Daytona 500 Post-Qualifying Press Conference
February 13, 2011
An interview with:
JEFF GORDON - Qualified 2nd
KERRY THARP: Let's roll into post qualifying for the 53rd running of the Daytona 500. The driver who is going to be on the outside pole for next Sunday's event is Jeff Gordon.
Jeff, congratulations. This is your third front-row start in the Daytona 500. You won the pole in '99, second in 2006. Your thoughts about being up front when we start a week from today?
JEFF GORDON: It's always a great feeling to lock yourself in. This is the biggest race that we have. It's I think more of a sign of the effort that was put out by the team, so I'm really proud of Alan and his group. Obviously they have a special knack for Daytona and Daytona qualifying. They just built a great racecar.
I got the pleasure of driving that racecar today, being on the front row. Thought we had a shot at the pole, but it's great to get Hendrick Motorsports 1-2. Happy for Steve and Junior, too.
This is a great way to kick things off for our new sponsor, Drive to End Hunger. That will bring a lot more awareness to that cause. I couldn't be more thrilled with the way things have gone this week so far.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Jeff.
Q: Jeff, from what we saw last night with the two-car drafts, starting up front is always important in any race, but will it be even more important to start up front next Sunday?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, maybe I'm in a little bit of denial, but I keep thinking there's no way we could do that for the whole race. I didn't think we could do it for the whole race last night. We proved we could. I'm like, How can we do it for 500 miles?
These teams, how they have figured out the airflow through the radiators, they've proven a lot of people wrong. I think anything's possible. I think now that we've learned what we've learned about the two-car draft, there's no way you're going to take that away. You're going to always have that impression that you're capable of doing that. So I think you're going to continue to see it happening.
Now, you know, that's unless NASCAR does something before Thursday or before next Sunday. I'm anxious to see where we stand, because the speeds were pretty high last night. We saw some guys get spun out. You're kind of anxious to see if they're going to step in and do anything.
I thought the race was exciting. It was very interesting from a driver's standpoint. I mean, it was intense, more intense than I wanted it to be at times. But it was like a chess match at the same time. There was a lot of strategy, trying to find out who to hook up with, when to ride the brakes, when not to ride the brakes. It was very interesting.
I liked it in a way. The 29 was having trouble, hitting the rev limiter, he kept separating. We couldn't catch them guys, because every time we'd catch them, he would hit the rev limiter, he'd back up. Other than that, I think we had a car capable of going up there and competing for the win.
We certainly learned a lot, definitely learned a lot. Once you learn something like that, can't ever take it away, so we'll see what happens.
Q: Obviously you're starting over with Alan right now. What does winning the pole do for the morale of the team? Does it do anything?
JEFF GORDON: Sure. It certainly builds my confidence in their racecar-building ability. I guess it would have been a disappointment compared to what they've done the last couple years if we weren't competing for that front row again this year, especially the way testing went.
I did get a little nervous yesterday. We got knocked down to sixth or seventh on the board yesterday. Mark really put up a big number. If everybody picks up, are we going to be able to pick up enough?
So today only regain that confidence because they were able to really pick up for qualifying. All those details that they put in there for qualifying paid off.
The chemistry among the team and just seeing their attitude and everything, it's been awesome. It's been that way since Rick made that announcement, through the tests, whether it be the Daytona test or the short-track test that we did. It's all been very positive. This is just another thing that's added to that, that chemistry and momentum, which is great.
Q: 9500 rpm, that's an awful lot.
JEFF GORDON: I wish I could run 9500 rpm. I'd like to find out who is running that.
Q: What do your engine guys say about NASCAR lowering the pressure on the radiators, heating the car up, running this much rpm in the draft?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, you know, when you're thinking about it from a team standpoint, I always try to be subjective on what NASCAR is thinking about, what is safe, what is a good show, keeping the competitors involved. I don't know what that answer is or if it's anything.
But, yeah, I've heard some rumbles about some of those things. We used to run like maybe two laps at Talladega, lap and a half at Talladega, was about as long as you could run. These teams went to work over the off-season. Look now, we're running 30, 40 laps in a row. We figured out how to do it without even having to swap over.
So I think cutting that restriction down would certainly stop us from being able to push as long, but it's not going to stop us from pushing. It doesn't matter if you can push a guy for a half a lap, if it makes you go faster, it makes you go faster, you're going to do it.
That just means you're going to have to figure out how to get some air to cool the car down, poke our nose out, back off a little bit. So as long as those bumpers line up and the airflow over the cars is the way it is, I don't think you're going to stop it.
One of the things you got to realize is when we went to this new car, we have the same amount of downforce here when we go to Phoenix. The old car we had very little downforce here because we'd slick the cars up, then put all the downforce back in them at the next track. The cars were driving so good, that's why we were able to push it at 206 miles an hour around the track.
I'm not saying they need to take that away, I'm just saying that's why we're doing it the way we're doing it. It's kind of how things have evolved.
Now it makes you think, Man, what if I could have done something like this in 1995, just think of what we could have done.
But we'll see. Whatever the rules are, whatever the conditions, I know we got a fast racecar, a great race team, I look forward to the Daytona 500 no matter what.
I think, you know, to me last night was an exciting race. Was it different? Was it unique? Yeah, it was. But I still thought it was very exciting.
Q: A lot has been made about this being the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death. With Dale Jr. starting on the pole, you trying to turn him around, any significance at all to all that?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, you know, things are certainly lining up in an interesting way. I mean, pulled the pole for the Bud Shootout, wins the pole for the Daytona 500, the lights went out the other night. Some strange activity happening around Daytona right now (laughter).
