That's Racin Magazine

Changes making a difference for Gordon

Monday, Apr. 06, 2009

Jeff Gordon hadn’t won a Sprint Cup points race in a long time before he won Sunday’s Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway – since October 2007 at Charlotte, a span of 47 races.

But when it comes to giving winner’s interviews, he hasn’t lost his fastball.

Gordon’s session with the print media after Sunday’s win went for nearly 40 minutes and covered a wide range of topics.

One I didn’t get into in my story for Monday’s paper as much I wanted to was how this track had a lot to do with changing how Gordon changed his approach to the difficult task of balancing his role as one of NASCAR’s biggest stars with that of being a husband and a father.

Last spring, Gordon’s 2008 season was off to an OK start. He’d had three top-five finishes including a second at Martinsville in the race before the one here and he and crew chief Steve Letarte thought things were going along OK.

Until this race a year ago, Gordon’s wife, Ingrid, and their daughter, Ella, who will 2 in June, came to the track when Gordon did at the start of race weekends whenever they could. Gordon loved being able to be with his family on Friday nights and Saturday mornings in the motor home they have at the track.

It was here, though, that started to change. Gordon’s car wasn’t good from the first lap on the track a year ago at Texas and it didn’t get any better as the weekend went along. Almost as if she could sense the problem, Ella didn’t have a good weekend either. She cried a lot and Gordon spent much of the night up trying to comfort her.

“It was a miserable weekend,” said Gordon, who then finished 43rd – last – in the race on Sunday.

“We kind of made a decision at that time that they were mainly going to come on Sundays,” Gordon said. “This is a tough sport. You’ve got to take it seriously, and you’ve got to be committed. And this is my job. So they come every chance that they can. And when it doesn't work out, you know, it doesn't work out.”

So Gordon was missing them in victory lane after he’d won here for the first time ever. But that thought process shows as well as anything how as great as Gordon has been in his career he, too, had something to learn even after winning 81 races (82 now) and four championships.

The idea is for Gordon to focus on the race car until he and Letarte have done their work getting ready to race. When it works, the family then comes in Saturday night or Sunday morning to watch Gordon race.

It’s part of re-commitment Gordon said he made with Letarte and their whole team after their winless season in 2008.

“I'm so proud of Steve,” Gordon said. “He stepped up and made some crucial changes in our team at the end of last year, as well as continued with that road over the off‑season. And I saw that effort being put in and that's when I decided, you know, to start training more, to make sure that my family had the opportunity to come to the race but not necessarily Friday and Saturday, so that I could give this team 100 percent of my focus as well as any time they need to test or do anything that I'm there 100 percent for them.

“I don't know how many more years I do have left. So when you know that the cars are there and the team's there and you still think you've got it or you want to prove to yourself, I wanted to make sure there were no excuses. …So I'm giving these guys everything that I've got and we're just ‑‑ we're doing things a little different, and it's all paying off.”