NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 1, 2006
KURT BUSCH: I think everything's going real well. Getting up to speed. We've been on a pretty good tear with tests. We've done Lakeland so far, Atlanta with Goodyear tire tests, Daytona for three days. We did Nashville the week before this. We're going to hit Kentucky not really on our way back, but logistically it looks like on our way back to North Carolina, get ready for Daytona. We have quite a few cars we've run through. One is a Charger, one is an Intrepid. We have these cars, those cars. I think it's been a great start. The team is definitely gelling real well together, making good adjustments, bringing up differences in the way the 2 car used to drive versus where it looks now as well as comparing things to the 12 car, what they've got going on. It's been a good day, much better day than what we were doing yesterday. Yesterday, just trying to decide the real differences between a Charger and an Intrepid.
THE MODERATOR: Does it feel strange at all climbing into that blue 2 car? Have you kind of gotten used to it now?
KURT BUSCH: It still feels strange for many different reasons. I kind of feel a little like Rusty Wallace. Everybody says, "You're just not big like Rusty was." I'm working on that. Rusty is a great guy to look up to and to fill his shoes. I think of it more as just carrying on his legacy, the good times he's had, the championship, all the race wins, and of course he's a short-tracker. That's really where I'm beginning to shine in the Nextel Cup Series is on the short tracks. Looking forward to the challenges of Bristol, Richmond, Martinsville, those good short tracks. Of course, we've got all kinds of good races coming up.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions here in the media center.
Q. Jeff Wolf, Las Vegas Review Journal. Kurt, what was it that made you want to go to Penske?
KURT BUSCH: What made me want to go was just the sheer determination to go to Victory Lane that you could see from Ryan Newman, but mainly from Roger Penske. The relationship we've developed over the last few years has turned into a great relationship. Looking forward to this weekend. I get to go to the Super Bowl with him. Having that relationship with a car owner, that's really what drove me to make that decision. But when it gets down to the bottom line, I've got to look at where Kurt Busch can go and win races. I believe with Penske and Dodge, I can go do that far more into the future.
Q. Damien (inaudible), Orange County Register. Was there ever a time after Phoenix you were worried a relationship that you thought was building might not be there as strong as it would be or supportive through the whole thing?
KURT BUSCH: Roger was very supportive, 100% behind me. Never gave me any indications that things would change. The way he came to stand up to bat for me really gave me that great impression on his leadership and the values that he has as a team owner. Not at all. He knew the truth. We were moving forward. We've been in the car, we've been testing. Going to the Super Bowl this weekend. Roger has been a great guy, no doubt whatsoever, that things were going to change since then.
Q. Doug Kazarian, Channel 13 here in Las Vegas. Talk about the Super Bowl, going there. You saw some images from media day yesterday, all the hype, bizarre questions. Talk about how excited you are, maybe what you can bring over to NASCAR from that event.
KURT BUSCH: I love to go to different sporting events. Live sporting games, events, are things of my passion, whether it's all the way to the Super Bowl or as small as my buddy's little league baseball team. I really enjoy going out and sitting in the bleachers, just absorbing the atmosphere. This time around, going with Roger, I probably won't have much time to sit down and absorb the atmosphere with on-the-go things we're going to be doing. Roger invited me to the Super Bowl. I got a chance to go a couple years ago when the Carolina Panthers were there. This time around, I'm for the underdog. We'll see if Seattle can pull it through. Reminded me a little bit of the 1985 Chicago Bears with the quarterback having that flair to him, having an MVP runningback.
Q. Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee. We hear you are happier than ever right now. You look it.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you.
Q. How is it racing against your brother? You've seen him develop a lot. Back here in Vegas, you still get a little rivalry going between the two of you?
KURT BUSCH: Oh, absolutely. Last year he finished second in the race. I finished third. Went up to him, put my arm around him, said, "I'm cutting you off from information, no more, you beat me. You're out my windshield instead of my rearview mirror." He's done a great job to develop through the Busch Series, come into Cup and win two races in his rookie year. He's a quick study, a challenge to race him out on the racetrack because he's a hard racer. Any time that I get to finish in front of him, I just kind of jab him and let him know. He's definitely calling me up on Sunday night, even before we get home, "Where were you today? I was up front." It was great. Great to have him win a couple times last year, to have him develop so quickly. Man, we never raced against each other all that much at the local level. We did, but now it's really for some serious competition. We're going to have those bones thrown back at each other last year.
THE MODERATOR: When you did race, you could never figure out who won because you always argued who won as many races.
KURT BUSCH: Exactly.
THE MODERATOR: Lee.
