Indianapolis: Press Conference Transcript & Qualifying Notes
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed racing at the famed 2.5-mile track, his thoughts on the 2015 schedule and many other topics. Full Transcript
MODERATOR: We’re going to continue on with our media availability with a gentleman who really needs no introduction around these parts but I’m going to give a good shot at it. Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24, Axalta Chevrolet, four-time winner here at the Brickyard and celebrating a very historic milestone this weekend. Jeff, talk about all the preparation going into this weekend knowing that you have a big anniversary to celebrate as well.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I think there’s always a huge amount of effort that’s put into this race. Obviously that first year, 1994, we knew something special was happening here and all the teams and drivers went to that extra effort to prepare for this race. Paid off for us then and I think every year, you know, certainly Hendrick Motorsports, we look at this as a very unique and special event and one that we want to win. We put that extra effort in and we’ve certainly done that again this season.
So it’s exciting to be back here in Indianapolis as always, but when you have a team and a car like we have prepared for this weekend and the type of season we’ve had, it’s even more exciting to be here.
Q: Jeff, do you come in here, as well as your team has been running this year, do you come in here maybe feeling better about maybe winning this thing again than you have in a while in some years?
GORDON: I feel like every time we come here we have a shot at winning, you know. And we’ve come up short a couple of times when we didn’t win it. We’ve come in here and didn’t really have what it took to win and made more out of it than I anticipated once the green flag dropped. This weekend there’s no doubt I feel like this is the best chance that we’ve had at winning this race legitimately with the speed of the car as we’ve had in a very, very long time. It’s obvious that there’s some competitors out there that are going to be tough, including our teammates. But I think the preparation that we’ve put into it and what we’ve been working on since, you know, the break, and I mean leading into that really are things that we’re really, really excited about seeing what we have here today and during practice and this weekend. But yeah, this is definitely, from an overall strength of the team and speed of the car, this is by far the best chance we’ve had at winning in a long time.
Q: When Dale Jarrett was asked about the attendance here at the Brickyard, the first thing he said was 2008 having a big impact. And I’m curious if you think that, you know, is the sport still recovering here from 2008 and, you know, do people still talk to you? Or if you talk to people about whether they come here or not, is that a reason brought up?
GORDON: I mean, I think the whole country, the world is still somewhat recovering from 2008, you know.
Q: I meant the Goodyear year.
GORDON: Oh, I guess so in some ways. This race is — it’s a historical track. It’s a beautiful facility. It’s just an awesome place to come and be a part of the event. It’s not our high-banked mile-and-a-half Atlanta, you know. It’s just not that. And so you come here to see stock cars, you come here to be a part of a NASCAR event. You come here because it’s Indianapolis. You come here to see the cars fly down these long straightaways.
You know, I think that was definitely a tough year when the tires had the issues that they had. But I feel like certainly everybody has responded to that very, very well. And I think that maybe that was just a crucial time with everything going on economy-wise, it was a bad timing, no doubt about that. But I think Indianapolis has done an excellent job bringing the fans a great package and event and NASCAR as well of having an event that everybody enjoys. I mean, I don’t talk to anybody that doesn’t want to come to Indianapolis.
So it’s hard to say. Since 1994, it’s such a massive, huge crowd, it’s hard for that event not to kind of flatten out a little bit. But it’s hard to say. I’m looking forward to seeing the crowd this week. I think that we go places where we’re surprised with the crowd, we go other places — because it’s bigger than what we anticipate, and other places we go and it’s not as big.
So, gosh, all I know is I go to every race trying to put on the best race we can and hope the fans enjoy it and that we have a big crowd.
Q: Jeff, 20 years after winning it the first time, you’re probably still one of the favorites to win this weekend and most people wouldn’t be surprised after 20 years that you could still win that race. You don’t see that a lot in sports. What does that longevity mean to you that you’re still performing at the top level?
