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Ironman Jeff Gordon Streaks Into Chicagoland

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 18 2015
Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon had no senior moments when asked about catching Ricky Rudd on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon had no senior moments when asked about catching Ricky Rudd on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Jeff Gordon may be one of NASCAR’s elders, but he still has a pretty good memory. Like of the time he and Ricky Rudd almost threw down after a battle for the same piece of track near Turn 3 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

sprint-logo-08Gordon, who will tie Rudd for Sprint Cup’s all-time consecutive-start streak at 788 this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, brought up the Charlotte incident when he was asked about the streak on Friday.

“Oh, I know exactly what it was about,” Gordon, who’s 44 years old and retiring from full-time driving duty at the end of the season, said. “He was no longer my teammate. And, I was trying to pass him. And I had a little difficulty passing him, so I did a big slide-job on him in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4, and I don’t think he was happy about that. And he basically pushed me all the way down the straightaway and ended-up wrecking both of us by the time we got to Turn 1. And I showed my displeasure and he showed his displeasure.”

Gordon said the displays of displeasure didn’t end there.

“We had to get in the ambulance together to come back to the Infield Care Center. And we had many, many choice words,” Gordon said. “Nothing physical, but it got pretty heated.”

These days, it’s pro forma for drivers involved in skirmishes with other drivers to use their cell phones to send make-up texts.

The Rudd-Gordon incident came before texting was a thing.

Asked if/how they made up, Gordon again displayed the memory capabilities of a young man.

“Well, the funny part about that story is that I just bought a house up at the lake and it wasn’t finished,” Gordon said. “It was still being built. And I was up there looking at the house and where it was at, at the time. And a car drove down the driveway; it was still just dirt. There was no pavement or anything. So, this car comes winding through the property at the front and I was just looking and thinking oh, I wonder who that is.

“And I walk up and the car stops right about the time that I realize it’s Ricky and his wife. And they were just out and about, looking at houses (laughs). And, he wanted to back-up, I could tell. He wanted to back-up fast (laughter). But, he didn’t and we kind of laughed about it and talked about the incident and both apologized and moved on.”

While Gordon was extremely talkative about the Rudd incident, he was extremely reluctant to talk about the streak on Friday.

Asked what tying Rudd for Cup’s all-time Ironman title, Gordon, basically, passed.

“I’m really focused on the Chase and this being the first race in the Chase,” the four-time champion said, “and that’s where our priorities are and where our focus is at, but what’s coming along with that is something that I’m very proud of. And, it’s something I’ve put a lot of effort into over the years is to stay healthy and competitive and it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in that car every single race since 1992.

“So, on Sunday, that’ll be something that will add to some already impressive stats that it wasn’t something I really ever focused on throughout my career; I just always focused on working hard and staying healthy and being as committed to the team, from a driver’s standpoint, as they have been to me; and now here we are at 788. It’s pretty amazing.”

Others in the garages were less reluctant to talk about “the streak”. Some of the responses were epic.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, for instance, said, when asked what the streak means, said this week at Kansas Speedway’s open test, “He’s old.”

Clint Bowyer, also at the Kansas test, Bowyered when asked. “What is he? Like 50?”

Denny Hamlin, who drives a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, got serious about the streak when asked about it.

“It’s a big deal, I can tell you that,” Hamlin said. “It’s been quite a few seasons since I’ve ran every single race. Jeff’s (Gordon) that iconic guy and I don’t know when he’s on track to beat that, but it’s pretty special that a guy has been in the sport for 20-some years and never missed. Now, had there been medical staff back then like there is today he might have had to sit out a few races, but it’s awesome to see the guy kind of like ironman Terry Labonte for some many years.”

Ah, Labonte. Another of NASCAR’s tough guys.

Gordon was asked about Labonte, Rudd and his own toughness. To be precise, he was he was asled if he is as tough as those guys?

“Those guys are way tougher than me,” Gordon said. “I’ve never had to tape my eyelids open to make the race. The one thing about it is that this sport is safer today than it ever has been. But I think its a little bit more demanding in some ways, from how hard you have to push. The cars are gripping so much better and the G-forces that we’re pulling through the corners, in that sense, I think the physical fitness side of it you have to really work on.

“But when you think of those guys and the conditions of the cars, they didn’t have any kind of air conditioning. They dealt with some major injuries and fought through, just like Terry. Being my teammate there, I’ve seen him race with a broken hand or wrist or whatever it was, was pretty amazing. I’ve had some injuries along the way that I’ve had to fight through, so I have a taste of it; but certainly nothing like those guys. Those guys are way tougher.”

Surely not way better, however.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 18 2015
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