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Q and A with Jeff Gordon at Talladega
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont / Pepsi Impala SS met with media to discuss the CoT issues at Talladega, the Chase, open wheel drivers entering NASCAR, and more.
WAS THERE A LOT OF BUMP-DRAFTING GOING ON DURING PRACTICE? WAS DENNY HAMLIN DOING A LOT OF BUMP-DRAFTING? “Oh, there was some excessive bump-drafting going on out there. I didn’t see what happened. He got into the back of me. Maybe it was a little harder than it should have been but that’s these cars. That’s the situation that we’re in right now. So I don’t know. I didn’t see what happened.”

HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU ABOUT THE ‘BIG ONE’ AT TALLADEGA? “I’m always concerned no matter what. But you come to Talladega and you know there’s a very good chance or possibility of that happening. Most of your goal throughout the day on Sunday is to try to just survive that big wreck. And that’s definitely going to be on our minds on Sunday for sure.”

YOU AND CLINT BOWYER AND JIMMIE JOHNSON HAVEN’T HAD PROBLEMS. IS THAT A LITTLE BIT OF A CUSHION FOR THIS RACE? ‘What do you consider problems? I look at Dover where we had problems but we survived the wreck. I look at Kansas. We were sitting in a very bad position. Luckily the track dried and we went back racing. We were able to adjust on the car. I feel like we battled through some great fights and battles of our own to get ourselves back up towards the front to overcome some of those issues. But no, we haven’t been caught up in the wrecks. And that’s our goal to try to get through this weekend like everybody else that’s in the Chase. We’re all trying to survive that big wreck and be there at the end. It can happen anywhere. But I think we all know that there is a high chance of it happening here.”

CAN YOU HANG OUT IN THE BACK? “I don’t know. I tried that before and I just couldn’t do it. But I think that what you’re going to see is a lot of shuffling. You’ll see a guy who drives to the front and then he goes to the back. So you’re going to see a lot of that. If we get up front and can stay there, I want to stay there. But if you can’t get to the front or if you get shuffled from the front to the back, then maybe we will ride in the back. I don’t know. I think you’ve got to evaluate every situation differently. If it looks like it’s a little bit too out of control out there, that might be a better option. There is no guarantee any where on this race track that if a crash happens, that if you’re riding in the back you’re going to be out of it; or if you’re up front leading that that’s not going to happen. So, all you can do is drive the best you possibly can. If it’s your day to get caught up in it, then it’s your day. And if it’s your day not to, then you won’t.”

ON THE VISIBILITY ISSUES OF THE COT “We don’t really see great around the older car here down the straightaways, but you can’t really see through it because of the wing. And the car is so wide that you can’t see around it. All the more reason to be more careful.”

HOW DOES THIS CHANGE THE WAY YOU RACE? “Be more careful. All the more reason why we shouldn’t be trying to push a guy with our bumper down the straightaway when you don’t know what’s happening in front of him. The momentum change is so drastic. My biggest concern about what could happen this weekend is that you’re third or fourth in line and something happens three or four cars ahead of you where a car drops off out of the outside or the inside lane and is moving backwards at a fast rate of speed and you don’t know how much they’re checking up in front of you and you run over the top of a guy. It’s that domino affect that could be the one that gets guys in trouble. I don’t know any way around that. Even if you’re a foot off of his bumper, I don’t know if there’s any way around it.”

WHEN YOU GET A PUSH, IS IT BETTER OR WORSE THAN THE OLD CAR OF ACTUALLY CLEARING A GUY? “I think when you get the push you’re going to clear him if you’re got a guy behind you. But if you go by yourself, the momentum is really going to be broken by the guy ahead of you. No, I see the shift being so big that you can clear the guy. The biggest problem is that you don’t want to clear him too much because if you get out there by yourself and they’re going to blow right by you. So I think that it’s going to be exciting. I think there’s going to be some fantastic racing. I think there is going to be a lot of three and four wide. Lead changes are going to be as much or more than we’ve ever seen. But I think the potential for the big one to happen is more drastic with those types of situations also.”

