THE MODERATOR: We’ll start here with Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. If you would talk about the test session thus far and what you’ve learned.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it’s been really good for us. You know, our car was quick right away yesterday, so pretty happy with all the hard work that has gone into coming down here and preparation for Daytona. So excited about this whole year, really, and having a great car here at the test. So that’s all good.
You know, I don’t know if we learned a whole lot more than normal for the runs that we made all day yesterday and up until lunchtime today, pretty much typical just single car runs, qualifying stuff, and then we did do some drafting, which is very interesting. With the smaller spoiler and restrictor plate, cars have a lot of power, a lot of speed, and definitely that has changed things a bit. You know, the pushing is a little bit unique and different. The cars aren’t quite as stable as they were, but yet and we can’t go as long, which I think is the goal.
You know, we did some more drafting and really I mean, I wish more than anything that we couldn’t push at all, because gosh, I had so much fun out there today in those big packs when we weren’t pushing. You can pass and the cars are moving around a little bit and kind of just reminds me of the good old days.
Q. They keep trying different things, they keep trying to break up the two car tandem. Do you realistically see any way that they’re already big pack racing again, that they’ll be able to get to a point where the two car tandem will go away?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I think we’re always going now that we know that we can push and as long as the bumpers are lined up if we had known this 10, 15, 20 years ago, we would have done it then, too, or figured out how to do it. So I think that now that it’s here, it’s always going to be here.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s all you’re going to see all day in the race, in the 500. I think that if they may have to limit us a little bit more on the cooling, and I’m not saying I don’t have ideas and thoughts on what exactly they should do, but I think we’re probably going a little bit further than what they thought we would.
If we had to swap, then there’s not a big advantage of the tandem drafting for the majority of the day, but you’ll still you’re going to have to win the race with it. And so you might see some more pack racing.
But I think that if we get it figured out how to maintain those temps, then you will, you’ll see it all day long. But it looks like it’s more challenging, more difficult, and especially if we’re in a pack trying to do it. I’m not saying it’s going to be eliminated, but I don’t think it’s going to be what we’ve seen in the past. I think you’re going to see more pack racing, more cars driving in packs, and it’s the 500 is a long race. Survival is important, and you’ve got to figure out what is going to get you there to the end so that you can hook up with somebody and win the race.
But you cannot deny, whether it’s for a lap, a half a lap, or three laps, when you can pick up 10, 15 miles per hour, then you’re going to do it.
Q. (No microphone.)
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I do. I don’t think that’s going to change. And I think it’s a combination of some of the aero testing that NASCAR has done with what they call that shark fin or whatever. I think some of that has allowed them to increase the speeds and feel comfortable with the cars as they spin and stay on the ground.
They’re also at the same time trying to I think they found that the more power you have, the faster that you go, the less blade that you have, the harder it is to stay connected and to do the tandem drafting. So I think it’s kind of working in their favor in a couple ways. And I think seeing those 200 plus mile per hour laps out there is pretty exciting.
Q. When NASCAR kind of told you guys to do the big pack draft or strongly suggested or whatever you want to call it, it seemed like kind of an unusual situation. We don’t see that that often. Were you okay with that? Is that fair game, I guess?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. If their reason for asking us to participate is to determine where everything really is at with the package that they have brought here, and if they’re going to think about tweaking it at all, I think we all have to be in just like we have to give our opinions on what we’re feeling out there, we also have to contribute to give them all that we can as a team, as drivers, to help them make the best decisions as they go forward.
They asked a favor out of us, and I think we were happy to do it. It was a little wilder out there than I anticipated. I think they left a few things out of the instructions on the drafting because once we got out there, I thought we were like five to go in the Daytona 500. It was pretty wild.
I think it gave them some good information, and us, as well. So I think it was a win win for everybody.
Q. Two things: The first one, it’s funny, you mentioned the good old days and that’s what a lot of people have come in and said today, it felt like the good old days. Does it really feel like the good old days are so far behind you?
JEFF GORDON: Certainly when it comes to drafting at Daytona, yeah. I mean, pretty much every race that I’ve won here was won in a type of drafting style where you had to plan to pass and work yourself into position every single lap of that race, and it took several laps to try to make a pass on the car, whether they were the lead car or fifth place or whatever it may be.
Every lap it was important to maintain that position that you had up towards the front and hold onto it and watch your mirrors, not let anybody get runs on you from behind, and then utilize the cars behind you to get some runs to pass, to try to win the race.
These days the shuffling just goes back and forth, back and forth, and it just seems like the passing and getting passed is it’s kind of easy in some ways, and it’s really as much about timing and luck as it is about planning it and really trying to come up with a strategy and what the car is doing and working the air around you and stuff. There’s still a lot of that but just not like it used to be. I know those days have passed us by.
