Gordon decision highlights the week in racing
Obviously the biggest news in racing this past week: Jeff Gordon’s announcement 2015 will be his last full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. I won’t list all of Gordon’s accomplishments here, but suffice it to say he will go down as one of the all-time greats in the sport. I became a Jeff Gordon fan at the inaugural race at Las Vegas in 1998. I got to sit in on a pre-race press conference with Gordon. I was captivated by his wry humor and down-to-earth manner. At that the time NASCAR was making tweaks to spoilers and air dams and body profiles on a seemingly weekly basis, trying to prevent any one make from having an advantage. Despite this, the Fords were head and shoulders above everybody and the Chevy brigade was lobbying for changes to even things up. Unfortunately for them, Gordon’s Chevy was the equal of the Fords. So NASCAR concluded it wasn’t a technical issue, just a bunch of Chevy teams that weren’t good. Gordon proceeded to tell us how popular he was with the Ford guys, while his fellow Chevy drivers weren’t too happy with him.
Gordon has 92 victories and 77 poles in NASCAR’s premier series. It’s going to be just about impossible for him to win eight races this season and leave with an even 100, but he just might even up his pole score to 80. His 92 wins puts him third in the record books, and he’s fourth in championship wins with four. He goes into this season with 761 consecutive series starts, the most of any active driver and second only to Ricky Rudd. If he stays healthy this year, he’ll surpass Rudd’s mark. I caught an interview with him on ESPN Thursday, and he wouldn’t use the “R” word (for retirement). He left open the question of running selected races in future seasons, much as Mark Martin did in his final years in the sport. Based on how well Gordon ran in 2014, and the emotional impetus that his final year will give the team, I expect to see him go out in a blaze of glory in his final Cup season.
Gordon’s announcement kind of overshadowed the fact the racing season begins this weekend with the 53rd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Fittingly, there are 53 cars entered from 10 different manufacturers, divided among four classes. There are 16 Prototypes, eight Prototype Challenge cars, 10 GTLM entries, and 19 GTD machines. The Prototype class is a combination of the former Grand Am Daytona Prototypes and the former American Lemans Series P2 cars. Last season the DPs had an obvious advantage at the beginning of the season, but by year’s end the rules had been tweaked enough that a P2 machine finally won a race. I expect to see some spirited racing in the Prototype division this weekend.
Although the race attracts drivers from all over the world, there are a number of names that are familiar to American racing fans. In the Prototype division, a combination of IndyCar and NASCAR stars from the Ganassi Racing stable will share a Ford-powered Riley chassis. They are Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray, and Kyle Larson. IndyCar’s Sebastien Bourdais will co-drive a Corvette C7 Prototype as will Max Papis, while Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay will share a Riley BMW chassis with former F1 star Rubens Barrichello. A.J. Allmendinger will be aboard a Ligier-Honda P2 entry, and IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe will wheel a Mazda Skyactiv Diesel Prototype. In the Prototype Challenge class, IndyCar sophomore Jack Hawksworth will team with former IndyCar driver Bruno Junqueira. In the GTLM class, Indycar pilots Ryan Briscoe and Simon Pagenaud will each drive a Corvette C7R, while Graham Rahal will be aboard a BMW Z4 GTE. And in the GTD class we find Indy 500 driver/TV commentator Townsend Bell in a Ferrari, actor Patrick Dempsey in a Porsche, and a guy who will drive anything, Boris Said, in a BMW.