IF YOU GET HUNG OUT, IS THERE A BIGGER PRICE TO PAY? “Oh, you’re going to go way back. But, I don’t think you’re going to lose the draft. Unless the guys get single file, I don’t think you’re going to lose the draft.”

LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK AT CHARLOTTE, IS THERE A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RACING IN MAY COMPARED TO OCTOBER? “I think I heard that maybe they made some tire changes. So hopefully there’s a little bit more grip when we go back there. We had a lot of issues with a super hard tire because the track was so fast. That would be nice. But I don’t know. I didn’t run well the last race.”

WOULD IT TAKE SOMETHING AWAY FROM THE CHASE IF TALLADEGA WASN’T ONE OF THE FINAL 10 RACES? “Definitely. This is one of the most spectacular tracks we have on the schedule. I think that while we all know it’s like playing Russian Roulette when we come here, I still think it’s one of those races that it’s too spectacular not to be in the Chase.”

WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THESE INTERNATIONAL GUYS NOT REALLY CUTTING THEIR TEETH BEFORE GETTING THE OPPORTUNITY TO RACE ON A SUPERSPEEDWAY LIKE THIS? “I think that Dario Franchitti is doing it the right way. He’s coming in here and running the ARCA race and he’s doing it the same way that Montoya did it. I think that’s a smart way to do it. I think we’ve got guys who have plenty of talent to be running this race. It’s the fact that they have no experience in this car that I think it’s just risky. I just don’t think that it makes a lot of sense - not for them to be doing it, but for NASCAR to approve them to be running this race. I think that there are plenty of other tracks and races like the ARCA race and the Truck race that gets them enough experience to get ready for Daytona.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS WON FIVE OF THE LAST NINE RACES AT CHARLOTTE. IS HE THE FAVORITE? “Well, yeah, he’s very strong at Charlotte. You know he’s going to run good. But (Tony Stewart was very strong the last time we were there as well. Honestly, I never really focus on who the guy is to beat as much as I do how we make our car the best we can make it. If we do our job right, then I know we will be a contender for the win. You hope that if you’re off a little bit that it’s only a little bit and you’re still a top five car. Right now, I just want to get to the finish of a race at Charlotte. It’s been a while since we’ve done that.”

BECAUSE OF YOUR SUCCESS HERE, DO YOU COME IN WITH A LITTLE MORE CONFIDENCE? “I would if we had the old rules. In the old car, that really suited our team and my driving style really well. We’ve had success here and we showed it the last time we were here. But this car brings a whole new different perspective on how we approach this race and how we run this race. And there are just a lot of unknowns. Even having won five races here we’re going to have to change up our game on how we go about it and try to stay out of trouble. That’s the biggest goal I think all of us should have this weekend.”


“Yeah, I would just like to see this not be the first race. But the fact that Sam has driven the Busch cars and he’s gotten an idea of the competition and the cars a little bit, at least he has some experience in a bigger, heavier car. And Jacques is going to do a great job in a stock car. And I’m excited for him. I’m excited for Bill Davis too. It’s a good addition for them. It’s just that I don’t think anybody should be making their debut race here. Nobody.”

SCOTT SPEED ANNOUNCED YESTERDAY THAT HE IS GOING TO RUN THE FULL ARCA SERIES NEXT YEAR. IS THAT A BETTER WAY FOR SOME OF THESE OPEN WHEEL GUYS TO COME INTO NASCAR? “If you have the time, I think it’s probably the smartest way to go about it. But some guys don’t have that kind of time. Some guys feel like they need to go faster. I think that Montoya is probably the perfect example. Here’s a guys that’s one of the best drivers that I’ve seen come along in a long time in any type of series and yet he drove ARCA races and Busch races before he just hopped right into a Cup car. And that’s the smartest way to go about it.”

HAS HIS SUCCESS OPENED THE FLOODGATES FOR ALL THESE OPEN WHEEL RACERS? “I think it’s because it’s almost not having so much success that’s got those guys interested. The fact that a guy like Montoya came in and has had to fight hard; it hasn’t come easy for him. Good teams are willing to give him a shot. So it’s all about opportunity. And if a good, strong team is giving you the ability to come in and get your best change, that’s the most important thing. Had Montoya come in and done extremely well right away, it would have put a lot of pressure on these other guys. The fact that he hasn’t really done ‘over the top’ I think it actually takes a little pressure off those guys. They can say look at him. He’s had to really build and take his time. So they go to the car owners and they say listen, if you’re willing to be as patient with me as they’re being with Juan Pablo, then I’m willing to come. If you expect me to start winning races immediately on ovals, then maybe I’m not your guy. That’s the way I look at it.”

CAN ALL THOSE GUYS BE SUCCESSES? “They are all great talents. No doubt about it. I think if they go about it right and don’t just try to rush into it and they get with a good team, then I think they can be successful. That’s what’s gotten them successful in every other form of motorsports they’ve gone into. They didn’t just jump into an Indy car and start winning. They drove other kinds of cars before they got there. It’s the same way with a stock car. You can’t just jump into the Cup series and expect to just go fast and be competitive. It takes time to learn the tracks and the cars and the competition. If you have some patience it’ll pay off.”

AT THIS POINT LAST YEAR, JIMMIE JOHNSON WAS 165 POINTS OUT. WHEN YOU LOOK AT WHAT HE WAS ABLE TO DO IN THE LAST FIVE RACES, DOES THAT LEAD YOU TO BELIEVE THAT THIS CHASE WILL BE MORE THAN A THREE-MAN RACE? “Yeah, there is no doubt; especially this weekend. Everything can change. All you can do it go out and do your best every weekend. You hope you avoid the crashes and that you have good performances. But you’re not guaranteed any of those things. The guys who are 100+ points behind right now, they can’t give up. They’ve got to just go out and do their best and maybe things can turn around like they did for Jimmie last year. You’ve got three guys who are up front right now who are pretty consistent. You’ve got Jimmie who performs well at a lot of tracks. We perform maybe lately not quite as good as those guys have, but we’re very consistent. Clint (Bowyer) hasn’t performed as well as either one of us but he’s extremely consistent. So I think if one of those three guys stays consistent, those other guys aren’t going to be able to come back. But, anything is possible. This thing could shake up week to week to week. We can have 100-point swings left and right. We’ve proven it can happen at Dover, it can happen at Kansas, and it can happen at Talladega, Martinsville, and Charlotte or anywhere. There is nobody that’s a clear favorite, or the guy to beat right now in my opinion.”

A LOT Of YOUNG GUYS ARE TRAINING TO COME UP RIGHT NOW. HAS THE GARAGE SITUATION CHANGED A LOT SINCE YOU CAME IN? “Sure it has. The cars have changed and competition has changed. What I’ve always like about the Cup Series is that you have car owners out here who are willing to go to their sponsors and convince them that here’s a young, talented race car driver that has a long future if we bring him up right. And their willing to give that guy a chance. And there’s not too many series out there that really go out there and do that. So I hope that we continue to do that. That’s what happened with me. But things have changed, certainly. We’ve got 38 races and a bigger audience and more pressure and a lot more competition - especially going to the Car of Tomorrow next year. It’s going to make it a lot more challenging. For a young, aggressive driver to come up the same way they have been over the last four or five years. The cars we’ve been driving, you can be aggressive and it pays off. With this car, you can’t be aggressive.”

EVERYTHING ELSE HAS CHANGED. DO DRIVERS CHANGE? “If you get drivers that are young and that get a lot of experience at a very young age, that only makes them better drivers. I think what’s changed is that we’re bringing the cream to the top. There used to be maybe 10 or 12 guys in this garage area that can win. Now, I think there are 30 or 35 guys that really can win races if you put them with the right team. And I think that number has just gotten greater over the years. So we’re just bringing more and better talent into the Cup Series.”

ON THIS TRACK AND IN THIS CAR, IS THE SIZE OF A DRIVER A FACTOR? “Do you think it’s a factor anywhere we go?”

BOWYER SAID MAYBE YOU WERE TOO SHORT AND THAT’S WHY YOU CAN’T SEE OVER THE WING (laughs) “I do set my seat extremely low. But I can see over the wing just fine (laughs). I can’t see over the one in front of me though. It might be a visual thing but it’s not a performance thing.”

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