Darlington: Press Conference Transcript
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and discussed Drive To End Hunger initiative, Safer Barriers, aggressive driving, racing at Darlington and other topics. Full transcript:
TALK ABOUT THE INITIATIVE THIS WEEK IN YOUR DRIVE TO END HUNGER PROGRAM WITH DARLINGTON RACEWAY AND ISC: "The Drive To End Hunger and the AARP Foundation when they launched this program in January, there was a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement. But, I don't think any of us knew how fast and strong of a reception this program would get and how much impact they would make on those millions of people. Through commitments like ISC (International Speedway Corporation) and others that have been going on already so far this year, the momentum continues to build with donations, so far this year, already more than 360,000 meals have been served in just a couple of months. This is obviously going to make a huge impact on that number if you look at the thousands of people that come to these race tracks, obviously it takes a lot to feed them and there are some leftovers. So, there are a lot of needy folks out there that are going to benefit from it. We're very thankful. We continue to push hard on the race track to drive people to text Hunger to 50555 as well as win races so we are looking forward to being here in Darlington. I can't thank ISC and you Chris Browning enough."
CHRIS BROWNING - "The local food bank for this week, the food will be picked up on Monday here after our race and it will go to the Harvest Hope Food Bank over in Florence (SC) and be distributed from there. I would just like to say one other word. I think this is a really neat example of how sponsorship in racing really works. This is a unique example but I think it is a great example of showing how a sponsorship can benefit from so many different facets and prove to be a benefit to everyone including the general public."
HOW MUCH FOOD ARE WE TALKING ABOUT AND WHAT WAS DONE WITH THE FOOD BEFORE? CHRIS BROWNING: "Yes, it basically would have been and what we will have left over will obviously depend the crowd, but we will generally have a surplus and this is a great way to use that surplus for a good cause."
YOU HAVE WON HERE AT DARLINGTON SEVEN TIMES, YOU HAVE THE BEST DRIVER RATING OF ANYONE IN THE SERIES, TALK ABOUT HOW STRONG OF A TRACK THIS IS FOR YOU: "We are always excited to come to Darlington. This has been one of my favorites ever since I started NASCAR, even in the Nationwide Series when I came here. It is a track you have to attack. You have to respect. You are on the edge. Those are ingredients that drivers look to and it has suited me and our team well over the years. We've had some struggles this year on the faster tracks. I consider this in that category of the mile-and-a-halfs that we have struggled at. Since the last mile-and-a-half at Texas, no team out there has worked harder at their aero program and trying to make improvements than our Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. I'm pretty excited about putting that out there on the race track and seeing what we have done to get close to the completion. Obviously last weekend at Richmond and on the shorter tracks, we have our program in place and very competitive. We recognize that this is definitely an important track for us and it is a good one for us as well."
YOU HAVE SAID PREVIOSLY THAT YOU DON'T RACE JUST TO DRIVE FAST, IT IS THE COMPETITIVE PART YOU LIKE, CAN YOU SPEAK ABOUT THAT AS IT PERTAINS TO DARLINGTON, WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE CHALLENGE HERE THAT MAKES THE DRIVERS ENJOY THIS PLACE SO MUCH? "The thing about Darlington it's the 44th competitor out there. At Darlington, you can't, I guess in my case it would be the 43rd, you just can't go out there and look at the competition. You can't just think about your race car. This track can reach out and bite you in a hurry. If you have ever taken even a slow lap around this track in a street car, those entries where you come off the way, you slip sort of the apron and then head right back up to the wall. It comes up fast. It is a big transition and it is very narrow. There is very little room for error. That is when you are by yourself. Then you put other race cars out there and the challenge goes up 10-fold. So, this is definitely a track where you have always had to respect it. You've always had to do everything you could to just stay off the wall, stay off the apron and survive. Then, at the same time, you have to try to be faster than the competition. It is a very challenging race track."
HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO NASCAR OR ANYONE WITH REGARD TO YOUR ACCIDENT AT RICHMOND AND THE SAFER BARRIERS? WHAT WAS THE G-FORCE LIKE? I HAVE HEARD A NUMBER AND IT SOUNDS LIKE IT WAS ABOVE THE THRESHOLD AND HAVE BEEN TOLD IT IS SOMETHING THEY ARE LOOKING AT AS A REALLY HARD IMPACT: "I'm not the threshold is, but, I know we exceeded the threshold. At the time when I hit the wall, I wasn't thinking about it. I knew it was a hard hit. I got out, got in the medical center, you know, my head hurt a little bit. Other than that, I was feeling pretty good. I was walking out of the medical center and I happened to see a TV and caught a glance at what happened and I was shocked. I couldn't believe there wasn't a Safer Barrier there. Then I realized why it hurt so much. I think that it was pretty interesting this week because I had several drivers text me saying thank you for helping to make the race tracks safer because I am pretty sure we will be seeing a Safer Barrier there and I seem to find those places on tracks and I don't want to be that test pilot for those things. I think there are areas that are still out there for some reason that still need to be covered and hopefully through this incident, which, I walked away from unscathed, we'll be able to make improvements there at Richmond. Richmond was one of the first tracks that had Safer Barriers, so their efforts have always been there to protect and keep the tracks safe as possible. So, it is just an area that needs to be re-looked at and from what I understand, they will definitely be doing that. I don't know the number; I have not heard that number. When I was at the shop on Tuesday, we were focused on Darlington. We talked a little bit about some improvements we can make inside the car for future reference, but other than that, that is all we were focused on."
YOU TALKED ABOUT RACING THE TRACK AS MUCH AS YOU ARE RACING YOUR COMPETITORS, IS THERE A LOT OF SELF DISCIPLINE REQUIRED TO DO THAT OR ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE RACE TRACK ALL RACE LONG? "There are two different scenarios we are talking about. I am really anxious to get out there and see what the grip level is this time around. We saw some numbers from testing from the cars that came here for the Goodyear tire test. The track seemed to be pretty fast. Before they repaved here, it was very abrasive; the fall-off was incredible. Tire management was huge. So, if somebody came pushing hard, you'd give it up, no problem, because you felt like you were going to get it back. Can't necessarily do that today. This track is smooth. The tires are hard and the fall-off is just not there like it used to be. So, today's challenge is more of the grip level and getting to the edge of that grip level with a harder tire. I understand they may have a little bit more softer tire this time around so I'm anxious. As we get to those softer tires, we will see more fall-off which is a good thing, especially here at Darlington. The challenge to me is just the narrow window that you have of making mistakes because you are carrying so much speed and you are running close to the wall. This is a track where if you sent us out there by ourselves for 400 or 500 miles, we would probably hit the wall without any other competitors being out there. So, that is just the challenge that this track provides and hopefully we will have a little fall off this weekend where the tire management will come into play and even throw another aspect to the challenges that are already here."
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF KYLE BUSCH THIS SEASON AND THE CHANGE WE HAVE SEEN IN HIM AND IS IT REAL? "Up to this point it certainly has been. I think as the tension mounts and as the stress level gets higher, you'll really get the answer to that as we get further into the season. Kyle is a tremendously talented race car driver. He seems to be very happy and at this point he seems to be just handling everything very very well and that is great for him. So only time will tell. He's just one of those guys when it really comes at him, you never know how he is going to handle it but, right now, if he keeps winning races and competing at the level he is now, he isn't going to have a whole lot to be stressed about."
