Daytona Speedweeks Quotebook

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.- - Comments made by Jeff Gordon to the media throughout Daytona Speedweeks in February 2003.

Sunday, February 16

Thursday, February 13

Tuesday, February 11

Monday, February 10

Saturday, February 8 (night)

Saturday, February 8 (day)

Thursday, February 6

February 16
Jeff Gordon finished 12th in the Daytona 500. He was running in third place but was shuffled back as the race to beat the rain went on.

What kind of day did you have?
"We had a fast race car, and the longer we ran the better we were, the better the handling, the further to the front we could get. I tried to make a move to get up to my teammate Jimmie Johnson so we could push one another, but guys didn't want to go with me. But you don't expect them to-- I made a move, it didn't work out and I fell back to 12th."

Was it frustrating to not have somebody go with you in line and hang you out?
"Yeah, everybody protected the bottom all day long. I didn't want to push Michael Waltrip past Jimmie Johnson. I wanted to get behind Jimmie and run with him. I felt the momentum change when Michael was coming back and I had a head of steam, and I thought I could get all the way by him, but they had a strong race car and then Tony Stewart and all of the rest of the guys went to the bottom and he went right by me, so I battled to get back to 12th."

February 13
Jeff Gordon started 15th and finished 7th in the Twin 125-mile qualifying race. He'll start 13th in the Daytona 500.

Talk about the race
"I would've liked to race better. I struggled at the beginning of the race trying to get up through there. The outside groove just was not moving and I got stuck going to the back, and so it took me a little while to get back up front. With five to go, I had a heck of a run. I'm going to try to get as far forward as I can and try to win the race, but a lot of guys just wanted to stay in line. Sometimes you play the conservative way and it works out for you and sometimes you've got to be a little more aggressive. I got lucky. Spencer got into my left rear and about wrecked me. We got lucky, straightened it out and kept going. I got another run on Joe Nemechek. I wanted to push him up to the front, but he didn't want to get out of line and I did. That's just what happens when you're teammates, working together, and you're not thinking on the same wavelength. Once the cars started getting single file and the handling started going away, I was able to work my way up through there-- but we've got to get the handling a little bit better and then maybe find some drafting partners."

Are you confident about Sunday
"Absolutely. We've got a great car, we've got a fast car. We've just got to get a little bit better handling race car. We were capable of getting up front there, I just didn't have anybody that wanted to work with me which is typical. I thought Joe and I could do it, and once we got up to fourth and fifth I think he just wanted to stay in line. I hurt myself at the end because I thought I'd get somebody to go with me. Greg Biffle did try to go with me, but nobody else. I'm just not going to sit there in fifth. I like to win. I probably lost a couple positions because of it, but I'd rather know what my car's going to do, who's going to work with me and who's not going to work with me."

Would you rather see drivers try harder to win the Twin 125?
"Absolutely, that's what I'm trying to do. I want to win the race. I want to see what my car has. I don't want to just see those guys ride around there all day long and win the race. I want to get up there and battle with them. Unfortunately, we couldn't get up there a little sooner."

How important is it for you to get off to a fast start this year?
"I'd love to get off to a good start, but we've also found out in the past that you don't have to win the Daytona 500 to win the championship. This is a big race and we all came here to win, and we're going to work hard and hope we get some momentum to start the year off right. We were good last year, but we weren't great, and I think we've made some improvements this year to be great."

February 11
Jeff Gordon discussed a practice crash earlier in the day involving Jack Sprague, as well as the pre-season media poll that ranked him as the #1 pick to win the 2003 Winston Cup title.

What did you see happen in the practice crash?
"I don't understand why Jack Sprague went back and forth there. Sometimes the air moves the cars around. It looked like the air moved his car around and he came down on the 4 car (Mike Skinner). When they came through the tri-oval, I know the 1 car (Steve Park) was down a lot lower and then he went back out to the wall. I think Jack was trying to follow him. But I don't know, it looked like the car took a pretty abrupt left."

