Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: Jeff Gordon Unclear on What He Wants Hendrick To Be

In racing, there is a lot of debate over what exactly it is that makes fans become fans.

There are people who do tune into NASCAR specifically for the crashing. It’s been something that has happened since the dawn of time. People want that rush of seeing something they conceive as a spectacle, whether it ends in relief or tragedy. TV ratings indicate to us that the only time site location actually matters is when the race is held at either a new location or at superspeedways.

But not everybody tunes in for that. There’s still a backbone of fans that tune in for NASCAR every single week. But it’s also unclear as to what exactly it is they truly want. Do they want big personalities among drivers? Do they want fist-fighting? Do they want good racing, however they individually define it? It’s hard to figure out.

See also
Only Yesterday: The Emotion of Winning Still Exists

Last week, Jeff Gordon took to the airwaves at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and gave his opinion on the constant, usually self-inflicted drama surrounding Denny Hamlin. Here it is in full:

“What [Jeff Gordon] is focused on is taking Hendrick Motorsports to new levels. He wants his drivers to become more well-known outside of motorsports and to cross over to the mainstream like he did. [Chase] Elliott is the sport’s most popular driver but is sometimes seen as being reserved and stoic, which plays well with NASCAR’s crowd but may be hurting his chances of making more of a mainstream impact.

I want our drivers to be organic and don’t want them to be anyone they’re not, but whatever you’re comfortable with, I want to see you go just outside that comfort zone,’ Gordon said. ‘If you’re willing to put yourself in places people don’t expect you and you want to be there — the traditional sporting events and country music concerts are great, but let’s take that a step further — that’s what I’m trying to encourage our guys to do. I didn’t want to host Saturday Night Live [at first] — I was scared to death.'”

Say, wait a minute! Where’s the video? The embedded Tweet or post or whatever Twitter is this week?

The reality is that is not a Gordon quote from this past week. This is a passage from an article in Sports Business Journal from February 2022. It came on the heels of Gordon having become a full-time executive at Hendrick Motorsports following his departure from FOX Sports after 2021.

Read it again. Now, let’s actually take a look at what Gordon said last week.

“I wouldn’t want that to be one of our drivers,” Gordon said, labeling Hamlin’s actions as a “distraction.”

Gee, what happened in less than two years here?

Gordon does grant that he thinks Hamlin is being a bit of himself and that it does work for Hamlin himself. But there seems to be an implication that Hamlin is actually damaging his team by speaking out more now. It’s basically the classic Chappelle Show skit called “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong.”

Keep in mind that Joe Gibbs Racing has three out of four drivers in the Round of 8, with Hamlin’s team 23XI Racing having another spot. This is compared to Hendrick’s two.

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Up to Speed: Is There Strength Among Teammates in the NASCAR Playoffs?

This isn’t to demean Hendrick in any way — the team has had a successful season with two drivers. But JGR and 23XI have both also had very good seasons, the best so far for 23XI in particular.

But the biggest quote from modern-day Gordon that caught my eye was this one:

“Let the sponsors market you, let the sport figure out how to market you,” Gordon said. “Build your brand through who you are, on social media, and be the best you that you can be. “

Yeah, how did that work for Hamlin over the years? Who doesn’t remember that memorable FedEx campaign where they tried to market him as “The Deliverminator”? Wait, don’t click off the article just yet, I’m begging you.

Hamlin spent 15 years doing exactly what Gordon is preaching here. Yeah, he could talk out a time or two, but never to the extent that he has this year. And yet, somehow, he hasn’t really been punished yet for it. FedEx re-upped with him, JGR re-upped with him also. He’s still a full-blown, serious championship contender.

Imagine if Dale Earnhardt had decided to sit on his hands in like 1986 and go, “Nah, NASCAR and Goodwrench will figure things out from here.”

No, instead he and his wife Teresa decided to build their own brand and revolutionize how NASCAR was marketed. Something Gordon knows as he became part of that brand; the Wonder Boy that the Intimidator had to figure out a way around.

What Hamlin has done this year should be something celebrated and studied, not something poo-poo’d by the old dinosaurs. Not every driver can market themselves like that, much like how not everybody could be the Intimidator back in the day.

And again, the frustrating part of this is that Gordon knows all of this. This is taking it a step forward, like he said he wanted to in the first place. But he also doesn’t like it.

