Indianapolis: Jeff Gordon wake-up call transcript, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Jeff, you cannot only tie Earnhardt in the NASCAR standards but you can also tie Schumacher's standards, I believe. Have you ever met him? Have you ever met Michael Schumacher? GORDON: I have met him briefly in ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Jeff, you cannot only tie Earnhardt in the NASCAR standards but you can also tie Schumacher's standards, I believe. Have you ever met him? Have you ever met Michael Schumacher?

GORDON: I have met him briefly in Barcelona, went to the Formula One race there a couple years ago on one of my vacations. (Laughter) And it was very brief; it was right before the race. You know, he asked me when I was going to come run Formula One. I told him as soon as he retired. But it was just really in passing. Other than that, no, I haven't really spent much time talking to him. Yeah, I admire Michael Schumacher. I think he's an amazingly talented race car driver. To match up to anybody like him, you know, and I put Dale Earnhardt in that same category, you know, is a great honor. But I've said this a hundred times, I'll say it again, to me I can't compare what we do in the NASCAR circuit here to the Indy 500 and those guys, you know, like Al Unser and Rick Mears and A.J., I can't compare to those guys, either, and certainly can't compare to the F1 guys and what they do. You know, it's the same facility as far as the walls are concerned, but it's three completely different races and series. I'm very proud to have four and, you know, the fact that sometimes I get my name mentioned in the same sentence with those other guys that have four Indy 500 victories is so cool to me. I was here, saw Michael win that fifth one, and I knew right away, you know, it's coming, now I've got to go out there and try to get five. I want five, but not because Michael Schumacher has five.

Q: Jeff, with the points as tight as they are, especially between seventh and, say, 14th, do you expect the intensity, the pressure on those guys, including yourself, to affect the racing, final racing?

GORDON: Well, you know, obviously it's important for all of us. We want to be in there. We know how much -- I know how much pressure there is because I've been in it and I've been out of it. You know, the intensity only increases as you get closer and closer to Richmond and from the fans and the media, you know, from the competition, on every side it gets more and more intense. So to me right now is a time when we've got to really act because we've got to get ourselves a little bit more comfortable. Not that there's going to be a real comfort level. But we can't be on the outside looking in trying to make it into the Chase at Richmond, we've got to be inside of it trying to protect that position and force other guys to have to step up their game. So to me it's about what we do this weekend, it's what we do at Watkins Glen, Bristol. Those are the racetracks that are going to get us into the Chase. Not to mention Richmond hasn't been too kind to me, so I don't want to go in there hoping. So the intensity level and the pressure and the frustration that can kick in is overwhelming. We went through it last year, and it was not a lot of fun. It looks like we're going to go through it, you know, somewhat again. But at least this year I feel like we have momentum and things happening in the good way coming into this stretch, where last year I felt like we started strong and really started to fade at this point. So I'm feeling a lot better about our chances. But I think that, you know, there's so many guys that are performing well, that are winning races, that are capable of winning races that are right -- you look at from Tony to Biffle and Junior, it's going to be very interesting to see and to watch. That's why we can't focus too much on those guys, got to focus really more on our own program.

Q: Juan Pablo is moving over to NASCAR, of course you had traded cars with him here a couple years ago. You have a better view of him than probably anybody. Does that make you want to come to Indy to duplicate what he did here? Montoya, what's the impact, how do you think he's going to do? Would you like to trade places with him and run Indy?

GORDON: Indy in an F1 car, yes. You know, I think that -- first of all, I was very impressed with Juan Pablo when he got into my car, and getting into an F1 car and feeling what it's like to experience that car. You know, the same things apply, just differently. I mean, that car, you know, the F1 car, it stuck so good that in some ways it was very easy to drive. But to find those last couple seconds would be extremely hard. In our car, you know, it's easy to get up to a certain speed, but once you really start getting up, kind of the same thing, it starts to get very difficult. Our cars just don't have a feel, really don't give you that feedback that that car does. So I think in that sense, and on the road courses, I think he'll be fine. Really, more so than actually driving the car, I feel like driving on ovals is the bigger challenge here. This is a guy that doesn't have very much oval experience, especially short track. It's a lot different running an IRL car and at the time I think it was Champ Car when he drove, to driving a stock car, you know, on a half-mile Bristol or a Phoenix or some of these types of places. So I mean he's got some challenges. He's got a lot of talent; I think he definitely has the capabilities with enough seat time to adapt to these cars. Chip Ganassi, you know, I think is obviously committed to it. If he stays committed to it and gives him the kind of openness to really learn, then he'll do well, but it's going to take a while. I think it's going to be surprising to him as to how difficult the ovals are with our cars. But at the same time, I feel like -- I talked to him briefly and even though he's a very confident guy, he also, I think, is recognizing that it's not going to come fast, it's not going to come easy, and I think that's a great way to approach it. I think that they really need to get him into as many tests as they possibly can at places like Kentucky or Rusty's (Wallace) new place out in Iowa or, you know, in ARCA cars and Busch cars and trucks, whatever they can get hi m in and just get him that experience.

