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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 20, 2010
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We're in advance of the very special event, Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Joined today by a four-time Brickyard 400 champion. He's also four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Jeff, thanks for joining us. A big week, always a big week for you, growing up in Indiana. You've done so much in your career, so many great accomplishments. Where do all those Brickyard 400 victories rank for you on a personal level?
JEFF GORDON: They're huge for me. I wasn't born there, but went to high school there, growing up there. Not just that, but being born in California, racing was everything to me. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500, guys like Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, all those guys were heroes of mine that I aspired to be.
Living in Indiana, racing around Indiana, Indianapolis Raceway Park, the fairgrounds, Bloomington, all over the place, it was every short track open-wheel Sprint Cup driver's dream to race at Indianapolis one day.
To be able to do that in the very first ever stock car race there, NASCAR race in '94, win it, then go on to win it three more times is something that I probably put up as the highest accomplishments of my career.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks for that opener. We'll go to the media now for questions.
Q. What is your take on what happened Saturday night in the Nationwide race between Carl and Brad? Do you believe there should be anything handed down from NASCAR because of that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, just glad that I'm not the one making those decisions. You know, I think it's been well-documented this year that NASCAR is allowing the racing to be more in the drivers' hands, to try to stay out of some of those incidents that are judgment calls.
Probably it's hard to really say just because there is a little bit of a past history with those two. You don't really know what all has gone on over the years with them that has brought it to this point.
But just looking at the incidents, looked to me like Brad got into him a little bit getting into one, but was just racing hard for the position, for the win. Then what Carl did I felt like was definitely out of line. I felt like it was over and above what needed to be done.
Again, you don't know what kind of bad blood there is between the two. Whether or not NASCAR gets involved in it, I think two, three, four, five years ago, I would have thought absolutely they would have done something, maybe taken the win away or docked points or a fine or something like that. Today, it's letting the guys race. That means that I'm sure you'll want to watch the future Nationwide races and those guys battling one another, and in the Cup Series as well. You just know there's going to be more to come.
Q. Jeff, since it's been more than half a season with the self-policing, can you describe how much or if it's really changed that significantly out on the track, how you guys handle each other? At what point will it get to be where NASCAR has to step in and kind of rein guys back a little bit?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, that's kind of where I'm anxious to see how far it's going to be taken before they do step in or if they step in. Those are some questions that I have for Robin and Mike and Darby and Hoots. It's a question I think on a lot of people's minds that, This is great, but what's too much?
Right now what I saw happen Saturday night, to me that was right there on that edge of crossing the line if not possibly crossing the line. So it's kind of a new era now. In the past, like I said, I would have immediately thought something would have been done.
The thing is, the drivers have always taken care of these things on track, whether you knew about them or not. They just weren't maybe as much out in the open because there would be a fine or there would be some kind of penalty handed down immediately. So you thought from an outsider's standpoint, That's over. But, trust me, as a driver, that was not over, that was not the end of it.
Just how racers go about it, they log that in the back of their mind, and there's going to be a time and a day. The payback might not necessarily be the same thing that was handed down to you. It could be something different.
You're usually going to try to make life miserable for them or do something that is considered necessarily payback that takes away either points or a good finish or makes for a bad day or tears up a racecar. Could be a lot of things.
Who's to say where that line is at right now. But I definitely have some questions when I get to the track to kind of try to clarify that a little bit for myself.
Q. The Brickyard 400 is maybe the only major race where we haven't had what you would call a fluke kind of winner over the years. What do you think is the reason for that? Is it just it's so hard to drive there, so much pressure? What is your thinking on that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, you know, Indianapolis is a really unique racetrack. It's unlike any track that we go to. Track position has always been crucial there, great horsepower. But, you know, lately the way that we've learned how to aerodynamically get the attitude on the car, seal off the air all the way around the car to really maximize the downforce and the grip through the corners, I mean, some guys are doing it with soft springs, some guys are doing it with big springs. There's a lot of different ways to make your car go fast there.
We've sort of seen some trends recently where, you know, track position has just become more crucial there than at most tracks we go to. It's a one-groove racetrack. It kind of always has been. You used to be able to get up on a guy, catch the draft on the straightaway, get a run on him, something to where you could make some moves, make some things happen. These days, it just doesn't seem to be the case as much.
