Jeff Gordon, driver #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his thoughts on testing thus far, the off season and other topics.
HOW HAS YOUR DAY OF TESTING BEEN? “We had a good day. We just did single car runs, which was pretty much our plan and then we’ll do some drafting tomorrow. Thought it went well. Cars are driving really good by themselves. Good speed. It was a fun day to see this new body style out there, it looks great and drives good. It’s an exciting way to get the season started.”
DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE SOME CRAZY MOVES COMING BACK INTO PLAY TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 WITH THIS NEW CAR? “If they take away that yellow line, absolutely. Some of those ridiculous moves were just because you had to go wherever the car in front of you wasn’t if you had the momentum. Back then they didn’t have that yellow line so you could go down to the apron, which made things pretty exciting and interesting. Now that we’re not able to do that limits you a little bit, but I haven’t drafted yet. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be able to do things like that, but looking at the size of the spoiler and the speeds that we’re running I’m anticipating that handling is going to be a little bit more of a premium than what we’ve had in the past. Just because there’s a little less down force in the rear of the car. I really won’t know until tomorrow. I saw those guys drafting out there a little bit and it looked like the cars were moving around a little on them when they got into some turbulent air, but other than that I really can’t say until I get out there in those conditions.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE ARE A LOT OF CHANGES TAKING PLACE THIS YEAR AND WHAT IS THAT LIKE? “It’s always great when you can carry that momentum and excitement that the team experienced in Homestead into the off-season. No matter what changes are coming, whether they’re very little or big changes like we’ve had with the new car, the team can rally around that and it’s a great boost. You need a lot of energy over the off-season. Those guys work really, really hard while the drivers might get some rest, the crew chiefs and the team guys are getting very little rest because they’re preparing for the new season. You add on top of that a new car, there is a lot of work to be done. We don’t have a lot of these cars sitting in our shops right now. Certainly, not many speedway cars. Even while we’re down here, there’s a lot of work happening back at the shop. To be able to have a great finish like we had at Homestead and take that into the off-season is a big plus and big positive for us and it’s helped us stay energized through the off-season to get ready for this new season. I don’t think anybody is better than Hendrick Motorsports when changes come in adapting to them and new cars and being prepared. I feel very confident in the team and our organization to come out strong and be strong throughout the year. That is also energizing.”
WHAT DO YOU STILL NEED TO LEARN IN THE COMING DAYS ABOUT THIS NEW CAR? “You want to have a fast race car, that’s always the case. I feel like we’ve got pretty good speed. There’s a couple cars that we have our eyes on that look like they have a little more speed. Things will change by the time we get back down here in February. Not too concerned with that right now. The car has good speed so that is number one. The next thing is just getting the car to drive well in traffic. Cooling and overheating and things like that have always been an issue down here the last couple years. We anticipate looking at the opening in the grill for that to be something we’re going to have to deal with again. Then whether the tandem drafting is going to happen at all or not. It doesn’t appear that it is, but I still think that you have to explore it to see if with three to go, if there’s a green-white-checkered or something like that, you can be prepared to do what you have to do to win the race. You have to come down here and kind of patiently be aggressive by exploring those things now. It’s better to explore them now so we know what to anticipate when we get back down here in February for Speedweeks. That’s the nice thing about being in the Sprint Unlimited, in that race it gives us a great opportunity to understand what we’re going to be dealing with for the upcoming races, the Duels as well as the 500.”
HOW DID YOU END UP ON A YACHT FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE AND DID YOU AND CLINT BOWYER HAVE A CHANCE TO TALK? “The question is how he got on the yacht. That needs to be the real question. My family and I have been going down to St. Barts for the last four of five years and we love going down there for New Year’s. I knew that Clint (Bowyer) and Kevin (Harvick) were down there because Rick Hendrick’s boat was down there and I think they were on that boat through a charter with some friends of theirs. I stopped by there to say hi one time and they were gone, they were out having fun or doing something. Then I went about my business and on New Year’s Ingrid and I went to a couple different parties and ended up at one, which was really the party of the year if you ask me. It was an amazing event that P. Diddy had. We were just hanging out having a good time and on walks Bowyer and Harvick and a couple other folks. I don’t know, it was a great New Year’s. I enjoyed myself very much.”
