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Jeff Gordon adjusts to calling, not driving, in Daytona 500

Jeff Gordon in the garage area during

Jeff Gordon in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2015 in Homestead, Florida Credit: Getty Images / Jeff Curry

Star retired athletes usually get a breaking-in period before getting thrown into the deep end of the TV pool. But Fox has no such plans for Jeff Gordon, who left NASCAR last fall as a four-time Sprint Cup champion.

Gordon, 44, analyzed his first post-retirement race, the Sprint Unlimited, last weekend and on Sunday will find himself working the Super Bowl of his sport, the Daytona 500, as a TV rookie for Fox.

How does that feel, Jeff?

“I’m excited about it, but I’m terrified,” he said with a chuckle Thursday from Daytona, responding to a question from Newsday. “I’m going to try my best not to show it.”

Standing behind a Fox microphone is not quite as scary as sitting behind a NASCAR steering wheel, but Gordon still anticipates a learning curve. The past week already has been a crash course.

“It’s a lot to take in,” Gordon said. “I had no idea just how much goes into these broadcasts. That’s been the most impressive part to me . . . It’s quite an overwhelming undertaking.”

It did not take long for the reality of his new perspective to sink in. It started when he tried mentally to put himself in the driver’s seat and soon realized that it does not quite work that way watching from above.

“When you see it from that angle and that perspective, you’re like, these guys are crazy,” he said. “It’s hard to believe I was doing that as a driver.”

Another reality check came when Chase Elliott secured the pole position for the Daytona 500 in Gordon’s old No. 24 car. “It was like, wow, it’s sinking in right now; I’m not going to be driving that car anymore,” Gordon said.

Lap-by-lap announcer Mike Joy graded Gordon “a gentleman’s C” for his first race, then added, “on enthusiasm, A-plus, on effort and preparation, A-plus . . . The short answer is we’re getting a lot more than we bargained for.”

Gordon said he assumes Sunday will feel similar to past Daytona Sundays for him.

“It’s like when you wake up the morning of the Daytona 500 as a driver, there’s a switch that goes off that this is a huge day and a huge moment,” he said. “ I can’t wait to go out there, but don’t mess it up.

“That’s exactly how I’m going to feel on Sunday.”

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