Today's NASCAR Winston Breakfast Club Luncheon featured past winners of the Brickyard 400 at IMS. Among the guests was three-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo (1994, '98, & '01). Highlights...
Today's NASCAR Winston Breakfast Club Luncheon featured past winners of the Brickyard 400 at IMS. Among the guests was three-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo (1994, '98, & '01). Highlights of Q&A's with Gordon and the media:
With the history of IMS, is this race almost bigger than going to the Daytona 500 even though that event is considered the Superbowl of the series?
"Going to high school and growing up here and driving by this speedway as a kid, I always dreamed of racing at Indianapolis. When you're racing midgets and sprint cars all around here, everybody's goal and dream is to get to Indianapolis. I didn't know it would happen in a stock car. I thought if it happened it would be in a rear engine Indy car. For me to be able to come here and race here and win here is extremely special. The more that I know about NASCAR and in the sport as long as I have, I recognize the history of the sport and especially the history at Daytona. It's extremely special. Winning the Daytona 500 is the ultimate event for us. For me, personally, Indianapolis just brings something a little more special to the table."
Is this a race where experience comes into play more than other races?
"I think it's the team and the driver is a part of the team. For the guys that win here, it's more than just experience. It's how well the team clicks and how well they're working together at that point in the season. That's why I think for the last three or four years, we've seen the teams that have won here have gone on to win the championship because those are the ones that have their act together. They're horsepower is there. They're aero package is there. They're communication is there. The whole thing is just clicking. Those are the teams that rise to the top and are the teams that battle for the championship."
If you don't perform well here, does the pressure get more intense?
"Yes (laughs). It's a double-edged sword. I've got so much support here in Indiana from so many. It's refreshing to come here and hear a lot more cheers than boos. That to me is not pressure, that's incentive. But on the other side, there is going to be a lot of pressure for us to perform. Last year we didn't qualify very well (27th). I thought we were the last car that was going to win that race, but we won it. Indianapolis is one of those places where anything is possible. We took some risks and chances last year because we had to. We didn't have the track position. We had to take the chances and they paid off for us. Sometimes being further back in the field can pay off for you.
We didn't have a very good test here. We brought two cars here (to test) and we didn't bring either one of them back. Neither one was worth bringing back. We've got another car that we feel has been real reliable for us this year. It's a good racecar - a fast car. I think we're going to be in good shape here. I'm excited about it. I know what we did last year to win this race means that no matter what position we're in this year, if we make the right calls and work together and communicate well, we can win this race also."
How much will your experience help with the new retaining walls?
"You don't even know they're there. You don't see them. Until you hit the wall, you're not going to know any different. It doesn't really come into play in the way a racecar is driven around this track. It doesn't have any affect as far as the performance of the cars other than in an accident."
In '97 and '98, you dominated Winston Cup's biggest events. With more people winning, will there be a day when that happens again?
"Never say never, but as competitive as it is these days I find it hard to believe that nobody is ever going to win 10 races again. It's certainly possible, but it seems like it gets harder and harder all the time because of what it takes to get to victory lane these days. The cars are so equal and track position is so important. We're seeing younger guys and younger teams taking bigger risks and chances. You're seeing so many different people go to victory lane these days that I don't know if we'll see that. And the tracks are a lot different. If you run well at one, it doesn't mean you're going to run well at other ones. In my opinion, it comes down to the teams that have made the best efforts in finding the best technology and coming up with the best combination that's going to go out there and win the championship. I think that has a lot to do with it too. The way this championship is won is by being consistent and not falling out of races and by being the best you can on as many different tracks as possible. It doesn't mean you're going to necessarily dominate and go out there and win on all those different types of tracks."
Is there a place where there is a greater premium placed on strategy? If so, why?
"It's kind of like a road course. You kind of hope you're on pit road getting four tires when the caution comes out. At most other places, you dread that. Also, the tires are so much better. It's just the tires, but it's the amount of downforce that we have on these tires. If you'd given us these tires six years ago, we probably wouldn't have been able to stay on the racetrack. But because of the amount of downforce we've put in these racecars, we're able to really make these hard tires grip well. And because they're hard, they last forever. We're able to maintain that speed from the time we get on the racetrack to the last lap of that fuel run."
With the historical significance of this racetrack in your life, have you thought about joining that list of four-time winners here?
