Don’t let this title fool you! I am an avid Jeff Gordon fan, and it is still odd to watch a race knowing that he is not a part of it. However, having the opportunity to listen to Jeff in the booth on FOX is a lot more satisfying than I thought. He has provided great insight from a modern day racing perspective, which is something that Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds were just unable to provide, although both of them have their own unique perspective. Yet, I have not even gotten to the main point of why I am writing this.
Every time I would watch a race during Jeff’s illustrious career, I would be a wreck, especially later on in his career. It was nervous worrying about seeing Gordon have a tough day on the track, whether he was involved in a wreck or just a poor handling car. So many times Jeff would come tantalizingly close to securing a win but would be outmatched by a worthy competitor, such as Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson. In the final years of his time in the #24, his commitment and determination were always present on the race track, but his speed and performance were not.
If he was in the lead with the final ten laps, it would be difficult to breath let alone move, in fear of the superstition going in the opposite direction. With five laps to go? Oh I would be shaking and praying that a caution would not appear. On the final lap, regardless of whether he was .10 of a second ahead or 4.00 seconds ahead of the second place car, the edge of my seat was my new found home.
This would happen every single time Jeff was in the lead or if he was hunting down the leader, and if he was having a bad day, my mood would be altered for the worse. It could be argued that I had a problem, but a problem that I never addressed or fully realized until the second race of the 2016 season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Either way I do not think that my body could physically take the stress and apparent “control” I had over how Jeff would race, and my “responsibility” for his finishing position much longer.
This Sunday, I was sitting back on our blue uncomfortable couch in my apartment, watching, observing, enjoying. I was simply engaged on another level than I had ever been before. It was similar to coming out of a haze and seeing the bright clear blue sky above. I genuinely cared about how everyone’s race was progressing, how each driver’s car was handling, and how the tire wear was effecting the competitors.
Don’t get me wrong, I have other drivers I enjoyed keeping track of, but this time it was different. It just simply felt different, and it was a good thing. Gone were the days of only paying attention to where Gordon was on the track and how the car was handling throughout the course of the race. I was no longer worried or tense, but rather intrigued and hopeful. I was nervous that after he retired I would begin to lose interest in the sport I have loved for most of my life, but from the historical finish at Daytona to the unpredictable race at Atlanta, I am reassured that my passion is not going anywhere.
Jeff Gordon may no longer be racing, but that is not a bad thing. He gave so much to NASCAR, and had an incredible run. He finished with 93 wins and four championships (could have been five if it were not for Brad Keselowski) to his name, but now I have the chance to see and follow this sport in a way that I have not yet done. It’s exciting to have two great back to back races to start of the 2016 season, and having Jeff in the booth calling the races with Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip further adds to the quality of detail and excitement to the sport. I am not yet sure who I will root for going forward, though I do hope that Chase Elliott can can follow in Jeff’s footsteps, but to be honest, I am not in a rush.