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Jeff Gordon Is Ready To Roll, Not Rock

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 13 2015

Jeff Gordon told reporters in Dallas: Please, no rocking chairs. (RacinToday.com photo by Martha Fairris)

DALLAS – A rocking chair is the one parting gift Jeff Gordon doesn’t want to receive during his final full season as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series superstar. Because after vacating the cockpit of his trademark No. 24 Chevrolet in November, even “Sir Jeff” isn’t sure what seat he’ll jump into next.

“No rocking chairs, thankfully – not yet. There’s a reason why I didn’t say that I’m retiring,” Gordon said during a fan-friendly promotional visit to Klyde Warren Park in the heart of Dallas Thursday afternoon. “There’s a reason why I didn’t say this is it…that I said this is my last final full-season, because I want to leave that open. If I’m healthy and feel like I can get in a good opportunity and have some fun as well as be competitive, doesn’t matter what it is, I’d like to do it.”

A four-time Cup champion, Gordon announced on Jan. 22 that 2015 would be his 23rd and final journey through NASCAR’s 36-race meat-grinder of a schedule. Beginning in 2016, Gordon’s choices could range from a one-off return to his dirt track roots in an open-wheel Sprint Car or stock car, or perhaps sometime down the road a trip to Le Mans, France, for the 24-hour sports car endurance classic.

“Doesn’t matter what it is, I’d be interested in doing it,” Gordon said during a media scrum that capped an afternoon featuring a full-blown burnout at the intersection of the Woodall Rodgers frontage road and Harwood Street downtown; a Letter of Recognition from City Hall; presentation of a No. 24 jersey from Cowboys hero Everson Walls to Gordon, self-described fan of the San Francisco 49ers, and a lengthy Q&A session with fans who turned the 5.2-acred deck park into a Gordon-themed playground.

“All of us (drivers) do these types of events,” said Gordon, who was fulfilling a promotional obligation on behalf of the Duck Commander 500 Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on April 11. “Typically, you enjoy seeing the fans come out, you see what each

Jeff Gordon insists 2015 is not the end of the line. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

track puts together and try to promote the race. But when you come to an event and you get to do donuts and the mayor’s doing a sort of a proclamation and you get people coming out recognizing my career and the announcement, that takes it to another level that makes it that much more meaningful.”

Gordon’s 92 career Cup wins, including the 2009 Samsung 500 on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval – rank third all-time in NASCAR history. Despite a pair of poles in the season’s first three races, including the season-opening Daytona 500, Gordon has yet to post a top-15 finish and sits 30th in driver points. So while the accolades are appreciated, Gordon made it clear he again is focused on qualifying for the season-ending 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

“I’ve been very adamant to stick to my regular routine as much as possible because I do want to be competitive,” said Gordon, who burned the rear tires off the No. 24 Panasonic Toughbook Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. “And I’m a ‘routine guy.’ That helps me do my job and do it well in the past and this year. So luckily the folks around me, my team, have been great with that and the tracks and NASCAR have been very understanding as well. That’s why I’ve enjoyed what they’ve done the last several weeks in recognizing the No. 24 – Lap 24, the towels and things (logos) around the track. To me, that’s so cool to see and be a part of that. The experience has been really incredible. But it doesn’t take my focus away from what I’m doing and I look forward to doing more in 2016 with the fans and with the tracks.”

Gordon enjoyed a well-timed resurgence in 2014 with four victories, his highest total since posting six wins in 2007. Gordon finished sixth in the revamped Chase standings, failing to qualify for the four-driver championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway by one point.

Gordon’s shot at a fifth championship began to unravel during the AAA Texas 500 last Nov. 2 in Round 8 of the Chase. Gordon apparently was headed to victory with less than five laps

Jeff Gordon still knows his way to Victory Lane. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

to go when contact with Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing cut a tire on the No. 24 during a green/white/checkered flag restart. Gordon, who finished off the lead lap, angrily confronted “Bad Brad” on pit road post-race and ignited a brawl between the drivers and their teams. Both drivers emerged from the scuffle with bloodied faces.

“You know, everything happens for a reason,” said Gordon, who has compiled 320 top-fives and 454 top-10s in 764 career Cup starts. “I’m a big believer in that, always have been. I’m a big believer in karma, and all that. So I don’t know why that race ended the way it did. We had all the cautions we had there at the end and we didn’t get the win and had the incident with Brad.

“Certainly a learning experience, and I’ve never shied away from controversy or bringing some extra excitement to the sport either. But gosh, it was just disappointing not to be going for the championship in Homestead when I felt we had a team that was very deserving of it.

“And it’s no fun to start out like this. We’ve had a lot of confidence and momentum coming off last year. Luckily we’ve got those two poles (at Daytona International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway), because those poles have definitely kept the confidence there, and we’ve had some good moments throughout the races. But we’re going to have to follow that up with results to keep that confidence high.”

Gordon is the only driver to have competed in all 28 Cup races at TMS since its inaugural spring event in 1997, and is third in career top-fives at Fort Worth with nine. Gordon led 40 laps in last year’s rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 en route to a runnerup finish to Joey Logano of Penske Racing.

Gordon and team-owner/business partner Rick Hendrick have ceded the legacy of the No. 24 to reigning NASCAR XFINITY champion Chase Elliott, son of “Awesome Bill,” beginning in 2016. Gordon said he and Hendrick discussed the idea of retiring the number en route to Jeff’s eventual election into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I said, ‘Keep it going,’ ” said Gordon, 43. “I think Rick was really the one saying let’s do something for a year or maybe altogether, and I think they wanted to feel me out. But no, I like seeing the No. 24 out there. I’m such a fan of Chase’s that I think that probably had a lot to do with it. I think Chase is going to be phenomenal.  He’s just such a class act on-and-off the track. I think our fans are going to be really excited to see the No. 24 doing what it’s going to be doing next year with him behind the wheel.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 13 2015
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