JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Auto Club Speedway and discussed his California heritage, attending American Idol this week while in Los Angeles and many other topics. Full Transcript:
DO YOU HAVE MANY MEMORIES FROM WINNING THE INAUGURAL RACE AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY IN 1997? AND TALK ABOUT YOUR MEMORIES HERE AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“I always love coming here. Being in California, even though I feel like we are a long way away from Vallejo, but just the state of California has been amazing for me. This race track has been amazing. We have had great success here over the years. We have tremendous fan support out here. I saw a stat the other day about how many Californians that we have out here, what is there like 10 in this race this weekend or potentially in this race that is pretty amazing. How things have changed over the years. 1997 was certainly a great year out here for us. I honestly don’t remember; it was too long ago for me to remember all the details of that race. We were on a pretty good streak there for a while where we were getting wins at inaugural events. This was one that we added to the list that was really cool to be a part of. Just to see the race happen here let alone be the ones to win it.”
EARLIER THIS WEEK YOU HAD A CHANCE TO BE A PART OF AMERICAN IDOL. TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE:
“It was very cool. Got the opportunity and didn’t know exactly how it was all going to go. It just happened to work out where we were there early in the show and got the chance to see all the judges and Ryan (Seacrest, host of American Idol) and interact with them. They were all super generous and friendly and nice, taking selfies and everything else. That interaction, then going out on that stage, of course you think it’s huge, massive like the way it looks on TV. Then when you are there in person you are like ‘wow this is a lot smaller than you think’. It was still a very cool experience and to get to invite the Idols out here to sing the National Anthem and be the grand marshals’ for this event was a real treat. I really enjoyed it. The show was great too. Ingrid (wife) and I stuck around to watch the performances. I will certainly be watching to see how all those contestants do from here on out.”
WHAT GOES THROUGH THE MIND OF TEAMS WHEN ONE OF YOUR RIVALS HAS WON TWO RACES IN A ROW? WHAT DO YOU DO MENTALLY TO PREPARE TO END THE STREAK?
“We are kind of in our own battle right now. We are just trying to get from that side of the garage to this side of the garage. It is certainly obvious that those guys still are carrying a tremendous amount of momentum from last year. Last year at this time I think that they showed a tremendous amount of speed. But they didn’t have the team and the chemistry and all the parts and pieces really clicking together. They were making a lot of mistakes. They figured that out the second half of the season when it really mattered most. I see them being that good or even better than they were. That is certainly something that has all the competitors concerned about how good they are right now.
“At the same time it is a long season and you can get complacent. It is the rest of our jobs to find ways to outperform them and get better, find their weaknesses or find what their strengths are and try to build that into our own program. Right now we want to win races, but we really want to just get some consistency and put the results together that I think we are capable of. Then, once we do that then we can start thinking about how we can beat the No. 4 car.”
HOW IS YOUR TIRE WEAR SO FAR THIS WEEKEND?
“I went out immediately and we had no rubber on the track for our practice. I went out first run and I ran 11 or 12 laps. The car drove good and everything felt good. I was a little bit concerned because of the green race track. I came in; nobody said one word to me about any issues with the tires. We went out and made about another 10 lap run on those same tires. I’m assuming they are pretty good. I haven’t heard anything any different.”
WERE YOU FAST?
“I thought we were pretty good. I thought our race trim runs were really good. Qualifying (Turns) 3 and 4 are tricky. How you get through (Turns) 3 and 4, what line you take in (Turns) 3 and 4 I think is going to be a determining factor in who wins the pole. Yeah, we have a fast race car.”
THIS TRACK HASN’T BEEN PAVED IN A LONG TIME. I KNOW YOU GUYS MOSTLY LIKE THAT. WHERE IS THE BREAKING POINT? AT A TRACK LIKE THIS DO YOU WANT IT TO GO ON UNTIL PIECES START COMING UP?
“Yes, that is what I was going to say. You took the words right out of my mouth. Until the pavement starts peeling off and being chucked over the wall I don’t think they should ever change it. I mean if you could get with a paving company and say ‘we want brand new pavement that is just like this old pavement that will last for 15 or 20 years’ then great, do that. Find a way to make that happen. I understand deterioration gets to a certain point. There are a lot of cracks and seams and everything that they have had to fill at this race track. That can get to the point of deterioration where it is too extreme. Then there is a safety aspect there and obviously the track has to make a move.
“What we don’t like is that the newer pavement is more advanced and it’s tighter the way the polymers and the aggregate it is just much smaller and tighter. There is just more surface area and that is what creates a lot of friction and heat in the tires and why Goodyear has to build tires that are so rock hard to handle the durability because so much heat gets built up in them. What this type of pavement does is it grinds the tires down, wears the tires, dissipates the heat and just makes the tires slip and slide around a lot more, which is what we tend to like better. I’m not against new pavement. I just want the new pavement to be like the old pavement. I mean with all the technology and computers we have out there, there has got to be a way to design a pavement just like this.”
