Daytona II: Jeff Gordon - GM top-ten interview

IN A PRESS CONFERENCE TODAY, WAYNE TAYLOR (SURREY SPORT LLC COMPANY) AND SUNTRUST RACING ANNOUNCED THAT JEFF GORDON WILL CO-DRIVE THE NO. 10 SUNTRUST RACING PONTIAC IN THE 45TH ANNUAL ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA, JANUARY 27-28, 2007. HIGHLIGHTS OF THE...

IN A PRESS CONFERENCE TODAY, WAYNE TAYLOR (SURREY SPORT LLC COMPANY) AND SUNTRUST RACING ANNOUNCED THAT JEFF GORDON WILL CO-DRIVE THE NO. 10 SUNTRUST RACING PONTIAC IN THE 45TH ANNUAL ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA, JANUARY 27-28, 2007.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CONFERENCE:

GORDON: "For me it's a real honor to be a part of this. I've been thinking about this and talking about it for many, many years to run the 24-hour race here. Especially over the last two or three years it's been more and more becoming a reality and a lot of it has to do with Wayne Taylor and his quality group of people he has put together. Every time I've been in a race car and I've had success it's because of being involved with a great team. That was so important to me. The first time I've ever had to be actual teammates with the same car then teammates with different teams or drivers in other cars. This is going to be a very unique opportunity for me. I'm really excited about learning things from Max (Angelelli) and becoming his teammate as well as Wayne and going out there and having some fun. These race cars to me, they look like a lot of fun. I haven't had an opportunity to get behind the wheel but of course I do love the road courses and I'm really excited about getting out there and getting some lap times in a car that's really built for that type of racing. It's all about winning for me and this is an opportunity I feel like that we can come in to the Daytona 24-hour race and actually have a shot at winning. I'm glad this has finally come together; we've been talking about it for a while and now we finally get to make it official and it couldn't happen at a better time for me, coming off last weekend's tremendous win and the momentum we've got right now for ourselves coming into Daytona. I'm looking forward to the race tonight and certainly the one in the last weekend in January. So it's going to be a lot of fun."

WHAT MADE YOU SAY 'I CAN DO THIS NEXT YEAR?' "A lot of it has to do with Jim France, really, the way he's retuned this series and the Daytona Prototypes are cars that I feel like I can get behind the wheel of and learn hopefully, fairly quick. I've talked to a lot of the other guys, Jimmie (Johnson) and Tony (Stewart) and got an idea of what it's like to drive these cars and they all rave on how much fun it is and how great the cars are.

I think that this is something I've always wanted to do but I guess it's something I thought would happen later on down the road when maybe I was retiring from full-time Cup series. A good opportunity only comes along ever so often and there's a friend of mine who helped build race cars, a guy named Ron McMann who works for Bill Riley (Riley Technologies) who really kind of made this introduction and a lot of this sort of come to my attention. That opened up the conversations with this team and of course watching their success it was pretty much a no-brainer who I wanted to be involved with. The fact that it's General Motors as well plays a big role. Like I said, this is something that for the last three years I've been talking about working on and just trying to figure out how to make it a reality and then finally we were able to do that."

DO YOU ENVISION SEEING MORE CUP PARTICIPATION IN THE FOLLOWING YEARS? "I think we've seen a trend that's been steadily growing over the last few years. I got invited last year as well from a couple different teams and just couldn't make it happen. I think it's how the guy's schedules work out. To me the most important part was always that when I want to do something I want to do it 100%, I want to be able to test the car and get plenty of laps with the team and get comfortable. I was trying to figure out far enough in advance my schedule to be able to get enough time. That's where Wayne's guys have been so great. They're like 'hey, when we're at a test come any time. If we're not at a test and you want to then go run some laps, let's do it.' I think that's why we're making it official so early, that I can work with Max and Wayne and start getting comfortable before we get here and also make sure that I have on my schedule the time that it really takes. I don't take for granted the competition out there and I think that no matter what I've done in the past in a stock car doesn't really mean much until you get out there in this type of car because it is quite a bit different but I look forward to the challenge and I'm glad that I was able to make it work in this schedule, to give 100% to the team because I want to come here and win. I've been able to pull into victory lane at Daytona several times and it's a very special place and I'd like to do it then as well as this race."

IS THE MINDSET THAT YOU, JIMMIE JOHNSON AND DALE EARNHARDT, JR. ARE ABOVE THE REST OF THE DRIVERS APPROPRIATE? "Well, I would throw Tony Stewart into that mix as well as far as some of the more dominant guys that that lead a lot of laps and are up front on a pretty consistent basis. But it's restrictor-plate racing and anybody can win this race so it's really hard for me ever just pick two or three other guys but if you look at the stats and the consistency and their teams, those are certainly guys that I feel like we're going to have to race. The July race is a lot different than what we had at Talladega and what we had here in February with it being hotter and slicker, you have to have a good-handling race car. I think you might see us give up some speed qualifying.

