Talladega II: Jeff Gordon - Friday media visit

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed restrictor plate changes for this weekend, Chase strategy, Jimmie Johnson's popularity, and more. HOW ARE THE SMALLER PLATES GOING TO AFFECT THE RACING AT TALLADEGA? "I'm curious...

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed restrictor plate changes for this weekend, Chase strategy, Jimmie Johnson's popularity, and more.

HOW ARE THE SMALLER PLATES GOING TO AFFECT THE RACING AT TALLADEGA? "I'm curious to see. I think what will happen is that we'll get out there and practice and everybody will really be trying to lock-up like we did before and see how hard it is to do that. We've been seeing it get more intense and so more and more people will work on that in practice to actually try to figure out how to do that. I really don't think it's going to make that much of a difference. I think we're still going to be able to do that because most of it is aero. But we did have a good amount of power to be able to get in to that pocket and stay there. It's not a huge jump in horsepower; it's not a huge change down but we'll see if it makes a difference."

WILL IT BE SAFER AT ALL OR BE ABOUT THE SAME? "It's Talladega, I mean. The cars are safe. The track is safe. The conditions that we're racing in necessarily aren't but we know that; it's been this way for a long time. Every time it evolves because the drivers continue to push what the car is capable of and what the drivers are capable of. We've seen that the last couple of races where you can get a two-car draft and that's something that's new with this new car; we've never really seen that before. Now that we can push one another through the corners and that's what I don't understand. I thought there were no-bump zones or something like that, but the reason why that's working and happening is because NASCAR is allowing the cars to push one another through the corners.

"So until they crack down on that I think you're going to see it come down to two guys locking up together like that, pushing one another, and then trying to figure out how to decide it among themselves. It doesn't have to mean that there's going to be a crash. It doesn't have to be that way. The leader has to make a decision of whether he's just going to finish second or whether he can figure out a way to not allow that car to even get inside or outside of him."

BECAUSE OF HOW THE LAST TWO PLATE RACES HAVE FINISHED WITH CRASHES, WILL THAT MAKE YOU CHANGE THE WAY YOU RACE ON THE LAST LAP? "Definitely if I was in that lead position it's going to make me change how I would race. But other than that, no. I think that as the leader, you've got to do everything you can to get to the checkered flag first, but you've got to finish. You can't put yourself in a position to where you're giving all the control to the guy right behind you and try to take it away from him hundreds of feet away from the start/finish line. If they get that kind of position, that kind of control on you, then you've got to figure out how to take that control away from him before you ever get to the start/finish line, or you've got to give it up and say okay, today's my day to finish second and not to win."

YOU SAID THE CARS ARE SAFE AND THE TRACK IS SAFE, ETC. IS IT AS SAFE AS IT CAN BE? "Well, is it ever? Is it ever as safe as it can be? It's as safe as it's ever been in my opinion. But at the same time, we've found out ways how to draft with this car to put ourselves in position for the situation to happen like it did the last time. So I think the cars are as safe as they've ever been, for sure. And the track, I feel like they really analyzed what went on there with the fence and everything and I feel like it's as safe as it's ever been (with) safer barriers and all those things. But the rules themselves and the cars themselves on this track, you know what it is going into it and its madness; but its exciting madness. If you're on the outside looking in, it's pretty exciting. From inside, it's intense and you've got to try to be smart. But when the closing laps come down, that kind of goes out the window and you have to do whatever it takes to get yourself hopefully to victory lane."

DURING THE CHASE, DO YOU HAVE TO JUST NOT THINK ABOUT WHAT AN EARLY WRECK COULD DO TO THE STANDINGS AND KEEP THAT OUT OF YOUR MIND? "I can't focus on that. I've got to focus on keeping myself out of a wreck and doing what we can do to put ourselves in position to capitalize; if that were to happen and we could make it through it. I think our goal is really to just look at the situation we're in based on qualifying and running position at the time and our strategy is not set right now. We have no set strategy. That strategy is going to be constantly changing as the race goes on."

IS TALLADEGA A LESS OF A CRAP-SHOOT FOR THE No. 48 JIMMIE JOHNSON THAN IT NORMALLY WOULD BE BECAUSE OF THE POINT SITUATION? "They've played it just the way they wanted to play it. They wanted to get themselves in position to have a big enough lead to where this race doesn't necessarily determine the outcome. And they know they've got three solid races left after this. And so, the thing you don't want to do is break the momentum. You don't want to come in here and get caught up in something, take a hit in the points, and then go next week and have a problem or get caught up in something there and then all of a sudden you're like, whoa, wait a minute. You know again, I can't get into their heads and into their situation. We only can control our own situation and our own destiny."