Q. Kurt you have to be completely objective testing the Charger versus the Intrepid. We heard from the Dodge guys there was a balance issue. Very well-balanced car with last year's Ford. You had probably some of the best horsepower in the garage. Talk about where you think the Dodges are in comparison to the past and present automobiles.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, spending yesterday on a two-day test, so a full day committed to challenging the '05 car against the '04 car. With the results that we found, they have to go back and sit down and look at the things that we recorded. A full day committed to that type of test is quite a bit of time to distinguish the difference between the two cars. Then with my experience from the Fords, running well, having a chance to win races, they're looking at me at a broader perspective and not necessarily in detail on which car is better. I'm just relaying the information that I felt, and that is my past experience versus what I'm experiencing now. So bottom line is I think there is way more educated people at Dodge right now than me making these calls. With Ray Evernham, his team ownership, with Penske and his team ownership, you have the Petty's team ownership, and Ganassi fits in there as well. Their engineers and their people are much further ahead on the research in the difference between the '05 car and the '04 car. My input will help impact them in making their decision. I'm not just sitting there holding the gauntlet. Ryan Newman has more of an impression on these cars, I only have a one-day test so far.
Q. (No microphone.)
KURT BUSCH: I think I explained to the first one that it's not my responsibility to pick which car we run. I think it's a great opportunity that Dodge has to look at two different cars. I've seen qualities from the Charger. I've seen qualities from the Intrepid. It's the '04 car versus the '05 car, that's what we're calling it. I keep saying the wrong word, help me out with that. The look that each one has, the '05 car seemed to run faster by itself but fall off sooner. When you do that, you don't have a chance at winning races. The '04 car doesn't run as fast in the beginning, but it seems to maintain its speed better. When you look at it, does Dodge have a problem, because they're always on top of the speed charts? They just never end up on top of the speed charts when it count, and that's at the end of the race. That's why there's a movement to look at the '04 car.
Q. Joe Stiglich with the Contra Costa Times. You accomplished a lot in a short time in your career. Being with a new team, how much of a feeling is there of wanting to prove yourself just because you're with a new team and new people and also taking into consideration the guy you're replacing in that car?
KURT BUSCH: Honestly, I'm just happy to be here, to get a fresh start, to move forward. What Penske Racing can offer me, the chance to drive the Miller Lite Dodge, is the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm challenging myself to model myself after Rusty Wallace, legendary champion, a great spokesman for his sponsors, a great guy that could really go out there and get into the marketplace and reach the fans. That's my No. 1 objective this year, is to be able to show the fans that I have that drive to go out there and do those creative things to create different opportunities for the fans to meet me, because I want to go and meet the fans.
Q. Claire B. Lang, XM Satellite Radio. In talking to Roy McCauley, he called you a journeyman champion. There is no question when he comes in in the morning that he knows the guy behind the wheel knows how to drive a race car, and that puts a smile on his face. What have you learned about Roy since we talked to you at Daytona, since you tested with him for a couple of days and your team?
KURT BUSCH: It's tough for me to go down this path and say that he's done this and this and this so much more differently. Jimmy Fennig was probably the best crew chief I've ever worked with. Roy McCauley is going to be that guy again. He has just a different approach. Fennig is the old-school veteran, where he knows how it's done. Just don't even worry, don't ask him a question, he'll get it done. Roy McCauley is a guy that has this engineering background of open-wheel cars, blending it into stock cars. It's just a different approach. I can relate Roy to a very energetic, enthusiastic crew chief that has all his bases covered. He's lacking experience, but he's covering the lack of experience by the depth of knowledge that he has about race cars and conducting people in a manner to run a race team. So to have a two-day test in Vegas, one day committed to the '05/'04 challenge, then today we're moving forward on our '04 car, we chose the best car, and that might help Lee Spencer with that one, and we're moving forward in that direction this morning. So now this afternoon, he's got a program set forth on how we can attain speed in qualifying. We'll go to Kentucky next week, brush up with a few more of our details, we should be ready to rip for the downforce season when we go to California after our Daytona 500. Great crew chief. Nickname Cannonball because when he runs around, he makes some damage happen. He might look like a cannonball, too.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, thank you for coming in. We're moving in another driver.
KURT BUSCH: All right.
THE MODERATOR: Now we'll bring up the reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart. We have several people also on the conference call, so we'll try to do one question at a time, try to avoid the follow-ups. Tony, first off, everybody wants to know how you're feeling.
TONY STEWART: Great (laughter). If you believe that, I'm lying. No, I mean, ribs are real sore. Hey, it will heal. Nothing that keeps me from doing what I'm doing on the racetrack. Just a little uncomfortable right now.
THE MODERATOR: Second time you defended a championship. Any different this time around? Can you learn anything from the first one?
