Denny Hamlin Expands on Why Jeff Gordon’s Demands Aren’t Gonna Break Way in NASCAR
NASCAR has always been about high-speed action, thrilling finishes, and the unyielding charisma of its superstar drivers. But recently, a brewing debate within the sport has been making quite a few headlines. And two prominent figures, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon, find themselves at the center of it. This latest exchange stems from Gordon’s bold suggestion that NASCAR teams should take the lead in building their brands, instead of relying solely on superstar drivers. Denny Hamlin, a superstar in his own right, is having none of it.
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At the heart of this feud is Jeff Gordon’s assertion that NASCAR teams should focus more on building their own brands. Teams should focus on creating a loyal fan base that transcends individual drivers. Speaking at the Racers Forum, Jeff Gordon emphasized that in most other sports, fans rally behind their favorite teams, not individual players. His point was clear. Teams should invest in their own identities and fan bases to ensure the sport’s longevity.
Denny Hamlin explains why Gordon’s expectations are a pipe dream
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To make his point, Gordon highlighted the example of the NFL. “In all other sports, the teams are kind of what the fans are all drawn to. I’m a [San Francisco] 49ers fan, and no matter who the players are, I’m going to like the players on that team,” Jeff Gordon was quoted by Racing America. His idea was clear. Fans should root for teams, not individual drivers, to ensure the sport’s continuity even when beloved drivers retire.
Heather Gibbs, co-owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, endorsed Gordon’s notion. She emphasized the importance of showcasing the entire team to the fans. She cited her team’s efforts in spotlighting the pit crews and announced contract extensions for pit crew members, thereby building a loyal fanbase around the team itself.
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But not everyone was in agreement. Denny Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a highly regarded driver in the NASCAR community, offered a different perspective. He acknowledged the validity of Gordon’s proposal but expressed his skepticism regarding its feasibility.
Hamlin raised a salient point, emphasizing that fans’ allegiance often stems from geography, not the team itself. And in NASCAR, where race teams are clustered in close proximity, the concept of a ‘home team’ is ambiguous. “The reason people root for teams is cuz they represent a city, right? I mean, if you live in Charlotte, people will go… we live in Charlotte, we’re gonna root for the home team. All of our race teams are within a thirty-forty-mile radius. So there is no home team as far as in racing. I know Justin Marks talked a little bit about trying to get his team to be the Nashville team. But I don’t know, that’s gonna be a very expensive campaign to try to make that work. And I just don’t know if you’re gonna have enough people resonate to that.”
He also pointed out that some long-established teams like Hendrick Motorsports may have loyal supporters. The big stars in the sport have earned their status through on-track excellence or having a legacy name. “It’s just getting the fans to shift their allegiance to whatever the star may be. Whether it be like a Chase Elliott and say, Well, I am a Hendrick Motorsports fan first, Chase Elliott fan second. That’s gonna be really hard, right? I do think that there are legitimate Hendrick Motorsports fans… because this is a team that’s been around a long time and it’s built up equity in the sport.”
“But really the big big stars, they’re the big stars because they kick ass on the racetrack. Or they got a legacy name that their father once raced. So there’s a lot of different factors in it for sure. It certainly would be an uphill climb to change everyone’s mind and shifting things from the stars of the sport to the teams,” he concludes.
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Denny Hamlin is not the only prominent figure in NASCAR to voice his opinion on the matter. Brad Keselowski, a well-known driver and team owner, has a different perspective on the debate.
Brad Keselowski disagrees with Jeff Gordon for completely different reasons
Keselowski does not disagree with the essence of Jeff Gordon’s argument that teams should build their brand alongside driver star power. However, his concern lies in the investment made in promoting a single driver. Keselowski posits that if a team heavily invests in a driver, only to see that driver move to another team or retire, it becomes a significant loss for the team.
The crux of Keselowski’s viewpoint revolves around the potential pitfalls of not being fully aligned as a sport to capitalize on driver star power. He asserts that the lack of alignment in the sport leads to a lack of true incentives for promoting drivers and teams collectively. For Keselowski, this disconnect could deter fans from making a long-term commitment to a particular driver or team.
According to Racing America, Keselowski said, “We’ve seen this recently with Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jr., and myself. Several big drivers that have huge fan followings stepped away from the sport, and I think it had a big impact on the sport. Because the fans seem to not have a connection to the team as strongly as they did to the driver. If that driver leaves and goes to another team, that’s just a complete loss. That’s my way of saying that we’re not fully aligned. At this time as a sport to fully capitalize on driver star power.”
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Tyler Reddick is a perfect example of what Keselowski is concerned about. Tyler Reddick had to change teams unexpectedly when Denny Hamlin’s 23XI Racing announced Reddick will join them in 2024, leaving RCR hanging. This unexpected announcement disrupted RCR’s plans and left Reddick without a drive for 2023 season when 23XI took him on a year early.
In a broader context, both Jeff Gordon and Keselowski raise valid points. It warrants a closer examination of the intricate relationship between fans, teams, and drivers in NASCAR. While Gordon emphasizes the need to balance driver stardom with team allegiance, Keselowski underscores the practical challenges and risks of investing heavily in drivers.
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As NASCAR continues to evolve. Fans, drivers, and teams will navigate this delicate balance and shape the future of the sport.