Jeff Gordon Ready for His TV Debut with NASCAR on FOX
Jeff Gordon smiles when he hears the question, as if he’s gotten it more than once since announcing his move to the NASCAR on Fox television booth.
Teaming with loquacious Darrell Waltrip for his first TV job, how does Gordon possibly expect to get a word in during the broadcasts?
“Listen, I’ve worked with Regis Philbin,” Gordon says with a laugh. “I’m not afraid to jump in and talk.”
He certainly seems ready to do so. During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, the retired driver’s eagerness to get started as an analyst was apparent. But just as obvious was Gordon’s intent on bringing the same dedication to his new job as he did throughout his championship driving career.
Gordon climbed out of his No. 24 car for the last time in November after four championships and 93 career wins, finishing third in the Sprint Cup Series during his final season. Now he’ll bring a fresh perspective to the booth alongside Waltrip and play-by-play announcer Mike Joy, starting with Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race.
“It is a very Fox thing to do, to get the most popular athlete coming out of the sport to join our family,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said. “It adds a level of energy, and there’s no question it adds a layer of relevancy to what’s happening on the track.”
Some drivers have completely stepped away from NASCAR at the end of their careers. But that was never the plan for Gordon, who has more than 25 races on his schedule this year through his role with Fox and commitments he’s made to racetracks.
Thanks to planning meetings, promotional appearances and other prep work, Gordon hasn’t even had much time to unwind since he ran for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Not that he’s complaining. Gordon says the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the broadcasts is fascinating and he even has enjoyed the weekly conference calls that remind him of debrief sessions at Hendrick Motorsports, where he started in the Cup Series in 1992.
“I enjoy the process; I enjoy the sport,” he said. “I was hoping this would be interesting and keep me busy, and it certainly has done just that. Because the transition is similar to a race team, I love that part of it.”
The 44-year-old’s new team includes Waltrip, a Hall of Famer and three-time champion, and Joy, an experienced ringmaster who smoothly and effortlessly guides the broadcasts.
Waltrip says Joy, 66, is the one who makes everyone else look good; a poke in the side here, a certain look there, and the analysts understand if they should talk or shut up. Gordon will lean on Joy, saying he was blown away by Joy’s talent last year during a practice broadcast.
“Mike Joy is like a traffic cop, and he’s been working this intersection for 30 years,” Waltrip said. “He knows when to let them go and when to stop them.”
Former crew chief Larry McReynolds, who is moving to a different role on the telecasts to accommodate Gordon’s arrival, says he’s been impressed by what he’s seen from Gordon (McReynolds will continue as an analyst — Fox will go to him for further insights — but operate from a separate booth).
“I can promise you, the guy is not just coming to fill a hole in his schedule and get a paycheck,” McReynolds said. “The guy is all in, just like Mike and Darrell and I have been for 15 years. He has blown me away with how engaged he is in what we’re doing.”
That doesn’t mean Gordon will have an easy time watching someone else drive his race car. Waltrip has warned him the toughest moment might be during the first practice session, when the No. 24 car rolls onto Daytona International Speedway without Gordon in it.
“I think it’s going to hit me at that point,” Gordon said. “And when whoever wins the Daytona 500 pulls into victory lane and there’s that excitement and celebration, it’ll hit me I don’t get to be part of that again as a driver. There’s nothing that compares to that.”
But Gordon has no regrets about...
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