Note: This was originally posted on April 23, 2007.
Anyone who knows me or reads this column knows that I'm not exactly a Jeff Gordon or Rick Hendrick Racing fan. I freely admit my prejudice in that way. I admire and have nothing but the utmost respect for what these drivers and crews do every week from February through November, but I think it's safe to say that we all have certain drivers that we admire more than others.
First of all, Congratulations to Jeff are in order for an exciting win at Phoenix on Saturday night. Win #76 has been a long time coming, and he finally tied Dale Earnhardt in total Cup wins. That is a huge accomplishment for any driver. The 'special' flag that he hoisted in the air after the win shows questionable judgment in my opinion.
I enjoyed the Polish Victory lap. I miss the days when those were commonplace, back in the days before the smoky burnouts. I like the burnouts too, don't get me wrong, but it's nice to see a return to older traditions once and a while. For that, Jeff Gordon, I salute you.
If waving the '3' flag was meant as a gesture of tribute, fine. Jeff Gordon and his fans have to realize that a lot of Earnhardt fans were not going to be too happy about it though. I think back to the Daytona 500 in 2006 which was won by Jimmie Johnson, and can't help but think of his words in Victory Lane: "This one is for all the haters out there." That was an 'in your face' gesture if there ever was one. I hope that Jeff's gesture wasn't meant the same way on Saturday night.
After the race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. congratulated Jeff in Victory Lane. Jr. seemed to be sincere in his comments after the race. Then again, Jr. is nothing if not a gentleman, and I've never seen Dale Jr. make an 'in your face' gesture to anyone.
I've got something else I'd like to get off my chest as well. Whoever threw the beers over the fence onto the track at Jeff seriously needs help. I know that the finger gets pointed at the Earnhardt Nation often when this happens, and those Earnhardt fans who have done it should be ashamed of themselves. But it's not just Earnhardt fans that display this behavior. A few years ago I was in the stands at Atlanta, and Jeff Gordon won the race. A few beers got heaved over the fence that day as well, but a man sitting directly 2 rows in front of me flung several cans over. He was wearing a Jimmie Johnson hat and shirt. I'm still trying to figure that one out!
I think in light of the recent tragedy in Blacksburg, VA, and with all the other tributes that were made to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, it might have been better if Jeff Gordon had done his Polish victory lap with the VT flag in his hand, not the 3.