GORDON: It’s extremely important to me. That’s really what got me interested in racing when I was a kid. Somebody handed me an Open-Wheel Magazine last night when I was leaving our charity bowling tournament from 1990, that had an article in it. And I just happened to get back to the bus and my nephew from Belgium as usual is here traveling with me this summer and he was looking at it and I was reading parts of it. I was blown away in 1990, like this whole plan that my stepdad and me were on to go NASCAR racing, you know. The things I was saying when I was 18 years old in this magazine and how five years later I won the Cup Championship. Four years later I was — I mean I had no chance at all at that moment in my mind of ever racing here and yet four years later I was winning the inaugural Brickyard 400. It’s an incredible ride that I’ve been on. And ever since ’94, those 20 years of just getting a chance to race here is something that I’ll always have as great memories. It’s awesome to know that every year we can go back and have a shot at winning. But again, like I said, no better chance than this year.
You know, Hendrick has just been on top of their game and I feel like Alan and the 24 team has really stepped it up this year. That’s why we’re leading the points and that’s why I’m so optimistic and excited about this weekend. Yeah, it’s important to stay competitive and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do and that’s what got me here and hopefully that’s what keeps it going longer.
Q: Jeff, what, if any changes, would you like to see made to the 2015 Cup schedule?
GORDON: 2015 Cup schedule? Have they released the 2015 Cup schedule? First, I need to see the 2015 Cup schedule. I don’t know, man. I’m trying to figure out how to win the Brickyard 400 right now. You’ve got to talk to somebody else that thinks further ahead like that. I mean, I am trying to see how I can get my kids through college. (Laughter) But beyond that I’m pretty much just looking year to year, race to race, and I haven’t looked that far out. I’ll get back to you.
Q: So many of the winners at Indy and NASCAR have been champions or Hall of Famers and so many times the winner at Indy is the champion in NASCAR. Why is that? Why do you think that is? And then one quick follow-up if I might, and that is: With knowing this could be your best opportunity you said now to win, does that put pressure on you? Do you feel that pressure because your car is so good or do you sort of feel the relief knowing everything is so good?
GORDON: There’s more excitement and anticipation than there is pressure. The pressure comes on the final restart if you’re in position to win. Pressure comes if you’re five laps to go and you’re battling for the win. That’s pressure. Right now there’s no pressure, it’s just about going out and focusing on practice and getting the car right and hoping that all the work that we’ve put into this season in our cars and what we think we’re going to need here pays off.
What was the other part? Oh, yeah. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or not coincidence. I think that this is a track that demands the best team, the best cars because track position is so important here. So hard to pass here. And because of that, what happens is the pit crew becomes crucial. The pit strategy becomes crucial, and the speed of the car, especially in qualifying, becomes crucial. And to me that means that typically, I’d say — I don’t know what the percentage rate is of those who go on to win the championship, but typically that means that the best team is going to pretty much win this race, which means that they’re probably going to be the one to beat for the championship.
Q: Jeff, last couple years you kind of had to fight and scratch and claw your way into The Chase or kind of deal with all of it through Richmond. In the position you’re in this year, what does it allow you to do? How different is it as you move closer to The Chase in that sense? And second of all, you kind of sound a little froggy. How are you?
GORDON: Any time I take a break, I come back with a sinus infection or cold. That’s what happens when I rest. (Laughter) You know, I think that we are having a great year and it’s great to have — we’ve not had maybe this strong of cars in the last few years, but we also had some really unfortunate circumstances work against us in the last couple years. Where this year our cars and our team is better and maybe that’s why good things are happening for us. We’re putting ourselves in good positions. I’ve always said you make your own life and I think we’re doing that this year because we’re running up front, we’re qualifying up front. We’re making smart decisions; we’ve got good race cars. And so, it’s great to be in this position, but we also look at our competitors and we know that we haven’t won the most races and we need to win more. So we’re taking what we’ve done so far and looking at the positives and how good it is, and we’re enjoying that but we’re also working really, really hard because we want to be the best out there. I feel like even though we’re leading the points with this new point system, we’ve got to be better than this if we’re going to win the championship.
