JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed winning the pole, what it would mean to win the Daytona 500, past finishes at Daytona, the new grandstands at DIS, what the Brickyard 400 means to him, and more. Full Transcript:
HAS IT SUNK IN YET THAT YOU WILL BE LEADING THE FIELD IN SUNDAY’S DAYTONA 500?
“Well, it will once we survive the Duels tonight. It certainly was cool to go home. The kids weren’t down there with us over the weekend. And so when we got home, they had big billboards plastered on the door when I came in; and a cake, and all this stuff. So, it was very cool. They were very excited to make all those things and congratulate me and jump all over me. So, that was certainly very exciting.
“To me, that was a big moment to start the season. The way we had to earn it and play that waiting game was stressful. There were 49 cars out there trying to do what we did. We came out on top and that meant a lot to our whole team.”
IN 1997 AND 1999 YOU MADE SOME FAIRLY AUDACIOUS MOVES IN THE RACE TO WIN; PARTICULARLY IN ’97 BY GOING SO DEEP IN THE INSIDE LANE. IS THAT KIND OF STUFF EVEN POSSIBLE HERE ANYMORE? CAN THERE BE A FINISH LIKE THAT FOR YOU AGAIN?
“Well yeah, except that you can’t go below the yellow line. That yellow line didn’t exist (then); I think it existed the next year after that (laughs). But, back then you did the same type of things where you’d try to get runs and try to get momentum on the cars in front of you; especially if it was the leader. It was tough to get by the leader, just like it is now. But you’ve got to somewhat get a plan together leading into those final laps and you’ve got to get a little help from behind and make a bold move and sort of juke and jive and, I don’t want to say ‘outsmart’, but just sort of get a person to make a move and then make the opposite move. It’s difficult to do, but it can be done. And it seems like we’re seeing a little bit more of that type of drafting down here this week than what we’ve seen in the past. And so, it certainly has me optimistic and excited; plus I have a really strong race car.
“I know tonight is going to be nighttime and cool and so it’s going to be different conditions than what we’re going to see on Sunday when we’re daytime racing. Other than going down on the apron and some of those things that happened then, you can still make some exciting moves that are bold. We’ve seen it in practice. We’ve seen it in the Unlimited where you sort of try to get out of their mirror and get that run and dive and hope that they can’t block it. And that’s what it was like that year, as well.”
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO PROTECT YOUR CAR IN THE DUELS? WHAT ABOUT THE WIND? WILL THAT HAVE ANY AFFECTS AT ALL?
“We want to stay up front. That’s certainly the best way. If you’re in the middle or three-wide halfway or three-quarters of the way through this race it’s probably not a good place to be. I watched the Duels from last year, yesterday; it’s great that you can go on YouTube now and watch those things. They were fairly calm at the beginning and then like typical racing, it got a little bit more wild toward the end. I think everybody understands that this is their Daytona 500 car and they don’t want to tear it up. So, it seems like everybody is in a similar mode. So, we’re going to try to be aggressive. We’re going to do what we need to do to try to win the Daytona 500. That’s what we’re here to do. We’re not here to just sit on the front row or just sit on the pole. So, we’re going to race and if I feel like we’re in a bad situation and it’s looking hairy, then we have that option. But we’re not planning on using that option.”
WHAT ABOUT THE WIND?
“Yeah, I felt it blowing around. It’s going to be a factor. I haven’t looked to see what direction it’s blowing just yet. But depending on which direction it’s blowing, you consider that and take that into your thought process. Sometimes the wind can help you and sometimes it can hurt you. So, it just depends on what direction it’s blowing. We’ve got a pretty cool app over there that shows us the wind. If we decide to practice or as we get closer to race time, we’ll pay more attention to that.
“There’s nothing we can do about the wind. It’s there and out of our control. But we can certainly be mindful of it.”
WE ALL AGREE THE CHASE WAS A SUCCESS LAST YEAR. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THE PRESSURE? DID WE CREATE A MONSTER?
“That’s what makes it entertaining and makes it more exciting to watch. I think if the drivers have their hands full, driving the car, I think the fans are going to see and sense that a lot more; whether it’s in our voice, the pitch of our voice, the things that we say when we get outside the car or watching. And if the competition is so fierce that it creates a lot of drama and frustration and more excitement when you do well, then I think the fans are also going to feel and sense that. That’s to me, what I saw with the new points format. I know from where I was sitting, when that Chase started, it was extremely intense and every moment and every lap and every position just seemed to be so critical and it only increased, as we got closer to the end. And so, I think from a viewership and entertainment standpoint, it certainly did what it set out to do.”
