DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 10: Portrait of Jeff Gordon during the Media Day at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Daytona 500 on February 10, 2005 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida.
Photo By Streeter Lecka/Getty Im
Jeff Gordon won his third Daytona 500 last Sunday, and he hopes to turn that into his fifth NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship.
Shortly after the race, Gordon talked about the importance of the victory. Here are excerpts of his post-race interview:
Question: Do you think your success has helped the sport evolve?
Gordon: It's a total team effort, just like winning a race. I like the fact that I've played a role. But there are other people who have played a role: NASCAR's marketing department and their strategic planning and placing new venues and race tracks on the schedule over the years and our television partners in FOX and NBC. They've done a great job in promoting the sport as well as all our sponsors who have done a great job. I've had a great ride. Hendrick Motorsports has provided me a winning championship-caliber team and cars. I'm proud we've accomplished what we have and to be in the midst of that growth period when we've had our most success.
Question: Could you have accomplished 70 career wins and four championships with any other team?
Gordon: I don't know. Certain things happen along the way where certain combinations come together. Jimmie Johnson and that Lowe's team have shown that they can do that. If he'd come along when I came along, who knows, we could be talking about him. Look at Dale Earnhardt Jr. He is transcending the sport right now with his popularity. His dad did that before him. People like Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty and so many have played a key role in that growth.
Question: As several drivers retire, do you see yourself as the statesman of the sport?
Gordon: "I look at the level of experience and time you have in the sport more than your age. I came in at a young age. I'm young, but I've been in the sport 13 years. That's what dictates where you stand. I definitely know I'm no young gun out there and there's some great young talent out there. But I'm more comfortable now in the role I'm playing and my age. I'm enjoying being part of a great team and organization and a great sport. I'm going to play my part as long as I can. It's sad to see some of these guys go because I don't know of any other way. I've been racing these guys ever since I've been in it. You don't think of being out there without them. I'm excited for them in some ways because they're going to enjoy their lives in a unique and different way than they have in a long time.
Question: What would you like your legacy to be?
Gordon: It's not something I put a lot of effort into thinking about. Right now I'm so focused on driving and being a part of a great organization. But I've accomplished more than I've ever dreamed of and to have the career I've had to grow up at such a young age racing Quarter Midgets and go-karts and moving on to Midgets and Sprint Cars and having success along the way and winning big events. And getting into NASCAR and the Cup Series and knowing I've won three Daytona 500s and four Brickyard 400s and four championships and a lot of other races. To me, there's nothing really that I have left that I feel like I have to accomplish. I've accomplished more than I've ever dreamed. I guess I just want to be known as somebody who put his heart and soul into driving every lap and pulling off victories and that I played a role at Hendrick Motorsports and being a part of a sport as its taken off to a whole new level.
Question: Last October Hendrick Motorsports had to deal with an airplane crash that killed employees, friends and family of team owner Rick Hendrick. Is the Daytona 500 victory a testament to the way this team operates as a family?
Gordon: Well, you know, to me family is about how you're treated and how people make you feel and welcome you in. Since the day I met Rick Hendrick, you know, our relationship has grown, we've bonded, and I feel like I'm a part of that family. He's an amazing individual. He has this incredible quality of making that happen a lot with a lot of people around him because he's very warm and he's generous and kind. It shines through in him and it shines through in his people. People love to work for Rick because of that quality. People love to be around him because of that. His family is very near and dear to him. That's what made that loss so tragic, because they were not only family members that he cared so much about, but other people that were a part of the extended family that were just as meaningful to him and to all of us.
Question: You've won three of the last four restrictor-plate races? How long can you expect to be on top like that?
Gordon: Man, you never know. You just never know. You just keep trying to get more horsepower, keep trying to make the car slicker and better. What happens here is no real indication what's going to happen at Talladega. I mean, I felt like we had a great car, one of the best cars I've ever had here, but I also noticed a lot of other people had great cars here. So, you know, I think the competition has definitely closed up. So I don't think that we have any distinct advantage over anybody else.
Question: Why has Hendrick Motorsports continued to thrive since the tragedy?
Gordon: It's incredible what motivates some people and what makes people dig down within themselves and pull out more than they knew they had. This tragedy has done that for a lot of people. I think (engine builder) Randy Dorton's creativity, his experience, his knowledge, still lives within us. I mean, you know, that is a burning desire within everybody to keep that drive going. And I think he taught a lot of people at our organization about how to go about things. And we're very fortunate that his leadership has been passed down through other people that share that same passion that he did. So I don't see our engine program skipping a beat because of that. At the same time, we've had some incredible key people step up and take on a role that none of us expected.
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