Friday, March 22, 2013

Jeff Gordon on Fontana

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
AUTO CLUB 400
AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
MARCH 22, 2013

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Auto Club Speedway, and discussed the challenges of the first four races, the tire situation at Bristol and other topics. Full transcript:

WERE YOU SCRAPING THE SPLITTER ON THE TRACK IN PRACTICE?
“I don’t think we’re alone.  It’s just really rough down the straightaways trying to maximize where that splitter is in the corners so it’s a tough balance.  Plus I think what you see on TV or what you saw, I was actually underneath somebody and when you move a lane down it really hits that left-front.  It’s something we need to work on and have been.  I think we’ve made some improvements.  Our race runs aren’t too bad.  I was hoping to get more speed out there for qualifying and hopefully what we learned there, we will when it comes time to lay down a lap.”

WHAT DOES IT DO TO THE FEEL OF THE CAR WHEN YOU HIT THE SPLITTER?
“It doesn’t feel good and you don’t like it, but it’s on the straightaway not a corner.  It’s when it’s hitting in the corners that you have a problem.  That’s when it gets your attention.  We’ve gotten to the point now with the cars where we want to hit that splitter a certain amount in the corners and it’s just trying to get a gauge when you don’t have telemetry, we don’t come here with all the data collection on the car so we’re not really sure how hard we’re hitting it because you’re hitting it so hard on the straightaways.  You have to play around with it.”

ON YOUR CURRENT POINTS POSITION:
“Unfortunately, yes.  We’re pretty far back.  We were running so strong last week and we didn’t run good at Vegas last year either.  The only difference at Vegas was we actually still pulled off a 15th place finish.  We weren’t so lucky this year with that.  We’ve got ourselves in a hole that we’re going to have to climb ourselves out of.  We’ve got a great team and fast race cars.  We can certainly do it again, but it’s not something you want to do.  We definitely focused coming into this season on, even if we’re off a little bit, let’s get some consistent finishes so we’re staying up in the points and don’t get too far behind and here we are in a similar situation.”

HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO GET FOUR CONSECUTIVE TOP-FIVE FINISHES IN THE FIRST FOUR RACES?
“It’s tough, especially when I look at our first four races.  It wasn’t a fluke that they (Penske Racing) were champions last year.  They ran solid and strong the year before and then they won the championship and they’re coming out showing their strength again.  That’s what it takes to be champions.  You can really build confidence based on winning that championship and that’s what I see.  Even though they’ve switched cars, manufacturers and engines and a new car, they are still a very solid team.”

WHICH TYPE OF TRACK ARE YOU MOST COMFORTABLE RETURNING TO AT THIS POINT? “Obviously, Bristol.  Other than blowing a right-front tire we were fast there.  We had a good race car, a top-five race car, which that was our best performance that we’ve had so far this year.  I love this race track, I do.  Even though we weren’t super-fast in practice, I just love being able to search around different grooves and our race runs weren’t bad.  I don’t care where I qualify, I could qualify 35th here today, I can’t wait to go race.  It’s a wide-groove race track and from that standpoint, things haven’t changed a whole lot as far as how the cars feel and this type of race track is the first abrasive race track we’ve come to this year.  Big racing track and that’s the kind of track I really enjoy.”

IS THERE A TYPE OF TRACK YOU FEEL THE MOST VULNERABLE AT?
“Vegas certainly was.  Vegas, we haven’t hit it there in a while, it’s a good thing we don’t go back there twice for me anyway.  Texas I think is going to be a big test for us.  We look at everything that we did in Texas, our teammates as well and if we run poorly at Texas then that’s going to be alarming for us.  We feel like we’ve learned enough to improve when we go to Texas so we don’t run poorly and we’ve run good in the past at Texas.  I think that’s probably the biggest test for us.”

DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE RALLYING IN THE POINTS LAST YEAR HELP YOU THIS YEAR?
“We’re fighters, we just don’t give up.  We’re a much stronger team than we show in the results and this team is a tight-knit group.  We went through this last year and came out strong.  We just kind of hoped that momentum would carryover so we could start the season off strong.  Don’t count us out, that’s for sure.”

WHY DO YOU HAVE THE BEARD?
“I don’t know.  I didn’t shave for some things I had to do yesterday and I woke up this morning and decided I would keep it one more day.  Just felt like waiting an extra day to shave, or two.  Could be Sunday.”

DOES SEEING JIMMIE JOHNSON AND KASEY KAHNE RING THE VICTORY BELL AT HENDRICK MAKE YOU WANT IT THAT MUCH MORE?
“I heard the bell going around.  We were debriefing and in a meeting.  Listen, that’s what everybody at Hendrick wants to accomplish and do.  It’s an awesome thing.  The team, not just the team, but the whole organization really rallies around it and it’s turned into a very cool tradition.  There is nobody at Hendrick that can say they don’t wish they were ringing the bell the next week.”

