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Jeff Gordon claims latest ‘test drive’ prank was the real thing

- rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Feb. 28, 2014

Prank or fake? Jeff Gordon made his case Friday that the video he made with Pepsi, pranking a blogger who questioned his first “test drive” video stunt last year, was the real deal.

Gordon got in makeup and costume to portray an ex-con taxi driver. He arranged to pick up Travis Okulski, a blogger for an auto-fan website, to take him to a Corvette showing. Along the way a state trooper pulls over Gordon, leading to a crazy chase.

Real or not, Okulski sure looked terrified until Gordon pulls into a large garage, stops the car and rips off his disguise. Gordon spent much of a Friday media session making the case this was a real set-up.

“I’m not an actor, but the disguise helped me pull it off,” Gordon said.

“Safety was the first concern. Then making sure (Okulski) didn’t know who I was. And making sure Travis was there (a co-worker set up the trip in cahoots with Pepsi). How you pull this off is near impossible. And in the end of the day Travis had a big smile on his face. It was an adrenaline rush.”

Gordon said he and the crew secretly filming the stunt had a safe word – “Nebraska” – that would have shut everything down if things got out of control.

Stewart sick of health questions: Driver-owner Tony Stewart is never shy about expressing exasperation. Friday he was asked about his recovery from last season’s leg injury one too many times.

“I’m not 100 percent. I’m not going to be 100 percent for a while,” Stewart said. “I’ll be more happy when everybody quits asking me how I feel.”

A washout coming? You don’t come to the desert expecting rain. But the forecast for Saturday in metropolitan Phoenix calls for a gully washer – the kind of persistent storm that might postpone the Nationwide race and call off any second-day practice for Sunday’s Sprint Cup event.

NASCAR has no firm plan how it would handle a Nationwide postponement, but there’s precedent for trying to run the race Sunday morning.

After hours of rain interruption at the Daytona 500, the last thing NASCAR needs is more heavy weather. But the radar is hard to ignore. Several drivers were asked how they adapt to unpredictable weather.

“It does change your energy level definitely. To say not would be a lie,” Nationwide driver Regan Smith said. “But when you know it’s going to rain, you can mentally prepare for that. In my normal routine – how I eat, how I hydrate – I do (that) four and five hours in advance. The pop-up showers are more tough because you can’t prepare for that.”

For Sprint Cup drivers, losing Saturday practice would reduce the fine-tuning that goes on from qualifying setup to racing setup. Teams are still adjusting to new rules regarding cars’ race height.

“There’s a huge gap between the haves and have-nots,” driver Denny Hamlin said after Friday’s first practice session. “We all need that practice tomorrow to get a little bit closer. If we don’t, we’ll just have to make our best guess. If we’re in the race and way out in left field, we’ll make huge changes.”

About time, Twitter-wise: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., finally joined Twitter after winning the Daytona 500, and Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson said this was long overdue.

“He’s taken it and run with it,” Johnson said. “I and many others have been pushing him. Even the people from Twitter came to me to put pressure on him.

“I knew once he got involved with the digital world, he’d love it. That’s a chance for your fans to see the world from your eyes. I told him social media is the best way to show your worth to your sponsors. It’s a real-time way to show to a sponsor your relevancy.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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