A journey that began as Gordon/Evernham Motorsports and JG Motorsports in the Busch Series, and eventually transitioned to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 in the Cup Series with Jimmie Johnson will reach its intended destination in January when Jeff Gordon officially becomes a co-owner alongside Rick Hendrick.
His official title will be vice chairman, making him the second highest ranking official to Hendrick, and the de facto heir apparent to the Chevrolet flagship.
To do so, Gordon will abandon his post at FOX Sports as a NASCAR television analyst, which was a decision he had actually made before the season even started.
“I’m excited. It’s been in discussion for a long time between Rick and myself,” Gordon said on Sunday morning at Pocono. “My presence has been there but now it gets ramped up to a whole other level. It wasn’t a choice about leaving Fox. It was really about the opportunity and the timing of moving into this role full time. …
“I really enjoyed working with Fox and I had a great team there. I learned a lot about and got a great perspective on entertainment and the TV side of the sport. And I think, forever it will help me in this new position to try to keep us connected to the TV partners in a bigger way.”
But understand this decision was inevitable and a long time coming.
Gordon started his own Xfinity Series team in 1999 and the foundation for that program became the car Johnson drove to seven championships and 83 victories at the highest level over the past two decades. Gordon was the listed team owner for that car.
“I’ve been behind the scenes, understanding and learning the business side of it,” Gordon said. “… As I started getting closer to stepping away in 2015 from the driving role, my interest level in the business side, the culture that Rick has created and how he’s done that and how it impacts things far beyond just what I was doing as a driver, was interesting to me.”
Hendrick is 71 and at 49, Gordon can steer the figurative ship well into the future, an era that begins next year with the Next-Gen car.
Gordon will oversee the team’s ultra-successful competition and marketing efforts, while sitting in on ownership group meetings and meetings with the sanctioning body. Not that there was any question what Gordon would do long-term, but the timing of this new platform and how it would affect both competition and business was appealing to Gordon.
He also believes the sport is trending in a positive direction after a 15-year ratings and general interest slump. Over the past two weeks, Gordon has been subjected to full grandstands and a new group of high-profile new team owners that includes pop culture icons Pitbull and Michael Jordan.
“This reminds me of the older days, or that period of time that we all talk about when the sport was super-hot,” Gordon said. “That’s the feeling of energy I feel this weekend here at the track. So that certainly makes it easier to look at what we’re going to do in the future with the sport.
“Of course, right now, a lot of attention, besides this year, in trying to keep that going this year is Next Gen. A lot of attention is being put on how we race. Where do we put our efforts for Next Gen and try to maintain some kind of competitive advantage?
“That’s going to get cut down dramatically, but we’re still going to be out there racing at a high level and we just want to make sure we’re doing it the right way.”
That’s the best way to describe Gordon’s responsibilities over the next several years — quality control across all facets of the racing organization.
He joins the ownership group with a young driver roster that includes defending champion Chase Elliott, the winningest driver this season in Kyle Larson, wunderkind William Byron and company favorite Alex Bowman.
Their average combined age is 26 years old.
“Some of the newer relationships, (I) want to build,” Gordon said. “Alex would be one of those guys that came on with (Dale) Jr., and he and I did double-duty when Jr. was out there in ’16 – ’17, and so that was a fun way to get to know Alex.
“But yeah, it wasn’t one of those relationships that like Larson — I saw him at dirt tracks, and we had that background. William Byron drives the No. 24 car and he and I built a relationship with having that in common. And, of course Chase Elliott, he originally drove the No. 24 car and he’s been there the longest.
“So, I want to build a strong relationship with all these guys. But I will say that yeah, Alex, it probably took us a little while where we could bond and maybe at Chili Bowl, he and I spending some time there. But now that we’ve gotten him signed up, I look forward to getting even closer with him. And a lot of that relationship, besides Dale Jr., was also with Rick Hendrick. The car enthusiasts in both of them created a natural bond. And the Midgets and the Sprint Cars are the thing that’ll create the natural bond with Alex and me, moving forward.”
Hendrick Motorsports is buoyed by competition director Chad Knaus, the seven-time Cup Series championship winning crew chief and general manager Jeff Andrews.
“Listen, we’ve got tremendous depth,” Gordon said. “There’s a reason why we’ve had the success over the years and Chad has played a big role in that as a crew chief and he’s playing a big role right now in his new position.
“But our organization is working together more than we ever have. Again, that’s the vision that Rick and Marshall (Carlson, team president) have set forth. …
“But now how do you maintain it? And the only way to do that is to have a lot of talent and bring all those great minds together like what’s happening right now.”
Coming full circle, should Jimmie Johnson ever want to return home to Hendrick Motorsports once he’s done pursuing his IndyCar and Sports Car interests with other organizations, that’s exactly what he will have waiting for him.
“Well, he’s up there driving at Watkins Glen,” Gordon said. “Rick is up there for that 6-hour race. Obviously, Ally, one of our partners, is part of that and Rick Hendrick is a part of that. So, in some ways, yes, I don’t know, We’ll see.
“If he is ever wanting to step away from IndyCar; He’s been a tremendous asset to us over the years. We would love to have him on board in some way.”
But ultimately, Gordon doesn’t intend to change the wheel at Hendrick Motorsports. There’s a standard of excellence and the four-time champion just wants to see that standard continue throughout this next generation.
“Rick Hendrick does not like to finish second in anything that he does,” Gordon said. “And that’s the way I was as a race car driver. So, the experience behind the wheel as a race car driver, not just in NASCAR but going all that way back to being a kid, being with one team and seeing the way that Rick operates the team and his leadership and how he focuses on the people working together, as well as what I see that he does at Hendrick Automotive Group, he’s a hard-working guy, too.
“I’m sure if he was here right now, he would say ‘I’m just going to get Jeff to work a little harder.’ That’s what I plan on doing. I’m really excited about this challenge and this role. I feel like I’m at the place in my life where I’m really, ready for it. And most importantly, I’m just fortunate to work side-by-side with a guy that’s shown us all how to do it right for so many years and will continue to do that for a number of years to come. It’s the same old basics. That’s the thing about Rick. It’s common sense. It’s hard work. And it’s people. And all I want to do is continue to compliment that moving forward.”
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