TONY STEWART: Season's still a season. Like I tell everybody every year, we're not reinventing the wheel from one year to the next. We're starting this year with the same attitude we started last year and the year before, all seven years that we've been doing this. There's nothing that we've learned that's actually going to help us other than we're trying to figure out how we can start the year a little stronger than we have the past, still be good in the middle part and end of the season.
THE MODERATOR: Questions. Claire and then Lee.
Q. Two quick questions. One is, do you feel like you're going to have to still have some healing time on that rib, that you are in pain as we head into Daytona coming up? Is it healing quickly? What about the changes to the track here proposed, the higher banking, whatnot?
TONY STEWART: I didn't know anything about that. I kind of like the racetrack the way it is. The more banking you get, the more grip it gets. Every time you repave something, it's got a ton more grip. Every year I think this track is getting better and better, too. Last year I think the track finally widened out and guys could definitely run two different grooves, one and two. Three and four, it seemed like it moved up a little bit also. I'm not sure that they need to do that. Looking at the drawing, it looks like they have a pretty extensive project going on inside the track, let alone trying to rebuild the racetrack itself. I would leave it the way it is. I think the track itself is fine. As far as the ribs and stuff are concerned, it's just a typical rib injury. There's nothing you can do about it. There's nothing but -- time is the only thing that's going to take care of it. There's nothing we're going to do. There's no treatments for it. Absolutely nothing but watching days on the calendar go by for it to heal. To do something in the car, I mean, for the most part I'm pretty comfortable in there. It's still sore. But every day that goes by, it's getting better and better. We'll get I think a week and a half now before I have to get in a car again. I think that will be plenty of time for it to at least get to a stage where I can breathe a little better in the car.
Q. Did your illness over the Christmas holidays and subsequent injuries after Chili Bowl, did it slow your plans on your physical fitness regime that you said you were going to endure after the end of last season?
TONY STEWART: Do you work out when you're sore or sick? You do? You're tougher than me. I'm not doing it while I'm sick and sore.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: Well, you said it (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: We'll go to Debbie.
Q. Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee. You look thinner.
TONY STEWART: See, Lee (laughter). Maybe you ought to try my way of working out. Better yet, just do what you're doing, all right? I'll take your word for it.
Q. You went down to Daytona for the Rolex 24. You got a blister on your hand. Is that better?
TONY STEWART: Are you kidding me? It's just a blister. It will be okay. I'm pretty sure I won't have to go to the hospital for it. I think it will heal, too.
Q. What is your mindset on this season? Are you thinking "I have to defend a title" or are you thinking you're going to go out and run your class, have fun, do the best you can?
TONY STEWART: That's exactly what I'm doing, the second part of what you said, just going out and having fun each week. That approach seemed to work pretty well last year. It's a nice feeling starting the season knowing we're the defending champions. With that, I mean, it starts the year off right for our team. Everybody is positive and having fun. We've been having fun at the tests. We've been having fun in the off-season when I've been at the shop with the guys. Like I say, we're not going to reinvent the wheel this year. We're just going to keep doing what we've been doing all along.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff Wolf.
Q. Tony, before the Chase, did your team kind of look at the way that Kurt won it and did that affect the way you guys approached it at all? The results were similar.
TONY STEWART: No, I think it was more of a situation where we looked at how we lost it, which was the first race of the Chase, getting crashed out early. We knew that we just needed to have our performance up to par and just have 10 solid weeks. If we were off, if we had an off day, we still needed to try to salvage the best finish we could. We didn't really try to pattern it off of what had happened the year before because you knew that a scenario from one week to the next to change and make it totally different than the previous year. I think more people look this year -- look at the last two years combined, and say what did Kurt do, what did we do, how are our years similar and how are they different? People are going to try to figure that into the equation. But still that last 10-week stretch, you try to do everything you can to stay out of trouble. Even if you don't have a perfect day, you still want to have a really good solid day so if that bad day does happen, you have those other solid days to back it up with.
THE MODERATOR: Joe.
Q. Joe Stiglich, Contra Costa Times. We make such a big deal about the Daytona 500. The fact is it's the first race of the season, there's 35 after that. How important is that race as far as setting the tone for a season or does it set the tone for a season?
TONY STEWART: You should borrow Claire's notes. We've answered that question every year. I know I've answered it for the last seven straight years since I've been involved in the series. The answer has never changed. The reason I think it's the first race versus the last race is it gives the teams time to prepare for that race, where all of our other races are week to week to week to week. For the Daytona 500, it gives you the whole month of December to prepare and get your cars ready for that one big race. I always thought it was kind of odd that it was the first race of the year. Then when you think about it, think about how busy our schedule is now for the teams to have the whole month of December to not only get all of the rest of the cars prepared, but they can spend a little extra time on those Daytona 500 cars, that kind of makes sense.
