Gordon 'not going anywhere'

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:19 AM ET

There was a moment during the introduction of drivers at the Daytona 500 this season that both shocked and astounded this observer.

When the track announcer belted out "starting 21st, in the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon" there were cheers, lots of cheers.

It passed pretty much without comment in the media centre, but afterwards the talk began about what had just happened.

After all, this was Jeff Gordon, the poster boy for those who had dragged NASCAR kicking and screaming out of the U.S. southeast and on to the international stage.

The same Jeff Gordon who left old heroes like Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Bill Elliott chewing his exhaust as he won races, championships and sponsors through the 1990s and the first half of the past decade.

And those deeply rooted fans from the Carolinas, Florida, Alabama, Texas and Georgia never missed an opportunity to boo their brains out whenever Gordon -- a native of loopy California no less -- so much as looked in their direction.

Even after Earnhardt -- arguably the most beloved hero of those NASCAR traditionalists -- finally admitted that he genuinely liked Gordon and respected his tremendous talent, racing fans at just about every track south of the Mason-Dixon line continued their barrage of boos at the very mention of his name.

It was only three seasons ago that Gordon was pelted with beer cans -- and not all of them empty -- after he passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Arrons 499 at Talladega.

So, as you can see, to have a 360 happen like the one at Daytona was a shocker.

And it has led some to suggest that fans think Gordon is nearing the end of his career and as a sort of going away present they will make nice.

Well, Gordon has a message for them: "I am not going anywhere."

Anyone who watched as the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet dominated all but the final few laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday should have figured that out.

It was vintage Gordon -- the one who has four NASCAR Sprint Cup championships on his resume.

The past four seasons, for certain, have seen Gordon eclipsed by his teammate Jimmie Johnson. There was a feeling that Gordon was passing the torch to a fellow Californian to take NASCAR to another level.

According to Gordon, however, as much as he knows just how tough it is to beat the No. 48 team, he has his sights set on doing just that this season. And even after being beaten by Johnson as Las Vegas Gordon sees it as just another motivator.

"While (the competition) is coming in-house, it's still another competitor," Gordon said of his will to win another championship. "And it drives us. It inspires us. It motivates us. The reason you saw us perform and dominate the way we did (at Las Vegas) is because of those guys pushing us. We don't take that lightly. We're just like every other competitor out there; we are pissed off about it."

Gordon and his wife, Ingrid, are expecting a baby this summer -- a sibling for 2-year-old Ella Sofia -- and he told USA Today this week that he wants his children to be able to watch him race and win.

"I really want my family to be able to be a part of it in a way that they can see and experience and be proud of what I've done," he said.

To put an exclamation point on it Gordon said he has absolutely no intention of quitting his day job anytime soon.

"You go through life and find you really care about what you do and how important it is," he said. "You think about what life would be like without it. I'm enjoying what I do."

And so, its seems, are his new-found fans.

Last year

Kurt Busch took the checkered flag in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge after leading 235 of 325 laps and getting his nineteenth Sprint Cup Series victory. He led more laps in the race then he did in the entire 2008 season.

Fast fact

Atlanta Motor Speedway is arguably the fastest 1.5-mile track in NASCAR with 24 degrees of banking in the turns and five degrees on the straights with a frontstretch 1471 feet long. It seats 124,000 fans for race day.

Canadian corner

This weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Canadian-based AIM Autosport will launch its 2010 racing season in the No. 61 Ford Riley at the Grand Prix of Miami with drivers Burt Frisselle and Mark Wilkins.


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