"It's hard for me to compare the Brickyard 400's to the Indy 500's. When I was a kid and came here for the first time, you look for the driver you want to look up to and you walk through the museum and you see A.J. Foyt's name written on there four times you think, 'Wow, this guy must be really good.' You become a huge instant fan. Rick Mears won four of those races and I became a huge Rick Mears fan. I got a chance to meet him and get his autograph and I'm still a big admirer of his. For me, I guess there's still a lot about the history of the Indianapolis 500 and how it started from the bricks and how there were very few three and four-time winners. For me, to compare myself to an Indy 500 winner as a Brickyard 400 winner is kind of difficult. I'm just thrilled to be able to say I've won three of these races. I hope that someday I'll get the opportunity to say that I'm a four-time winner. But even if I am, I don't think I'll put myself in the same category as those guys."
Does this sport need a dominant driver?
"Yes. I'd be happy to put my name on that list (laughs). I hope that what the fans and the media want to see is the same thing that we (drivers) want to see which is a great race. Battling all the way to the end and not knowing who is going to win the race is exciting. That's what it's all about. Competitive racing with a lot of people capable of winning the race is what's exciting."
Are you and excited about the possibility about trading places with Juan Montoya?
"It's not that we're changing places. There's an opportunity for us to swap rides for a day that we're working on, but nothing has been completed. Let's all keep our fingers crossed that it happens and then we'll all learn more about it when it does happen for sure."
Are you in favor of the "greenhouse" car?
"Right now, I think I'm in favor of taking downforce off these cars so we can get back to softer tires. But without diving the car or really knowing exactly what I'm dealing with, I say that optimistically. At the same time, I think that it would be good safety-wise for everybody. I'm kind of in a unique situation. I'm one of the smaller guys out there. With the greenhouses that we have right now, it's not as difficult for me to get out of these cars. But I certainly can see that with all the safety measures we've taken to put into the seats and the padding and the support that we have out there now, that we need more room to get in and out of these cars - especially when you see a situation like Steve Park was in this past week at Pocono. That would be extremely good safety-wise. Performance-wise, I'm not exactly sure what it would do. In theory, it sounds good."
At this point in the season, how deep in the point standings could someone be and still have a chance to win the championship?
"I think it's up to those first couple of guys. If they perform well, it takes the guys that are deep out of it. But right now, it's so tight a long way back. There are guys that can get on a streak and perform and make up a lot of points. Tony Stewart is a guy that if he got hot, could do the same thing. A lot of guys have potential if they get on a hot streak. I think Sterling Marlin had been criticized up until last week that he hadn't really stepped it up. But boy, he sure stepped it up at Pocono. It's a sign of some things that they've got to come. They're in the driver's seat if they can keep that up. A lot of it depends on those guys who are up at the top of the list. If they step it up, it's going to be hard for anybody to catch them."
On the young drivers and teams
"They sometimes take a few more chances and risks. With us being Winston Cup champions from last year and winning the races that we did, maybe we've taken a little bit different approach in letting them test some of those things and let them take the risks, six out of 10 times it's not going to pay off for them but those four might payoff big for them. In this day and age, taking big risks seems to payoff more and more all the time. They've been a little bit riskier on their set-ups and pit strategy and it's paid off for them. It's certainly something that we've evaluated the first half of the season to do better and different for the second half of the season."
After last year, how high is your confidence level going into this race this year?
"I think that's one thing we're looking at right now that we're looking at right now because we were able to do that last year. I look at Pocono for instance. That was not a stellar performance for us. We started pretty deep. We got up to 12th, but we were never a threat to win. Coming off of that and after not having a great test here, it's comforting to know that we started deep in the field here last year and were still able to win the race. If things fall our way and we have the right cautions and all, we definitely can win this race. This is a place where we come in with confidence that we're going to perform well. It doesn't matter where we qualify, we can still find our way to victory lane."
Are you more likely to take chances now after watching the young guys' way of doing things?
"Definitely. I think you're going to see us approach it somewhat that way the rest of the season. We want to win. We want to win the championship. It's not our goal to finish 4th or 5th in the points. Our goal is to win. If we haven't won races at this point in the season and if we're going to be a threat for the championship, we're probably going to roll the dice and be a little bit more risky."