We've been on the front row here and we qualified pretty good at Talladega and I think that you're going to see us really give up some speed for qualifying to have a good-handling race car. Last July we were fast qualifying but we weren't really fast in the race. I told the guys last year what I was hoping for us to be able to pull off this year in July and of course I have Superman on the car so I got a lot to live up to there."

WHAT IS THE BIG DIFFERENCE WHAT YOU'VE BEEN DOING THIS YEAR COMPARED TO LAST SEASON? "I love how things change so quickly. A week before Sonoma it was 'you guys aren't in the Chase and you're struggling.' Now we win one race and all of a sudden we've turned everything around. I've steadily seen a turnaround and we've been getting better. I think Michigan was a sign, I think our run in Charlotte was a sign as well. There's been times where we've been better on the mile-and-a-halfs then we were last year and there's been some times this year where we've had some failures that have unfortunately gotten us outside the Chase. We were pretty consistent and up there solidly at one time and just were working on performance. Then we have some glitches and some problems and all of a sudden we're having to get the performance up and get those finishes together. I think last week what that was, is us taking advantage of a good opportunity. Road courses are good tracks for us, we stepped up our program and we had a fast race car. Luckily we came out of there with a win and a lot of points. Got ourselves back up in the Chase. We've got to take advantage of that momentum and keep it going. This is a good track for us and we've got to take advantage of this opportunity and just keep it going. The biggest change for us is that we made a lot of changes at the end of last year. We started changing how our cars are built, new crew chief, new pit crew. It's taking some time for everybody to gel but the team has been phenomenal. It's just the performances need to step up a notch and we're starting to make headway in that right direction. I've always said from the beginning of the season, it doesn't matter who's running good early, it's about who's got momentum with about five races to go before the Chase. Whoever that team is I think that's the team you're going to have to watch out for once you get into the Chase."

DOES JIMMIE JOHNSON HAVE AN ADVANTAGE IN RESTRICTOR-PLATE RACING? "I think that you've got to give Jimmie credit and that team, they've done a fantastic job. Our restrictor-plate program is as strong as it's ever been in Daytona here in February. Me and Tony got together and it could have ruined our day, made a comeback, were in the top 10 and then got up in the wreck there late with Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, somebody like that. Factor that out and we weren't even there. Then Talladega, Jimmie made a great move, I tried to make a move for the win and it really. hindsight, looking back on it, not only did it cost me the win, it cost me a lot of positions and if I had to do it over again I probably would have been more patient and settled more with a top five instead of just trying to get the win. That one cost me.

That was the risk I was taking and it's usually the risk I take at the end of the race and Jimmie took advantage of that. As far as restrictor-plate tracks go, we're as strong as anybody out there. Jimmie has done a fantastic job of learning the plate tracks, the draft, know when to make the move, using that momentum. I'll take a little credit for that because I feel like he and I have talked over the years and he's a great, great student. He's gone from student to teacher in a very short time."

"I learn from every race I've ever been in and all I learned from Talladega is that my teammate Brian Vickers was leading the race and I had a run on him and he blocked me, and I had to make two decisions. Either wreck him or let off and give up the position. I think I made the right decision not to wreck him and it cost me. That's where teammates can hurt you because you get down to the final lap and you want to win the race. You've got to make a move and it's no longer teammates, it's now time to be a competitor and win the race. In that situation being teammates kind of hurt me a little bit. I look at it as 'what would I have done different'. But at both Daytona here and February in Talladega we had no doubt that we had a car that could win both of those races. I hope that we're in that same position this weekend. To me it's not about how many laps you lead, it's about leading the right one. If I've got a car that's capable of leading I'm going to put it out there. I'd rather be leading at the end than be the guy trying to pass the leader."

ANY CHANCE OF SEEING YOU IN ANY OTHER ROLEX SERIES RACES? "I'm not so sure about that. I'm letting these guys make the call on that. I've never run a 24-hour race in my life. If they ask me to run four, four-and-a-half hours straight I can do it because I can do it in our cars. I don't know, we haven't even talked about it. I'm going to follow the lead of these guys and their experience. As far as other races, we'll take it one step at a time. We'll see what happens here in Daytona next year. I've definitely had the itch for Watkins Glen when we're there racing and I see those guys racing around there having as much fun as they are. It makes me think about it. One of the reasons why I don't run in the Busch series is because of the commitment that I have for the Cup series. On a race weekend I prefer not to take too much focus away from that. I don't know how physically demanding the cars are and I'll learn a lot more about that in late January next year."

