Richmond: Press Conference Transcript
Jeff Gordon met with media and discussed racing conditions at Richmond, upcoming track changes at Bristol, the need to improve when qualifying, how warm weather could affect the racing at Talladega, segment times, and more. Full Transcript:
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING WITH RICHARD HAMMOND OF TOP GEAR? I BELIEVE YOU FILMED IT LAST NOVEMBER AT TEXAS.
"Yeah, it's been a while since we shot it. But I'm excited to see how it all turned out. I'm definitely a fan of the show. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to do that lap around their track that they have over there in Europe, but maybe we'll get a chance to do that one day and see where we stack up. But he's a great guy; very funny to work with Richard. They were really in awe of Texas Motor Speedway and the whole NASCAR experience. I think it was great that they were coming to that race track and here to America to shoot something for the European audience; it's so strong for them, but really I guess a worldwide audience. We'll see how it turns out. It was fun."
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK THIS WEEKEND AT RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY AND HOW HAS PRACTICE GONE SO FAR TODAY?
"My outlook is very positive. This was a great track for us last year. We came so close to being able to win both of those races, but still came away with a very strong finish in the second race. I think we got in an accident in the first one. So this is a great track for us. Today, I can't say it went very well. But it's so hard to read and you really can't get caught up in it too much here because you're practicing during the day when it's hot and slick, and it's really just a big guessing game of getting the car set-up right for qualifying as well as for the night race just because the track conditions and track temperature changes so much."
ON BRINGING MORE YOUNG FANS TO THE SPORT, ESPECIALLY WITH THE ARRIVAL OF TRAVIS PASTRANA, AND GETTING THEM TO STAY. WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF GOING TO A RACE AND WHAT STUCK IN YOUR MIND? WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU STAY INVOLVED? IF YOUR CHILDREN CAME TO YOU AND SAID HE/SHE WANTED TO BE A RACE CAR DRIVER, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM?
"I think I was a little bit backwards. I drove a race car before I ever went and saw a race. The way it worked with my family is my stepfather, when he grew up, he knew some other kids that raced Quarter Midgets and it was sort of a dream of his. And then he never got the chance to do it. And so, here his stepson was five years old and so he had the opportunity to bring a Quarter Midget home for me to see if I liked it, as well as my sister. And so we took it out to the fairgrounds that weekend and just drove around out in a field. So that was my first experience, which was behind the wheel, and once you get that experience, there's no better way to get hooked. We had a dirt track in Vallejo where I grew up. And Sprint Car would come there. And if we weren't going there, we were going to West Capital and some different dirt tracks.
"So Sprint Cars were what I originally became a fan of; Steve Kinser...and back then in California....Lealand McSpadden and some of these guys; so it's still why today I'm a big Sprint Car fan. I got a chance to race Sprint Cars; I love those cars. I love the short races. I love the excitement of it. I love sliding the car sideways.
"It wasn't until much later that I got involved in NASCAR and got to understand how big of a fan base NASCAR had. But I was a driver, so I think it was a little bit different for me. I just had fun driving the cars and the fact that there were car owners looking for drivers that could make their car go faster and there were sponsors that were interested in sponsoring it. That's what drew me to it.
"When I think about the younger fan, I think that we're a little bit behind in some of the technology that's involved in the sport when you look to other forms of motorsports. But I also give NASCAR a lot of credit for that because it helps keep the costs down for our teams. And I think it keeps the competition very equal as well. It's just this constant battle of trying to bring newer and younger fans and engage them in things that are more relative to what's going on (like) people with iPods and iPads and all those things, and more information.
"I will say that one thing I don't understand that we can bring to the fan that we don't have that some other forms of motorsports have, is segment times. You take a segment and you take a speed trap. You could set a speed trap up at these tracks at the end of the front straightaway or the longest straghtaway at just about any of these tracks and get a top speed and compare it to all the other cars. It's very similar to what Formula I does. And then they break down the segments through corners. Who is fastest in this corner and who is fastest on the back straightaway and who is fastest on the front straightaway and then the speed trap? We talked about doing it on road courses. I think we should definitely be doing it on road courses. But I think we could even do it on ovals. We're going to go to Michigan this year with top speeds reaching 220 mph. I think the young fans out there would think that's pretty darn cool."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS SPORT WHERE YOU SEE A GUY LIKE TONY STEWART WIN A COUPLE RACES AND THEN IN THE LAST TWO WEEKS IS PRETTY MUCH A NON-FACTOR. CARL EDWARDS LED A TON OF LAPS LAST YEAR AND MAYBE HE'S LED ONE LAP THIS YEAR. SAME FOR KYLE BUSCH. HOW THIN IS THE LINE BETWEEN BEING REALLY GOOD AND BEING A TOP 10 CAR RATHER THAN A WINNING CAR?
