JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO AND TWO-TIME DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION - Q&A'S WITH MEDIA: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW DIS INFIELD? "I'm still lost. It's definitely a big change when you've been coming here for a long time. This...
JEFF GORDON , NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO AND TWO-TIME DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION - Q&A'S WITH MEDIA:
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW DIS INFIELD?
"I'm still lost. It's definitely a big change when you've been coming here for a long time. This is my 12th season in the Cup series anyway. You get to where you work your way into these tracks and you have an area where you like to park and you know where your truck is and where you team is and everything. Today when I came in, I didn't even know if my team was here (laughs). I didn't see my car and I was on the wrong side of the garage. But it's really awesome. We've got to work a little bit on the flow of how the cars come in and out of the garage. But this is certainly beautiful. I'm trying to get coordinated with what was here before and I'm sure everybody is doing the same thing.
"But it's cool to be back. The off-season flew by. I can't believe I'm already in the car. But things are going well. I felt like they were going to go well based on my talks with Robbie (Loomis) and the team and the work that's been going on with our speedway car and our motors and everything. Over the off-season we felt like we built a car that was a little bit better that the car we had here in July. I felt pretty good about coming into today. So far it's going pretty well and hopefully we can keep that going."
HOW WAS YOUR TIME OFF AND WHAT IS YOUR FRAME OF MIND AFTER HOMESTEAD?
"Rested? I'm not sure. But I definitely enjoyed the off-season. It's tough because you have a limited amount of time and you try to balance it out with fun and travel and doing things with friends. You also have the holidays and time to spend with your family. You have to relax and I always struggle with the balance of doing as much as you can but not doing so much to where I'm worn out and need a vacation when I get back from vacation. My off-season went great. I had a blast - other than getting sick up in New York. I was able to make it to St. Bart's for Jimmie's (Johnson) wedding and had a great time down there. And I spent time with my family for Christmas, which was great. And then I went to Aspen, Colorado for snow boarding and snowmobiling. I'm not the kind of person who gets up every morning at 8:00 am and want to put the first tracks on the slope. So I was able to relax and have some fun while I was there. After that, I was in Los Angeles for the Auto Show.
"So I had a good off-season, but it just went by so fast more than anything. I feel like I'm fairly well rested. And I'm planning on continuing to rest up and really get prepared for our next test, which is going to be a tough one because it's two days in Vegas and two days in California. Those two tracks and that many days in a row will definitely be a work out. I feel like it will get us well prepared."
WHAT'S YOUR GAME PLAN FOR A POTENTIAL 5TH CHAMPIONSHIP, AND WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGERS?
"We were missing something with that (last year). Now it's 'drive for five in '05' and maybe this will be the year that we'll get it. How do you really pick who your challengers are? One thing I've always done and that our team always does is that we only focus on our own team and our own cars and our own program and try to do the best we can at each and every race and that we're our ultimate competitor. As long as we can do that, I think we've got a shot at it no matter who else is running good. Obviously, as good as Jimmie Johnson as been, I'd have to put him at the top of the list. I think the Roush cars have been so good the last couple of years that you've got to think that one of those guys will be strong. Junior keeps getting closer and closer as well. I hate to even mention names because I think there will be a handful of names that I don't mention. Everybody picks up their program during the off-season. Things change and you just never know who is going to be competitive and who isn't."
CAN YOU COMPARE NOT WINNING IN 1996 WITH NOT WINNING IN 2004?
"In '96, we were only battling with one guy, and last year there were two or three of us who could have won that championship. I think it was definitely more intense this past season in Homestead than any season I've been a part of. There was so much on the line. You were just pushing the car and yourself to the limits. You have to pay attention to more than just one other car and team. I'm kind of foggy in '96 and that last race. I know we were close, but it seemed like that championship was lost four or five races from the end. I know we had some trouble. I know at Charlotte we had trouble and that played a role in us losing valuable points and we were running good when that happened. So I didn't really look at it as we were going to Atlanta to take away the championship - even though we had a mathematical chance to do it.
"Where, at Homestead I feel like we were right there - so close - and for most of the race we were leading the points. So it was a little bit disappointing to see it finish the way it did."
AT THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER, DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO STEP UP AND TAKE A LEADERSHIP ROLE IN THIS SPORT?
