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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 16, 2010
JOSH HAMILTON: We are now joined in the Talladega Superspeedway infield media center by Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet.
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. We have a little bit of a special teleconference today in advance of the Food City 500 at Bristol on Sunday. Pleased to be joined by Jeff Gordon. Quick reminder before we get started. Tomorrow at 3:00, another teleconference with Kyle Busch.
JOSH HAMILTON: Before we get into this test, could you talk to us about the off weekend and how you spent the last week.
JEFF GORDON: We stayed at home, which was really nice for a change. Normally we're always going somewhere. We had some exciting news during the off week that we announced on JeffGordon.com that we're going to have a boy. So that was certainly great news to find out over our off week.
Other than that, it was nice and relaxing, opportunity to get some things around the house.
JOSH HAMILTON: Congratulations on that. Let's look at this morning's test here at Talladega. Obviously we're here going to the spoiler. Just talk about how it felt in the single-car runs, and I know you were part of a mini draft towards the end.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, we made some single-car runs. Didn't do a whole lot of like qualifying runs or anything like that. Felt like we learned some things, enough to where we could go ahead and start getting in the draft.
There was about five of us out there. It was definitely productive. Nothing eye-opening. Felt like it went well. The cars have a little bit more turbulent air when you're behind other cars. Makes the car rattle and shake a little bit more, which I heard was similar to what the Nationwide cars have.
So no big surprise there. A little bit of visual, not necessarily behind you, but when you're behind a car, because the corners of the spoiler are real tall. Just seeing across those corners to the side of somebody, trying to look further ahead.
But, you know, other than that, I thought everything went really well.
JOSH HAMILTON: Thank you very much. We'll start with questions down here in the media center, then we'll throw it up to the teleconference.
Q. Jeff, you touched on the visibility. Michael Waltrip said if they made it out of acrylic, it would help the racing. Talk about if it would help you visibility-wise if it will make the racing better?
JEFF GORDON: We certainly hope so. I think the races are pretty darn good here to begin with. It's hard to make them a whole lot better. We've seen the evolution of aerodynamics and the draft with two cars being able to connect together with the wing here the last few races and get a little bit of a breakaway.
You know, I think that's what's gonna be unique and probably the biggest challenge is trying to figure out if we can do that with this car. With only a five-car pack out there, there wasn't a lot of that that materialized. When more cars get in the pack this afternoon, we'll find out more.
I think the car looks really cool. You know, I think that there's some benefits that are going to come along with it, not only here, but at a lot of the other tracks that we go to.
But, I mean, it's hard to have a bad race at Talladega, in my opinion. You know, I think that you're still gonna have guys have strategies of wanting to be at the front versus maybe wanting to hang in the back. You know, you're still gonna see some big pile-ups, bump-drafting, you're going to see a lot of passing for the lead, which to me is what we've had here at Talladega for the last several years.
The last race or maybe sometime last year, they were criticizing the single-file race during the middle. But that's just because it's 500 miles and you got to make it to the end. Then all the action's gonna happen. That's just sort of a product that it's so easy to pass.
Until we get more cars out there, we'll find out if it's maybe a little bit harder to pass.
Q. Did you spend more time during the week thinking about this test or thinking about what colors to make the baby's room?
JEFF GORDON: I could tell you, I didn't spend a lot of time this last week thinking about the test (laughter). Part of my duties this past week was, you know, cleaning out the storage room and getting out some of the things that we had for Ella that we could still use for a baby boy.
So, no, most of my time was spent waking up at 6:30 in the morning with Ella, spending the days with her and Ingrid, having a great, fun family week till I got on the plane this morning to come here, and that's when I started thinking about Talladega. Luckily I had a team that was thinking about it before then.
Q. Jeff, just kind of thinking back about when you first started coming in and you had that rivalry with Earnhardt. Obviously you received some not-so-friendly welcomes. Did you ever sort of wonder to yourself, Why the heck are these people booing me and did it ever bother you?
JEFF GORDON: You know, certainly early on you come into the series and all you want to do is be successful, win races and compete at this level against such incredible teams and drives. So we started doing that. Definitely that's when the boos started. At first they were cheers. The 600 and the Brickyard 400 in '94, that year we only won two races, and I don't remember where we finished in the points. Nowhere near the championship battle. Seemed like it was all good stuff.
