Fresh off win, Gordon feels 'young again'
May 12, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live | Sign up for RaceView today
The age issue has been there before. Even from the beginning, when he made his NASCAR Cup debut at the age of 21, youngest by far in a field of 43.
It surfaced again this past week, brought back to the forefront when he was honored by Charlotte Motor Speedway officials and the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the 20th anniversary of his first Sprint Cup win.
Yes, Jeff Gordon’s gotten older. But at 42, one could hardly call him old.
Talk of retirement crops up as often as conversations concerning potential titles these days. Given his recent results on the race track, he doesn’t discount the former, but stresses the latter.
"The whole retirement thing, I think, is thrown out there too much," Gordon said Saturday night, long after winning the 5-hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway. “And I’m probably somewhat to blame.
"But there’s no secret – I’m going to be 43 this year, but man, if 43 is like this, I can’t wait for 50.
"This is all right. I’m having a good time. That’ why I feel young, because I’m just having a great time."
Success has a way of doing that – of peeling away the years, dulling the aches and pains that come with hustling a stock car around the track for more than two decades.
Saturday night’s victory was Gordon’s 89th. No active driver has won more often, and only two in the history of the series -- Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) -- have more career victories. Both Petty and Pearson are enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame; Gordon’s day is coming.
A four-time champion, Gordon has gone winless for the season only three times in his career. With longevity has come success.
He took over this year’s points lead five weeks ago in Texas, and solidified it Saturday night in Kansas.
Title talk is expected to continue – the victory likely earned Gordon and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team one of the 16 coveted spots in this year’s Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup. Nine drivers have now won at least one race, with 15 more opportunities awaiting between now and the cutoff later this year at Richmond.
Crew chief Alan Gustafson, praised when his driver is successful and blamed when he isn’t, wore a look of relief afterward. Returning to the winner’s circle for the seventh time with Gordon, Gustafson said the victory was validation, but knows what lies ahead.
"The key is always to peak at the right time," he said, "and get the team in a great position. That’s something that we’ve got to be very careful of … it’s tough to sustain ultimate performance over 36 weeks.
"We’ve done a pretty good job over the first part of the season. We’ve got go be wary that we don’t slip and don’t get complacent, so when we get into the time that really is going to matter, we’re not flat. I think we’ve got to be focused on that, too."
Earlier this year, Gordon talked of his age, and the toll 20-plus years had taken on his body. He joked that winning a fifth title could push him into retirement, giving him reason to walk away while still on top.
Now, fresh off a win and still leading the points standings, talk of retirement has subsided. Talk of titles has not.
"I just feel so competitive out there,” Gordon said. “And that makes me feel young again."