On Sunday, Jimmie Johnson took home his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, tying him in the record books with two legends of the sport in Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty. Johnson’s run of dominance has been impressive and his contemporaries in the sport have certainly noticed.
“He’s extraordinary and the team’s extraordinary. When you put that combination together, I’ve never seen a group that, when it’s on the line and you have to step it up to the next level, is capable of doing it the way that they are,” said driver/analyst Jeff Gordon on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “For Jimmy personally, what I’ve seen in him is, nothing was handed to him easily. I think that was instilled in him as a young kid. He had to fight and claw and dig and work hard to showcase his abilities but, also, to overcome adversity or take on a challenge. That work ethic, really, has stayed with him throughout his entire career.”
Despite the excitement of Johnson’s win, there are questions surrounding NASCAR that there are for every major professional sport at the moment. Mainly, how to continue to evolve and grow in an age where people have shorter and shorter attention spans. As Gordon says, the social media age has brought more eyeballs to the sport, but, he thinks more can still be done to make sure that NASCAR continues to grow and expand its audience into the future.
“I think right now we just have to take a little bit of a reset. If I can think of anything, it’s just maybe shortening up,” said Gordon. “I think everybody’s attention span is shortened because of technology. So I think it’s how do we continue to put our sport in front of new faces and people that maybe have never watched the sport before. I think from an excitement and entertainment standpoint, I think, like we just saw on Sunday, we have the best product we’ve ever had. From that standpoint it’s great. It’s just how do we make sure people are tuning in and staying tuned in and I think a three-and-a-half to four hour race is a little bit too long. As well as, our season is possibly too long, going well into the NFL season.
As for Gordon personally, it was a strange year. He stepped away from full-time driving duties prior to this season in order to move into the broadcast booth as an analyst for FOX. However, those plans changed in the middle of the season when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sidelined due to lasting effects of a concussion suffered in July. That’s when Gordon got the call from Hendrick Motorsports about filling in for Earnhardt Jr. in the 88 car for the rest of the season. While it was unexpected, Gordon says he was happy to step in and help the Hendrick team in Earnhardt Jr.’s absence.
“It certainly wasn’t the year that I was anticipating, but I never said I was retiring,” said Gordon. “To me, retirement is when you go and sit in a rocking chair and you watch TV or mow the lawn or whatever. To me, it was just stepping away from the full time driving experience. I guess I always thought that I’d be back behind the wheel of a racecar at some point for fun or to do a one-off race. But, I did not know Rick Hendrick would be calling me in that situation and it was an unfortunate situation with Dale Jr. But, because of my role and interaction with Hendrick and the schedule was open, I was happy to be able to step in there. It was a taller task than I anticipated, so it was really challenging. At the same time, I was really proud to interact with that 88 team.”