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Second Place
Mike Hembree, USA Today

Gordon Relishes NYC Media Blitz

NEW YORK — Jeff Gordon walks the streets of New York City in relative anonymity, the fact that his decorated racing career is nearing an end hardly a matter of concern to the masses of Manhattan.

In the television studios of the city, however, Gordon is golden.

Gordon, in his role as a championship contender, made perhaps his last promotional tour of the city for NASCAR on Wednesday as a booster for the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup that kicks off at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend.

The four-time Cup titlist, 44, was up before the sun, starting a day that included appearances on Good Morning America and the Rachael Ray Show. It was a normal schedule of Manhattan media mania for Gordon, who has made this sort of public relations sweep on many occasions.

Leaving the Good Morning America studio after an interview with Robin Roberts, Gordon ran into Gene Simmons of the rock band Kiss. Simmons, behind sunglasses and under a web of hair, shook Gordon’s hand and said, “You’re an attractive and powerful man.”

Gordon retreated to the hallway, laughing.

He thrives in the spotlight of this media mecca, where in 2002 his love affair with the city began to blossom.

“I met somebody at a party and we started talking about New York, and he asked me if I got here much,” Gordon told USA TODAY Sports. “He said, ‘I want to show you New York like you’ve never experienced it.’ I said, ‘All right,’ and the next time I was up he showed me around — SoHo, the little neighborhoods off the beaten path, cafes. I fell in love with it then. I had always liked it.”

He has been acknowledged inside the New York City television world as something of an expert at this, his articulate bearing and good looks a hit with viewers and producers. He elevated his game considerably by hosting Saturday Night Live in 2003 and working a temporary gig as co-host of what was then Live with Regis and Kelly on several occasions, winning rave reviews at each stop.

The toughest part of his Wednesday was the early wake-up call. The rest? Piece of cake.

Gordon can virtually anticipate each question. Through GMA, MSNBC, phone interviews, ESPN, Sirius XM Radio and Rachael Ray, he answered many of the same questions repeatedly, giving an earnest, thoughtful and occasionally different answer each time. His demeanor makes it easy to see why Fox jumped at the chance to sign Gordon to join its NASCAR broadcast team in 2016, after the Hendrick Motorsportsdriver has stepped away from Cup racing full-time.

Dressed in a gray suit, white shirt, blue tie and, oddly enough, blue striped socks (unusual for him), Gordon sat back and fielded the questions.

--“How did you decide to retire this year?”
--“What will you miss the most about the sport?”
--“Did you ever think your career would go this well?”
--“Can you win before the season is over?”

The driver of the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet has won three Daytona 500s, a record five Brickyard 400s and three Coca-Cola 600s among his 92 trips to victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series. Now, he has 10 races remaining in the sport he helped put on the national map and bring to Madison Avenue.

Gordon seems much more at home in New York City than almost all of his contemporaries in NASCAR, and part of the reason is he actually is home here. Although Gordon’s primary residence is in Charlotte, he and wife, Ingrid, have a luxury apartment in New York City and spend as much time here as possible.

But New York City was a learning experience for Gordon.

He visited here for the first time in 1993 to pick up the Cup Series rookie of the year award. He would return repeatedly to gather bigger hardware — NASCAR Cup championship trophies in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. But those trips were mostly blurs. There was no time for the real New York.

That changed in 2002, when his friend helped introduce him to another side of the city. In 2004, Gordon moved into a rental apartment. A few years later, convinced that New York had become much more than just a place he wanted to visit occasionally, he bought a high-end apartment on the ritzy Upper West Side near Central Park.

The Gordons eventually sold that apartment — it was listed for $30 million — and moved to a less expensive one near Madison Square Park, a small city park where their children, daughter Ella and son Leo (both born in New York), often romp.

“When the kids reached school age, it just felt like Charlotte should be more our base,” Gordon said. “We built a house there, but we still wanted to spend as much time as we could in New York, just in a place that wasn’t as expensive. We wanted to try a little different neighborhood, and Ingrid really liked the [apartment] space when she first stepped into it.”

Now Gordon is very much at home here — in front of the camera and elsewhere.