DO YOU BRING YOUR KIDS TO THE BELL RINGING?
“Oh yeah, absolutely.  Prior to last year, I hadn’t rung the bell so that was the first time for me.  I savor wins.  More these days than I ever have.  Having children, I want them to get the full experience of it.  They put their little headsets on to cover their ears because that bell is loud.  My daughter, she just loves handing out the stickers.  They hand out something to everybody who comes and rings the bell.  She’s handing things out and ringing the bell and it’s cool, it’s fun.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK CAUSED THE TIRE BLOW OUT LAST WEEK?
“It wasn’t a setup thing.  And it wasn’t a brake heat thing.  Or I should say, it wasn’t from using too much brake.  I think we could probably run a little bit bigger hose to cool it and that’s something that we’re going to focus on a little bit more as we move forward here.  Every year you find ways to create more grip and that’s what the team has done.  There’s also always a price to pay with that.  I think we’re right there on that edge of damaging the tire or melting the bead.  I was not hard on the brakes at all.  We went back and looked at all the other cars in our stable and I was probably using the least amount.  It’s not a brake thing, it’s really more of just there is still heat being generated over there radiating things and it was too much.  We can do a better job to make sure that doesn’t get up into the bead and cause too much heat.  I was definitely harder on the right-front on that run because I was out front, I had clean air and I was running faster lap times.  It was putting more stress on that right-front that ultimately caused it to blow.”

HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED RACING WITH DURABILITY OF TRACKS, TIRES, ETC?
“We’re always pushing the limits, always have been.  Pushing the limits of some component.  There is always a weak link.  As you go faster, you start to find where the weak links are.  In this particular case, I think that what we realized is just how close every single weekend you are to melting a bead.  To having an issue with a part or piece.  We found the weak link and that we need to do things to have a little bit more control over that.  When other cars finish the race, even though there were some other guys that had issues there in the closing laps, it starts to tell a story and we want to make sure that when we have good runs like that going that we get it all the way to the end of the race.”

DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE MORE TIRE PROBLEMS AT MARTINSVILLE?
“The difference is that we go that extra mile and effort on how we cool everything.  Even though the brake temp is three times as much, so is the cooling.  That’s the thing about Bristol is it’s a fast race track that you don’t use a lot of brake so when you just look at brake temperature, you think, ‘Well, we don’t need all that cooling.’  There’s still temperature that is being built and gets up into the wheel that gets up into that bead.  I didn’t even know this until this weekend that bead can only handle 400 degrees.  That’s not much.  We obviously got it higher than that and when you’re at Martinsville, it’s not going to be much different than that.  It’s going to be about the same, but it’s amazing how much our cooling, our ducting and we have little heat shields and all these things to keep all that temperature that’s there from getting up into that bead.”

DOES THE WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION AND REAR SWAY BAR PLAY INTO THE HEATING?
“The rear sway bar I think has played a role for us.  We had that mapped out very well in how to balance the car out and it’s been a challenge for us to get the car to turn the center of the corner and have the security in the rear on entry and exit without that rear bar.  The weight is so insignificant, I couldn’t even tell you it’s there.  When they start pulling 500 and 600 pounds of weight out of these cars then I’ll make a comment on weight.”

ON NATE RYAN CALLING YOUR BEARD ‘AN AMATEUR EFFORT’?
“An amateur effort.  Okay.  I didn’t know there was a competition on beards now too.”

ARE YOU READY FOR A WEEKEND OFF?
“Yes, I’m looking forward to a weekend off.  We’ve got some great plans to do some skiing in the mountains with my whole family.  Looking forward to that.”

ON TOURING A STUDIO WITH RON HOWARD: 
“I did, it was awesome.  He’s (Ron Howard) an amazing guy.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and it’s not surprising to me that he’s successful.  He’s passionate about what he does.  He’s been in the business for so long.  He works extremely hard and cares so much about it.  He’s a smart, smart guy.  As long as he’s been doing this, when he’s got a new film, he’s nervous for people to see it and their reaction.  He really wants to please the audience and I think that’s so cool.  That’s why his movies do so well.  This movie ‘Rush’ is going to do well.  It’s a very cool story and they’ve done an amazing job.  Just the little bit of it I’ve seen of what is portrayed of what went on back in that day.  I could not have asked for a better tour guide around Universal.  He grew up there and he’s got a lot of great stories and history that if these walls could speak and through him they do in a lot of ways.”

DO YOU EVER GET STAR STRUCK?
“Yeah, there’s definitely people that I look up to over the years.  You see on the big screen and it’s hard to understand that’s a real person at times.  I got a chance to meet Tom Hanks a couple years ago and that was very, very cool.  I think he’s a great actor, obviously an Oscar winning actor.  It’s always nice when you meet somebody like that and they’re down to earth and very nice.  Just a real person.”

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