NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series - Daytona 500 Feb. 20, 2005 Daytona International Speedway Daytona Beach, Fla. An interview with: JEFF GORDON THE MODERATOR: We're joined in the press box by Jeff Gordon. Jeff, we have a few questions here. We'll...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series - Daytona 500
Feb. 20, 2005
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Fla.
An interview with: JEFF GORDON
THE MODERATOR: We're joined in the press box by Jeff Gordon. Jeff, we have a few questions here. We'll get right to it. Was it extra rewarding for you to outrun Junior there in the green white checker, considering the fan reaction at Talladega?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. Any time Junior is a part of a victory, knowing his fan base, knowing his track record here, it's rewarding, definitely. And, I mean, really, I feel like the strongest cars all day, other than the 15, we were able to battle with there at the end towards the finish.
I think Tony Stewart is an amazing driver. He did a great job today, and that was fun racing, battling with him. Junior, as well. Jimmie Johnson, you know, Michael, while he was in there, before he had his problems. You know, Kurt Busch.
You know, it felt very rewarding on many levels because of it being a spectacular finish, having to really maneuver around and, you know, do a lot of things, going from first to third or fourth, back up to first. Definitely getting beside that 8 car and pulling ahead of him was amazing.
Q: In terms of the Daytona 500, you're now in some very elite company. Petty had seven, Yarborough had four, Jarrett had three. Can you talk about it and put it in perspective?
JEFF GORDON: I don't know how to put that in perspective. It's overwhelming to me. I was thrilled with the two that I had. Just one is enough to make your career. To have three now is just incredible. You know, all I've been thinking about all week and all day is just, you know, how much we wanted to get this victory, how hard we'd worked, how great of a race car and race team that we have right now, especially today. I just believed that we could do it.
All day long, I just believed that we had what it took. We were just trying to be patient, you know, and not make mistakes. We were just in the right position all day long. Even though we weren't leading a lot of laps, I knew that we were in a great position to pull this one off. You know, this third one's even sweeter than the other two. It's just amazing. I just heard those statistics. That's some great company to be a part of.
Q: Considering what you had to go through at the end to win this race, would you consider this your finest moment in the sport, your greatest driving achievement?
JEFF GORDON: If you want to write that, that would be fine by me (smiling).
I mean, you know what, when I think of Daytona victories here, especially the two Daytona 500s, they all came down to something that you had to do, you know, out of the ordinary, to make a risky move, to do something to get the victory. It was not given to us. It wasn't just something that was easy. It took hard work and it took, like I say, risk taking.
The risk that I took today was when I was in second behind Stewart, and I had Junior behind me, I knew Junior was not going to go with me. He had already said he wasn't. And he gave me a big push. I had momentum. I went to the outside of the 20 car, and he went with the 20 car. That was a risk that I was willing to take to try to win the race, even though I might end up finishing 10th.
You know, it worked out for me. To be in that outside lane I think was the best place for me to be. Luckily I had some guys up there that came and gave me some help, like Jimmie Johnson, the 10 car, a couple others. You know, to me that kind of won us the race, even though it put us back a little bit at that time.
Q: Can't give me a yes or no answer?
JEFF GORDON: No, I don't have yes or no answers. Sorry, I'm not good at those.
Q: At one point you told us you never doubted your team, you were in good position. Down there you said when the 8 went by, you thought it was done. Which is it?
JEFF GORDON: I had a moment of doubt right then (laughter). But I got myself back together, though.
When that 8 car came off turn four and he drove well, first he drove by me, then he turned and went up and around the 20 car, I was surprised he didn't clear him. I thought he was going to clear him. He finally did.
At that moment, I said, "Our day is done. There's nobody going to touch that guy." Because it was like he flipped a switch. He hadn't been in there all day. I found out a little bit earlier that he had trouble on pit road. I kind of understand how he got shuffled back. Even though I may have had a moment of doubt, I never stopped trying to win the race. I knew we had a good car. If we got the right push and the right momentum, I thought we still could do it.
You know, on that last restart with the 8 being behind me, I had no idea when the after burner was going to kick in, he was going to drive by me. I think they got shuffling around enough to where it stopped his momentum and some other guys came up to where it allowed us to pull it off.
