Not done yet: Gordon’s Kansas win suggests many good days ahead

Jeff Gordon, who won his last championship in 2001, is enjoying a stellar 2014.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Well, he finally did it. I know everyone has been holding their breath wondering when our NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Jeff Gordon was going to win a race.

I bet Jeff was also one of those holding his breath and about to start turning blue. He was so close in the past. The race at Auto Club Speedway in March admittedly slipped through his fingers. Saturday night at Kansas, he didn’t let anything slip as he took that victory from Kevin Harvick.

I mentioned this a week or two ago, but Jeff told me that if push came to shove, he would rather be 20th in the points and have a couple wins under his belt than be the points leader sitting there without a win. I think this shows you the importance all these drivers are putting on winning this year.

They know, probably this year more than ever due to the format change, that if they win, they are in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. We’ve been telling you that since the start of the season. Sure, there are some oddball ways that could happen, but that’s exactly what they are — oddball ways. It’s just not likely.

So Jeff became the ninth different winner in 11 races this year. I know there was talk at the beginning of the season that Jeff might retire soon, especially if he would win the championship this year. The man is only 42 years old, has 89 victories and four championships. Why on earth would you consider retiring when you are only 42 years old, you are on one of the best teams in the sport and you are driving for arguably the best owner in the sport?

Jeff Gordon wins first race of the season at Kansas Speedway

Forty-two years old is not old in NASCAR. You can go a long time in this sport. Granted, I don’t expect Jeff to still be driving when he turns 50, but this man has some great years ahead of him. He said Saturday night after the win that it made him feel 25 years old again. That’s what winning does for you. It elevates you mentally and physically. Actually it not only elevates you, but your crew chief, your team, your owner and even your sponsors.

It was fun to watch the fun Jeff was having in Victory Lane Saturday night. What’s ironic is when he first came into the sport, he was called, "The Kid," and actually this month will mark the 20th anniversary of his first-ever Sprint Cup win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Here we are 20 years later and Jeff is saying he feels 25 again.

As a driver gets older and if he is used to winning a lot, the victories start to come farther and farther apart. Jeff’s last win was at Martinsville last year. You savor these wins more. You know the clock is ticking. The competition is tougher and the wins become tougher to get. That’s why they are so special now and you appreciate them for as long as you can because you really never know if there will be a "next time."

I was thrilled to see Jeff win Saturday night. I was equally heartbroken for Kevin Harvick. The man sat on the pole. He led 120 laps and had the car to beat. I honestly didn’t think anyone was going to be able to beat him. That last pit stop, though, is a tribute to the No. 24 crew. They got Jeff in and out in front of Kevin. Even though Jeff only led eight laps, those sure were the best eight laps to lead.

It was a great night of racing at Kansas Speedway. There was a lot of excitement mixed in with a lot of things you don’t really see that often. For instance, there was that point in the race where Brad Keselowski stayed out while everyone pitted, but then the caution came out and so Brad had the entire field one lap down.

Photos: Wild night for drivers and fans at Kansas Speedway

It easily had to be the largest wave-around in the history of NASCAR. Thirty-nine cars — yes, you heard me correctly — 39 cars took the wave-around. The Lucky Dog went to Kevin Harvick since he was the first car one lap down. How many times can you say you’ve ever seen in our sport where the driver who received the Lucky Dog restarted second? Believe it or not, it happened Saturday night at Kansas.

If that wasn’t bizarre enough, well, then we had some of the lights go out on the back straightaway. NASCAR did a great job in talking to all the drivers to make sure it was safe to race. The drivers said they had plenty of light. The spotters were fine, too, so we went back to racing.

Goodyear did a great job of bringing the right tire to the race but from what some of the drivers were telling me, it probably was a little bit on the hard side. That makes cars hard to drive. It also makes them very aero-sensitive. I saw a number of guys just spin out. It also caused one heck of wreck on the frontstretch. That was as hard a wreck I have seen on a 1.5-mile track in quite a while.