What Gordon actually wants, apparently, is unclear.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …

  • The championship spoiler may still end up being Chris Buescher. With Brad Keselowski out of the playoffs, RFK Racing will now be able to throw its full force behind the soft-spoken Texan to go on a title push. Buescher’s best chance at a win in this round may well be down at Homestead-Miami Speedway next week. In 2021, Buescher won stage 1 on merit, and in 2022, he finished a very solid 13th in a year where he only had 10 top-10 finishes.
  • The surprise revelation that A.J. Allmendinger will likely be going down to the NASCAR Xfinity Series next year means there’s suddenly a Cup seat up for grabs. Kaulig Racing’s best option would be to go with a full-time driver, as that is preferable to partners and sponsors. If they don’t do that, however, it might be best to run an “all-star” car again. It wouldn’t be surprising to potentially see a schedule in that scenario — just spit-balling here — where Allmendinger races the five road courses and, later on in the season, Shane van Gisbergen shows up for some oval reps. This would allow Trackhouse Racing room to still field van Gisbergen at the road courses without also having him on ovals in a costly open car.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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sb

I understand where he’s coming from, but I keep thinking of Jimmie Johnson. One of the most successful drivers of all time…yet never going to be one of the most popular. To all accounts, a great gy, and off track had a pretty good sense of humor. Maybe if he had let fans see more of that side of him it would have made him fore relatable.

Bill B

The main reason I could never cheer for Johnson is because I felt his championships were all the result of the Chase format. And I hated the Chase format 10x more than the current one. So guilt by association. IMO Johnson was the face of the Chase and if I hated the Chase……

Ted

It sounds like he’s wanting his drivers to be engaging to the fans as well as try to engage with other factions outside the sport. Maybe also help put NASCAR back on the map, but don’t try to turn people away by just being an arrogant jerk like Denny & Kyle. As a Chase Elliott fan, his humble personality is what people like & respect,… he understands that he comes from money and a last name,… the problem with that is can come off boring and a bit vanilla at times. One of the better personalities when it comes to engaging the fans and representing the sport would be guys like Ryan Blaney who seems to be doing things way Jeff used to do by putting his Name Image & Likeness out in the media and going to events, and he’s a relatively decent and marketable guy. In other words, he’s trying to get the HMS drivers to be more engaging and marketable, as well as encouraging other drivers and teams to do similar things in an effort to help the sport grow,… without turning people away from the sport.

Last edited 7 months ago by Ted
janice

but looking at chase elliott, the world he’s ever known is racing. he’s from a small town where it’s known for his family’s racing operations, he was at races at a young age with his father and mother, he started racing as a child. his entire world has centered around racing for the majority of his life. now that ryan blaney has a steady girlfriend, you don’t eve see those two (blaney & elliott) hanging out together much. and kyle larson races dirt and has his famliy, and as his son grows will have his racing to focus on. one thing gordon didnt’t was a father that raced before him. chase is bill elliott’s kid, just as dale jr was sr’s kid.

it would had been interesting to see how chase would had ran all season long if he hadn’t been hurt snowboarding and had to miss those races.

the sport has gotten away from the individual driver souvenir rigs. you also don’t see their products in the stores like you use to. i guess people don’t collect the diecasts like they did for earnhardt. but when they started to be popular, the allure was the limited release number.

RCFX1

Lets be realistic about the most popular drive award. Bill Elliott won year after year and then surprised, Chase is winning it. After Earnhardt Sr. died, Jr was most popular year after year. Chase has no personality. He’s not anything like Jeff Gordon as far as charisma and personality.

Bill B

“What Hamlin has done this year should be something celebrated and studied”????

How exactly has Denny marketed himself this year… as a douchbag? Good job Denny.
I wouldn’t want my drivers using that avenue to make themselves more recognizable in the mainstream, either. There is good publicity and bad publicity, either will get your name and face in front of the masses and make you recognizable beyond NASCAR, however only one of them makes you a hero. I have never seen so many negative comments on this website toward Hamlin until this year. Once again, Good job Denny, your a successful douchebag.

Shayne

Drivers are brands. Artificial creations straight from the marketing/PR department. Most follow the same cookie cutter model established by whatever popular social media platforms they’re using. Everyone has a foundation of some sort. It’s sterile and all scripted by creative writers. A big fat nothing burger.

We can’t compare today’s wealthy, spoon-fed kids to the real men that made this a once great sport. Real men that worked tough jobs trying to support their families. Real men that served their country. Real men that took chances without the help of Wall St. investors, corporate entitlement sponsors, etc.

