JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PANASONIC CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media and discussed the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions, his thoughts on being a color commentator during tonight’s Xfinity race, attending the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House and many other topics. Full Transcript:
HAVE YOU DONE ANYTHING TO PREP FOR YOUR DEBUT IN THE BOOTH FOR TONIGHT’S XFINITY SERIES RACE?
“They had a production meeting this morning. I got a chance to sit in on that, but other than that just being around the sport as many years as I have. I guess being a couch commentator that is about the only preparation that I have done. It’s going to be a unique experience. I look forward to it. This is an exciting race to watch in general, so I’m sure there will be plenty of action and things to talk about from up there.”
YOU HAVE SAID SEVERAL TIMES THAT YOU DON’T WANT PEOPLE TO MAKE A BIG FUSS OF YOU COMING AROUND TO ALL THESE TRACKS AGAIN PERHAPS FOR THE LAST TIME. BUT YET PEOPLE SEEMED TO HAVE IGNORED THAT SO FAR…
“Not really. I think they have been pretty calm.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OR MOST INTERESTING MEMENTO THAT YOU HAVE GOTTEN SO FAR THIS YEAR IS:
“I feel like everybody has done something. I guess the first one where we showed up at Atlanta and it just had I think ‘Thanks Jeff or Thanks 24’ on the grass there. That was the first one that kind of hit me. That was very cool. Then you know what they did at lap 24 there. Then we went to (Las) Vegas and they had the speed limit 24 signs. Every week it really kind of overwhelms me and is very cool to see what the tracks are doing. I’m very appreciative of that and the fans getting involved. Nothing really to me is better than at Martinsville taking the lead and seeing the fans go crazy. That to me is what I enjoy the most. I hope we can do some more of that. I want to do more giving back to them than them doing anything to honor me. Maybe the second half of the year when we are coming to these tracks for the last time maybe there will be a little bit more of that.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT ALL THE TRACKS YOU ARE GOING TO GO TO THIS SEASON IS THERE A TRACK YOU WOULD LIKE TO WIN AT MORE THAN ANY OTHER COMING UP?
“Kentucky, because I’ve never won there. I will take a win anywhere so I’m not going to be picky when it comes to that. But if I had a chance to choose I think that it would be very cool to complete that list. That is a hard list – it’s hard to be where we are at, but to know that – and they have added tracks over the years to challenge us a little bit more. Kentucky is the last one that has been added and it’s the one that needs to be checked off. I would love to do that this year. I think that would be something personally that would mean a lot to me.”
HAS IT BECOME MORE ACCEPTABLE FOR DRIVERS TO SIT OUT OR MISS A RACE OR DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE GETTING USED TO THAT MORE? WOULD YOU FIGHT AS HARD IF YOU HAD AN INJURY NOW KNOWING THAT YOU WOULD BE ABLE TO GET A WAIVER TO GET IN THAT CAR?
“Well, I think to me there has got to be a really strong reason not to be eligible for the Chase. I haven’t seen one yet. I think if you won a race and they found something illegal with the car, I think that is a good reason that you maybe shouldn’t be in the Chase. To have health reasons or personal issues or something that has kept you out of the car and you are able to get back in the car; I totally agree with getting waivers to be a part of the Chase. You still have to earn your way to get in. It’s not like they are just saying ‘oh you are in it’. You have to earn your way in by going out there and winning races or being in the top 16 in points or whatever it is going to take this year. So, yeah it’s a long grueling season and I think that you are going to go through health – I’m not feeling 100 percent right now. I wish more than anything that I could take a practice off and get myself feeling a little bit better. Take a day off, sometimes it’s not traveling as much and doing different things, but that is just not the luxury that you have if you are going to be a part of this sport.
“To me you have to dig and grind and do everything that you possibly can to stay healthy, as well as, to be in the car and be at your best. I like the points system because I think it is more entertaining for the fans. It’s certainly more intense for us. Like I have always said, I would have liked it to have come along about three or four years later. So I could have gotten maybe one or two more championships, but I have accepted it for what it is and know that as long as you are able to be in the car even if you are not there every single weekend. I think that NASCAR’s intent on that is to not have somebody, a team primarily that is not really supporting the series on a regular basis. And shows up at Talladega and happens to win the race and then they are in the Chase. I don’t agree with that, but all the other incidences that I have seen I feel like there has been good enough cause to make them eligible.”
IN THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS BOTH BRISTOL AND MICHIGAN ANNOUNCED THEY ARE GOING TO HAVE SAFER BARRIER ALL THE WAY AROUND. IS THAT WHAT YOU EXPECTED AFTER YOUR MEETING WITH STEVE O’DONNELL? GOING INTO BRISTOL WILL HAVING THE EXTRA SAFER BARRIER CHANGE THE RACING GROOVE AT ALL?
