Jeff Gordon embracing Rolex 24 return with Taylors, Cadillac

Photo: Wayne Taylor Racing/Cadillac
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ten years ago, one of Wayne Taylor Racing’s many near-misses at the Rolex 24 at Daytona since the team’s 2005 overall race win featured Taylor, Max Angelelli, Jan Magnussen and a rather well-known Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (then called NASCAR Nextel Cup Series) driver named Jeff Gordon.

That quartet finished third and as the senior Taylor recalled Friday, Gordon told him that once his full-time career in the Cup Series came to an end, he’d want to come back for another shot at the Rolex 24.

That time comes now, in the team’s No. 10 Konica Minolta-backed Cadillac DPi-V.R with Taylor’s two sons Jordan and Ricky, and the venerable veteran in “Max the Ax.”

“At the end of the 2007 race he said, ‘I’d have another championship in me, and I want to do this race again after I’m done with NASCAR.’ So I called him and it didn’t take long to say yes,” Wayne Taylor said Friday.

“He’s having the time of his life. It’s fun for my sons to drive with him and look forward to what he’s achieved over the years. And Max is very much part of the whole program. He’s been integrated in the build of the car between GM, Cadillac and Dallara.”

For Gordon, who’s the lone NASCAR driver entered in this year’s Rolex 24 with the departures of usual participants Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger owing to team changes, the opportunity to not just participate but hopefully flourish at the Rolex 24 comes with a wealth of preparation.

This has been in the works for several months prior to being announced in December, with Gordon making his first official laps at the December Daytona test.

“Like Wayne said, I’m having a blast. It’s been a dream of mine to not just drive a car like this and compete,” Gordon said. “It’s a lot of fun for me. I’m treating this as I’m a rookie… I’m tapping into this team and teammates.

“Getting behind the wheel of a car that brakes like that is eye-opening. It’s so much fun. Nothing would make me more proud and honored than to give Wayne that win. They put their heart and soul into it.”

Gordon isn’t thinking about overall records when it comes to this race. Yes, a win would ensure he’d have won a Rolex 24 to go along with his four Cup Series championships, three Daytona 500 wins and five Brickyard 400 wins.

Instead, he’s focused on balancing fun with competitiveness.

“I’ll be honest… that would be special, but that would be icing on the cake. I haven’t thought about it,” Gordon said.

“These kids force me to have fun. This kid (Jordan, seated to Gordon’s right), I have to watch for. I was happy to get one over on him yesterday for a change. I’m a serious competitor. They are too but they like to have fun. But I’ll only have fun if we’re on the podium in the number one position.”

The friendly poking between the younger Taylor brother and Gordon started at the December test, when Jordan Taylor posted a video filmed by older brother Ricky Taylor of Jordan being overlooked, which went viral. Gordon then acquired Jordan’s phone at a later point.

On Thursday, Jordan scored another banter point when he dressed up as social media alter ego “Rodney Standstorm” as a Gordon “superfan” complete with Gordon’s early 1990s mustache, DuPont race jacket and jorts.

Gordon wasn’t fooled.

“When he got swarmed by the media, it just happened,” Jordan Taylor said.

“Yesterday’s one with the leather jacket, as soon I found out, I wanted to come up as a superfan. He’d seen that exact format. I figure he’d seen it a million times. But he saw it coming, and kinda ruined my day.”

Gordon, at the moment, is only focusing on this 24-hour race. Despite his 20-plus year association with General Motors, he said he’s just determined to make the most of the Rolex 24 before even thinking about running at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Yes I talk about passion and dreams, but the difference is I’m really realistic,” Gordon explained.

“Wayne and I have talked about that. I’ve talked with GM about it.

“Le Mans is a much different animal. Yeah there’s driver simulators and the like.

“I want to see how this goes, and be very realistic about anything I get behind the wheel. If I could be well prepared, maybe. But I’m just focused on this race right now.”

Gordon actually thanked his handful of Cup Series starts as an injury fill-in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to help prepare for the Rolex 24.

“Yeah, because what I learned getting back in the car was being around the intensity of pushing yourself, restarts, being around other cars and intense competition,” Gordon said.

“The first race I did at Indianapolis, I said I’m so glad I’m doing this because this will help me for the 24-hour race. If I did this without racing for a year, it’d be too much newness. That helped me learn. From the first test to Charlotte, the test here in December, now this test, not just feel the car out but learn the buttons on the steering wheel, and learn the track.

“There’s so much to take in. The amount of laps really helps me.”