THE MODERATOR: Doug.
Q. Doug Kazarian, Channel 13, Las Vegas. You have everyone cracking up a little bit. Big marketing campaign in the off-season. Talk about how your image has changed in the last year or so.
TONY STEWART: What marketing campaign? I don't know.
TONY STEWART: I remember shooting them. I haven't seen them.
Q. Talk about that, the new movement, the new Tony Stewart, or is it not a new Tony Stewart?
TONY STEWART: If there's another one out there, so be it. I'm the same guy. I don't know, different attitude I guess. No different than we talked about last year. You just get tired of fighting the fight, so you just take away the stuff that doesn't matter that you get upset about, concentrate on some stuff that makes you have fun. That's what we did.
THE MODERATOR: Jamal.
Q. Jamal Brown, NASCAR Images. How was your visit to the White House?
TONY STEWART: It was cool. It was fun because, you know me, I'm kind of the guy that always strays off the beaten path normally. Went in there, and he just kind of went, "Hey." I went, "Hey, boss." He went, "What's up, dude?" For the president to say, "What's up, dude," I thought that was pretty cool. That made my trip.Probably the neatest part of it was he spent time with the crew itself, not just myself and Zippy and JD and Joe, but spent time with all the guys on our team. I'm not sure we're ever going to get invited to the White House after what Jason Shapiro did. He gets promoted to car chief over the winter, then proceeds to give the president a good game, a little good game on the rear-end. I'm not sure we're ever going to get to go back to the White House again. He took it all in stride. He laughed about it. I thought, if we don't get arrested for this, we're pretty good here today.
Q. Was the Secret Service laughing?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. I started stepping away from the president when that happened. I figured when the snipers start coming out, I'm out of the way.
THE MODERATOR: Steve.
Q. Steve Richards, PRN Radio. Talk about how the car feels compared to last year's Chevrolet. Any difference at all?
TONY STEWART: To be honest, it's been so long since we were in last year's car, I don't notice it. It would be easier if I ran last year's car yesterday and ran today in the new car. I'd say this car is a little bit better. Seems like balance-wise it feels a lot better. I know the hard thing is we've made so many changes, differences in setups from last year to this year, it's really hard to really AB it. But the new nose and tail I think are going to be a positive for us this year.
Q. Lug (indiscernible), Speed Freaks. Tony, you see tracks changing all the time, teams changing. What hasn't changed is the media. Do you think it's about time for an overhaul on some of the media? Some of these dumb questions are harder than flipping over in a car in the Chili Bowl.
TONY STEWART: If we had more like you, it would make it a more pleasant experience in here, for sure. If you want to make a difference in the media center, just cut the buffet, cut the buffet out. You'll see them scatter like ants. They won't stay hemmed up in there. Tell me I'm wrong (laughter). Coming from a guy that's going to get hurt the worse from it, looks like it. If you want to change the media center, just change the buffet.
THE MODERATOR: Claire.
Q. Maybe you should invite him to come every week, he might get a little crazy, too, if he came on the journey.
TONY STEWART: Look at him. He looks crazy enough as he is. I deal with the guy all the time.
Q. I want to ask you if you were in the garage this morning and you saw Casey Mears with his Rolex. He put it on today and got it fitted. He said he didn't want to brag to you because he said you tried so hard. He was like really proud of carrying it around the garage on his arm today. Did you see it?
TONY STEWART: No. I don't want to see it (laughter). About killed myself trying to win that race. He shows up one time and wins it. I'm happy for him. I mean, it's a hard race to win. It's awesome for him to do it his first trip there and win the race, it's cool. But definitely very, very jealous of him right now. I definitely want that watch really bad.
THE MODERATOR: Question from the conference call.
Q. Gary Graves with USA Today. When you were talking about having a slow start to the season, have you kind of analyzed some of the reasons why you tended to get hotter in the summertime as opposed to starting off well and carrying that momentum throughout the season?
TONY STEWART: Where are you guys at?
Q. I'm calling from DC.
TONY STEWART: Sounds like a race car in the background. Never mind, I'm sorry (laughter). Please excuse the ignorance. There was a cell phone on our side that sounded like a car going by. Honestly, if I knew why we had a slow start, we would fix it every year. We always -- the first third of the season seems to be our weak point. It's been that way historically for the last seven years. I really don't have a good answer. That's the one thing we're trying to change, trying to figure out why we get such a slow start. The good thing is the points are won in the last 10 weeks, not the first 10. That definitely works to our advantage now.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else down front? Think you're off the hook, Tony. Thank you for coming in.
TONY STEWART: All right.
