It’s hard to imagine Jeff Gordon racing for anyone other than Rick Hendrick in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. After all, he drove the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet for his entire Cup career, going back to his series debut in the 1992 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway and ending up at the end of his full-time NASCAR driving career in the 2015 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22. He had a lifetime contract with Hendrick But Gordon may have come close to driving a Jack Roush-owned Ford at the Cup level.
Yep, that’s right. Gordon started out as a Ford driver, driving a Bill Davis-owned entry in the Busch (now-Xfinity) Series. When it came time for Gordon to go Cup racing, Roush had first shot at him. And Roush was interested. What Roush wasn’t interested in was hiring Ray Evernham as crew chief. That’s right, I’m talking about the same Evernham that guided Gordon to three of his four Cup titles.
Legend has it, Roush wanted to bring Gordon to Cup racing, keeping him under the Ford banner, and had plans to do so. But Gordon’s step-father, John Bickford, wanted Gordon and Evernham to stay together and insisted on them being a package deal. Roush didn’t bite, though. The car owner had a habit of picking his own crew chiefs, and he wasn’t going to let this young driver’s step-father call the shots. So, Roush passed on Gordon.
Wonder if Roush regrets that decision, now? Hindsight’s always 20/20, I guess. Letting Gordon slip through his fingers may not have seemed all that big of a deal at first. After all, Gordon wrecked a lot of equipment in his first full Cup season of 1993. But once that was behind him, he really turned things around.
Gordon retired last weekend as a four-time champion. That’s double the number of Cup titles Roush has as a car owner, across all the Cup driver’s he’s ever put in a Cup car. Also worth mentioning, Gordon won three of those four championship with Evernham atop the pit box. Yeah, that’s the guy Roush didn’t want and, therefore, was the deal-breaker that led to Gordon, and Evernham, landing at Hendrick Motorsports.
Let’s take a short, abridged look at Gordon’s Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup resume: 93-career wins (third on the all-time wins list), four championships (fourth-most all-time), and a certain first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer.
Maybe Roush should’ve swallowed his pride and took Evernham in the name of getting Gordon. After all, that Evernham guy turned out to be not all that bad, either. He did, after all, guide Gordon to three championships in a span of four years and led the driver to multiple double-digit wins seasons. He must’ve been doing something right. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Hall right next to Gordon one of these days.
Would Gordon have still be a four-time champion? Would Roush have two or more Cups as a car owner? I guess we’ll never know.
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