WHAT APPEALED TO YOU ABOUT GOING INTO THE BROADCAST BOOTH FOR SOME XFINITY RACES THIS SEASON? IS THAT SOMETHING YOU MIGHT PURSUE AFTER THIS SEASON?
“I did it one time for a Nationwide race in California. Every Saturday I’m in my bus watching the Xfinity races and I’m drawn to it. I’m learning from it as well as critiquing it. So, when FOX came and asked me, they said they were talking with three or four other drivers about going up in the booth for a few races; and I was interested and intrigued by it. Certainly that was before I’d ever made anybody aware of any decisions that I was making. So, is that something I’m interested in? Yeah, I’m interested in it. I talked to NBC at one time about when that day would come for me if they had any interest. I’ve also been talking to FOX about some of that. Certainly since I agreed to do the Xfinity races, it seems to have ramped-up the interest level on both sides. So yeah, we’ll see.”
THE CONSPIRACY WORLD HAS BLOWN-UP IN THE LAST THREE YEARS. DANICA PATRICK WON THE POLE, THE NO. 3 CAR WON THE POLE, AND THEN NOW YOU’VE WON THE POLE. I DON’T BELIEVE YOU CAN ‘FIX’ QUALIFYING, BUT WOULD YOU ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF CONSPIRACY?
“Well, I don’t know. Danica beat me, so I was one of the conspiracy theorists, I guess (laughter). I thought we had the pole for sure that day. Nah, you know, I guess especially now, with social media, that voice and that opinion is so instantaneous and everybody is able to see it. I think people have been thinking that for years no matter what’s happening on the track. They just didn’t have the outlet maybe to express it the way that they can now today. That’s just part of the fans avidness and their loyalty to the sport and their passion in expressing it. That’s the way I look at it. I think the media gets to be a part of that as well. I mean, all of us do. I don’t really look into it any more than that. I think sometimes there’s just ironic things that happen. I look at this year. I can’t believe that I’ve made this announcement and we come in here and we’re on the pole. To me, especially after Talladega, which was one of the most difficult forms of qualifying to get on the pole than we’ve ever experienced. I just think that it’s almost too good to be true. And I’m sitting here doing the same thing, but I also know that we earned it. And so, I get to be on both sides.”
THIS IS SUCH AN ICONIC VENUE WHAT IS THE FEELING YOU GET WHEN YOU ARRIVE HERE FOR THIS RACE? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW GRANDSTANDS THEY ARE CONSTRUCTING?
“It’s hard to describe because there is a unique feeling about it when you drive into this track for Speedweeks every year. Especially this year I think, because we didn’t test down here. Typically we are testing, so it’s unique for the (Daytona) 500 when you come here. But I think this year not being here for a while and then driving in knowing that Speedweeks are about to begin there is just always something that is in your mind. Just a feeling in your body that you are starting the season off to a long season and it all gets going in our most prestigious race. Whether you like restrictor plate racing or not you want to win this race. You are excited to just be a part of it and be in the race. I have always had great memories here, so those memories sort of come back from my first Daytona 500 to the ones that we have won over the years. When I describe it to other people that have maybe never been I always say to them there is just nothing like race day for the Daytona 500. You just feel the energy. You feel a little bit more anxiousness and nerves as a competitor. But you feel that you are part of a very special event and you are getting that energy from the fans, from the media, from your team, from everybody. There is just something different about it and it is just really hard to describe what creates that other than it’s the Great American race.”
WHAT ABOUT THE BUILDING OF THE NEW STANDS HAVE YOU NOTICED?
“I see they are not finished. I was kind of bummed that I’m not going to be here next year when they are all done at least from a drivers standpoint. It’s awesome what they are doing. I was on the other side of the track the other day and seeing what they are building there, it is awesome to see this facility and this race continuing to grow at that level. Those are the kind of things when you talk about over the years what I have experienced seeing growth in the sport, new tracks, new fans. What they are doing here that is what helps to continue to grow the sport and grow the excitement of this race.”
THIS IS YOUR LAST DAYTONA 500, BUT AT MEDIA DAY YOU LEFT THE DOOR OPEN FOR THE BRICKYARD 400 CAN YOU JUST TALK ABOUT THAT RACE AND WHAT THAT MEANS TO YOU?
