Jeff Gordon deserves another shot at Rolex 24 in Daytona
This is more in line with what Gordon had in mind when he retired from NASCAR.
Jeff Gordon (far left) with (L-R) Max Angelelli, Rolex CEO Allen Brill, Wayne Taylor, Jan Magnussen and Richard Petty after Gordon's team finished third in the 2007 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
By Joe Menzer
Now this is more in line with what Jeff Gordon had in mind when he “retired.”
It’s easy to understand why Gordon, a four-time champion in NASCAR’s Premier Series and current FOX Sports NASCAR analyst, has agreed to drive for Wayne Taylor Racing in the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
This is something he’s really excited about, and the type of thing he had visualized doing when he initially embarked on his retirement from as a full-time driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in NASCAR’s top series at the end of the 2015 season.
The plan then was for Gordon to step into the FOX Sports broadcast booth as a NASCAR analyst, which he did smoothly and with much success for the first half of the recently concluded 2016 season. Then he could use the rest of his year (after FOX handed off to NBC for the second half of the NASCAR season) to do whatever the heck he wanted.
If that meant spending more time with his family traveling or just hanging out, fine.
If that meant running a sprint car on dirt somewhere or just watching his kids run around in go-karts, so be it.
And if an opportunity like running again with a competitive team in the Rolex 24 was to arise, Gordon was all for it.
The key was it was going to be on his time schedule. He was going to do what he wanted pretty much when he wanted, and that was the beauty of it.
But you see, Gordon is a very loyal guy.
So when his former boss at Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick, came calling and asking for his help last July -- the jet-setting driver was actually vacationing in France at the time with his wife, Ingrid Vandebosch -- Gordon ultimately could not refuse.
Did he really want to come out of retirement to sub for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was recovering from a concussion? Probably not, if he would have been really truthful.
And even after he agreed, no one thought initially that it would be for more than one or two races. It ended up being eight.
Listen, the NASCAR Premier Series schedule is a grind, comprised of 36 points races and two exhibition events covering 38 full weekends across a nine-month stretch. Gordon did it for nearly a quarter of a century.
He won four championships and 90 races, stamping him as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time. But he had nothing left to prove and his back ached. Mentally, he also seemed aching to escape the exhausting nature of it all.
Then Hendrick came calling last summer with an offer he didn’t think he could refuse. And Gordon was thrown right back into the NASCAR vortex again, even though he eventually did put his foot down and say he wasn’t going to race every single week for the rest of the season (he split the final portion of the schedule as the No. 88 sub with Alex Bowman).
When his sudden season finally ended at Martinsville, Gordon seemed relieved. It's doubtful we'll see him behind the wheel of a NASCAR Premier Series car ever again.
But this Rolex deal? It’s unfinished business and it’s on his time, his terms. It’s something he really wants to do, and the lure of this prestigious 24-hour race has always loomed large on the minds of many NASCAR drivers.
Among the other NASCAR drivers who have competed in it in the past are seven-time Premier Series champions Jimmie Johnson and the late Dale Earnhardt, three-time champ Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Danica Patrick and Paul Menard.
Gordon has tried it only once, back in 2007, when he teamed up with Max Angelelli, Jan Magnussen and Wayne Taylor in another Wayne Taylor Racing ride and they finished third.
“I really enjoyed racing in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2007 with Max, Wayne and Jan,” Gordon said Tuesday. “When I announced I would no longer be competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, my hope was that I would get an opportunity like this to compete again in such a prestigious event … with the hopes of winning it this time."
He’ll try it this time with Ricky and Jordan Taylor joining him and Angelelli. And he will, no doubt, have fun.
Jordan Taylor, for one, said he can’t wait to be part of it.
“Jeff Gordon is a name that everyone knows worldwide,” he said. “He is one of the biggest names in motorsports. … Sports-car racing offers a unique perspective for drivers, where we have to share the same car. I can’t wait to compare notes and feedback with such a legend of our sport. It’s going to be an experience of a lifetime."
It’s good for NASCAR, it’s good for sports-car racing in general and the Rolex 24 in particular, and it’s especially good for Gordon, who deserves it.