Talladega II: Jeff Gordon - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS: TALK ABOUT THE PLATE CHANGE AND WHAT, IF ANY, DIFFERENCE IT MIGHT MAKE: "That came as a bit of a shocker for me. I do understand it because we were very fast yesterday. It's...


TALK ABOUT THE PLATE CHANGE AND WHAT, IF ANY, DIFFERENCE IT MIGHT MAKE: "That came as a bit of a shocker for me. I do understand it because we were very fast yesterday. It's not just the grip of the race track. This track is so smooth that we're actually able to do things with the chassis to get more speed out of the car. Where, typically, we had to address the big bumps and different characteristics of this track - grip level being one of them but now we have a lot of grip. And so those two factors, the smoothness and the grip, allow us to make the cars go faster. So when everybody makes the car go fast and you put us in a group, and all of a sudden now we're all going a lot faster so I think they had some concerns.

"We've seen speeds only go up - not individual speeds, but as a group, go up usually when we get into the race when we've got bigger packs. So, from a safety standpoint, I understand why they are making the move. The disappointing thing is that it happened so late that we weren't able to foresee this coming into the weekend where we had a little bit more time to think about it. I think that when NASCAR makes a call like that, I would have liked them to have said okay, 'This was an impound race, but it's now no longer an impound race. We're going to qualify and give you a practice or we're going to give you a practice and then you go qualify.' I think that would have been the fair thing to do, but that's not the case."

SO IS YESTERDAY'S PRACTICE ALL OUT THE WINDOW NOW? "It's not completely out the window, but for the most part it is. From what our guys are telling us with the engines, this is not a huge, huge change. But I would have liked to know what it would have done for us for gearing and for jetting the engines and those types of things. Thos are important. They are things that I feel like we should have at least been given the opportunity to feel out. Now, we're basically just going out and qualifying completely blind; and into the race as well. It's not a significant change. But if they have to put themselves against the wall to make that call, I think they should also consider changing the schedule a little bit."

CAN THIS GET ANY MORE WHITE-KNUCKLE AT TALLADEGA THAN IT ALREADY IT? "Nah, from the white-knuckle experience in the race, it's not going to change that. We always see an exciting white-knuckle experience here and we're only going to see more of it because of the track being so smooth and the teams picking up speed with the cars. Now we've got a change with the restrictor plates. That's going to knock that speed down just a little bit. And so it's not going to change things."

WHAT'S TOO FAST? "I don't know. You're going to have to ask them (NASCAR). They obviously saw something they felt was too fast. From a driver's standpoint, we're all going in the same direction so there is no speed that's too fast. It's when the car loses control and what they are talking about this lift-off speed. I promise you, I don't want to see anybody get airborne, including myself. And so if we're reaching that speed, I'm all for slowing the cars down. I'm all for what they're doing, I just would have liked to have given the teams an opportunity to practice that and to be able to have time on the track. We have plenty of time today to be able to get on the race track in these conditions. And I think that would have been something they should have considered."

HOW DOES THIS IMPACT THE DRIVER IN WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT PASSING AND THINGS LIKE THAT? "Well, that's why I want to get out there on the track and feel it out. I was pretty happy with what we were seeing yesterday and how we were able to pass. When you take power away from us and you do it with a restrictor plate, usually it just bunches us up even more. So I just think it's going to be that much harder to break away from the pack and to pass and you're going to see us in a tighter group."

DOES THIS WHOLE THING SURPRISE YOU? "I'm still trying to take it all in. I just heard it 10 minutes ago. I'm pretty blown away right now, but I've seen crazier things happen in this sport, so I'm not surprised."

WHEN THEY REPAVED, IF THEY HAD TAKEN BANKING OUT A LITTLE BIT, DO YOU THINK THAT WOULD HAVE SLOWED IT DOWN AND TAKED CARE OF SOME OF THESE PROBLEMS? "I haven't really thought about it that way. The thing is, I understand from a paving standpoint, if there is a major problem with the racing. Let's say Homestead, for instance. They had to spend a significant amount of money to repave that race track and reconfigure it to get it to the banking that it is now. You're talking about them taking out the walls and everything. Instead, they were able to leave the wall and just do the track surface itself. I think this track, after this grip goes away, will get back to old Talladega. It's already not as smooth as when they first repaved it. It's just like we see at these other race tracks. The first couple of races with the new pavement, it's got a lot of grip and is extremely fast and we're able to get more aggressive. I don't know. I think it probably they didn't think it would pick us up as much as it has."

