JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his final race behind the wheel at Daytona, the drivers council, track safety enhancements, and more. Full Transcript:
THIS IS YOUR FINAL RUN AT DAYTONA. TALK ABOUT THAT.
“Yeah, definitely. This track is extremely special to me. Of course, we all know how much this track means to our sport. And I’m pretty bummed that it (qualifying) rained out. We were on a heck of a streak this year, with two poles on the superspeedways. I wanted to keep that going and I felt like yesterday our car had some really good speed and that we had a shot at doing that. I’ll start 24th. That’s not a bad place to start. So, yeah, it’s hard for me to really put all those thoughts and feelings into perspective, knowing that I have half the season still to go. I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until we get further down into the final part of the season, but this place has meant a lot. It’s going to be tough not coming back here and being behind the wheel. But I’m also really excited about calling this race next February.”
YOU WERE AROUND IN 1998 WHEN NASCAR TRIED THE 5-AND-5 RULE. GOING BACK ON THAT, I SEE SOME SIMILARITIES TO THE KENTUCKY PACKAGE. DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE IS SOME SYNERGY BETWEEN WHAT THEY WERE DOING BACK THEN AND WHAT THEY’RE TRYING TO DO NOW?
“The concept is very similar. Prior to ’98 was when I really first remember us talking about an aero push and how the aero was really affecting the cars behind. And the biggest change is just the splitter. Back then, that 5-inch rule was the air dam up front, as well as the spoiler. And I think that significance of sealing that air off around the front of the splitter versus that air getting underneath that air dam is one of the things that’s really contributing to how important aerodynamics are. And so, I think that a lot of what they’re trying to do is similar in concept of lets get a little bit more air around the back of the cars; not punch quite as big of a hole. Punching a hole in the air works for down the straightaways, but it doesn’t work very well for in the corners. And just taking that amount of downforce off the cars, we’re hoping will slow the cars down enough through the corners, not down the straightaways. Straightaway speed is going to be high. It’s just through the corners to where maybe Goodyear can start incorporating a little bit softer tire that has a little more grip at the beginning, but maybe has a little more fall-off as well.” YOU HAD ANOTHER DRIVERS COUNCIL MEETING TODAY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DYNAMICS IN THE ROOM WHEN YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT POTENTIAL RULES CHANGES? THOSE COULD POSSIBLY EQUALIZE THE FIELD AND COULD POSSIBLY HELP OR HURT CERTAIN DRIVERS. HOW DO YOU SAY WHAT YOU THINK AND MAKE SURE THAT THE OTHERS THINK YOU ARE SPEAKING FOR THE GOOD OF THE SPORT VERSUS THE GOOD OF YOURSELF?
“This council was voted on by the drivers. We put certain parameters in there as to who was eligible, and why. Then the drivers chose those individuals based on those parameters. So first of all, those people have a responsibility to the field that’s out there to contribute to the sport being the best it can be. I must say, in all the years I’ve been in the sport, these two meetings that we’ve had have been some of the highlights of my career. I think it’s huge. To open the lines of communication in a sense where, you have every manufacturer represented. You have a lot of different teams represented. And basically, when you get in that room, you realize that everybody's goal is to just try to do whatever we can to continue to make this sport as great as it has been and possibly even better; and the racing the best we can possibly get; and whether it’s maintaining something that we currently have or improving on something that we currently have. Yeah, maybe one person might have in the back of their mind that oh, that’s going to affect our ability to compete at the level we’re competing now. Doesn’t matter. There’s too many other people that are weighing-in on that that would outweigh your reason. But everybody gets to throw ideas out and it’s phenomenal. It’s phenomenal to be able to throw those ideas out and feel like you’re being heard. Discuss it as a group and knock holes in it. And that’s from NASCAR’s side as well as the drivers’ side. I only want to see that grow and continue. That incorporates the crew chiefs, engineers, Goodyear, everybody that’s really contributing to the product we have out there on the track.”
YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS HERE. BUT WEIRD THINGS HAPPEN AT THIS TRACK, TOO. DOES THIS FEEL LIKE A PRIME CHANCE THIS WEEKEND FOR YOU TO GET A WIN? OR, CAN YOU DO THAT HERE?
“I come into restrictor plate races feeling like we have very fast race cars and that we have a chance to come out of here with a great finish, if not a win, as much or more so as the rest of the field. And at the same time, that thought and confidence is followed right up with, when was the last time I finished one of these races? So, all you can do is just come up with the best plan that you can possibly put in place, knowing that it’s going to change at any moment, but that you’re going to stick with what you think is going to get you to the finish and hold it wide open and hope that when they start wrecking around you, that you somehow squeeze through it. But that’s just the way you’ve got to approach these races. And sometimes you come through it and you put together a great finish, if not a win. And other times you’re caught up in it. But it’s out of your hands in a lot of ways. I just try to control the things I can control.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHERE THINGS STAND NOW IN TERMS OF THE IMPROVEMENTS NASCAR HAS MADE IN SAFETY?
