By Thomas Chemris - Motorsport.com
New York, New York - With the Winston Cup season ended, the stars of NASCAR's top series headed to New York City for the annual awards week.
Series Champion Jeff Gordon kept busy between media appearances and picking up awards during a hectic schedule that included, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Today Show, and, late night with David Letterman.
"Those things to me are fun, there great for the sport. The sport is being recognized, it's great for the team and it's something we enjoy", notes Gordon.
During this media blitz, the four-time champ also attended several private media appreciation dinners and luncheons, as well as The Myers Brothers Breakfast.
During all festivities, Gordon picked up awards from, Budweiser, Gatorade, and Tosco 76 for winning in the contingency sponsor categories. (Most Poles, Laps Led, and top season finisher) culminating in being named True Values man of the year, and Winston Cup Champion.
In addition to the driver recognition, Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Crew Chief Robby Loomis grabbed the Plastic Kote quality finish award, and engine builder Rick Wetzel brought home the Clevite award.
A profitable and rewarding week for all the members of the twenty-four team.
During the fast paced week Gordon also celebrated his seventh wedding anniversary, and his bride Brooke celebrated her birthday.
In previous years, when the top stars of NASCAR invaded the Big Apple, many of their activities went unnoticed, however, with the soaring popularity this year everyone seemed to notice and celebrate with the teams.
Gordon notes the phenomena, "With so many other things going on in New York City, it's easy for people not to pay as much attention to auto racing. It has come a long way, there are a lot more people who know about it this year than ever before." Including the New York Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, who through his representative John Dyson presented a proclamation declaring Friday, November. 30, as NASCAR Winston Cup Series Day in New York City.
With all the fanfare and activity, the celebration was constantly overshadowed by the fact that all the events took place in a post September 11th New York City.
Gordon received recognition for the season long accomplishments just miles away from the site of the worst act of terrorism ever committed on United States Soil.
Gordon, as well as many other individuals involved in the sport visited ground zero, to pay respects to all those who lost their lives.
"It's so many different emotions, you're with people, and mourning a loss. In one way it is like a memorial, you try to find some type of closure", states an emotion Gordon.
"Gordon continues, "You look around, and see the destruction that was caused. What hits you so hard is that that was not nature, or an accident. That was a human being that caused that. That hits you hard when you are there."
Gordon, who in nine full seasons in Winston Cup has competed 293 starts has accomplished 58 wins, 41 poles, Rookie Of the Year (1993), and four championships. Remarkably, he has never had to use a provisional start.
After the teams last Championship in 1998, a year the Rainbow Warriors shattered all modern era records with thirteen victories, the team underwent radical personnel changes The departure of crew chief Ray Evernham, engine builder Charlie Siegars, and most of the over the wall crew Left many critics and even Gordon believing that the team dominance was over.
"Its gratifying to be back on top. Having a couple years where we weren't a threat for the championship. It makes us appreciate it that much more and come together in a stronger way. Those two years, (1999 and 2000) are going to keep us that much stronger in the future.
When you go through that, you think that this is it for our team, and our success. You really do not know what the future has for you, you just don't know. It is hard to keep that confidence level up when you go through something like that"
At the young age of thirty, Gordon is a seasoned veteran whose wisdom exceeds his age. He is painfully aware that this Championship came during a year that all his success will be forever overshadowed by the great loss as the sport continues to mourn seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt.
"While it was a great year for our team, it was a very tough year for our sport and our country," Gordon said. "For NASCAR, the year started with the huge loss of Dale, and that loss has been there all year long. We'll never forget what he brought to NASCAR and how he helped the sport reach new heights. He was a friend to so many and a great competitor. For me, personally I learned an awful lot from him on and off the track".