Q: Did you have a name for this car? If so, why?
JEFF GORDON: I believe the name of this car was Soldier. I'm not exactly sure how the name was created. But we did go onto my website, my fan network, and they picked the final name of the car.
Q: For most of those 107 laps that Tony was in the lead, you were second. Were you content to kind of just stay there and let the laps run down? Was he just that good?
JEFF GORDON: I was fairly content. I was only going to pass him if I could pass him on the inside at that time. So, you know, I had a couple moves where we had momentum and I got right up on him and tried to go to the inside, and he blocked it every time. Like you said, he drove a great race. He forced me to have to go to the outside and take a risk that, you know, I didn't really want to take, but one I had to. I wish we would have kept that one restart, though. That one restart was pretty awesome when I got inside of him.
You know, so I was somewhat content, but I wanted to pass him, but I didn't want to do it on the outside until later in the race.
Q: You mentioned earlier you felt like maybe a little bit during the last week or so you guys were under the radar, that was the expression you used. It seems kind of amazing y'all could think you could be under the radar. Did you ever feel that way about it and was that maybe the way you wanted to go about things?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, we thought we had a shot at the pole. And if we had sat on the pole, I think that would have put us up there on the radar. Since we didn't qualify on the pole, we didn't win the Bud Shootout, we didn't win the Duel 150 race, and through all those moments, one is in practice we were fast enough to sit on the pole, but we ended up third. In the Bud Shootout we finished third; we were pretty good. In the 150 we led a bunch, got shuffled back there at the end. The whole time I'm thinking, We've got a great car here and we need 500 miles and some pit stops and everything to get us up there and put us in position.
So all week, I knew that we had what it took. But I don't think that as far as in the media and maybe in the garage that too many people were paying attention to us because we didn't do anything spectacular leading up to today.
Q: You said after the tragedy, this week, the team being here is a testament in and of itself. You hear the word "family" in sports. This is the only family you've ever known in NASCAR. What is it about Hendrick Motorsports that feels like family? What makes them family?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, to me family is about how you're treated and how people make you feel and welcome you in. Since the day I met Rick Hendrick, you know, our relationship has grown, we've bonded, and I feel like I'm a part of that family. He's an amazing individual.
He has this incredible quality of making that happen a lot with a lot of people around him because he's very warm and he's generous and kind. It shines through in him and it shines through in his people. People love to work for Rick because of that quality. People love to be around him because of that.
His family is very near and dear to him. That's what made that loss so tragic, because they were not only family members that he cared so much about, but other people that were a part of the extended family that were just as meaningful to him and to all of us.
Q: What is the shelf life for your restrictor plate program before the other teams start knocking on the door? You won here in July, and of course you won here today. What is the shelf life of this run that you have with the restrictor plate races?
JEFF GORDON: Man, you never know. You just never know. You just keep trying to get more horsepower, keep trying to make the car slicker and better. What happens here is no real indication what's going to happen at Talladega. I mean, I felt like we had a great car, one of the best cars I've ever had here, but I also noticed a lot of other people had great cars here.
So, you know, I think the competition has definitely closed up. So I don't think that we have any distinct advantage over anybody else. I think we certainly played out a great race today and pulled off a victory. But as far as I'm concerned, you know, you never stop working on trying to keep that shelf life alive and kicking. We're going to stay with it as long as we can.
Obviously, we're doing something right right now, want to keep going in that direction.
Q: Earlier this week there were a lot of complaints about how guys were driving, bump drafting and hitting each other. Was there anybody that you ran with today that surprised you in a positive way?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, Kurt Busch and I had a little run in in the 150. I was a little concerned with that. But we talked actually right before the race. I was starting behind him. He said, "Hey, you know, sorry about what happened the other day. Didn't mean to do it."
I said, "Hey, let's just go out there and work together today and, you know, get ourselves up front and race for a win."
It's funny that we talked like that, because it's kind of the way things worked out. So he was very respectful. Everybody, I thought, did a really good job. I think people are a lot more patient today because it's 500 miles. I think guys were a little bit more cautious or conscious of the nose on their cars because if you damage the nose on these cars, the first thing that happens is the water temp goes up, it disrupts the air going into the radiator, the water temperature goes up, you blow up. I know that I didn't run into the back of guys much until the very end of the race, and then I started slamming into guys.
