Jeff Gordon, N. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo: "Happy Hour was pretty typical. I ran some by myself, and a little bit in the pack. You're not really learning anything out there. You just go out there and get in it a couple of times to see...
Jeff Gordon, N. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo:
"Happy Hour was pretty typical. I ran some by myself, and a little bit in the pack. You're not really learning anything out there. You just go out there and get in it a couple of times to see what the car is doing - make sure it's not doing anything crazy. There's no handling really, basically, at this track. It's not like Daytona. It's a lot different than Daytona. So we just want to make sure the car's working right and make sure it holds up good enough. If you can get out front, you see what it can do. We did all those things. The car feels good."
Is this going to be an absolutely level playing field for 43 cars?
"Absolutely. I believe you'll see at least 30 leaders tomorrow. There's no reason why they can't. The only thing different is that you get about 10 or 15 guys in front and they'll all swap the lead, but sometimes it's harder for those guys. You can get up to a certain point, but it's hard to get past that block of the first 10 or 12 cars because they're three wide, four rows back. There's no doubt that every car here is capable of leading the race. It's a pretty typical Talladega, except that now, you never lose the draft. Nobody loses the draft."
Will some of the drivers hang back until the end of race because you can go so quick to the front when you need to?) "There isn't a time when you don't want to be leading. It seems like there's a shuffle - front, back, front, back - and it's like you want to be coming to the front at the right time. I don't know. My strategy is going to be to get up front and stay up there as much as I can. Typically in the past here, with the cars not closing up so fast, you could do a little bit of blocking and hold your position. Now, they come so fast, there's no blocking. If you try to block, you're going to cause a big wreck. So you've got to take it to a certain point, and look at their momentum. If they're coming so fast that you can't stop them, then you just let 'em go and hope that you don't get in the middle of a three-wide pack going by on both sides."
Given what happened in Daytona, what's your emotional mindset about this race?
"I feel the same way I did when we were here in October and going into Daytona. You know, what happened at the end of the race was kind of a different situation because what is on our (drivers) minds is what happened in the big wreck. It's a lot to ask 43 guys to be perfect. When you're in a big pack like that and one guy taps somebody, all of a sudden there's a huge wreck. That's what we all worry about. The mindset is that we know what we're faced with and none of us likes it. But we don't really have a choice. That's the way the racing is right now at Talladega."
What kind of changes should be made?
"When we tested at Daytona to come up with these new rules, something needed to be done at Daytona. No one could pass at Daytona. You really didn't even see much side-by-side racing at Daytona. So something needed to be done there. Here, there's never needed to be anything done. The rules they had were fine here. We ran three wide, great racing, lead changes, and everyone could pass. These rules just made it absolutely crazy. That is why I want to see them do something, but what? I have no idea. I just don't think they need this. I think they could go back to the old rules. But their thing is that whatever we have at Daytona, we need to have at Talladega because that's restrictor plate racing and we need to have a constant. I understand that to a point, but Daytona is not the same as Talladega. They're two different race tracks."
Could you customize for the rules at each track?
"Yes. But I've got to tell you, we're as budget-conscious as anybody now. We're spending tons and tons or money and wondering where it's going to end. We've got to be very careful of how much we spend too - even though maybe we have more to spend than others, we still have our limits."
Are you going to be here for the test on Monday?
"No, I'm not."
When all that boycott stuff was going around, did you have clearance from you sponsor to skip this race if you wanted to?
"No, and I didn't expect to. That's like hey that's a nice gesture but do you honestly think they thought that was going to happen? If there's a race going on, they expect their driver to be out there. There's been things for years that people deal with that maybe they don't like. When it was unrestricted and guys were running 212mph there might have been guys that didn't like it. That's part of being a racecar driver."
Did you consider bringing a car to Talladega with more "crushability" and seeing if you could get it through inspection?
"Well, there's rules you have to abide by. You couldn't just bring that to the racetrack. Plus, those things have to be tested. What we have done is on our seats. Within the rules that we have, we've done everything we can to make that area as safe as possible, run the HANS device and all that stuff. Right now there is testing going on with NASCAR and whoever they've put together to head that up. That's where you'll probably see the biggest changes coming.