Q: Jeff, you’re a sprint car guy, vested. What was your reaction to Stewart winning the first time he got back in one of those things? And what actually is that challenge? Describe for us what he actually accomplished.
GORDON: Well, I cannot describe what goes on in Tony’s head. I don’t think many people can of what that challenge is. (Laughter) But I admire the heck out of him, you know. The guy is just an amazing competitor and talent. It’s hard to say. What I thought of it was, wow, that’s amazing, like most people did. And at the same time I can’t say I was totally surprised. I mean, Tony is — when you’ve raced with him and seen his talents side by side, you realize whatever he puts his mind to, he’s pretty much capable of doing it. So yeah, I look forward to watching him run some more sprint car races. But he’s obviously got a determination and goal that only he can describe what that is. I think it’s cool. I mean, I know it’s a little crazy but that’s Tony.
Q: Jeff, I won’t ask when you’re retiring but when you do — you’re already a car owner. Do you see yourself as a guy who would continue to be on the NASCAR circuit every weekend, being involved in the racing that way? Or would you step away once you’re done driving?
GORDON: I mean, I love racing and I love being competitive. And so, I think that when that day comes and I’m not driving, I’m going to have to fuel that desire of being competitive in me some way, somehow, whether it means that I go drive something else just for fun or if my kids are involved or my role at Hendrick Motorsports. I think that’s going to be kind of up to Rick Hendrick. He keeps saying he wants to do more fishing and he’d like me to have some of those meetings, but we’ll just see. I mean, it’s kind of hard to fill the shoes of a Rick Hendrick. The guy is such an amazing business person and just person in general.
So I don’t know if that’s a role for me. But I definitely want to stay involved heavily with Hendrick Motorsports, because I love the organization and I’m fortunate to have a position there to be more involved behind the scenes one day.
Q: Jeff, given the temperature-sensitive nature of this racetrack, I wonder how you feel like that’s going to play into the strategy of group qualifying. Is that first segment going to be 43 guys waiting on a cloud?
GORDON: Yeah, I’m just hoping it’s not a rain cloud. (Laughter) And it could be that, too. If rain is coming, you’ve got to get out there and you don’t want to wait too long because if it’s wet — I’m so curious to see how NASCAR is going to handle one of these sessions. I actually thought it was going to happen in New Hampshire where the clock goes green and nobody goes out or maybe a few cars go out and we all had time to go out on the track but we chose not to, and then it rains. Who’s on the pole?
And so, that very well could happen this weekend. But there’s no doubt you want to have the best conditions. This is such a big track and it takes a lot out of the tires in that one lap and you want to have the coolest track you possibly can. And if you can catch a cloud, then yeah, you’re definitely going to find a lot of speed. We’ve seen here when we’ve started qualifying in the morning how fast those early cars are and just how tough it is to maintain that later in the day.
MODERATOR: Jeff, before you leave, I would like to call to the stage Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who has some special things for you today.
DOUG BOLES: We thought since we had you here, we wanted to take advantage. You are our inaugural winner. We talk an awful lot about Ray Harroun at the Indianapolis 500 and while that was 103 years ago, it’s hard to believe it was just 20 years ago you were winning the first Brickyard 400. As I was sitting thinking, over a third of the wins in the Brickyard 400 have been by Hoosiers. You lead that way, and Tony had a couple and obviously Ryan picking up a win. So this has been an event that our fans get excited about, certainly love having you here. You cut your teeth on a lot of racetracks around here, so people have seen you from the time you were a teenager all the way up to where we are today. So we’re really excited about that.
We’re fortunate here in the city of Indianapolis to have a mayor here that loves motorsport and loves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In fact, it’s hard to get Mayor Greg Ballard to go back downtown. He hangs out with us quite a bit. We love having him. If any of you were here at the beginning for our inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, our mayor was standing trackside as parts were flying around him and we had to run him off to the hospital.