Once again, it’s a testament to NASCAR and everyone who works towardmaking the tracks and the cars safer. A lot of hard work has gone into that moving target called safety. We’ve seen some scary crashes. We’ve seen cars catch on fire. Thankfully due to the enhanced safety in our sport, for the most part the drivers hop out of their cars and walk away to race another day, just as David Gilliland did on Saturday night. That fascinates me when I think about how we used to do it back in the day.

A number of teams that were searching for something positive to hang their collective hats on and needed good finishes got them.

After 11 races, Kasey Kahne finally got a top-five finish in 2014. That team definitely needed some kind of spark to turn their year around, and Kansas might have been it. Kasey runs extremely well at Charlotte Motor Speedway where we are these next two weeks, so maybe this will jumpstart that No. 5 car season.

Photos: Spending race day at Kansas with Ryan Newman

Dale Earnhardt Jr. chalked up his sixth top five of the year. Jimmie Johnson got his 11th straight top-10 finish at Kansas.

I guess the other major storyline everyone was watching all night long was the great run by Danica Patrick. Like her or not, you have to respect what this young woman is out there doing against all these guys.

That seventh-place finish was the best to date of her NASCAR Sprint Cup career. Only Janet Guthrie back in the ’70s had something like a total of five top-10 finishes when she raced in NASCAR. Danica had a great car and raced that car hard all night long. She wasn’t just riding around out there. She had a great car and she was racing hard and passing folks all night long. She did a fantastic job and I am so happy for her. She needed that. Kansas was a great confidence builder for her.

I really think that Kevin Harvick joining Stewart-Haas Racing has done wonders for Danica. I know Kevin has worked hard with her these last few weeks to help her qualify and race better. I think she has a mentor now who she listens to, and she trusts in the advice Kevin gives her. I think we’re going to see some more great finishes out of that No. 10 car this year.

So the next big event on our schedule is another Saturday night race under the lights on a 1.5 track. This time things are just a little bit different. The winner gets $1 million, no one cares who is second and there are no points to worry about. In a racer’s world, does it get any better than that?

I was fortunate to win the very first Winston All-Star Race back in 1985. We put a lot of effort into winning that race because not only did it pay a lot of money back then, but let’s face it: There can only be one first-time winner of any new event. Naturally, I wanted that to be me, and I was blessed it worked out that way.

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Our sport had grown to the point where we needed an all-star event like all the other major league sports. We needed a race where the stars of our sport could go head to head against each other. R.J. Reynolds, with their Winston brand, and NASCAR gave us what we now know as the Sprint All-Star Race. It’s a spectacular event that just keeps growing every year.

The sponsors build special promotions around this race. They bring a special paint scheme on the car that you might not have seen this year. It’s a jam-packed action filled Saturday night that I just love. There is no question there will be controversy when the race is over with.

There was in 1985 and there will be again in 2014. It’s just the way it is. The event lends itself to it. Drivers will be mad at each other. We’ll see something that will make us scratch our head and say, "Huh, never saw that before." That’s just the kind of night it is.

This year has an added twist. The format is different. The Sprint Showdown race, which is normally run Saturday before the All-Star event, will now be run on Friday evening before the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. There will be two segments of 20 laps each. 

Then Saturday night we will have All-Star qualifying, which includes three laps and a pit stop with a mandatory four-tire change. Make sure you are in the grandstands or have your television tuned to FOX Sports 1 because at 7 p.m. ET you don’t want to miss qualifying.

Those cars will be screaming down pit road like we used to back in the day. You can come in there as fast as you can stand it. You come off Turn 4 hauling butt at 180 mph and turn down onto pit road. You have to get that baby whoa’d down, slide in your pits, get you four fresh Goodyear tires and then haul butt back off pit road.

It is so much fun to watch when there is no pit road speed limit. Really, the only speed limit is what your little heart can stand. It’s all about getting down there on pit road, getting your work done and then gettin’ gone. So I am really looking forward to it because it sure is exciting to watch.

It’s just a fun weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Like it set out to do clear back in 1985 and is still true today, it’s all about you, the fans. Seriously? A million dollars to win and no points? Am I dreaming?

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