INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jeff Gordon will finally get a chance to lead the Indianapolis 500 field across the yard of bricks.
He’ll even get to do his version of The Double.
On Wednesday, the five-time Brickyard 400 champion was named this year’s Indianapolis 500 pace car driver, setting up a busy Memorial Day weekend for the NASCAR star.
Gordon and his family will arrive in Indy the night before the race, get to the track early May 24 to enjoy the festivities, then hop in the pace car for a few laps before heading to Charlotte where he will compete in the Coca-Cola 600 later that night. Actually, it was so complex Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles described it a “logistical nightmare.”
With the help of engine manufacturer Chevrolet and some flexible scheduling, Gordon’s support team found a way to work out the details and give him another special moment on his farewell tour. Gordon, a long-time ambassador for Chevy, is retiring at the end of this season.
“To me, doing the Double has never been anything that I seriously thought about,” he said, standing near the Corvette Z06 that will take the 33-car starting field to the green flag. “Do I wish I had the opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500? Absolutely. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Gordon grew up in nearby Pittsboro, Indiana, and won the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indy in 1994.
Since then, he has won four more times and will return in July for what could be his final race at the track as the defending champion. Only one driver, Jimmie Johnson, has ever won back-to-back Brickyards and the first of those, in 2008, came on a race day plagued by tire problems and competition cautions.
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher is the only other driver to win five times on Indy’s famous speedway
“There’s always something special when I drive in this track, whether we’re testing, whether we’re here to race, there’s something so special to me,” Gordon said. “I think it goes back to that childhood I have, the memories I have of watching the Indy 500, being here live for the Indy 500. That was the first real motorsports race that I ever watched from TV, was the Indy 500. It’s the one I watched every year.”
Getting the pace-car gig is still exciting for Gordon, who took an extra lap while shaking down the car as reporters watched and then nearly blew the surprise before Jim Campbell, the U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports for Chevrolet, actually got the words out of his mouth.
“I’m just hoping you don’t take an extra lap on race day,” Boles joked.
And even though Gordon will get one chance to become the first driver with six career wins at Indy, he has more immediate goals, staying competitive in the Sprint Cup series, getting enough information from this week’s three-day test session to stay in contention in July’s Brickyard 400 and getting the 500 drivers off to a clean start.
“This ranks right up there with the five Brickyards,” Gordon said. “My next goal is not to mess anything up.”
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