You know, I think that just kind of is going to build to the hype and excitement for next Sunday's race. I love to bring back a lot of these memories about Dale, what he brought to the sport, his legacy. It reminds me of a lot of things I learned from him, the good times that we had. So I think it's very cool to bring attention to that and to celebrate it more than anything else.
Q: Jeff, to go back about the performance of the car with all these new variables. What in your mind does the track play in terms of the performance of the car, the repaved surface? Is that a huge variable or are we making too much of that?
JEFF GORDON: That's a huge variable. The old surface we would have never done this because the old surface was abrasive. The cars had to handle. There was a lot bigger bumps, the cars moved around a lot more. Basically this is just a little bit smaller Talladega now.
We came here and tested in December. Junior and I talked about this a number of times, other guys as well, is we tried to push then and couldn't seem to do it. Seemed like the cars were getting sideways, getting in the corner. We had a little bit bigger restrictor plate then. We can't figure out, was it that we had more power and weren't able to do it or was the track just not rubbered in and had the grip that it has now.
But something changed by that January test because everybody was doing it in January. Now here we are doing it every single time we're on the track. It's funny, because you keep thinking, All right, we're going to get a big group of cars out there, that two-car thing isn't going to work. Every time we get out on the track, two cars take off and all the others have to team up too and try to track them down. Kenseth went down a lap in like 17, 18 last night. That's unbelievable.
The game has changed, that's all I can say. You can't take knowledge and throw it away. Once you have it, you have it, you maintain it, you apply it. No matter what changes from now, if anything, to Sunday we're still going to have that knowledge. We'll try to use it to our advantage.
Q: When you're talking about when you were out in the race last night, studying what went on, there's always unexpected developments at plate tracks when something changes. We all knew people were going to get in pairs of two. But the difficulty in racing in anything other than a pair of two, the fact that a car would lose the draft, Kyle Busch several times, and seem unable to latch on. If there were two people who would move over and lose ground, still continue to lose ground. If you could find one car, he would pick up speed again. Was that surprising or something you already noticed?
JEFF GORDON: Not so sure I'm with you. All I can do is tell you what I dealt with last night.
I mean, you know, it's all about getting locked on. You've got to get on their bumper and you've got to be locked in there. When you're the lead car, you're just feeling constantly pushing or a little tap. If you don't feel that push or that tap, you look up in your mirror, they're fading back. You drop five miles an hour instantly.
Q: If you moved over, you'd get clobbered, right?
JEFF GORDON: If they're coming at you? If somebody is coming at a high rate of speed, you're going to cause a heck of a wreck. The closing rate is so much greater now. That's the big thing. When you're with two, you have to remember, we've always thought of drafting as four cars are better than two cars, eight cars are better than four. That's because they weren't in this bumper-to-bumper thing.
Three cars, if you could get all three of them locked in together, they would go faster than two. But can't seem to do it. It makes that center car a sandwich and he starts getting out of control.
Q: When you're in free fall, you can't move up in front or in back.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, trust me, you got to have a partner. Whether it's a teammate or whether it's just somebody, you don't want to be odd man out. That's what happened to Kenseth. It happened to me early in the race. I faded all the way to the back. Luckily I got picked up by Regan Smith and, boom, we worked our way right back up through there.
You know, like I said, the thing I like that's exciting is it's unique, it makes you think, it makes you work. I mean, there's a tremendous amount of challenge that comes along. Also from the team.
You talk about the cooling. You talk about the rev limiters, all those things. Now I got to figure out who has 9500. Shoot, we can't run 9500. We got some work to do (smiling).
But, you know, the thing is, there are going to be some guys that are going to try to do it for 500 miles. I think there's going to be some guys that fail from an engine standpoint. We've known since January coming down here that we can't do that for 500 miles. That's if we run high temperatures.
What we're doing in testing is we push till we got to like 260, 270 on the water temp, then we would swap and let it cool down, then we'd swap. We did that. We didn't think we could do it for 500 miles based on what we saw on the engine.
There are going to be guys that take the risk and try it. We're here to do whatever it takes to win the race. So we'll see kind of what happens over the next few days. We are going to take it day to day and make our plan from there.
Q: This is the first time you're running on E-15. Does that mean anything to you as drivers or as individuals?
JEFF GORDON: Go ahead, Junior.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Wow (laughter). He's the politician.
Well, you know, I think the switch was seamless, I can say that. I didn't even notice a switch myself. But, yeah, I think it helps a lot of people. Personally, I don't really know a whole lot about it.
What was the announcement the other day, the National Corn Growers Association or something that became a sponsor of NASCAR? What was that? You guys not up on your media (laughter)?
JEFF GORDON: Why are they asking us the questions (laughter).
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm thinking there's the trickle-down effect. Figured you guys would be up on the latest news (smiling).
Anyways, I think it's opened a lot of doors for different partners to be involved in NASCAR. I think, you know, over the long haul, as far as the United States goes, the more of that stuff we're making, the better it is for the people out west growing the corn.
JEFF GORDON: The only thing I'm going to add to what Junior said, I mean, I think it's important for our sport to be relevant and current.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: That's not why we did it, man. It's for the guys, the farmers out there.
JEFF GORDON: Dupont, one of my sponsors, Pioneer Seeds is a big part of their business. So the corn growers mean a lot to them. I totally agree with what Junior said about what it does for their economy, for all those folks in the Midwest.
I think what it does for our environment, you know, I think it's important for NASCAR to be setting trends instead of following them and I think it's a great step they took. I certainly didn't feel any difference in the racecar either, so that's very cool.
KERRY THARP: Jeff, thank you so much. We'll let you go.