When you see a wreck in front of you, do you have a pattern or routine you go through to try and avoid it?
"I think a lot of it is just instinct. Sometimes you make the right choice and sometimes you don't. I know a lot of times the spotter is going "go low, go low," and I go high every time because my brain is telling me 'you gotta do this.'"

You're going places and doing things that you haven't done before in your life
"It's just having a little more time on my hands and looking back on things, maybe I missed out on opportunities that I just didn't take advantage of. I sorta hid in a shell for a few years, so I'm coming out of my shell a little bit. I've always wanted to get in other race cars but I just never had something to push me to do it. And now I'm wanting to do it."

On being ranked #1 in the pre-season media poll
"It's pretty overwhelming. When you look at our season last year and some of the criticism that we took last year of the mistakes that were made and where our focus was. I think the media is recognizing where we ended last season and where we went into the off-season, that we've got a new Monte Carlo that we're excited about. It's awesome for me that I see other people out there that feel the same way that we do inside our team. I see a fire in their eyes, I see these guys working extremely hard at a goal and that goal is to win the championship. Now, I also know that is a very hard to predict who is going to win the championship-- what's going to happen. This is a very difficult series to predict anything in and we hope we can live up to that. It's certainly going to add some pressure. I was kind of looking forward to this season, sort of starting out the season under the radar. But I don't think we're going to do that now."

On not being listed in the "all-time top 10"
"I hope that in 20 or 30 years that I'm on the top 10 list. I think that's the type of impression that you really want to make and that is obviously the impression that was made by these guys, which is pretty awesome-- to go back in time throughout this sport's history and see who really has stood out. I hope that somewhere down the road that I'll be able to stand out in a crowd by what I accomplish on the racetrack."

Discuss your knowledge of NASCAR's history
"It took a lot because I really didn't know a lot about NASCAR until I was probably 18 years old. Everything that I looked at was midgets and sprint cars and then Indianapolis. It was a steep learning curve for me because I didn't know a lot about stock cars. I fell in love with them right away and wanted to learn more about, not only the mechanics of them, but also the names and people that are in the sport and who have made the sport what it is. Especially as I started having success, winning races-- at that time you figure out what you're accomplishing. At first, I don't know if even I could have appreciated or had the respect for it. But, over time, I certainly learned in a hurry of just how incredible it is to win a Daytona 500 or how unbelievable it is to win a championship. It's funny now when I'm around people that don't know much about the sport and I start talking and educating them. They say, 'How many championships do you have,' and I say, 'Four,' and it's like I'm saying it to myself: 'Four. Wow.' It blows me away, and then they say, 'Is that good?' Then, I get a good chuckle out of it and then I recognize just by educating other people just how incredible it is."

On racing at Daytona
"My very first Daytona 500 (in 1993), Hendrick Motorsports had their act together. We came down here, qualified well, won the 125 and with 10 laps to go (in the 500), I'm running second to the best guy I've drafted with, which is Dale Earnhardt. I got to learn from the best and I just picked up - I was like a sponge-- I just picked up as much as I could from him. So I fell in love with the place right from the beginning. If the rules stayed the way they were a couple years ago with these roof rails and everything, I would never win another restrictor plate race. It just was not much fun out there. I like the rules the way they are now where the driver, the team-- it brings everybody kind of back into it and I feel like I can use the air, I can use the other cars and teammates and all that to work my way to the front. If I get to the front, it's a lot harder to pass the guy that's out front. I guess luck also has a lot to do with it, but I've been with the right team at the right time down here at Daytona. It's been an enjoyable experience for me and allowed me to focus on my drafting and not have to focus on or sit back and think, 'Man, where is the speed going come from,' and, 'how are we going to do this,' and, 'how are we going to do that?' It never really seemed to be that deal for me. It's just like anything else that's happened to me. I've been handed everything on a golden platter."