YOU DON'T WISH THE NO. 48 ANY BAD LUCK, BUT IN THIS CASE, HE (JIMMIE JOHNSON) GETS IN THE BIG ONE AND YOU DON'T, CORRECT? "Yeah, you can't wish anybody that. The championship is going to play out the way it's going to play out. Whatever is meant to happen is going to happen. All you can do is go out and work really hard and what I'm doing as a driver and everybody else on my team is doing the same thing and we just go out there and try to put ourselves in the best position and in the best finishing position and hopefully that's a win. We're not counting ourselves out of this thing by all means, but obviously some things have to happen in order to get us back in it. And those are things that are not in our control. All we can do is control our own race team and do the best we can there."

NORMALLY HERE YOU WANT TO HELP YOUR TEAMMATES UNTIL 10 TO GO, OR 20 TO GO, HAS THAT CHANGED AT ALL GIVEN THE POINTS DYNAMIC? "A little. I mean I think that you get to this point in the season and the Chase and you start to separate yourself when you're battling them for the championship. We'll go to our debriefs and we'll share information and do all those things, but when it comes to what's going to happen on the race track, I don't see the NO. 48 having a lot of friends out there. I might not either, I don't know. I think that we're all in the situation. We're more of in a 'must win' situation and they're not. And I know Jimmie is going to be driving like he always does. And if I see it being a position that's going to help us get to the front, then absolutely. But I can't say that's a whole lot different than any other time we've been here at Talladega. We work together to better ourselves. It's hard for people to understand that, you know? You are teammates, but there is no pecking order. There's no, this is the guy that we all have to help. If I were in ninth in points right now, I'd be out there to do whatever I could to help, no doubt about it. But until we're mathematically not in this thing, then we're still out there trying to beat those guys and the No. 5 (Mark Martin) and the No. 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya) and the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) and we're treated the same way."

WHAT'S THE BEST HALLOWEEN COSTUME YOU EVER HAD? "I was a one-night stand (laughter). That one was pretty good. My pirate last year was pretty good. But you guys would have gotten a kick out of seeing me running around our house this week in my Superman outfit because that's what (daughter) Ella wanted me to be. I didn't leave the house in that uniform (laughter), but she certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I did. Ingrid was trying to talk me into taking it to her little class. She had like Halloween class pre-school thing and Ingrid wanted me to wear that and I said, 'No. Not happening. I'll wear it all day long around the house (but not outside)."



ON FUEL MILEAGE RACES "I think all races are great, but I guess awful."



DO YOU THINK PEOPLE THOUGHT YOU WERE MESSING UP THE SHOW OR RUINING THE SPORT BACK WHEN YOU WERE DOMINATING IN THE '90'S LIKE THEY SAY JIMMIE JOHNSON IS NOW? "Again, back then from my standpoint, I was loving it. And it didn't matter to me what other people thought. But there was a rivalry there and it was great. It built up that rivalry because it made people that were Earnhardt fans only hate me more and it built up the people that started to like me; it built that fan base up more. And it was really sort of divided and I think the more you dominate, the more they divide and that's only a good thing for this sport as well as for Jimmie."

SO WHY DOES JIMMIE JOHNSON GET CRITICIZED FOR DOMINATING MORE THAT YOU DID? "Oh, I don't know if he does. I wouldn't necessarily say that. There was a lot of criticism back then too."

AFTER GOING THROUGH SEVERAL OF THESE CHASES, DOES THE RHYTHM GET ANY EASIER? IS THERE MORE OR LESS PRESSURE NOW? "I think there has always been a lot of pressure. For me, each year that passes that we don't win I feel like it adds pressure. So, to me it's more intense than it's ever been. But for us right now, being 150 points out, I don't feel a lot of pressure because we really don't have anything to lose, you know. We're just kind of in a situation where if things go great for us for the next four weeks, we'll win it. But if they don't we're hopefully going to be second or third."