GORDON: It was kind of the same situation last night in the bowling tournament. (Laughter)
BOLES: He continues to come back every day, but the mayor has a special proclamation that we’d like to issue while we’ve got you here, Jeff. And we’ve got one more thing we would like to present you with.
MAYOR BALLARD: Jeff, 20 years ago when you were here, I was still in the Marine Corps. I had a 23-year marine career. And as you may remember, that was just a couple years after the first Gulf War, which I was in. I think most of the military that comes out of things like that, they want to go back to things that are quintessentially American. This was our first NASCAR race, first race I brought my son, and you won it. And I was stationed in St. Louis at the time. We drove over to watch the race and we became fans of yours ever since, and we’ve been following you ever since. So the Ballard family is big fans of yours.
Because you did such a good job and have represented the sport so well and it is your 20th anniversary, and I am the mayor and I get to do proclamations. (Laughter)
“To all in these presence may come, greetings: WHEREAS, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and Indiana native Jeff Gordon was the winner of the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Brickyard 400 Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994; and
“WHEREAS, Jeff won the Brickyard 400 again in 1998, 2001, and 2004, joining Indianapolis 500 greats A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears as four-time winners at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; and
“WHEREAS, Jeff has established a long-term relationship with Riley Hospital for Children providing funding for new construction and equipment, and most recently contributing $1.5 million to establish the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation Pediatric Cancer Research Fund; and
“WHEREAS, Jeff hosts an annual bowling tournament each year before the Brickyard 400 to raise funds for Riley Hospital for Children, and to date has raised more than $3.5 million, and
“WHEREAS, the City of Indianapolis commends Jeff Gordon for his charitable contributions to Riley Hospital for Children and commemorates the 20th anniversary of his victory of the first Brickyard 400 in 1994.
“Now I, therefore, Gregory A. Ballard, Mayor of the City of Indianapolis do hereby proclaim July 27th, 2014, as Jeff Gordon Day.”
GORDON: Now I just hope my competitors are respectful of this on Sunday, sort of move out of the way. (Laughter)
MAYOR BALLARD: I hope so, too.
GORDON: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you, guys.
MODERATOR: But wait, there’s more.
BOLES: One more thing. We do have the coolest mayor in the country. Not only is he a great leader of the city, just having him as a great race fan, it’s great to have Mayor Ballard around. Our fans love having him here. Thank you for taking the time out today to do this.
As you notice, we have the new pylon up. I don’t know if you know, the first pylon was built in 1959 and was torn down after 1993. A second generation pylon was built in 1994. So it has been up every race that you have run in. So first NASCAR race, you ended up at the top of the pylon.
We took it down this year. It wasn’t up for the Indianapolis 500, so the first race will be this year. We’ve saved most of it. We’ve decided that the first thing we wanted to do with the pylon — we could have presented you with lots of it. We could have presented you the No. 1, we could have presented you No. 4 for your wins. But we decided we’d like to present you with the No. 24 from the pylon that was up for all 20 races that you’ve competed here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just thanking you for everything you’ve done for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
GORDON: Thank you. That’s awesome. Thank you so much. That’s amazing. Thank you, guys, so much. I’m very proud of the ability to race here in Indiana. You know, as a kid and to come here to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and compete, like I said, it’s just a dream of a kid from California to get this opportunity and now it’s hard for me to believe it’s been 20 years since we’ve been coming here with NASCAR. And we won that inaugural race and my life changed forever when we won this race. Chevy billboards all over the country and I couldn’t walk in anywhere without somebody saying, “Hey, didn’t you win that race in Indianapolis?” So I’ll never forget that moment. And this Speedway, and this means a lot to me to receive these awards. So thank you very, very much.
