Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Updated: October 28, 9:03 AM ET
Jeff Gordon has 3-year sponsorship deal
By David Newton
CONCORD, N.C. -- Any doubt team owner Rick Hendrick had about how long Jeff Gordon would remain in the No. 24 car was ended during negotiations to sign new sponsor AARP and its "Drive To End Hunger" campaign.
The four-time Sprint Cup champion , who has a lifetime contract at Hendrick Motorsports, says he has committed to drive at least five more years.
"I definitely told them I'm good to go for five years," Gordon said during Wednesday's press conference to announce his new three-year deal with AARP. "I'm a race car driver. I don't plan that far ahead.
"With sponsors you have to make that commitment, and I certainly have. I hope I feel like I do today five years from now. I don't want to stop racing. The only reason I want to stop racing is because I don't think I'm competitive enough to go out there and enjoy it. That's the only reason I'll walk out."
Gordon, 39, said there was a time when he thought 2010 would be his last because of continuing health issues with his back.
"I don't know, I thought maybe I'd be ready to just step away," he said. "But I'm not. I'm still passionate about it, still competitive. My health from my back standpoint has gotten better. That has given me more years."
Gordon's "Drive To End Hunger" deal will become primary sponsor for 22 races next season, with AARP allowed to sell off deals to share the space with other companies willing to contribute to its cause of helping the more than 6 million Americans older than age 60 who face hunger issues.
Hendrick said longtime Gordon sponsor DuPont and Pepsi will fill the other 14 races as primary sponsors. He looks forward to negotiating the next sponsor deal for Gordon, who is fifth in points, 203 behind teammate Jimmie Johnson with four races remaining in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The DuPont deal was announced Thursday when Gordon signed a three-year sponsorship agreement. DuPont has been with Gordon since his Cup debut in 1992.
"Have you seen that new house he is building?" Hendrick said with a smile. "He's probably going to be driving for at least 10 more years. He's been taking lessons from Mark Martin.
"Jeff is really committed. I don't see him slowing down. I can say he is more focused and really working harder than I've ever seen him work, both physically and involved with the team. I think Jeff is going to be around for a long time."
Gordon's focus off the track also is strong. He is among a select group on President Bill Clinton's Global Initiative to help challenges around the world. He hopes the "Drive To End Hunger" campaign will help resolve some of those issues as well as help keep his car fully funded.
"This is a truly unique opportunity to help people, and it's a completely new, cause-driven approach to sponsorship," Gordon said.
AARP Foundation president Jo Ann Jenkins hopes to sell space to contributing partners for all 22 races, saying the end result will surpass the initial investment. Among AARP supporters is Wal-Mart, which was wooed by HMS to be
Gordon's primary sponsor but work out details.
Hendrick said it will be up to AARP to decide which sponsors to share space with, acknowledging current deals with other sponsors could limit that somewhat. But he said the cause outweighed anything else.
"We never had a sponsor before that we couldn't quantify their exposure was greater than what was spent," he said.
Hendrick said the far-reaching power of AARP should open doors to bring new sponsors into the sport as well as help raise awareness of hunger. He added that he had a backup sponsor in hand in case a deal couldn't be worked out, but when AARP stepped forward the decision was simple to make.
Hendrick said all four of his cars will be completely sponsored for next season without filling in with HendrickCars.com, as he has at times this season. He said the overall value of the sponsorship will be ahead of what he has had the past two years.
"It's exciting to see a new organization engage with our sport and our fans through such an innovative approach," Hendrick said of AARP. "Having seen firsthand what the NASCAR community is capable of accomplishing, I know the program will help a lot of people in our country who desperately need it. Success ultimately will be measured by how many lives we can impact, and that's a truly unique and special opportunity for everyone involved."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.