Gordon talks new sponsorship, Dale Earnhardt's legacy, more

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SI.com -- Why hasn't the Chase gone as well as you hoped?

Gordon -- "I don't know if we were really strong enough to be outperforming the 48 (Jimmie Johnson), 11 (Denny Hamlin) and 29 (Kevin Harvick) any way. The key to our success in the Chase was to be consistent and make them have to get those wins and stay on top of their game, but that hasn't gone as planned. You can't expect the alternator issue that we had at Charlotte. That stung us. We were set to have a good finish at Martinsville and the deal happened between me and Kurt Busch. For me, right now, I'm thinking about how to make ourselves better. I'm looking forward to these next four races because anybody can win at Talladega, so we have a shot there. I've been looking forward to Texas for a while because we have run good there. Phoenix, we were better than we have been in a long time, and I think we are decent at Homestead.

"I'm really focusing on what we need to do to be better next year. We really haven't shown the strength to be championship caliber this year, but that didn't mean we didn't think we could still win it. It's trying to make ourselves stronger."

SI.com -- Can Talladega bring you back into contention?

Gordon -- "Anything can happen, but I'm more excited about the opportunity to win, not how many points we have to gain here, but how do we win and finish the season on a high note. But a lot of wild and crazy things will happen at Talladega."

SI.com -- Jimmie Johnson is openly dreading going there. Can you understand why?

Gordon -- "You just have to avoid the 'Big One' or two or three 'Big Ones.' You don't want to go in there hating the place and think you are going to get in a wreck. Jimmie is dreading it because he knows those opportunities are big. You always don't want to ride around in the back all day because you can get lapped and you can still get caught up in a wreck even in the back. It's a race everybody dreads. But at the end of the day, when you finish in the top-5 or 10 and survive those, it's a pretty exciting place to race and you are exhausted mentally from that. We all recognize that Talladega is a track that is truly for the fans. We go into it trying to figure out how to race as hard as we can race, be in a position to win and put on a great show but get to the end. Even with that mindset it doesn't happen.

"I feel for Jimmie in a way -- not too much -- just because the points are really tight and he hasn't had to experience it this tight before, but he can still go in there and win the race. If it is meant to be for those guys to win the championship, they will come out of Talladega in a position to win the championship. If it is meant to happen because they are the best team, they will still win this championship, regardless of what happens at Talladega."

SI.com -- You never talk about your back any more. Have you found a way to manage the pain?

Gordon -- "Just going to a specialist and talking about what I need to do has really helped. It's something I didn't put enough effort into and now I am and it is making me a better driver. It's still an issue. As soon as the season is over I'm getting an MRI to see where I'm at, but I've been able to work through it where it is not affecting my performance in the car. It is still lingering and is a little stiff when I get out of the car, but I'm not cringing when I hit the brake pedal."

SI.com -- Talk about the impact that Dale Earnhardt had on your career. He won the Talladega race 10 years ago and that was the final victory of his career.

Gordon -- "I still, to this day, miss Dale so much. I love what he brought to the sport. I loved being able to race and learn from him. To me, that will never be replaced. To see it end like it did, as short as it did, I think he had a lot of good years still left in him. I enjoy seeing a lot of those memories brought back. To me, those times of remembrance when it comes to Dale are good times and happy times. I have a lot of great memories. Even though Dale and I had some run-ins, we had a lot of times together I'll never forget.

"I can remember testing at Indianapolis and I went up in his hauler. It's so funny because where did that time go when you could go into another driver's hauler during a test and talk to another driver? We don't do that anymore. We didn't talk racing very often. We talked about the business, the sport and life in general. It was really cool to me to have that experience. He was genuine and open to me in a way that I greatly appreciated. But we would go onto the race track and five minutes later he would run into me. Those memories stand out to me. I still feel that I have a lot to learn from him and what he gave to this sport."

SI.com -- Was he like the big brother you never had?

