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Questions For An Idle Thursday


DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.- - Before the engines fired on the 2005 season, Jeff Gordon participated in a Q&A session with the media at Daytona International Speedway. The 2005 season will be Gordon's 13th year in Cup racing. In that span he's gone from the new upstart in the rainbow #24 to the veteran whose voice and opinion is needed more than ever in NASCAR racing.


ON THE SUPER BOWL WEEKEND:
JG: "I was able to go there and have fun and relax and enjoy the festivities. It's kind of what it's like this week. It's a spectacular week. There is a lot going on. I think there are things we can learn from a Super Bowl weekend like that. They do things bigger than life. It's spectacular. The game is spectacular and the entertainment value is spectacular. I think we want that same thing here at the Daytona 500."

WOULD AGE 40 BE A BALLPARK NUMBER FOR YOU TO RETIRE?
JG: "I don't think about it unless I get asked the question. When I get asked the question, I wonder what else is out there and what do you want to do when this is all over? I don't necessarily know that I'm going to have the ability to choose. In this sport, and as dangerous as it can be at times, you're not always the one who can make that decision as to when you step away from it. If I got to choose it, it would be so I could go and experience some things. I love to travel. I want to go to Africa and experience a Safari. You've got to have 10 days to do those things. We don't have 10 days. It's things like that and a lot more. Racing has given me the opportunity to do all these things and so I don't want to step away because I love it. I love getting behind the wheel of the car and racing. I might think because of that grind, sometimes, that I might want to step away. But if I did, I can guarantee I'd want to get back into it because I'd miss it. So it's a balancing act to keep the excitement in there and also try to experience things when you have the time to balance life out. I never dreamed in a million years that driving a race car would open up doors the way that it has for me and allow me to go places that you never thought anybody would know who you are - you name or face or anything. I enjoy it. Not because I have to have my ego stroked, it's just cool to see that the sport has reached a level that the drivers are recognizable beyond our sport. I think that's very cool. Why I like to do things is not just trying to do marketing for my sponsors or for me, but for the sport in general. I think the sport has a lot to offer to those people out there who don't even watch the sport right now."

ON MEETING OTHER CELEBRITIES:
JG: "I've been meeting so many people, I can't even remember who I've met. We had the Black Eyed Peas at the Super Bowl. Paul Walker. I didn't meet Paul McCartney. I would have liked to. That would have been cool."

HAS HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS REACHED THE LEVEL OF DEI ON RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES?
JG: "That has yet to be determined. I'm not so sure. I felt like we out-handled them and out-raced them here in July last year. I think Jimmie Johnson and I worked very well together to take those one-two spots away from them. But until I get out there in those racing conditions, I don't really know because I feel like at Talladega we lucked into that one. Here, we'll just have to see. Junior had a very fast race car here in July but he wasn't able to hold the throttle down wide-open because his car wasn't handling as good. So I'm not so sure that we've got them beat yet but we've certainly making a dent in it and we're on their radar and we're still capable of winning."

ON THE OLDER DRIVERS RETIRING AND YOUNG DRIVERS COMING IN:
JG: "New faces and new fans are good, but I think it's important to have the veterans in the sport too because the help teach the younger guys about the sport and how to handle themselves in certain situations. How these young guys grow in the sport has a lot to do with how the veterans react or treat them."

DO YOU EXPECT ANYTHING DIFFERENT IN THE SHOOTOUT SATURDAY NIGHT?
JG: "I'll be honest with you. They've changed the Shootout so many times that I don't even have any idea how many laps it is or how many pit stops there are. I don't have a clue and I don't want to know until it's finalized. I know I'm going to draw my starting spot tonight and then we're going to get on the track on Friday. We're going to put the best car out there we can and then I'll talk to the guys on Saturday sometime and we'll figure it all out. But I think it's going to be pretty much business as usual. It's a great event. It's fun and exciting. For those of us who are in it, I think it's a bit of an advantage to get a little bit of extra drafting practice and to get comfortable with what's happening on Thursday."

WHAT IS THE KEY TO WINNING THE DAYTONA 500?
JG: "Having a fast race car and a solid team and effort all day long is the key. It's really no different than winning any other race other than the preparation that goes into it because it's a restrictor plate track and the aerodynamics of the car are so much different than anywhere else we go that once you get into the race, it's pretty much the same as what it takes to win any other race. You need a good car and good pit stops and a little luck on your side as well."

DO YOU HAVE TO BE PATIENT?
JG: "It's 500 miles. Any race will favor a driver who has some patience. But you've just go to know when to be patient and when not to be patient."

IF, AT AGE 40, SOME RECORDS WERE ON THE LINE, WOULD THAT INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION ABOUT WHEN TO RETIRE?
JG: "If it was doable. There are a lot of ifs, ands and buts there. If we had seven championships and things are still going well.....I want to stay in this sport as long as I'm healthy and competitive and I'm enjoying what I'm doing. It has nothing to do with numbers. But if I just came off of winning seven championships, I'd probably want to go try for that eighth one. I'd be crazy not to if I'm still feeling good and things are still going well. I don't go out there and race for statistics and numbers, but I love to look at them when it's all said and done. Now I'm sitting at 69 wins and I would love to get to 70. But if things aren't going well, and I don't think I'm going to have a chance at getting 70, then I'm not going to keep trying just so I can get to that number."

DO YOU THINK BOTH THE DEI TEAMS ARE AT A DISATVANTAGE COMING INTO THE DAYTONA 500 BECAUSE OF THE CREW CHANGES?
JG: "Well, you know what? It might just be the spark they one of them needs to take his team to another level, or it may be what knocks them down. I don't know. It's hard to say. I try not to pay much attention to what other teams have going on. I feel like our greatest competition is ourselves and not how another team switches things around. I think it's a little bit odd. It caught a lot of people by surprise that they would do something that drastic. Hey they know what's going on over there more than we do."

ON THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF BEING THE NEXTEL CHAMPION:
JG: "I talked to Kurt Busch a little bit. He asked me questions about it. I just told him to be prepared. The demands are going to be greater. You're going to be tugged in a lot of ways. Do what's in your heart. Do your best. But don't be afraid to say no from time to time because you have to. If you don't, you're going to run yourself ragged and get burned out before the season even starts."

ON THE POINT SYSTEM:
JG: "I still think there is some tweaking that could be done, but I'd like to see another year maybe and see how it all turns out. It's pretty exciting last year. It's hard to see them wanting to make any changes based on the five guys who were going for it at the end of the season. Until we're seeing a guy run away with it, I don't think we're going to see any changes."

WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT KURT BUSCH SOUGHT YOU OUT?
JG: "I was a little bit surprised, but I've always thought Kurt is a very talented driver and that Roush has a great program. So, I'm not surprised that he became the champion, but that he came to me wasn't expected. I thought it said a lot to me about Kurt because he didn't have to. It shows that he cares about the sport and that he's passionate about it and wants to be a good champion. I think maybe he recognizes that I will give my opinion if asked. If someone wants to know something that they feel I can help them out with, I'm open. I like seeing people coming into the sport that are passionate about it and that want to have fun with it and take it to another level."

DO YOU THINK DALE JR. IS MORE RELAXED COMING BACK TO THE DAYTONA 500 NOW THAT HE'S WON IT?
JG: "When you get that first race - whether it's the Daytona 500 or any other one - it always relaxes you a little bit more. At the same time, it puts some more pressure on you too because the expectations are for Junior or DEI to come and win another one. The pressure is going to build. But every year it's different. You never know how well your car is going to run and what position you're going to be in. I always just treat it as how the weekend unfolds. I don't really think about what I did the year before."

ON DOUG DUCHARDT LEAVING GM RACING AND JOINING HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS:
JG: "We're very excited about it. I think that's huge for Hendrick Motorsports. It's going to help us to really plan for the future and get to the next level. It's a piece of the puzzle that just continues to elevate our whole organization. I think Doug is the type of guy we like at Hendrick Motorsports. He's a team player. He's sharp. I think we're very fortunate to have him. We've got a lot of depth at Hendrick. We've got major people in there who are going to step up and who have stepped up. Right now, I don't feel like we've skipped a beat in a lot of ways. But over time, it probably was going to start to show. I think by having Doug in there is not only going to keep us in the direction we're going, but possibly even take us to another level."

ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING WITH THE HMS CARS TO HONOR THE PEOPLE THAT WERE LOST IN THE PLANE CRASH?
JG: "We continue to wear the blue wristbands and I don't know what exactly the plans are with the cars. We will never forget what happened and we're going to honor them in all that we do forever. But we have to move on. I'm not sure what the plans are."

TO EUROPEAN RACE FANS, YOU ARE THE FACE OF AMERICAN RACING. WHY DID IT TAKE THAT STINT IN THE FORMULA ONE CAR THAT DID IT?
JG: "I think it's because we go around in circles all the time. We drive cars that aren't anywhere near what a Formula One car is capable of. In a lot of ways, I think a Formula I car is easier to drive than a stock car. It has the downforce you want and the brakes you want. It accelerates. It shifts for you. It does a lot of things that our cars never will do. But the physical demands of those cars are much greater than our cars. But I think just getting out there and showing that we can drive any type of race car is the only way to get the attention of anyone outside of the U.S."