THE MODERATOR: We have Jeff Gordon, driver of the Dupont Chevrolet in here now. Jeff, you got about a day and a half of testing in. How is it going so far?
JEFF GORDON: Going pretty good. Felt like yesterday morning -- we were just trying a bunch of stuff yesterday afternoon, felt like the speed came. We've kind of done the same thing today, in the morning, just taking what we learned yesterday, trying some different things, then work on speed in the afternoon. You know, it doesn't do you a lot of good to go real fast when it's cool, you know, the track has a lot of grip early in the morning. Real true race conditions when we come back here more in the afternoon. We're not the fastest one on the board, but car feels good. Got things working good with the team. We know what we need to work on. We're just narrowing it down and trying things, gathering information that hopefully not only helps us when we come here, but helps us as other tracks, as well.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions from mere in the media center. Lee in the back.
Q. Lee Spencer, Sporting News. You've had the whole off-season to think about what went wrong last year. You guys made strides in the Chase, but still didn't seem Jeff Gordon like. I know we have a lot of expectations from you, but you're a four-time champion. Can you talk about what were those weaknesses and what have you done to combat them?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I think the biggest weakness that we had was just performance. The cars on the mile-and-a-half tracks, we were way off. What we did was at the end of last year when we didn't make the Chase, gave us the opportunity to cut cars up, change the bodies and go test. We went to Atlanta and we just did a bunch of wild, crazy things to the body until it gave me a comfort feel that I was happy with. We realized that it was in the total opposite direction that we had been in, which is still really kind of the way the 48 is. I mean, Jimmie's driving style, Chad's setups, they just work for them. They just haven't been working for us. We decided to, instead of trying to keep it universal between the two teams, we've got to get what works for me. We did. We went in a much different direction. We started making headway through those last 10 races, especially on the mile-and-a-halfs. Our short-track program was strong. Our superspeedway program was strong. Our road course problem, we know what we ran into there. We had a transmission issue. I feel like we've fixed that. We just had some bad luck. I like to think that you make your own luck. I felt like through our performances not being what they should have been, you know, it put us into positions we weren't used to and got us into either a crash or a situation where we made mistakes. Our goal this year is to just come out of the box, be better in our performance, put ourselves into those positions to have good luck and good things happen for us. Chemistry with the team is obviously really important. Felt like through some of that frustration we lost the chemistry, lost the confidence in one another. I know I lost confidence in what I was doing out there. It's just about building that back. Luckily we saw some light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the season, even Homestead. That's carried us through the off-season. Here we are in Vegas. Things are still going well.
THE MODERATOR: Doug.
Q. Doug Kazarian, Channel 13 in Las Vegas. Here we are in Las Vegas, these blueprints for the big changes, including the track, but also for the fans. Talk about your initial thoughts, whether you like them, dislike them, kind of your take.
JEFF GORDON: I think they're good. I've always felt like this track needed eight degrees more banking, they tell me (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Good answer.
JEFF GORDON: I think 20 degrees of banking is a good number, evening out both ends of the track. Right now one and two is actually flatter than three and four. I think if they get both ends of the track 20 degrees is a plus. I think through what Homestead did where they came up with the progressive banking, I think we've all learned a lot about how the banking should be done. I'm not saying they're going to go progressive banking here, but there's ways to make I think side-by-side racing happen a little bit more. You don't necessarily have to do the progressive banking, but there's some ideas that I've heard being thrown about how just the process of the foundation, what's underneath, the paving process and everything. But I think 20 degrees is a great number, and I think it will -- this track is already a great track, but I think it will make it even better. I haven't seen all the infield stuff. I know Bruton has committed to spending a ton of money, I hear. In Bruton fashion, I'm sure it will be nice.
THE MODERATOR: Tom.
Q. Tom (inaudible), The Spectrum, St. George, Utah. How much of a premium are you placing on this test in relation to the rest of the season, being you go to mile-and-a-half places, Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, a few other places like that, how much of a premium is on this testing as opposed to for the rest of the season?
JEFF GORDON: We put a huge premium on this test, not only because it's a mile-and-a-half and it helps us prepare for other mile-and-a-halfs, but realize that NASCAR has now put us into a box, a small box, a small window of opportunities to test. They tell us where we can test, when we can test. Really this is going to be our last mile-and-a-half test for a long time. It's about getting the season kicked off and started, chemistry within the team, getting everybody acquainted with one another, getting me out there on the racetrack, getting prepared myself. I mean, I can work out all winter long, not that I did, but I can do all these things and mentally try to prepare myself. But until you get out into the car, out there on the racetrack, it's never the same. This is great preparation for us in many ways, not to mention what it can do for us for other mile-and-a-half racetracks, help us learn things for those tracks, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Debbie.