Gordon -- "In a way, where your big brother could really relate to who you are and what you are doing as a profession. I think Dale saw some potential [in me], even though we came from different worlds and did different things. The older I get, the more I realize how much we had in common. The older I get, the more I want to have open land and get on a tractor and go hunting. My family grew up hunting and I was never big into it. Just things like that. Dale got me into boating, which I wish I could talk to him about now because that cost me a lot of money. We had some great times. It's things like that. I don't know why we had that kind of relationship, but it was pretty cool."

SI.com -- With this being the 10th anniversary since Dale Earnhardt's last win, how special would that be for you to win that race this weekend?

Gordon -- "He was the master at Talladega and I learned so much from him there. It's different now how you go about the drafting. It used to take 10 or 20 laps to strategize a pass on one guy and you could do that. Today, the only strategy is how you block. I would be interested to see how he would adapt to the conditions and what we would learn from him today, because he would still be reinventing it.

"The racing was harder 10 years ago. The day Dale passed all those cars (18 in the final four laps), he absolutely amazed me to this day because it was hard to pass that day. Today, it's too easy to pass. That's the problem. You are sitting there not wanting to pass somebody because you want to wait, wait, wait and wait. The guy that is 10th in line gets impatient because we can all just pull out and go at any time, but you have to have somebody to go with you when you pull out of line. Under the old format you would sit there and plan it out lap after lap and use the car in front of you and behind you with the air. To me it's easier to pass today but harder to win."

SI.com -- What is your plan on retirement?

Gordon -- "There really is no set plan. Five years ago I thought 2010 would be my last year. I was having some issues with my back and I thought I would be ready to step away, but I'm not. I'm still passionate about it and competitive. My back has gotten better and that will give me more years to be behind the wheel. I hope I feel like I do today five years from now because I don't want to stop racing. The only reason I'll stop racing is because I don't feel competitive enough or I'm not healthy enough. Those would be the only reasons."

SI.com -- You started out as a teenager in USAC and now you are sponsored by AARP's "Drive to End Hunger." How big of a deal is this?

Gordon --I think it is huge because it is such a real issue. It is one that with the proper funding and awareness we can fight this and we can end this. To have a sponsor like this, to be out there for 22 races and make a difference in every community we go to as well as raise awareness on a national and global level, is really big. This shouldn't be happening to millions of Americans.

SI.com -- Do you consider yourself a spokesperson or an activist?

Gordon -- "I think both. You can't just be a spokesman about something you don't believe in. I'm an activist. I want to get involved. I want to be there. I want to be hands-on as much as I can. Racing gives me all these opportunities, but also takes up a lot of my time, so I look forward to that day when I can spend more of my physical time to get involved and take it to the next level."

SI.com -- You have been appointed to the Clinton Global Initiative by former President Bill Clinton. How did that happen?

Gordon -- "I'm very honored to be named to that. It's invite-only. We have several meetings throughout the year. I had dinner with President Clinton several months ago after our first meeting. I've been able to sit and talk to people on a global level with all kinds of different causes and issues that are going on around the world. We actually just launched a refugee camp that we are supporting. It's called CGI Lead Group, which is the young, new, up-and-comers in the philanthropy world. It is a worldwide thing and our first mission with that group is a refugee camp in the Congo -- one of the toughest places in the world to go into. But I'm also very excited about it and honored to be a part of it.

"I've been very successful. I've made a lot of money; won a lot of trophies, but there is a lot more to life than just that and you have to balance it out. These days, I'm not winning like I was in the mid- to late-90s. I think back to those days when all you thought about was racing and winning and going to victory lane and popping the Champagne and hold up the trophy and smile for the cameras. That's not really who you are and there is so much more you have to have to back that up to make you happy.

If you are waiting for that next win you are going to be a pretty unhappy person because life has its own way of balancing life out. I think getting behind an important cause like this is a way to balance life out and I think a lot of people will resonate with that."