DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The one thing Jeff Gordon didn’t particularly want was to race in the rain at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The weather didn’t work in his favor, and the semi-retired driver did a Saturday night stint in the wet during the prestigious sports car event. Gordon also drove in the rain in 2007 — a storm so bad he called it “a monsoon” — and struggled mightily that first time.
But a practice session earlier this month in the rain helped prepare him for the conditions at Daytona International Speedway, and the Wayne Taylor Racing team had no qualms putting him in their new Cadillac during this race.
“That time in the rain for me went better,” Gordon said. “You can sure tell the difference with the drivers who have done it before. That is one of the toughest things I have ever done.
“Sometimes it rains harder and then lighter. You are trying figure the dry line and the wet line. It is a little hard to see through the windshield when it is raining. That was tough. I am glad I brought it back in one piece.”
The Wayne Taylor team is so far the most dominant in the twice-round-the-clock endurance race, but the goal was to limit Gordon’s time in the car during the poor weather. He turned the car over to Ricky Taylor after his second stint, and declared it a “100 percent improvement” from when he raced in the rain in 2007.
“That last time I failed at it,” he said. “I would like to do more of it. I was glad to turn it over to Ricky.”
Gordon is kind of retired, but he’s learned it is sometimes too hard for a race car driver to stay out of the car. It’s a bit of a joke that the driver who retired from NASCAR racing at the end of the 2015 season is back behind the wheel, but he couldn’t refuse this offer.
“I think it’s a phenomenal race — that’s why I want to be here and be a part of it,” Gordon said. “I want to be a part of such a special event and drive a very cool car. I’m getting a chance to do both of those things.”
Gordon drove eight NASCAR races last season when former boss Rick Hendrick needed a replacement for concussed Dale Earnhardt Jr. So he often makes jokes about how retired he really is right now. While there were days back in the Cup car that were exhausting or frustrating, his time so far in this sports car race has been one of the most fun times in his career.
He struggled when he initially got in the No. 10 Cadillac on Saturday because the driver change came under caution and Gordon had to deal with his first restart. Gordon wasn’t the best restarter in NASCAR late in his storied career, and it held true in the sports car. He admitted to making a wrong move that allowed two other Cadillacs to pass him.
Gordon spent the rest of his double stint trying to get a feel for the Wayne Taylor Racing entry.
“I just don’t have enough experience in these cars on restarts,” Gordon said. “I didn’t know which way to go.”
Ricky Taylor set a frantic pace after taking the green flag, in hopes of building a big lead that would take some pressure off Gordon.
“Everyone was telling me, ‘Build a gap, build a gap,'” Taylor said. “I didn’t want to be the one to crash the car and then Jeff Gordon doesn’t get to get in the car. That would be the worst. … The plan was to give Jeff the car with a little bit of a gap. That wasn’t how it ended up working out.”
Gordon said ideally, he would have taken over the car under green, and thought getting in under yellow cost him up to eight seconds. Still, there was an upside.
“I was happy to get in the car under caution because it allowed me to get some heat in the tires and do a few things,” he said. “I was happy with some of my laps when I was in clean traffic. That’s kind of mission accomplished, and I want to do more of that. But I’ve got to work on traffic, and if we get another restart, I look forward to that challenge.”
Gordon is sharing the car with brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor, and Max Angelelli. The Cadillac group has run in the top three through the first 10 hours of the race.
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