Daytona 500 media day visit: Gordon and Johnson

Team Chevy Racing press release

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, met with members of media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed skill verses luck in winning the Daytona 500, his charitable endeavors with children’s hospitals, pack racing versus the two-car draft and much more.

Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

MARTINSVILLE’S 65TH ANNIVERSARY IS THIS YEAR; ASIDE FROM YOUR SEVEN VICTORIES THERE CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR APPRECIATION FOR THE RACE TRACK? “Martinsville is awesome. I think especially now how few short tracks are on the schedule, it’s just great to get to a short track where you have to be careful when driving in the corner, wheel spin is an issue and of course 43 cars on that type of a race track makes for a very exciting race. You know Martinsville has been a great track for us over the years so it’s always one I look forward to going to and I’m very appreciative it’s on the schedule.”

IN THE DAYTONA 500, HOW MUCH OF IT IS SKILL AND HOW MUCH OF IT IS LUCK? “You know every year is different. Every year I’ve been here grip level, cars, track conditions; it varies so there are some years where I feel like luck plays a bigger role other years where skill plays out. I don’t think there is a single Daytona 500 that I’ve won here that I didn’t have some help getting there. Maybe I got myself in position but when I made a move to try to win a race somebody was there. Whether it was for their own benefit or mine whatever it was without somebody pushing me, you can say that’s luck or whatever you want to call it; it took that to win the race. So I think that’s always going to continue to take that but I think there is a lot of skill that’s involved with being patient and putting yourself in that position. Certainly a lot of the skill on the team is having a fast race car. I think that this year is an unknown. Different rules and package than we had here last year and I think the Shootout is going to tell us a lot about how strategy, patience, aggressiveness all that’s going to work together in order to get you the victory.”

YOU’VE WON DAYTONA’S, YOU’VE WON BRICKYARDS, YOU’VE WON CHAMPIONSHIPS, THERE ARE SOME BIG NAME DRIVERS THAT HAVEN’T WONT HE DAYTONA 500, HOW MUCH IS A NASCAR CAREER NOT NECESSARILY COMPLETE WITHOUT A VICTORY IN THE DAYTONA 500? “I think for drivers that really feel like they’re one of the top drivers from a talent standpoint they’re not going to look at a restrictor-plate race and a victory there the same because they’re going to say it’s harder to win at Martinsville, it’s harder to win at Bristol, it’s harder to win at Kansas or something like that and they’re going to say I rather have victories at those places and maybe a Brickyard. But I think there isn’t anybody that doesn’t want to win the Daytona 500. I think that’s the difference. It doesn’t matter whether its restrictor-plate race or not or how much skill or luck goes into it, you want to win it. The longer you go without winning it the more challenging it becomes and the harder you think it is and when you do accomplish it, I think there is that much more meaning behind it not to mention just the fact that this race means the world to a race car driver.”

MARK MARTIN SEEMS TO BE CONTENT IN THE FACT THAT HIS CAREER HAS BEEN GREAT WHETHER HE WINS THIS THING OR NOT. “And it has been. There’s no way that he’s going to be judged by that and he’s been close. I think it’s more of a personal thing to him and if he won it I think he would be overjoyed and overwhelmed and elated just because to him it’s like there’s this something holding him back from getting that victory in Daytona but I think he’s just as capable of doing it as anybody.”

CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH SOME OF THESE CHILDREN’S HOSPITALS, HOW DID THAT GET STARTED AND WHY TAKE IT TO A DIFFERENT LEVEL OF GOING OVER TO AFRICA? “When you meet as many kids as I have and their families, their parents that have gone through the treatments and many times going through the treatment is not working and the death, you see the stats and numbers and you go around and you say what can I do to help and start seeing the impact of people coming together and helping and what you can do in a positive way. To me that’s something I’ve just become passionate about over the years. I relate a lot of things to racing, teamwork is what builds success on the track and it’s no different when it comes to children’s pediatric cancer. It’s about working together and trying to make a difference. The reason why I took it to the next level is an opportunity came my way and I saw a great opportunity to be able to do something globally. I wouldn’t invest in trying to do a research lab at O’Reilly Research Hospital in Indianapolis without going there and seeing it and meeting the people. Same thing for the Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Hospital in Concord (North Carolina) and that’s the same thing I’m wanting to do with Africa. We’ve made an investment over there. We teamed up with some great people and wanted to go see it in person. There’s children over there that are dying from things that are very easily treatable over here and that got my attention.”

WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT PEOPLE NOT WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 DO YOU THINK MAYBE TONY STEWART HAS GOTTEN MORE IN THE DALE SR MODE OF WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500? “Yeah, I would definitely say that. When you look at talent level, accomplishments, then you look at the stats and his accomplishments on restrictor-plate tracks, he’s won quite a few of them too, and to me he’s starting to get in that category. He’s got a few more years and I know Tony hopes he doesn’t get all the way into that category but Dale went for a long time without getting that victory and Tony is building on that. But yeah I think he’s definitely I would put in a category like that if you look at guys who haven’t won the 500.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON BASICALLY SAID THAT HE HAD GOTTEN A LITTLE BIT COMPLACENT WINNING FIVE IN A ROW; DID THAT MENTALITY SET IN YOU WHEN YOU WERE WINNING AND CAN YOU GET COMPLACENT EVEN WHEN YOU ARE WINNING? “There’s no way, the discipline that it would take to not get complacent, I don’t even know if anyone is capable of not being complacent when you are winning a lot of races. I only have 1998 to really compare to. We won 13 races that year and while it felt good and it was exciting when we won our 10th, 11th and 12th races it wasn’t like the first one. It wasn’t like the fifth one. What you do have is this confidence and belief in you and your team of every time you hit the race track you can win that race so that’s a powerful thing. But to not take it for granted and to not get complacent I think is impossible when you are winning that much and you win that many championship back-to-back. I think Jimmie did a really good job handling everything that was coming at him as well as he did.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAST YEAR IN TERMS OF HOW IT WAS A PRETTY SUCCESSFUL SEASON, THE HIGH OF HIGHS AND LOW OF LOWS? “I wouldn’t say the low of lows, Texas the first time around was the low of lows. That was bad. It didn’t go the way we had hoped and that’s kind of the way the Chase is. You can go into it with a ton of momentum and it can all change in one race, two races. I’m proud of the way we handled it. I think it’s going to make us a much stronger team this year and I think we are ready to show what we’re capable of doing this year.”

HOW DOES IT IMPACT YOU? “It shows you how bad you want it and it shows you where your weaknesses are. You make a decision of where you are going to go to work improving those things and make sure it doesn’t’ happen the following year. So I’m really excited about this year and I think I’m more excited about this year because the momentum we had going into the Chase and the fact that we got our butts kicked when it came time to really step up and do it, that’s motivation.”

SEEING TONY STEWART COMING INTO THE CHASE THINKING HE DOESN’T EVEN BELONG THERE AND HE TEARS IT UP AND WINS IT, IS THAT INSPIRATIONAL TO YOU AS A DRIVER? “I think it’s very inspirational. Tony and I are pretty close in age. I think he came into the sport a couple of years after me and to see a guy like Tony be able to pull the team together and go and do what he did in those final 10 races, I think its inspiring to really anybody and everybody because it shows you that you can never stop working on building your team, making your cars better or being a better driver. It doesn’t matter what happened in the last race it’s what you do at that moment in that race and they did it perfectly. They did it the way we all hoped we could do it. Made for a great story, very exciting. I think we’ve got a lot of momentum coming out of that championship battle. I’ll be curious to see how now that momentum shifts into this year, if it gives him that confidence to be able to step it up from the beginning and seize it. I think that they possibly very well can. Just to me it puts us in position that no matter how those first 26 races go, if we were in the Chase we’ve got a shot at winning it and we’ll have that attitude until the following race of the year.”

YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY HAD FACE-TO-FACE DEALINGS WITH TWO GENERATIONS OF FRANCE FAMILY OVER THE YEARS, BUT THE PETTY/PEARSON GENERATION THAT HAD DEALINGS WITH BIG BILL AND BILL JUNIOR, WHEN THEY WOULD TALK ABOUT THE FRANCE FAMILY THEY WOULD JUST SAY FRANCE, HAS THERE BEEN ANY OF THAT HARSH, DICTATORSHIP PART FOR YOUR GENERATION? “Well I look at Mike (Helton) that way. I think that Mike probably fits that description a little bit better than Brian (France) does. I think that’s the way Brian wants it to be. I don’t think that he wants to come in here and try to be his dad. I think that he wants to keep this sport thriving and growing and he’s very passionate about it from the business side of it and that’s important. But coming in and walking the garage area and grabbing the guy by the shoulder and pulling him to the side and giving him his opinion on good or bad, that’s not Brian. It takes somebody in the garage area and to me that’s always has been Mike.”

SO Y’ALL SAY HELTON WHERE THEY SAID FRANCE? “Yeah, but I mean its still, its NASCAR. I always said NASCAR, I never said France. I try not to say that word. I was afraid of how Bill, Jr. might take it. I think NASCAR is probably the better way to describe it for me.”

IF NASCAR CAN’T DO AWAY WITH THE TANDEM DRAFT, IN YOUR MIND IS IT DANGEROUS TO TAKE AWAY THE RADIO COMMUNICATION FROM DRIVER TO DRIVER? “I feel pretty confident they’ve taken away the two-car draft to be honest. I don’t think you are going to see much of it. You know they’ve addressed the things that were allowing us to do it. Now if there is a green-white-checker at the end of this race will you see some of it? Yes, you will. At that point I don’t think you’re going to be searching for your teammate unless they are already behind you or in front of you.”

WHAT DID THEY DO THAT WORKED THAT WILL STOP THE TWO CARS? “A lot to the spoiler, the restrictor plate, closing off the opening to the radiator.” WASN’T THAT ALL IN PLACE AT PRE-SEASON THUNDER AND YOU GUYS DID IT THERE? “They’ve made more changes after then.” SO THE SPOILER IS EVEN SMALLER? “They’ve extended the rear bumper. They’ve closed up the opening. And even when we were here testing when we really go into it we were not doing it as long as you think you were. The first day maybe, but then they made some adjustments and by the last day there wasn’t a lot of it. I’m not saying it’s gone, it’s going to happen but you’re not going to see guys out there doing it for the whole race.”

WILL YOU SEE PACKS AGAIN OR LINES? “Well, that’s what’s undetermined. That’s what we won’t know until the Bud Shootout. I think you are going to see some packs and then we’re going to see if we can race three wide in packs lap after lap. Cars have less down force and a little more power. At night it might be okay but during the day time for the 150’s and the 500 might be a little different. To me I’m looking at whatever strategies is going to get me to Victory Lane and if that’s get up front and you can stay there then I’m all for that. If that means you’ve got to kind of ride and be patient, we’ll play the strategy that works best but none of want to do that. We want to get up there and race hard the entire race. But one thing I know you are taking more risks now doing the two-car draft than we ever have before from an engine standpoint and throwing in the lack of radio communication. It’s making it more risky to do and I think unless it’s the final lap of the race, I don’t know if it’s worth it.”

THE LAST TEN 500’S HAVE BEEN WON BY TEN DIFFERENT DRIVERS. TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT AND THE DIFFICULTY OF REPEATING. “It’s very difficult. The 500 has always been a tough race to win but I can tell you that in the 20 years I’ve been in the sport, the thing is that you used to be able to be a little more predictable and so you used to be able to do some one-car passes and get in the top five or six and hold your position using your mirror. The last 10 years the reason why you’ve had multiple winners is because the rules have changed, the aerodynamics have changed and it’s so much more difficult to do what we did 15 years ago and it will still be. It’s going to be very unpredictable again. Anybody can win this race.”

