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TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
OCTOBER 21, 2011
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Talladega Superspeedway and discussed the Dan Wheldon tragedy, the rule changes, two-car draft, racing in Martinsville and more. Full transcript.
OBVIOUSLY YOU KNEW DAN (WHELDON), WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS HOW DOES IT IMPACT YOU COMING BACK TO WORK TO DO YOUR JOB? “I mean that was a devastating crash all the way around. Obviously losing Dan was just something that I still am pretty shocked about, but the overall wreck itself, I just watch it and can’t believe what I’m seeing. I know that what we do here especially at Talladega is dangerous and we’re taking risks but I still feel like we have a tremendously safe race car in our series here. What you saw there, I’m not saying that we don’t have the potential of injuries but its comparing apples to oranges. Yes, it’s racing but it’s totally a different type of racing. To me its business as usual, come here and go out and practice and start seeing what we’ve got for the race. You can’t sit there and think and worry as a race car driver about some of those less fortunate situations that can happen to you on the race track. You really just focus on doing your job and hopefully keeping the car going straight will help you do that.”
HAS THERE EVER BEEN A TIME WHEN YOU FELT LIKE IT WASN’T SAFE FOR YOU TO CLIMB INTO THE CAR AND DO YOUR JOB? “Well you know sometimes you don’t realize how unsafe it is until you see how safe it can be. I look back on the HANS device. I remember when the HANS device was first created and I saw somebody wearing it and I was that thing is stupid and it’s uncomfortable and that will never work. Now I can’t imagine getting into a race car without it. The same way with the safer barriers, after you hit a wall with the safer barrier and hit one without it, it’s a big difference. I look back to, and I don’t remember what year it was maybe ’99 when I hit the wall at Texas (Motor Speedway) after I blew a right front tire and I look back and I think I’m somewhat lucky. That was a time when we were right on the edge with tire failures, we had no safer barriers, no HANS devices, no carbon-fiber seats, we had flimsy aluminum head supports and I hit that wall really, really hard and I feel like I’m very luck. Right now we’re at a great place and until we find the weak link from what we have I feel very fortunate to be in these race cars in this series.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THAT RUN JIMMIE (JOHNSON) HAD COMING OUT OF HERE IN ’06, HE HAD FIVE STRAIGHT FINISHES OF FIRST OR SECOND, HOW REALISTIC IS SOMETHING LIKE THAT GIVEN HOW COMPETITIVE IT IS TODAY? “Anything is possible. If you’re a good enough team, then it’s possible and that’s what makes them so dangerous. They are capable of pulling those types of finishes together when you might not expect it. There are a couple of other teams out there that are capable of doing that as well. You can’t count anybody out yet.”
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT THAT, HOW IMPRESSIVE IS A RUN LIKE THAT? “It was definitely impressive. I still think we could have won that championship that year even with them doing that. I feel like we didn’t do our job when we went to Phoenix and we faltered, and there was one other place. We just didn’t do a good enough job there. They did a fantastic job. They did everything they possibly could and then we gave up a little bit and they win the championship. It’s great seeing what they’ve accomplished. That’s a great year for us. 2007 was amazing to be able to battle those guys to be as close with them as we were. Yeah, they’ve done some miraculous things for sure. You can look at ’07, how they finished out the season to five in a row and still be in contention for six in a row. It’s pretty incredible to see what they’ve accomplished.”
YOU SAID YOU EXPECT BUSINESS AS USUAL, DO YOU EXPECT ANY MORE GIVE AND TAKE AMONG THE COMPETITORS? “Because of what happened? No, I don’t, not at all. Like I said it’s a separate incident, separate series, different race cars, different race track. I don’t think that makes us race any more cautiously or do anything more different than we normally would do. We’re not out here trying to wreck. We’re not out here trying to send cars into the fence, we’re just out here racing and accidents and mistakes are going to be made. There will be consequences due to that but it doesn’t change anything we’re going to do out there on the race track.”
HOW DIFFERENT DO YOU THINK THE RACING WILL LOOK BECAUSE OF THESE RULE CHANGES, THE PLATE AND THE POP OFF VALVE? “Not much. We’ll find out a little bit more here today and I’ll know better probably after this practice. My only concern is the swapping. I think swapping more causes more incidents and opportunities to really get in the back of one another because the closing rate is so fast, especially if guys start doing it in the middle of the pack and you can’t always choose when you do it. You’re engine gets hot and you cannot allow that pop off valve to go off so you have to switch and you have to do it right then and there could be six cars coming hard. That’s the part that I don’t necessarily agree with because I think that while we’re gonna take steps here towards not having the two-car draft working we’ve learned to much and we know that it works and we’re going to do everything we can to continue to make it work until we get to one other’s bumpers and we spin one another out, that’s when we stop doing it. Then we’ll still do it down the straightaway.”
DO YOU TAKE FACTORS INTO CONSIDERATION LIKE SWITCHING WHEN YOU’RE TRYING TO PICK YOUR DRAFTING PARTNER? “I’m fortunate. I’ve got a teammate in Mark Martin who is a great drafting partner. He’s as committed as I am to working together and we work well together on the radio and talking through stuff and knowing what we’ve got to do. I like his experience and his talent so unless something happens to him – at that point everybody is teamed up together so if you lose your guy then basically you just go to the next available option and try to make it work. There’s not a whole lot of picking and choosing at that point.”
I KNOW YOU LOVE RUNNING PRETTY MUCH EVERY WHERE BUT IS IT SAFE TO SAY MARTINSVILLE PERHAPS IS YOUR FAVORITE TRACK? “I wouldn’t say my favorite track. I go there with a lot of confidence knowing the challenges that track has and it seems like we get into a rhythm and be able to be very competitive there no matter what the cars and tires and everything else is and I hope that continues. There are tracks that I like better but there are few tracks that I feel as confident as I do going to Martinsville.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST UNIQUE THING ABOUT MARTINSVILLE AS A DRIVER? “I think it’s just trying to get deep in the corners without overdriving the corners. To me the entry sets up the exit there. It’s such a tight radius corner and brakes are so important. How you get into the corner helps you roll through the middle of the corner and get back to the throttle early. So it’s really just how you can get deep into the corner without cooking the brakes and still get the car to turn in the middle.”
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE NICKNAME OF A TRACK? “I’m not big on nicknames I’ll be honest. I usually don’t call people by their nickname and I usually don’t refer to race tracks by their nicknames. So no I guess not, sorry.”
WHEN DALE JR. TAKES TO THE LEAD (AT TALLADEGA) THE WHOLE PLACE SORT OF RISES UP AND ROARS, CAN YOU SENSE THAT IN THE RACE CAR WHEN THAT HAPPENS? “Yeah, absolutely. It’s a big place, long straightaways, you’ve got a lot of time to look around. It depends on what situation you are in but even if you don’t see it physically with your eyes you sense it. You know how excited they get around here when Junior is leading and battling for the win.”
WHY DO YOU THINK HE IS SO POPULAR IN ALABAMA? “I think it goes back to his dad. It speaks volumes about our core fan especially the fan base here. This is the die-hards of the die-hards in our sport. When you look at the history of our sport this fan base is what made the sport. I think Junior really symbolizes that and where the sport has come from. I think he’s still able to carry that on and maintain that.”
YOU DEFINITELY NOTICE WHEN THERE’S BUD LIGHTS BEING CHUNKED AT YOU FROM THE 100TH ROW. “That’s right. No doubt about that. That’s a good problem to have. I hope I have that problem here this Sunday.”
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