DID YOU GIVE THE ROLEX RACE THOUGHT AS YOU WERE WINNING AT INFINEON? "No, not at all. It really didn't come to mind. A couple days later when I realized that there was a nice tie there, coming off of a road-course win, this announcement and it just sort of solidified why I would want to do this. I really enjoy the road courses and I feel like I've been able to have success on them but in a totally different race car.

I try to be careful with comparing just winning a road-course race in a stock car with anything that's going to happen here because they are such different competitors, different race tracks, different race cars. There's going to be a steep learning curve for me. I really wasn't thinking a whole lot about it until maybe yesterday. I've been testing in Milwaukee for the last two days so I'll be honest, it's been a crazy, hectic week. I haven't even had a chance to reflect on the win let alone the tie from that to this."

MORE ONE-ON-ONES WITH GORDON: HOW MUCH PRESSURE CAME OFF YOUR SHOULDERS AFTER YOUR WIN LAST WEEKEND? "A huge amount, you know. A win is a win no matter where you get it. It's nice to kind of change direction when the focus has been when are we going to win. We haven't been winning and now we got that out of the way. It's just funny how things change because we go from not being in the Chase and haven't won and that being the focus to now 'Oh boy, they can win back to back. They can get some momentum and be a threat for the championship.' I laugh at it on both sides because to me I know the reality of what it takes and it's going to be a lot of hard work. We're excited that we got that win. The team deserved it. They worked really hard for that win and we've got to work equally as hard for the next one."

YOU HAVE TWO OF THE YOUNGEST TEAMMATES IN THE SPORT. HOW MUCH WORK HAVE YOU DONE WITH THEM IN TERMS OF COUNSELING THEM ON HOW TO ACT ON AND OFF THE TRACK? HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS THERE FOR YOUNG DRIVERS? "Is it unrealistic? No. It's a reality. It's a part of it. It's the way the sport is. When you have young, talented guys like Kyle Busch and like Brian Vickers, they're going to have pressure and expectations. I obviously have spent a lot more time with Brian because he came on first. He and I became friends early on and so through hanging out as friends we've talked about a lot of things. The last several weeks I've been in the garage area next to Kyle Busch and I think he's a tremendous talent and I've wanted to get the opportunity to spend more time with him. Rick Hendrick and I have talked about trying to get more time together. I think they maybe even talked to him about it as well. It's just been kind of working itself out and working well and I've been enjoying it a lot."

HOW WILL A PLACE LIKE DAYTONA MAKE OR BREAK YOUR CHANCES OF STAYING IN THE TOP 10? "Things can happen anywhere as we've proven this year. We're just really looking at the positives about being at a restrictor plate track. We're strong at the restrictor plate tracks and putting the best race car out there that we possibly can this weekend. Sure, things can happen. We've just got to do our best to make sure we stay far away from that if happens and make sure we have a solid race car all the way to the finish. The rest is going to take care of itself."

ON JIMMIE JOHNSON SAYING HE TAUGHT HIM ABOUT RESTRICTOR PLATE RACING AND JIMMIE GOING ON TO WIN THE PAST TWO RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES: "I taught him too much, didn't I? I think so. If he starts beating me on those road courses, I've got a problem. No, I think Jimmie is just a tremendous talent and he's so willing to learn and be open to new ideas. He can get it from so many different ways whether it be on the track racing or asking questions. I think he might be giving me a little bit more credit than he should because I've just seen him on the race track improve. We've talked about certain things but until you get out there and experience it, it doesn't matter how much you talk about it. He's really become a great restrictor plate driver and I definitely look for him to be one of the guys to beat."

ON THE RECENT DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP. WOULD YOU MAKE ANY CHANGES TO THE CURRENT CHASE FORMAT? "I have no idea (on Brian France comments about a possible change to the Chase for the Championship). I've been a plane all day. Well the good thing is, once you make a change then you can kind of make the change all the time if you want. It was getting that initial impact from the change from a point system that had been around as long as it had. I love today, I did read in the paper where the PGA now is going to a Chase type system. I think that's obviously should make NASCAR feel pretty proud that even a sport like the PGA is following their lead. I've always felt like they pay points back too far. I feel like past 25th, 30th position, I think it should pay the same amount for everybody from there on out. I think that keeps us from tearing up race cars and having to repair them and put them back out there. We've gotten past that. We've got so many cars on the lead lap now that it's not necessary. I also think that we still could maybe bonus winners or the guys up in the top 5 to top 10, maybe spread those points out a little bit more to make it more important to finish first, second or third instead of just finishing 10th, 11th every weekend and still being able to win the championship."