Do you think you can ever get to the point where you've made 25 appearances in the top-10 of the final season standings?
"I don't know if I'm going to race 25 years in Winston Cup. If that's the way (the all-time top 10) is based, I don't know if I'll ever be at the top of that list. But, it's a sport that you can be in it a long time. It does seem like as the sport brings more younger, newer faces in-- and also the amount of money being made - that you don't have to race as long as some of these other guys. I've always said I'm going to race as long as I'm healthy, and enjoying what I'm doing, I'm with a strong team and the desire is there to win and win championships. I don't want to be out there just to be getting a paycheck. I don't know when that would come, but I hope that until then I get a lot of top 10 points appearances racked up and see where we end up on the list."

February 10 - Qualifying Day
Jeff Gordon turned the 29th fastest timed lap in qualifying. It was considerably slower than the Chevrolet teams of Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc which captured 5 of the top 6 slots.

On his qualifying performance
"It's a little disappointing. I thought the car was going to pick up more than that. We've been gaining each time we were on the track, but we didn't pick up as much as some guys did there. We'll have to work our way through the 125 (on Thursday), which I'm excited about because we ran so well in the Bud Shootout the other night. I feel like we're making good power. I know about the gains that we've made in the engine department and we're good there, but I don't know what it is. If we knew we'd be a lot faster. Typically here it's all about getting that spoiler out of the air and it's different now because NASCAR has limited us greatly on what we can and cannot do. It's just the rules that they have limiting the springs, the shocks, limiting the weight transfer, the panhard bar angle in the back. There's a lot of things that we were doing last year that NASCAR just keeps catching up to the teams with and keeps us from getting the back of the cars down. It does make the horsepower that much more important, but like I said, I don't know what other guys are making for horsepower because I feel like we're making good power."

Did you expect a subpar qualifying lap?
"We came down here and tested and felt like we had a good piece, but we came back down and we just haven't had the speed. Each time out we've gained on it, but just not enough. When I saw some of those guys run those fast laps I hoped it was the track that had picked up, but it wasn't for us, anyway."

Will the chassis setup from the Budweiser Shootout car be used on this car in Thursday's qualifying race?
"These cars were fairly close in time when we tested-- in fact the 500 car was even a little better and it drove better. Our car is just not that great by itself, but it's very good in drafting conditions and I like to draft-- we seem to be able to find our way up through there."

February 8 - Post Bud Shootout
Jeff Gordon finished second in the Budweiser Shootout. Dale Earnhardt Jr passed him for the lead with five laps remaining.

Did you expect that Dale Jr could have made that kind of move on the high side?
"Anything is possible in this race. He's really strong here and they've got a great program and he certainly knows how to work the draft. But, I was in a great position, sitting out there in front. When we were single-file I really didn't think anybody could touch us. But, once I saw them start to break off into double-file behind me I just tried to keep my eyes open on what lane was moving. When Junior got up there, I still didn't think he had enough momentum to get all the way by me. I thought even if he got beside me, I thought as good as Kurt Busch was pushing me on the inside lane that maybe the inside lane was working a little bit better - that we could still battle them to the line. But, he got such a good push that he got out there in front of me. Then, everybody started battling for second and third and shuffling it up and getting crazy, so at that point, it was just 'get all you can get' and we got back to second. I couldn't be happier of the effort - all the laps we led coming from the back, a great pit stop, a fast race car, so we're very excited about next week."

Did you like the format of the race and running it at night?
"I think it's exciting. I guess the break at the first 20 laps is maybe nice just to get us back to double-file. It keeps it exciting for the fans. With the fuel cell size we have now, we had to have a pit stop, which brought the team aspect of it in there to make a pit stop. Obviously, I enjoyed it. I had a shot at winning the race. To come home second, we're pretty happy with it. Every year they seem to adjust it and change it and we'll just race however they want to race the format."

What kind of racing do you expect in the Daytona 500?
"Well, things do change during the day. But it's all going to be about fuel mileage. If the cautions don't fall the right way, it's going to come down to fuel mileage. That's certainly got me a little worried because at Talladega we did not have the fuel mileage that some of these other guys did. But, I think it's going to be a great race. You're going to see a lot of passing. It's hard to pass the leader, but it's easy to pass everybody else it seems like, so obviously being out front is the place to be. "I think just the daytime and the handling of the cars is going to be a lot different. Plus, this a shorter race so guys get a little bit racier. I think in a 500-mile race you're going to see guys want to get in line a little bit more - sort of like the second third of that race, guys kind of got in line and waited to get to the end to start making their moves."

In the Shootout, it seemed like the driver in second place had a chance to pass the leader without help. What was the difference compared to years past?
"When they're two-by-two and you're the leader, you're watching the lanes and you've got to pick a lane. It's kind of a crapshoot. You just kind of go with the one that you think is going to work out. I saw the video and saw what happened and I was looking good. I had Kurt Busch behind me and we were going along there pretty good and Junior got stalled out in that top lane. When he did, Ryan Newman came up there and just drilled him. If you get a guy that can actually get to your bumper and hit you, it sends you so for out there, you get so much more momentum. That's just something you can't guess on. You just don't that that stuff is happening. You can only see so much in the mirror. The spotter can only tell you so much. I knew Junior was out there. But, I thought even if he got beside me, I still thought that between Kurt Busch and myself and what I know about drafting here that I could work that draft and beat him back to the line, but obviously it didn't work out that way."

Discuss the new aero package
"I thought everybody's cars were pretty even out there. They're just cracking down on everybody now that all the templates are pretty close. There is not much we can say. It seems like everybody is being treated pretty fair, which is pretty rough. They've been tough on everybody getting through inspection, which is good, as long as they're the same to everybody and they have been. Once we get out there on the track, I thought the same guys that run good on the restrictor plate tracks ran good. It really starts to come down to horsepower and if you like the draft or know how to use the air better than the other guys. I think that Junior is one of the best out there and he's got one of the best restrictor plate programs and he came out on top. Also, the fuel cell size is changing things a lot. Handling is not really an issue anymore, where Daytona used to be a big handling racetrack. My car handled pretty good. I was out front a lot of the way, so I look forward to getting in some different conditions. But in the race, if we have to stop every 35 laps, we're never really going to wear the tires out enough to come in and even maybe need to take four or for the car to get out of control to where you need handling."

Can fuel mileage be improved?
"I hope so. A lot of it is just in the carburetor and in the fuel cell itself, just getting as much fuel in there as you possibly can. We were making really good horsepower at Talladega last year and I think that took away from our fuel mileage. I think we're making good power here again. It's kind of a toss-up of horsepower versus fuel mileage, but last year- Dale Jr at Talladega- he had fuel mileage, too, so obviously they've got it figured out and there is no reason that we can't also."

What does it take to pass the leader on a restrictor plate track?
"You can have five cars behind you and if you don't know how to work that line of cars, you're still not going to get past the leader. It certainly not like it used to be. I don't mind really being in second place if I've got cars pushing me. But, if it's just me and the leader, or if I'm the leader and it's the second place guy, there's not a chance of a pass-- no way. I don't even think three cars can make it happen. I think it takes at least four or five or more to really be able to get enough momentum to pass that leader. Then, you've got to hope that the guy doesn't want to wreck by going down to the yellow line. Even if you get the momentum, if he blocks you enough it can get pretty hairy out there to even get up beside him."

February 8 - Afternoon
During a media discussion about Daytona practice, Jeff Gordon shared a little philosophy and his outlook on life.

Does the hype and preparation for the Daytona 500 cause any anxiety at the team level?
"Well, it's a big event and it's special. You should take extra time and put extra effort into it. You hope that through some of the things that you learn for Daytona, you can also apply to other racetracks. One of the things that I love about having the resources that we have at Hendrick Motorsports is that we're in a position to be able to focus on Daytona and not slight ourselves anywhere else and do the proper testing and wind-tunnel testing and all the things that go into making sure that when we leave here that we're fast at Rockingham and that we're fast at Vegas. I think that's why we're usually a threat for the championship, year-in and year-out because we know how to prioritize things."

