Jeff Gordon: "I'm Still Trying to Get Comfortable in My Own Skin"

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IJune 5, 2009

DOVER, DE - MAY 30: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, sits in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 30, 2009 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

With the rain falling steadily at Pocono Raceway, Jeff Gordon had a few minutes to reflect on his career and his comfort level in the sport. Gordon went all the way back to the beginning, his rookie year.

"I had no confidence in myself," said Gordon. "I was excited I was offered a ride, but wondered if I had what it takes to be here."

Gordon did not win a race during his first year, "tearing up a lot of cars" in the process.  He said, "At least we were going fast before we crashed."

The four-time champion admitted that he did not feel comfortable as a racer until 1994.  That year, he won the 600 in Charlotte and the Brickyard. 

"That was our breakthrough year," said Gordon. "It set us up for winning the championship in 1995."

As every race fan knows, Gordon is also struggling to feel comfortable physically. He admitted that his back is still bothering him, especially after the hard hit in qualifying at Dover.

"That was a huge hit," Gordon said about the qualifying wreck. "People don't realize how hard it was, but when we went back and looked at it, it was huge."

Gordon advised that the Dover hit was definitely among the "top five" in hits that he has suffered. But he also recalled another hit right here at Pocono Raceway, where he had brake failure heading into the first turn.

"That was a scary moment," said Gordon. "The impact was severe, and I was thankful to have the safer barriers."

When asked if he thinks about the Pocono hit now, that he has returned to the scene of that wreck, Gordon said, "You can't think about it. It's just like being bucked from a horse; you gotta get back on."

Gordon said that his team has brought a whole new brake package to the track. So, he does not anticipate a repeat of that incident.

"Pocono is one of the easier tracks," said Gordon as it relates to his back pain.  "You have resting periods on the long straightaways."

Gordon said he was even a bit happy to see the rain at Pocono. "It's nice to have an extra day of rest," said the four-time champion.

Unfortunately, Gordon admitted that he has not seen much relief from his first back treatment. He said he may consider a second one, which often has better results according to his doctors.

Gordon advised that surgery is "not an option" for his type of back issue. e said it is too invasive and not necessary.

He will wait another four to six weeks before considering the second treatment.  He admitted that he was "not looking forward to more needles in his back."

Gordon advised that he is now focusing on training, stretching, and strengthening his core. He says this has been great for him and he is in the best physical shape ever.

For one hour every day, Gordon works with a person at the track who provides an ultrasound treatment, massage, and stretching exercises. After the day is over, Gordon says he usually ices down his back.

When he is home, Gordon usually goes to his doctor for a "little more intense" treatment.  He said that being a dad is also "great training."

Gordon said that he was looking forward to starting on the front row at Pocono and having a great pit stall. He has been "looking at the notes from last year" and crew chief Steve Letarte has set up the car accordingly.

While Gordon may be struggling to comfortable in his own skin, he certainly is most thankful for his fans.

"There is nothing better than having that support through the ups and downs," said Gordon.

"When you have a bad year, you wonder," said Gordon.  "You know your core fans will stick with you, but without a win, it tests your fans' support."

"That's why it was so great to get that win at Texas," said Gordon. "It was a thank you to the fans and that means as much to them as it does to me when we win."

There is no doubt that fans of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet hope that Gordon not only continues to get comfortable in his own skin, especially physically. They also hope that he will get comfortable in his own skin as race winner at Pocono this weekend and perhaps ultimately a five-time champion.

Please note that all quotes are from Jeff Gordon in an interview in the media center at Pocono Raceway in which this author participated.