Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger/AARP Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed not participating in the final practice session, working with rookies at Daytona and other topics.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR FINAL PRACTICE TODAY? “We don’t have any plans to go out today. We feel like this entire week we have been able to learn everything we need to get prepared for the race tomorrow. We feel like yesterday was just getting the feel for our race engine. We did a little bit of drafting with some teammates and Stewart-Hass and just fine tuning. We’ve got a great race car. We are excited. We’ve got a great opportunity here.”
YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH SOME CHANGES WITH CARS OVER THE YEARS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PROCESS OF LEARNING ABOUT THE NEW CAR? “It’s been awhile since we have gone through a change like this. It is an adjustment. So much work goes on back at the shop just building cars. Then there is the whole learning process with the engineers and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) trying to figure out what this car needs to go fast. There are a lot of different components to getting a car down here ready to win the Daytona 500. Some teams are just trying to get here and get in the show and others are trying to win it. I’m really proud of the effort that has been put in by our team to come down here, sit on the front row and have as good of a race car as we have. It shows what kind of organization that we are and the depth that we have. These are the moments where I feel like where we can shine because of being through this process before in the past. Knowing how to bring the whole team together, not just the No. 24 team, and other teams as well it’s the engine shop, the chassis shop, hanging bodies and everything that goes into a process of a new car.
“It’s a learning process for sure. Trying to understand what kind of balance the car is going to have out front or in the draft or further back in the draft. That is still going to be a learning process. We were out front most of the time in the 150, so that is why we wanted to do some drafting yesterday being behind cars and get a little bit of an understanding with some adjustments to see how they affected the car.”
WITH ALL THE HYPE SURROUNDING DANICA (PATRICK) THIS WEEK IT’S KIND OF FUNNY HOW YOU HAVE KIND OF FLOWN UNDER THE RADAR AS FAR TURNING OUT THE NUMBERS YOU HAVE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW IT HAS BEEN THIS WEEK WITH ALL THE HYPE AROUND DANICA (PATRICK) AND NOT ON YOU? “I think we are in the best position to win the race. Everybody has sort of been under the radar other than maybe (Kevin) Harvick winning two races. I think those guys look very strong with a great chance to win the Daytona 500. Obviously, Danica brings a lot of attention and that is fantastic for our sport. For us we are just doing our jobs, doing our thing and we have a great race car, great race team. It’s nice to be able to just go about it without too much attention on us, too many expectations and hype so that there are not any distractions.”
ALAN (GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF) WAS SAYING THE OTHER DAY AS MUCH AS YOU GUYS WANT TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 YOU ALSO REALLY WANT TO GET OFF TO A GOOD START AND NOT PUT YOURSELF IN A HOLE LIKE YOU DID LAST YEAR IS THAT WHAT YOU GUYS ARE GOING TO FOCUS ON? “It’s true you know. We experienced that last year and as competitive as this sport is, it’s hard to climb your way back up into those top-10 in points when you get that far behind. That is definitely something that when we look at our season of 2012 and we look at approaching 2013 what is important to us it’s to get more consistency early on in the season and get off to a good start. Of course we want to win, we want to win every race, but we also want to make sure that we are crossing our ‘T’s’ dotting our ‘I’s’ and when we have a bad day that it’s a 10th-place finish, not a 35th-place finish.”
EVERYBODY IS TALKING ABOUT THE UNKNOWN FACTOR HERE WITH THE NEW CAR. WILL THAT BE THE SAME NEXT WEEK IN PHOENIX? “Oh absolutely, there are a couple of teams that have tested out there, but even since then the cars have evolved and changed. The teams are constantly learning what these cars need and taking them to the wind tunnel and trying to make improvements to the aerodynamics. Then the drivers in that learning curve of how this car is going to drive different and how to get the balance with this car that you need to go fast. You go from here having a low downforce package to going to Phoenix with a high downforce package in completely different scenarios.”
YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN TWO DIFFERENT STYLE RACES THIS WEEKEND, PACK RACING AND SINGLE FILE. WHAT TYPE OF RACING DO YOU THINK WE ARE GOING TO SEE TOMORROW? “Personally, I love the kind of racing from a driver standpoint this is the type of racing that I enjoy doing at Daytona. You have to think, you have to be smart, you have to be aggressive at times and you have to have a good handling car. So it brings the whole team aspect into it. I hope the fans can appreciate this type of racing because I think when it comes down to the end of this race the excitement is going to be there. But in between it’s going to be strategy, it’s going to be thought provoking and there are going to be moments of some side-by-side great racing. There is also going to be moments where people are trying to plan out and strategize. To me that is the best of all worlds and why I love this package that we have here. It’s not going to be like the Truck race was last night. Some people might say, well I wish it was. For me, I don’t. I love this type of racing. I think that we are going to see a little bit of both.
“I think that when you put 43 cars out there…what I love about this is you have a purpose and a challenge to make passes to get to the front. You need to be at the front because your car is going to drive much better at the front. You don’t want to hang around the back because your car is not going to drive well and you’ve got a chance of losing the draft. You are going to push yourself to figure out a way to get to the front. There are cars that are going to be handling good at the beginning of a run and not so good at the end of a run. So you are going to start to see passes happen in those last 10 laps before a pit stop. Then you are going to have cautions where they are going to stack up and everybody is going to be jockeying for position being aggressive and there is going to be sparks flying and action. I can’t predict exactly what we are going to see, but I think you are going to see guys being more aggressive than they were in the 150’s because that was the 150. That was just trying to get position for the (Daytona) 500.
“This is the Daytona 500 this is what it is all for the biggest race that we have and everybody wants to win it. So you are going to see some guys be more aggressive and you are going to see other guys strategizing trying to just maintain and keep that position that they need, that they feel like is going to get them the win.”
YOU MENTIONED (KEVIN) HARVICK EARLIER. DO YOU THINK HE’S MOTIVATED AT ALL BY THIS BEING HIS LAST YEAR AT RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING (RCR) AND TRYING TO PROVE THINGS GO OUT ON A HIGH NOTE? “Yes and no, I think that he seems to me to be a guy who no matter what he is driving he is going out there to win. I think there is probably some relief in some ways that he has made this announcement and that he can just go about his business. When things are good everything is going to be good. When things start to get challenging and difficult that is when we are going to really see what kind of connection and team that they really are. Harvick is a professional. He is going to be professional about it and so it RCR. They have got a car and a team that can win the Daytona 500. They are going to go out there and try to win it. I wouldn’t expect anything any different.”
WHAT DOES A VETERAN NEED TO SEE FROM A ROOKIE OR NEWCOMER TO WANT TO WORK WITH THEM AT THIS TRACK? “I think you just want to see them being patient not making hasty decisions. Rookies usually are impatient they get in line and they just want to jump out of it and go backwards. Or just not really making things work. If you see their car out of control, sliding around then it doesn’t matter if they are a rookie or not you are going to stay away from them. Somebody that is kind of just going along with the flow of the race and when you they don’t do anything that sends a message to you where you think ‘oh that’s a rookie’ other than that yellow stripe on the rear bumper you are going to work with them.”
WHAT KIND OF PROCESS DID YOU USE TO WORK WITH TREVOR BAYNE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO WHEN HE WAS A ROOKIE? “Trevor was pushing me to the front, so I kind of liked that. (LAUGHS). That’s always a good thing…it doesn’t matter. My car wasn’t out of control. He was being smooth. Right away we realized he had a fast race car, and we could work our way to the front. So, that was definitely a positive.”
ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT STARTING ON THE INSIDE WASN’T THE BEST PLACE TO BE? “I expected that. I am anticipating that. We’ll do everything we can to make that inside lane work. Having Harvick behind me, we’ll try to keep him there to make that inside lane get up there. With our series, it looks like the outside in the beginning definitely is an advantage. For whatever reason, it just seems like that outside lane is able to stall that inside lane, and not allow it to get the momentum that it needs. We’ll see what happens.”
IS IT UNUSUAL TO SEE SO MANY TEAMS SIT OUT PRACTICE? DID WE SEE THIS BEFORE, OR IS THIS A PRODUCT OF THE NEW CAR? “I don’t know. I think the more accidents you see earlier in the week, the less people want to practice the day before the Daytona 500. I feel like we, for us, all I can speak for is us, we’ve had a good week. I think we learned a lot in the 150 (Duel Qualifying Race), and we just need to fine tune. We were able to do that yesterday, so we don’t really reason. If there was something that popped up that we wanted to try and do, then we’d be out there today. Unless something has changed, we don’t anticipate going out today. When you feel like you’ve got a car that is in position to win the race, and you learned almost everything we need to learn…the thing is unless you are in a big pack, you are not going to learn a whole lot more. We don’t want to risk being in a big pack in practice. We’ll do that in the race when it really counts.”
