Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi MAX Chevrolet, met with media and discussed learning the new race car, the softer Goodyear tire, Danica Patrick’s performance at Daytona, an extra day of testing in Las Veqas, and more.
WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING ABOUT THE NEW RACE CAR? “The car’s got good grip and I think the tire and the car combination is a good one. It feels good out there. We’re proud to have Pepxi MAX aboard our Chevy SS this weekend. We’re looking forward to getting more laps in the car and we just shook it down in race trim and then did some qualifying runs. The car had good speed and we didn’t draw the best of (qualifying) numbers, so we’re going to try to make the most of our qualifying effort here and then get prepared tomorrow.”
TONY STEWART SAID YOU’LL BE SPENDING THE NEXT FEW WEEKS LEARNING ABOUT THE CAR. AT DAYTONA, IT SEEMED LIKE YOU PRACTICED FOREVER. DO YOU FEEL LIKE MAYBE YOU NEED MORE PRACTICE TIME WHEN YOU GO TO THESE NEXT FEW TRACKS? “Absolutely; any time things change with as drastic of a change that we’ve had for this year with the new car, you want as much time on the track as you can. In Daytona, those of us who were in the Sprint Unlimited felt like we got a good amount of track time in real race conditions to get the idea of what the car was going to draft like out of our system in enough laps there. Here, we want to go fast. We want to qualify good. That’s going to be a huge key to the race this weekend. And once we get through qualifying, then we’re going to want to try to get as many laps as we can.
“I was a little surprised we didn’t have an extra day here, where we do have an extra day next week at Vegas because I think this track can be just as tricky to figure out as Vegas. But we’re just going to make the most of the time that we have. You’re certainly not going to see us sitting out any practices (here) like you did at Daytona.”
IS THIS TRACK DIFFICULT TO PASS ON? “Yes and no. It seems to be like that last couple of times we’ve been here that the groove has widened out and the cars on the longer run have gotten tricky to get into certain sections of the corner. Like in Turn 1 under braking, it’s hard to be consistent with that entry as the air pressure builds up and the heat builds up in the tires. So, sometimes that opens it up for opportunities. But other than that, yeah, this is typically a tough place to pass on, especially since they repaved it.”
ON THE TRACK SURFACE AND THE TIRES AND THE WEATHER “I was very pleased with everything I felt out there. I thought the tire and the track conditions were not as edgy and unpredictable as what we’ve seen in the past here, which tells me that the pavement is aging, which is a good thing. The tire, luckily Goodyear came and did some testing here and found that now we’ve lost a little grip in this track and now we can soften this tire up and maybe we can have some falloff over a longer run. So, everything I think has come together pretty nicely.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS TESTING FOR YOU NEXT WEEK? “It’s very important. If they’d give us an extra day going into every race track, we’d take advantage of it. When you have telemetry on the car, especially on a race weekend, and you can gather that much information and learn more about the loads and the bumps and what the car is going through; ride heights of the front splitter and all those things, it’s valuable information that we will utilize and try to make the most of it for Sunday.”
DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME? “Well, not until you just brought it up. It’s hard to get away from it. They’re still using it to advertise for the race and it was a big story. We’re really focused on this new car. Luckily we’ve got enough things going on that it takes your mind off of it once you get out there on the track. We’re just focused on getting the most out of the car and having a good, solid, and fast race car and a good weekend. So, at this point, I’m not thinking about it.”
ON HOW HE WILL RACE CLINT BOWYER “You know, I’m going to race him the way that I’ve always raced him. We’ll race hard. We’ll race hard for position and hopefully we don’t have any incidents. I can’t run every lap worrying about every guy I’ve ever had an incident with.”
NOW THAT YOU’VE PRACTICED AT PIR, HOW DOES THE NEW CAR COMPARE TO LAST YEAR’S CAR? “Well, ask me that question after next week. I can tell you the difference between here with the older car. Again, the tire is different and that changes things. But it feels great. It’s got good grip and the car drives really well. But that pushes you to be more aggressive with it and then you start finding the limitations. And that’s what a race car is supposed to do. And so far, I’m enjoying the characteristics. You’ve got to understand too, it’s not just the body and the aerodynamics; it’s some of the things that NASCAR changed for this year (like) the bushings and the splitter structure. It’s just a lot of things that they’ve implemented (like) no rear sway bars that we’re trying to learn and understand and then a lot of downforce in this car. So, far, everything that I can feel in making runs by myself is very positive. But I’d really like to see what happens once we get out there with more cars and in a race and understand what kind of characteristics we’re going to be dealing with and how important is track position. With this car, are we going to be able to dive to the outside and make some moves? Or how close are you going to be to be able to get up to the guy to turn underneath him? All those types of things we won’t really know until we go through a race.”