Q. Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee. Jimmie told us a bit about the safari in Africa. Sounds like it was an excellent adventure. Where abouts in Africa did you go? What was your perspective on it?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it was spectacular, probably one of the coolest things I think eve ever done. I'm so glad we got a chance to do it. We went to South Africa. There's a reserve there, very close to Kruger National Park. It was all South Africa. It wasn't Tanzania, out in the wide open. But we saw everything there is to see. Just puts a whole different perspective on life when you are in that type of an environment. It was a great way to spend the off-season.
THE MODERATOR: Kim.
Q. Kim Novak, SPEED Channel. It's at that time of the year again for our SPEED Channel Driver of the Year award. You've won it four times. Can you tell us what it meant for you to win it the first time, then to go on and win it a total of four times?
JEFF GORDON: You know, it tells a lot about your season. Unfortunately we don't do Team of the Year because I think that's probably more of what it should be. The driver gets a lot of the accolades when it's a total team effort. The car's running good, makes me look good. Last year, car wasn't so good, I wasn't so good either. It all goes together. I think it's obviously an honor any time you get awarded something like Driver of the Year. Our goal is by the end of the year to have that because then we know we had a good year. Usually Driver of the Year means that you're ending up with a championship as well - not always, but usually. That's what our real goal is, to get that championship and hope you that you vote us as SPEED Channel Driver of the Year.
Q. Contra Costa Times. How important is the Daytona 500 as far as setting the tone for an entire season? A good run there, does it help psychological or any other way for the whole rest of the season?
JEFF GORDON: It does. Didn't do me much good last year, did it? You know, I think that -- Daytona is probably the coolest Victory Lane and coolest type of experience and moment by winning that you'll ever have in motorsports. It's bigger and better. It's hard to even put it in words what that experience is like. Each time I've won it, it's only gotten better. Last year was incredible. And it did carry momentum for us. I felt like it carried momentum so much to where we overlooked the fact that we really were horrible in the mile-and-a-halfs. We went to California, we actually ran pretty well there. I think we blew up right at the end. We were running in the top five when it happened. I think we were halfway decent here. It kind of overshadowed the fact we weren't really as good as we thought we were. So it definitely carries momentum. But at the same time I'll trade a Daytona 500 win for a championship. That's what we want. We want that championship. Daytona 500s are great, but there's nothing like the championship.
Q. Derrick Wilson, Vacaville Reporter. Tell us a little bit more about how the chemistry has changed from last year to this year.
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think, you know, any time you make a change within the team, especially a significant one like the crew chief or significant ones like we've made with our pit crew, that always just builds excitement. You get yourself into a position of trying to fix everything. It's not so much that we had to fix things. I think, you know, we just needed to make some changes. A lot of those changes were going to be happening anyway. Just because we ran bad and didn't make the Chase, it makes it look like all of a sudden we just started -- you're moving people around. It's not necessarily the case. A lot of those moves are going to be made regardless. I think just bringing somebody like Steve in who has fresh ideas, he's young, he's talented, he knows the team, he knows the people. His youthfulness just brings that bit of excitement and confidence, and the rest of the team builds around that. What I'm so proud of is that he didn't come in and just say, "Okay, I'm going to be the crew chief, but we're going to keep everybody in place." He said, "I'm going to be the crew chief, and in order to be the crew chief, I need the support of everybody." Anybody that doesn't support him, they're gone. He wasn't afraid to make those moves. I love that. As young as he is, he's got enough confidence in himself, has seen enough, been around enough great crew chiefs, organizers and managers, of course Rick Hendrick, as well, that he wasn't afraid to just step in there and take control. He's got guys over there right now that will do anything they can for him because they support him. That's what is going to make us a strong team. I told some people at the media tour a couple weeks ago that we might not be the best team right now that's out here, but I think that we have the potential by halfway through the season to be the best team and be championship contenders by the end of the year.
THE MODERATOR: Lee.
Q. When you won the championship in 2001 --
JEFF GORDON: You get two questions? You get special treatment out here, huh, Lee?
THE MODERATOR: She does come every year.
JEFF GORDON: As you should.
Q. Thank you, sir. When you won the title in 2001, we said, this is the guy that can tie Earnhardt, Petty and possibly be the guy that wins eight championships. Then I read quotes from the media tour where you don't expect yourself to be around perhaps long enough to accomplish that task. Where do you see yourself going? Is it still there or has the competition just kind of jumped up and equalized it even more? It's harder to win more so than it was in the last '90s?
