Hendrick Motorsports racers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon set the fastest times among the 26 drivers taking part in this morning's open test at Talladega Superspeedway with Sprint Cup cars equipped with the new spoiler, rather than the rear wing designed for the Car of Tomorrow chassis. Afterward, Gordon met with the media to discuss how the revised cars performed.
Q. Could you talk about how it felt in the single-car runs, and I know you were part of a mini draft toward the end…
Jeff Gordon: Yeah, you know, we made some single-car runs. Didn't do a whole lot of like qualifying runs or anything like that. Felt like we learned some things, enough to where we could go ahead and start getting in the draft.
There were about five of us out there. It was definitely productive. Nothing eye-opening. Felt like it went well. The cars have a little bit more turbulent air when you're behind other cars. Makes the car rattle and shake a little bit more, which I heard was similar to what the Nationwide cars have.
So, no big surprise there. A little bit of visual – not necessarily behind you, but when you're behind a car, because the corners of the spoiler are real tall. Just seeing across those corners to the side of somebody, trying to look farther ahead. But, other than that, I thought everything went really well.
Q. Jeff, you touched on the visibility. Michael Waltrip said if they made the spoiler out of acrylic, it would help the racing. Would it help you visibility-wise? Will make the racing better?
Jeff Gordon: We certainly hope so. I think the races are pretty darn good here to begin with. It's hard to make them a whole lot better. We've seen the evolution of aerodynamics and the draft with two cars being able to connect together with the wing here the last few races and get a little bit of a breakaway.
You know, I think that's what's gonna be unique and probably the biggest challenge is trying to figure out if we can do that with this car. With only a five-car pack out there, there wasn't a lot of that that materialized. When more cars get in the pack this afternoon, we'll find out more.
I think the car looks really cool. You know, I think that there's some benefits that are going to come along with it, not only here, but at a lot of the other tracks that we go to.
I mean, it's hard to have a bad race at Talladega, in my opinion. You know, I think that you're still gonna have guys have strategies of wanting to be at the front versus maybe wanting to hang in the back. You know, you're still gonna see some big pile-ups, bump-drafting, you're going to see a lot of passing for the lead, which to me is what we've had here at Talladega for the last several years.
The last race, or maybe sometime last year, they were criticizing the single-file race during the middle. But that's just because it's 500 miles and you've got to make it to the end. Then all the action's gonna happen. That's just sort of a product that it's so easy to pass. Until we get more cars out there, we'll find out if it's maybe a little bit harder to pass.
Q. Moving on to Bristol. It seems as if a majority of the drivers have really liked the Bristol configurations that we've had the past couple of years. But a majority of the fans – at least those who have e-mail – don't. Is there kind of a happy medium that can be reached at that track?
Jeff Gordon: Possibly. With the SAFER barriers making the track narrower, it might make it a little bit harder to get side by side and make passes. That might give the fans what they want. You're going to have to use your bumper a lot more to make those passes happen, which causes more cautions and excitement and sparks and tempers, all those things. It's obvious the fans, the majority of ones who have e-mail, what they want.
I think as drivers, we like a track that's not a one-groove racetrack. That's what they did at Bristol, they created a multi-groove racetrack where we could get side by side, get our nose, get completely underneath or to the outside of a car and race ‘em clean for the pass, but still be able to make those passes.
You know, I still think it's great racing at Bristol. I think it's some of the best we've ever seen. But that's not always what the fans, you know, want. So I think this should be a happy medium with narrowing up the racetrack, but we'll see.
Q. When NASCAR brought the bump-drafting back in, how do you think that affected the racing at Daytona and what do you anticipate at Talladega this time around?
Jeff Gordon: Well, you know, I never thought that the bump-drafting went away. I mean, it was always there. It was maybe not as aggressive. So I think that now you're able to see us be more aggressive. You don't see that as much at Daytona because handling is such an issue at Daytona that you can't really push one another through the corners there.
So when we come here [Talladega] is when we're really going to put that to the test, just how aggressive we can be bump-drafting. Then, you know, you throw the spoiler in there, the restrictor plate, that's definitely going to, I think, certainly make things challenging and interesting from a driver standpoint of how we're going to be able to work those things, what it's going to take to win the race and stay out of trouble at the same time.
I think that this is really truly where it's going to be put to the test, not Daytona. So we didn't see a whole lot of change and difference at Daytona, but we definitely will when we come here. Even this afternoon, we start getting out there in larger packs, we'll just see how easy it is to bump-draft, how aggressive you can get with the bump-drafting. Obviously we're not under the competitiveness of a race weekend, so we'll try to still be somewhat in control. But when we get here for the race, I'm pretty sure it's going to get wild and crazy.Q. Very seldom here do we see people with a dominant racecar. I think the last time you won here, you were running the Pepsi Star Wars car. You seemed to have a car that could do just about anything you wanted to do with it. What as a driver tells you you've got a really good car at Talladega?
Jeff Gordon: Well, these days with the new car, the new aerodynamic package, restrictor plate, if you see a dominant car out there it's because the guys behind him are letting him lead. They're like, “Yeah, you go ahead, and I'm fine right here because I know when it comes down to the end of this race, all I need is one or two guys with momentum and we're going to drive right by you.”
It's not the way it used to be. You know, dominant performances that I've seen here in the past with Earnhardt, myself, you know, it was just…aerodynamics were completely different, so if you had good power under the hood and you got out front, you could use your mirrors and block the cars behind you and prevent them from getting the momentum it took.
It used to take four or five guys to all get together and work together to make a pass on the leader. And now it's really not like that anymore. Now, you know, it takes two, maybe three to make that pass and that push happen.
So any dominance you see today, it's only by choice of the other competitors. It's interesting that you'll see that. You know, you'll see a guy get up front. I've seen Junior or Harvick, a couple of ‘em, they get up front there, they get the right guys behind them, run that high lane, everybody seems to be content at that point in the race. Away you go. You let one guy lead a bunch of the laps.
But it's really just a matter of laps and time, to get to the right point in the race where you start thinking, “OK, now I've got to make my move.” You're gonna see the whole field spread out and start getting two- and three-wide and start passing, doing all the things to try to win the race.
Q. Did you ever really get comfortable with winged cars? Are you glad to see them kind of on their way out?
Jeff Gordon: Yeah, I was never crazy about the way the wing was mounted on the back of the car. When I envision a wing being put on our car, I envisioned it a little bit more like a Trans-Am car, where it was raised up, more of a cool-looking concept, and also fit a function of aerodynamics, just made the cars a little bit more futuristic.
But, the wing that we put on there was just a glorified spoiler. It sat down on the deck lid. It wasn't very appealing. We weren't really using it efficiently. So, when I heard about going back to spoilers, I was totally fine with it. This car looks good with a spoiler on it. You know, from what I'm hearing, we're going to get more downforce in the car.
The balance is really what we're interested in; how much the balance is going to change versus just overall grip. You know, if it plants the back of the car too much, we're just out of tools to make the front of the car work in turn. But we're kind of hoping that it actually helps the front of the car turn a little bit, too.
So I'm very anxious to get to Charlotte. This test is really what's going to happen in the draft. You're not going to find a lot about balance and those things, plus the spoiler is bigger on this car. When we get to Charlotte I think is when we're going to find out what a spoiler really does in comparison to a wing.
Q. Did you think at some point they were going to alter this design, go to a spoiler to make it look more like the cars used to, what you were used to driving?
Jeff Gordon: You never know. When they were developing this car, there is a lot that went on. A lot of us weren't sure if we ever were going to have this car. When the reality of it came that, yes, we were going to have this car, we really started getting serious about it. When we got serious about it, there were definitely some issues that could only be worked out through seasons of racing and getting out there and doing battle and really learning about it.
I feel like really over the last year, we've really gotten this car dialed in good. I think we've learned a lot about how to make it work well and race well. So, you know, this is a change. I'm hoping and thinking that it's going to be a change for the better. But I'm very supportive of it, open to it.
After going through all the big changes with the car we have now, I realize that anything's possible. I try not to have too many opinions before we go and test it and get into race conditions.
But, the fans seem to be supportive of it, as well. That's important. So I think if it's good for the competitors, good for the fans, then I think it's great for the entire sport. I'm very supportive of that. I look forward to getting it out there in race conditions.