Transcript: 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Preseason Thunder Testing at Daytona
January 21, 2011
An Interview With
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, new pavement. What do you think?
JEFF GORDON: It's great. We were here in December doing the Goodyear tire test as well, so had a pretty good indication of what we had to deal with when we got here.
I mean, it's going to be an exciting Daytona 500 for sure, drafting a lot more like what you have in Talladega, but yet with the uniqueness that Daytona still brings to it, I think it's going to be very exciting, a lot of grip, a lot of three-wide racing.
Yesterday we just worked on speed since we did do some drafting in December. And then we were hoping if it clears up today we can do some drafting, and it's supposed to be clear tomorrow, so hopefully we can get some in then.
But still plenty to work on, but so far it's been a great test.
JAMIE MCMURRAY: I'm with Jeff. The track is really good and the racing is going to be closer to what Talladega has except for the fact the track is quite a bit narrower. And I think when you see two cars get locked together, that if someone wants to pull up and block that, that you're going to have the ability here too, which can be good or bad. Talladega is just so wide that you can really only block one time and then the guys can go the other direction.
It will be interesting whenever you get all 43 cars out there. I did the tire test with Jeff, and we really only got 20 cars on the track, and it's a lot different when you get everybody out there. So I'm curious to see Shootout practice. I think they've got 30 cars, so it'll be interesting to see what it's like with more cars.
Q: Jamie, just wanted to ask about your new contract. Did that take a little longer than you thought? And everything go as expected once you got to that point? And a little bit about Rolex coming up as well, your experience with that car.
JAMIE MCMURRAY: Yeah, excited to get all the contract stuff out of the way. I don't know that anyone really enjoys going through that, but happy that we've got all that put behind us.
And really excited about the 24-Hour car. Chip's cars are just unbelievable in that series. They just really have their act together and it's very organized and he's had a chance I think to win like five in a row in the 24-Hour race.
So I've got a really good group of guys with Dixon and Franchitti and Montoya as teammates.
We had a great test down here. The repaving of the track, they didn't repave the infield, but the transition from the big track to the road course is way better than what we had before. You can drive the car in so much deeper than what we had before. It's really exciting.
So, yeah, excited to be back down here on Wednesday to start the 24-hour race.
Q: Jeff, this 500 will mark the 10th year of Dale Earnhardt's passing. Can you, as a four-time champion and someone who was close with him, talk about his legacy?
JEFF GORDON: You know, it still lives on, that's for sure. I still have a hard time really even believing that he's gone. I had such amazing experience racing with him, time I spent with him away from the racetrack as well.
You know, I think that's a legacy that will just live on forever, especially when you come to Daytona, you just can't help, especially for me, I guess -- the guy was just so amazing here. He just knew the draft and how these cars worked around the draft better than anybody.
You couldn't help but be a student of that every time you're out there. And he certainly taught me a lot that led to some Daytona 500 victories, I believe.
And then I think he just did so much for the sport, and I think today we're still benefiting from everything that he put into it, everything that he meant, the fans that he brought into it, and it's hard to believe it's been ten years. It really is.
Q: Can you talk about the proposed changes or talk about the points, and do you think there really needed to be a change?
JEFF GORDON: I'm still so behind, I guess. I heard about the 43 to 1 thing, but, I mean, is that the proposed one? Which one are we talking about? We haven't had our driver/owner meeting yet. I think they saved the Hendrick one for last so that we really just are told what's going to happen instead of having input on what may happen.
I mean, if that's what you're talking about, then -- you know, I think that it certainly is important to make sure that the fans are -- and our point system relate to one another and are simple and easy. I think that you still want to -- I mean, I don't think you're going to do anything to a point system that's going to push people to win more, because we're already doing everything we possibly can. We want to win. It's just in our nature. It's part of the competition.
I mean, I think the win means more to you than anything else. The points and the money and whatever benefits can come from it are just sort of the icing on the cake.
You know, I think as long as we continue to see a point system that rewards that as well as create some consistency in there too. I mean, my thing has always been I think that the points should pay the same from about 30th on back, because we've got cars now that their reliability is so good, making sure that there are 30 or 40 cars out there on the racetrack, so from a competition standpoint, it's pretty much happening 1st through 25th, maybe even 30th, and so if you crash or something, to have to go back out there to gain a few extra points I think is silly.
I don't know if this system is going to be good for that or not, but I really haven't even wrapped my hands or thoughts around it a whole lot. Until they say this is what it's going to be, then I'm not really over-thinking it, and I don't know if any points system is going to make me race any different.
You know, you race to win. You go out there to get the best position and finish that you possibly can, and that's what wins races and that's what wins championships, regardless of the point system.