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT YOU FEEL DANICA BRINGS TO THIS RACE BEYOND THE MARKETING ASPECT. “I think she’s a competitive driver. I think that her lack of experience in the Cup cars and for anybody it doesn’t matter who it is, is still there. But I think as far as her talent she’s raced her whole life and she earned her way to Indy Cars and she’s earned her way to here. The marketability certainly has helped and I think that she’s done a great job utilizing that as well as NASCAR. It’s great for the sport. Who doesn’t want to see a female driver come in here and be able to race with the guys and do well and be marketable? It’s great for the sport. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take some time. She might do really well with Daytona being a restrictor-plate track but we all come into this series and have to go through the learning curve. It’s not going to be any different for her.”

HOW HARD IS IT FOR A DRIVER TO NOT GET DISTRACTED WHEN EACH WEEK YOU ARE THE FOCUS OF FAN, MEDIA INTEREST? SHE’S GOING TO HAVE THAT A LOT. “It’s not tough to balance if you’re having results on the track. When you are struggling on the track then it’s hard to focus because you are trying to figure out what you need to do to be better, to be more successful, to help your team out, all those things. You don’t need any extra distractions. One thing I’ve learned people like her like Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.), people that have gone through that and experienced that they do a very good job of managing and balancing it out. It’s not like all of a sudden she came out of nowhere and is all of a sudden having a lot of attention, she’s used to having a lot of attention. So I think that she should be able to handle it just fine.”


JIMMIE JOHNSON NO. 48 LOWES CHEVROLET, met with members of the media today at Daytona International Speedway and discussed crew changes, losing the 2011 championship, the off season and Danica Patrick’s entry into the Cup series.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

DO YOU HAVE ANY CREW CHANGES TO ANNOUNCE THIS YEAR?: “No, no it’s all the same guys at the No. 48 team, we feel that the group of guys we have assembled are amazing do an awesome job. Finishing sixth last year was not what we had in mind, but it wasn’t fallen on any one person shoulders. We have a very strong group of people who make decisions on making the car go and over the wall our guys continue to evolve and we invested into a system that started last year that is starting to pay off now and we feel good about where we are on pit road.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “There are a lot of things we ignore through the course of a year, especially over the last six years and what I have been through. It was nice just to catch up and scratch things off the list for my own personal things my “honey-do” list. Then also to get closer to racing, once we got through the holidays, getting back with Chad and the team, understanding the dynamic at the shop really evaluating what we did in 2011 and how we can do a better job so the real work on 2012 started after January 1st, up until then, I just separated myself. It was nice to just get away and have weekends off, have a normal life, visit with friends and go through all that. Since the new year, I have been really focused on coming back for 2012.”

HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO BALANCE CHANGING YOUR APPROACH TO A NEW YEAR WHEN YOU ARE A GREAT TEAM AND YOU KNOW YOU CANNOT WIN THEM ALL?: “I’m just upset at the way we lost the championship last year. At points within the chase we had momentum and things going our way. When I look back on it I find the way in which we lost it is the tough thing. If we get beat, we get beat and I just don’t want to, we beat ourselves, and I just don’t want to do that again.”

WHAT SPECIFICALLY DO YOU THINK YOU COULD HAVE DONE BETTER LOOKING BACK AT LAST SEASON?: “ I didn’t realize that over the five years or six years that we didn’t change as much maybe as we needed to and evolve. It’s tough to leave a successful road map and Chad and the team and I have been good at reinventing ourselves each year. But until the streak was broken looking back at this off season what we have been through and trying to rebuild the team and make sure we are looking at everything we can, we have a different depth. I’m focusing on my interaction with the team, how I provide information with the team, what information I’m looking at, there are a lot of things I haven’t done in the past and I felt like I was one of the most in depth drivers out there. I’m trying to even take that steps further now, so because of the loss we have been able to dig deeper and get away from the road map we’ve built and challenge ourselves more. At the same time the garage area has been extremely focused on everything the No. 48 car has done over the last six years, so maybe years three or four a lot of guys came out direction and really paid attention to what we were doing and they caught us and we got beat. We have to reinvent ourselves in some ways this year and we are ready for it.”

