Jeff Gordon's running feud with fans of the Earnhardt family is well documented, but the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion insists that running a black version of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet is not meant to stir things up.

Dale Earnhardt was synonymous with the black GM Goodwrench car at the time Gordon began to threaten his success, and the dislike of the Hendrick Motorsport driver has lived on beyond 'the Intimidator's untimely death, at Daytona, in 2001, into the present day as Dale Earnhardt Jr took up the on-track battle.

Ironically, Gordon and Earnhardt Jr became team-mates within the Hendrick organisation last season, a situation that continues into 2009, but that has not prevented the catcalls - and occasional missile - being aimed at the #24 Chevy.

"It only lightened up [in 2008] because I wasn't winning," Gordon said of a perceived lifting of the tension, "I hope I go back to winning and the boos get loud as can be because that's one of my favourite things to hear."

The black paintjob on this year's #24 could be seen as a means of riling those fans so intent on seeing Gordon continue to struggle - he failed to win a race in 2008 and has not lifted the Cup title since that fateful 2001 campaign - but the veteran, who will continue to feature DuPont's now famous flames as part of the livery, insists that is far from the truth.

"I just think black with red and yellow flames.... it doesn't get any cooler than that," Gordon claimed, "I think it's an awesome car. I'm really pumped to drive it - and it had nothing to do with Earnhardt.

"You know, I had a quarter midget when I was like eight or nine years old and that was black. We didn't have fluorescent colours that we could paint with that I remember back then, but it had red and yellow flames on it and it was always one of my favourites.

"I don't remember how the first conversations led to changing up the paint scheme but, when we did start talking about it, we always knew we wanted to keep the flames but we just wanted to make them a little bit more wild and vivid. Then the black brought in it. It's a funny story because the very first original DuPont Chevrolet with the rainbow was a black car. It was black with a rainbow paint scheme, and I don't really know how it got changed to blue. Then it stayed that blue forever. I think some of that quarter midget I had is what brought it all about, [although] Sam Bass, who has been involved with all our paint schemes, played a role in it."

It is almost inconceivable to think of Gordon without the DuPont livery, other than for the occasional outing with an alternate sponsor, and it is similarly unthinkable to see him racing anywhere other than with Hendrick, but it almost happened, as Gordon revealed in the build-up to this weekend's Budweiser Shootout.

"I'm lucky that things have gone well from the beginning at Hendrick, although the opportunity came along that I could have maybe have done something different when Ray [Evernham] went with Dodge," he explained.

"I sat down with Rick [Hendrick] at that time and we talked and that conversation went really well and we proceeded forward, sticking together. That's the only time that I can think of in all the time I've been with Hendrick that there's ever been even an outside chance of me thinking about what else is out there.

"Even at that time, I wasn't seriously pursuing another opportunity. It's just one that came about as I admired Ray so much and what he was capable of doing. I at least wanted to let Rick know what kind of things were going on out there and it just made a great conversation for me and him to realise where we stood and how bad we both wanted me to be at Hendrick Motorsports. I wanted to be there and I'm glad that it's worked out that way."



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