JEFF GORDON: Number one is I never said I was going to win eight championships, seven championships. My expectation was never that. I won the first championship and I was blown away. I was like, "Wow, I won the championship." I won two championships and I was like, "Holy cow, I can't believe this. How can this happen?" Then three and then four. Every time along the way, just more and more surprising. So those expectations, we work our butts off to go out there and try to win championships, but we never expect to win championships. The reason why I said that on the media tour is because, you know, I got to get to five before I can think about six or seven or eight or any other number. Our goal is to get to five. If we ever get there, you know, by the end of my career, you know, great. Who knows, we might go on a rampage, go three straight. I don't know. But, you know, with as much work that's gone in to getting four, I can't imagine that three or four are going to come very easily. To have years like we've had, you never know when, if those are going to come together. I still think we have what it takes to win championships or I wouldn't be out here. I feel like I'm going to keep going as long as I can. I know I'm going to be at Hendrick Motorsports, I know they're going to provide me the resources to go out and win championships. It's just whether or not I'm going to be healthy enough, whether I'm going to be enjoying it enough or competitive enough. That has to do with desire and all those things. I still have that. I still love the competition, getting out there and competing against the best guys out there. I'm not going to do this until I'm 50. I don't know what day that may come. I hope it's under my own choice of when I step away from the sport, but I don't know when that is. I guess to me, looking at the expectations of winning seven or eight championships, I'm more of a realist, and I realize unless I did some really crazy stuff over the next four or five years where we just went bananas and nobody could touch us, then, yeah, maybe we can do that, but I don't think that's reality. I think we've got a shot to get one, maybe two more. Honestly, if I get two more championships, I will retire after that championship. Seven is not what I'm here to do.
THE MODERATOR: I think that's going to wrap it up. Thanks, Jeff, for coming in. I want to thank Jeff last night for being our keynote speaker.
JEFF GORDON: You guys had a great turnout. I was proud of what you did. Glad to be a part of it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We're going to bring Kasey Kahne up now. Kasey, if you want to head on up to the microphone. Kasey drives the Dodge Dealers, UAW Daimler-Chrysler Dodge. For starters, Kasey, this will be your third race here in the Cup Series. Big difference between the 2004 race and the 2005 race. How do you get back to the 2004 race you had here?
KASEY KAHNE: I think hard work by the team. There's been some changes that Ray has made at Evernham Motorsports. I think that stuff is going to be huge. It's going to be really good. This is really our first test as a team with other cars around. We went to Kentucky and Nashville a few times. But this has been a great test for us so far with Kenny Francis, Mike Shiplett, Keith and the rest of the guys that have done a great job. I think just hard work. That's what they've done over the off-season to get our Dodge Charger where it needs to be. When we come back in a month and a half, hopefully it's good enough to run top five and contend.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously with this being The UAW Daimler-Chrysler 400, one of your sponsors as well, any added pressure? Is it kind of an excitement knowing you're going to have a lot of sponsors out here for the event?
KASEY KAHNE: It's always exciting when you have sponsors at the event. UAW is a great partner of Evernham Motorsports. Daimler-Chrysler and Dodge are great partners. To win one of these races would be great. You know, to win in Vegas would be great. To win with the sponsor of the race being one of our sponsors would make it that much better. We definitely have been looking forward to coming out to this test, just kind of seeing where we're at. It's a test that you can learn a lot. You can go to Kentucky all winter long, show up in Vegas and be bad, you can show up here and be pretty good, work on it and make it better. I think so far we've been improving our car, feel like when we leave tonight, we're going to have a pretty decent car.
THE MODERATOR: You can have more fun here than you can in Kentucky, too.
KASEY KAHNE: You can definitely have more fun. Actually, Kentucky, you can gamble a little bit, too. River boats right around the corner.
THE MODERATOR: Like the Bellagio?
KASEY KAHNE: Not quite like the Bellagio. It's a small boat (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions from folks in the media center. Debbie.
Q. Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee. NASCAR has such a short off-season. How did you spend your little bit of time off? Did you have a chance to unwind and get refreshed? L
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, I really did. After Homestead, I told Ray when I was leaving the trailer after that race, "Man, I'm going to be gone for a week and a half, I don't want to know nothing about racing."
THE MODERATOR: That's all you got, a week and a half?
KASEY KAHNE: With the season we had, we needed to get after it and get prepared and try to get our Chargers where they needed to be. That first week and a half, I went on vacation, then came back to Charlotte, did some stuff there. Then we tested and did some appearances for a while. After that, I went home to Seattle, took some time off with friends, hung out, went to Seahawk games. That's been one of my -- probably one of my funnest moments or funnest times in the off-season, has been watching the Seahawks either after Qwest Field in Seattle or just on TV. Been doing that, went skiing a couple days, raced the Chili Bowl one weekend, which was a lot of fun. Ran pretty good there. With all that and the testing we did, I'm excited. I'm ready to be back in the race car for sure. I'm glad we're in Vegas getting ready.
