Gordon out to find mojo

Highly motivated to finally nail down a Sprint Cup title

February 09, 2011|By George Diaz

Jeff Gordon has plenty of motivation for the upcoming NASCAR season.

It's the soundtrack rich with voices of children laughing, crying and calling out for daddy dearest.

Gordon and his wife Ingrid Vandebosch are parents to two children: Ella Sofia is 31/2. Leo Benjamin was born on Aug. 9.

So much for Gordon's plans to retire at 40.

"It's making me drive longer, I can tell you that," Gordon, 39, said jokingly during preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway. "I start looking at tuitions for schools, and yeah, the bills are definitely going up.

"No, I think really for me what I notice is just the pride that I take in what I do. Takes on a whole new meaning … now when you have your own children and you go home and you hear them say little things just like, Pop, I was watching you race the funniest thing that happened."

That would be in reference to the mini dust-up that Gordon had with Jeff Burton in Texas last season.

After Burton took Gordon out of the race by slamming into his No. 24 Chevy, Gordon offered a little payback with some pushing and shoving once outside the car.

The whole scene was funny and bizarre, given the "good guy" reputations of both drivers.

Even little Ella was perplexed.

"She said, 'Papa, were you wrestling with another guy out there on the track today?' And I said, 'Well, kind of.' She said, 'Why? Why did you do that?' And I said, 'Well, I got angry.' She goes, 'Why were you angry?' She wouldn't quit. It's 3 in the morning, and these are the things that are on her mind. It just brings everything into perspective, and it's just so raw and it's so fun."

Gordon will have other pressing questions to answer this NASCAR season. The most pertinent is, Can he get his mojo back?

He has won just one race in the last three years. He has been ranked in the top 10 in each of the last five seasons, but has been overshadowed in the Hendrick Motorsports garage by five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. Then again, so has everybody else.

But this much is also fact: It has been 10 years since Gordon — a four-time Cup champion — has won the title.

"Thanks for bringing it up," he said, facetiously, during the Sprint Cup ceremony in Las Vegas in December. "Don't worry, I know it has been a long time. I get reminded about it. I talk about different races and championships to remind myself as well.

"It doesn't bother me as much as it has been 10 years. What bothers me is that we've never won a Sprint Cup. The Sprint Cup has challenges in some ways that I didn't anticipate. It also motivates me to work hard to get it."

There will be a new look in the garage this season as Alan Gustafson replaces Steve Letarte, who has worked with Gordon the last six seasons.

"I think this change with Alan is going to help us (get motivated)," Gordon said. "It's not like the 48 (Johnson) is unbeatable. They're just really good and it's going to take a lot to beat them. It's not about luck."

gdiaz2@tribune.com

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