DO YOU THINK NASCAR SHOULD MODIFY THE WAY THEY HANDLE SITUATIONS LIKE WHAT HAPPENED WITH A.J. ALLMENDINGER? IN SOME LEAGUES LIKE THE NFL WHEN A GUY GETS IN TROUBLE THE LEAGUE CAN SUSPEND HIM. "This is not a franchise sport. This is independent contractors. I think that obviously you have to reprimand certain actions. I really haven't gotten into the details of that. All I can tell you is that this sport is dictated by our fan base and our sponsors. And if your actions off the track impact that enough, you're going to get penalized. To me, that penalty is far going to outweigh anything that the series can do. We all have situations where we make mistakes. I think each one is handled no differently."

WHY ISN'T JIMMIE JOHNSON'S POPULARITY SKY-HIGH? "I don't know. It's amazing to me. I really don't have an answer for that other than for me, what helped build up my popularity was the rivalry we talked about with me and Earnhardt Sr. He had such an incredible fan base that anybody that came in and competed with him or beat him for a championship which was pretty rare, again, divided up the fans and it was extremely good for me and I think right now Jimmie doesn't have a rivalry. One, he's dominated; but there wasn't somebody that was dominating prior to him.

"We won our fourth championship in 2001 but since then and we're kind of teammates and friends and all this stuff, so it's not like this love-hate relationship that it may have appeared to have been, perception-wise, between me and Earnhardt. And so, you never know what does this. I'm not a marketing genius. I have no idea. You guys see it and hear it more than I do, but it definitely makes you scratch your head a little bit when you see the dominance that they've had."

OBVIOUSLY YOU CAN HAVE A LAST-LAP CRASH AT ANY TRACK. BUT WITH WHAT'S HAPPENED AT THE LAST TWO PLATE RACES, IS THAT COINCIDENCE OR A TREND THAT'S A LITTLE BOTHERSOME? "No, it's bothersome because I look more at the one here. The one at Daytona is different because, in my opinion, you can't really lock onto a guy at Daytona and just push him all the way through the corners like you can here. And that situation here was that the guy in second had complete control of the guy who was leading and when it was time for him to make his move, he made his move. And then the leader sees the checkered flag and he's like I’m not going to give it up that easily and there's a wreck. And I think that can happen over and over and over and over again. And it definitely brings up that question of are we in control of that as a driver or does NASCAR have to step in and take control of that? And that's going to be something that we're going to debate I think for a little while.

"And I wouldn't be surprised, even with the restrictor plate change, if we see it come down to that again. I'm not saying there has to be a wreck, but it's really this weekend, I don’t think they've changed anything. But I'll find out once we get out there, with the restrictor plate. But I think you're going to see the cars be able to do the same thing. If two guys time it perfectly like they did, then it's going to come down to the leader and is he okay being second? The only way he's going to win the race is to block that car. And that's what's going to cause a wreck."

DRIVERS DON'T LIKE TO HAVE NASCAR INVOLVED IN THINGS LIKE THAT. AS A DRIVER, HOW COULD IT BE ACCEPTABLE FOR NASCAR TO PLAY A GREATER ROLE? "I don't think NASCAR wants two cars breaking away, period. I don't think they want to see that. They want to see a pack of cars. And so I think that's why they made the restrictor plate change. I think they saw how fast these two cars were able to go by themselves but I think there's some aero and a little bit of aero package testing that needs to be done as well that could possibly prevent those two cars from locking together like that.

"Also, when we go to the drivers meeting here and they say this is the no-bump zone and they draw a yellow line or a red line all the way around (the track map) and the only way those two cars can do what they're doing is to hit one another all the way around the corner. That, I think, is the short term of a decision that they have to make. Do they want to get involved in that, or not?"

WHAT'S YOUR REACTION TO LANCE MCGREW BECOMING THE PERMANENT CREW CHIEF FOR DALE EARNHARDT JR.? "All day long people can tell you within the organization that you're the guy, you're the guy, but the perception has been out there for him to get questioned, and when you're Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief, the last thing you want is any extra questions (laughs). So I think it's a great move and I like Lance a lot. I think those guys are good together."

ARE YOU INVOLVED IN ANY OF THE SOCIAL NETWORKS LIKE FACEBOOK OR TWITTER AND IS THAT A GOOD WAY TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH YOUR FAN BASE? "I'm not. And I should. I have my own website and we just did a blog on there a couple of weeks ago. I'm not that good at it and I intend on getting better at it in the future and it might include FaceBook and Twitter, but as of right now, no."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Mark Martin