Jeff Gordon on possible fake NASCAR caution flags
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PEPSI MAX CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed, his strategy for this weekend’s race at Daytona, Bruton Smith’s suggestion for scheduled time outs, his Chase chances and other topics. Full Transcript:
|Jeff Gordon prepared to endorse fake NASCAR caution flags|
AT THE END OF THE RACE AND YOU ARE TRYING TO DECIDE WHO TO WORK WITH, DO YOU WORK MORE WITH A FRIEND OR SOMEBODY YOU TRUST OR DO YOU JUST HAVE TO WORK WITH WHICHEVER CAR WORKS BEST WITH YOURS?
“I’ve never believed in the whole whichever car works best. It’s more of the driver’s style and how they push or get pushed. Assuming that we can do that on the closing laps of a race, I think it just depends on if there is a caution or not a caution. More than likely there will be and if there is then I think you are just going to have to team up with whoever is in front of you or behind you and hope you have been working together with that person. The way things get shuffled up if you are in the outside lane and the guy you want to work with or your teammate is in the inside lane that just doesn’t work. I think on the restarts in the closing laps you just have to go push the guy in front of you or if you are the first guy be pushed by the guy behind you and take the momentum wherever it goes and hope it gets you to victory lane.”
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON BRUTON SMITH’S SUGGESTION THAT MAYBE NASCAR NEEDS TO HAVE PREORDAINED CAUTION PERIODS DURING A RACE TO KIND OF INCREASE THE EXCITEMENT OF RACES?
“TV time outs. I don’t see why we shouldn’t have some TV time outs; I’d rather have that than some mysterious debris caution to be honest. I don’t know the integrity of racing and to me what it’s all about is letting the race play out and sometimes that can be the most exciting finish you just don’t know. Sometimes it’s not, but trying to get in the middle of that can be challenging. If you are going to do it obviously it’s got to be something that is planned in advance and you take a break and you know it going into it. I’m not totally against it, but I’m also more leaning toward just let the race play out the way it’s supposed to.”
IF YOU WERE GOING TO SUPPORT SOMETHING LIKE THAT WOULD IT BE LIKE (GREG) BIFFLE WAS SAYING IF YOU WENT LIKE A FUEL RUN AND THEN THREE-QUARTERS OF ANOTHER SO THAT WOULD PREVENT LIKE A LONG PERIOD IN THE MIDDLE OF A RACE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE SOMETHING LIKE THAT OR CERTAIN LAPS?
“If you really want to know what I would like to see, I would like to see heat races and invert the field and have a 50 to a 100 lap shootout. I mean that is what I grew up racing. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and I never knew what a 500 mile race was until I came into NASCAR other than the Indy 500. I mean if we are really going to just be here and speculate all about what is going to be entertaining that is going to be entertaining. We all get set in our ways and you say but this is the history of the sport what it’s been built on is four or five hundred mile races, but what is more important history and tradition or the most entertaining form of racing? I don’t know. I’m glad I’m not making those decisions. Or figure eight, let’s go backwards, half the field goes backwards the other one goes forward, I like Tony’s (Stewart) ideas. He’s got some good ones.”
YOU’VE SAID ALL YEAR THAT YOU GUYS HAVE SPEED AND THAT IS THE HARDEST THING THAT THERE IS TO MAKE IN THIS GARAGE, KNOWING THAT HOW GENUINELY CONCERNED ARE YOU ABOUT THE WILD CARD SITUATION AND HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU THAT YOU GUYS CAN MAKE IT?
“I’m actually confident in it. I feel like, especially these last three weeks we are finally actually getting some things to go our way. The fact that we have fast race cars and we have some momentum on our side and building on that and we are coming up to some tracks that I think are really good tracks for us. We are not that far away when you think of the points. I think we are what like 10 points out of 14th and that is with the guys with one win. Obviously, things change every week. This weekend anybody could win this race. One of those guys wins another race it makes it that much more challenging. We are one win away and about 10 points out right now. That is something that you can get excited about. The way we have run really gets me excited about it.”
YOU TALK ABOUT IF ONE OF THOSE GUYS GETS ANOTHER WIN HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOUR STRATEGY? OBVIOUSLY YOU MIGHT HAVE TO GET TWO WINS TO GET INTO THE CHASE…
“I think we are capable of it. We really are. I know it’s been a slow start to the season. We haven’t set the world on fire, but we are leading laps, we are running up front and we are bringing cars to the race track that are capable of winning races. Like I said we match that up with some tracks that are really good tracks for me as a driver and us as a team and I think we can be pretty dangerous and get the number of wins that we need to. If not go on a tear and get a bunch of points on top of that. We are certainly not out of it, not counting ourselves out. Because these last three weeks have shown that we can have things…I mean in Sonoma we ran out of fuel just across the start/finish line and still made it in, stayed on the lead lap, come back to finish sixth. That to me is a sign of hope (laughs).”