“I’ll speak on Daytona. What they’ve done down there in the short-shoot-stretch to (Turn) 1 is phenomenal. The angle of that wall and the Safer barrier is a huge improvement; and paving, what they’ve done with the paving down there. I know that Joie (Chitwood) and all the folks at ISC have put a lot of effort into this place and it shows from a safety standpoint, and all the work that’s being done to get prepared for next year. It takes time to put these pieces together and make sure you’re doing the right thing; and then to manufacturer them and install them, I feel like everything is being done. It doesn’t stop the fact that I wish that all this had taken place several years ago. But that’s a part of it. But it is great to know that a lot is being done right now with tracks that are coming up as well as for next year. I feel like the progress we’re going to see come February of next year, for all the tracks, is going to be huge. And that’s great.” HOW STRANGE IS IT TO SEE NO FRONT STRAIGHT GRANDSTANDS? DO YOU SEE OR FEEL THE WEIRDNESS IN THE CAR?
"Obviously with Junior up here, he has a different perspective on a lot of things. I love hearing his perspective like going over there to the archives. I could listen to him talk about going to the archives all day long. As it relates to the grandstands, I wouldn't have even known had he not sent out a picture-I thought I saw on Twitter or somewhere, or maybe it was a text-that he showed those grandstands. Driving around the track, I wouldn't even tell you if there was any difference. Now when the stands are full of people, and there are no people in that middle section, then yes, that is going to be a little bit different, weird. In night, one of the things we have going is flash bulbs going off at the start of races, restarts or toward the end and there are going to be a lot of flashbulbs missing in that center section so that will certainly be unique and different."
NASCAR HAS TALKED TO TEAMS ABOUT DIFFERENT PACKAGES FOR UPCOMING RACES AND HAS MENTIONED A HIGHER DRAG PACKAGE FOR INDIANAPOLIS AND MICHIGAN. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THAT TYPE OF PACKAGE WOULD POTENTIALLY DO AT THAT TRACK, AND IN PARTICULAR INDIANAPOLIS AND HOW THAT IMPACTS YOU WITH YOUR SUCCESS AT INDY.
"Our Indianapolis race was already impacted drastically based on the tire test. I guess I was the only driver in favor of last year's tire, and they squashed that before day one ended. So, I knew at that point ort Brickyard 400 was going to be a little bit different this year. The tire itself has a lot more grip and a lot tighter feel to the car, just trying to get the front to turn. So, I'm really anxious to see what is going to happen balance-wise with that package there. But, I think it is obvious to all of us that is one of the hardest places we have to pass. If they can create a way to get more passing...we don't know if this package...it is all in theory right now. It's all computer simulation and wind tunnel.
“That is why the drivers are in there adding what we do and feel and go through during a race behind other cars. I think we are all in favor of trying a low downforce package and we want to try the opposite of that, I think Indy and Michigan are good tracks to try that out. We will just have to see what happens. Basically if you can run about wide open behind a car through the corners without...the downforce and the drag has to slow the car down a significant amount through the corners to where the mechanical grip works and we don't lose all this downforce and grip being behind somebody. If we can get the speeds right, then what it is going to do is create a really massive hole in the air for you to draft up to down the straightaway. Those are long straightaways at both of those tracks. The question is still what is going to happen when you are behind another car through a corner.
“The magic is there, we just have to figure out how to pull it off. It is not just a quick little easy aero fix; usually it is okay, let's learn something here. Maybe we need to learn how to find more mechanical grip or have more tools to work with. Is it a lower center of gravity. Is it more left side weight. Is it a lighter overall car. Softer tires. Harder tires. There are a lot of different things that can be thrown out there. I love the fact that we are looking. Constantly looking for ways to improve. No different than working to find a way to save the teams money. It is always something that you are constantly working at."
YOU ARE ONE OF A HANDFULL OF DRIVERS WHO HAVE RACED AT DARLINGTON BOTH ON LABOR DAY AND WHEN THEY MOVED THE RACE TO OTHER DATES. IN FACT, YOU WON THREE OF YOUR RACES THERE ON LABOR DAY. IS THERE A DIFFERENT FEEL TO BE THEIR LABOR DAY VERSUS ANOTHER DATE? IS THE ATMOSPHERE PALATABLE- DO YOU FEEL IT OR IS IT JUST ANOTHER WEEKEND?
"It is just another weekend...it is another weekend at a special place - Darlington. It is just a special place to go and race. For me, there is no real significance as to when that race is held. I guess if I prefer one, I prefer Labor Day. I guess other than the weather, it is going to be a little hot. That seems like a weekend that is going to be a good weekend for people to get out to the track and enjoy the race. To me, the atmosphere is when it is filled full of people in the grandstands. So whatever is going to get the most people in the grandstands, that is what creates the energy in the drivers, when you go to Bristol and it seems like the night races garners a larger crowd. There is just something more exciting about that. So to me, whatever that is that works for that track, I'm in favor of."