BURNS: Around The Track
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A video of Jeff Gordon’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win plays on a big-screen projector above Glory Road at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday morning.
As people crane their necks to watch highlights of the 1994 Coca-Cola 600 and post-race video clips of Jeff Gordon, the real Jeff Gordon stands some 100 feet away and smiles.
Wearing a black golf shirt, jeans and casual shoes, you’d think he was just a well-dressed race fan.
Those are out there, you know.
But Gordon’s different. He stands out. He’s got a couple of people around him as he walks up to his famous, DayGlo rainbow No. 24 DuPont Chevy Lumina and shakes hands with announcer Mike Joy and Speedway Motorsports Inc. President Marcus Smith.
Work inside the Hall of Fame comes to a stop. People at the entrance of the building peer into the Glory Road exhibit for a look at what’s happening.
It’s too early for a lunch break, but when Jeff Gordon’s talking, you listen.
Gordon’s not at the Hall of Fame for any kind of enshrinement. At least not until his 20-plus-year career is over, then his 88 wins and four titles will get him in. Gordon is at the Hall for a press conference commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, his first win.
Gordon smiles when he talks about his emotions from the race, which were so strong he found himself crying in Victory Lane. He smiles when he recalls maybe stepping into some gray areas late in the race. There are smiles all around.
Gordon has that effect on people. He’s upbeat, and he plays to a crowd. You watch Jeff Gordon for a few minutes and even the staunchest Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Tony Stewart fans would start to think he’s a pretty good guy.
“One of my favorite parts of the video is that when it shows me going down pit road, there was a pit road speed, but I’m not sure I was running it,” Gordon says. It draws laughs.
If there’s anything Gordon knows how to do as well as drive a racecar, it’s put people at ease. He could be an executive at Hendrick Motorsports whenever he retires. He could be an announcer on television if he wants. As his career winds down – wait, winds down? He’s the points leader! – Gordon has time to reflect.
He doesn’t want time to reflect.
He wants to win a Sprint Cup championship. He doesn’t believe he has one.
“Yeah, I’m a four-time champion, but those are Winston Cup championships,” Gordon says. “I want to win a Sprint Cup. I want to win one under (the Chase) format.”
Many believe this is his last legitimate shot at a title. We said that last year, too. And the year before.
Gordon keeps us interested. He keeps us coming back for more.
He’s never truly out of the hunt, whether it’s because he rallies into the Chase or Brian France puts him in it because of Clint Bowyer’s actions.
Gordon stopped conversation with those around him long enough to sneak a glance at the screen when it showed his 22-year-old face in Victory Lane.
He’s not youthful anymore. There are gray hairs and there was a long-running back injury that made him wonder if he could keep racing. He’s seen about all there is to see in NASCAR’s top series, but he still has the same desire he had when he was the same age as most college students.
It’s what endears him to millions of fans. It’s also what might win him a fifth championship.
“That would be as good as it could possibly get,” Gordon says.
It might spawn another video at the Hall of Fame, too.