“It is going to change the groove slightly. There is just a little bit of extra room that we have right where it ends off the corner. Before you had a little bit of room, I don’t know, a foot so that is definitely going to change how we are race there. I hope it makes it more exciting, more action is what I’m hoping. Even if it doesn’t, I don’t care, I want the SAFER barriers inside and outside at all these tracks. That is why when I had that meeting I felt comfortable that things weren’t going to happen at the speed we would all like it to, but it is a process. It’s nice to know that there is a plan in place and that we are starting to see that plan play out right now. Just like what Bristol is doing, I think Charlotte is adding some as well and Michigan, I hope that is just a trend of what we see at all these tracks. It’s about getting them manufactured and getting them installed. You should start to see more and more of that as we go through the season which is great.”
HOW COOL WAS IT TO HAVE LEO (GORDON, SON) HIGH FIVING THE LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD? HE SEEMED PRETTY CALM AND LIKE HE FIT RIGHT IN DOING THAT:
“Well, he didn’t know that he was the President. I mean you could tell him all day long, but I don’t know that that really means a whole lot at four. It was a great experience. Anytime you get to go to the White House and you get to meet the President and First Lady it is special. We have been very fortunate to get to do that on quite a few occasions. To be there during what I consider a family weekend with the kids it was a very loose and relaxed atmosphere which is fantastic. Both Ella and Leo really enjoyed it. Leo gets really shy in those situations so I kind of tried to loosen him up by saying ‘give him a high five’. He seems to be more interested in doing that than shaking hands or saying hello. It worked, but it still caught me by surprise when I saw it happen.”
IT MIGHT BE A GREAT PICTURE LATER ON FOR HIM:
“Yeah, not for me. My face is something I wish I could take out of that picture, but certainly for him absolutely.”
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN QUALIFYING TODAY AND WHAT DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEEM AMONGST THE GROUP?
“To have the sun out and the track heated up in the middle of the day practicing trying to run qualifying laps. Certainly with the power and the downforce we are seeing the car slide around, but you’ve got to use a lot of throttle. I’m just curious to see when the track cools down, I think you are going to need to make it in to probably the third round before (turns) 3 and 4 gets fully shaded if possibly if at all. It’s possible you might see close to wide open around here. The first time out this morning I thought ‘oh yeah we are definitely going to see it’ then in the afternoon I was like ‘nope we are not going to see it’. If it cools down enough we will see that. We should see some pretty fast speeds. My car wasn’t great. We struggled a little bit, but I’m very confident that we will get it where we need it to for qualifying, hopefully. Certainly for the race I thought we made some great gains.”
WERE YOUR KIDS AT THE WHITE HOUSE WHEN THE BEES CAME OUT?
“No, I didn’t know anything about that. I was sorry to hear that. But no, we didn’t see the bees.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RICHMOND TIRE TEST? WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE TIRE THAT GOODYEAR SELECTED AND WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL HAVE WHEN YOU GUYS GO BACK?
“In that past I’ve not been a big fan of dual-tread zones, but I think that they’ve learned a lot from that in the past where maybe they’ve gotten a little bit too hard or maybe they’ve used some different compounds that didn’t react very well. This one seems to be reacting very well. Every time that I open the hood or the team opens up the hood and I look inside and see balls of rubber stuck to the hood, I’m like now that’s a tire. To me, it was laying rubber and there was falloff. It had pretty good grip at the beginning and there was falloff. So I am very optimistic as to what we’re going to have there. The compound on the inside shoulder of the right side is basically what we had there in the fall; and then even softer as you go further out. So, the left side is, I believe, the same. So, I think that we should have certainly as good as what we had in the fall and hopefully even a little bit better.”
PIT ROAD PENALTIES ARE REALLY UP THIS YEAR AS ARE UNCONTROLLED TIRES AND SOME TEAMS LEAVING THE WALL TOO SOON – LARGELY BECAUSE OF THE CAMERA SYSTEM. DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT ROLE BECAUSE THINGS ARE SO TIGHT ON PIT ROAD? DOES PIT ROAD SEEM LESS CLUTTERED TO YOU NOW THAT THERE ARE FEWER OFFICIALS?
“There is definitely a positive to that like last week when I was leaving my box. And I was in one of the first boxes that started around (turns) 1 & 2. It was everything I could do to not hit the pit crew guys that were working the car in front of me. If there had been a NASCAR official there, I would have been avoiding him and possibly getting into the side of one of the other cars coming around me on the outside to avoid hitting the NASCAR official. Especially at these short tracks, I think it’s a big plus to have less people out there.
“I think the camera system speaks for itself. It’s black & white if you want to put it that way. When things roll out of the box or guys leave over the wall too soon or you drive through too many boxes, it’s going to bust you. And so it’s made all of us have to be that much cleaner and do our jobs that much better and pay more attention to more things than we used to. Before, it was sort of a judgment call on everybody. It’s no longer a judgment call. It’s nice to know that they still look at each stop to verify what the computer or monitors or cameras are telling them. But I like it. I prefer it that way.
