After winning six races and finishing second in the Sprint Cup Series standings, Jeff Gordon still finds himself chasing an elusive fifth championship.
He went into the off-weekend ranked 14th following an 11th-place finish last Sunday at Bristol, Tenn., but before the break he talked about a variety of prominent issues in NASCAR. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: Are there ramifications for speaking your mind in NASCAR?
Gordon: That's the whole issue that I have with it, and the reason why when Jimmie (Johnson) came along, I made my recommendations on how to stay focused and win races. In my experience and personal opinion, it's better off to stay non-confrontational and stay away from the controversy. And sometimes you don't speak your mind and show all your feelings as much when you do that. The down side to our sport is that there is so much focus and attention when there is controversy, is it worth it? I think it's great for the sport when Tony (Stewart) speaks his mind and does some of the things he does. It doesn't mean I agree or disagree with. But I think he took it a little too personally. But what he was saying, I agreed with. We all agreed that the tires were not the best in Atlanta. I don't know how that is working for Tony this week. If you are going be the type of person to say those things, you've got to be prepared for that. If so, he should continue to do those things.
Question: Do you consider yourself a leader in this sport?
Gordon: Well, do you want to be a leader on the track or off the track? In my opinion, I'd rather be the leader on the track and let the actions speak for themselves, then be somebody off the race track trying to change the world. I'm just saying if I had a choice. It would be nice to have both those things working for you. There is probably a balance there. Life is tough enough as it is. It's competitive. I'm just trying to do my job and do everything I can. Trust me, I want more of my personality to come out but I can't help the fact that when that time comes, in the back of my mind I'm thinking what are the repercussions of that. What am I going to go through? Tony doesn't have as much of that until after the fact.
Question: They're talking about 200 mph speeds at Darlington. Is that too fast?
Gordon: Here's the thing: When the speeds are like that, it's corner speeds that's making us go so fast. I always say let's have 1,200 horsepower if you want to slow us down because the less power we have, the faster we go through the corners. The restrictor plate or whatever that spacer-thing is on the Nationwide cars; they were 13 mph faster in the middle of the corner than we were in our cars, but yet the lap times were pretty close. So, you don't want to slow us down. You want to slow us down through the corners. That is why I asked that because a lot of people will go oh, put a restrictor plate on them or a smaller carburetor or less power, we are still going to go as faster or faster through the corners. More power is actually harder to control so it will sometimes slow you down.
Question: Was it a mistake to not have more tire testing at the 1.5-mile tracks?
Gordon: The one thing that I questioned Goodyear when we were there at Darlington this week, we had time to talk, was about their tire tests in Atlanta. Their final tire test, they had one Cup car there and one truck. In my opinion, that wasn't enough, it wasn't enough cars to put rubber on the track. It wasn't enough information. This is why you have to have multiple drivers and teams there is because you have one guy that is going to run off the right rear and one guy that is running off the right front. You are going to have one guy that is running 90 percent and one guy that is going to be running 100 percent. I am a guy that until we get in to competition, I am going to run, consistent. I am going to try and give them consistency. I am going to try and give them a really good feel and give them good feedback. But I am not going to put the car out on the edge, to where either we tear up a race car.
Question: How has the new Car of Tomorrow impacted the sport?
Gordon: It's closed the competition up much tighter for sure. If you look at just lap times, you look at a much tighter group of cars. It's just made the crew chiefs have to go to whole different area of tuning. We're doing a lot of our set ups in simulation now and they're spending so much more time trying to develop these bump stops. I think that's, you hear me talking about bump stops, the biggest change in our sport over the last year is bump stops. We're trying to find manufacturers in Dubai, I don't know I'm just joking, but trying to figure out how to recreate rubber and plastics and things to make spring rate in the right front. To make it act somewhat like a spring or better than a spring. And there's so much money, technology and development going into these things it's ridiculous. It's mainly because we're having to do it over 3' inches of travel and so it's challenging us more so than we've ever been challenged. That's why the seven-post rig that a lot of the teams have or all the teams have to at least get access to is crucial. That thing is basically running 24 hours a day for us and thank god we have them. I think we've seen the potential to have some really good racing, we've seen some really good races but at the same time I'm still concerned because the aero-push behind cars is really, really bad. If you don't have a multiple-groove race track, thank god that they re-did this race track because the fact that we have three or four different lanes to move up to now is so much better for this car. If we had the old track with this car we would be follow the leader with gaps in between each and every one of us because it's so hard to one get this car around the track with the bumps but the aerodynamics really affect it.
- Compiled by Don Coble