Jeff Gordon weathered more than his fair share of jeers and taunts from fans during the early stages of his career. Now as he wraps up his 21st season in NASCAR's big leagues, his public approval rating -- at least to hear the buzz from the grandstands tell it -- is overwhelmingly positive.
Yet somehow, the four-time Sprint Cup champion still yearns for the old days when mere mention of his name typically brought a chorus of boos.
"I miss it. I miss it so much, because those were some of the best times in my career," Gordon said Tuesday during a one-on-one Chase Chat hosted on NASCAR.com. "I was winning a lot of races and battling for the championship every year, so yeah. Some people get booed for reasons that maybe they're not proud of or they did something negative and the fans are reacting to that.
"While there might've been people that didn't like who I was, it seemed like a lot of the boos were coming because we were winning too much, so that's what I miss. I miss the winning."
Gordon's quick ascent from upstart to title contender was polarizing for many die-hard NASCAR fans, who bristled at the California kid's rapid road to success. Seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, who acted as both mentor and foil to Gordon in his earliest years, once told his rival that it didn't matter whether fans reacted to a driver in a positive or negative light, just so long as they were making noise.
Gordon took the lesson to heart long ago, but the 42-year-old veteran took extra time to soak in the wave of cheers from his most recent and one of his most popular victories Oct. 27 at Martinsville Speedway.
"I've never felt more support from my fans than this year, and I think it has a lot to do with social media," Gordon said after his eighth career win at NASCAR's oldest track. "You see it through social media. But that kind of response where they're sticking around after the race, and while I can't hear and see everything going on when I'm passing for the lead or getting the checkered flag, I had a lot of people telling me the reaction, and that's so cool. I think that's awesome. Whether I'm at the track hearing it one‑on‑one from the fans or reading about it on Twitter or Facebook, through all that we've been through this year, I've never had more support.
"And they're critical at times, don't get me wrong. There's times they're saying things that are tough, but I know that it's only because they want the best for us just like we do, and when you finally can pull that victory off and see their reaction, between the team, my wife, my kids and the fans, it's just nothing better."