HAMPTON, Ga. - Tears welled in Jeff Gordon's eyes Friday afternoon as he vowed to win the Nextel Cup Series championship to honor the 10 people who died aboard an airplane owned by his Hendrick Motorsports race team.
"There are so many things going through our minds right now," Gordon said as all five Hendrick drivers spoke for the first time since a Beech King Air 200 turboprop slammed into Bull Mountain near Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Sunday. "We're still in such shock. It's been something that's been unbearable to deal with. Getting through something like this is going to take a lot of time, a lot of support. This is a time when we have to move on."
Moments later, Gordon said the tragedy, which killed four members of team owner Rick Hendrick's family, will be a driving force in the final four races, starting with Sunday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"I've never been so inspired and driven in my life," Gordon said. "This is an important weekend for us for so many different reasons. I can't think of anything that could drive us harder, stronger than this loss. We want it bad, no matter what."
Hendrick drivers Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers, Terry Labonte and Kyle Busch joined their crew chiefs and fellow driver Tony Stewart on Friday in a press conference to talk about the crash that killed Hendrick's son, Ricky, his brother, John, and his nieces, Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick, along with engine builder Randy Dorton, team general manager Jeff Turner, DuPont executive Joe Jackson, Stewart's pilot Scott Lathram and pilots Liz Morrison and Richard Tracy. It was the only time the team said it would talk about the tragedy.
Vickers was first to speak, and he mumbled a couple sentences before being overcome by tears. Ricky Hendrick hired Vickers to drive the team's Busch Series car last year - to the objections of Rick Hendrick - and Vickers responded by winning the championship.
All of the Hendrick cars had a decal on the hood and back of the trunk with a picture of all 10 victims. Above the picture was the caption: "Always In Our Hearts."
Most Hendrick Motorsports crews and several other crewmen from other teams wore a blue bracelet that said, "Life is a Team Sport."
The Dodges from Evernham Motorsports were decked in black numbers to honor the dead. And written in the car number were, "501RH" - the identification number of the doomed airplane.
Ric Feld/Associated PressNASCAR driver Tony Stewart, foreground, and Kyle Busch's crew chief Lance McGrew, were just two of the many affected by last week's tragedy.