“That didn’t have anything to do with what I did last week. That was just us trying to take advantage of speed lines. I think that’s the next step. We’ve got to get rid of these speed lines. It doesn’t make any sense. The speed limit is the speed limit. You should never be able to break the speed limit. You should carry the speed limit all the way down pit road. What we do is find pit stalls to try to get around that. So we’re ramping up and slowing down and that’s what got us in Martinsville. We were just too aggressive with it.”
WHERE YOU DO YOU THINK YOUR SHORT TRACK PROGRAM IS RIGHT NOW? YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF THREE OF FOUR AND THEY ARE ALL VERY DIFFERENT.
“Well, I can only base it on the test we just had in Richmond and Martinsville. Thought we showed signs of being really good at Martinsville and we were in the right position at the right time late in that race, so I felt really good about the way it was ending. Our car was super strong that last run. To drive from 21st to 9th I thought said a lot about our Martinsville short track program. You’ve got to kind of isolate each one of them. They’re all very unique and different. I thought we learned some good things at Richmond. We were only there for one day and it rained in the morning. So we were cut short there. But I thought we learned a lot. We were pretty good there last year and finished second in both races last year. I thought that we were about that, or maybe a little bit better than what we were last year. And Bristol, we’ll find out next week.”
COMING TO TEXAS, YOU’VE HAD AN INTERESTING CAREER HERE WITH A WIN AND A COUPLE OF BRAWLS. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT MAKES IT SO UNPREDICTABLE?
“I like to relate this track to a roller coaster because certainly driving it is similar to a roller coaster. The transitions from the straightaway to the corners are more abrupt than at any other track we go to. When you look at the pace and the grip level, it goes up and down. You get new tires with a lot of grip and tons of fun and it sticks really good and then it falls off a lot and you’ve got to move around the race track. And as you’re running the race here, you’re going to see a lot of cars that are going forward and going backwards and sort of up and down that way as well. It is definitely a roller coaster ride. It’s a tough race track; a very technical race track, and also abrasive. So there’s good fall off and you’ve got to search this race track. But I really have enjoyed it very much the last several years. I feel like we’ve been very strong here. But, we haven’t always had the, I don’t like to say ‘luck’ because I think you make your own luck, but I think that we haven’t had as good as results as I feel like we’ve performed here over the years, but it is nice to have that win and to run good and come in here with confidence that we can back that up again.”
YOU HAD A LATE LEAD IN BOTH RACES HERE LAST YEAR. IN THE OFF-SEASON, DO YOU REVIEW NEAR MISSES SUCH AS THOSE? DOES ANYTHING COME TO MIND DURING THAT PROCESS?
“Yeah, absolutely. When we debrief a race after the race and go through all the data we have and go back through the race and look at video. We did that last year. And then when we are coming to a race track, we debrief again on it and review some things and look at where we’re at with our cars and our setups currently, as well as look at information from the previous race or the previous two races. And so for this race last year, we were two tires against four tires. So, I don’t think our chances of winning this race were real strong. But, could I have done anything different, I would have moved up in (Turns) 3 and 4. The No. 22 that won the race ran a groove higher than I did. I would have liked to have moved up and sort of blocked that groove that maybe would have given me that chance at winning that race, even though I don’t know if I would have won that race because of the tire differences. And tires are so important here.
“The fall race, not a whole lot I could have done. I would have liked to have gotten a little bit better restart. I probably would have stayed on Jimmie’s (Johnson) quarter panel maybe just a little bit stronger. We came through the double dogleg and when it came to the second part of that dogleg, I got close to him, but then I opened up that gap to get my angle for the corner and that’s when Keselowski took that middle lane. So, I probably would have just maybe done something to try and not give him that option. But, other than that, there’s not a whole lot that I would have done different. We had a pretty amazing race up until that point last year.”
LAST SEASON YOU WERE SO CLOSE AT WINNING AT TEXAS; WHAT MOTIVATION DOES THAT UNFINISHED BUSINESS GIVE YOU FOR THIS WEEKEND?
“It just gives me confidence that we were strong here last year and that we ran so well that we had cars that were capable of winning here and that gives you confidence when you go back. But the rules have changed. The engine package and the downforce that we have now and the completion have changed. So, we’ve got to basically take what we know and use the confidence that we have and kind of really recreate it this weekend. And this is tough; too, when you have a very short two-day event like this where you’re practicing during the day and racing at night. And the conditions are going to be quite a bit different. But, even though we haven’t always had the great results here at Texas the last couple of years, I’ve always enjoyed coming here and feeling like no matter what the rules are; we’ve got a car and a team that perform really well here.”