With his championship hopes all but dashed after a late race altercation with Kurt Busch at Martinsville last weekend, Jeff Gordon has nothing to lose and only that elusive win to gain this season. The four-time champion, who has also been in the hunt for a new sponsor for 2011, has not won a Cup race since he donned the cowboy hat and fired the pistols in Victory Lane at Texas in April 2009.
Gordon will have to pursue his goal of garnering that first season win at one of the Cup Series most challenging and unpredictable tracks, Talladega Superspeedway. The Amp Energy Juice 500, the only restrictor plate race in the Chase, is scheduled to run on Sunday, October 31st this Halloween weekend.
“The plan is to win,” Gordon said. “And whatever strategy works for that is the one I want to use. More than likely, we won’t be laying back and just riding around.”
Gordon is, however, realistic as he approaches the vagaries of Talladega, from the lap after lap white knuckle insanely close quarters racing to the infamous ‘big one’ that always seems to occur at restrictor plate tracks like ‘Dega.
“You have to be willing to adjust as you go,” Gordon said. “You never know how the race is going to play out, so it might be necessary to drop back out of the lead pack at some point. But laying back is not in the pre-race game plan.”
Gordon has had success at Talladega, albeit not recently. In 2005, Gordon won, after leading 139 laps. In 2007, Gordon won more dramatically, leading just the last lap to take the checkered flag. Gordon has six wins, one pole, 13 top-fives and 16 top-10 finishes in 35 starts at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
“I look at it and know what to expect and accept it,” Gordon said. “I think we have a great shot at a top five if we survive the big one.”
With nothing to lose now and only a win to gain, Gordon has also been successful in his hunt for a new sponsor. Hendrick Motorsports just announced that AARP and the AARP Foundation will sponsor Gordon in an effort to call attention to ending hunger among older Americans.
Gordon’s ‘Drive To End Hunger’ is a three-year sponsorship initiative that will start in 2011. This unique sponsorship, poised to raise not only awareness but also money for the cause, will be on the No. 24 car for 22 races each year.
“This is a truly unique opportunity to help people, and it’s a completely new, cause-driven approach to sponsorship,” Gordon said. “Every single day, millions of older Americans are forced to make a choice between food, medicine and utilities. It’s going to be a team effort, and it’s not going to be easy, but we can solve this problem.”
Hunger is a hiding problem that millions of older Americans are battling silently,” Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP Foundation President, said. “NASCAR fans are among the most charitable, community-minded sports fans in the country and they have a track record of commitment. With the help of Jeff and the Hendrick team, we will make the most of this unprecedented opportunity to end the struggle that so many older Americans have with hunger.”
For Hendrick Motorsports, this ends the speculation that has surrounded Gordon and his team since Dupont announced that it could no longer afford to be the full-time primary sponsor. Dupont and Gordon’s other sponsor Pepsi will remain as primary sponsors for select races.
Team owner Rick Hendrick was thrilled with the new sponsorship agreement for one of his premier drivers. He was also pleased that the sponsor is not just about moving product but more about doing good for seniors in need in the community.
“It’s exciting to see a new organization engage with our sport and our fans through such an innovative approach,” Rick Hendrick said. “Having seen firsthand what the NASCAR community is capable of accomplishing, I know the program will help a lot of people in our country who desperately need it. Success ultimately will be measured by how many lives we can impact, and that’s a truly unique and special opportunity for everyone involved.”
“I have to say in my 27 years of being in NASCAR this is one of the most exciting things I have been involved in,” Hendrick said. “I think with Jeff’s following and the respect everyone in this sport has for him, we can move the needle on this issue. I’m taking this as a real challenge for our company.”
With his newest sponsor for 2011 in hand and the Chase in his review mirror, Gordon now has as his sole challenge to break his winless streak. He has just four more chances this season, beginning at Talladega this Halloween weekend in the Amp Energy Juice 500.
“I like Talladega a lot,” Gordon said. “I’ve won there enough times to have great memories.”