DO YOU THINK TOO MUCH WAS MADE OUT OF THE TIMES DURING THE YEAR WHEN WE EAVESDROPPED ON YOUR CONVERSATIONS WITH CHAD AND YOU GUYS WERE NOT IN AGREEMENT ON STUFF? : “Yeah I do. We through the years have had plenty of colorful moments and yet it hasn’t been to the degree of some guys, but the problem is the decision making process gets hampered when emotions are high. It is a fine line because everyone needs to vent, so when you pop off and vent and you typically feel a lot better after you do that. Chad and I have always been able to do that, but last year and I think a lot of it was due to trying to keep the streak alive and other pressures we didn’t recognize until the championship was gone. Those pressures have conjured things up and they started to affect the decision making process. You need to be able to vent and blow some steam off and put someone in place if need be, yell at your crew chief is need be. They yell at drivers all the time, that kind of stuff needs to happen, but in the end, it wasn’t necessarily what was coming out of our mouths it was a lot of factors that affected the decision making process.”

HOW IMPORTANT WILL IT BE THIS YEAR TO GET OFF TO A REALLY STRONG START TO THE YEAR? DOES IT FEEL MAYBE MORE IMPORTANT THIS YEAR IN TERMS OF MAKING A STATEMENT AND REALLY GETTING IT GOING EARLY?: “Yeah, it’s important, I look at the Daytona 500 as we are only here to win the race if we finish fifth, sure the points are nice, but I like a lot of others will do anything to win this race even if it means a last lap crash and you finish 40th. Once we get out of this race, then a quick start, I think means a lot. It reflects on the off season and what the teams have done there. Anytime you can get points in your back pocket and start separating yourself from tenth or win a race or two to fix that wild card scenario and try to lock yourself in. It makes you sleep better. Nobody likes to go to Richmond stressing about that race. That mindset starts at Phoenix and you really start thinking about things then. The [Daytona] 500 it is the biggest race we have so you’re going to do anything and everything you can to win it.”

WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP RUN WAS OVER LAST YEAR? “The Charlotte crash really started the thought process. Then Talladega, it was evident that window was closing and that I needed a lot of things to happen to the No. 14 and No. 99. Then we left Phoenix and I still had that fire and hope that I wouldn’t be out of it that there might be a mistake and I wanted to be ready for it. But when I left Phoenix it was crazy just feeling the pressure kind of leave. I didn’t realize what was on me and the high standard I had hoped for myself or the pressure I was carrying and when it left it was kind of like, ok there it goes, now it’s time to enjoy Homestead. I went down there and had a really great time, I think we had a really fast car, but it was a wild experience to feel the pressure leave from Phoenix until I saw all the tweets about the champion’s lunch taking place on the Wednesday. Then that championship mind set hit me again and I became really disappointed that I wasn’t there at that luncheon and apart of all of it.”

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY DEPRESSION OR ANYTHING? “No, no depression. Just in some ways leaving Phoenix there was some relief when the pressure was lifting. In Homestead when that started just disappointment and frustration which led to me realizing that I just needed to unwind through the off season and it kind of started my whole process. I had made some decisions about not running the Rolex 24 before that but it just cemented the fact that I needed some time just to decompress and make sure that I come back this year refreshed and excited. There is just an energy you have when you walk through those gates as a rookie and every veteran comes in excited and hungry. There is something a little different when you come in and you are early in your career. I feel like I have found those things again. I’m walking in here with a different set of eyes than I have the last five or six years.”