"It's very, very thin. And you even look within organizations. You look at Greg Biffle, who is leading the points and running great, won a race; and Carl being his teammate, has struggled. So, it's such a thin line. I think this really goes back to yes, the team is so crucially important on what direction they're working in. And it goes back to what I talked about in Texas about you do something that works and you're afraid to push the envelope to the next level because sometimes it could be too risky when you know you have something that's proven. But yet if you stick with what's proven, it's very easy for somebody else, like Michael Waltrip Racing who is looking for how they can be more competitive and they take some big risks, and look how it's paying off for them. So it is a very thin line. Then you take the other side of it, like my side of it, we've run great in the races this year. We haven't qualified very good, but we've been awesome in the races and we're still 18th in points. So sometimes you can be a great, fast race car and lead a bunch of laps and struggle. And that's why I say the hardest thing in this sport is fast race cars. When you get fast race cars, you don't panic as much. You don't worry. You just keep trying to improve the things that you can improve. But when your cars aren't running good, then I'll tell you what, it's easy to lose your confidence in a hurry with that."
DO YOU USE THIS RACE AS A MEASURING STICK FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON? IF YOU ARE ABLE TO WIN TOMORROW NIGHT, WHAT WILL IT MEAN TO GET RICK HENDRICK HIS 200TH WIN?
"We would love to do that. We continue to just look at the next race and look at the opportunities that we have. We all want to get that 200th win badly for Rick and we're all working very hard to achieve that. And just with our success we had here last year, I feel like we are very optimistic coming into this weekend, and still are.
"It's not just one race that's going to turn our season around. We've got to put a string of races together. We got that top five a couple of weeks ago in Texas and I was hoping we could build on that and then we had the issue last week. So, I really don't see us doing anything different than what we're doing other than trying to qualify better.
"We're definitely approaching qualifying a little bit different because we're really missing something there. But in the races, we're not missing any one thing. Some days we might be off a little bit on the set-up, but for the most part we've really been good enough to win races when the green flag drops. We've just got to put a string of them together."
BRUTON SMITH SAID HE DOESN'T CONSULT DRIVERS WHEN RE-DOING A TRACK, BUT HE WISHED HE HAD ASKED YOU ABOUT WHAT HE DID AT BRISTOL. IF HE HAD ASKED YOU, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE SAID?
"I don't know what Bruton is talking about. We talked. I said to take that top groove away because I like to run a groove off of the wall, and it would be perfect. Bruton, I can believe he's telling you guys (media) that we didn't talk. I'm just kidding (laughter). I will say I love what he's doing because I do run a groove off the wall. I don't run that top groove. So it doesn't affect us. Our car works much better further down. I'm going to say what I think a lot of guys have said. I respect the fact that he is being proactive about it and doing something about it. I don't think it's the race track, personally. I think the racing is great. Would a couple of cautions at the end of that race changed a few things? Yeah. But we've seen that last weekend and the week before that as well.
"So, I applaud him for at least putting that effort into it and the money behind it as well; drawing some attention to it, and I think it's going to really pay off because I think he's already going to have a great crowd for the night race. So it's just going to make it that much stronger. Then he's going to look like a genius and all of a sudden the crowd is going to be back at Bristol. So, I think narrowing the groove is not going to make a big difference, but it might make it a little bit more exciting. So I'm interested in seeing what it's like. But we'll only know once we get out there on the track."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT TRAVIS PASTRANO'S MULLET HAIRCUT COMPARED TO WHAT YOUR HAIR LOOKED LIKE WHEN YOU CAME INTO THE SPORT?
"It's much better than mine (laughs). He's got the curls to go along with it. You can get away with the mullet if you've got the curls. So, I don't know. Travis can get away with just about anything. He's one of those cool, funny guys that people love to see him in whatever he's doing. He's certainly great for the sport and I'm excited to have him here."
ON MAKING YOUR QUALIFYING BETTER, ARE THESE CHANGES YOU NEED TO MAKE OR THAT NEED TO BE CHANGED IN THE CAR? CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT THAT?