You got to have a fast racecar and you can't make mistakes. That's what we saw last year. Juan Pablo had a great racecar. I think he had the car to beat. One little mistake took him out of it. That's what you've got to do at the Brickyard to win, is get yourself in position, have a fast racecar, then not make mistakes.
Q. Jeff, there's no question about what the Brickyard means to drivers. We see the emotion every time somebody wins it. But there's also no question you hear fans complaining the racetrack is too narrow, racing is too single file. Can this be a great race if it's not always a great race to watch?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think so. I mean, because, you know, to me what is it that makes a great race? Well, a great race is not always two- and three-wide racing. A great race could be pit strategy, it could be a car dominating, then makes a mistake, who capitalizes on the mistakes. It could come down to a green-white-checkered, which still is going to be exciting, especially now with the double-file restarts that we have.
Those things create a lot of excitement and drama, which are to me what make a great race. Sometimes it might be a guy who's been so close, or a guy like Juan Pablo, he's won the Indianapolis 500, he was so close to winning it last year, seeing a guy like that win it. Or somebody like Jamie McMurray trying to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same year, those types of things make for great story lines.
I think the racing itself, while it's not what we come to expect at our high-banked racetracks, it still is very exciting. Most of it's because of the history of the track, because of the prestige of the race, how that forces people to push as hard as they possibly can, which a lot of times can force you to make mistakes.
Q. Chip Ganassi was saying yesterday he thought the spoilers on the cars this year might be able to have the cars race a little closer together than they have in the past with the wing. Do you think that might be the case or is the spoiler not a factor as far as you're concerned?
JEFF GORDON: I like the spoiler. I like what it's doing to the cars. I like the way it looks. But from a performance standpoint, you know, it's very small change in performance.
You know, I think there's some things to be looked at with the cars as far as how we're sealing off the air around the cars which is making less air get to the rear or to the cars behind. I think there's some areas we can look into to enhance the spoiler, our boxier style cars compared to open-wheel cars and the stock cars themselves.
But I still think we have some of the best racing that's out there in motorsports around the world. I love that. You know, I think that the spoiler has been a good move. But I can't say I've seen a huge change. If anything, it's just been small.
Q. You talked a little bit before about what the race means to you at Indianapolis. Considering the momentum you're building, considering where you are in the points right now, also I guess considering the length of time between victories for you, is there a bit more urgency this year or would it be a bit more special to win this year than in the past?
JEFF GORDON: Well, there's no doubt it would be a huge, huge victory for us because of the reasons that you spoke about: not going to Victory Lane in a while. But yet look where we're at in the points, look at the top fives we've been putting together this year, especially recently. So we're knocking on the door. The timing might be just right.
Had a nice debrief after Chicago last week with the team. We're having another one when I get off the phone here to talk about the Brickyard, things that we're going to be trying during practice, things that our guys have been planning for probably months that we've talked about briefly and we're going to get into it and keep it fresh in our minds.
This is a big event. We know that. We know we're capable of winning. It's definitely getting down to crunch time for us getting in the Chase. It's not just about where we're at in points now; we need those bonus points to really prove to ourselves and everyone else that we can compete for this championship. I can't think of a better place to get 10 of those bonus points than this weekend at the Brickyard.
This place has been really good to us in the past. With the way things are going for us, I think we've got an excellent shot at it.
Q. I'd like your thoughts on another guy who came up about the same time as you. Bobby Labonte won a championship and the Brickyard. He's struggling just to have a job now. What do you think of a situation for a guy like that? Do you feel any different for someone like him than somebody just trying to make their name now?
JEFF GORDON: You know, I feel like it's always been known in our sport that somebody that is a past champion, such as Bobby, the caliber of driver that he is, that you're always solidly going to have a good ride. I feel like he still has a lot of good years left. He keeps himself in great shape. He's a smart driver.
But, you know, the move to Gibbs, however that happened, whether it was his choice or somebody else's choice, has definitely impacted his career. I speak to Bobby every once in a while in the garage, around the motor coach lot. It really is tough to not see him in a quality ride right now because I think he's very capable of getting that job done. Just looking at his past history in the sport, stats, what he's done, how he's worked so hard as it, too, it's tough to not see him in a ride that's giving him the results I know he's capable of.
Q. You talked a moment ago, had such a consistent year, 10 top fives, 11 top 10s. Do you feel any frustration with not having won a race yet?
JEFF GORDON: I think the only frustration I see is letting the wins that I feel like we really could have pulled off slip away. You know, Texas was disappointing because we got caught up in the wreck. The two that really stand out to me are Vegas and Phoenix. Even though I didn't feel like we had a dominating performance at Phoenix, we were in position. We were leading the race with two tires. I just didn't get a good restart. That one stands out to me as being frustrating because I don't feel like we should have lost that race.
In Vegas, hey, that's a tough call, your crew chief, whether you come down and take two or four. You know other guys are going to try to do the opposite of what you do. That one doesn't actually sting as much as a win at Phoenix.
The crash at Texas, that was just a bunch of guys, you know, trying different things and racing hard. That's going to happen.
I mean, those are a little frustrating to me, but I'm really proud of the top fives we've put together. I'd like to get back to being more dominant. We need to lead more laps. That's what was putting us in position to win races earlier in the season. We got off that a little bit. We weren't leading like we were. That's what's gonna get us back into Victory Lane. I feel like we're right there, though. We're just so close.
The consistency only helps build confidence and puts ourselves in position to get more laps led and get that win.
Q. I've often heard drivers say you race other drivers the way they race you. In this new have-at-it era where people develop a reputation for wrecking folks, does that influence how drivers race each other?
JEFF GORDON: I think that when you see things like what happened this past weekend, things we've seen throughout this season, I think that shows a lot about their character as a driver, their personality inside the racecar, which is their personality outside the racecar but just enhanced with the adrenaline inside the car.
I take my instances from like, say, Sonoma. I made a mistake when I got into Martin. But the other ones were just a little bit of frustration, a little bit of just the heat of the moment from the double-file restarts, which is adding a lot to it as well. These double-file restarts are crazy. You talk to any driver after the end of a race, if there's a green-white-checkered, it doesn't matter if it's at Daytona or Martinsville or where it is, the guys get out of the car and, Man, that was just insane. It makes you do things that you otherwise really wouldn't want to do but you don't have a choice.
I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing for the sport. We're not out there to all be buddy buddy. We're out there to race hard, win races. If that puts on a great show for the fans, I think it's a win-win for everybody. But it's also going to make some enemies for you out there that you're going to have to deal with going forward.
I think there's a big difference between deliberate and an accident. There's hard racing and there's a mistake, then there's stupidity like my thing with Martin. Again, there's that racing hard, you push the envelope, get into a guy. To me, which is what I saw in Brad's move going into turn one. It's hard when you're inside the car. All you feel is the guy hit you. You don't know if he did it because he slid a little bit and slid up into you or because he just deliberately tried to knock you up out of the groove. I'm sure that played a big factor in Carl's move coming back.
Q. Do you think there's a false sense of security that these cars are safer than they really are?
JEFF GORDON: Well, the cars are extremely safe today, I will say. There's no guarantees, you know, never. Things can fly through the window, through the side window. That's the thing I saw with what happened this past week, was it was a lot more than just turning the guy coming to the start/finish line. There were 15, 20 cars behind that had nowhere to go that started bouncing off of Brad. That made for some really hard hits.
You're not considering that when you're out there racing for the win and you make a choice like that. But that sometimes can be the outcome, and it can be one you could regret later.
Q. Frank and Mary's have a shrine to you in Pittsboro. Did you get to frequent that place?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah. They've got the best fried catfish that I've ever had. That place is fantastic. I remember going there long before I ever lived in Pittsboro, where we used to visit the Stanley family who built our quarter midgets. I remember them taking us to Frank and Mary's because it was a great spot. Then moving to Pittsboro, it was certainly a place we went to pretty frequently.
It's awesome that they've built the shrine or whatever it is. I wish I could get a chance to go back there more often when we go for the race.
Q. In that Sports Illustrated roundtable a couple weeks ago, Greg Biffle was pretty critical of Pocono, where Kasey's car almost went over the fence. He said they need to do something there or somebody is going to get hurt badly. Do you agree with that? I know in the past you've had comments.