Q. The other thing I wanted to ask you about is Kasey Kahne joining the team this year. You were one of his heroes when he was coming up and just starting racing. What kind of interaction have you had with him, and what does he bring, and Kenny Francis?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, I think they’re a great addition. I think they’re a great package. They seem to really get along well and understand one another well. Kenny is a super smart guy. I think he’s a great crew chief, and I think that Kasey is one of the top drivers in the series. We’re thrilled to have them with Hendrick. I had fun working with them today and can’t wait to work with them all year long. Kasey and I have been texting one another back and forth all last year. Every time that we were fast in qualifying or won a race, he was texting me, and I kept telling him, we’re just getting things ready for when you come. You know, we’ve been talking about having some fun with that for a long time, and I’m really looking forward to it.
And I think they add a lot, as well, because they’re like I said, they’re a great package.
Q. You were asked on TV earlier about the speeds, and I think you said something like I’ve never done it before, drafting at these speeds, and I’ve always wanted to do it. 200 miles an hour has always been sort of a taboo number. Did drivers prove a point with the conditions almost simulating what they might be like in a race where they were so wild, the drivers maybe proved to NASCAR they can handle it? And it sounds like you were comfortable but did you sense that everybody was comfortable at that level?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I’m not you’re right, and even for me, I went up to Darby and said, we can’t run these speeds, right? Surely you’re going to slow us down because it’s embedded in our minds that we can’t go over 200 miles per hour out there in race conditions. And when I saw their reaction of, no, not so much, we feel like we’ve learned some things and we’re okay with that, somehow it’s become accepted, and I think that’s a good thing.
But I don’t think that it really had anything to do with us proving it. I think they’re fine with us being out there doing it. I think they’re happy obviously to see that.
But I think a lot of it was just getting their data and information that made them feel comfortable with cars out there. A lot of things have changed since cars were going airborne here at over 200 miles per hour, and not saying that cars won’t still get airborne, but I think they’ve learned some things that are going to help with it dramatically, and I think that these speeds are more what I feel like this track is capable of and what we should be running here. Not that the fans are going to sit there and go oh, that car is doing 190 and that car is doing 205, I think the racing is going to be a little bit better at those speeds.
There was moments I wasn’t very comfortable, but I any you know, the thing is when they repaved this racetrack, the grip level became so good and the track so smooth that what we used to have here when tires would wear out and you’d slip and slide around and you had your hands full when you had to drive it and that was one of the fun things about Daytona, and when they repaved it, it took a lot of that away. So I think these speeds are getting back to some of that where it’s a little bit more in the drivers’ hands, and I think that’s a good thing.
Q. John Darby during one of the times he was in here the last couple days talked about he thought it was important that in the qualifying aspect cars were really going too slow to be of any kind of entertainment value. Have you noticed what kind of difference have you noticed being able to go like 194, 195 in qualifying?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think, that’s one of I’ve been saying for years, I wish we could run a different restrictor plate or different spoiler for qualifying just because in single car runs we’re able to go so much faster, and it’s a lot different obviously when you’re in a group of cars doing those speeds and aerodynamics start to become play a big role. I’m very comfortable and feel good about it’s nice to see those speeds, but I wish we were going 20 miles per hour faster for qualifying, and then I wish that we could get it back down to about where we are now. I think that would be really cool to just see, just how fast we could I mean, it’s very comfortable, put it that way. It’s extremely comfortable.
Q. Speaking of comfortable, this is kind of like a fan question. How are you most comfortable with fans and could you share with fans it’s your role, but then again, you get to enjoy it, too?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah. You know, I try to always go back to when I was younger, growing up and looked up to people like Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt and got autographs at racetracks from sprint car drivers like Steve Kinser. It blows me away that there are people out there that are as avid as they are, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get 100 percent comfortable with that because that’s very humbling and gratifying thing to accept. But and when I look back and put myself in those shoes, that to me was so cool to be able to meet my hero and get their autograph or have them say something to me or get a picture, and to know that there are people out there like that that feel that way about me is amazing.
We get caught up in the moment of this is our job and we’re trying to compete for the Daytona 500 and all these things, and sometimes you go, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m sorry I can’t do it right now, I can’t do it right now. But at the end of the day you have to remind yourself how important they are to the sport, how important they are to you because of what they share and what they go through as fans to come here, whether they travel or whatever it is, and to stand there on the fence and yell your name, hope that they get that opportunity to meet you or get an autograph. That’s pretty unbelievable.
So I have to remind myself to be very thankful of that and put myself back in the shoes of myself when I was a kid doing that same thing.
Q. Would you be willing to; if they wanted to pump up qualifying, would you be willing to just run two laps around here without a restrictor plate?
JEFF GORDON: Sure, absolutely. I can say that now because I’m sitting here.
You know, I think without the restrictor plate it actually makes us have to do a lot of different things to the car because I was talking to Martin Truex today and he was talking about how they ran like 210 or something here testing not too long ago and that he was dragging everything off the bottom of the car it was hitting so hard because of the speed. So it’s not just that easy where you can take off the plate and go run. There’s a lot of things that come along with it. I don’t know how Goodyear feels about those speeds and how prepared they are for that, as well. But I would certainly like to do it. I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve always wanted to do it at Talladega. These cars have so much downforce and drag that you kind of reach terminal velocity even with all that horsepower. I think the cars would be still comfortable to drive but a little bit more driving would be needed. But I think it would be awesome.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time today. Best of luck in 2012.