NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship winner Jeff Gordon may have retired last year, but he’s embracing his role as a broadcaster for FOX Sports and Fs1 with the same passion and grit fans have come to love him for. We sat down with him ahead of this weekend’s NASCAR XFINITY and Sprint Cup Series to talk about his changing role in the industry, and which drivers he has his eye on. Stream the NASCAR XFINITY Series live tomorrow, and set your DVR for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Sunday, March 6th.
Has it sunk in yet that you will not be racing this year?
Gordon: A little, and I only say a little because I’m preparing for Daytona. I’m just not preparing for it as a race car driver—with things like engines, aerodynamics or testing. Instead, it’s been more of that with FOX, and with the FOX NASCAR team of DW (Darrell Waltrip), Mike (Joy) and Larry (McReynolds). In so many ways, it hasn’t really sunk in yet—until I get to Daytona and I’m not really driving one of those cars.
How have you been getting acclimated with your new team at FOX Sports?
Gordon: The more time we spend together, it’s going to keep getting better. Each time we’ve been together, it’s been a little bit looser and more comfortable. We did a race in November in Texas. We were doing the Truck race (a not-for-broadcast rehearsal), and I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to interact with them. You really start to see very quickly the professionalism and the years of experience they have when you can blend in there, and create some conversations. They know, so naturally, when to pick things up and when to let you talk and when to enhance something that you are talking about. So, I thought it went really smoothly, and knowing we have so many days down in Daytona to just build on that, I feel like we’re going to be really ready for the Daytona 500.
You were in the broadcast booth last season for a couple NASCAR XFINITY Series races on FS1. What surprised you most about that experience?
Gordon: I’m so glad I did them. Even though it’s a much shorter, compact version of the Cup races, it just gave me a good sense of how much time you have to create a thought and finish that thought because there’s a break coming. There are a lot of things going on all the time and the viewers want to see and be a part of that and you want to bring it to them. So it’s good to talk about something, but then you have to get off of that subject and move on to something else. Doing that while you have someone talking in your ear is a challenge, and it’s nerve-wracking, but I’m sure the more often you do it, the more comfortable you get.
Is there a race in particular that you’re more excited to be in the booth than in the driver’s seat for?
Gordon: Certainly, the Daytona 500 and Talladega. As a driver, the only part you really enjoy about those races is the excitement of the race itself and finishing the race with the car in one piece. Everything in between is very nerve-wracking. The most stressful races that you go through are those restrictor plate races, especially a big one like Daytona that means so much. You want it so badly. You’ve worked so hard. Your team has put so many hours into it, and it can be taken away in a split second. So, I’m not only going to get the last word on my former competitors, I’m going to be the one having the most fun.
Which driver are you most intrigued to see perform in 2016?
Gordon: So many—from this perspective—so many, because I’m really interested to see how Hendrick (Motorsports) does as a whole, not just Chase (Elliott), but Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., has been building momentum. And then you’ve got Jimmie Johnson, who is an amazing champion who has been off his game the last couple of years. Then you’ve got Tony Stewart’s final year. I think that’s going to be a big story. Joe Gibbs Racing, especially with Kyle Busch winning that championship, and also what happened to him at Daytona last year. I think it’s a big story following that, as well as is there someone who can break out. You know I thought Kevin Harvick—he’s so solid, he’s so strong—can he maintain it? Can Stewart-Haas maintain it or even step it up a notch. And then we saw Penske really show a lot of strength with Joey Logano last year. How much is that incident with him and Matt Kenseth going to affect the mental stability that it takes to grind it out and do what he did last year? Because, let’s face it, he’s going to get booed again this year, and I think it’s going to be a distraction for him. We’re really going to see how tough he is.