January 29, 2017

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Jeff Gordon's latest racing accomplishment won't take up much room in his expansive trophy case.

But it's sure to get a prime spot.

The retired NASCAR star joined an exclusive club Sunday by becoming the fourth driver to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 500. Racing legends A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, as well as NASCAR regular Jamie McMurray are the only others to accomplish the feat.

''Not bad company,'' said Gordon, who has three Daytona 500 victories (1997, '99, 2005). ''It was the thrill of a lifetime. I'm just so honored to be sitting here and to be part of this experience.''

Gordon was the fourth driver for Wayne Taylor Racing in the endurance race, and although he didn't play a significant role in getting the No. 10 Cadillac to victory lane, he was a welcomed addition and quite possibly earned himself an open invitation to return again.

''I'm so happy that we could do this for Jeff,'' team owner Wayne Taylor said. ''And let me tell you something, he deserved winning this race. He might not have driven a lot, but when he did drive, do you know how easy it is to screw this race up? Do you know how difficult it is to stay on the same lap as the leaders, and he did that. I am really happy that I've been able to contribute something to his career.''

Gordon is a four-time NASCAR champion, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a 93-time winner in NASCAR's top series. Throw in exhibition, all-star and qualifying races, and Gordon is one of the most accomplished drivers on the planet.

Now, he has a Rolex chronograph to put alongside all those shiny trophies.

''Can you believe it? I got him for free,'' Taylor said. ''I made him pay for the paint on the car. Of course, he sold it to his sponsor.''

Indeed, Gordon drove for free and kept a promise he made to Taylor in 2007. Gordon raced in the Rolex with Taylor's team a decade ago, and even though he was ''pathetic'' in the rain and during driver changes, the team finished third. Gordon felt like he was unable to fully commit, so he told Taylor he would return after he retires.

Gordon retired from full-time racing after the 2015 season and now is a TV commentator for Fox Sports. When Taylor asked Gordon about racing the Rolex last year, the NASCAR star jumped on the opportunity. He tested the car. He practiced driver changes. He got seat time in the rain. He did everything he could to be better this time around, and he was.

''Seeing the way Jeff's worked with my kids and Max, it's been something more special than anything I did in my racing career,'' said Taylor, who won the Rolex in 2005. ''To have a guy that's as humble and nice as him on board with us. The sad part for me is what happens after this? Is he going to go away and never talk to me again? He's like a girlfriend. What am I going to do now? It's been a special weekend.''

Gordon was just one of several story lines to come out of the team's latest victory.

Teammate Ricky Taylor made a bold move late to take the lead and essentially win the race after four consecutive oh-so-close finishes. Teammate Max Angelelli retired after the race, going out on top. And Wayne Taylor got to see his two sons win one of the biggest events of their careers.

''I'm kind of like Max, I think retire and go out on top is a pretty good thing,'' Gordon said. ''In all seriousness, I love driving this car and I love working with this group. They have an amazing team and they put a lot of hard work, sweat, blood, tears and preparation into getting here. I felt pretty early on there was something special about it, and it was great to see how it turned out, especially that great move that Ricky made at the end. Every time I get laps in the car, I get more comfortable. So I want to get more laps.''

How about at Le Mans, the most prestigious endurance race out there?

''I have a busy schedule, a lot going on with my Fox commitments and my commitments to Hendrick (Motorsports),'' Gordon said. ''I'm going to stay in close contact with Wayne and Ricky and Jordan and Max and see what potential opportunity may be out there. I've got a great relationship with Cadillac and GM, but I have no plans at this point.''

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More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

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