"When you say change, it just means you're going to do something different than what you're doing. So, it's not that you necessarily know exactly what the changes are going to be, you just know that it's going to be the opposite of what's happening now because we're not getting the results. Everyone has theories with these new cars, I call them new and they're not anymore, but we're constantly evolving bump-stop packages and jacking force and shocks and complicated things as far as rear sway bars and springs and it's sort of like everyone has their own approach to it and what's working and what's not working. We've got all the data from our teammates about what they're doing. Kasey (Kahne) has been qualifying very well. And we just aren't. A lot of it is that we seem to go through practice and the car is not bad in practice, or pretty close. And then we go to qualify and we get really loose. And so at first, it was okay, we just missed it a little bit. But then it just continues to happen. So now we're looking at just different aerodynamic things that are happening when we tape up the front of the car, that's causing it; and including my driving style and how I approach that qualifying lap that's changing the balance of the car so much when we go to qualify. Today we're a little bit tight in practice and typically we'd say okay, let's free it up a little bit for qualifying. Now, we're saying no, let's just leave it. Hopefully it doesn't get too loose."
DO YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT'S WRONG?
"Oh, no; if we knew, we'd be sitting on the pole. When you know what's happening, then you're fast. It's when you're scratching your head and not sure what's going on that you start searching around and trying some new things. We feel like we've got our race packages pretty good and we're not changing anything major there; just fine-tuning. It's not so much on these tracks as it is the 1.5-mile tracks."
IT SEEMS THAT BRUTON SMITH WANTS YOU GUYS TO WRECK MORE AT BRISTOL. HE THINKS FANS HAVE MORE EXCITEMENT IF THEY SEE WRECKS. WHAT ABOUT SAFETY? WHAT IS THE THEORY HERE?
"I don't think it's so much about the racing as it is hotel prices and gas prices and the economy. Sometimes people are looking at hey, I'd rather go to a Saturday night race where I can take the day on Sunday to get home and not have to worry about missing work on Monday if it rains or there are weather issues or delays. I personally think it's more of those things. But these days with Twitter and Facebook you have just instant messaging and feedback from the fans. And I think a lot of people are looking at their Twitter accounts and seeing how many people are talking about all the things; and the racing is something that a lot of fans are bringing up. And it's a debate among the fans because I know. I put a little pole out there on my Twitter account and I was so fascinated with the response. But most of the response on my Twitter account was more (about) the economy and gas prices than anything else. But some of them did talk about the racing. I still laugh. I think I told this a couple of weeks ago where I had a lady who Tweeted me and said, 'This two and three-wide racing at Bristol is just driving me crazy. I'm not coming back to another Bristol'. And I just still laugh. That is just the most hilarious thing I've ever heard of. The fact that we're even getting three-wide at Bristol is amazing. Yeah, let's be honest, at the end of that race on a race track like we used to have there, I think it might even be worse than what we have now.
"Side-by-side if your car is working good enough. The fans want to see excitement. They want to see bumper-to-bumper action and us getting upset with one another. Of course they want to see that. But they want to see us walk away from an accident. It's not that they want to see the dangerous side; they just want to see drama. I think we could still have drama with a track like Bristol that has two and three-wide racing.
AT TALLADEGA NEXT WEEKEND, THE WEATHER FORECAST IS CALLING FOR TEMPERATURES IN THE HIGH 80'S AND MID-90'S. YOU WILL HAVE THE SAME PLATE SIZE AND PRESSURE SETTING AS DAYTONA, WHERE IT WAS MUCH COOLER EARLIER THIS YEAR. GIVEN THAT, HOW DO YOU SEE TALLADEGA UNFOLDING DIFFERENTLY? AT THE END, EVEN THOUGH WE'LL HAVE PACK RACING, THAT A TWO-CAR TANDEM WILL END UP DECIDING IT?