DO YOU THINK THEY WANT THAT DANGER-FACTOR AT THIS TRACK TO ATTRACT MORE VIEWERS? "Well, I think they want excitement. I don't think there is any other track on the circuit that offers more excitement than this track. So it's a tough balance there between excitement and safety. Obviously, they wouldn't be making the call that they're making if they were more interested in excitement. It shows they still have an interest on our safety."

YOU ARE CLOSING IN ON THE $80 MILLION DOLLAR MARK. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU EVER DREAMED WAS ATTAINABLE? "I never ever thought about it. I didn't even know about that until I read the press release. You've got to remember I've got to split that (laughter). That's not all mine. And sometimes, we get those checks and it doesn't add up to the dollars that are printed in the paper. Honestly, I never dreamed I'd be racing and making the living I make. I've had opportunities I've never imagined. I was just talking to my stepfather and my mom the other day about how crazy life has gotten in racing and everything else. And one thing has not changed for me. I'm no different for me in that I still want the trophy. It's not the paycheck at the end of the day. I think that's why I've been able to stay in it and enjoy it as long as I have."

IN RACING SITUATIONS LIKE TALLADGEA, DO YOU SAY TO YOURSELF, 'I EARNED IT'? "Oh no, at the end of the day after a race weekend at Talladega, I'm like I'm glad I'm getting paid a lot of money. I don't know if I could just do this for nothing (laughs)."

IS THE DAY-TO-DAY RACING CRAZIER NOW THAN EVER? "Oh, this sport has gotten more popular. You just try to take advantage of opportunities. You don't want to let a good one get away and there just becomes more and more demands. Those are good things, but it's just definitely more hectic."

DID NASCAR ASK YOUR OPINION ON THE PLATE CHANGE? "No, I just found out 10 minutes ago when I walked in the garage area. They didn't ask anybody's opinion. They took the crew chiefs and put them in a room and told them what was happening."

DID YOU LEAVE HERE LAST NIGHT THAT EVERYTHING WAS FINE AND WE WERE GOING TO KEEP THE SAME PLATE? "Oh, yes. I went up into the trailer yesterday and was talking to them about some other issues that I had with how they painted some of the lines around the race track and never once did they ever ask me or did we have any concerns about the speeds being too high."

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT JUAN MONTOYA IN THE ARCA RACE YESTERDAY? "Oh, I thought it was good. I would have liked to see it go green all the way to the checkered. I think that was a good first experience for him. One thing I thought was very interesting and I guess I didn't realize ARCA made some rule changes. But I thought it was the best, most competitive ARCA race I've ever seen. Typically, the Cup guys or a Cup team puts an ARCA car in there with a rookie driver and you'll see three guys break away and you'll never see the rest of the field. Yesterday, I don't know if it was the track or the new rules or a combination of both, but you had a pack of ARCA cars. If you saw those cars like that, that may have been what made their decision.

They might have said oh my goodness, we just saw ARCA cars running the speeds they're running - running that close together - the Cup cars and the trucks are going to be five times (faster) more. Obviously Montoya had a good save when they nailed him in the door. There are typical rookie things. I watched and I'd say, 'Oh, Juan, if you could just go down the middle and you'd drive right by those guys'. And he had a good car. Those (things) are just going to come from being out there. You can watch all you want from on top of the truck and on TV and until you get out there and recognize it and feel it, you don't realize what you're capable of doing and what the cars are really doing when you're out there."

IF HE CAN DEAL WITH CONDITIONS HERE, WILL THAT BODE WELL FOR HIM ON THE 1.5-MILE TRACKS? "Oh, no, that doesn't have anything to do with when he gets on the 1.5-mile tracks. This is so much different. This was a good experience for him. If he had come out of that race with a win, there would have been a tremendous amount of pressure on him that I don't think even he wants. They had their issues. They went to the back. He had to come up through there and be patient. It couldn't have gone much better for him on his first time out.

"An ARCA race at Talladega is just kind of an introduction. It's a whole lot different when you start going to Bristol and Martinsville and New Hampshire and then the 1.5-mile tracks. I think he'll do better on the 1.50-mile tracks than on the short tracks because he's aggressive and not afraid to push the car and he's got a lot of talent so he can feel the car. But those short tracks, those are things that just take lots and lots of laps."

DID HE EARN SOME RESPECT IN THE GARAGE? "Yeah, he wasn't wild or out of control and didn't do anything stupid. That was great. That was good to see. He was nice an smooth."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon