Jeff Gordon met with Daytona media Wednesday to discuss the Budweiser Shootout, bump drafting, new and potential rule changes, Danica Patrick and more.
Do you feel like there was a lot of bump drafting in the Shootout? How different or similar do you think the Duels and the 500 will be?
I didn't think that it was over the top or anything like that. And it's pretty typical here in the closing laps when the intensity starts to really crank up. The bump drafting starts to get more intense. And it's “bump-pushing” almost here because you can't do it in the corners, you can only do it on the straightaways and that's just a product of the grip level and the way the cars handle here. We saw a lot of that happening as the laps wound down and you'll see more of that, not so much on Thursday, but on Sunday, absolutely. It's the Daytona 500. You'll see plenty of it.
Does everybody understand that you can't do it in the corners? When the race is on the line, does that all go away? Do they get anxious and will there be craziness?
Yeah – what would you do to win the Daytona 500? I think there are some guys out there that they know exactly what happens when they run into the back of somebody in the corners, but they're willing to take the risk to try to win the Daytona 500. You certainly don't mind moving a guy and sometimes you have to do that, especially if it's for the win. If it's for 15th place, it doesn't make any sense. But if it's for the win, I think pretty much any guy out there would do that.
How much different is the racing going to be with the sun out and temperatures up?
Temperatures aren't going to be up much. It was pretty slick the other night but, yeah, the track temp will be up from the other night. And that's why we're doing some of the things we're doing today in practice to just try to get the car driving as good as we can because handling is going to be really important on Sunday.
What are the advantages of being in the Shootout?
I've always felt like the Shootout is an advantage to be in it to get those laps and work with your spotter and your pit crew and your crew chief and just get the communication and kind of get some of the bugs out and get the laps and experience on the track. It's always been an advantage and I've always enjoyed being in it for that reason.
Is it any different this year with the rules changes?
It's just good to get out there in race conditions. I didn't really feel like the Shootout was any different this year than it was in past years. It was exciting. It was fun. There was a lot of action and swapping back and forth and guys out of control, including myself at times, and a wreck on the last lap. It was a pretty typical Bud Shootout.
Have you talked to Greg Biffle about the end of the race?
Yeah, he was thanking me for pushing him (laughs). You know, I was a little concerned. I was pretty aggressive down that back straightaway. We all were in the closing laps. I felt bad that I spun him out. But I don't know if he had a tire going down or if it was just older tires versus the new tires. But I promise you one thing, I was giving him one heck of a push and it was sort of one of those pushes where this is either going to get us to the front or it's going to cause a wreck. And it was the latter instead.
Is your approach to the season just to go about your business and be kind of low key and quiet?
That's the advantage of being in the position that we're in right now. We haven't won a Daytona 500 in a while and so, at this point in the season, internally within our team, we feel like we're as capable of winning not only this race, but the championship, as anybody out there. We're really pumped actually, about getting this season started and what we have in store for ourselves. But from a media perspective, we're under the radar a little bit and I hope that's the case until the race is over on Sunday and a bunch of races are over on Sundays this whole year and when the season is over in Homestead.
What do you think about what Danica Patrick did, and about what she is trying to do?
I thought she did a great job (in the ARCA race). To be able to go out there and have that kind of pressure on you, to get spun through the grass, I think it was good experience for her. It's a totally different type of racing. This next experience (Nationwide race) is really going to be eye-opening, I think, for her. But after I read some of the comments about why they are running this Saturday race, it makes sense. She doesn't have the opportunity because of her schedule at IRL to really get that kind of experience. I think it's a little too soon, personally, but I probably would have made the same decision if I was in her position. And you've got to get that experience. It's better to get it sooner (rather) than later.Aside from winning races and the championship and the Daytona 500, how would you prioritize your goals for the season?
That's our only goal every year. You want to make the Chase. That's certainly a goal. Our real goal is to go out there and compete for a championship and we know we've got to win more races this year if we're going to win a championship. We've made some changes that I think are real positive. And so I think our goals are also, let's see how those changes improve. And we're also looking at the championship a little bit differently this year. We want to start the season off right, but we want to build and get better as the season goes because of the way the Chase format is, we don't necessarily have to come out of the box on fire. We did that last year. The first 10 races, we were the best team out there. But we flattened out. And so our goal this year is to continue to get better as the season goes on and show our strengths not only for winning races, but also for the championship.
There seemed to be some confusion about the way the Budweiser Shootout ended and NASCAR's decision and all that. Right now they do a green-white-checkered and make one attempt in the last two laps. Should they look at maybe tweaking that to allow another attempt?
I'm hearing they are talking about that. Unfortunately, my schedule didn't allow me to be at the safety meeting this morning or I would have voiced my opinion on that and said, ‘One green-white-checkered and one green-checkered' (laughs). They could do 10 green-white-checkereds and we're still not going to make it to the checkered. It just needs to be a one lap, take the green and finish after we attempt one green-white-checkered. That would be my best throw at it. I just think that you've got fuel mileage issues. We're all cutting it real close anyway. And all you're going to do is set yourself up for another wreck. You give us two laps out there under green and we're going to find a way to wreck.
Can you do that at Daytona, though, because it takes so long for the cars to get up to speed on one lap?
You know, it's still an exciting race. It's amazing what happens from the time you take the green to the middle of the back straightaway. There is a whole lot of jockeying that goes on. Now maybe the guy who's running seventh or something like that can't win it. And, maybe if he's lucky, he could, if there was one extra lap. But I'm only talking about after one attempt at a green-white-checkered. I just think that after you do one attempt at a green-white-checkered and you have a caution, there is no reason to go do another one and another one and another one. That's not going to happen. What's going to happen is it's going to be two attempts, if rumors I'm hearing are true.
So are they just trying to correct what happened Saturday night?
I guess. I guess that one wasn't good enough. I thought it was. I thought it was way good (laughs).
If you went green-checkered, theoretically, they would never have to throw the caution until the leaders get back to the finish line, right?
I think if you go green-checkered, then there wouldn't be a caution because we'd maybe make it across the line before we had enough time to wreck! No, I think that I'm merely saying that I think if they do a green-white-checkered and we don't make it back around for the checkered under green, that you do a green-checkered and then call it good.
When you said you can't bump-draft in the turns, is that because you'll spin somebody, or with extra horsepower are you actually lifting in the turns here?
Well, no, you can get to ‘em. It depends on what stage of the race you're in. On new tires you can get right up to them and you might not even spin ‘em. You might just knock them out of the way. But the chances of spinning them are pretty high. But, as the tires get older, it is much harder to get up to their rear bumper just because you're sliding around a lot more. But no, no, it's not that you can't. It's that you can't without consequences; big consequences.
From a driver's standpoint, what did you think of Danica Patrick in the ARCA race?
I was impressed. I thought she was real patient, but she had plenty of aggressiveness. I think learning the draft is something that doesn't happen in one race. It takes a lot of time to understand it. Those cars do a lot more single-file drafting than the Nationwide cars and so I think it's going to be a big step. But it was great that she got that experience under her belt. I think the only thing is, what kind of standard are you judging by? If that had been Tony Stewart's first race, they would expect him to win.
So, I think she did a really good job. She was solid. And I think the next step for her, because of her schedule, is to do exactly what she's doing. And I'm as anxious as everybody else to watch. It's exciting. I think this could be one of the most-watched Nationwide races that we've ever had.
Is it overshadowing the Daytona 500?
I think it is bringing attention to the whole sport, and I think that's nothing but a good thing.