was no guarantee who was going to win the race if you're leading or not leading. I'm a huge Mark Martin fan so I always want to see him win the Daytona 500, I think more so than the championship. To me, what makes a great champion is the diverse driver that's good in so many different tracks. Mark is that guy. In my opinion, those guys don't always win the Daytona 500. Earnhardt only won one. Rusty won one. There are some greats in our sport that didn't win here. But those guys pretty much always won the championship at least once. I felt like Mark was probably one of the most deserving drivers that never won a championship."

DALE EARNHARDT WON THE DAYTONA 500 TEN YEARS AGO. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT DAY?

"Oh, when you work that hard and you're that good and you win everything else like he did at Daytona, I really don't think there was anybody -- except maybe somebody who finished second that day, that was disappointed. There was just a lot of excitement and people that were just happy for him. I can honestly tell you that there were times in this sport when people weren't happy about Dale Earnhardt winning because he won a lot. But it was that Daytona 500 that separated him and winning from all other events."

WHAT WAS THE MOST MEMORABLE DAYTONA 500 OF ALL TIME? "I guess when you see the clips and video it was Pearson and Petty coming down to the line. That's got to go down in the history books as the all-time biggest moment and most memorable moment at Daytona. There have been so many. I'd have to go through each of those events and recall -- especially those that I've been a part of. And the one the Dale Earnhardt won was certainly a memorable one."

WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE DAYTONA 500?

"For me, the last one. The last one to me was the one I've enjoyed the most. It's the victory I've enjoyed the most. I think being in the sport as long as I have, and winning two other Daytona 500's, I think I enjoyed Victory Lane and the celebration more at that race than I ever have."

DALE EARNHARDT JR HAS ALWAYS HAD A LOT OF PRESSURE TO WIN. IS HE GOING TO BE UNDER EVEN MORE PRESSURE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP NOW THAT HE'S WITH HENDRICK?

"Isn't that why he's here? I thought that's why he came to Hendrick. I don't think he came to Hendrick to think oh boy, the pressure will be off me; I won't have anybody looking at me and having expectations on me any more. He's at one of the best organizations that's synonymous with championships. It just won back-to-back championships. And the pressure has never been higher on him in my opinion. Everybody is waiting to see. They're going okay; here's his time. He's in one of the best cars and with one of the best teams out there. Now he's really going to show what he's capable of. And I think he's going to have a great year. In this sport, if you don't have the team behind you, I don't care how good of a driver you are, you're not going to stand out. You're not going to do anything over the top for excitement. And that holds true for (Tony) Stewart, (Matt) Kenseth, Jimmie (Johnson) and for me. The one thing I think is in common is that all these guys is they are with good organizations and good teams. But, do they bring something to the table that makes that team even excel more? Yeah, I think they do. And I think this is going to be the real test of whether Junior is capable of doing that."

HOW MUCH COMPATITIVE RIVALRY IS THERE AMONG TEAMMATES?

"I think that's the real, true measurement. It's not whether Junior is winning races. It's whether he's performing as good or better than his teammates because that's really all you can measure up to. And that's why I can never tell you how talented any individual driver is out there unless they're driving my equipment or a team car to me. I think that is where not only are you measured, but also the internal rivalries are at. It's a good kind of rivalry because the better talent we have, the better teams we have, and the better it makes our whole organization. And it makes us better individually as well."

DO YOU REMEMBER MEEING DALE EARNHARDT JR. WHEN YOU WERE RACING IN THE BUSCH SERIES AND HE WAS A TEENAGER?

"I don't remember me being in Busch. I remember being in Cup. And at North Wilkesboro, I think, was the first time I met him. He was driving a Late Model there and I was talking to his dad on pit road and he brought him over and introduced me to him. Or, maybe I walked up to them. I'm not sure how the meeting went. I just remember giving Senior a hard time because I looked at the jalopy that Junior was driving and I was like, I can't believe that you're going to put him in this equipment. And he said, well he was going to have to work at it the hard way. And I respected the heck out of that. I thought that made a lot of sense and it was great that he was going to make him work for it and wasn't just going to be handed to him."

DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE A UNIQUE SITUATION THAT TWO TRACKS DEFINE YOUR CAREER BETWEEN INDY AND DAYTONA?

"I don't think those two race tracks define my career; those are the good ones (laughs)."

THERE IS NO OTHER DRIVER WHO CAN BOAST THAT LEVEL OF SUCCESS AT THE TWO BIGGEST RACE TRACKS IN THE SERIES

"I think you just wrote your story (laughter). Do I have to say anything? I certainly feel very fortunate with that situation. When I look back at the career wins, I guess with Ingrid being fairly new to the sport, those things get brought up every once in a while. We'll go to a track and she'll ask how many times I have won there before. And it cracks me up because she is so innocent, she doesn't know. And yet she's curious. And then I go well, I've won six times at this track (laughter) or four times, and she's like wow, okay, I'm sorry I asked. So, you know, when those moments happen, it reminds me too that wow, I can't believe that I've won that many times at this track -- especially when there are two tracks you want to win at and that's Indianapolis and Daytona. And I've got seven (wins) between the two and that's pretty amazing."

WHAT ABOUT WHEN YOU SEE THOSE VICTORY LANE PHOTOS WAY BACK? YOU WERE REALLY JUST A KID

"Oh, yeah, now that I'm getting gray I start to look at how much younger I was. But I just like how excited I was. It's like if you could freeze that moment, nothing in the world meant more to me at that time than that right there. And if you could just capture that feeling and that emotion, it's the ultimate. And that's why when I win today, that's why I get so fired up because I know how hard it is and how appreciative I am. And those emotions and excitement come out because it means that much to me."

WHAT IS ON THE LINE FOR YOU THIS SEASON?

"Same thing that's on the line every year: a championship. Every year it's about winning the championship or bust, for us. And while last year was a rewarding year, we had a great year, we won six races and battled for the championship and we were so close and had all those top 10's, it still was a bust because we didn't win the championship. So it's pretty much business as usual for us. We're trying to put ourselves into victory lane as many times as we can and try to win the championship."

DO YOU HAVE TO DRIVE ANY DIFFERENTLY?

"No, I'll take a 5.1 average in the final ten races again. I'll take that exact same thing. I think that as a team, I think you always are trying to improve. Even Jimmie Johnson and those guys are trying to improve. And so we're doing the same. I feel like that while we were very consistent, we weren't the best speed-wise or performance-wise on the track as consistently as I would like to. I feel like when we raced Jimmie heads up, he usually beat us. And so for me, and for Steve (Letarte) and all of us, we want that performance to step up. We need to be a little bit more aggressive with the set-ups. We started the off-season being much more aggressive on the set-ups and just starting that way and we'll see if it pays off."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT JR COMING TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?

"Well, I'm excited about it. I mean he's done a great job, really, of being respectful and wanting to come in and fit in. I guess you expect a guy like Dale Earnhardt Jr., with as much attention as he gets, to kind of come in and say I'm the man. He has not done that at all. He wants to see how we do things and he wants to fit in. He wants to be a teammate so he can go out and have the same kind of success -- continue the success that Hendrick Motorsports has had over the last several years."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports