DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There isn’t much left that Jeff Gordon hasn’t accomplished in his glorious NASCAR career.
His accomplishments have solidified him as one of the true legends of the sport beginning with a victory in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994.
That win in the first-ever NASCAR race at the famed Brickyard was the first of Gordon’s four wins at the “World’s Most Famous Race Course.” Gordon would also win four NASCAR Sprint Cup titles and capture an incredible 88 Cup victories – three of those coming in the Daytona 500.
Gordon is attempting to go “Four for Four” when it comes to NASCAR’s biggest prizes as the driver who spent in formative years in Pittsboro, Indiana attempts to win the Daytona 500 for the fourth time in his career.
Gordon’s Daytona 500 wins came in 1997, 1999 and 2005 but since his last checkered flag in NASCAR’s big race he has just one top-10 finish in the Daytona 500.
Since his 2005 victory, Gordon has finished 26th, 10th, 39th, 13th, 26th, 28th, 40th and 20th last year.
That is a trend Gordon wants to change in Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500. And if the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is able to win at Daytona it will automatically qualify him for the new 16-driver “Chase Grid” – a major change NASCAR has made in the “Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.”
Gordon has already said if he were to win another NASCAR championship he would probably retire as a driver. While some thought he may have been joking with that comment, the driver actually said it’s a serious consideration.
“It’s probably more serious,” Gordon said. “If I win the championship this year, I’ve put in 20-plus great years. I do this now because I love it, because I like being competitive, and because I want another championship. I want to get a Sprint Cup championship.
“I go home and I look at my trophy room. I see four trophies, championship trophies. But they say Winston Cup on them. You can name me a four-time Sprint Cup champion for technical reasons all you want, but to me I’m still not. I want that before my career’s over.
“If that happened, that would be all the reasons I need to say, ‘This is it, I’m done.’ I could go out on a high note and start playing baseball.”
Don’t expect Gordon to start a new career like basketball legend Michael Jordan attempted when he initially retired from the NBA in 1993 and began a less-that-stellar effort in the Chicago White Sox minor league system before returning to the NBA.
Gordon turns 43 on Aug. 4 and while that is still considered young for a race driver one more championship would give Gordon an opportunity that all drivers want for the end of the career – to go out as a winner.
And if he were to start off the season with a win at the Daytona 500 it would be the first big step in NASCAR’s season of change. Those changes include a new IndyCar-style qualification format beginning with the next race at Phoenix where all cars will be on track at the same time for the first 30-minutes in a “knockout” qualification system. In addition to that and the elimination rounds of “The Chase” which will conclude with four-drivers in a “first to the finish” championship format and a new penalty structure, there is a lot to take in for the 2014 season.
“I like the direction and changes that have been made,” Gordon said. “You brought up the penalties. I think that’s a structure that’s needed to take place for a while now. So I think if you have something that makes sense, why wait just because you’ve made other changes? So go ahead and incorporate that into there. We’ll adjust, we’ll deal with it. It’s going to take some time to work through it for NASCAR as well as for the competitors.
“The same thing with qualifying. I feel like we needed to do that a few years ago. When F1 started doing it, I was instantly a huge fan and said, Man, I wish we had this. I love that they’re incorporating that.
“Then there’s a few little tweaks that probably are going to need to happen with that as well. I was real happy to see them being open-minded and them recognizing some things that needed to be done and they did that.”
The biggest change of all, however, will come with the points. The emphasis is now placed on victories instead of consistent finishes because that is what will get a driver in the Chase. Ideally, in simplified form, if there are 16 drivers that won a race and each driver is in the top 30 in points they are automatically in The Chase.
“The points I like it as well,” Gordon said. “I think the thing that stood out to me in the conversations that I had with NASCAR that really resonated was when the driver gets out of the car and said, ‘Well, you know, third place today, it was a good points day.’ That just doesn’t sit well with anybody, not even us. We don’t want to say that. We don’t want to say anything other than, ‘We won.’ If we didn’t win, that was not a good day.
“It’s win or nothing. That’s the attitude you want to have.
“It’s not necessarily the reality, but getting us closer to that I think is important. I think this takes us that next step towards that, how important it is to win and the intensity level that’s going to be created from qualifying for all of us, crew chiefs, drivers, teams, as well as, you know, the importance of winning to get in and how important it’s going to be to compete at a high level and winning throughout the Chase.”
While many of these changes may not have been universally embraced by drivers or fans there is strong evidence that add all the changes together and it will attract more eyes to NASCAR races both at the track and on television.
And for those who initially complained, Gordon believes they will continue to watch.