Q: Two things quickly, Jeff: Are there any changes in the way you guys are processing information? The coverage here on TV at the test is like Jeff's just walking over, and any time you go and ask a question, is Jimmie going faster, or even with the switches, people are making more of it and I'm getting emails from fans like are they really sharing information the same way. Has anything changed that you would have done that before but now there's more attention to it? Secondly, apparently you're leading the poll on Regis and Kelly to be the co-host. Did you know that you're leading from the fan vote on who should host that show?
JEFF GORDON: That's funny. I don't know where that's coming from. But that's cool, I guess, in a way.
No, I think probably the reason that there's attention to it, because that was such a big move that was made at Hendrick Motorsports with -- and I like to say the driver changes, not crew chief changes, because the drivers moved to different teams, so it's really driver changes. And I think that everybody is -- I think when a move that big is made, it sparks up a lot of conversation about why would that have happened and what caused that to happen.
And so I think when you get here and you're parked next to one another, I think that it allows you to kind of analyze, or at least the media and the fans to analyze the vibe.
And when you see we come in the garage area and me and Steve are laughing and talking about things, and same thing with the 48 and the 5 and everybody is happy and good and ready to go out and try to win the Daytona 500, I think that it maybe answers some of those questions.
The only issue I had yesterday is I drove into the wrong garage. But it wasn't -- I didn't drive into the old 24 garage, I drove into Mark Martin's garage thinking I'm the 5 team.
Other than that, everything was pretty good. And we had a great day.
You know, I'm excited about working with Alan, and we've been very busy over the off-season. The things that he pays attention to are things that are really -- I'm excited about, and hopefully the results will show on the track.
Q: This is for both guys. Jeff, you've had a couple hard hits, Vegas and Pocono come to mind. I don't know what's the biggest in your mind. But since the passing of Dale Earnhardt, there's been a lot of additional safety measures, safer barriers and so on and so forth. To you, what has been maybe the biggest as far as safety goes when it comes to you guys and what you do and the advancement of that process?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think there's a number of things that have come along. You can look at any sport and certainly look at Motorsports beyond NASCAR, and I think Ayrton Senna comes to mind for me. I think the advancement of safety and Formula 1 went to a whole 'nother level when Ayrton Senna was killed. Same thing with Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
I would say if I had to pick one it was the implementation of the HANS device. I think while it was optional and some people were using them, they were uncomfortable. If you didn't have to have them, sometimes we are pretty hard-headed as race car drivers, and while you look at safety, there's certain things that you just wouldn't compromise on.
By implementing that as mandatory, it forced HANS to make HANS devices that fit each one of us, made them more comfortable, more lightweight, allowed us to have more -- be able to move our heads around, and I think that now I can't imagine getting into a race car -- I can't stand getting into my streetcar without one. To me I think that would be the number one on my list.
I think the seat design would be next and how we mount the seatbelts, and then the next would be the safer barriers.
JAMIE MCMURRAY: I agree. I was just going to repeat what he said.
Q: For Jamie: What's it like being a new father? How has that adjustment gone? And for Jeff, what's the adjustment been like going from CV to the pride of Ormond Beach?
JAMIE MCMURRAY: What's your question about?
JEFF GORDON: The pride of Ormond Beach.
JAMIE MCMURRAY: I don't get it.
JEFF GORDON: I'll explain later. Go ahead.
JAMIE MCMURRAY: Oh, I get it now.
Becoming a dad has made me a little dumb, obviously.
Being a dad has been -- I was telling Jeff up here, it's been -- all your friends that have kids try to explain to you the feeling and how exciting it is and how great it is, and you think you get it, but until you get to experience it for yourself, you don't.
And it's been wonderful. And I've told everyone this is really the first time I've left Carter since he was born. And before I left home, Christy had told me it's going to be really hard for you to leave. And I was like it's not going to be that big a deal, I'm going to be okay.
And when I got ready to leave, I was like, man, this is really hard. And you go in there and you kind of give him a little hug and you get a good smell before you leave, because babies smell wonderful. There's --
Why are you laughing at me? I'm being serious. I'm being really honest. The scent is wonderful.
JEFF GORDON: You're bringing a tear to my eye, man.
JAMIE MCMURRAY: You're no one to talk about emotion over there, okay? That's definitely the pot calling the kettle black.
JEFF GORDON: I'm saying I'm getting emotional listening to you.
JAMIE MCMURRAY: It's all good.
JEFF GORDON: You know what? I've known Alan for a long time, just working with him at Hendrick as he's had different drivers. And I think it's been known for a long time of what a great crew chief he is.