GOING INTO TODAY’S PRACTICE SESSIONS HOW MUCH IS KNOWN ABOUT THIS OVER HEATING, KEEPING YOUR CAR COOL, IS THAT REALLY A FOCUS?
“Unfortunately, it has been a focus. We are trying to turn it into not being a focus. Our team has worked really hard all of Hendrick Motorsports has worked really hard to get, as a driver, our attention off the gauges and start looking at what is happening out there. How we can maneuver, watch our mirrors, race the way you need to race at Daytona in a draft in groups. The last couple of restrictor plate tracks have not been fun for me, because I’m so focused on the gauge and wondering when we are going to pop off, the PRV (pressure release valve) and when we are going to overheat and all this stuff. It’s just ridiculous. NASCAR has given us a little bit more room on that. We have gone to work like we do and I’m pretty optimistic about focusing more on handling and having a fast race car and how to put it in the right position than worrying about all the temperatures all the time. I don’t think we are going to be able to push long periods of time, which is fine by me I don’t like that either. I think it could potentially turn out to be a pretty spectacular race this weekend, because handling was a bit of an issue here in February, but now it’s hot and slick and it should be more of an issue.”
JEFF BURTON SAID HE EXPECTS THIS COULD BE THE RACE WHERE WE COULD START TO SEE SOME OF THOSE OLD CHARACTERISTICS OF DAYTONA COME BACK INTO PLAY…
“I hope so. When you look at this aero package that we have here now, the heat, the track temperature, I think it’s possible where handling is going to be pretty important. We have come in to be prepared for that.”
WHEN YOU ENDURE A LONG WINLESS DROUGHT HOW DOES WINNING FEEL COMPARED TO HOW IT FELT WHEN YOU WERE WINNING OFTEN?
“It feels amazing. It’s like doing it for the first time all over again. I have had the privileged of doing both of going through a win every four or five races and how great it feels. Yet, it’s hard to be as excited, it’s hard not to take it for granted and have full appreciation of what you are accomplishing at that time, because the wins are coming pretty common and fairly easily. When you go for a long period of time without that win you just have such a great appreciation for all the work that goes into it from everybody on the team, yourself, that has been put into it and how difficult it is to win. When you get there you take it all in as slowly as you possibly can and say ‘no, no, hold on, freeze this moment,’ because you don’t know when that next one is going to come. It’s an awesome thing because that is how everyone should feel.”
NEXT WEEKEND WE GO TO THE MAGIC MILE (NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY) WHAT MAKES IT MAGICAL?
“For me it certainly has been over the years. It’s a track that I just really enjoy. It’s not an easy track to get around. You know long straight-a-ways, flat corners, hard braking. The variable banking now I think has made it a little bit easier to run side-by-side and work some traffic and make passes. I’m not sure why they decided to call it the magic mile, but it sounds good.”
WITH THERE BEING SUCH AN EMPHASIS ON POINTS THIS YEAR, LIKE YOU SAID YOU ARE GOING TO NEED A WIN OR TWO POSSIBLY TO GET INTO THE CHASE, HOW HARD IS IT TO TRY STUFF GOING TO LIKE LOUDON WHERE YOU GUYS ARE GOING TO GO BACK IN THE CHASE TO SEE STUFF YOU GUYS MIGHT USE WHEN YOU GO BACK?
“I mean we will go into Loudon, “the magic mile”, with the best set-up that we feel like we need to go there and compete for a win. When we come out of there then we are going to look at where we ended up, how we ran, what the set-up did for us and where it needs to be tweaked. If we have to completely reinvent it then we will. If we feel like during the weekend we need to abandon something that we are trying that is maybe outside the box then we will. I can promise you one thing right now we are not afraid. We are not afraid to be trying things, we are not afraid to put it out there and take some risks. Each race that goes by without a win the more risk that we are willing to take and that to me is as much in the set-up as it is for the strategy calls.”
YOU’VE GOT TO THINK THIS IS HARD ON ALAN GUSTAFSON, YOU’VE BEEN AROUND A LOT LONGER, THROUGH MORE THAN HE HAS AND IT’S A BIG THING FOR HIM TO BE YOUR CREW CHIEF. HOW DO YOU KEEP HIM VOID OVER ALL OF THIS?
“Not just that but he came so close to a championship a couple of years ago with Mark Martin. I think that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) knows how much effort he puts into it, how hard he works and how his race cars are always fast out there. When you do that and then you take on top of that adding in a proven driver he puts more pressure on himself, probably sometimes than he needs to. But that is part of being in this garage as a crew chief there is a lot of pressure it’s a tough job. It’s a thankless job. These guys are working so many hours and you are trying to think of everything and you just can’t. I think in that way he is hard on himself, but I also think he handles it so well. He focuses on the things that he needs to focus on. He doesn’t get caught up in things that are unnecessary for him to lose sleep over. He is upset when things don’t go well, but he turns that right back into a focus that he knows can bring even more effort and results to the table the next weekend.”