“It’s highly unlikely that is going to happen or any other race in my opinion. That is just not my game plan. I have too much respect for other drivers that have ended their career or said they were going to end their career of driving the Cup cars and then they come back and want to run some more races. I feel like because I have so much respect for those guys I felt like it was necessary for me to leave those options open. But when I start really thinking about it from a realistic standpoint, what I love about racing is not going out there and driving fast and driving race cars. I like competing at a high level to win. If I felt like I could go to a Brickyard or a Martinsville or Bristol or I don’t know a couple of tracks that come to mine and be competitive with a competitive team then I might consider doing that. But, I don’t know how that would ever be because you can’t do it at Hendrick really. The way I see it there are four teams there (at Hendrick Motorsports) that are focused on winning the championship, so it would be a disruption to that flow. Then you have to have somebody as a car owner, you have to team up with somebody to pull together a team. Pull together good cars and engines and sure we have the resources there. Then you have to get sponsors. I don’t see it happening, but if I were to do it, if it did become a reality certainly Indianapolis would be pretty high on my list of tracks. It would have to be something non-restricted and it would have to be a place that I feel like I can make a difference and really be competitive at. Indianapolis is one of those tracks that come to mind.”
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT COMING TO DAYTONA FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 1991 FOR A BUSCH SERIES RACE AND FAILING TO QUALIFY? AT THE TIME DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD ACCOMPLISH SO MUCH AT DAYTONA?
“I remember we were slow and we didn’t make it because we were slow (laughs). Back then I was with Bill Davis with Ford and we were just lacking power and resources at the time. Did everything we could to have enough speed to make that race, but weren’t able to pull it off. Ford made some big gains for the next year and we were pretty competitive the next year. Everywhere we went we were competitive, but in particular the restrictor plate tracks. Back then they just weren’t known for being good on those restrictor plate tracks and we struggled. We did very well at all the other tracks. I mean it was frustrating to come here and not make the race. But at the same time we were pretty realistic about it we knew what was going on during testing. We weren’t very fast. The thing that stands out the most to me was the very first time I ever came here I drove a Cup car. When we tested here I was driving the Nationwide car, but I got to get into Mark Martin’s Cup car and go test it the very first time I was ever here. I was pretty blown away by that.”
CAN YOU COMPARE AND CONTRAST THE JEFF GORDON WHO SHOWED UP AND RAN THE DAYTONA 500 FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 1993 TO THE ONE WHO IS COMING FOR HIS LAST ONE?
“I mean I think the biggest difference is just comfort level of kind of having some expectations to know what the schedule is like, what the week is like and what the racing is like. Back then while I was super excited I was probably more nervous than anything else just because of the unexpected. I had no idea what to expect what the racing was going to be like. I didn’t know what to do in the draft. I mean I look back at that race and feel like we really had a car capable of winning that very first Daytona 500 in ’93. We didn’t have a driver that knew how to get it done. That is just lack of experience. Now I have all the years of experience it gives me more confidence. If I’m in that position knowing how to do the things that we need to do and do them better than what I did then. It doesn’t guarantee victory, but certainly puts us in a better position.”
SINCE THIS IS YOUR LAST DAYTONA 500 AS A COMPETITOR WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN THIS RACE?
“Well this race always means a lot. It’s a big deal to win here. It’s been since 2005 since I won the last one. I can honestly say other than last year’s Brickyard 400 experiencing that win, such a huge win with the kids and with Ingrid one of the standout victories and moments in my career was 2005 winning this Daytona 500. I was able to just appreciate the race more. I appreciate the history of it and enjoy it more. That was when we got a chance to put the car in Daytona USA and do all the cool things that you do as a team by spending the night. You get to celebrate victories here more with your team than you do. Normally you do the hat dance and then all of a sudden the car goes here and you go here and it’s ‘see you later’. Maybe you see one another at the shop on Tuesday or Wednesday. But here everybody spends the night and you get to really go through the moments of that race and enjoy them much longer. It is one of the greatest celebrations that I can remember ever having from a win. That right there just kind of alludes and reminds me of how much this race means to win. To do it in my final one I think would just make it far more emotional than ever before. There is excitement and there is pride that you have to win this race. But this year I think all these thoughts of my whole career kind of coming into one moment, one season. I think if I win anywhere it’s going to be kind of like that this year. To do it in the Daytona 500 would be unbelievable, almost surreal for me to even think about it right now.”