Veteran says he's through worrying about what people think of him
By David Newton, NASCAR.COM
March 28, 2006
05:08 PM EST (22:08 GMT)
Jeff Gordon says the person that NASCAR fined $10,000 on Tuesday for shoving Matt Kenseth after Sunday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway is closer to who he is than what fans have seen.
Gordon, also placed on probation until Aug. 30, 2006, took a two-handed jab at Kenseth on pit road when Kenseth approached him to explain the bump that sent the four-time Nextel Cup champion from third place to 21st on the final lap.
It was the first time in Gordon's 14-year Cup career that he has been fined for conduct. His team was fined in 2000 for an equipment violation and he was fined twice as an owner for violations on Jimmie Johnson's car involving crew chief Chad Knaus.
"For many, many years I've been so reserved from controversy,'' Gordon said. "For years, I was so concern with, 'What is this person going to think? What is that person going to think?' I was more caught up in that than being true to myself.
"What you see today is a truer Jeff Gordon and who I really am.''
Gordon said he chose to avoid controversy early in his career because he came from an open wheel background and didn't grow up in the Southeast where many drivers came from at the time.
"I felt I had to do extra things to be accepted,'' he said. "Now that I've established myself, I'm older and I understand life a little more, really the way to enjoy life and enjoy racing more is to be me.''
That doesn't mean Gordon condones shoving Kenseth, who like himself has a reputation for racing clean. He placed part of the blame on NASCAR, saying he was told to park on pit road near Kenseth's car instead of driving to his hauler as normally is the case for those outside the top five.
"[Matt] said it best, that it probably wasn't the best time to walk over to me,'' said Gordon, referring to a comment by Kenseth after the incident. "I told NASCAR had I been thinking more clearly at the time without being so angry, I'm sure I wouldn't have shoved him.''
Gordon added there appears to be more incidents off the track lately because NASCAR isn't doing enough to temper aggressive driving on the track.
"If somebody intentionally runs into somebody on the track, it seems it has to be so obvious for NASCAR to take action that it usually doesn't happen,'' he said. "Yet off the track, they're easy to jump at it.''
Gordon took offense to a comment by Jeff Burton that he made a conscious decision to wreck Martin Truex Jr. -- an incident in which Burton was caught in -- earlier in the race and that he expects special treatment on the track.
"We have drivers who think it's OK for them to do something, but it's not OK for somebody to do it to them,'' Burton told reporters during a Monday Car of Tomorrow test at Bristol. "Jeff Gordon's a perfect example.''
Gordon said there was no conscious effort to wreck Truex Jr.
"Martin completely checked up in front of me,'' he said. "The problem is I was an inch off his rear bumper when it happened. He did not have any time for error.
"Jeff Burton is mad because he got caught up in the wreck. I didn't see it being any different than when he got into [Scott Riggs]. He didn't mean to get into [Riggs], but people checked up in front of him.''
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said Gordon's fine was consistent with past violations of the same nature, reminding Tony Stewart was fined no more than $10,000 for his first three incidents,
"A lot of people are going to say it should have been more, saying we fined Tony $50,000 [in 2004],'' Hunter said. "But Tony had a string of fines leading up to the $50,000.''
Gordon also admitted missing the Chase for the Nextel Cup last season has somewhat changed his approach to driving.
"I kind of heard a lot last year that maybe I wasn't being aggressive enough on the racetrack,'' said Gordon, who is seventh in points heading into Sunday's race at Martinsville [Va.].
" . . . I'm looking at last year and what as a driver I could have done differently or better at times to get us in the Chase or be in position to win more races. I felt like there were times when I could have been more aggressive.''
Gordon said sometimes that aggression carries over off the track like it did at Bristol.
"I guess that's maybe the Jeff Gordon that has evolved over the years,'' he said. "In the past I've reserved a lot of my emotions. http://www.nascar.com/2006/news/head...ine/index.html