“First it starts with the preparation of an awesome race car. That is what we have this weekend. We didn’t have anything for Kevin (Harvick) today, but what an incredible Axalta Chevy SS that we have this weekend. I’m excited about that first and foremost. With that rain shortened practice we had a slight so we had to do some things and run through it. To have that off of a day and be back this close, I got a little bit tight off to Turn 4 or we would have been a little bit closer to Kevin, but I’m still really proud of this effort. Qualifying second, qualifying is so huge here. To be on that front row and 20 years after that first Brickyard 400 I get excited about that.”
Post-Qualifying Press Conference
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 2ND
KERRY THARP: Joining us now is our second fastest qualifier for tomorrow’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race here at the Brickyard. Our second fastest is Jeff Gordon, and he drives the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet.
I’ll go to Jeff first. Jeff, obviously you won this first race 20 years ago, second fastest in qualifying. You’ve got to feel good about your chances out here tomorrow afternoon.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I feel extremely good, excited about it. I was in here yesterday and talking about how good our race team is and how good I thought our race car was going to be, and today kind of proves that. I mean, Kevin was certainly very, very quick, and it was nice to close that gap a little bit on him that third session, but I feel very confident about this weekend. Starting on the front row is an excellent place to start. Track position is extremely important, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the efforts that we had today and in that qualifying session to get us that front row start.
Q. Jeff, you were talking about the other day the years when the winner of this race has gone on to win the championship and why. With the first three sitting there with Kevin, you and Brad, it’s been some years since that happened, but is this shaping up as tomorrow could be back to being one of those indicators, whose pit crew does the best? The three of you especially, is it shaping up as it could be that sort of thing?
JEFF GORDON: I think so and I hope so. I think that there’s certainly more than a handful of teams right now that could win this race as well as could be a real factor in the championship, and as I mentioned yesterday, I don’t know if there’s an absolute clear‑cut favorite. Brad, I think, over the last few weeks certainly has shown that. There’s been times when Kevin has shown that. I think there’s been times when we’ve shown that, times that Jimmie has shown that, and there’s some others in there, as well.
But I think that I just ‑‑ I’m a big believer that this race in particular, the best team wins 90 percent of the time, and I think that that’s also the case when it comes down to the championship is 90 percent, maybe even more of a percentage, it’s the best team that wins the championship.
Q. Obviously you guys represent what everybody would consider the two best teams this year so far: Hendrick and Penske. This race has always been a place where people point to as a marker where you see teams roll out their best stuff. Have you guys seen any signs the last two days of other teams maybe closing the gap or is there any reason to think that story line of Hendrick and Penske won’t continue for Sunday and forward?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you could also argue that we’ve opened up the gap because we brought our best stuff. I mean, I don’t know. I think that we certainly look at all the Hendrick cars and the Stewart‑Haas cars having Hendrick chassis, Hendrick engines and just how good they’ve been, and then Penske to me is the team to beat outside of what we have, and at times they’ve been better than us, at times we’ve been better than them. I’m pretty sure all those groups have their best stuff here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you just keep going on down the list that everybody has brought their best stuff.
I don’t know, today I was wondering what Kevin had because he had us all beat, and we’ve got the same stuff basically and all the data that we can tap into. And they had the field covered.
Q. Kevin talked a little bit earlier this week about being in Chase mode and that he has to kind of worry about finishes now and just can’t throw caution to the wind and gamble every week because you need good finishes leading into the Chase to have that kind of confidence and be in that Chase rhythm. Would you guys subscribe to that theory over the next six, seven weeks?
JEFF GORDON: We’re doing everything we can to win the race every weekend; that’s all I know we’re doing. I would say that at New Hampshire we took a little more risk with the fuel mileage that we would not have done in the Chase, so I think in our opinion these guys have more wins than we do, and we want to go into the Chase with as much momentum as possible, and to me that’s about getting wins and just ‑‑ yeah, I think our team is very consistent, and that’s why we’re leading the points, but I think in those final 10 races that’s going to be important, but I also think we’re going to need to step it up a bit to lead more laps and be in position to win more races, as well, and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.
