A Chat In New Hampshire

(July 20)- - Following practice for the New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, Jeff Gordon sat down for an extended chat session. He discussed the New Hampshire track and last week's race at Chicagoland Speedway in which he finished second to Kevin Harvick.

Discuss the addition of the lower groove in the corners at NHIS:
"It's the same old racetrack, just a groove higher. I hope it opens up some opportunities during the race, but it's hard for me to evaluate it right now. It's still a really narrow groove. I appreciate the effort that was put out to make a wider, side-by-side racing groove, but I don't know if it's going to happen or not."

The same old track is not too bad for you-- you've won three times here
"Yeah, I don't mind that part. We have run real well here before, and the last time we were here was pretty good. So I didn't want to see any changes, obviously, with the way things were last time. We're just trying to get used to the new groove here and figuring out whether or not you want to come across the apron getting into the corner or if you just want to stay up on the banking. Everybody is finding a different way to make it work right now."

When you formulate your plans on how to drive the track?
"Right now, we're just concentrating on qualifying. So we're just going to make our adjustments based on what the car was doing out there. I'm going to watch some cars when they go to qualify. I didn't get a chance to watch many and I want to see what some of the faster guys were doing out there and see if I can incorporate that into my qualifying run. We'll start running all over the track (on Saturday) to see where we want to run in the race."

Is this a workable situation to take this track from single racing to two-wide racing?
"It's hard for me to come up with an opinion right now but if I had to come up with one, I would say no-- it's a great effort but it's maybe better than what we had but not the best situation because now you don't have as much grip. There is less banking on the bottom and when you go in there, you're going to slide up into the outside groove. So if you do get inside of a guy, basically you're going to make the pass by sliding into him and pushing him up out of the groove. I think it's something worth playing around with but I think it's going to take some time. It's a good theory. It's great that they're trying. I just don't know if this is the perfect solution yet."

Would you like 10 degrees more banking in the corners?
"I'd like that a little bit better, maybe. It's just that the transition is a little bit too much. People don't realize how little banking transitions make a huge difference. For us right now, when we drive in the corner and we come across that new section that's less banking, it feels like it's off-camber. It feels like there's absolutely zero banking. If we can find a way to get just tiny, tiny transitions - maybe not that drastic - maybe those are the types of things that might work. So we're learning for this situation. This is the first time anyone has ever done this. It's a great idea. We'll learn from it and see if we can't improve on it."

Have you had to throw every note from previous races here out the window?
"No, because the banking is the same in the groove. Where we're qualifying and where we're running today is basically the same as what we had last year. It's just a lane higher."

In light of the tracks getting 65% of the TV money, should more tracks look at doing something like this?
"If we go to a racetrack where we can't run side-by-side and it's a one-groove racetrack, I think they should consider trying to do something. I think what we need to do is go to some of these paving companies and see if they can make a paving machine that does it in a radius where there is no transition, it just arcs up. Kind of like these old board tracks that they used to have. Those things started at one degree and went up and got pretty steep at the top. I'm not saying we need 80 degree banking or anything like that but, if we could go in there and not feel the difference when we go up to the different grooves of pavement would be the ultimate. If we could find a way to do it where its just small little steps, it would be great. Some places just have it by accident. Michigan is one of those places where it just happens to be by accident that it happened that way. I don't know how they did it but the bottom is flatter than the top and you can hardly tell it. But it's a shorter way around. You drive down in there and it's still got pretty decent grip. If you know how to keep your momentum in the middle in the high grooves, you'll go faster that way."

What other tracks would benefit from this?
"Homestead. Here and Homestead are the two number-one places where we have difficulty in passing and getting a second groove."

What does this track need?
"I don't know the solution. If I did, I'd be a track owner. I'm just trying to give my opinion based on the competitor's standpoint. I really think I'd be better off evaluating it on Sunday after the race."

How important is track position here?
"It doesn't get any more important than at a track like this. Track position is so critical and so important. Even with this extra groove down on the bottom, it's extremely important to have good track position. We all put every effort out on qualifying day."

Would you care to comment on what Kevin Harvick had to say after his move at last week's race at Chicagoland?
"No, probably not. Hey, he won the race. Don't take that away from him. A lot of guys do stuff out there that we don't agree with or that I don't agree with. But I don't hold that against him. Some guys are more aggressive than others. I'm sure there are things that he would disagree with me on. I'm not trying to get in a battle with Kevin. People ask me a question, I'm going to answer the question. Then they take it back to Kevin and start something up. It's not about that."

Are there places where making a move like that isn't such a big deal?
"I just think it's not so much Kevin's fault as it is NASCAR's for letting us go down there. That's a really dangerous place to be passing. If a guy has enough guts to go down there or he takes out half the field, who's fault is it? (Is it) the guy that took it down there or NASCAR for letting him go down there when we already asked about it at the drivers' meeting. They need to decide where they're going to have out-of-bounds and where they're not going to have out-of-bounds at some of these tracks."

Should this be something at every track?
"That part of the track is built to give room for cars that are slow or cars that just want to ride around the apron during practice and stay out of the racing groove. To me, it's not an area where you'd want to pass on or where you should pass on. I've been down there before and I just about lost it myself. When I saw Kevin go down there and that thing go sideways, and you're looking at the back bumper or the door and he's completely sideways and you don't know if he's going to spin out and you've got cars all the way around you, it's not a comforting feeling. If they give that option for a guy to go down there, some are going to do it and somebody's going to wreck and somebody's going to take a lot of guys out."

Would you go down there?
"I've been down there. I saw how dirty it was the other day. If it's for the win, that's one thing. But when it's just trying to pass lapped cars, I'd try to stay away from going down there - put it that way. I saw some other guys trying to do down there. At that racetrack (Chicago), I don't think it's a good idea to go down there. I did it at Daytona (in 1999), on a flat straightaway, but it didn't make the car go completely sideways. That was for the win. I think that guys do certain things for the win - especially if it's the Daytona 500. I don't knock a guy for trying something like that. Have I ever taken anybody out for doing that? Not that I remember."

(From Team Monte Carlo)

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