Jeff Gordon high on confidence going into Brickyard 400

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At the conclusion of Jeff Gordon’s press conference this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy mayor Greg Ballard read a proclamation that declared Sunday, July 27, 2014 – the day of this year’s Brickyard 400 – as “Jeff Gordon Day” in the city.

“I just hope my competitors are respectful of this, and on Sunday, they’ll just sort of move out of the way,” quipped Gordon, the four-time Brickyard champ and current Sprint Cup points leader.

Joking aside, Gordon feels like he has his best opportunity at becoming the first five-time winner in a stock car at IMS in a while.

“There’s no doubt that this is the best chance that we’ve had at winning this race legitimately, with the speed of the car, as we’ve had in a very long time,” said Gordon, who’s celebrating the 20th anniversary of his victory in the inaugural Brickyard back in 1994.

“It’s obvious that there’s some competitors out there that are going to be tough, including our teammates. But I think the preparation that we’ve put into it and what we’ve been working on since the break – prior, leading into that really – we’re really excited about seeing what we have here today and this weekend.

“From an overall strength of the team and speed of the cars, this is by far the best chance we’ve had of winning in a long time.”

Gordon is also enjoying the fact that he isn’t having to deal with the pressure of having to scrap for a Chase spot like he’s had over the last couple of years.

In 2012, Gordon had to rally from one lap down in the regular season finale at Richmond before he made it into the Chase with a second-place finish.

Then in 2013, he initially missed the post-season only to be added in as a 13th driver in the wake of NASCAR’s penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing following Richmond.

Before getting his playoff reprieve from Brian France, Gordon and his No. 24 team went through multiple bouts of inconsistency in the 2013 regular season.

But in 2014, Gordon’s been running like clockwork with a Chase-clinching win at Kansas, 13 Top-10s, and an average finish of 9.6. He says that the team’s been doing a great job of putting themselves in strong positions throughout the race weekends, but also feels that they need to improve further.

“I’ve always said that you make your own luck, and I think that we’re doing that this year,” he said. “We’re running up front, we’re qualifying up front, we’re making smart decisions, and we’ve got good race cars.

“It’s great to be in this position but we also look at our competitors and we know we haven’t won the most races and we need to win more, so we’re taking what we’ve done so far and looking at the positives and how good it is, and we’re enjoying that.

“But we’re also working really, really hard because we want to be the best out there. And I feel like even though we’re leading the points with this new system, we’ve got to be better than this if we’re going to win the championship.”

Gordon also received one more item this morning from IMS president J. Douglas Boles – the No. 24 placard from the track’s second-generation scoring pylon that was taken down recently (a new video pylon has since been installed).

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Credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway/NASCAR

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.