2011: Spririt Of The Great Heart

Season Recap

Jeff Gordon began the 2011 season with a new primary sponsor, a new crew chief, and a new raceteam. The AARP Foundation's Drive To End Hunger program came on board the #24 car for 22 events in 2011. Along with crew chief Alan Gustafson, Gordon came into the season was renewed optimism for the championship run. However, the pairing had a less than spectacular debut performance as Gordon was caught up in a multi-car wreck in the season-opening Daytona 500.

An early-season breakthrough at Phoenix Raceway brought Gordon into a tie with Cale Yarborough on NASCAR's all-time wins list with his 83rd career victory. Gordon led nearly half of the race and outdueled Kyle Busch for the victory in the late stages. It was his first win in nearly two years. But the momentum from the win was quickly shattered after a blown tire at Las Vegas and sub-par efforts at Bristol, Fontana, and Texas. After barely getting edged out at the finish line at Talladega, Gordon sustained a hard crash on the backstretch at Richmond. He went the month of May without a top-10 before rebounding with a 4th place finish at Kansas in early-June.

The strong effort at Kansas set the stage for a dominant performance the following week at Pocono Raceway. Gordon's 84th career win tied him with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for third on NASCAR's wins list. A runner-up finish at Sonoma in June moved him into the top-10 in points -- where he would remain until the Chase for the Championship. After finishing 11th at Loudon in July, Gordon flew to New York for a journey that would change his life.

'There's a highway of stars across the heavens
There's a whispering song of the wind in the grass
There's a rolling thunder across the savannah
And a hope and a dream at the edge of the sky
And your life is a story of the wind'

A few years ago, Gordon was invited to join the Clinton Global Initiative, specifically CGI Lead -- a group of young philanthropists. It would have been perfectly acceptable if Gordon had attended CGI Lead meetings and supported the mission with funding from afar. But that's not what Jeff Gordon is about. "If we are really going to stand behind the work that we're wanting to do, how can you do it from that far of a distance without really getting in there and truly understanding it?" Gordon said.

He embarked on an odyssey to The Democratic Republic of Congo where he spent nearly three days on the ground with the locals in a small group that included actress Ashley Judd and NFL player Myron Rolle. "There were groups of women just carrying large sacks of coal and different things on their backs for hours walking to get 10 dollars," Gordon said. "Those types of things I just didn't expect. You can't grasp that until you're there."

'I'm searching for the spirit of the great heart
To hold and keep me by
I'm searching for the spirit of the great heart
Under African skies'

After returning from the Congo, his racing season switched to a higher gear. In the 7 races leading up to the Chase, Gordon posted 6 top-10 finishes, including a runner-up effort at Indianapolis where he simply ran out of time in his quest to run down Paul Menard for the win. A 6th place at Michigan and 3rd place at Bristol under the lights set the stage for an overcast Tuesday in Atlanta.

Heavy rains postponed the AdvoCare 500 until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Gordon led the closing stages but had to fight off a challenge from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. The pair dueled door-to-door in the final laps. Gordon masterfully held the high line and would pull ahead of Johnson off of the corners. On the final lap, Johnson tried to get under Gordon in turn four but was unable to inch ahead. Gordon crossed the finish line for his 85th career win, which put him in sole possession of third place on NASCAR's all-time wins list.

One of the highlights for Gordon in 2011 was the success of the AARP's Drive To End Hunger program. More than $14 million was raised in the battle against senior hunger in America. The Drive To End Hunger program worked with local food banks in race markets to hold food drives. Race fans brought non-perishable food items in droves. Although the numbers of seniors in danger of going hungry increased from 6 million to 9 million in 2011, it is programs like the Drive To End Hunger that ensure that food is going to the people who need it the most.

The Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation also had a successful year in 2011 with its annual Corvette raffle to fulfill its mission of supporting pediatric cancer research programs. Three finalists were brought to Texas Motor Speedway for the giveaway. Jay Nadal chose the key that opened the door to Gordon's Corvette. The JGCF also held its summer bowling tournament in Indianapolis and the Ultimate Speed go karting event in Charlotte in October. In addition, I led two JGCF teams in the CureSearch Walk (Long Island,NY & Charlotte), which raised additional funding for pediatric cancer research and treatment.

As the Chase for the Championship wound down, Gordon's season took a troubling nosedive as he struggled with handling in most of the Chase events. However, he concluded the season with some momentum by posting three top-6 finishes in the last four races. A looser, more comfortable Gordon was on display during Champion's Week in Las Vegas. After Johnson mentioned Gordon's break dancing talent, the four-time champion stood up and performed a 5-second routine, which streamed live on

After the levity of the awards banquet in December, Gordon headed back to Africa on a more serious mission. He traveled to Rwanda with his wife, Ingrid, and daughter, Ella, to visit several health care facilities in the country. Cancer is among the diseases that have been largely neglected in developing countries. Even though developing countries bear 80 percent of the world’s burden of cancer, they receive only 5 percent of the resources devoted to prevention, treatment, and palliative care. In 2012, together with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Partners In Health will open the first pediatric cancer center in rural Africa at the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda.

Decades from now, race fans may hear Jeff Gordon's name and recall his legacy in the NASCAR race. But, chances are, when the global scourge of pediatric cancer is eliminated, his greatest legacy will be the human race.

In his own words
"I am just so thankful for all the opportunities I have been given. The Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation has been able to accomplish a lot since its inception in 1999 in the battle against pediatric cancer, but that battle continues nationally and globally." - Jeff Gordon

2011 Statistics
RaceStartFinishPts Position
Daytona 50022826
Subway 500k2016
Kobalt Tools 400133619
Jeff Byrd 50071419
Auto Club 400291816
Goody's 50021512
Samsung 500322214
Aaron's 4991313
Crown Royal 40063916
Southern 50051217
FedEx 400211714
Coca-Cola 600112016
STP 40022413
Pocono 5003111
Heluva Good 400311712
Save Mart 3501329
Coke Zero 400468
Quaker State 40014107
Lenox 3017117
Brickyard 400827
Good Sam RV 5003167
Heluva Good @ The Glen17137
Pure Michigan 400966
Irwin Tools Night Race436
AdvoCare 500515
Pistachios 4001733
Geico 400232411
Sylvania 300745
AAA 40034129
Hollywood Casino 400103410
Bank of America 500232111
Good Sam 50052710
Tums 50010310
AAA 5002368
Kobalt Tools 500k233211
Miami 400758

3 wins. 8th in points
Subway 500k
Pocono 500
AdvoCare 500

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In memory of Tracy Thompson

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