Then in '95, we came out, we were just strong right from the beginning and started being very competitive, winning races, and a threat for the championship. That's when I really started to see, you know, the split between my fans and Earnhardt fans. And he had a lot of fans (laughter). There were quite a few boos. Some tracks it was more than others. Here at Talladega especially.
But, you know, early on, I was like, Hey, what's that all about? But then I realized pretty quick. Earnhardt was probably one of the first ones to say, I learned a long time ago, as long as they're making noise...
I think it was in '92, '93, '94, hearing him get booed, I was like, What is that all about? That was more of, in my opinion, a sign that you're doing something right. If you're out there winning the race and they're booing, you're doing more good than you are bad.
I didn't put a whole lot of thought into it. It wasn't long, maybe a couple years later, where I realized it was definitely a good thing.
Q. Moving on to Bristol. It seems as if a majority of the drivers have really liked the Bristol configurations that we've had the past couple of years. But a majority of the fans, at least those who have email, don't. Is there kind of a happy medium that can be reached at that track?
JEFF GORDON: Possibly. With the SAFER barriers making the track narrower, it might make it a little bit harder to get side-by-side and make passes. That might give the fans what they want. You're going to have to use your bumper a lot more to make those passes happen, which causes more cautions and excitement and sparks and tempers, all those things. It's obvious the fans, the majority of ones that have email, what they want.
You know, I think as drivers, we like a track that's not a one-groove racetrack. That's what they did at Bristol, they created a multi-groove racetrack where we could get side-by-side, get our nose, get completely underneath or to the outside of a car and race 'em clean for the pass, but still be able to make those passes.
You know, I still think it's great racing at Bristol. I think it's some of the best we've ever seen. But that's not always what the fans, you know, want. So I think this should be a happy medium with narrowing up the racetrack, but we'll see.
Q. Jeff, just a word from you on the Canadian Motor Speedway development in Ontario. I know you designed the oval. You're very excited about that. You're aware that Canadian fans are excited about this project and want to get this thing built.
JEFF GORDON: Yes, and so do we. It's a long process. There's a lot that goes into it. That's certainly one of the things that I've learned through this project. We're all excited about it. We know the Canadian fans are excited. I think it can be really good for the local economy around there, as well.
So I think there's nothing but positive from our end and from what we're hearing and seeing. But there's still always those hurdles. I'm focused on the design part of it when I have time to dabble in it, which is over the off-season and off weeks, not this past one. But in the past I've spent a lot of time just trying to create my own ideas to go into it.
I'm certainly excited for us to break ground and get it going. Hopefully that happens soon.
Q. Jeff, when NASCAR brought the bump-drafting back in, how do you think that affected the racing at Daytona and what do you anticipate at Talladega this time around?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I never thought that the bump-drafting went away. I mean, it was always there. It was maybe not as aggressive. So I think that now you're able to see us be more aggressive. You don't see that as much at Daytona because handling is such an issue at Daytona that you can't really push one another through the corners there.
So when we come here is when we're really going to put that to the test, just how aggressive we can be bump-drafting. Then, you know, you throw the spoiler in there, the restrictor plate, that's definitely going to I think certainly make things challenging and interesting from a driver standpoint of how we're going to be able to work those things, what it's going to take to win the race and stay out of trouble at the same time.
You know, I think that this is really truly where it's going to be put to the test, not Daytona. So we didn't see a whole lot of change and difference at Daytona, but we definitely will when we come here.
And even this afternoon, you know, we start getting out there in larger packs, we'll just see how easy it is to bump-draft, how aggressive you can get with the bump-drafting. Obviously we're not under the competitiveness of a race weekend, so we'll try to still be somewhat in control.
But when we get here for the race, I'm pretty sure it's going to get wild and crazy.
Q. Jeff, very seldom here do we see people with a dominant racecar. I think the last time you won here, you were running the Pepsi Star Wars car. You seemed to have a car that could do just about anything you wanted to do with it. What as a driver tells you you've got a really good car at Talladega?
JEFF GORDON: Well, these days with the new car, the new aerodynamic package, restrictor plate, if you see a dominant car out there it's because the guys behind him are letting him lead. They're like, Yeah, you go ahead, and I'm fine right here because I know when it comes down to the end of this race, all I need is one or two guys with momentum and we're going to drive right by you.
It's not the way it used to be. You know, dominant performances that I've seen here in the past with Earnhardt, myself, you know, it was just aerodynamics were completely different, so if you had good power under the hood and you got out front, you could use your mirrors and block the cars behind you and prevent them from getting the momentum it took.
