Gordon quotes from Wind Tunnel NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points leader Jeff Gordon appeared on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain on SPEED Sunday night following his victory at Talladega Superspeedway. Following are Gordon’s quotes from the program:
Despain: Let’s talk about the COT on the big track. You haven’t been the biggest fan of that car through its brief history and with its first appearance on the superspeedway, how did it do?
Gordon: “I knew it would be an exciting finish and there would be a lot of passes for the lead and wild action like we always have at Talladega. I don’t think you can ever stop that. I think because of the way these cars run, I think it made a little more boring race for the first three-quarters of it. That’s why we were hanging in the back – we just wanted to stay out of trouble. We all wanted to get up there and run three-wide like we normally do at Talladega and then battle it out at the end. But the closing rate is just so severe with these cars right now that we thought it was better to hang out at the back and kind of ride along with a group of 8 or 10. We qualified back there, too, so it sort of put us in that position. Typically, if we qualify there, we’re going to the front and maybe go up through the middle. But with these cars, the closing rate is so severe that we thought that wasn’t the best thing to do today.”
Despain: The one thing that seemed to me to be significantly different was the one thing that didn’t seem to happen to nearly the extent that we expected – bump drafting. Did NASCAR get everyone’s attention? Was there a lot of it and we just didn’t notice it because of the nature of the cars? What was the bump drafting story today?
Gordon: “I think it was a combination of things. Guys really used their heads and were really smart. That’s why we didn’t see more wrecks than we did. Usually with that closing rate, we see a lot more wrecks. One is the front bumpers and rear bumpers just aren’t built as strong and thick as they used to be and you have to be really careful not to mess up the duct work for the radiator and overheat. The other thing is NASCAR was pretty strong about it but they’ve been that way before and it didn’t seem to stop us. Guys were getting pretty aggressive there at the end but I think that for the most part, this package made guys very apprehensive to do a lot of bump drafting. Although the bumpers line up really well, it’s still really easy to turn a guy and get him sideways. When Tony Stewart hit me from behind there at the end, as thankful I was that he did, it really upset the car. If you line up those bumpers the wrong way, someone is going to turn himself. Also, we were so spread out today for most of the race until the end, I don’t think you saw a lot of bump drafting until the closing laps.”
Despain: Dave Blaney finished third – great run for Toyota today. The whole “screwy” qualifying hit a new low on Friday, so you had Toyotas up front that were in qualifying trim. The point is they stayed there and raced well. Were you surprised at how well at how well they ran today and do you think that’s a preview of things to come for that manufacturer?
Gordon: “We’re talking about Talladega. It’s a perfect example of a team like mine who qualified very poorly and was able to go up and win the race. It’s no different for those guys up front. I wasn’t sure how much risk they took on their engine packages with some of the oils they ran and whether their engines would make it to the end because they had to make it into the race. That wasn’t an issue. So, I think this package works very well for them because they qualified and ran well. They’ve got some work to do on some other tracks. I certainly wouldn’t use this as a mark. We know they’re coming, no doubt about that, especially with Gibbs coming in next year. But I wouldn’t use Talladega as a real reference point.”
Despain: You opined that Talladega might not be the best place for Jacques Villeneuve to make his Cup debut in the middle of the Chase. He was 21st today. What did you think of his performance today and any second thoughts on what you said?
Gordon: “I don’t have any second thoughts about what I said. It worked out well and he did a nice job. I think it was a smart decision for him to go to the back. Today wasn’t a typical Talladega. He probably got a feel for it toward the end of the race, shuffling up there but for the most part, it wasn’t your typical, crazy Talladega that we see. It had nothing to do with Jacques Villeneuve – I think he’s one of the most awesome drivers out there. I don’t care if it’s Michael Schumacher or whoever. I don’t think anyone should be making their debut at this particular race just because it was the Car of Tomorrow and the unknowns about this car. Plus, we tested at this track and I knew that the closing rate and the bump drafting could get severe. And the championship is on the line. The real thing here is why? Why would you want to make your debut at Talladega? It’s because they’ve got to get him approved for Daytona next year. It’s out of the way and it’s good. If I had voted, I would have said you’re better off going to Atlanta to learn for Daytona because this track is really so much different than what we have at Daytona. Your car has to stick well and handle at Daytona. We’ve moved on from it and it’s all good. I am glad he is in the sport I think it’s exciting that we’ve got two Formula One drivers and who knows what is going to happen with Scott Speed and Dario Franchitti. We’ve got some really exciting things happening with the sport right now.”
Despain: How come they didn’t throw beer cans at you today?
Gordon: “I was a little shocked at that myself. I got to do my first burnout at Talladega in a long time. Normally, NASCAR just says ‘go to Victory Lane, go to Victory Lane.’ We’re not encouraging anybody to throw things but normally they do when we win here. I think the Junior fans were checked out by then because he blew up earlier.”
Despain: Maybe the other possibility is that now you’re going to be his teammate, his fans are good with you?
Gordon: “I know that’s not it. I think our fans are always going to be rivals. I’m excited about having him as a teammate and I think it’s going to be really cool and he will do really well but I don’t think his fans are going to change their opinion about me at all.”
Despain (reading a fan’s question): I’m a Dale Junior fan and I believe Hendrick sees him only as a money machine … whatever could be your incentive to see anyone other than Jimmie or you win week after week?
Gordon: “I’m an equity owner in the 48 team, as well as in all of Hendrick Motorsports – a small equity position. I’ve been there for 15 years and I’m fortunate that we’ve had the success we’ve had. I think that a lot of the Junior fans will understand why Junior came to Hendrick Motorsports when he’s winning races and battling for championships and he’s with one of the best teams out there.”
Despain: The question is why do you want that to happen? As a partial equity owner, did you have the chance to veto this? Darrell Waltrip says Junior is going to win six races next year. Jimmie has won six this year and you won your fifth today. I guess the question is will the six that Junior is going to win come from your win quota or will Hendrick win half of the races next year?
Gordon: “Six is tough for anybody, especially with a start-up team, which is kind of what will happen with a lot of shuffling and people coming in. My interest is that I am a huge Rick Hendrick fan and I love Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been very good to me and I have nothing really left to prove. I love to be competitive and win races and championships. The best teams that we can put together, the best chance it gives us to go out there and win. Sure, there’s some financial stability there. You see what’s happening with teams and you can’t deny that side that Junior brings to the table but I think he also brings a lot more to the table. It’s going to be interested and I am looking forward to it.”
Despain: You mentioned winning races and championships. How does that process work for you? You’re very close to taking a jump in the all-time winners’ list. Waltrip, Yarborough and Allison are all right in front of you. It’s conceivable you could catch David Pearson’s 105 wins. Where does that stand as a goal for you and in terms of the championship, is it important to get seven or eight?
Gordon: “I don’t know if we’ve had success because we don’t approach it this way but we don’t look at the numbers. Like today, winning number 80, I didn’t even think about that in any way coming into the race or the season. We go every week trying to win and get the best finish we can and have a strong, consistent, solid race team that can battle for the championship. It’s the same thing I’ve always done. The stats and numbers are something that you look back when your career is over. It’s something I’m going to be extremely proud of whether I get another win or championship or not. It’s the competition and knowing what we’re capable of doing that drives us.”