JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AMERICAN RED CROSS CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media today at Kansas Speedway. He discussed his record and expectations at Kansas, tire development, diversity in NASCAR and having American Red Cross on his Chevy SS this weekend. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
YOU HAVE THREE WINS AT KANSAS AND EARNED YOUR WAY INTO THE CHASE HERE LAST YEAR. HOW DOES THIS TRACK LEND ITSELF TO YOUR SUCCESS?
“This has been a great track for us ever since we started coming here and winning the first two races here. I’ve always enjoyed this race track. It’s suited my driving style. The transitions are kind of forgiving and well-laid out. With the repave, I’m always concerned with how competitive we’re going to be on a track where we’ve been so competitive when things change. But I think we proved last year that we can still be very competitive here. We had a great race. Kevin (Harvick) was extremely strong but we were right there with him. Under the green-flag stop, we were able to get the lead and complete it. So this year we’re certainly optimistic about coming back here with how well we ran here last year that we can repeat that performance. We’re certainly excited about the weekend.”
CAN YOU TAKE ME BACK TO 2001 WHEN THE TRACK HAD JUST OPENED? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU WINNING THE FIRST COUPLE OF RACES DID TO HELP GET THIS TRACK ESTALISHED?
“2001 was a very special year for me personally but it was a very tough year for us as a sport, which makes that bittersweet. Losing Dale (Earnhardt) was a huge tragedy – someone who didn’t just mean a lot to our sport but also meant a lot to me. He was always so good to me. Then we’re having a pretty special year as far as our performance was concerned. We came here to Kansas and we were just fast at a lot of tracks. It just suited me very well as well as a fast race car, and we were able to win that race. I can’t remember a lot of the details that were surrounding the race at the time, but I remember when coming here that this place felt natural, and it still does even after the repave. Whenever I drive into the corner, I just like this place. I like the way it flows and how the car feels. I just like the track no matter what they change. I enjoy pushing the limits of the car here. That was the case in 2001 and continues today.”
WHEN IT RAINS LIKE THIS, DOES IT MAKE THE FIRST PRACTICE AT KANSAS MORE CHALLENGING OR IS IT BETTER THAT THE TRACK IS COMPLETELY CLEAN? AND WHEN IT COMES TO SUNDAY, HAVE YOU ALREADY WORKED WITH THE KIDS ON A SPECIAL GIFT FOR MOM?
“In these conditions, we just want to get on the track. That’s the most important thing here. We have a different package here with the aero and engine, slightly different tires like Joey (Logano) mentioned. The most important thing is just getting laps on the track, so I’m pretty excited and optimistic that this rain has let up, they’re drying the track and there’s a very good chance we’ll get some laps. Obviously the track is going to change a lot from the first lap on the track to the 50th lap on the track.
“That’s all about rubber being laid down. Any information we can get is going to be good information. We’ll take that but also understand that things are going to evolve.
“As far as Sunday, right now I just want to make sure I’m home on Sunday. We have plans with my mom and our family, Ingrid and the kids. We want to spend that special day together, and so the fans who are going to be here Saturday. I know they have plans Sunday, too.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HAVING AMERICAN RED CROSS ON BOARD THIS WEEKEND?
“I’m really excited about this opportunity. 3M has had a long-standing relationship with American Red Cross for about eight years now. What an amazing organization that has assisted so many people in need as well as the blood donations that so many people have given that have saved so many lives. It’s a real honor to represent them and encourage fans to get involved. You can go to redcrossblood.org. Our goal is to get 400 folks signed up to give blood. That seems like a low number but when it comes to needles and giving blood, it can sometimes be a challenge. But on the other side, the life that they save is crucial. It’s not just adults; we’re talking about infants who need blood at times as well. We’re really enjoying our relationship with 3M already. The car looks amazing. They’re a great company and have done some great marketing. They have great products. But when you see them also doing something like this for a great cause, it makes me proud to be with them and makes me wish we had been with them for a number of years. It already feels like we have been. But yes this is a big weekend for us here with 3M and American Red Cross.”
WHEN WE WERE HERE LAST FALL, THERE WERE A NUMBER OF TIRE ISSUES. TIRES HAVEN’T BEEN CHANGED A LOT SINCE THEN. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TIRES HERE AT KANSAS, AND DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS WITH THE CORNERING SPEEDS BEING SO MUCH HIGHER ON THE MILE-AND-A-HALFS?
“I know Goodyear has made a slight adjustment to the tire to help with that. We saw a couple issues last year. We personally on Team 24 did not have issues, but you never know how close you are to the edge. Even with less downforce on the cars, the amount of power that’s been reduced has made the cars a lot faster through the center of the corner. We enter the corner slower and exit the corner slower, but going through the crucial part of the load on the tire and how we sustain that through the center of the corner is up, and that’s a reason for concern. Goodyear understands what we’re up against, what they’re up against this year, what we’re doing corner-speed wise and how comfortable they are with this tire this weekend. In talking to my team, we feel confident in it.”
COULD YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THE EXPOSURE OF NASCAR HAS BECOME MORE INCLUSIVE?
“Dion (Williams, front tire carrier) is a perfect example. Of course we call him Rocko. This guy is an unbelievable specimen. When you think of athletes, you have to look at this guy. I’ve never seen someone more athletic or fit than he is. To know that that’s where things have gone in our sport as far as it relates to the pit crew and then throw the diversity side of it in there, it’s awesome to see what’s happening whether it’s on the marketing side or the team side. The next step is going to be engineering. I’d love to see more diversity on the engineering side of things. But we’ve made huge strides. I couldn’t be more proud to have a guy like Dion on board. Not only is he a tremendous athlete and a great addition to our pit crew, but he’s a really good person. He helps our team and also is setting a great example for others on being a part of NASCAR.”
YOU SEEM TO HAVE A HIGH COMFORT LEVEL HERE. EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVEN’T BEEN ON TRACK YET, HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS YOUR CHANCES?
“I do like this track and I think our chances are always good when we come to Kansas. But I’m the first one to admit that our mile-and-a-half program is not up to par with a couple of other teams that seem to be beating us every weekend on these types of tracks. No one’s working harder than Alan Gustafson and our group to find that extra speed and get ourselves in position to win races more consistently. There’s a lot of ways to win, so it’s not always guaranteed that you have to have the fastest car. But we pride ourselves on having the fastest car and we’re not going to settle for anything other than that.”
WHERE DOES KANSAS SPEEDWAY RANK AS FAR AS YOUR FAVORITE TRACKS IN NASCAR?
“I would say it’s in the top-five. Now Clint Bowyer (walks in) on the other hand, he’s somewhere in my top 15 or 20 drivers of all-time (Laughing). I’m certainly very comfortable and enjoy this track. But you’re talking about going against tracks like Indianapolis, which certainly goes to the top of my list, or Bristol or Michigan are ones that stand out. I like a lot of tracks, so it’s hard to grade them in any way. But Kansas is certainly way up there.”