CRAWFORD | Gordon hopes to check win at Kentucky off his list in - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Gordon hopes to check win at Kentucky off his list in retirement year

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Jeff Gordon talks to fellow driver Kasey Kahne during a rain delay at Kentucky Speedway (AP photo.) Jeff Gordon talks to fellow driver Kasey Kahne during a rain delay at Kentucky Speedway (AP photo.)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The news that Jeff Gordon is running his last full season on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hit me particularly hard, because I was there when he won the first Brickyard 400 in 1994, and even a little before.

I remember him from even before he was the hot young driver, the new face of NASCAR. After winning the first Brickyard race, he helped propel stock car racing to a new generation of fans in the overall sports culture. He had his own video game. He voiced his own character in the Disney movie, “Cars 2,” Jeff Gorvette. He played himself on “The Simpsons.” He did Leno and Letterman. Next year he’ll become a race analyst for FOX. That he’s old enough to retire, well, it forces you to consider your own age.

Gordon has forever looked like that kid who was burning up short tracks around Indiana before becoming a NASCAR megastar. He’s done about everything there is to do in NASCAR, been the most popular driver, been one of the most reviled drivers (that’s how it works). He’s won everything and everywhere.

Except for one place. Kentucky Motor Speedway is a relative newcomer to the highest NASCAR circuit, in just its fifth season, and Gordon has run well here — one of only four drivers to finish in the top 10 of every race here. But he’s never won here, and that leaves a hole he’ll be looking to fill when the Quaker State 400 goes green Saturday night.

That Kentucky is the lone track Gordon has run on where he hasn’t won is a fact that hasn’t escaped anyone heading into what could be his last race here — including Gordon himself.

“It’s no different than any other track,” Gordon said. “The only difference is it’s the only one left on the list.

“It wouldn’t mean so much to me if I hadn’t won all the other ones. But it’s all been good. We’ve come close here once before. It’s the newest track that’s been added so we haven’t been able to come here for for a long time. But it would just mean a lot to win it. If we don’t it’s not that I’ll be super disappointed. I’ll be disappointed if we finished second, to come that close. That would be disappointing, as far as the stats go, but we’d just like a good strong finish and a chance to close it out.”

Gordon will have a shot. He’ll start No. 3 after rain-hampered qualifying. And he needs a win for more than just posterity. He hasn’t won in 24 tries — since last September — and a would lock up a spot in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. 

Kentucky presents a different challenge to everyone, not just Gordon. Long known for its rough racing surface, the track also will be the first to roll out a series of technical changes NASCAR has allowed to its cars to try to promote more passing in the races.

Gordon said he expects it’ll give drivers the ability to do a little more racing, but doesn’t know that the change will be dramatic, and joked about the physical demands of the rough track.

“There’s no doubt, it’s less grip (on Kentucky’s rough surface),” he said. “And when there’s less grip, then you go a little slower through the corners, which is kind of the theory behind this package, to slow everybody down a little bit, so you’re not so dependent on the aerodynamics that when you’re behind somebody you’re losing that much-needed air. And hopefully that will create the ability to pass a little bit more. But if you think you’re going to go out there and run side-by-side, that’s a whole different story.”

A Gordon win wouldn’t just mean something to Gordon, it would be a good thing for the track in Kentucky. People remember historic, milestone wins. To have a shot to be the last place Gordon won would put the track into the record books, and add a little history for one of the newer venues on the circuit.

Certainly, Gordon’s chase to check this one final track off his list has ramped up a little extra interest in the race around the circuit.

The Speedway presented Gordon with 24 bottles of bourbon from four different distilleries around the state on Friday afternoon.

Maybe Gordon will present the track the gift of making a little history on its 1.5-mile oval Saturday night.

“It would be very cool,” he said. “Most of my energy is spent with do we have a shot at winning at this track. I feel like we have run solid here the last few times we have been here. I feel like as good as our cars are this year that this is probably the most legitimate shot that we’ve had of crossing that one off the list. It would mean a lot. It would be quite an accomplishment and it’s something that I would love to say I have done.”

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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