Senior staff writer
Jeff Gordon admits he will have butterflies before the start of Sunday’s Daytona 500, just like always.
Unlike the past 23 years, Gordon’s race day role has changed. The former Daytona 500 winner will be behind a Fox Sports microphone instead of behind the wheel of the famed No. 24 Hendrick Motor-sports Chevrolet.
“Race days won’t be much different, especially the Daytona 500” said Gordon, who grew up in Pittsboro, Ind. “I always had butterflies in my stomach the morning of the race, and I’m sure I will have butterflies before the start of this year’s race.”
Gordon, the only five-time winner of the Brickyard 400, retired last year after being among the final four drivers eligible to snare NASCAR’s Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He won a playoff race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and finished third in points – the best-ever retirement year of any NASCAR star.
He officially begins his new career at Daytona as part of Fox’s NASCAR broadcast team, which features three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, retired crew chief Larry McReynolds and veteran announcer Mike Joy.
They will be together for the first 21 races – through June 28 – of the season until NASCAR switches to NBC Sports for the second half, which means they won’t call the Brickyard race.
In many ways, Gordon’s race-day preparations will be the same with team meetings and last-minute briefings before going on air.
Waltrip reminded Gordon of one difference: “He won’t have the helmet on, but he’ll have a nice time in make-up.”
Gordon admitted he was concerned about stepping from the competitive environment of racing and into the broadcast booth during interviews at the Charlotte Motor Speedway media tour.
“With the live broadcast, I’m watching and analyzing and being a part of this sport that I have been so passionate about and have loved for so long that this (broadcasting) is an adrenaline rush,” Gordon said of his new venture. “This is such a team effort with so many comparisons to what I’ve done as a driver.”
The team had a dress rehearsal at the Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. And Gordon was in the broadcast booth last year for selected Xfinity Series races.
Gordon said he approached Fox for the job. Executives say they believe Gordon’s experience as a “Saturday Night Live” host and commercials plus his limited broadcast experience made him a prime candidate. Gordon and Waltrip have a combined seven Cup championships and 177 wins.
Gordon reflected in mid-January that he would make good use of his time preparing for the Daytona 500.
“It’s crucial for me to build this bond and build chemistry because I’m going to rely upon them to get me through the unknown,” Gordon said. “It’s not much different than being on the track.”
Waltrip said Gordon will notice one big difference in the broadcast booth.
“When you’re out there in the race car and you have that full-face helmet on, you have a small perspective of what’s going on around you,” Waltrip said. “He’s going to get to Daytona and see those drivers on the track and say those guys are nuts. It’s not the same as it is in the car – it’s actually better because you have the perspective of the whole field. They all drive crazy.”
Gordon, 44, leaves the Cup Series after 93 wins, 81 poles and career winnings of $152.1 million in 797 starts.
“No doubt, there have been some incredible moments and experiences that will be impossible to duplicate,” Gordon said during the 2015 NASCAR awards ceremony. “I’m going to miss having that opportunity to win another Daytona 500 or Brickyard 400. How can you even come close to what that’s like?”
His family life includes wife Ingrid and their children, Ella and Leo.
Gordon began racing quarter midgets 36 years ago in California, then advanced to USAC midgets and sprints after moving to Indiana. He raced in the Busch Series before his first Cup race in 1992. He raced solely for Rick Hendrick in NASCAR’s top series.