In a way I've kind of always wanted to work with him, and the opportunity came about for that to happen. And very, very impressed. The guy works really hard, he's really smart. And every crew chief has a different approach, you know, and where they're primary focus is. He's been really big on getting me comfortable in the car, with my seat, with steering, with just a lot of car things that are very cool.
And then the other part of it, like we came down here to test in December, and part of that was to kind of just get acquainted with the team and everything. And we weren't very fast. And we came back this time, and I didn't expect anything any different. And we were fast. And I was like, man, what did you do? And he's like, well, it made me mad.
So it's impressive to watch him at work and he does a great job. The whole team seems to be excited to -- the whole switch, I mean, I think the same thing with Jr. and those guys as well as Mark and Lance, it's just -- the change was big and abrupt, but at the same time, as it's sunk in, everybody is like, God, this is very cool. And it's been a very positive thing, especially for us with the 24 car.
I will say it's been pretty cool getting to know Alan a little bit more and knowing his background, working with Smokey, and his background in racing and how he got to where he is. It's a unique story that probably doesn't get told enough.
Q: Jamie, perhaps outside of Denny Hamlin, it might have been kind of a difficult off-season for you, just reflecting on not making the Chase and given the success that you had on some of the tracks and the victories. Assuming some of these tweaks that are reported come to fruition, would you welcome some changes that might have some wiggle-room for drivers who have victories but perhaps not as many points in the top 10?
JAMIE MCMURRAY: Well, just so you know, I had like the best off-season of my whole life. It actually was pretty great. I appreciate you ruining it for me there. No, I'm just messing with you. (Laughter.) I'm just being honest.
I mean, the -- everyone has asked me about the points and the Chase because it would have put us in it last year. But, I don't know, my thought on the points is that they set those points at the beginning of the season, and everyone knows the rules, and if you make it, you make it, and if you don't, you don't. It's not like they make exceptions throughout the year and change it. I mean, it is what it is. If you're not consistent enough, then you don't make the Chase.
So, you know, I don't want to say that I don't care, because I do, but as long as it's the same for everybody, it really doesn't matter to me.
Q: For both of you guys, you kind of touched on the new father aspect. You added a son and you're a brand-new father, but for both of you, how has that parenthood changed through your perspective over all in your career and your life and going forward? Maybe for you, Jeff, maybe thinking about stepping out of the car a little sooner and just the overall feelings on -- how it's changed your perspective on your careers?
JEFF GORDON: It's making me drive longer, I can tell you that. I start looking at tuitions for schools, and yeah, the bills are definitely going up.
No, I think really for me what I notice is just the pride that I take in what I do. Takes on a whole new meaning. I've been racing for years, and my family has been involved in what I do every step of the way. And so a lot of times what I did out there on the racetrack was as much for them as it was for me.
And now when you have your own children and you go home and you hear them say little things just like, Pop, I was watching you race -- the funniest thing that happened, and I can laugh about it now, both me and Jeff Burton can laugh about it now, but I went home that night after the Texas event last year, and I got home late, but Ella woke up in the middle of the night so I went in there to lay down with her to help her go back to sleep.
So she realized it was me, and she said, Papa, were you wrestling with another guy out there on the track today? And I said, Well, kind of. She said, Why? Why did you do that? And I said, Well, I got angry. She goes, Why were you angry? She wouldn't quit. It's three in the morning, and these are the things that are on her mind. It just brings everything into perspective, and it's just so raw and it's so fun.
And then to make the story even better, then I called Jeff Burton two days later to talk, and so he told me his story. You know, he said, Well, I'll one-up you easy on that because I've got, whatever, I think 12- or 14-year-old, and they were like, Dad, I'm going to kick Jeff Gordon's butt and blah, blah, blah, and I had to explain to them, No, your dad kind of made a mistake.
So we both really laughed about those stories and what kids do to your life and to your career, and from every aspect of the enjoyment of sharing a victory to the agonies of defeat and embarrassing moments. Jamie's just now getting into these things. Once they can start walking and talking, you'll understand.
But, no, it's amazing. To me it's not -- it's not about -- to me, no matter what your job is, it doesn't matter if you're a writer or a race car driver, when you have children, it doesn't make you less passionate about what you love to do. I think if anything it makes you more passionate about it.
And you've got to understand, we don't sit up here and think of the dangers of the sport; we think of what do we have to do to win. It's dangerous. Yes. But when you get to this level, you've been through it, you know the safety features, you know what you're in controlling of and not in control of.
And so I think most people just automatically assume when you're in a dangerous sport like this that when you have children it makes you think "I don't want to do this."
You know, to me, it makes me more inspired to want to do it better. That's all.
