Jeff Gordon Q&A

Gordon after his scrap with Brad Keselowski at Texas last month. Ralph Lauer/AP Images

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 22 Interview Issue. Subscribe today!

The Mag: It's been a few weeks since the big brawl with Brad Keselowski and his team. Postrace fights became pretty common during the Chase, even with some typically mild-mannered guys. Some would argue that it plays to the redneck stereotype. Others say the sport needs that. Where do you fall?

Gordon: We don't need that to become a regular thing. No sport does. But I do think that there is something to be said for real, genuine emotion, whether that's anger or frustration or genuine happiness in Victory Lane. I'm a lot more emotional when I win now. I don't take it for granted -- sharing it with my kids is a whole new level of emotion. And it's a lot better emotion than the one that gets you punched in the face!

The older guys used to call you aggressive or reckless. Now I hear the same today as we experience the first real influx of young drivers in a while. Is that criticism just a response to dealing with youth?
Sure. But this new elimination format has something to do with it too. Guys don't just want to win, they need to win. A win gets you into the Chase, and then, as I learned this year, wins are the best way to advance. You have to be more aggressive. Throw a bunch of young guys in there who aren't afraid of getting hurt and it can get crazy.

Back in July, just before your 43rd birthday, you talked about becoming the elder statesman of the garage. Is that a role you're more comfortable with?
I see young guys making mistakes all the time, just like I did. But it's rare that I'll go find a guy and start that conversation. If they want to talk about it, they know they can approach me. That's how Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace and even Richard Petty treated me. They didn't mind my mistakes because it was an advantage for them. But if I went to them with questions, and eventually I did, they were happy to help. I had to show the initiative.

Unless you door-jacked them with one lap to go ...
Yeah, then the old guys don't ever mind coming to the youngsters with the free advice.

The elimination format looks as if it's here to stay. You didn't make the final four, but you were in the Chase until literally the last corner of the last lap in the last elimination race. What did you think of it?
I like it, but I'm a little concerned where it could go. Take Texas -- we found out on Pit Road where the line is drawn, and it could get to that on the racetrack as well. I don't know that it has gotten there yet, but it's certainly possible. It's incredibly intense. This is the most interest we've had in this sport in a long time, so obviously it's been good. But 
we missed being in that finale by one point. One position on the racetrack. That's hard to shake.

This was your best finish in seven years. Under the old Chase system, you'd have finally won a fifth title. But we writers still come at you with retirement questions. So ... retirement?
I don't believe in retirement, No. 1, but I know that I won't always be a full-time Cup driver. That time is coming. Remember in May, my back got so bad I couldn't get out of bed, let alone into a race car? So will that play a role in retirement sooner rather than later? It's very possible. It seems to be the one limiting factor that I have right now. But there's no plan. There's no countdown. I'm racing.