Is success more a product of how you deal with failure?
"You're going to lose a lot more races than you're going to win, so you'd better learn how to accept the defeats and appreciate the wins. You never know when your next win is going to come. I think the way you handle the losses is what sort of molds you into being a champion. A fifth-place, even though it's not a win, is still big when it comes to the championship."

Are you satisfied with the way you overcame the dry spell in 2002?
"Absolutely. To get that weight off our shoulders was huge. I felt like I won my very first race. I hope that if we can do any different this year, that we can win earlier in the season. It's so nice to get a win under your belt early in the season. I know how difficult it gets the longer that you go - the more difficult and the more pressure that you put on yourself and everybody else puts on you."

After your experience on "Saturday Night Live," would you like to do more acting?
"If you would have watched the show you would have realized that I'm not an actor. But, it was a fun show. I normally don't have five or six days to do something like that. It just so happened to work out. The invitation came. I debated about it. It just all started to fall together and it was a no-brainer to do it, and I'm so glad I did it. I would love to do something like that again. But, I'm a race car driver first. Don't ever mistake that. But, I like it when fun, exciting things come along that I get a chance to do."

Did your personal life become more of a distraction last year than you thought it would?
"Yes and no. There are some things in life that you don't expect. I'm usually pretty good at handling things that I know are coming. But, when things are kind of unexpected it's difficult. I didn't maybe think it was going to be as big of news as it was. There's no doubt that that stuff was a distraction - more of just the actual events going on more so than the media. That didn't bother me near as much as just trying to work through a personal issue in my life. But, I still have a hard time believing that breaking a rear-end gear at Sears Point had anything to do with that."

You seem to be enjoying things more
"It has nothing to do with whether I'm married or not married, or whether Brooke is in my life or not in my life. It has to do with the fact that I found myself backing into a shell and realized that it just wasn't healthy. I just want to be myself a little more, and other people have made me see who I am. Maybe it's just maturity; maybe it's getting older - I don't know what you want to call it. But, life is too short not to enjoy it, especially when you've been given the opportunities and the blessings that I've been given. I've won four Winston Cup championships and have made more money in this sport than anybody else out there. I've experienced more highs than most people in this sport and I don't know if I really enjoyed it the way I could have or should have. What I'm realizing, too, is that life is not all about winning. It's not all about money. You've got to enjoy life and relax and not let all this little stuff get to you because life is just too short to worry about those things. I think when I was 22 or 23, I was trying to act like I was 45 or 50. I'm not saying that didn't help me get a long way in this sport. But, now I'm 31, 32, and I want to get back some of those years."

February 6 (Pre-Daytona Thoughts)

Regarding the smaller fuel cell for Daytona
"I don't remember ever having to pit for fuel during the Twin's. A good pit stop probably won't win the race, but a slow pit stop could cause you to lose the draft-- and the race. I like the current aero rules because of the strategy involved. You have to be patient and be sure about a pass before attempting it. If you don't complete the pass, you could lose a lot of positions."

On the new Monte Carlo
"We had a lot of trouble with the old Monte Carlo when it first came out because it had so much rear downforce and so little front downforce. We struggled quite a bit but we massaged it, worked with it and moved the bodies around. NASCAR helped us in some areas too. We got that car pretty well balanced by the end of it. However, this new Monte Carlo definitely has a much better balance from the beginning. We'll have a better handle on how good the car is after we hit some of the 1.5-mile tracks. A win at Daytona can boost the start of our season, but that quickly subsides. It takes an extraordinary amount of focus and concentration each week to perform at the level that it takes to win a championship. This team has been there before and we'll draw on that experience throughout the year."

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