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June 25, 2016

Jeff Gordon

THE MODERATOR: We've got a special media availability here today, and I mean that with all sincerity. Jeff Gordon is kind enough to come by and visit with us here this morning at Sonoma Raceway. 93 Sprint Cup Series wins during his decorated career, five wins here at Sonoma Raceway, 14 top‑fives at Sonoma, 18 top‑tens at Sonoma, and 23 starts at this road course.
Jeff, last time you and I did this was back at Homestead‑Miami in November when you were wrapping up a spectacular career. A lot has happened since then. You've transitioned over into the broadcast booth for FOX, and on the eve of your final, I guess, appearance in that booth in that particular role, if you would please maybe reflect back over the past six, seven months and how things have transpired into becoming Jeff Gordon, race car driver, to Jeff Gordon, FOX analyst, and how that has all played out for you.
JEFF GORDON: Well, thank you, Kerry. Yeah, it's been a really great experience. I've enjoyed it. I haven't really missed being in the car that much because of the challenge and the fun challenge that it's been being in the booth, getting to know a whole new team of people to work with, trying to understand what all goes into a broadcast. Last night we had a wrap party, and I walked into a room, and I was like, wow, man, this is a lot of people. It really is an incredible amount of effort that goes into it, and I really enjoyed it.
If I reflect and go back to Daytona, I was scared to death in Daytona, and I wish we were going there next weekend, really, because I love that race, the whole atmosphere of that event. But to kick off our season with that event and be fresh and new in this whole experience was pretty overwhelming.
Now I feel a lot more confident and comfortable. I know my colleagues that I'm working with far better. I kind of know what to look for, what to ask for, and where I fit in better than I certainly did then. It's been a lot of fun.
I'll tell you, we have amazing racing that we've been able to show this year, and that's been a lot of fun. You know, it's a new and unique challenge. I really look forward to getting to the racetrack every weekend, very similar to the way I did when I was driving. You plan, you go through the debriefs, you look ahead at what's coming, what to expect, but there's still too many unexpected things that come your way, and I love that. I love that about a live broadcast. I love that about our sport and just racing in general, and proud to still be a part of it and be doing something unique and different in the sport than I have in the past.
I feel like it's gone pretty well, and while I'm a little bit‑‑ I'm looking forward to a break, no doubt about it. It's nice to know that I'm going to get some time to spend with my family, but I'll still be coming to the racetrack. But at the same time I've enjoyed it so much that it's been a great transition and great experience. Can't wait for next year.

Q. I hate to open with this, but you said you can't wait for next year. I assume that means you'll be back in the booth because your name has come up as the next cohost with Kelly & Michael's replacement, and I mean that sincerely. Your name has come up in all the entertainment media, so is that something you can do or are interested in doing?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm flattered that my name has been associated with that. You know, I've always maintained a great friendship with the show and some of the producers and folks within the show. I had a great time cohosting on that show, and I mean, I certainly would welcome it.
My priority is FOX and FOX Sports and NASCAR, so I will definitely be back in the booth next year. If there was something that would fit into and around that, great. I don't know if that's a reality, but it's been really interesting kind of seeing that unfold. I really don't have anything that I can say about it.

Q. You stopped driving last year; this year Tony is hanging it up, two immortals going out back‑to‑back. What's your perspective on what Tony's legacy is going to be?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, my goodness. Well, I hate that it was sort of‑‑ the shadow was put on it with the way he entered into this season with the injury because selfishly I was really looking forward to calling his last Daytona 500 and just seeing him start the season in a way where I feel like Tony can go out in a way that he'd be proud of and deserving. He's a great race car driver, a great person, a tremendous asset and champion in our sport, and he has represented it very well.
I think that's what a lot of the fans and probably the media would like to see, as well.
You know, obviously the last couple years haven't gone as well for him. I think it's pretty obvious with some of the comments that he made yesterday that he's certainly ready to step out, and when you start having those thoughts and that kind of mindset, it's kind of tough to do your job and not be looking at the next thing. I'm really happy for him for that next stage, and I've had conversations with Tony, and I think for somebody who's just come out of driving‑‑ and Tony and I have had similar careers if you really look at it, and I'm enjoying this chapter. I really am.
I think when you do it and you grind it out as long as he has, you need a break. I've always said, I wish you could just have a little bit shorter‑‑ or a longer break within the season. I think 38 weeks is a lot. And I know people look at, oh, man, race car drivers paid millions of dollars, but what it takes these days to go out to every race, it's a lot more than it used to be. It's more physical, more demands on your time, and it's a long, grueling schedule, and there's a lot of pressure, too, social media, TV viewers, everybody out there, print media. There's just a lot of pressure.
I see where he's ready to kind of go do some things a little bit more outside of that limelight, and I'm happy for him. I think he's going to do great in that next chapter in his life, and I'm still pulling for him to do some spectacular things to get himself in the Chase and go do something spectacular to end his career because I'd like to see it frankly.

Q. I'm sad to report I haven't seen the Jeff Gordon cat this weekend, your biggest fan.
JEFF GORDON: Oh, she's not here? Oh, my goodness, I haven't seen her, either. You'll know if she's around.

Q. I wanted to ask you, what would you say has been the biggest surprise or biggest learning point that you had going to the other side, as we might call it? What was something that you really had to learn or might have even surprised you in terms of covering racing versus being in the sport racing?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, just sort of alluding to just‑‑ especially with the TV broadcast, just what all goes into it. If you go to the TV compound‑‑ I don't know why throughout my entire career I never went to the TV compound. I think every driver should go over there and see the production truck and watch a race. I mean, obviously you can't do a Cup race, but if you could go watch an XFINITY or a truck race‑‑ and I've done it with golf now, I've done it with Supercross, and I really am fascinated by it. There's really a lot of intricacies that make it happen, and it doesn't happen easily.
So I have a lot of respect for those people in those areas that do it and do it so well, and then when you see the broadcast, it all just flows in a way where you're shocked and surprised by it.
But as far as the actual part of being in the booth, I guess I'm somewhat surprised that it's gone as well as it has. I think it's gone better than I expected. I'm enjoying it far more than I expected. I thought, oh, boy, this is so much outside of my comfort zone and what I've done for so many years that it's going to take me a while to get comfortable with it, and yet‑‑ and I give a lot to credit to DW, Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Barry Landis and Artie Kempner. There's a lot of people. They've really welcomed me and made me feel very, very comfortable right away. That transition has just gone better, I guess, than anticipated.
I still have a lot of things to work on. Somebody talking in your ear while you're trying to create a thought, trying to create a thought and bookend it, start it and finish it and do it in 20 seconds is not an easy task, certainly not for me, so there's certainly plenty of things there that I'd like to do better, but I like what I'm seeing out there. For the most part, I think it's been a little bit more natural, just my way of going about it and describing what's happening in the car, being fresh. It's gone better than I anticipated, so that part has been good.

Q. I'm wondering how the strategy has changed for this race over the years because it used to be that the best road course guys would go out and dominate these races, and now with 10 different winners in the last 11 years, it seems like strategy plays so much more of a part. How has that evolved?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, no, it definitely has. I think you never can predict when the cautions are going to fall out, come out, so you have to just look at the speed of your car, and sometimes having the fastest car can really hurt you pit strategy wise. So even though there may be a driver, say like an A.J. Allmendinger, somebody that I think is one of the best road racers out there, you get him a good car, get him qualified up front, and he could be pulling away, and the caution comes out, and a lot of times as the leader you're going to say, I don't know, we've got a good race car, let's stick to our strategy, and everybody else is going to do the exact opposite.
I think tires have become so important here. It used to be fuel mileage was really important. Now it's the combination of fuel mileage and tires, and also that long‑run speed. I think you keep hearing this weekend everybody talking about having rear grip in the tires over the long run, and I think we're seeing with less downforce and even though this is the same tire as last year, I think you're going to see a lot more falloff, so I think the window is going to open up much sooner of when you can come in and get tires and how quickly you can move up through the field.
But also there's a little bit of luck involved. I mean, I think even last year, I believe Kyle Busch was on pit road when the caution came out, and that's what you want on a road course. You want to hit pit road in your fuel and tire window and hope that the caution comes out and you're the first one that's come there.
I look at the last few years, and I think tires have made a bigger difference. Maybe Goodyear has softened them up a little bit more over the last few years, so that's maybe added to some of the strategy changing, as well.
But also I look at the depth throughout the field. There's so many good drivers. Even last‑‑ you know, it's funny how when I'm in the booth I think of things a little bit differently now. I was hoping to see some more cars go off course. I wanted to see guys struggle. I want to see cars stepping out, sliding. They made it look too darned easy to be honest, and I know the cars have less downforce now this year than they did last year, and I think it's a testament to the teams and the drivers that are out there, that the depth is there that is allowing them to make it look easier than the first few years I came here, including myself. There was half a dozen cars that were off track in the first practice, couldn't keep it on the track.
One other thing I would add to that is double‑file restarts. Double‑file restarts have changed everything. That's why we love road course racing now. I mean, it used to be, oh, that's cool, that's unique, that's different, flowing, sweeping, beautiful area. We didn't focus much on the race.
Now double‑file restarts, we're slamming, banging, knocking cars off track, and we're also instead of starting in the tenth row if you're tenth, you're in the fifth row, much closer to the front. You can move up through there on newer tires very, very fast.