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE JERRY CLEMENTS DECISION BY NASCAR? “I think that it’s very clear to me that NASCAR has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to things that are detrimental to the sport and that could have a negative impact on the sport. Obviously I don’t know all the details, but obviously whatever was said drew them to that conclusion that it was something that really could impact the sport negatively.”
THIRTEEN (13) DRIVERS HAVE LED THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 AND THE DAYTONA 500 AND DANICA PATRICK JOINED THAT LIST LAST WEEKEND. WHAT SORT OF ACCOMPLISHMENT IS THAT FOR HER? “That’s a big deal. That’s huge. I’ve never run in an Indy 500, but I don’t feel like it’s really easy to lead an Indy 500 and I watched Indy 500’s where she led and it wasn’t like it was just under caution or anything like that. She got herself in position. I saw her have some great runs at Indy.
“And Daytona, typically I would say it’s not the hardest place to lead at, but this particular Daytona 500 was very difficult to lead at. So, I think that it’s quite an accomplishment and I thought she did a great job all day to keep herself in position. I know she probably feels like she made a little mistake there at the end, and lost some positions, but to come out of there with a solid run like she did was a great way to get the season started.”
THERE SEEMS TO BE A PRETTY GOOD FIELD OF YOUNG DRIVERS. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE YOUNG DRIVERS? “Give me some names.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI “He’s a young driver? (laughter) I’m thinking (in their) twenties. Ah, that’s a young driver to me. I think Ricky (Stenhouse) is a great talent. I love his background with dirt track and the way he’s brought himself up through to this level. He’s got a lot of talent. Keselowski has impressed me. He’s not a guy that I think a lot of people had on their radar as being able to come into the sport and take an organization that has never won a championship and get them to a championship. It is talent, but it’s also just willing to work just as hard as you can and do whatever it takes and he’s got that great work ethic. So, as far as those two guys, those are pretty high on my list.”
CONSIDERING THE POPULARITY OF THE RAINBOW WARRIORS BACK IN THE DAY, DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAN COME TO YOU AND SAY HE BECAME A FAN OF YOURS BECAUSE OF THE BRIGHT COLORS OF THE CAR? “Absolutely; primarily with kids, it just seemed like the neon colors just stood out so much. And it’s funny now. And actually, this just happened this past weekend in Daytona. I met a young lady who was 30 years old and she shows me a picture of when she was 10, and she was this big and now she’s this big and she was saying how big of a fan she was because of the bright colors of the car.
“So just recently I had an experience where; I think a lot of young new fans, when they watch for the first time whether they’re at the track or at home, they go okay, who am I going to pull for? And they either do it based on the driver in an interview, or they do it on the car. And we had a lot of people that became new fans of mine because of the rainbow-colored car.”
ON THE JEREMY CLEMENTS ISSUE, DO YOU THINK YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT HE SAID? DOES THAT MATTER? “Personally, I’d like to know. I don’t think it’s anything that I ever would worry about myself saying or getting in that situation, but I’d like to understand the situation and the environment that it was in. That’s obviously a pretty severe penalty; and I think whatever his actions were, must have been pretty severe. But just out of curiosity, I’d like to know. From what I understand if I asked the proper person, I might be able to get that information.”
ON THE NEW TRACK-DRYING TECHNOLOGY, WE HAVEN’T SEEN IT IN ACTION YET, BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK OF IT? “Oh, I was so hoping to see that last week at Daytona (laughs). I thought it was going to rain Sunday morning and I thought it would clear out just in time for them to get that thing out there and see how fast it could dry.”
HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK IT IS JUST TO KEEP FANS ENGAGED IN THE RACE TO HAVE THAT TECHNOLOGY? “Oh, I think it’s important. I think it’s been a long-time coming. Obviously it’s not perfect and it needs some work, but it’s a great step. These fans, if you had the opportunity to get a race in and keep the fans engaged at home as well as here at the track, for all that they go through to get here and potentially either keep them from having to leave because it’s just getting late and they have to go home for work the next day, or to prevent it (the race) from having to go to the next day, I think that’s huge. I’d like to see more tracks have it available.”