Q. Jeff, back when you won the first race, they were qualifying about 175 or so, and now they’re almost at 190. Does this come from the experience that teams have learned over the years, and is 190 a possibility?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, yeah, it just depends on what NASCAR does ‑‑ allows us to do with the cars and what Goodyear does with the tires. I think we would have gone even a little bit faster. Tony blew a tire here, and they probably even went a little conservative on the left side because of that so I think we could have gone a little bit faster had that not happened. It’s just technology. The aerodynamics of the cars are vastly improved. I laugh when I look at that ’94 car and I’ve had a chance to look at it this week because we had it at our bowling tournament and it’s around here, as well. It’s so funny. You talk about stock cars, that thing looks pretty stock to me compared to what we have today. I mean, today these are really race cars in its purest form. I get a chance every once in a while to talk to people outside of our industry and other forms of motorsports and travel to other parts of the world and talk about racing, and people realize that our cars are no joke these days. They’re making a lot of power, making a tremendous amount of downforce for what they are, and getting through the corners really fast and aren’t easy to drive, either.
I mean, today qualifying the cars were stuck really, really good, so conditions were great, and for one lap it was awesome. It’s going to be a whole different ballgame tomorrow in the race, but so much has changed. Yeah, you can’t even compare anything we did in ’94 to what we’re doing today.
Q. Jeff, you’ve seen this race evolve certainly over the last 21 years. Is there anything that can or should be done to bring back some of the juice, some of the interest that we had here when this thing started and within the first five, ten years?
JEFF GORDON: Well, the thing that I do find so interesting is, I mean, we’ve got a big blade (spoiler) on the back, and you would think that all the things that NASCAR has tried to do to get them to suck up that they would. In ’94, if you remember any part of that race, especially there at the end when me and Ernie were battling, you didn’t want to be the leader. The leader just got so loose and the guy behind him would just suck up and draft and go right by him, and we just kept swapping the lead back and forth because we were trying to put ourselves in position to be leading basically off of Turn 4. You didn’t want to be leading off of 2 because the guy was going to go by you and probably win the race.
And so that’s changed a lot. It’s aerodynamics, it’s always going to come down to aerodynamics and drag and downforce. You would think we’re smart enough to understand all that and how we could figure out how to come together with NASCAR and make the cars draft better. The IndyCars have done an excellent job here. The Indy 500 the last couple years has been amazing with the passing and the drafting. They’re using technology to figure it out, and we’ve got to do the same. But I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not an aerodynamicist. Brad (Keselowski) is, but I’m not. He’s (Brad Keselowski) also an engine builder, too.
Q. You guys have had all sorts of different conditions. You had a morning practice, you had some sun, you had some overcast, you had the track washed clean. Given all that, do you really ‑‑ how comfortable are you that everybody really knows what they have as far as the race is concerned?
JEFF GORDON: He hit it. Other than just being in dirty air, that’s going to be the biggest factor, but the track conditions won’t be the same tomorrow. The race is ‑‑ you always think you know what you have and then they drop the green and all of a sudden you’re like, whoa, where did this come from, and sometimes you nail it and sometimes you miss it and got to adjust.
Q. On a scale of challenge, where does Indianapolis Motor Speedway fit?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it’s definitely a very challenging track. I think the more corners that you have at a track the more challenging it is, and then if you throw shifting into that, then that makes a whole ‘nother set of challenges.
I think the road courses are the most challenging I’d say, then Pocono which has three corners, not four, but three, and then you have shifting there, so it’s a pretty challenging racetrack, and then I would say this would fall after those. So yeah, I’d say top four or five as one of the most challenging.
I love the challenge that this track has. It’s difficult sometimes to pass aerodynamically, but you can do some things on how and where you pick your spots to pass at, and I love that challenge.
KERRY THARP: Jeff, thank you for a good qualifying effort. Good luck tomorrow.