It’s been 10 years since Jeff Gordon’s last and only prior appearance in the Rolex 24 (2007), one of the biggest sports car races in the world.
But even with all the changes in sports car racing design and technology over the last decade, it’s clear that the retired four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion hasn’t lost much.
Gordon was the second driver for Wayne Taylor Racing to take the track Saturday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon replaced race starter Ricky Taylor at approximately 1 hour, 48 minutes into the 24-hour event. Taylor ran the first three scheduled stints behind the wheel until yielding to Gordon.
It was especially fortuitous that Gordon’s stint in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R began when it did – Taylor was leading the Prototype class at the time.
Gordon and Taylor made the quickest pit stop and driver exchange of the Prototype cars on that particular stop.
However, Gordon was only about 10 minutes into his run when he made contact with the No. 70 Mazda of Tom Long, which was attempting to transition back onto the racetrack after pitting. The contact forced Long into the grass, but he was able to recover once the field passed him. Gordon, meanwhile, had just minor cosmetic damage to the left front end of his Cadillac.
The incident caused Gordon to fall back slightly to third-place, where he ran just before the two-hour, 30-minute mark. Shortly after that, and with pit stops by several other teams, Gordon climbed back into first place. Gordon then came onto pit road for service about 2 hours, 36 minutes into the race and resumed his place in third position behind class leader Seb Morris and second-place Christian Fittipaldi.
Gordon drove two stints and exited the car at about 3 hours, 11 minutes, yielding to veteran Max Angelelli. The 50-year-old veteran Italian driver is making his final career appearance in the Rolex 24.
“These restarts are crazier than NASCAR restarts,” Gordon told Fox Sports about the incident with Long. “I wanted to be cautious because I was on cold tires. The tires were sliding around pretty good when I got into Turn 3. I feel sorry I got into him and spun him. … I hope they put me back in there again because I had so much fun.”
Gordon is expected to drive in at least one more stint before the endurance race completes at 2:30 pm ET on Sunday (he’ll most likely drive again Saturday evening). For the team to get full credit points-wise, Gordon has to drive a minimum of at least two hours within that 24-hour period.
In Gordon’s only other Rolex 24 appearance, he was part of the SunTrust Racing team in 2007, which started second and finished third.
Gordon, who filled in eight races for Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season, in what was originally supposed to be his first retirement year from NASCAR, has been looking forward to his return to Daytona in a sports car.