AS FAR AS SOME FANS MIGHT THINK NASCAR CAR DRIVERS ONLY WORK FOUR HOURS A WEEK, CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THE REALITY OF BEING A NASCAR STAR REALLY IS AND HOW OFTEN YOU SIGN AUTOGRAPHS? "Yeah, the autographs are all the time, it never seems to stop. As far as being in an autograph session with the general public, these days it's really turned in more to supporting your sponsor at whatever events they have because basically to be on the car and pay the millions of dollars that they have, it's not just being on the car it's your time and whether it's a production day or a personal appearance which could be autographs, could be Q & A, it could be a lot of things. It takes up most of the time during the week. But I still sign a tremendous amount of autographs because we do a lot of it in the office, whether there be things sent in, things that we do through licensed merchandising and then there are those moments where you are just walking through the garage area or an everyday basis, so it seems to me like I'm just always signing autographs really when we're not here at the track. But I'm excited about some things that NASCAR is talking about, about doing some things at the race track. I hope that gets put together. I'll be honest with you, I think at the race track I probably have more down time than I do during the week. During the week it seems like I'm filling -of course I do have two young children that take up a lot of time too but they don't ask for autographs. But during the weekend, it's a set schedule. I'm here in the bus. I will pretty much every weekend have a box of things put in my bus from my office that are autograph items to go out. So I think there is some down time that we could utilize to do some autograph sessions."
A LOT OF GUYS CAN'T GET OVER THE FRUSTRATION OF DARLINGTON, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT OVERCOMING THAT FRUSTRATION? "I won a race here one time and was pretty frustrated. I was leading the race. If you go back to that great battle with me and Jeff Burton, when we won the Winston Million, I had position on him, he seemed to be maybe a little bit quicker so I was trying to not make any mistakes and I got into the wall off of (turn) two and that's what really allowed him to get underneath me as I damaged the car, so that 100th or 10th of a second I was trying to prevent turned into like a half of a second and we almost lost the race that day. So that was pretty frustrating to me and those moments happen all the time here, especially when the pavement was very abrasive. It varies as you get frustrated because you're trying to make your car go as fast as you can, trying to watch your mirror, trying to figure out the lap times, manage the tires and then stay out of the wall and all those things are pretty hard to do."
YOU ARE ABOUT 1/3 OF THE WAY THROUGH THE 26-RACE SEASON BEFORE THE CHASE, YOU'VE GOT ONE WIN BUT SIT OUTSIDE THE TOP 10, WITH THE NEW POINT SYSTEM HOW HARD IS IT TO GET INTO THE TOP 10 THAN SAY WITH THE OLD POINTS SYSTEM WITH THE REMAINING RACES? "I feel like if we do what we're capable of doing like last week, I felt like we had a top-five car if not better, we didn't finish there, if we finish where we are capable of then I don't think we will have any problem making it into the top 10. I will say the nice comforting thing right now is that we do have a win and if we can get one or two more wins, I think that could possibly secure us into the Chase. That's something that didn't exist before and when you're in the points position and you've had the kind of year that we've had that's comforting to have something to fall back on because one thing we've seen about the Chase format is that it's all about having momentum from the Summer on. It doesn't matter really what you've done up to that point. Of course under the old format you had to have some consistency in there but to me with this new format with the way that the win structure can get you in, to me come August maybe the end of July, whoever is strong from that point through the rest of the season to me they are the ones to beat for the championship. I think a lot can change by then. So we're certainly getting geared up for that. We're doing everything we can. That's what happens, the season starts, you evaluate where you focus over the off season and like I mentioned earlier our short track program seems to be really strong but our intermediate stuff has not been so now we have to shift some things that we've been doing and try some new things and this format gives us that opportunity to still be in the thick of the championship by the end of the year because of that and try new things and do things different and not be completely out of it."