TWO MONTHS AFTER YOU ANNOUNCE THIS WILL BE YOUR FINAL FULL SEASON COMPETING IN THE SPRINT CUP SERIES HAVE YOU MADE ANY DETERMINATION IF YOU WILL COMPETE IN ANY OTHER FORM OF MOTORSPORTS NEXT YEAR?
“Well, let’s clear one thing up first. Why are we not going to have a German Grand Prix this year? That is the first thing we need to resolve long before we figure out what I’m going to be driving next (laughs). I have not even attempted to go down that path yet. I want to leave this season competitive and up front and winning races and in the Chase with a chance at the championship. So, we have a little work to do here first before I can start thinking about anything else.
“When I think about that, my first step would be to go talk to Chevrolet and talk to them about their motorsports program outside of NASCAR. If any of that was ever going to be even possible. I haven’t done that yet, but at some point I probably will. Just to explore. I’m not even sure how much interest I have in that. I have too many other things right now going on.”
WE KNOW YOU ARE A GREAT DANCER…
“I do one thing out here in L.A. (Los Angeles) and now all of a sudden I’m on Dancing with the Stars.”
I JUST WANT TO KNOW IF THAT IS A POSSIBILITY:
“Was Michael Waltrip not enough? Was he not enough for us? I don’t have a bikini.”
ARE YOU OPEN TO DOING SOME OF THOSE KINDS OF FUN THINGS?
“I’m open to doing fun things. That is not fun to me. Honestly, I would do it for my wife, because I know how much she would enjoy it. And it would give us the opportunity to maybe take some ballroom dancing classes or something, but my back is the problem. I just feel like I would struggle too much with injury to my back. I’m not afraid to embarrass myself; I’ve been known to do that once or twice. I’m not afraid to laugh at myself. I’m not afraid to take risks, but I wouldn’t do it if I felt like I couldn’t do a halfway decent job at it.”
DO YOU DANCE ANYMORE?
“No, I can’t even breakdance anymore. One is I’m not limber enough, and then every time I do it I end up hobbling around for about two weeks. It is all I can do to just sit down for four hours every weekend.”
WHAT DO YOU SEE OUT OF JAMIE MCMURRAY SO FAR THIS YEAR?
“I can see him driving with a new confidence just because of how hard he is pushing the car. You can see him really pushing the limits of it and being aggressive. That is usually the sign of somebody that feels confident in their car and the speed that is there and their own abilities. I definitely think that they have turned the corner and have made improvements. I think Jamie his experience there, as well as, how they have been able to back that up with some really good people there at Ganassi. Kyle Larson I think is an improvement. When you take a young talented driver like that and you mix that with an experienced driver it can make for a really good combination and start to get you to that next level. I feel like they are a good combination right now and Ganassi is showing some real speed.”
WHAT ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF THIS MARKET FOR RACING AND THE WAY THE ATTENDANCE SEEMS TO HAVE TURNED AROUND AT THIS TRACK OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS?
“Yeah, it’s fantastic. I don’t know, other than the great job that the speedway and NASCAR have done with this West Coast market, just trying to really recognize who the fans are, where they are and what is going to get them here. They are doing a really good job of reaching out to those folks and utilizing all of their different connections to make that happen. Every time I have come out here to help promote the race we have always gotten great support from the media and a lot of different groups. There are a lot of fans out here, but it hasn’t always translated into people filling the seats until recently. That is certainly great. We love to see it. We love coming out here. The weather is great. I was watching clips from this race the last time we were here where we were five-wide through the corners. You can’t make that kind of racing up. That is incredible. I think that everybody needs to recognize just how good of a race track this is and also the market and how important it is to NASCAR and its growth. All I can say is congrats to everybody that has contributed to make that happen.”
SINCE CHASE ELLIOTT IS GOING TO BE TAKING OVER YOUR RIDE NEXT YEAR HAVE YOU BEGUN ANY KIND OF COMMUNICATION WITH HIM ABOUT AS FAR AS TAKING OVER YOUR RIDE?
“I mean we talked before that announcement happened. There was just a tremendous amount of respect back and forth between the two of us. I certainly was in Rick Hendrick's ear a lot and Rick having conversations with me about Chase and how he is the right guy or kid or whatever you want to call him to be in that No. 24 car. And the No. 24 and all those things and the team and what is best for the team. That was a big thing that was important to me. I had been telling Rick to tell Bill (Elliott), tell Chase and even when I saw Bill at times, because I went to Victory Lane a couple of times last year when Chase won. Even then, I would say things to Bill kind of hinting around that I hoped to see him in that No. 24 car. Bill kept joking with me ‘ah you are not getting out of that car. I know you are not getting out of that car. There is no way, you are running too good. You are never going to get out of that car.’
“Well until I think Rick Hendrick called Chase that day and said you are going to be driving the No. 24 car I don’t think he believed it. So we didn’t really have that conversation prior to that. Since then he has been busy, I’ve been busy so we have not done that. I think really those conversations are going to happen more when he really becomes the driver of the No. 24 car. Certainly when he is my teammate and he is here and we are in debriefs that hopefully he is in, it’s going to be tough for him to be in them because of the Xfinity races that he is running. There is definitely more communication when you are there on the weekend and you are in the same garage area or hauler in those debriefs and we will be having more conversations. Next year depending on what all is going on with me and my schedule; I expect to have a lot more interaction with him and communication there. If he needs it, I don’t think he’s going to need much.”
