With the pluck and defiance befitting any good Texas Aggie — even if only temporarily — Jeff Gordon has been raising hell.
Gordon vented his spleen two weeks ago over issues with Goodyear tires, including one blown tire at the Auto Club Speedway on a competitor that necessitated a caution and cost the four-time Sprint Cup champion at least a top-10 finish.
He continued on Saturday, speaking in mild-mannered tones while outfitted in a fire suit in the colors of Aggieland.
The paint scheme on Gordon’s No. 24 in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Duck Commander 500 will be maroon and his fire suit will also be in the A&M colors.
It’s a tribute to the marvels of engineering and the school. And to his sponsor. Not even an Aggie would disrespect the sponsor, especially when the boss is an Aggie.
A&M graduate Charles Shaver is CEO of Axalta Coating Systems, which bought out Gordon’s longtime sponsor DuPont Performance Coatings.
“I think people [who aren’t involved in the sport on a day-to-day basis] underestimate how much technology and engineering goes into what we do every week,” Gordon said.
When one does see it, “you start to get a sense of why this tie is so crucial.”
Gordon will start Sunday’s race from the 12th position. He’s fourth in the points standings, 11 back of leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The 42-year-old California native who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., has always been a polarizing figure in NASCAR Nation.
So, why not stir the passions and ire of the old rivalries of Texas, where, like the stock car circuit, there are no lily-livered?
He has been using his bully pulpit as now an elder statesman in NASCAR to speak out on the issues with tire pressure.
The veteran racer thinks it’s past time for NASCAR to start regulating the air pressure on the left front side as the governing body does on the right front side.
As it is now, teams are able to manipulate the pressure and increase speed. It also causes hardship on the tires, especially with the increased downforce, and possible blowouts.
Teams competing Sunday will use a Dual Zone tire with a tougher compound on the inside shoulder but more traction on the outside.
“All they’re asking us to do is exploit it and push it,” Gordon said on Saturday. “If somebody goes faster than us and we find out they’re a pound lower on the left, then we’ll all go a pound lower. That’s just speed.”
If the air pressure is regulated, teams would be required to get more speed out of the details of the motor through engineering, he said.
The dual thread used at TMS will be helpful, but in practice this week there have still been issues, though those haven’t been as “severe” as he anticipated, especially as fast “as we’ve been going.”
“I was anticipating more issues on the longer runs.”
Gordon said he’s had no issues because he has not been pushing the limits, racing more conservatively.
That’s a strategy he believes will help him Sunday. He believes the pace will slow down on the aging, more abrasive surface, giving him an opportunity on the track where he’s always been fast.
Twenty-eight Texas A&M engineering students will be among the throngs cheering him. They’ve toured the garages and talked to the engineers, seeing if perhaps there might be a career in motorsports.
“They’ve actually built a race car there,” said Gordon, who took the car for a spin on the College Station campus this past week. “Every day I wish I had more of an education. Just having that experience in life is huge going to college.”