JEFF GORDON: I don't believe that what keeps cars from going outside the racetrack is a row of trees. I was kind of shocked when I saw the video afterwards that that's all there is. That's not a catch fence back there.
But, you know, Pocono is a great facility, great track. I love the people there. I know what their intentions are. That's to have a great racetrack and a very safe racetrack for the drivers and the fans. But I think there are always areas you can improve. I think that's an area they can improve in.
Q. Not to get off topic here, but I wanted to ask you about Watkins Glen, a place where it's been a while since you won there, but won there three years in a row. What do you like about that place? This gets talked about from time to time. Would you like to see a place like that or another road course in the Chase someday?
JEFF GORDON: I love Watkins Glen. It's a fairly easy road course for us, the course that we run, the shorter course. Sonoma to me has a lot of corners that there's finesse you have to put into it, where Watkins Glen is the exact opposite. Really aggressive, fast, how deep you can get into the braking zones, being on the gas hard, carrying a lot of speed.
I think it makes it a good course for our cars, a great course for our cars. It's a little disappointing to me that we haven't been as strong there lately as we have in the past. We actually did the tire test there with Goodyear a little bit earlier in the year. I'm excited about going back there this year. I think we've got a great shot. I think we've made our car a lot faster. Getting those laps were great for me.
I think it's going to be very tough to beat Marcos Ambrose, which he also showed in Sonoma. I think he's going to be even stronger in Watkins Glen.
But I think we've made some big improvements. Looking forward to getting back to the successful road course racing that we've had in the past. Hopefully we can do that this year.
Q. How important is track position across the board in the Sprint Cup Series?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, it just depends on the track. It depends on whether a green-white-checkered comes out, those types of things.
I mean, I feel like in any form of racing, track position is always important. It's always important to be out fronts. I think these days, Daytona and Talladega might be the exception. In the past, where you might want to be out front, these days it's probably not the place to be. Other than that, track position is so huge.
I think this has kind of bit Mark Martin quite a few times this year where he hasn't qualified as good as he was hoping to, got midfield, and just can't make up the ground even those he's got a fast racecar. We've seen what he's done in the past. It's just so hard once you get back there to make your way forward.
Track position has become more and important in all forms of motorsports, including ours. It's just because of technology and what we learn about aerodynamics, making the cars stick better and go faster. All those things make track position that much tougher.
Plus we now have a car that's pretty much equal. Throughout the field, you look at qualifying every weekend, I mean, it's so tight. When the cars are all that close to one another, then they're all running about the same speed. Plus you take a car that punches a bigger hole in the air, it's definitely going to make track position that much more important.
We focused hard on qualifying this year, and I think it's paying off, as well as doing everything we can to get that track position.
Q. Jeff, I found it interesting your comment about how driver's personalities outside the car could be exacerbated, heightened, in the heat of the moment. As fans and media types, we only see really what those personalities are outside the car. From your perspective, knowing everybody the way you do, what is a more accurate personality, the one we see outside the car or the one we see on the racetrack?
JEFF GORDON: For me?
JEFF GORDON: I would probably say the closer one is the one inside the car. But you got to understand that's kind of the alter ego of everyone, where I think there's maybe more their true self, but it's also a lot of adrenaline, a lot of competitiveness that's coming out.
But I think that's the truer person. You got to understand, in front of the camera we're trying to represent our fans, the sponsors. You can be a little bit more careful with what you say, what you do. If you listen to the radio transmissions during the race, you see some of the things that happen on the racetrack, that's really who we are. You get to see how everybody reacts.
The thing that saves me and most of us out there is that we all kind of react in a similar way when that moment comes. But some of us have a shorter fuse. Some of us have a longer fuse. That's your personality. Some of us in how we react are maybe more calm about it, and some of us are less calm.
But to me that's more of the true personality is out there on the track.
HERB BRANHAM: Jeff Gordon, we appreciate you taking time today. Best of luck this weekend. Very big event, Brickyard 400.
JEFF GORDON: Looking forward to it. I know a lot of fans are as well. I thank all of the members of the media that joined us today. Appreciate it. See you this weekend:
HERB BRANHAM: As always, we appreciate the coverage very much. Thank you.
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