Q: Jeff, in hopes that I had mentioned to you that NASCAR listened to fans and fans have a lot of opinions about change, and I asked you what changes you'd like to see and you said, Tell me what the fans want and I'll tell you whether I agree with it or not -- they liked that, by the way. And by the way, most of the fans are really kind of happy. It took me a while to go after as many fans to get what they really wanted to change.
JEFF GORDON: Well, agreeing on the change is what was probably challenging.
Q: I picked out some of them. I'll go over them again real quickly. But it's get rid of the Chase, more autograph time at races, rotate the tracks for the Chase, make the race cars look more like factory cars, heat races, and stop the wave-around.
JEFF GORDON: Stop the wave-around? That right there just proves that our fans are listening and watching and paying attention and know their stuff a lot better than I think sometimes we think that they do.
I got to say I agree with a lot of those things. I think that our fans mean so much to us and this sport and our sponsors that doing more autograph sessions I think is an obvious one. And I wish that we could incorporate organized sessions. Maybe we rotate different drivers in and out on different weekends. But I certainly agree with it. It would be cool to do that.
I think we all sign quite a few autographs throughout a weekend regardless, but it's sort of as you're walking through the garage area and things like that.
You know, I think the one I might disagree on is the Chase, taking the Chase away, because I think if you went back to the old point system, I think that we'd be bored in a hurry with the fact that somebody just won the championship with about four races to go, and we went down to Homestead and we didn't have a championship on the line with maybe three or four drivers battling it out. And I think that's pretty exciting, and I think that's great for the sport.
And even though I wish they would have incorporated -- implemented it about two or three years later so I could have maybe gotten a couple more championships, I still -- I'm a big supporter of the Chase.
I don't know, Jamie, what are your thoughts?
JAMIE MCMURRAY: I agree. (Laughter.)
Q: Jamie and Jeff, I was just wondering, as far as personal dealings away from the track, do you have a favorite memory that boils to the surface when it comes to dealings with Dale Earnhardt that you can share?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I guess because I'm in Daytona, I think of a few different ones. I think they were building the Daytona USA out here and they did a groundbreaking, and I remember part of that groundbreaking -- and somebody in here can correct me if I'm wrong on the timing of this or why we were here -- and there was a big tractor out there that they set up this sort of promo of, hey, we want you guys to get on this tractor. And it was like me, Rusty, and Dale, and I don't know who else may have been there. Maybe Dale Jarrett or something like that.
But we were going to get on this tractor and drive through this area and somehow do the groundbreaking that way. And they were like, you know, who wants to drive the tractor. I mean, it was pretty easy answer. We knew who was going to drive the tractor, and that was going to be Dale.
And I guess I didn't realize Dale's skills on a tractor until that day. I mean, this is a big piece of machinery. This is not just some little tractor. I mean, it was big. And we got on that thing, and he was like, dodododo, I mean, he had the bucket going. It's like he had one at home or something. It was so impressive. And so that was pretty cool.
And then another Daytona one was we were here practicing for the IROC race and we went out -- I think there was probably three or four of us out there, and I know Dale was one and Schrader was one and I was one. And I was pretty new to the IROC series and learning those cars and the way they drafted and everything. So I was just kind of a kid in a candy store having a great time.
And I remember that I think Schrader was leading, I was running second, and we came off Turn 2 and Dale gave me a pretty good push. And I got underneath Schrader and I was like, Cool, I'm going to go right by him. And then before I could even look in my mirror, Dale was inside of me three wide down the back straightaway.
And it just seemed like the longest back straightaway I'd ever experienced. Like in all my laps around Daytona, it just seemed like that back straightaway went on for like five minutes, because the moment stood in time, and I was just there like taking it all in.
And I just remember I looked to the right. And back in those days you had no headreast, you could pretty much see all the way inside the car. And I remember looking to the right at Schrader, and he was just looking ahead, focused, because we're three wide. And I looked to my left, and Dale is over here like -- he's kicked back he's got one hand over here, one hand on the steering wheel, he's looking at me with this big grin on his face.
And I realized at that moment I'm three wide in between Schrader and Earnhardt. And back then you couldn't go three wide into Turn 3. And I was like, now, which one of us is going to lift? I'm not going to lift. I'm not going to lift.
As we got closer to Turn 3 and I look over at Dale, I realize I was going to have to be the bigger person in this moment and lift. And thank God I did, because I lifted and Dale went in there sliding all the way up three lanes, got in front of Schrader, and it would have been a heck of a wreck.
But I'll never forget that look on his face and just how relaxed he was in that race car at that moment when I was freaking out because we're three wide.
And it's just one of the many stories that stood out for me with Dale.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen, for your time. We enjoyed it. Good luck out there.