I drove into the back of the 8 car so hard in the middle three and four, I thought for sure it was going to turn him sideways, and it didn't. So I was happy about that.
And all day long, I was working on Tony Stewart. You know, I was on his bumper, pushing him not hard, not a slam, but pushing him. You know, just trying to do anything I could to shake him and rattle him, get him off the bottom. But it just didn't work.
I thought everybody did a great job. Of course, there at the end all bets are off. When you're going for a Daytona 500 victory, the closing laps, it gets wild, it gets crazy and people are going to start bumping and banging. It's okay if you do it in the closing laps. There's no reason to do it in a 150 and early in a 500 mile race. I thought it went well.
Q: Last year at Talladega in the spring race, we had a situation where you won on the yellow deal. That was kind of the last straw and prompted this change to the green white checkered. At the time you and a lot of people said you really weren't too sure you'd like to see a green white checkered in restrictor plate track. It looked like it worked pretty well. What do you think of that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I still don't agree with it on a restrictor plate track. I still think that it opens up the door for madness, just because on restrictor plate tracks, we're all so tightly bunched because of lack of horsepower, it's all about aerodynamics and drafting. You know cars are going to flare out and widen out, bump and bang, get sideways. I don't know, maybe we were lucky today. Everybody did do a good job all day long, and that was a perfect situation for it to kind of go away.
If you do green white checkered on restrictor plate tracks, I think the percentages are going to lean towards wrecks. That's my only concern.
Q: Were you concerned like when we got to about 190 laps, caution, they extended it, were you worried that time might run out?
JEFF GORDON: No. I knew I only needed one. I mean, you know, there was no doubt in my mind that twice a lap I had an opportunity to go to the outside of the 20 car. I wanted to do it on the inside, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. So it didn't matter to me if it was a green white checkered or if it was five laps, seven laps, eight laps. It was going to happen. Whether it was going to happen on the restart, whether it was going to happen on the white flag lap, whatever. It was just whether or not when I went to the outside if I was going to have any help. I couldn't do it on my own. I couldn't just pull out there and pass him on my own. I could get beside him but I couldn't pass him. But I didn't come here to finish second either.
So I knew that there was a matter of time. Once we got into that last window of six or seven to go, I knew I was going to take my first opportunity that came. Every opportunity that I got in those cautions and greens and everything, I took it. I tried to go to the outside. Just said, "We'll just see what happens." If I just stayed in line, somebody else was going to go to the outside and I was just going to be riding along, trying to figure out where I would end up because I knew I wasn't going to win.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the patience you had to exhibit all throughout the race when you're riding behind Tony, knowing you had a chance to make some moves, maybe go ahead and take the lead? Was Robbie and Rick insisting, "Let's make a move now"? Did you have to rebuff them and say, "Let's wait"?
JEFF GORDON: Well, again, I knew I could get beside him. I didn't know if I could get by him. So I didn't want to do that too early. Nobody really said anything to me about, "You got to do it now. Now is the time." I mean, I think they leave that up into my hands, just like I leave things into their hands. I mean, I felt like I played a patient race all day. There was one time I jumped out there sooner than I wanted to, maybe 30, 40 to go, something like that. And it was because it was a restart, and I thought, if I could clear him, it might be able to happen on one of these restarts and I felt like I could maybe hold him off till the end.
Kind of glad it didn't work out that time actually. The caution came out a little bit later than that. I was right side by side with him. I'm kind of glad it didn't work out, that I actually got back in behind him and rode for some more laps before I tried it again.
Q: A lot of people in this room have picked you to win the championship this year. Do you sense this could be a special year for you guys?
JEFF GORDON: I thought everybody picked Jimmie Johnson. I was wanting to still stay under the radar. Am I not under the radar (laughter)?
Let's not let a Daytona 500 victory fool us. I mean, I love this. This is an amazing day. It's great to get the momentum and the season starting off right. But this guarantees nothing as far as the championship is concerned. We're going to find out a lot more what we're really made of when we come out of California next week.
It feels great, it's awesome. It's been a while since I got a season started like this. I think we've got an incredible team this year. I think we've got a team that's capable of winning the championship. But only the next 25 races are going to really tell us what we've got in store.
Q: On a lighter note, these are probably the best doughnuts and burnouts we've seen you do. Did you practice in the off season?
JEFF GORDON: So you like my reverse burnout when I broke the transmission? You liked that (smiling)? I broke reverse when I was trying to do that.
You know what, I mean, I know I'm not known for doing burnouts. Every once in a while I get lucky. I did want to jump out there and spin around in that grass. I really wasn't going to do much of a burnout. Then the car kind of backed over here. I said, Well, let's see if I can do one in reverse. Did that. Broke the transmission. I went down here, said, Well, let me see if I can do one down here.
I've been practicing on Jay Leno, doing some burnouts. Must have paid off.
Q: Why has Hendrick Motorsports continued to thrive after the tragedy? How much has Randy Dorton's engines and his expertise meant to your success?
JEFF GORDON: It's incredible what motivates some people and what makes people dig down within themselves and pull out more than they knew they had. This tragedy has done that for a lot of people.
I think Randy Dorton's creativity, his experience, his knowledge, still lives within us. I mean, you know, that is a burning desire within everybody to keep that drive going. And I think he taught a lot of people at our organization about how to go about things. And we're very fortunate that his leadership has been passed down through other people that share that same passion that he did.
So I don't see our engine program skipping a beat because of that. At the same time, we've had some incredible key people step up and take on a role that none of us expected. People like Marshall Carlson, Jeff Andrews, Doug Duchart coming on. We've had some amazing things happen at a time when you least expected it.
You know, when you look at the business side of things, it's very exciting to be a part of it right now.
Q: When you were coming to take the checkered flag, you were really excited, knew you had it won. Talk about how you really do still enjoy these. You get excited, you're happy, with as many wins as you have. You really do enjoy it. A lot of sports, there's not that same type of emotion.
JEFF GORDON: You know, I learned quite a while ago that it's not racing that I love, it's winning. I was fortunate at a young age to experience winning. You know, I've been behind the wheel of some amazing race cars and now have 500 people that support our efforts at Hendrick Motorsports every day.
When you know about the work put in, the people that are behind the scenes, and you know how many other teams out there are doing the same things, or a lot of them are, you know how hard it is to win these things. And they just get harder and harder; they don't get easier.
When you know it's the Daytona 500, it just I can't help but that excitement show. I guess we just wanted this one. I don't know, everybody I'm sure said the same thing, how much they want it. But it was just it's just all that, you know, gets put together. And when you see that checkered flag wave, it's just the ultimate. It's the ultimate race. There's just no better place to win at than Daytona. You know the sport's getting more competitive, it's getting bigger, and it's just one of those races if you can pick one, this is the one you want to win.
Q: When you first won the Daytona 500, you were a little bit younger. How do you take this one compared to the first two you had? Do you appreciate it a little bit more?
JEFF GORDON: That's the whole thing is that I appreciate this one more than I ever have before because, you know, I've just been in the sport longer. I understand how difficult it is to win these races. I think I recognize more than I ever have how prestigious this event is. And that just is what makes it more meaningful to all of us not to mention the things I mentioned earlier about how hard we all work to get here for this day, today, because there's a lot of work goes in that off season.
But, you know, the first one was great and it was spectacular to get No. 1. You're going, "Man, I got a Daytona 500 victory." But I believe this one's even sweeter than the first one or the second one. It's because I recognize what a special place this is and, you know, just how much it means to win here.
Q: Describe the last few laps, the chaos, from your point of view and how you don't get distracted with all of that happening around you?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, those are the moments that you live for. Those are the moments we get paid the big bucks for. You know, you live to be in that position, to have chaos happening all around you, for your car to lead the pack and to get out there. When you get in that position, you better make darn sure that nobody passes you.
I enjoy being in that position. Being out front is the only place to be. You know, I wanted to see that checkered flag really bad. I looked in my mirror, and I did everything I could.
I just saw some video a little bit ago about the momentum that Kurt Busch had. I'm really thankful that he didn't try to go to my outside because I think he had the momentum to do it. I'm a little bit shocked at that, number one. But I sure am glad he stayed behind me. I knew when we came off turn four, we had it.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, thank you. Congratulations.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you. I appreciate it.