It used to take four or five guys to all get together and work together to make a pass on the leader. And now it's really not like that anymore. Now, you know, it takes two, maybe three to make that pass and that push happen.
So any dominance you see today, it's only by choice of the other competitors. It's interesting that you'll see that. You know, you'll see a guy get up front. I've seen Junior or Harvick, a couple of 'em, they get up front there, they get the right guys behind them, run that high lane, everybody seems to be content at that point in the race. Away you go. You let one guy lead a bunch of the laps.
But it's really just a matter of time, truly just laps and time, to get to the right point in the race where you start thinking, Okay, now I got to make my move. You're gonna see the whole field spread out and start getting two- and three-wide and start passing, doing all the things to try to win the race.
Q. Jeff, I have a baby question. I was wondering if you were secretly rooting for a boy? Not to discredit Ella and any potential talent she has, but what are your thoughts now that you are having a boy on potentially raising a racer?
JEFF GORDON: Haven't even thought about it. I think we're going to approach it the same way we do with Ella. There's no doubt we were rooting for a boy. I think for us, you know, the ultimate would be to have a boy and a girl. We want two. We want both. But the most important thing is just for a healthy baby. So we were gonna be totally content and fine and stop at two no matter what, even if it was a girl.
But as far as from whatever it is that is going to be their passion in life, I want to support them in whatever that may be. If it's racing, that's great. I'll support either one of them. You know, but we're just gonna try to present as many opportunities as we possibly can and see if there's something that they're really truly passionate about, interested in.
Kind of do it the same way I feel my parents did with me. You know, I don't think they thought I was going to be a racecar driver when I was born. I think that they were just interested in trying to pursue opportunities with their children and find their passion. For me, I was fortunate that I got introduced to racing and loved it right away.
Q. Jeff, did you ever really get comfortable with winged cars? Are you glad to see them kind of on their way out?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I was never crazy about the way the wing was mounted on the back of the car. When I envision a wing being put on our car, I envisioned it a little bit more like a Trans-Am car, where it was raised up, more of a cool-looking concept, and also fit a function of aerodynamics, just made the cars a little bit more futuristic.
But, you know, the wing that we put on there was just a glorified spoiler. It sat down on the deck lid. It wasn't very appealing. We weren't really using it efficiently. So when I heard about going back to spoilers, I was totally fine with it. This car looks good with a spoiler on it. You know, from what I'm hearing, we're going to get more downforce in the car.
The balance is really what we're interested in, is how much the balance is going to change versus just overall grip. You know, if it plants the back of the car too much, we're just out of tools to make the front of the car work in turn. But we're kind of hoping that it actually helps the front of the car turn a little bit, too.
So I'm very anxious to get to Charlotte. This test is really what's going to happen in the draft. You're not going to find a lot about balance and those things, plus the spoiler is bigger on this car. When we get to Charlotte I think is when we're going to find out what a spoiler really does in comparison to a wing.
Q. The switch back to the spoiler, with this current generation car, when it came in, your criticisms of its look are well-documented.
JEFF GORDON: Appreciate you pointing that out (laughter).
Q. Did you think at some point they were going to alter this design, go to a spoiler to make it look more like the cars used to, what you were used to driving?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, you never know. You know, when they were developing this car, there is a lot that went on. A lot of us weren't sure if we ever were going to have this car. When the reality of it came that, yes, we were going to have this car, we really started getting serious about it. When we got serious about it, there were definitely some issues that could only be worked out through seasons of racing and getting out there and doing battle and really learning about it.
I feel like really over the last year, we've really gotten this car dialed in good. I think we've learned a lot about how to make it work well and race well. So, you know, this is a change. I'm hoping and thinking that it's going to be a change for the better. But I'm very supportive of it, open to it.
After going through all the big changes with the car we have now, I realize that anything's possible. I try not to, you know, have too many opinions before we go and test it and get into race conditions.
But, you know, the fans seem to be supportive of it, as well. That's important. So I think if it's good for the competitors, good for the fans, then I think it's great for the entire sport. I'm very supportive of that. I look forward to getting it out there in race conditions.
JOSH HAMILTON: Jeff, thank you very much for the time today. I'll throw it back to you, Herb, to wrap it up on the phone.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to Jeff Gordon for joining us. Thanks to all the media. Had a great turn-out. Reminder, tomorrow 3:00 eastern, Kyle Busch will be on another NASCAR teleconference. As always, we appreciate coverage.
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