It’s been a busy week for Jeff Gordon.
He “lost” a pit crew, explained a “fight” dozens of times and traded stories with a collection of country music stars.
Now he’s back on familiar ground – the racing surface at Phoenix International Raceway – and seeking to end a winless string that dates to April 2009. And he’ll attempt to do that with a pit crew that has had its own busy week, with its “move” from Jimmie Johnson to Gordon after a sour Sunday in Texas.
Can Gordon win with the guys whose recent performances were judged not good enough to take Johnson to another championship?
“Those guys have been good enough to win six races with them this year,” Gordon said. “So, I think they had a rough day at a crucial time in the championship. And I think that what this shows is that all of us at Hendrick Motorsports do everything we can every day to try to win championships. Even when we’re not in it, we’re doing what we can to try to help. And that’s what this is all about.”
Gordon said he is pleased that his pit crew will have a chance on the high ground with Johnson.
“I think [crew chief] Steve [Letarte] has worked really hard with our pit crew this year to get them to be as good and as consistent as they are,” he said. “I’m excited for them. To go over there and have a shot at helping those guys win a championship, but I’m also looking forward to kind of helping the No. 48 crew rebound because I think that it’s been a really tough week for them, and I think they’re also a good pit crew and they just had a rough day.”
Gordon is also on the rebound – after last Sunday’s crash involving Jeff Burton and the scuffle and controversy that followed. Gordon and Burton have discussed the incident, and both say it’s behind them, but Gordon says he remains puzzled by the fact that Burton ran into him under the caution flag.
“I’m never going to agree with what went on at Texas,” Gordon said. “And we had a good conversation, and, like I said on Sunday, I have a lot of respect for Jeff and always have and I may have lost some for him, but I still really respect him for what he brings to the sport and what kind of race car driver he is. And I feel like we were able to laugh about it, and now we can just start focusing on Phoenix and move on.”
The consensus is that incidents like the one involving Gordon and Burton put some fire into the sport, and Gordon agreed.
“I think what the fans want is they want to see the passion,” he said. “They want to see how much it means to us out there. And when something like that happens and you show that, I think they get fired up about it. Yeah, they want to see some controversy in a scuffle like that. But they want to really try to sense what it’s like to go through a situation like that. And when you show your emotions in that way, which from time to time I think are very good, you get those types of reactions and it draws a lot of attention, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Gordon was among the award presenters Wednesday night at the Country Music Association Awards in Nashville. He said he wasn’t surprised that the Burton incident was a topic of interest.
“We had a little bit of fun with [host] Brad Paisley on the show,” he said. “You've got to be prepared for that and what comes along with it.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.