WAS COMING SO CLOSE TO WINNING LAST YEAR MAKE YOU STRONGER THIS YEAR?
JG: "Yeah, definitely. I thought we were knocking on the door to win number five. I feel like we've done well in our off-season and that we have an even better team right now than we did last year. I feel like things have gone well. You know when the chemistry is there and the pieces are put in place. And you know when they're not. Right now, I feel really good about where we are. A lot of it just has to do with how the guys are working together in the shop. You go in there and feel the energy - whether it's positive or negative. I've felt a lot of positive energy over the off-season."

GUYS LIKE YOU AND EARNHARDT JR. HAVE A LOT OF DEMANDS ON YOUR TIME. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THOSE RESPONSIBILITIES?
"You surround yourself with good people that help you like John Bickford, Jon Edwards, Rick Hendrick, and people who work for me. The demands come to them more so than they come to me. They then try to figure out the best way to handle it. But they know we can't handle everything. Sometimes it's funny how things happen because a sponsor or NASCAR or somebody asks us to do something and we look at how big of an impact it will make and what amount of time it'll take and what's on my schedule and then we figure out if we can do it. And there are other times that we're not being asked to do, but that we want to do. It's like the Regis & Kelly thing. They came to me and said they wanted me to do a show, and I said I wanted to do more than one day. And so if they'd let me do the whole week, I would have done it. So they said they could get me two days. So there are some things that you flex and bend the schedule for and other things that you just can't. I think if I have something to offer to a Jimmie Johnson or a Kurt Busch, it's how to schedule. It's going through it race by race and month by month and knowing all the things that have to be done through the year and where to place them that take the least amount of time in the most efficient way to do it and still accomplish what you want to accomplish - plus, still leave room for other opportunities that come along."

DO YOU EVER THINK IT'S TOTALLY OUT OF CONTROL?
JG: "There are definitely days and weeks where we think we really did a bad job of organizing things. In fact, I say, 'Who in the world said we were going to do this?' And they'll say, 'you did'. So, you make the best of it. There are times when you have all these things scheduled and then something really cool comes up and you know you've got to do it. Maybe it's a once in a lifetime opportunity that only comes along every so often, and so you do it even though you know you're going to be tired or whatever. You still do it."

IF YOU WEREN'T DRIVING RIGHT NOW, WHAT WOULD INTEREST YOU THE MOST?
JG: "If I were to step away from the sport next year, you wouldn't even see me for a year. I'd be gone. It would be via satellite from some country or something (laughs). My two hot topics I want to do right now are to go on an African Safari - I love nature and I love animals. And I want to go swim with - well, not swim with, but in a cage - with great white sharks. I think I'm going to do it this year. And I wouldn't mind skydiving. But it's too dangerous. The great white shark thing would be cool. But the problem with that is it's a seasonal thing. The reason why I don't do the Rolex 24 Hour or do other races like that on off-weekends is because I want to go experience things that are totally opposite of racing and it's just how I balance out a rigorous season. If that's what relaxes a Tony Stewart or a Jimmie Johnson, then that's what works for them. But what works for me is being gone and being totally away from everything. But I would want to relax and travel and experience things and not have to do a lot of thinking, let's put it that way. So if I get the opportunity to step away from the sport that there are a lot of cool things I'd like to do. I have some investments in real estate. I love land. I love developing it and seeing it grow. I don't mind being in front of the camera if it's the right opportunity. But I don't want to be an actor. But it might be really cool to be in an animated movie with your voice. It's things like that and the Regis and Kelly thing that are fun and that I feel like I could pull off like Saturday Night Live. But from what I know about making a movie, that's not me. I wouldn't want to learn pages of script and then have to get myself into this role that takes me to another place - that's not me. If have no desire to do that. If I could play myself somehow and not have to learn all that stuff, then maybe I'd do it."

HOW DO YOU GET MOTIVATED AND PREPARED FOR THE SEASON?
JG: "Man, I've been so wide-open I can't say there's been much preparation. I was in Jacksonville for the Super Bowl last week with one of my sponsors, Pepsi, and mixing it up and having fun. Got back to Charlotte and had a root canal yesterday. Everything's good now. I can't say there is real preparation with me other than what the team is doing to prepare. I feel great. I'm really looking forward to it."

WITH THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE DAYTONA MOVED TO THE END OF THE YEAR?
JG: "No. I don't want to see the final race be at a restrictor plate track. I just don't think it makes for the best situation for us in going for a championship. I like that it kicks our season off."

DO YOU THINK DALE EARNHARDT JR. HAS UNUSUAL PRESSURE ON HIM TO BE A CHAMPION?
JG: "I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. has pressure on him because he's Dale Earnhardt, Jr. he's the most popular thing on the planet Earth."




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