It was fun while it lasted, but it will never be the same.

masb1955

What he said.

wildcats2016

It’s a totally different world than it was just 10 years ago. I wouldn’t want to suggest to anyone that they follow the way Hamlin has gone about it. I’ve always considered him a jerk but this year he’s done a fine job of proving it. That’s not what you want to draw attention to. As others said, Chase is really boring. Johnson was a nice enough guy and yes he certainly won enough races but somehow I just didn’t care one way or the other about him.

The rivalry between Earnhardt Sr and Gordon’s fans was the spark that ignited NASCAR to the height it achieved before Big E died. They were so different and it was so much fun.

IMO the FUN part is what NASCAR has lost. A generic car, lots of tracks that are essentially cookie cutters of one another and as Janice mentioned, they went away from the individual souvenir trailers to make the souvenirs generic too. Well that may be a cost effective way of doing it but it doesn’t IMO sell merchandise.

No I don’t want to watch a lot of wrecks but passing, yes I would like to see passing and not just the stuff that happens on restarts but real honest to goodness work for it passing.

I used to sit in the stands or in my living room watching the races and holding my breath with excitement. I knew exactly where & when they were racing & I planned my weekend around the schedule. Do I do that any more? No, not even remotely.

Christopher

Completely off base regarding Dale Earnhardt (and Gordon). He was extremely canny about creating the public image he had and it wasn’t by mouthing off. It also concealed a much more complicated, not always admirable, sometimes flawed man (and all of us humans are flawed), but that’s not what sponsors can sell. As to Hamlin, his oversharing has already gotten him penalties, which in turn hurt the team and the sponsors. Hamlin, unlike the HMS foursome, is in the twilight of his career, so maybe he just doesn’t really give a damn what anyone thinks anymore.

Bill B

I thought about that last sentence as well when comparing 40-something Hamlin to the relatively young HMS crew. It is an excellent point. Not all things are equal between the drivers being compared.

sb

I believe the rivalry he cited was of the FANS of those drivers rather than the drivers themselves. That is very true!

Christopher

My comment made no reference to rivalries. But since you brought it up, such was the canny nature of Earnhardt that he saw the potential in a supposed rivalry with Gordon and the two of them went into business together to reap the rewards. An artificial marketing construct designed to excite fans, reward advertisers and generate money for both men.

masb1955

And WE don’t give a damn about “The Hack”.

Bill B

Also “Keep in mind that Joe Gibbs Racing has three out of four drivers in the Round of 8,”

Maybe they wouldn’t if two of their drivers had been injured and sat out multiple weeks. Again, not a very fair comparison this year, but often writers will use whatever “facts” they can to support their argument and hope no one notices the obvious flaws.

gbvette

This was my first thought too when I read that comparison. Actually when you consider that the writer is comparing JGR’s having 4 out of 6 cars in round 8 (and let’s be honest, we all know the 23XI acrs are nothing more then JGR cars in a different garage), to Hendrick having 2 out of 4 in round 8, it sort of sounds like Hendrick and Gordon may be the ones who’ve done a better job. When you figure in that only 2 of Hendrick’s drivers ran full time, and won 9 races, the same as JGR did with 6 cars, I think Henderick’s season has been as good, if not better then Gibbs.

Unless I’m missing something, it sounds like the writer is saying that Hendrick’s drivers should behave like a**holes to accomplish Gordon’s goals, which I don’t think is the case at all. I think Gordon’s saying that Cup drivers need to get out of their comfort zone and find ways to promote themselves to the general public, outside of NASCAR, and away from events and appearances that Cup drivers normally appear at. To grow the sport and their own popularity and marketability, they need to find ways to become better known to the public beyond NASCAR, which can be done without behaving like a complete jerk.

masb1955

Maybe some appearances on late night talk shows a la FNC or even as a last resort, N o B ody C ares.

masb1955

Don’t even bother with Reverend Gibbs “The Holy Hypocrite”.

Echo

Jgr prepares 6 cars for race day, HMS 4. Get it straight if your going to print it. Denny is still a douche bag, and a trophy won’t change it.

masb1955

Let us know how you really feel.

Michael

Ok,
I’ve been a true NASCAR fan for several years and I’m firm believer of letting drivers expressing themselves personalities that’s what fans want,need.social media has no place in racing he said she said crap just let your driving do the talking.Bubba Wallace has been the biggest distraction he’s a true Drama Queen.Just race the card and let driving speak for you. Let us enjoy our NASCAR without all rest of that crap. Fan since 1965 so don’t talk just do it
Thx Mike

masb1955

CORRECTION: William Darrell Bubba Jussie Wallace, Jr.

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