HOW ENTHUSIASTIC ARE YOU ABOUT GETTING RID OF THE COT? “I think that’s just part of when you’ve been in the sport long enough, you get accustomed to a certain, especially when you come into the sport to drive a car a certain way and that’s what got you there and you come to adapt to it quickly and had success. When things change in a big way, it’s how you change along with them and the longer you’re in the sport, the harder it is for you to make those transitions. I think the COT definitely played that kind of a role with me. If you come into it when the COT came along, you can adapt to it fairly quickly. When you’ve gone through all the changes and I felt like I kind of dealt with the same thing with the big rear springs and the big front sway bars and just took longer to adapt to them and did very well. I feel like this year it’s kind of the same thing. It’s all new with a different car, different down force levels and we just have to adapt to them. Some are going to do better than others and I hope that our team and myself make for a good combination to be able to keep up with those changes. The test at Charlotte next week, when I tested Charlotte last year the rules were a little bit different. They didn’t have all the down force that the car has. It’s gone through this kind of wave where it was down force, no down force, lots of down force. I look forward to getting back in the car in Charlotte next week to see what that package is like and how it drives and the kind of feedback I’m able to give the team to go faster. Tire-wise, I don’t remember those changes in the tires back then. I certainly know the changes in the tires in recent years that I haven’t done a very good job at. Maybe it was similar to that back in the days.”
DID YOU AND CLINT BOWYER LEAVE THE BOAT AS FRIENDS? “I don’t remember seeing him leave the boat.”
DID YOU TALK WITH CLINT BOWYER? “We talked. We talked. I had a great New Year’s.”
DO YOU THINK TOYOTA OR ANY MANUFACTURER HAS AN ADVANTAGE WITH THE NEW CAR? “Can’t tell yet until we get out there drafting. I know when we were down here or when our cars were at Talladega testing I spoke to Kasey Kahne and the shape of the nose of the Chevrolet for pushing if it’s a pushing and tandem drafting type of race that our noses don’t seem to line-up as good as some others. But then it just comes down to cooling and getting air into the grill. That little piece that NASCAR has added to the bottom of the rear bumpers seems to have addressed that. I don’t see where anybody has an advantage at this point.”
DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THERE BEING MORE MANUFACTURERS LOBBYING IN NASCAR AGAIN? “I think NASCAR has gotten very smart over the years through trial and error and just experience. You’re talking about a totally different situation. I’ve been telling this story a lot lately about 1995 when the Monte Carlo came along and it was a dominant race car. It was basically taking the street version and turning it into a race car. It was superior to the competition. It really became a race among Chevrolets that year. That was a different greenhouse, a different rear deck lid, a different nose. This car that we have here where I think they’ve gotten very smart is they each have their own identity and they’re great looking cars, but the important aspects that keep the cars as equal as possible are the same. The greenhouse, how that air meets that rear spoiler. Even the noses have different characteristics to them and in the wind tunnel they are all very, very close. I may be wrong, but until we get through some races I don’t think we’ll really, really know. Usually by this point, if we felt like we were at a big disadvantage you would already be hearing about it.
“I feel like right now we’re as good as anybody out there. I don’t see where anybody has any distinct advantage manufacturer-wise. There are some pluses and minuses to that. At one point I think NASCAR wanted to get away from some of that and say, ‘We don’t want to go through that process throughout a year where one has a distinct advantage and one is lobbying and trying to get a little more spoiler.’ I remember when there was one getting a little more spoiler, one getting more kick in the nose and all these things. Yet, that also had a lot of buzz and people talking about and really getting behind their manufacturer to try to either get them help or support the good things that are happening. It’s always interesting trying to figure out what things are going to bring the most entertainment and excitement and draw the most attention from the media, the fans and the viewers that are going to keep this sport great.
“To me, I think we’ve got a great car, great looking car and it’s driving very well. There’s a lot of buzz and I think the racing is going to be great. I think our racing has been great. I haven’t had issues with the racing. I think it’s been fantastic. The double-file restarts helped a lot to keep the intensity and the racing exciting. Of course we’re always trying to think about evolution of how aerodynamics are playing a role. That’s across the board in motorsports. The lead car having an advantage over the second-place car and how do we create more passing and all those things. I still think we are so far better than the rest of the racing out there that I still think even if we have a little of that aero turbulent air, the dirty air and all that stuff, I still think our racing is the best out there. Something that we can all continue to progress with.”