Jeff Gordon isn't ready to hang up his helmet just yet
CHICAGO – Jeff Gordon is one of the clear favorites in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Unlike last season, when Gordon wasn't initially among the Chase field until a dispensation from NASCAR Chairman Brian France, the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team is this year's top contender.
After the first 26 races, Gordon amassed the most points before the standings were reset for the Chase.
But not since 2001, the year of his last title, has Gordon felt he had the cars and a team behind him that the best in the field.
I’ve had years where I felt like we had a chance to win, but it’s been a long time since I felt like we were the team to win.
“We have a lot of tracks that we can be extremely dangerous at that we can not only win but we also have the consistency as a strong team to be consistent enough to get ourselves to Homestead as well,” Gordon said. We have a team that has more than one way to get there.
“I’ve had years where I felt like we had a chance to win, but it’s been a long time since I felt like we were the team to win.”
Better over time
Despite his four previous NASCAR championships, Gordon acknowledges that at 43, winning this title would be the most rewarding.
The ultimate is between Ingrid and Ella and Leo, getting the chance to experience it – what it’s like – you can never take that away.
Jeff Gordon on experience success with his family
“Absolutely,” Gordon said. “Each one has been more rewarding to me because of what you have to go through to get there. The competition gets tougher – you as a person, you as you grow - people that are involved.
“When I take someone like (crew chief) Alan Gustafson, who has never won a championship who I think is very deserving of it and this team, as well as the relationship that I have with my parents now that I didn’t have through the championship years back then, that didn’t really get the chance to experience it. They played a major role in getting me here. That would be very rewarding.
“And the ultimate is between (wife) Ingrid, (daughter) and Ella and (son) Leo, getting the chance to experience it – what it’s like – you can never take that away. That in itself would be amazing.”
The next chapter
After 22 years and 91 career Cup wins, professionally Gordon has enjoyed a tremendous career. Despite the time crunch, Gordon insists, “I’ve not missed out on anything.”
And while he’s been blessed to have opportunities the average person can only dream of, Gordon does have a bucket list to tackle whenever the day comes that he hangs up his helmet for good.
I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve led a full life. I’m a race car driver. I don’t mind taking risks.
“We wanted to go to Bali in the off-season this year or next year but logistically we didn’t see how it would be possible,” Gordon said. “We like to travel. We like to experience new places. There are places that are too far away that it just takes too much time to get there, too much time to get back, between my schedule and the kids’ schedule it would just be impossible to do.
“I’d love to jump out of an airplane and go skydiving, too. But I think the risk is too high if I twisted an ankle or broke a leg or something like that. I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve led a full life. I’m a race car driver. I don’t mind taking risks. And I like pushing the limits every now and then a little bit, so that’s something I might do one day. It might not happen. I might wuss out when the time calls for it. But it’s just thing that take time – and time that we don’t have right now.”
Could that time come sooner than later when Gordon seriously contemplates retirement? There has been speculation that if Gordon should win the title, he would ride off into the sunset.
“I’m having too much fun now,” Gordon said. “I don’t see that happening. My focus is on the championship – and winning it. I’m going to do everything I can for the sponsors but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.
“I hope when that moment – when it’s time - that it hits me like a brick wall and tells me. But I don’t feel like it’s going to be at the end of this season.”