"That's a great question. I think it's a very valid point that you bring up because we had pretty nice conditions at Daytona when we ran that race. For us, we didn't have an overheating problem. We found a hole in a water hose and we're not sure exactly how it got there. But it pretty much drained the water and that's why we blew up. So our goal is to make sure that doesn't happen again. But I definitely think you're going to have to really watch those gauges and pay attention to it and have some more gap in between you and the other cars to let that radiator breathe. So, I think we all know when you get connected; you go faster than you do unconnected. And so, in the closing laps of the race, as wide as that race track is, I think what you'll see in practice is guys will hook together to see how long they can run. Usually once they have temperature in the engine, they want to see how long they can run connected. Because at the end of that race, you're ultimate goal is to push that other guy as long as you possibly can, cross that line blowing up the engine. That's basically what we're doing now because of the rules that we have and what we've learned about this whole pushing thing. So, that's what we'll work on in practice and see just how it's going to work out. But you've got to survive to get there first. So it's going to make the dynamics of the race, first half; three-quarters of the race, very interesting."
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT IT IS FOR YOU TO WIN RIGHT NOW?
"Well, it's always important to win. And we're always trying to win as hard as we possibly can. It's just like getting ready for the All-Star race. No points involved; we're going to really go all-out to win. Well, we do it every weekend. But we do recognize that at this point, and it's not completely out of the question that we could make up those points and get in the Top 10 legitimately. If you look at our season last year, the amount of points that we made up from this point until the Chase, we did it. And we can do it again. But we've got to get a lot more things going our way than what's happening right now. And we've definitely put ourselves at a huge deficit.
"But I think that winning races is definitely a priority for us. I don't think we're in a panic-stricken mode to win races right now; we're just working hard to make it happen. There will be a time if we don't close that gap, (when) we'll be more in a panic and a 'must have to win' situation. And no one wants to be in that situation. But we've got too many good tracks coming up. We've got too good of a race team. Our cars are running really good in the race. There's no reason why we can not only get #200 for Mr. H, but also get our way to the Top 10."
DRIVERS TALK ALL THE TIME ABOUT HOW WINNING A RACE REQUIRES EVERYTHING TO GO PERFECTLY. HAS THE DRIVER BEEN TAKEN OUT OF THE EQUATION TOO MUCH? ARE THE DAYS COMPLETELY GONE WHEN YOU COULD CARRY A BAD CAR AND WIN WITH IT? IS THERE ANYTHING ON THE TECHNICAL SIDE THAT COULD PUT MORE EMPHASIS ON THE DRIVER?
"Well, sure there is. Absolutely there is. I think that we've just learned so much about aerodynamics and downforce. Most of the things you're talking about are the bigger tracks. The bigger the track, not the restrictor plate tracks, the 1.5-mile tracks, basically; the cars have become so important. The amount of work that the team puts into that car, and the side force and the downforce, that's where the speed is coming. We've got so many good drivers out here now and such good teams and equipment, that that's where I think some of the little things are coming down to that. But, with that said, I look at Tony Stewart's performance last year in that Chase and I'm telling you that was just not all car. Tony is an extraordinary driver. And so to me, just as recent as that; you know, you had two great drivers going for the championship but you had one, to me, that just stood out that took that car to another level. And I know those cars were good, but I think he took them to another level because of his talent. So, it still happens. It still exists. I just think it happens more on the short tracks than it does on the 1.5-mile tracks."
HOW GOOD IS IT TO BE AT THIS TRACK WITH ALL THE THINGS YOU WERE SAYING ABOUT INTERMEDIATE TRACKS? HOW WELCOME IS IT TO BE COMING HERE NOW AND MAYBE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO BRING THINGS BACK DOWN TO WHAT YOU'RE USED TO RACING AND THE POSSIBILITIES FOR CAUTIONS AND ALL THE THINGS THAT CAN AFFECT THE RACE OUTCOME?
"This is a great race track. They just did it right here. I think it's the right size. The transitions into the banking into the corners, the radii of the corners, they just did it right. There are challenges here where it's not an easy track to drive. As a driver, you have to drive it all day long no matter how good your car is. But the set-up and how the team works it, is important. There are pit stops. This, to me, is just an all-around great place to race on. The surface has aged and is abrasive, so it eats the tires up so you've got to manage the drive-off. You'll see guys sliding the back of the car all the way to the wall throughout the entire night. And that is what I love about this track is it brings the driver back into it and the driver can manage that tire wear, give good feedback and input back into the set-up of the car and what the team is doing on a pit stop to help make it better throughout the night. And it offers great racing, you know, side-by-side racing that's more than likely going to bring some cautions, too. So, I think this is always been one of my favorites. I think it's a big fan-favorite as well. It's always solid and steady when you look at the ratings and when you look at the positive things written about it and said about it on TV and the crowd.
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