"I don't feel like I have to or that there's a need to. I don't know if Dale Earnhardt consciously chose to be in that role, either. And I'm certainly no Dale. Our personalities are a lot different. He carried himself in a way that everybody respected it. He was the intimidator both on and off the race track. It's just the way he was and the way everybody reacted to him. I'm certainly nothing like that. I've always been one to leave it all to the actions on the race track or by example off the race track. I don't feel like I'm really doing anything different than I have in the past. Maybe I have a little bit more of an opinion that I don't mind sharing. I've just been around this sport and seen a lot more than I did when I first started. That just comes out sometimes. It's not just necessarily trying to be a leader. It's just being me and playing my role in the sport, whatever that is. I guess I'm just not conscious about it. If it comes out and it seems like that, it's not that I'm trying to be like that. It's just the way things have been happening for me."I will say the one thing I notice is that I sense that the way people look up to me is different. And maybe I've learned some respect through time and I certainly see that at Hendrick Motorsports. There are not a lot of people that have been at Hendrick longer than I have, and with that time comes respect and with the success we've had. When I first came in I had a lot of success very early and some people didn't think I had earned it.
DID THE OFF-SEASON LET YOU PUT LAST YEAR IN PERSPECTIVE?
"Man, when that race was over I thought about it for the rest of the evening about how close we were. But after that, I didn't think about it for a long time. I stepped away from it and enjoyed some time off. Then after a little bit of time went by, I started thinking about the points system and our chances to win. One of the things I've opened my eyes to be that, had the points not changed, our chances to win championships would be every few years. I feel that with the points we could win every single year.
"I say that because our team is very good about being in the top 10. I'm getting a little arrogant by saying that, but I think we're going to be in the top 10 more consistently than a lot of teams out there. We're going to have many chances if the points stay the same way. When we do win it, it will be much more gratifying because once you're in the Top 10; it's even harder to win it. It takes a lot of things, almost doing everything right.
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON PRE-SEASON TESTING?
"I think it's crucial. The first three or four years we'd do Cup testing, I'd look forward to it. Then there was a period of time where I'd dread it. And I just realized how important it is to be behind the wheel of the car, getting laps, getting the team information. These days the information you're getting is so important. And most of that happens here but also at Vegas and California -- especially if Goodyear changes the tire or if NASCAR changes the rules a bit. Here, I think most of what we've done has already been done on the wind tunnel and in. There aren't many major things we do here. It's more fine-tuning. There aren't many major things to change like we used to do here. But it's still important and influences your chances of winning the championship."
HOW LONG DO YOU THINK YOU'LL RACE?
"This has been brought up more and more and I do think that it's based more on time than age. I think that a number of years you're n the sport. Today, the way the sport is, because of sponsor, schedule, testing, pressure, television, fans, I think that it's taken years off of guys. I think guys that have gotten in the sport at the same age as me aren't going to go as long as guys like Rusty Wallace. I haven't put a date or time on this. We're probably going to be announcing some new sponsorships in the next year and most of the time that drives the length of how long you drive. I've always just said that if I'm healthy and enjoying myself, I'll be competitive and I'm going to do it. I can promise you I won't be doing a full-time schedule when I'm 47."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE LONGER DUAL 125 RACES?
"Well, we've stretched the fuel and with new fuel cells. I think we need a pit stop. As long as we have a pit stop, that's all that matters.
DO YOU FEEL YOU'RE STILL ON THE WAY UP AS FAR AS SKILL AND GROWTH IN THE SERIES?
"I think that skill and experience in these cars is key. The more they cut off the spoilers, the better us old guys are going to be. It will mean going back to springs and shocks meaning more than aero attitude. There was a time when we went through huge transitions in 2000 and maybe a bit in 2003. We learned a lot about how you set the car up and how you drove it was different. And that took me a little bit to understand whereas some of the young guys just came in and figured it out. At times like that when big changes -tires, springs, aero, whatever, it's sometimes hard to teach an old dog new tricks. But when it comes to racing, week in and out, experience is key and plays a major role in this sport and off the racetrack where it helps you balance everything out. At the same time, it wears on you. Physically I'm not in the shape I was 10 years ago but mentally I think I'm a better driver and more focused."