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Jeff Gordon Doesn’t Want His Drivers to Be the Next Denny Hamlin

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Denny Hamlin has embraced his role as NASCAR’s new “villain”, but, it’s not something that appeals to everyone. Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman, Jeff Gordon, gave his thoughts on how Hamlin markets himself. Gordon admitted that he respects how Hamlin goes about it, but he would not want Hamlin to drive for him because he felt it was too “controversial” and a “distraction”. There are two sides to this story obviously, so, let’s take a look at both perspectives.

Jeff Gordon’s Side: Don’t Be Too Controversial

Gordon goes on in that clip to talk about how he prefers his drivers to act and promote themselves. He prefers his drivers to focus on winning races and to “Let the sponsors market you. Let the sport figure out how to market you. Build your brand through who you are on social media, and be the best you that you can be.” Gordon is very clear that he is okay with seeing other drivers express themselves in the way that Hamlin is, but, it’s just not something he wants to see at Hendrick Motorsports.

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This is obviously reflected in how Hendrick Motorsports drivers tend to carry themselves. Rarely do you hear Hendrick Motorsports drivers saying controversial things in the media, and rarely do they intentionally try to stir up drama for one reason or another.

It also reflects the brand Gordon had for his entire career. It was part of why he was not totally beloved by the fanbase when he came up. The somewhat gritty NASCAR fanbase did not take kind to a squeaky clean, 20-year-old kid winning races.

However, Gordon appealed to a wider audience, and he was a part of the reason why NASCAR expanded so much in the 1990s. He bucked the stereotype of “Southern Rednecks driving around in circles”. It worked for both himself and the race team, and Hendrick Motorsports has built its brand off the back of that throughout its history.

Gordon would speak up when he felt it was necessary, but he generally, although not always, found himself outside of controversy. Hendrick Motorsports continues to build its brand that way, and those are the drivers that continue to find their way into Hendrick Motorsports. Drivers who are more controversial do not normally last very long (Kyle Busch being the shining example).

Denny Hamlin’s Side: Be Controversial

Denny Hamlin is the polar opposite of how Jeff Gordon would prefer his drivers to develop their brand. Hamlin embraces controversy, but, he has not always been that way.

Throughout most of his career, people’s opinion of Hamlin was either like or indifferent. Things have changed significantly in recent years, however, as Hamlin has gotten more aggressive with his car on track and more loud with his mouth off of it.

Even if Jeff Gordon may not embrace that at Hendrick Motorsports, it seems that Joe Gibbs Racing is okay with some of that controversy. He signed Kyle Busch in 2008, ironically from Hendrick, and Busch was incredibly successful during his time with the team. Gibbs is okay if his drivers are more controversial, as long as they win, and Hamlin wins a lot.

However, Hamlin does a lot more than just give someone NASCAR fans someone to root against, he opens up a lot of NASCAR discussions. He provides insight into how NASCAR and the owner’s negotiations are going, and he also is very outspoken about how he feels regarding almost every controversial topic. Say what you will about how much he talks, at least he is willing to say things some drivers are scared to say.

That has an appeal to some fans, and it opens up conversations that help push the sport forward. It also has worked out pretty well for Hamlin as he has a loyal sponsor in FedEx alongside running a successful race team. He’s built a brand that has worked for him and his partners at the end of the day.

That is part of why Gordon still respects the way Hamlin does it because it works for Hamlin. It just is not the way Hendrick Motorsports likes to run things.

Conclusion

This is a classic example of two people being very successful in two completely different ways. They both have benefits, but they both have drawbacks.

Hendrick Motorsports keeps their drivers out of controversy, but some feel that makes their drivers seem a bit boring. Denny Hamlin puts himself at the center of controversy, and that turns off some fans who disagree with his sometimes unpopular takes. They both have worked for their respective organizations, and it seems that there is some respect, at least from Gordon, for how they both built their brand.

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