Now that he knows 2015 will be Jeff Gordon’s final full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series, team owner Rick Hendrick isn’t putting any pressure on his longtime driver and business partner.
But he will be having fun with him.
During Thursday’s final session of the four-day annual NASCAR media tour in Charlotte, N.C., Hendrick jokingly told Gordon what he expected from him in his last go-round for Hendrick Motorsports:
“Mr. Gordon here has to win 14 races and the championship to go out in style. That’s his mission.”
Not surprisingly, Gordon, who shared the stage with Hendrick and teammates Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, quickly grew wide-eyed as an incredulous look blazed across his face.
I don’t know where he keeps coming up with these numbers,” Gordon laughed, glancing at Hendrick. “The numbers continue to grow every time I see him.
“So I have to top everything I’ve ever done before in my final season? Got it.”
For the record, if Gordon were to win 14 races and the championship, he could check off quite a few things on his bucket list:
- Fourteen wins would be the most Gordon has achieved in any season in his 23-year Sprint Cup career (topping his modern-era record of 13 in 1998).
- It would give Gordon 106 victories for his career. That would place him second on the all-time win list (one ahead of David Pearson) behind Richard Petty (200).
- Gordon finally would achieve the “Drive For Five” with a fifth Cup championship that he’s been pursuing now for the last 14 years.
When a reporter asked why he looked worried, Gordon laughed. “Because he (Hendrick) just told me I have to win 14 races and the championship,” he quipped. “This whole being my final season just became a breeze other than that part.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
One of the Road to Indy’s most talented young drivers will climb another step up the development system ladder this season.
Kyle Kirkwood, the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion, has signed a contract to race for Andretti Autosport in the 2020 Indy Lights season. Kirkwood will drive the No. 28 car for the reigning championship team.
A native of Jupiter, Florida, 21-year-old Kirkwood has been incredibly successful in junior formulas over the last few years. He won the F4 US Championship 2017 and won both the F3 Americas and USF2000 titles in 2018.
Driving for RP Motorsport Racing, Kirkwood won 9 of 16 races in his maiden Indy Pro 2000 season last year, allowing him to win his fourth championship in three years and earn the Road to Indy scholarship.
“We are very excited about the addition of Kyle to our Indy Lights program,” Andretti Autosport CEO and Chairman Michael Andretti said. “We’ve followed Kyle’s career from when he started in 2018 with the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and have been impressed with his success in every race that led to his Indy Pro 2000 Championship last year. As a championship-caliber team, Kyle displays the desire and talent that we look for in our drivers and are excited to see him hit the track for the 2020 Indy Lights season.”
Kirkwood previously drove for Andretti in a two-day test session at Sebring International Raceway in December. He will make his official debut for the team in the season-opening doubleheader at St. Petersburg on March 14-15.
“I am ecstatic that I can now say I am competing in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport this season,” Kirkwood said. “They have established a winning program in Indy Lights and we plan on carrying that reputation throughout 2020.
“We are a fantastic match for each other and our Sebring test in December proved that.”
Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter