‘Slam dunk’ opportunity fuels Gordon at Rolex 24 – Nascar

RELATED: Full Rolex 24 schedule

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For a four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion, Jeff Gordon sure seemed like a kid in a candy store Friday afternoon in the Daytona International Speedway garage area preparing for his second career start in Saturday’s iconic Rolex 24 sports car race.

Gordon will team with brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor and sports car veteran Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi owned by the Taylors’ legendary racing father, Wayne Taylor.

Competing in this renowned IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race with a team favored to win was an opportunity Gordon was not going to miss. Nor take lightly.

“It was a slam dunk for me,” Gordon said of the decision to participate. “What prevented me in other years (from racing in the Rolex) was the commitment. You really want to be in the car in December and in January and get as much track time as you can, especially with this car, which is so different from a NASCAR stock car.

“I knew I could do it since I was no longer competing full time and it was icing on the cake when Wayne told me about the car.”

Gordon’s approach to this race has been full commitment — not only participating in all the December and January preseason tests but to making a special trip to the team’s Indianapolis-based race shop just to practice driver changes.

“Physically I’m good, but I’m beat up from doing all the driver changes,” Gordon said smiling Friday after final practice. “I’ve got bumps and bruises all over from those.

“Every time I get in and out of the car I’ll probably feel those. I’ve really been working on my fitness to prepare for this race because these cars are so physically demanding.”

The team was second-fastest in the opening two practices and topped the field in the final two practice sessions. Ricky Taylor will start the race — rolling off the grid from fourth place Saturday. Gordon is expected to follow next in the four-driver rotation with everyone doing at least double stints — about an hour and a half behind the wheel at a time.

Another Cadillac DPi, fielded by Mustang Sampling Racing, will lead the 55-car field to the green flag.

Weather may be a challenge. Temperatures began dropping Friday evening and are expected to hover around 60 during the daytime hours with rain showers beginning Saturday overnight. While the rain isn’t expected to be heavy, the wet weather is predicted to linger through early Sunday.

Gordon did get some wet-weather practice during the test earlier this month, but smiled thinking about the prospects of racing in the rain.

“There was a monsoon in 2007 when I drove and it was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever experienced,” he said, laughing.

Gordon’s teammates said they have been impressed with Gordon’s preparation. The Taylor boys were only in their teens when they watched Gordon compete for their father in 2007 and finish third overall.

“I didn’t want to get in the way,” Ricky Taylor recalled Friday. “Me and Jordan back then, we were always around but didn’t spend a lot of time with him.

“But between then and now, every time we (IMSA) shared a weekend with NASCAR, he’d always come by and say ‘Hi.’ I thought that was cool considering how busy they are. It’s been really an incredible experience driving with someone we watched growing up and a legend in the sport. Even if he’s from a different discipline I have so much respect for what he does.

“For him to come here, the biggest thing we were shocked to learn was his approach to it all and how much intensity he brings. Everyone talks about him being retired and stepping out of NASCAR, but he’s as hungry as ever.”

That’s only encouraging news for this team, which started this race from pole position in 2010 but hasn’t won overall. Wayne Taylor has a pair of Rolex watches from wins in 1997 and 2005 and his talented sons are eager to win one in their father’s car.

“For us, as sports car drivers, this is one of the biggest races in the world and to win … that on its own, would be fantastic,” Ricky Taylor said. “But the fact somebody like Jeff wants to add this to his resume and we have the opportunity to support him in that and to contribute to his amazing career. … that would be cool and to have our names next to his, that would be historic.

“Although this race is very important to us, I didn’t expect him to take it as seriously as he is. He’s putting everything into it, asking questions, and just the fact, a driver as accomplished as he is and has won in so many different things, he comes here and is still so open to learning and cares enough to want to be humble and contribute to the team.

“He doesn’t want to drive just to win a (Rolex) watch, he wants to contribute and be a part of a winning effort. For us as young drivers to look at that, that is why he was so successful.”

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