SHOULD THEY ALLOW MORE PEOPLE IN THE CHASE? "Shoot, I don't know how to deal with nine as it is so I don't know how you could deal with more. I think it would keep it extremely exciting but I don't think it would necessarily change the outcome. I really don't. I think maybe they're looking at things this year. You've got (Greg) Biffle and you've got (Carl) Edwards and some guys that have had trouble early on that have risks of not making it in there that are guys that probably could be in there. This particular year, if there were more guys in there, it could change the outcome."

HOW COMFORTABLE WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN LAST YEAR IF THEY SAID DRIVERS OUTSIDE OF THE TOP 10 THAT WON A RACE DURING THE SEASON COULD BE IN THE CHASE?

"Obviously I know we would have finished a lot higher up the points than we did. They don't need to go too far off of what they've got none. If you start making up stuff like that and then we're out here in a circus. I think that we need to keep racing at a certain level of competition and professional. If points are what they are then we need to know and plan in advance of how we're going to be racing. It took enough adjustment to get over the initial shock of the Chase. I think just letting guys in because they did this or did this, I think that's getting a little bit silly myself but we're all speculating right now. I don't even want to be commenting on speculation. Let's see what they decide to do. Now I know that I'm going to give Brian (France) a call and talk to him a little more about what they're thinking. I'll never forget when they were going to do the Chase I said 'Hey, I heard something about changing the point system up. Are you serious about that?' (They said) 'Oh yeah.' I thought 'Nah, they're not going to do that.' A week later they announced it and I was like 'Oh my goodness.' You never know what could happen."

ON GETTING CLOSE TO MATCHING THE NUMBER OF WINS POSTED BY DALE EARNHARDT: "Man, the way it's been going here prior to this past weekend, I thought we were close to him at one time and then it seemed like we were miles and miles away so you just never know when you're going to get that next win. Accomplishing anything that Dale Earnhardt accomplished is something that you have to be very, very proud of. I still to this day feel like he's the all-time great as far as anybody I've raced against so it would be a huge honor for me. It's already a huge honor for me to be this close to him."

ON SEEING A RECENT QUOTE FROM HIM SAYING THAT HIS NEXT WIFE WOULD GET A BETTER GUY THAN THE FIRST ONE DID. WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT? "I hope she does. I feel like that I'm older. I'm more mature. I think I have a better idea of who I am and what I want out of life and who I want to spend my life with. I think that in my opinion is a better guy. Maybe not necessarily to other people but I think that when you're young you have so many things going on in your life. When I got married the last time, and I have no regrets. I wouldn't have done it or seen it happen any other way. It happened that way for a reason but I will say that there was a lot going on in my life and I was constantly evolving in my career, in my life and I feel like I'm a lot more stable now in those changes. I came into the relationship being me and knowing better who I am and I think she knows me a lot better than probably anybody ever has because of that."

WHY A GAME OF CROQUET? "Number one is we've been engaged for a month. What we did was announce it to family and friends last week. I think there was a little bit of misconception and by the way we didn't meet on any movie set either. It's been crazy this week. The media, not just you guys but outside of all this stuff going on, I didn't know this was going to be so important. I've been doing this event out in Sonoma for the last two or three years.

It's really one of the few times in the season I get a lot of my friends and family together at one time to just relax and getaway. It just happens to be a dinner where we also play croquet. I'll tell you what. Don't knock croquet, man (laughs). It's challenging and I would challenge anybody to some croquet."

HAVE YOU SET A WEDDING DATE? "No."

ON BEING BACK IN THE NEWS: "I made a great decision in my life that I'm excited about and I can't control what comes along with that. I hope it's good but it should be because I'm happy."

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT DURING THE RACE FROM YOU AND YOUR TEAM? "I expect a strong performance. I expect us to have a good handling race car and a fast race car and to be a threat. I definitely expect for us to be a threat. Until I get out there on the track and drive for the guys I can't tell you how much of a threat we're going to be but based on past experience and our restrictor plate program this year, I feel like we're going to be competitive."

DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAD A CAR CAPABLE OF WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 AND TALLADEGA? "Oh yeah definitely. I felt like we had great race cars at both those events but I will say July is a much different race. This might be the same race car we had at Talladega but we've cut it up and done a lot of things to it. This is definitely a different race than it is here in February."

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT? "It gets hot and its slick and you've got to have a handling race car where in February handling is not near as much of an issue."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Jamie McMurray , Brian Vickers , Kyle Busch
Teams CIP