Over the past 20 years, Gordon has had plenty of success at Martinsville – something that he attributes to great racecars and Hendrick Motorsport’s approach to handling the paperclip.
“Hendrick has always given us great cars even from when I started coming here,” Gordon said. “I found something that worked for me and I have been able to go back to when I come here and not a lot has changed. I have mentioned that a lot of times, but this weekend there is the most drastic change I have seen in a long time because of the new ride height rules. But for the most part, I think not a lot has changed as far as how you approach the way the cars are set up and how you drive the track since I first started coming here.”
Gordon picked up his first Grandfather clock in 1996, and followed that up with another seven over the years that have followed. Some people have argued that due to the wins, Gordon is an aggressive driver in his approach to short track racing. However, Gordon says being aggressive isn’t his approach to Martinsville.
“For me, this track is about finesse,” he reasoned. “This track is about patience. If it comes down to a late caution then I think yes, it comes down to aggressiveness but also what line you are in. You want to be in that inside line and if you are in that outside lane then you can be as aggressive as you want but it’s not going to do a whole lot for you to get down and into that inside lane.”
In the past 18 races at Martinsville, Gordon has only two finishes outside of the top 10, with the majority of those 16 top 10s being top five finishes. Success of that nature can certainly help a driver’s confidence when they return even with a new rule package to figure out.
“I have always had confidence here because we always run good and have been in position many times to win but we didn’t,” Gordon commented. “Whether the caution came out or other things that maybe happened. So I have always had confidence coming here because of laps led and having cars capable of winning. But when you actually finish first and you complete what you set out to do it gives you added confidence and momentum going back to that track.”
The new rule package has teams searching for the ride height that will work, as well as how to set the front geometry up with the car. Gordon says that the rule changes and added speed has changed how the cars drive slightly and how drivers need to find the new limit of how hard they can push it.
“Whether it’s rolling out of the brakes sooner or getting on the gas sooner or harder, or not slowing the car down as much getting in the corner,” Gordon explained. “Those type of things. But usually the grip of the car tells you that and you are constantly seeking the limit of the car and finding that edge. So yeah, there is more grip in the car because of the spoiler and of the ride heights.
“Nothing has changed, the teams have made the cars faster and you are always having to push yourself and push the car.”
While Gordon looks to add to Hendrick Motorsport’s history this weekend, HMS is celebrating the 30th anniversary of their first ever win as an organization by Geoff Bodine in 1984. Gordon started with HMS in 1993, and scored his first career win in the Coca Cola 600. Looking back, Gordon says that was a huge moment for him.
“I look back at that and I was still just a young kid and it was amazing that I was just in the Cup garage, at Hendrick Motorsports and had the opportunity that I had,” Gordon said. “You really never know what you are capable of doing until you accomplish it. So every step of the way that I would go up to the next level and when you win for the first time you are elated and overwhelmed sort of at the same time. That is how I felt that day and it also gave me a lot of confidence that we could win more races, and then we went on to win the Brickyard.”
Gordon added that the win meant a lot because of Charlotte Motor Speedway being the ‘home track’ of Hendrick Motorsports and other teams, and because the 600 is the longest race and one of the most prestigious races.