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Brickyard Legend Gordon Resisting Need to Speed in Happy Return to IMS

He’s had this retirement gig a couple of times before, but Jeff Gordon admits it’s still difficult to accept steering a 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Pace Car toward pit road instead of racing ahead in the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 on Sunday.

Five-time Brickyard 400 winner Gordon has never missed a start in this race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so there are mixed emotions. He’s still a driver dealing with an itch to go fast.

“I don’t want to pull in,” four-time NASCAR Cup champion Gordon said. “Do I have to? I think I can get ‘em until the back straightaway.”

His Sunday drive completes an impressive series of pace car drives – Gordon led the field for the 99th Indianapolis 500 two years ago and then the Daytona 500 last February.

“It would be a lot easier if I didn’t have 650 horsepower on my right foot,” Gordon said. “This thing, it wants to go. It’s a race horse. You see that long straightaway ahead of you, you just want to gas it and go and just see how far ahead you can get and let them chase you, just like you’re on the pole.

“I’m not going to screw it up. That’s my mission today.”

Gordon, 45, conceded it’s different driving ahead of faster Indy cars than bigger, slower stock cars. He realized that at the Daytona 500.

“That one was a little trickier because I was actually doing a live broadcast through my ear and talking to the guys up in the booth, plus Tony Stewart surprised me live on FOX,” Gordon said. “Today, I just get to focus on the job at hand and try not to mess it up.”

Since retiring as a full-time racer in 2015, Gordon spends more time with family but also stays connected to racing as a NASCAR analyst for FOX Sports. And Gordon still keeps a close eye on how stock car racing is evolving.

He was particularly pleased by the racing in NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 on Saturday at IMS, in which NASCAR implemented a new car setup package that reduced speeds but provided better racing with a record 16 lead changes and eight different leaders.

“I thought it really was a really nice step forward,” Gordon said. “I’m excited about that. I was excited when I saw some of the aerodynamic things that they were doing and the amount of power they were taking out.

“Flat tracks are a big challenge for NASCAR. You take a bigger, heavier stock car like we’ve got, as technically advanced as they are, it’s more suited for a high-banked oval. A flat track with these long, fast straightaways, I think it’s important if they’re going to have passing and overtaking that they need to figure out the new package.”

And because Gordon excelled with 93 career wins in 22 full-time seasons driving for Hendrick Motorsports, he was particularly pleased to see 19-year-old William Byron win the race. Byron drives for JR Motorsports, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick.

“Of course I was a big fan of Willy Byron winning that race also because I think he’s a future star,” Gordon said.

Gordon can’t help but think back to when he was a teenager, when an affinity for IMS was born. The Californian grew up in nearby Pittsboro, Indiana, and always wondered as he drove by the 2.5-mile oval if he would ever get the chance to one day race at the track.

“I love this place,” he said. “I’ve loved it since the day I passed by it when I was a quarter-midget racer hoping one day to race at the Speedway, and then moving here and racing sprint cars and midgets.”

Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, then made history as the race’s only five-time winner with victories in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2014.

“This place means the world to me,” he said. “It means a lot to motorsports. I would never want to miss it.”

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