Q. Was it interesting that Brad was the first person that got you into a broadcast controversy?
JEFF GORDON: Not surprised. You know, honestly, I love what Brad brings to the sport. I think that he maybe feels or felt like I carried over some of that animosity from our run‑in on the racetrack and the issue in Texas, but it's actually quite the opposite. I've put that aside, and I really like what he brings and his unique perspective on the sport.
I don't necessarily think the same way that he does. I don't know a lot of people that do. But I think that it's really interesting, and I like hearing it, and I like seeing it. I was a little bit caught off guard by some of his perspectives because on one hand, I hear him talking about journalism, and I don't consider myself a journalist, I'll be honest. I guess there's a part of what we do that's journalism, but just being an analyst, covering a live race and just trying to talk about what's happening out there, even if it's video, I think it's slightly different.
But on one hand I hear him saying the integrity of that, and then on the other hand it's, well, I think when it's talking about the car and if the team is doing something and the engineer, you need to step back from that, and I'm like, wait a minute, where is the integrity because the integrity to me is I've got to call it the way I see it, and if it comes across on the screen, then I want to do the best I can for the viewers to analyze it.
You know, there's no doubt I have some bias, and I think everybody does in some way, and so that part I agree with him. Yeah, there's times when it's hard for me not to want to talk about Chase Elliott or one of the Hendrick drivers when they're doing something good, but I'll talk about them when they're doing something bad, too.
But no, I love what Brad brings, and we had a nice conversation, and it made for good TV to be honest. And I think Brad and I have more common respect that came out of it, even though we don't agree on all of the things.

Q. One of the things that I was told to watch for is how you do analyze a race and how clearly you're able to communicate what's going on for somebody who hasn't been in the race car. Now that you're bringing that to the party, looking ahead, what else do you think you're bringing to the broadcast booth?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I'm only doing‑‑ I'm really doing the same thing that I did when I was in the driver's seat when I go into a meeting with my team and trying to tell them what the car is doing, trying to analyze our practice session or a race, a pit stop or a lap, a qualifying lap. So that's just the way that I communicate and the knowledge that I have of being inside the cockpit and understanding the cars, and that's just what I'm trying to do in the booth.
At times I get a little bit nervous that it might be a little bit too detailed or too specific towards what the teams are focused on, but it's been received pretty well, and so at times we have to find that balance of generalizing it for the common fan that may not be a hard‑core avid fan, as well as trying to keep it interesting for those that are hard‑core.
It's not that I focus on that, I just do what I feel like is on my‑‑ I just say what's in my mind about something that I see that I find interesting and hope that it relates to our viewers.

Q. Tony Stewart was frustrated yesterday, and it was after practice, and it's hard to get a clean lap; he wanted to get out and get a clean lap. He was frustrated Jamie McMurray was out there. But he did say after that that there's no one in the garage that can now keep a handle on people who need to be talked to, like Earnhardt used to walk up and grab the back of your neck or something. Do you think in the changing of the guard that the young drivers or those coming up are racing any differently or that it's just a common progression, and when the young bucks come in that happens, or there needs to be somebody, as Tony said, there's nobody now who can go in there and give them a talking to?
JEFF GORDON: Well, let's talk Tony into sticking around a little longer then because obviously it sounds like we need him. That's what he can do. He's one of the few, I think, that has that ability.
You know, I don't know. I was never that kind of personality. I was the type of personality where I wanted to teach you a lesson on the racetrack by how we raced or have a civilized conversation off the track if possible. Of course, what I do relate to with Tony is frustrations as you get later in your career. You know, I think all of us as we get older, our tempers and our‑‑ I guess our fuse just gets a little bit shorter and you lose patience, and I don't know if that's just when you get into the later stages of your career or if it's just getting older and part of it.
But I certainly saw that and expressed some of that, and you saw some of that on track and at the track for me in my later years, and maybe that's some of what Tony is going through, as well. I don't know. I don't want to speak for Tony. I love everything that Tony does and brings. I love it when he's frustrated. I love it when he's‑‑ like what's interesting is in Michigan, I've never heard him so happy. He was loving it. Every radio conversation was, man, I love this, this is awesome, this is great, and then we get here, and all of a sudden he's frustrated with it.
And I would have thought it would have been the opposite, because I thought, well, he likes road course racing, he's great on road courses, and this is a great opportunity for him to win, and I thought at Michigan with it not being the old, abrasive surface of an Atlanta or Texas, I thought that he maybe wouldn't like that. You just never know what you're going to get out of a character like him.
So that I'm going to miss. I can tell you that.
As far as the garage area, I think that the sport, any sport and just life in general has a way of balancing itself out, and when you think you're above the sport, it humbles you in a second. When you think that there's no light at the end of the tunnel, all of a sudden something opens up. So that to me‑‑ it doesn't necessarily need a person putting their hand on your shoulder or around your neck to do that.

Q. I know you have a book coming out in October. Maybe just 30 seconds on how that's been, that experience and that type of thing.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, thank you. The book‑‑ I mean, this has been a heck of a journey, and I've never done a project like this, and we specifically did it ramping up to that final race in Homestead. I mean, it's been an amazing experience for me to reminisce with my stepdad over all these great stories over the years as well as others, and some stories that have never been told like this before, including things with Bill Davis, Bill and Gail Davis, to my experience at Hendrick and the success and things off the track and family and divorce and all these things that are all kind of brought in a way that I think has never been done before.
My involvement with it has been far deeper than I could have ever imagined, and it's been a fun process, and I'm really proud of what we put together. So yeah, looking forward to that. I mean, this summer, when the summer is over, that's what I'll be ramping up towards, and being at the racetrack. So looking forward to it. Thank you for bringing it up.

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