WHAT DO YOU TELL HIM?
“I think Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and I are really good at being honest with one another as well as patting one another on the back when we need to. I think that is the key to a driver and crew chief relationship. I tell you that has been challenging this year because there has been times he has been mad as can be at me and there have been times I’ve been mad at him. What he is really good at is when the race is over; he takes his time and his space. We don’t go head to head if things don’t go well. We also if things go great sometimes we are still not… you know it’s always the same. I think that consistency is important. It allows us both to sort of digest the day and even last weekend, the great top-five finish at Kentucky. We didn’t see one another, well I guess briefly after the race on pit road, but we were texting one another until 1 a.m., because that is when we got home and we had thoughts on our minds and it was just all things of what we did well and what we could do better. I think because we’ve gone through some extremely difficult times this year and we’ve survived it that is has kept us very close and together and in synch.”
AS A PEPSI GUYS IN A COKE ZERO ENVIRONMENT DO YOU FEEL A LITTLE SQUEEZED IN?
“I can remember when it was turned around a little bit when this used to be a Pepsi race. The Coke guys came in and ambushed the race and we won the race. I am hoping now this time the tides are turned and we kind of ambush them with a win and we are very capable of doing that. Pepsi has been a long time sponsor of mine. I just did an interview about Bellville Nationals that is coming up in a week or so and Diet Pepsi that was 1990 and Diet Pepsi was my sponsor back then. Here I am now with Pepsi Max 22 years later. It’s pretty cool. They have been a great supporter over the years, fun marketing, we’ve got some pretty cool things happening and of course the Max it Now social media challenge that is happening right now that is on the car this weekend is another way that they know how to step it up.”
WERE YOU EVER PERSONALLY A ‘COKE GUY’ IF YOU WILL?
“I grew up in California, we always in the area I grew up Pepsi was it. I’m pretty fortunate that it’s genuine for me. I like Pepsi, I drink Pepsi.”
THE CLOSER YOU GET TO THE CHASE WITHOUT A WIN DO THESE TOP FIVE’S, TOP 10’S GET FRUSTRATING?
“No, I have always said you’ve got to walk before you can run. I think sometimes you can sneak in there and steal one or you just hit everything right and it all goes well that happens. I think if we really seriously are going to get into the Chase and also have a chance at the championship if we make it in, we’ve got to take those steps. I think these last three weeks have been great strides and steps for us.”
AS FAR AS THE UNPREDICTABILITY OF DAYTONA DOES THAT PLAY ON YOUR STRATEGY AT ALL?
“That is kind of hard to have much of a strategy when it is unpredictable. I think if it does kind of way well with me it’s because I don’t go into any race with set expectations of what is going to happen, how it is going to happen. I pretty much go into it with, this is what we did in practice, this is how the car drove and let’s see what it’s going to be like when the green flag drops. I do that every weekend. You never know how to predict how the car is going to handle, how much speed you are going to have, what your competitors are going to do, pit strategy, caution flags, you never can. I think that on a track like this in a race weekend like this, I think that does suit me because I go into with that fresh, clean, clear mind without getting my hopes up of any certain direction.”
THE NEXT RACE IS THE ONLY RACE FOR YOU?
“Oh yeah the most important race is the next one defiantly and that is the way I’ve always approached it.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BRUTON SMITH’S IDEA OF MANDATORY CAUTIONS?
“I think there are better ways to keep the excitement level in the sport at a high than that. You try to compare yourself to other sports and you have TV timeouts and you have those types of things and it’s something that could be considered, but it’s not what I would prefer. You kind of missed it earlier where I was talking and I said if we really wanted to go in that direction, let’s go heat races, invert the field, and the feature and have a 50 or 100-lap shootout. So, that’s the kind of racing I grew up with and that’s fun. It’s exciting. And Bruton is not going to vote for that because it’s not a long enough day (laughs).”
IS IT STILL ‘STUNNING’ FOR YOU THAT YOU’RE IN THE POSITION YOU’RE IN RIGHT NOW AND REALLY HAVING TO GET ON IT TO GET INTO THE CHAMPIONSHP HUNT?
“It is when I dwell and think about it. I don’t though. The last race; you put it behind you and you focus on the next race. And it doesn’t matter if we’ve won the last ten. I’d think the same way. Now I’d go into it a little more confidently, but I’m just as focused on the next race as I would no matter how the last race has gone. And that’s just how I am. That’s the way I’ve approached it and I feel like that’s the way our team approaches it in general. Yeah, when I sit there and look at the points and think of the way our season has gone, I’m in shock that as good as our race cars have been this year that we haven’t been able to put wins together and that we haven’t been able to put the points together to be solidly in the top ten because we’ve certainly run good enough to do that. That’s surprising. But it is what it is and I feel like we’re still long from being out of this thing.”