Nascar stars Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson can go incognito in New York
Jeff Gordon loves New York — in part because the Big Apple doesn’t seem to love him back.
“I love that there are certain times that I’ll get recognized, and it’s kind of surprising and fun,” said the 39-year-old Gordon, a four-time Nascar Sprint Cup champion who owns an apartment on Central Park West. “But I can walk down the street most of the time and not be recognized, and I enjoy that, too.”
The No. 8-seeded Gordon and 11 other drivers are competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Nascar’s 10-race playoff for its championship, which kicks off with Sunday’s race in Loudon, N.H.
Nascar has tried to bring a race to New York, including an ill-fated effort to build a track on Staten Island. And from 1981 until 2008, a trip to New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel came with the Sprint Cup trophy.
But last year, Nascar moved the awards banquet to Las Vegas, leaving the Chase Media Day, held this week at the London Hotel in midtown, as the sport’s one chance to gain a foothold in the nation’s largest market.
“It’s a big market, very important for our sport to be a part of the New York culture,” said Jimmie Johnson, 33, who has won a Nascar-record four straight Sprint Cup championships. “[Nascar has] done everything they can to get a track here, but there just isn’t a lot of real estate.”
Still, Johnson, Gordon’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, is further proof that stock-car racing and New York can coexist.
“I met my wife in the city, and I’ve had an apartment here for eight years now,” he said. “Jeff is how I met my wife. We were up here running around and having fun and I met my wife and she blew my socks off and that was the end of it.”
Jimmie Johnson goes for Sprint Cup 5-peat
Four-time defending Nascar Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson may not look quite as invincible as he has in the past, but Denny Hamlin insists "JJ" is still the man to beat as the Chase for the Sprint Cup gets under way Sunday in New Hampshire.
“I feel like the target’s still on Jimmie,” said Hamlin, who enters the 12-driver Chase as the top seed thanks to six wins during the regular season. “I feel like everyone still thinks he’s the favorite, and he is until he’s dethroned.”
Johnson, winner of five races, finished seventh in the regular-season point standings (he’ll start the Chase in second) and hasn’t won since taking consecutive checkered flags at Sonoma and New Hampshire in June. His win in New Hampshire opened a stretch in which nine different drivers won the final 10 races of the regular season.
“In my opinion, it’s the most competitive Chase field we’ve ever seen,” said Tony Stewart, the No. 6 seed. “There’s not really one or two guys who are clear-cut favorites.”
But Johnson, the only driver to qualify for all seven Chases, has historically saved his best for last. He has won 18 Chase events — more than the next three drivers on that list combined — and figures to build off his earlier win at New Hampshire.
“We ran so well there in the spring that I’m much more at ease going into this Chase than I have been before,” he said.
Top seed Denny Hamlin cuts to Chase
Denny Hamlin enters Nascar’s Chase for the Sprint Cup seeded first among 12 qualifiers, thanks to six wins during the regular season. Hamlin, who races for owner Joe Gibbs and is making his fifth straight appearance in the Chase at age 29, spoke to amNewYork at Wednesday's Nascar Chase Media Day at the London Hotel in midtown.
Does the No. 1 seed bring added pressure? No added pressure, just nervousness, because I know this is my best shot up until this point.
How important is Sunday’s race in New Hampshire? It’s important for me to get past those first three races, and New Hampshire is the first step. … We’re always strong the last five Chase races, but we struggle and we race our way right out of it the first five. So if we can play damage control the first few weeks and be within striking distance getting out of the first few races, then I think we’ve got an awesome shot going into the last five.
You tore a ligament in your knee playing pickup basketball in January and underwent surgery in the spring. How are you feeling? We did [the surgeries] in March and May to make sure by September I was 100 percent and ready to focus on the championship. That was our goal and we’ve accomplished it. Now I’m ready to go, the knee is not an issue, and we’re running better than we ever have.
Have you done anything fun while you’ve been in New York? I went to the Jay-Z and Eminem concert [Tuesday at Yankee Stadium]. It was just amazing; it was the best concert I think I’ve ever been to. … Joba Chamberlain from the Yankees hooked us up and got us a suite.