Almost every week in SB Nation's crowd noise ratings from the pre-race driver introductions, Jeff Gordon gets a result of "mostly cheers" – and even all cheers, in some cases.
But just a few years ago, Gordon would get mostly boos or a 50-50 mix, at best. And before that, of course, it was a Kyle Busch level of boos.
So on Thursday, I asked Gordon why fans treated him differently now.
The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion said he wasn't sure, but offered an educated guess that combined his age and his lack of wins recently.
Here's what he said:
I think over time, you earn respect, especially if you're consistent with your actions on the track and off the track. So I think I've been able to earn a little bit more respect since then.
I'm not winning as much, you know? When I look back to early parts of my career, I can remember when I started knocking on the door to get to Victory Lane, I started to hear more cheers. When we started winning some races, everybody was like, 'Oh, that's awesome, we've got a new guy to cheer for in Victory Lane.'
Then we started winning a lot of races, and it was like, 'Oh, wait a minute. OK, now I'm going to draw the line here.'
And then it was like, 'You know, I'm tired of seeing that Gordon guy win. He's winning too much!'
We see that. It happens in our sport. That probably lasted until like 2003, maybe, because you go off 2001 and that might still go a couple years where people are still feeling that way. But I think around 2004 or 2005, you saw the wins drop off, the championship contention dropped off and I got older.
When I'm on Twitter, it's amazing how often I'll see somebody say, 'Hey, I didn't used to pull for you. My brother or my dad or my mom pulled for you, but I never pulled for you. But now I pull for you.' (They'll say) 'I think you're a good person' or 'I like the things you do for charity' or 'I like how you celebrate your win' or whatever it may be.
I think you have to get back to Victory Lane, though, to start hearing the (big) cheers again. If you just stop winning and don't win anymore, they might respect you, but they're not really going to get excited for you.
And I think showing that we can win this year, getting back to Victory Lane, has got not only my fans excited and motivated, but maybe some of the fans that were on the fence or maybe some new fans cheering for us again.