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER TALKING WITH YOUR TEAM ABOUT SOME IMPROVEMENT INSIDE OF THE CAR IN THE WAKE OF THE WRECK, ARE THERE THINGS THAT SPECIFICALLY YOU GUYS CAN DO OR DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANYTHING NASCAR CAN DO TO THE INSIDE OF THE CARS? "I thought the car did a great job. The door bars moved in several inches and the window nets still stayed intact. The structure of the car held up incredibly well. It's really more driver component things that we have. For instance, we do - we call it a knee-knocker but basically it's a padded piece that we put on the steering column in between our knees and most of it is just because you are turning left all the time you just want to have something for your left knew to support and to sit on but it also can be a safety feature. Just the way that that piece rotated in the impact we want to change how we mount it. My foot hit the clutch pedal really hard and how we're going to box out and curve the edges on that, then just looking at the padding on the left side on my headrest and the gap. I like a lot of gap there because I lean a lot with my head so I don't like to be touching anything, but in an impact like that you don't want a gap. You want to make sure when your head hits it doesn't move so I think there is a little bit we can do. Probably just adding some, I think I just had a little too much of a gap for a left side hit."
THERE WAS SOME ISSUES WITH TEMPERS AND AGGRESSION EARLY IN THE SEASON, LAST WEEK IN RICHMOND A LOT OF DRIVERS HAD MELTDOWNS WITH THEIR CREW AND THE INCIDENT WITH THE NO. 42 AND NO. 39, ARE WE AT THE POINT OF THE YEAR WHERE WE ARE GOING TO SEE THAT AND WHY AND SHOULD WE EXPECT THIS AGAIN ON SATURDAY NIGHT? "Don't you only hope. (laughing). I'm pretty sure everyone in this room only hopes. You know I don't know what triggers it. It just seems like some years the moon is just right. I don't know. There is no doubt there is a tremendous amount of pressure and I think you just have to look at everybody's success level, where they are at and there are some that might be a little more comfortable with things and some that aren't real happy with things. Maybe there are sponsorship contracts that are up or maybe they've been with a team and they felt like they should have had more success at this point and haven't so when that opportunity comes up and something gets in the way of that being a successful run it's easy to get frustrated because of all that's built up to it. But in my opinion this is a very high stress level sport, intense, and I think the competition has only gotten tougher so it goes back to talking about the points system because the competition is tougher and we see how close the cars are and how hard it is to make big gains then that means its only harder to make up positions in the points as you get further in the season. Not to mention the new point system might add a little bit to it. That to me are all the ingredients of heightening the stress and frustration levels."
DURING A RACE WHEN ALL THIS STUFF DOESN'T INVOLVE YOU, ARE YOU EVER AWARE OF INCIDENTS HAPPENING OR DRIVERS THAT YOU SENSE OR MAY KNOW ARE ABOUT TO EXPLODE? "I knew last week to stay on the inside of the No. 22 car. I was doing Joie Chitwood impersonations all race long and I was pretty sure that right rear tire wasn't going to last a whole lot longer so I knew not to go to the outside of him, but there was only an inch between him and the wall all the way around the track so I couldn't go to the outside. Other than that, I was aware....
"You know usually my spotter will tell me hey I don't know what's going on but this guy seems to be making it hard on everybody as they come through there or this car is going backwards and not real happy about it. So sometimes you can see it and tell and other times you can't. Most of the time if there's two guys involved that you see them racing really hard and bumping and banging. If you're in site of it you're obviously aware of it and you want to get away from it or by it as fast as possible."
IN 2004 YOU WERE TAKING OUT BY A FIELD-FILLER AT THE TIME WHEN FIELD-FILLERS WERE ALL THE CONTROVERSY, THE MODERN DAY VERSION OF THAT IS START-AND-PARKERS, WHICH IS WORSE AS A DRIVER? "I like the start-and-parks. I just think if you are that far off the pace I think especially at a place like Darlington, and this is why I like the minimum speed rule. The minimum speed rule forces these teams to run a certain pace and sometimes I feel like that minimum speed needs to be raised at certain tracks. That usually helps when you are on a narrow race track like this, especially lap traffic is really, really tough so in my opinion instead of having somebody out there trying to make minimum speed if they are going to finish in the low 30's and points aren't a big thing to them and they have their own business model plan that they're working on then I rather not have to pass them."
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