I am shocked that he came, I am. I heard the rumor prior to the announcement, and I was like there's -- a couple weeks before and I was like there's absolutely no way, no way that he would do that. But, you know, that's why I'm a huge supporter; I think it's great for the sport. I think it really is. It's going to open NASCAR NEXTEL Cup up to a whole new fan base. I think that -- I've already seen -- I was just over in Europe, and one day I chartered a small boat to run around. The captain on this boat, who was wearing a Formula One hat when I walked on board, he looked at me and he was like, "What was your name again?" I said, "Jeff Gordon." He said, "Juan Pablo is coming to NASCAR; we're all very interested to see."

I was in a garage the other day, and a guy told me that he reads the Spanish paper and saw me and Juan Montoya together, and I'm hearing from people that I have never known to be interested in NASCAR in any way. So it's going to be huge and it's great, and I wish him success. I want to see him have success. But he's definitely going to have to go through a lot of the same steps that most of us go through. You know, it's so tough, I feel, for guys like one of my biggest heroes is Steve Kinser, when he came into this series, he came straight into Cup, and I wish he could have gone through the Busch Grand National Series for one or two years like he's done with his son Craig right now. Because when you're that big of a name and you get that opportunity, it's so hard for you to step back and go through those steps again because you've already made it to the top and you feel like you've got to stay there. And yet it's such a big transition that a lot of times it ends up being the worst thing that can happen to them. So if those guys can put him in some Busch races, ARCA races, talking about Juan Pablo, and get a lot of testing and give him the time. I mean even if he can't run the full Busch circuit, and Chip can get through the first year, year and a half, then I think they'll be successful.

SULLIVAN: We've only got about five minutes and, as you see, my feeble mind gets overtaxed. I've got this gentleman here and this gentleman here and this gentleman here.

Q: Jeff, the last 10 races last year, kind of reflecting back on last season, what was it like for someone like yourself who's been in the spotlight your entire career, how much is that memory serving as a motivator?

GORDON: After we went through what we went through last year, I wanted to be ignored. Once we didn't make the Chase, to me it was all about us refocusing our thoughts and our energy on getting prepared for this season. That's why we put Steve Letarte in there; that's why we started rebuilding some race cars and trying totally new different things than what our teammates had been successful with and were running. We just started, you know, refocusing everything on that and, you know, I didn't want any publicity or any focus being put on us, good or bad. That was the best thing that could have happened to us to get ourselves really ready for this year.

Q: Jeff, hypothetically, there will be some perhaps tweaks to the Chase format if the likes of you or Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt Jr., don't make it the Chase, will that call for some radical changes in what you're doing given your popularity?

GORDON: If Brian France wants to create the point system so that me, Tony or Junior have a shot at winning the championship every year, then I'm all for it. (Laughter) I mean, to me a point structure is not based around making sure somebody wins it, the point structure is about -- whatever the point structure is, it's the best team and driver combination that goes out there and wins it and competes for it. Those are the guys that deserve to be in it. If we went back to the old point system, you know, and all three of us weren't near it, then -- it just is what it is. I'm not saying there shouldn't be some tweaks made, but it shouldn't be made for that reason. You know, it should be made to just keep the excitement level up there for the fans, for the competitors, and shouldn't be based on, well, this guy didn't make it or that guy didn't make it, we need to have this guy, this guy and this guy in it. That's the competitor that comes out in me. It's hard for me to think, you know, as the marketing side or the promoting side of it, and that's why I'm glad those guys have their job and I have mine, because that would be a tough call. But, I mean, I think there are some tweaks that, you know, that could be interesting and fun with the points system, but I just hope they're not based on that. I think there should be more points spread between the positions. I don't think it should pay points -- should pay the same amount of points from about 30th on back.

I think it's absolutely crazy for us this day and age with as many competitive cars that are out there on the track every weekend, to crash and feel like, you know, you have to put that car back together and get back out there on the racetrack. You have no idea how many times myself and other guys have gotten out there on the racetrack and rode around with a minimum speed with a car that really shouldn't be out there running that speed. So I think that, you know, from a safety standpoint it's one, not to mention it could help you throw away some races. I feel like if you have a couple bad races and you finish 35th or 36th or 40th, you know, you can throw that away and by putting a little bit bigger points spread between the positions, it gives you that opportunity to make up those points.

So, I think it always should pay -- right now our series pays consistency. You don't have to win a single race still to this day to win a championship. I think that would be something that I think would add some excitement to it is forcing guys to have to win, even though they have here and for the most part, you don't really have to. If you think about it, you can finish fifth or sixth or eighth every weekend and you're going to be solidly in the Chase. And if you do that throughout the Chase, you're probably going to win the championship.

Q: Jeff, when did you first realize in your career that you had won or earned the respect of Dale Sr.? Would it mean more to tie his victory mark?

SULLIVAN: He's answered the second question I think a couple times. But when did you know that you had really kind of earned the respect of Dale Earnhardt Sr.?

GORDON: I don't know. I mean, you know, it's hard to say. I can't really remember an actual moment. You know, anytime Dale ever came up and put you in a headlock or, you know, grabbed you by the shoulder or something, you know, you felt like he wouldn't do that to you unless he liked you. You know, I guess for me, the acceptance was when he came to me and said, "Hey, there's some things going on business-wise that I would like to talk to you about," and I was like, "Who, me?" So I think that on the racetrack, I really couldn't tell you. I have no idea. But just based on the way he treated me off the racetrack, you know, I felt that, you know, probably '96 or '97, maybe after I won my second championship.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for coming by the NEXTEL Cup Wake-Up Call.

GORDON: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

-ims-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Michael Schumacher , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Chip Ganassi