The Racing Capital
of the World
July 10, 2013 | By Bruce Martin
Jeff Gordon has become a familiar face at Pocono Raceway ever since he competed in his first race at the “Tricky Triangle” on June 13, 1993, so it was really no surprise to see him walking through the garage area or the starting grid.
But what was surprising was Gordon was attending an IZOD IndyCar Series race as a fan – not a NASCAR Sprint Cup contest as a driver.
Gordon attended an IndyCar contest for the first time in more than 20 years when he made a surprise visit to the Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco on July 7. His young son, Leo, talked his dad into taking him to a race after he saw a television commercial for the IndyCar event at the family’s home in New York City. So Gordon’s wife, Ingrid, said, “Why don’t you go, Jeff?” and he made the quick trip to Pennsylvania from his home Sunday morning after competing in the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.
It was a chance for Gordon to take time out of his busy July schedule, which culminates with the annual trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard and the Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com Sunday, July 28.
“The three-wide start for IndyCar is cool,” Gordon said at Pocono. “I can’t even remember the last IndyCar race I’ve been to. I’ve been to some Formula One, but I haven’t been to an IndyCar race since I’ve been in Cup. It just happened to work out that we are in New York right now, and we are here.
“I didn’t even think about it. My wife said, ‘Have you thought about going to that Pocono race?’ after Leo saw it on TV. It shows that advertising is working. Anything that has to do with race cars, Leo is ready to go.”
When Gordon was a kid, Pocono meant IndyCar racing, which at that time was sanctioned by the United States Auto Club (USAC) and later CART.
“I remember a little bit about the Pocono races,” Gordon said. “You can’t ever forget those cars coming down that long straightaway and bouncing into Turn 1 because that is what they did back then. Gosh, 220-plus miles an hour around this place – that is why I’m here. I can’t fathom that kind of speed of this track. That is what I remember.
“I was a huge Rick Mears fan, and I remember him doing well here. That’s what I remember.”
The IndyCar contest last Sunday was the first at Pocono since Danny Sullivan defeated Mears in the old Domino’s Pizza 500 in 1989.
Gordon had the rare chance to play spectator at the IndyCar race and was able to get Leo to sit in the cockpit of the one of the cars before the race. He also had a friendly visit with IndyCar team owners Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Jay Penske before walking onto the grid.
IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti came over to visit with Gordon and Leo. One of Andretti’s drivers, James Hinchcliffe, came over.
“In that fire suit, do you ever get confused for Danica Patrick?” Gordon asked Hinchcliffe with a smile.
“Yes, all the time,” Hinchcliffe said. “I hear fans say, ‘Hey Danica, when did you grow a beard?’”
After that exchange, this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan came over to give Gordon a warm greeting. After the two spoke, Kanaan left and then returned with a miniature stuffed Geico Gecko that had been inside his race car when he won the Indy 500 on May 26 and gave it to Leo as a gift.
After posing for a few photos, Gordon – a four-time Brickyard 400 winner – visited with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves of Team Penske.
“This is very cool,” Gordon said. “It’s so rare for me to get this opportunity. I went to Knoxville, Iowa, last year for the sprint car race and loved that so much. I had the opportunity come here and bring my son, Leo, who loves race cars. Turbo is on his race car.
“I heard the speeds they were running here and had to see for myself. It worked out great with a beautiful day.
“Indianapolis is such an amazing race for all of us to watch, and it’s interesting to see how it is at Pocono.”
Gordon enjoyed his day as an IndyCar fan, but now it’s off to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he has three wins, 16 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in 36 starts. He was sixth in this race last year and third in the Chase race last fall at New Hampshire after starting on the pole.
He is winless in 2013 and enters the race 14th in points and needs a win badly to become eligible for one of the two wild-card sports in the Chase. Or, he has to get into 10th place by the end of the NASCAR race at Richmond in September to become automatically eligible for NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship.”
"We don't have any choice but to go out there and race hard and be aggressive," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. "I feel like we have so much more potential. If we live up to our potential, we can earn a Chase spot."
Gordon was in a similar situation in 2012 when he was 17th in the standings at this point in the season. With a win and five top-five finishes in the eight races leading up to the 2012 "Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup," he earned one of the 12 spots to battle for the title.
"We've had such an inconsistent year," four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Gordon said. "We need to make sure we do well at some of the tracks coming up like New Hampshire. We've had some great runs recently. We need to make sure we have the good finishes to go along with them.
"This track is very flat but it has long straightaways, so you carry a lot of speed into the corners. It's hard to maintain a lot of speed for such a long, flat corner. Even though flat tracks weren't my favorite types of tracks growing up, I've always enjoyed racing here. We've run well the last couple years, and we just did the tire test here a few weeks back. We're definitely excited about the race this weekend and optimistic about how we can do."
Success on the flat track at New Hampshire could prepare Gordon well for another flat-track challenge at the end of July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.