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR THOUGHTS UP WHEN YOU START A RACE? DO YOU JUST CLEAR OUT THE BAD STUFF THAT HAPPENED THE WEEK BEFORE AND START FRESH? SECONDLY, YOU MET WITH NASCAR ABOUT THE SAFER WALLS AND YOU SEEMED A LOT MORE CONFIDENT AFTER THE CONVERSATION WHAT WAS REASSURING TO YOU?
“It is such a long season that as disappointed as it has been to get caught up in some wrecks, from every race you have to take the positives. The positives have been that we have been very strong. We have been running really good, far better than the results have shown. When you have that working with you it’s easier to get over those bad races, those bad results and move on to the next race.
“As far as the walls are concerned, yeah, I did have a conversation with NASCAR. Where I felt more reassured is that I realized they are now doing everything they possibly can. I can look at the past and I can reflect on that and I can try to rehash some of the things that I think should have been done prior to this year, But the most important thing is that we are doing all that we can as a group together moving forward to make sure that safety at all these tracks is a priority. That is the reassurance that I got from them is that they are working with the tracks and the process in which it takes to manufacture SAFER barriers. And it’s not just SAFER barrier it’s readjusting some walls and some angles and grass areas that maybe need to be paved and things like that. So, to me that was reassuring to hear that what is taking place right now behind the scenes the next step is going to be seeing those results and the time frame in which they are going to happen. Unfortunately for all of us we want it to happen tomorrow. It can’t happen tomorrow it takes time. But I think that we as a group, the teams, NASCAR, the tracks all have a responsibility to make sure that they stay on a timeline to make sure those things are done.”
WHAT ARE YOUR RECOLLECTIONS OF COMING DOWN HERE WHEN YOU WERE IN VALLEJO AS A YOUNGSTER TO RACE DOWN HERE OR DID YOU EVER?
“I mean I raced in Pomona in a quarter midget. There was a really great quarter midget track that was here and I remember racing there. There is a go kart track, a dirt track that we used to race, Corona. Is Corona near here? One of the fondest memories that I have from that go kart event was Bruce Jenner was racing in that race and I passed him. He had about 100 more horsepower than me and I passed him. I was like ‘that’s cool I just passed Bruce Jenner’. But those were different times, different times. It’s funny because us Northern Californians or whatever the heck you are when you are from the Bay Area. We looked at things different. The Southern California racers their cars were the shiniest, their cars were polished, their cars were beautifully painted. Some of them were capable of going fast too. We were just focused on making them go fast. We would show up maybe not with the nicest stuff, but we were usually very competitive if not winning. You always knew when you come to California you were going to look at those cars and go ‘wow those are some good looking cars.’”
DID YOU HAVE ANY LUCK AT POMONA?
“Uh yeah, I’m trying to think. We did okay. We were always fast. I mean I think I set a track record there one time. I may have won a race or two there. We didn’t race there a lot. It was a cool track. Really high banks, it was sort of like the Bristol of quarter midget races. It was the highest banked track that we had. Super-fast I think we were in the five second bracket at that track. Maybe I think they got down into the four’s at one time. That is getting it done around a 1/20th of a mile race track.”
IT SEEMS LIKE THESE FAREWELL TOURS CAN GET A BIT OUT OF HAND. YOU SEEM LIKE A GUY WHO WANTS TO BE A LITTLE MORE UNDERSTATED WITH THAT KIND OF THING. HAVE YOU ENJOYED WHAT THE TRACKS HAVE DONE AND THE FANS HAVE BEEN DOING OVER THE FIRST FIVE RACES THIS YEAR? ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE REST OF THE SEASON?
“I have. I have enjoyed it. I get to come to the race track and focus on driving the car, focus on being competitive. Then when I have those moments, just like right now I just came from the Chevy stage out there. They had an amazing group of fans out there that were just going nuts. When you see the signs around the track with No. 24 on them or thanks or saying goodbye or whatever it may be of the fans waving towels on the 24th lap and being on the scoreboard and stuff. I mean that stuff is awesome.
“It’s not that I didn’t want them to do anything. I do, but I want it to be more with the fans. Instead of the drivers in a drivers meeting recognizing me, I don’t think that is really necessary to do. To me it allows me to still come in here and stay focused and enjoy the part that I really enjoy in the garage area which is the competition. Then as soon as I step outside of that I get to interact with the fans more so than I have in the past. Just enjoying the moment that is what I want to do. I think if it starts to become all about this farewell tour I don’t think I would be enjoying that as much. I think I would feel like it is a responsibility and necessary to do and I look forward to doing that in years to come. I really think that this year my farewell to my fans anyway is to go out there and win races. I hope that the way we have structured it we'll produce that.”