Recently, I contemplated a Jeff Gordon “what if,” pondering the chances of Gordon winding up at Roush Fenway Racing instead of Hendrick Motorsports back when the then “Boy Wonder” embarked on a Winston (now-Sprint) Cup career. After all, car owner Jack Roush expressed interest in Gordon before being turned off by Gordon’s step-father, John Bickford, suggesting Ray Evernham as crew chief. The way Roush saw it, he was the car owner, so he hired his crew chiefs, not the step-fathers of his drivers.
Perhaps an even bigger “what-if” to ponder would be the scenario that would’ve put Gordon in a Bill Davis Racing Cup entry. Yeah, that Bill Davis Racing team that doesn’t even exist anymore.
For those not followers of NASCAR or for those who have forgotten, Bill Davis brought Gordon to NASCAR via the Busch-turned-Nationwide-turned-Xfinity Series.
I was aware of Gordon driving for Davis in the then-Busch Series and that Ford was anxious to keep Gordon in its camp for his additional move to Cup, but I will admit, I wasn’t following the sport back then (I came along in the late 1990s), so I wasn’t aware of the dirty details.
I hadn’t really given a Gordon/Bill Davis Racing scenario much thought, until hearing a caller to one of the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio shows who asked why Gordon didn’t thank Davis for bringing him to NASCAR over the course of his final full season of competition, specifically during his speech at the Sprint Cup Series Awards last week. The caller was told the controversy that surrounded Gordon’s move to Hendrick Motorsports to go Cup racing left behind lingering sour grapes. Well, those weren’t the exact words, but that was the gist of the explanation.
When I heard that, I had one of those C+C Music Factory, “Things that Make You Go Hmmm” moments.
For those who would be left at least somewhat in the dark by that explanation, just as I was, here’s the skinny.
Gordon’s deal with Bill Davis Racing that put him in a Busch car was a developmental deal of sorts that was to lead to a Cup ride for the young driver, still with BDR. So, when Gordon jumped ship for the seeming greener pastures of Hendrick, Davis saw it as Gordon stabbing him in the back. After all, the way Davis saw it, he put in the time and resources to develop Gordon in NASCAR and then the ungrateful little prick bailed to drive for Rick Hendrick.
I want to make this clear, I’m not saying I think of Gordon as a prick now or then. I’m just trying to paint a picture illustrating how Davis probably felt.
Gordon’s side of the story is that he saw his Cup future at BDR in jeapordy without sufficient sponsorship. Davis, though, contends that sponsorship for Gordon was all wrapped up, but that sponsorship deal fell through when Gordon bailed on him.
But Gordon had already made his decision to head for HMS by the time that meeting was held with this potential sponsor. This may sound harsh, but I’m sure the way Gordon and his camp saw it, the young driver needed to look out for his own best interest. Granted, this is racing, a sport, entertainment for the fans. But for those involved, it’s also a business.
Hendrick didn’t have sponsorship for this new team, the eventual No. 24 team, that he was going to start for Gordon, either, but according to accounts, Gordon knew that Moneybags Rick would be able to sufficiently fund a car, should sponsorship not be found for that team.
This “what if” has far reaching possibilities, even more than the Gordon to Roush possibility. That potential sponsorship for a Gordon ride with Davis was from Target. Would Target have ever ended up with Chip Ganassi Racing instead? After all, we’re talking about the early to mid-90s, here.
When Gordon left for Hendrick, BDR hired Bobby Labonte from the Busch Series ranks. If Gordon was in that Cup ride, instead, would Labonte have gotten another Cup opportunity? If so, when and with whom?
If Gordon had stuck with Davis, how long would he have driven a Cup car for him? How successful would he have been? Would Bill Davis Racing still be around?
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