Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet, got a little bit country at the Country Music Awards this week after his rock and roll weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Gordon’s rocking and rolling with competitor Jeff Burton even made it into the CMA Awards ceremony, thanks to a Gordon spoof of country singer Brad Paisley.
Gordon, a presenter at country music’s most prestigious awards ceremony, took the stage with CMA co-host Carrie Underwood in a big white cowboy hat and scruffy beard, doing his best Brad Paisley imitation. The real Paisley then appeared, in the same garb as Gordon, challenging Gordon to sing to prove that he was an imposter.
Thankfully, especially for all the baseball fans who remember suffering through Gordon’s mangling of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, Gordon declined to share a tune. Instead, Gordon fell right into Paisley’s trap when the country singer told Gordon that he could stay on stage as long as he gave him the keys to the No. 48 race car, his teammate and competitor Jimmie Johnson’s winning machine.
Paisley then did his own imitation of a prize fighter, ribbing Gordon about his fight with Jeff Burton after the latter drove Gordon hard into the wall under caution. Paisley officially dubbed Gordon “ole scrappy” in honor of his Texas duke out of Burton.
Gordon also had some serious business to do at the CMA awards ceremony. He presented the Vocal Duo of the Year award to Sugarland and then talked about a Chevrolet Camaro, signed by NASCAR drivers and all of the country music stars, to be raffled off to benefit The Wounded Warrior Project.
While the country music stars were busily ribbing Gordon about his scuffle on the race track, his crew chief and team were standing proudly by their man, defending his feistiness.
“I’m proud of him for this,” Steve Letarte, Gordon’s crew chief said. “There are a lot of people in the world and in the media that might question his gumption and how hard he wants to be here.”
“I’m just glad to see he’s upset,” Letarte continued. “I like to see his emotion. Our team likes to see his emotion. It’s great.”
“Anytime you see a guy like him that is so clean-cut and does such a great job, when he really shows his emotion, it fires everybody up and everybody knows how much he really cares.”
Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Marshall Carlson was also impressed with the scrappiness of his veteran driver. He attributed his driver’s willingness to mix it up to Gordon’s ramped up physical training plan, which Gordon began as an answer to his chronic back pain.
“I’m real proud of Jeff Gordon,” Carlson said. “He’s confident in his physical capabilities, and so when he got in a situation where he was being pushed around, he’s going to let the guy know that’s not how he wants to be raced.”
While Gordon was rocking and rolling with Burton during the Texas race, his pit crew was rolling their gear over to pit the No. 48 race car. Unlike Gordon, Johnson is still in the Sprint Cup Championship hunt and the enhanced pit stops completed by Gordon’s crew were vital in keeping Johnson within striking distance of the current points leader Denny Hamlin.
This week, Hendrick Motorsports announced that the No. 24 and No. 48 pit crew swap would be permanent, at least for the final two races in the 2010 season. The change accentuated the HMS philosophy that the 2-4-8 team functions as one team that just happens to have two race cars.
“The shop personnel work on both cars in the shop, and the crew will lend another HMS team a hand at the track,” Gordon said. “We want to do everything possible to bring another championship trophy back to Hendrick Motorsports. But I also plan to do everything possible to get another Phoenix trophy for this DuPont team.”
After being a little bit country at the CMA Awards, Gordon will now rock and roll into Phoenix International Raceway to compete in the next to the last race of the season, the Kobalt Tools 500. Gordon came close to victory at the track earlier in the year, when spinning his tires on a green-white-checkered restart cost the four-time champion the race.
“I love the track even though it’s a very challenging one,” Gordon said. “Both ends of the race track are complete opposites and it’s impossible to get both ends to work perfectly.”
“I like that challenge,” Gordon said. “I’ve driven on the track since I was like 18 years old so I always look forward to coming here because it’s a lot of fun to drive.”
Perhaps at the “Jewel of the Desert” as Phoenix International Raceway is nicknamed, Jeff Gordon will finally find that perfect combination of being a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n roll. Better yet, he may just find that elusive first checkered flag as the 2010 season draws to a close.