INDIANAPOLIS – Leading the field to the green Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have to suffice as the closest Jeff Gordon will get to racing the Indianapolis 500.
The four-time NASCAR champion ruled out dabbling in the Verizon IndyCar Series when his full-time career in NASCAR concludes with the 2015 season. hinting he might try other series after exiting the No. 24 Chevrolet, Gordon said Sunday he likely won’t race again after this year.
“I’ve known too many drivers I respect that have retired and come back,” Gordon said. “That’s why I didn’t say this was my final year of ever competing for a single event. But it truly is.
“As I get further into the year, I don’t see myself doing any races. Maybe a Martinsville or a short track. But there’s so much that goes into preparing a car with a team at Hendrick (Motorsports), which is the only car I’d do it with, and that would take away from their performance. So why would I really be doing it?”
Gordon also noted that his just announced move to Fox Sports as an analyst on Sprint Cup races in 2016 also would preclude a one-off such as the Indy 500.
“I’m going to fulfill my desire to be a part of this sport by being in the booth,” he said. “I can do some racing with my kids in other ways. I don’t plan on doing any races. I have no set plans after (the season finale) at Homestead.”
Gordon, who attended high school in nearby Pittsboro, Ind., grew up dreaming of running the Indy 500, but his path veered toward stock cars when he found no open seats in IndyCar.
When stepfather and business advisor John Bickford called to inform Gordon that Chevrolet wanted him to drive the Corvette pace car for the 99th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Bickford told Gordon, “I hope you’re sitting down.”
“I was floored,” Gordon said. “I didn’t believe it. Me? Knowing this race, its history and as a kid growing up and remembering that pace car and knowing there was always someone special behind the wheel. I never pictured myself as one of those individuals. I would not have wanted to miss this for anything.”
Though obviously no slouch behind the wheel, Gordon still received tips on piloting the Corvette from three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford.
“I’ve seen some bad pace car drivers,” Gordon said with a laugh. “I want to make sure I’m not one of those. The biggest thing is stock cars have a certain pace, transmission that we’re able to run any speed fairly easily. These cars aren’t like that. They’re more temperamental when it comes to clutch and transmission.
“The biggest thing is making sure I get up to speed properly, maintain that and accelerate at the right time and build enough of a gap as they come around Turn 4. But not too much that I’m still in the photo when they go by.”
Gordon planned to turn the car over to Rutherford, watch a few laps of the race with his wife, Ingrid, and children Ella and Leo, and then hop a jet back to North Carolina. He will start 18th in tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
At some point, he’ll reflect on another special moment in what he said has been an emotional farewell season.
“I feel I’ve accomplished more than ever expected in my career, but the one thing that did allude me that we pursued was getting the chance to race in the Indianapolis 500,” he said. “Winning the inaugural Brickyard 400 fulfilled that dream, and this is a special place to me.
“Would I have liked to have at least run one Indy 500 knowing what it was like? Sure. I would have liked to have known.”