DO YOU THINK THIS NEW CAR IS GOING TO TAKE A FULL YEAR TO SOLVE THAT LAST MYSTERY, TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT IT? “There are some things you can’t resolve. When you are in 15th or 20th in a line of cars, it’s not going to drive good. I don’t know that there is a whole lot you can do to fix that. You can play around with shocks; and rebound; and different types of geometry to try and help that. But you can’t resolve air not touching the car and pushing the car down into the race track. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see of the 500 goes. Based on how the 150 went, I feel like we are very well prepared; as prepared as I think we’ve been in a very long time for the 500. I think we are always learning. I think we are always learning. We are always trying to be better. We’ll go through this race, and afterwards we’ll debrief and see what we could have done better. And, that’s even if we win the race.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BRAD KESELOWSKI CONVERSATION WITH BRIAN (FRANCE) AND LESA (FRANCE KENNEDY)? “We don’t know what the conversation was as far as I know. It’s kind of hard to comment on. They might have been supportive. They might have been reprimanding, who knows. It is not out of the ordinary for a new champion to feel confident to be able to express their opinion on things. Brad cares a lot about the sport. He’s not trying to do anything that would hurt the sport. When you are that open, it doesn’t surprise me that NASCAR is going to talk about it. I don’t think it necessarily means that they are saying ‘Don’t do that’.”
ACTUALLY THEY SAID SOME OF HIS OPINIONS WERE LESS THAN INFORMED, AND THAT WAS ONE OF THE REASONS THEY WANTED TO TALK TO HIM: “I can see that coming from them. I think wanting him to have all the details. He was pretty descriptive with a lot of it.”
DID YOU TAKE ISSUE WITH ANY OF IT? “Listen, I applaud a guy who’s passionate about the sport, and wants to give his opinion.”
EVIDENTLY YOU AREN’T THE ONLY DRIVER WHOSE DAUGHTER WANTED TO MEET DANICA PATRICK. WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT HER POTENTIAL TO BE RELEVANT MUCH BEYOND THE RACING SURFACE? “Oh, absolutely. Very relevant. Taking this sport into a whole new territory. I think that is fantastic. When my daughter wants to meet somebody, whether it is Danica or Minnie Mouse, I’m going to do all I can to try to make that happen. That tells you what kind of relevance and impact that they are making. I think it is fantastic. I hope to see more of it.”
DO YOU THINK CHEVYS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE HERE? “I can say the same thing I’ve always said when we come down here to Daytona and you see one manufacturer look good. Yes, Chevy…they love racing. They put a lot into it. But, the teams of Hendrick, and Stewart-Haas and Childress are very strong teams. Always have been. They have always represented their manufacturer very, very well. Especially when it comes to big races like Daytona.”
KEVIN HARVICK WAS SAYING THAT THE RACING IS A LOT LIKE 2003. OTHERS SAY IT IS A LOT LIKE THE MID-90S. DO YOU SEE THAT? DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE AN ADVANTAGE BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH BOTH OF THOSE ERAS? “I’m very comfortable with what we have out there. I like this package which means it will probably change. (LAUGHS) I like the fact you’ve got to be careful. The cars, they change over a run. There’s no more of this tandem drafting, which I was never a fan of driving blind at over 200 miles per hour pushing somebody into who knows what. You have to strategize. You got to think. You have to decide whether you want to run the inside lane or the outside lane. You have to pass one at a time sometimes. I think that is cool. The fact that you can pass; it’s not easy to, but you can. It takes laps to build that run, and that momentum. You have to take risks, but you also have to have patience. I think that suits me very well. I’m happy that it is back to what it was several years ago.”
DO YOU THINK THAT FAVORS THE VETERANS? “It does. But at the same time, it’s how drivers are able to adapt to that. The drivers have gotten used to pushing one another around have got to get used to something completely different. The ones that can adapt quickly, or the veterans that are used to that type of racing, I think they’ll be the ones that are going to shine.”
-Team Chevy PR