"That right front corner is so stiff. When you hit with the right front, it just doesn't give at all. I'd rather hit head on or back it in straight than hit driver or passenger side or especially right front. That's the worst is the right front. Passenger side and drivers side, that's next. The next thing is to back it in and the next one is to go straight in because all that stuff collapses."
Can a driver change any of that as it's happening?
"Usually, you just react. When the car jumps one way, it's a natural instinct to just try to correct it. Most of the time, you over-correct and it grabs and heads right into the wall. Sometimes, when it starts to get sideways you can jump on the gas and spin the tires and it does help slow it down and maybe change the direction a little bit. If you get sideways and it grabs, that' the worst thing you want to see happen. You don't want to see any of it happen. You're trying everything you can until that thing hits."
Do you think the fact that many of the drivers are wearing the HANS this weekend is just because this is Talladega, or are they just accepting it more?
"I think it's just coming and drivers are getting more comfortable with it. I tested it at Atlanta last week, and I wore it all through the test. There's just common knowledge at certain places that you just better have it. You better have something to slow down that motion."
What do you make of another seat belt tearing this week?
"I haven't seen it. I don't know what to make of that. As soon as I hear something like that I wonder if it was rubbing on something or is it just the stress of it or what."
Do you use Simpson belts?
"Yes, I do."
Does the way you pull your belts up have anything to do with this?
"There's a clip that you put on them to keep them really straight and tight. I actually run - I think they're the same belts that Earnhardt ran - the adjustments from up on top of my hip. I like to put them down below. But I run a very short belt. As soon as it goes out of the seat, it's bolted on. The shorter you can run them, the better. And I run them very short. I tighten them up before I get in the car to where I can hardly breathe. Usually by the time I get settled in the seat, it's about perfect. I can't even tighten my belts up once I get going. Not the bottom belts - I can keep tightening up the top belts."
What is it going to be like racing here tomorrow without Dale Earnhardt?
"It's something I've noticed. It's not the same. He was a master at this place. I think a little bit of his edge was taken away with these rules because they're just certain little things that you can do to make up for restrictor plates. He knew it best. And even that said, he still won the race here in October. He was just awesome here. I learned so much from him here. It's just not going to be the same because every time you came to Talladega, no matter what, he was the man to beat."
How does it feel to worry about a huge wreck the morning of a race?
"That's when I don't mind getting paid what I get paid. That's when I'm not ashamed to say it's worth it. But really, there are risks at everyplace we go and in every situation when you're a racecar driver. You don't really think about it much. This place, just because you know what you could get into out there - just mayhem - that it's on your mind a lot more at this place. Unless you ride about a half a straightaway behind the whole pack, that's really almost the only safe place. At Daytona for instance, I was sitting there (right in the middle of it) thinking, 'I don't want to be right here, I don't want to be right here.' You're trying to be just as straight and smooth as you can and hoping that that car on the inside doesn't clip me. And that's no fun."
Some of the drivers' families have expressed their concern. Is Brooke that way?
"Oh, yes. She's always nervous. She gets nervous everywhere. I've tried to give her some comfort. I think the biggest thing we've got going for us is our faith in God. That really allows us to maybe understand life a little bit more. When it's your day, it's your day. We don't talk about it a whole lot. I tell her we've got every safety measure possible in the car right now. I'm going to be as safe as I can and try not to do anything dumb out there. We've got to run a race. My race plan is to run up front as much as I can. I'm not planning to run in the back. I don't believe in that. I want to lead laps and get points and try to win this race."
Is there too much at stake these days to even thing about things like boycotts?
"To me, the sponsor finds too much value in each and every race. In order for us to win championships, we have to race here and try to get as many points as we can. And if anybody says they're not going to race here, then okay - that's another guy we don't have to worry about in the championship (chase) I guess. So that never even occurred to me as an option. When I decided to go Winston Cup racing, I didn't think that as soon as there was a race I didn't want to go to that I could get out of it. I'm sure if I didn't want to, I'm sure I could. But to me, that's not an option. It's just part of the series right now. Hey, I would love for it to be like the PGA where we could come to as many races as we wanted to and not have to worry about points."
Do you have a private world or zone that you can put yourself into during this race?
"You'd better have it here, that's for sure. This place is full concentration - very, very intense concentration. I've told people you could probably shoot me in the foot and I wouldn't notice. When you're at your highest peak of concentration, there are things that go on that you have no clue of."
- GM Racing