NASCAR Hall of Famer Gordon comfortable in new role at Hendrick

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jeff Gordon called NASCAR racing for Fox when his former boss came to visit and left a note. Rick Hendrick had in a good mood posted hours of his 12+ hour work days for his former star driver. These are the grueling demands of the job when you own 100+ car dealerships and your name is on the winningest organization in stock car history.

“I knew I could never measure up,” Gordon said with a laugh.

Now look at Gordon.

For the first time in 50 years, Gordon jokes that he finally has a real job (minus the TPS reports). Yes, he has a desk and a desk and if he needs to punch a clock, well, Gordon could start with one of the nine grandfather clocks he won in Martinsville.

And his day begins as soon as the working father drops off his two children at school.

Gordon has settled into his day-to-day role at Hendrick Motorsports as the 72-year-old Hendrick’s new vice-president and second team official. This decision allowed Gordon to one day succeed Hendrick and lead the operation. The real-world gig for the four-time champion has already come with an early assessment of Hendrick’s performance.

“He shows up on time with his game face,” Hendrick said.

Phew! Next stop, employee of the month.

Few drivers have ever shown up in big moments quite like Gordon. He won 93 races – third on the career list – and four Cup titles before retiring in 2015. He won the Daytona 500 in 1997, 1999 and 2005.

Gordon now has a hand in all aspects at Hendrick, from competition meetings and marketing to finding sponsors and social media ideas. He’s a mentor of sorts to Hendrick’s four Cup drivers – defending champion Kyle Larson, 2020 champion Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman. And why not? Gordon has mixed maddening success with off-track stardom like no other driver before him (and perhaps since). Gordon encouraged pilots to step out of their professional comfort zone and find new ways to promote themselves and the sport.

Gordon should know how to expand beyond the race. He hosted “Saturday Night Live”, voiced several cartoon characters, and starred in various TV shows, movies, and commercials.

“If there is a growing following for drivers, it’s likely that the sport will benefit as well,” Elliott said. “I think he’s just trying to help everyone win.”

Winning is always what Hendrick does best.

Hendrick swept the front row for Sunday’s Daytona 500 with Larson on pole and Bowman starting on the outside. It was the seventh pole of the last eight Daytona 500s for Hendrick.

The team’s dominance was started by Gordon, handed over to seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, and could seemingly continue for decades. Hendrick said he was close to signing Byron and Elliott for contract extensions and hoped both drivers – like Gordon – would finish their careers with the organization.

Gordon, the face of NASCAR as it exploded in popularity in the 1990s, had held a stake in Hendrick Motorsports since 1999, and his interest in the business side of the sport only grew, even as he called races at the Fox Sports booth. He realized he wasn’t done making a difference to Hendrick.

“I always thought that if I wasn’t the one driving the car then the championships or the wins wouldn’t mean as much,” Gordon said. “I disagree. I think in some ways it’s also rewarding, in others even more rewarding, because I connect with Rick.

Gordon wanted more than a seat at the table. He needed more pit seats after being ousted in the championship race last season.

Has he had any?

“Oh, yeah,” he said.

Of course he did.

For a driver who mastered the bricks at Indy – he’s a five-time winner of the Brickyard 400 – Gordon will soon be showing off his skills with Lego bricks. Gordon and Byron are set to guest star in an episode of “Lego Masters” this season. Byron is a master builder – he showed his work at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium – while Gordon insisted he was much more of a novice.

“I can only take the instructions out of the box,” he snapped.

He once helped devise the plan to build a dynasty in Hendrick

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