Q. Predictions for Sunday?
THE MODERATOR: We know who you're rooting for.
KASEY KAHNE: You know who I'm rooting for.
THE MODERATOR: Are you going?
KASEY KAHNE: Everybody in Washington are rooting for the Seahawks. Other than that, everybody seems to be after the Steelers.
THE MODERATOR: Did you put any money while you were here?
KASEY KAHNE: No.
THE MODERATOR: Are you going? Kurt Busch is going. He doesn't like either one of those teams. Are you going?
KASEY KAHNE: No. I have be to be back here to test the Busch car.
THE MODERATOR: That's on Monday.
KASEY KAHNE: I need to rent a plane. I can't do it. I don't want to do it. I'd love to go to the Super Bowl, but I need to focus on this testing.
THE MODERATOR: Damien, then Jeff.
Q. I understand you and Ricky Carmichael have a pretty close relationship. (Inaudible) beating the lap, your best time at that track. Does he have a future in this sport that you see?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't know. I mean, that probably would be up to Ricky, how much he wants to pursue it. He's an unbelievable athlete, unbelievable supercross rider, motorcross rider. When he's done with that, wants to maybe do something on four wheels, he's definitely got the talent to do probably whatever he wants. Hopefully he does do something. He's a good friend of mine now. I can't wait for our first off weekend between Vegas -- California and Vegas. I'm going to go to the RCA Dome and go to his race, go with him that weekend. Should be pretty cool. He's a great guy. He's having a good season. Got some competition, for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff Wolf.
Q. Kasey, is this the first year you've owned a wing sprint car team?
KASEY KAHNE: I've had one for a while. I've raced it a few times. We've put other drivers in it once in a while, but never really focused on it that much. This is the first year we've had a full sprint car program put together. Joey Saldana's going to drive it. Speedway Engines in Indianapolis are building us great Mopar Dodges. We're looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun. I enjoy it right now. Last year I had a team that raced twice a month or something. I sit on the Internet or try to get to the races, see what's going on, wait for a phone call that night to see how they did. I love that stuff. They've done a great job of getting ready for the season. Joey is a good driver. Hopefully they have a lot of success.
Q. Do you know which series you're going to run? Are you going to run here in March?
KASEY KAHNE: Definitely be here in March. There's two series that they're putting together. One has really good race teams, the other one has really good race teams. They have good schedules. You just got to decide which one you got to do. For me, I haven't had any problems with the World of Outlaws. I haven't had any problems with the NFT that they're starting. We're up for whatever best fits us. We'll be in Vegas. That's an Outlaw race. If another sanctioning body schedules something against it, we'll have to miss that race. We'll see what happens. But definitely my car will be across the street.
THE MODERATOR: Doug.
Q. Doug Kazarian, Channel 13 here in Las Vegas. You've been racing for a while, but this new-found fame, you've talked a little bit about it in the past, but 50 most beautiful, things like that, do you ever take a step away and shake your head?
KASEY KAHNE: I don't think it was beautiful. Think it was bachelor.
Q. Talk about that angle, also the attention you've been getting, not necessarily driver based.
KASEY KAHNE: Right. I mean, ever since -- basically right around this time, you know, two years ago is when it all kind of started. We had some really good races in the start of '04, opened up a lot of doors, a lot of opportunities, and things have kept getting better. The main thing to me is to keep racing good and be better than what we were in '05 and you'll even get more of those doors opening. Right now I think with just a lot of the different things I've been able to do over the last year and a half, I've enjoyed it. I like doing that stuff. It takes away a little bit sometimes from the racing, and you need to really stay focused on what our main goals are and concerns. But at the same time to go and do that stuff, you know, I enjoy it, try to have as much fun doing it as I can, and learn from it every time.
Q. Jamal Brown, NASCAR Images. How is the new structure working with your engineers and your car chiefs and all that? How do you think it's going to work once we get into the season?
KASEY KAHNE: It's worked great so far. Ray Evernham, he's won championships, he's done a lot in NASCAR. He has a lot of great ideas. This one -- you know, it's different than what everybody else is doing. It's really not as different as people think from the outside. What we have is Kenny Francis is our team director, Mike Shiplett is our car director, then we have our engineer in Keith. The guys working with those three so far this week, working with them over the whole off-season, it's been great. Each one of them talk to each other. Kenny has final say in everything. Kenny is going to be on the radio talking to me during the races and figuring out things as he bounces questions off Mike and Keith. I mean, I think it's really a perfect situation. We'll just have to see how it all works out. So far it's really worked out good.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for coming in, Kasey.
KASEY KAHNE: All right, thank you, guys.
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