WHEN YOU FELT THE PRESSURE LIFTING WAS THAT THE MOST PRESSURE YOU FELT SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE SPORT? “I don’t know. We quickly forget things. The pressure to survive that first year and to win a race that I had on myself, I felt like I’d be unemployed if I didn’t win by the second year at the latest. I don’t know it’s close to it. It’s hard to relive each event, but there was a lot for sure.”

IS THIS THE ONLY RACE LEFT THAT IS BIGGER THAN THE CHASE?: “I would say here and the Brickyard, depending on where a driver is from. If I had to pick one or the other it would depend on what the drivers racing upbringing was, but I would say these two races are the ones.”

WE UNDERSTAND KEVIN HARVICK HAS CONSULTED WITH YOU ABOUT BEING A FATHER, HOW HIS LIFE IS GOING TO CHANGE. WHAT HAVE YOU TOLD HIM? WHAT KIND OF INTERACTION HAVE YOU HAD ABOUT THAT?: “We haven’t really talked much through the off season, but our motorhomes seem to be parked next to one another and as my wife and I have been out with our daughter, he is outside, watching and asking questions from time to time. It all made sense when I saw they announced that DeLana was pregnant. Now when I look back there were a lot of little questions that make sense why he was asking.”

YOU’VE KNOWN HIM [HARVICK] BACK TO THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DAYS. HOW DO YOU THINK IT WILL CHANGE HIM, IS HE READY FOR IT? “I think it is going to be great for him. I think we all understand now why the Nationwide and Truck team shut down. I’m happy they are going to have the time to be with their family and be a part of it. As we all know this is a tough schedule. Speaking from 19 months of experience you don’t want to leave the house. You want to be with your family everyday it’s just such a cool experience. I know it would be really tough on him and DeLana if they still had their Nationwide and Truck teams and all the demands that come with it. I think he has made some great decisions already. They just need to buckle in they are going to have a great experience.”

YOU’VE HAD TO DEAL WITH THE PHENOMENA THAT IS DALE JR., NOW DANICA IS COMING OVER, WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HER PERSONALLY? HAVE YOU SPENT TIME WITH HER? HOW DO YOU THINK SHE WILL AFFECT THE SPORT IN GENERAL? “I think she is great for our sport. We need people tuned in and watching and certainly new fans are important to all of us. I think she brings in a lot of new fans, she has a big following. She is been able to get our sport onto a different platform, with mainstream media and things that she is involved with outside of racing. I’m excited for it. I think it is going to be great. I’ve gotten to know her a little bit over the last year or so. She is very committed to the sport, very committed to being a racer, which is great to see and shows with what she has been able to accomplish on track. The thing she is going to have to fight through this year is with that big spotlight burning on her, some she has created because she has a brand she is promoting and building, and a very successful brand, there is an intense spotlight on her, every move she makes is going to be criticized good and bad. Her performance, there is a big hurdle there for her to accomplish on track and it’s going to be a challenge for her.

“She has my support. I know she has our sports support, she is with Tony and Ryan and they will be able to help her out tremendously. Obviously on the Nationwide side she has a lot of good people to pull from there as well. If she is patient with her development and her fan base is, I think she is going to be here for a long time and be very successful.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HER [DANICA] STARTING AT DAYTONA THEN NOT GETTING BACK INTO A CUP CAR UNTIL DARLINGTON? “I think it is smart for her to run the 500. She did a great job in the Nationwide series race, being able to come back and build off of that is important. I think she will have a strong showing here. The she goes into a lot of tracks, I’m surprised at some of the races they chose, I understand because Tony is leading that brigade, saying hey you need to come get experience on these tracks right away, but it is putting her in that position that people need to understand she is going to the toughest tracks, the toughest sport, the toughest division and expectations just need to be real across the board for what she does in her first year on track.”

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Eric Gilbert , Danica Patrick
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Tags chevrolet, gordon, hendrick, johnson