TMS Media Relations | Aug 19, 2014
Sprint Cup Series pundits once peppered four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon with questions regarding retirement. His most recent championship had come in another decade when NASCAR’s top series was called the Winston Cup Series, his season win totals began to dip while his age began to rise, leading those to question what appeared to be end of a highly decorated career.
Gordon, who once dominated the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series scene during the 1990s and 2000s and earned the nickname “Wonder Boy” given to him by the late Dale Earnhardt, seemed like a shell of himself in recent years. The “Drive for Five” – the phrase developed as part of his efforts towards a fifth career Sprint Cup Series championship – seemed like a hollow phrase until this season. Gordon and his Hendricks Motorsports team are in the midst of a renaissance and have given new life to the “Drive for Five” campaign.
“Right now I feel like I’m driving smart, but also when it comes down to restarts, I’m confident in my car enough that I can put it in places I haven’t been able to put it in the past and be a little bit more aggressive when it matters,” Gordon said after his third victory of the season at Michigan International Speedway last weekend. “Certainly, things are going well, no doubt about that. I’m as shocked as anybody else.”
Gordon’s resurgence at the tender age of 43 has come while the veteran driver has battled severe back spasms. His three victories on the season match his combined win total from the previous two seasons and his eight top-five finishes this season have already matched last year’s total.
“There’s got to be some advantages to being 43 out there,” Gordon said. “I would hope being more patient and using your head a little bit more would be one of them. I think I’ve always felt like to be a top driver in this series you got to balance that out with aggressiveness, being smart, utilizing your equipment and making the most of it.
“Right now I’ve got great race cars. That’s obvious. I’ve got a great crew chief (Alan Gustafson) that believes in what I’m doing out there, and I believe in what he’s doing, and the engineers.”
While age is not on Gordon’s side, his 23 years in Sprint Cup Series racing have helped key his turnaround.
Gordon’s aggressiveness served him well during his younger years where winning consecutive races was not uncommon. For team owner Rick Hendrick who witnessed the heydays of Gordon’s career, the aggressive nature has been put aside and a more experienced approach has proven to pay dividends for his driver.
“I think what I see now with Jeff today is how smart he is,” Hendrick said. “If someone gets in front of him or is trying to block him like they did today, instead of pushing the envelope like maybe he did in the early years, he’ll just back off and let them use their stuff up and then he’ll pass them.
“You just don’t see him make any mistakes. I think all of his years of experience are paying off for him right now. When you have the fastest car, everybody races you extremely hard. They know they got to get to you on the restart. If they can do that, probably they can pull away.”
In May, severe back spasms forced Gordon to cut short a practice session prior to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The back spasms were so severe the team had Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith on standby should Gordon not be able to drive.
While most people with back problems would dread getting into a sweltering race car and driving for 500 miles, for Gordon getting behind the wheel of his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet offers him relief.
“The race car has really become the most comfortable place for me to be,” Gordon said. “It’s everyday life where it can get to me now. There are days I can barely pick up my kids. There are certain racetracks that cause it to give me trouble, but the race car is really where I can go now and not hurt.”
Gordon’s success in 2014 has provided new meaning given that he is now a husband and father of two. The opportunity to capture an elusive fifth Sprint Cup Series championship would provide the crown to what has been a historic career.
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