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Will Martinsville mark the last time in NASCAR for Jeff Gordon? ‘Never say never’

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Autographing a bank of bulbs that soon will illuminate the oldest track in NASCAR’s premier series made Jeff Gordon chuckle Friday.

“I might have to come back for lights at Martinsville,” he said with a sly smile.

The four-time series champion already has returned more times than he or anyone else would have believed after his ‘retirement” last season.

Summoned to duty behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet while Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovers from the effects of a concussion, Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will mark the last of eight starts this year for Gordon as an interim driver.

But will his 805th Sprint Cup start also be the last of his career?

“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Gordon, who qualified 10th Friday. “I can promise you I had no intentions of this happening, but here I am.

“Never say never is all I know what to say. I really don’t think that I will be getting back in the Cup car again, but go ask (team owner) Rick Hendrick. That really has more to do with him than anything else. I hope in the future that the drivers don’t have a situation like what we had with Junior where they need somebody to fill in for them. This little bit of experience has been kind of good for me, good for the organization and we have had a little bit of fun with it as well. If I had to do it, then certainly I would, but I don’t anticipate it.”

Before retiring, Gordon had targeted Martinsville, where he has a series-best nine wins, as a potentially optimum place for a one-off return. But he was slightly wary after scoring his most recent win here last Nov. 1 (which qualified him for the championship round in his 23rd and final season).

“I love this track,” the 45-year-old said. “Obviously, I have amazing memories from this race last year. I guess there was a part of me that wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back and take away from that, but at the same time I’ve always said if there is one track that I feel like I could get back in the car and feel comfortable and competitive it’s this track. For that I’m happy that I’m here.”

He made his 2016 return to the cockpit of a Hendrick Motorsports car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he scored the first of a record five wins in the 1994 inaugural race.

“Of course there wasn’t much hesitation from me when that occurred because I love Indianapolis, and the track has been amazing,” he said. “I didn’t hesitate one bit, but it was a tall challenge when I got there. It was really tough. Things didn’t go as well as any of us had hoped.”

Gordon said the 2,071 laps he has raced this season have been worth it, though, helping improve Hendrick’s Chevys while also improving his knowledge as a Fox Sports analyst.

“I was kind of happy to do more, sad about the situation, but if they needed me I wanted to do a little bit more to get more comfortable with the team and the cars,” he said. “I wanted to drive the cars with less downforce this year and see what it was like. Does me a lot of good when I get back in the Fox booth to kind of connect those dots and was a great experience. Each time I’ve been in the car, I feel like I’ve gotten better and better at giving the feedback that they need.”

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch questions Xfinity rules package at Indy

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Kyle Busch isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he certainly did so after Saturday’s  Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR implemented a number of changes to make the racing closer, tighter and more exciting — including restrictor plates, a larger rear spoiler, aero ducts, and a smaller splitter — and achieved all that on many fronts.

But not for the younger Busch brother, who wasn’t pleased with the rules package. Was it actually designed to specifically slow him down rather than to even out things for the entire field?

Or was he just simply upset because he didn’t win a third Xfinity race in a row at IMS?

Check out how our NASCAR America analysts gauged the Xfinity changes in the above video.

 

TriStar Motorsports team owner Mark Smith passes away

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Mark Smith, owner of TriStar Motorsports, died Saturday at his home, after a long battle with cancer, the team announced Monday. He was 63.

He began his racing career building engines for his brother Jack’s drag car in the 1970s. He moved his family from the West Coast in the early 1990s to pursue a career in NASCAR. He was the owner of TriStar Motorsports and Pro Motor Engines.

TriStar Motorsports fields the No. 14 in the Xfinty Series with JJ Yeley and the No. 72 in the Cup Series with Cole Whitt. The team stated the team will continue operations under the management of Bryan Smith, son of Mark Smith.

“It was dad’s dream to own and operate a NASCAR team,” Bryan Smith said. “He devoted his life to that dream and his family plans to honor his wishes by continuing our efforts in his memory.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Victory Junction Gang victoryjunction.org or NOVA (National Organization for Vehicle Access, part of the BraunAbility) novafunding.org.

The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m. ET, Aug. 1 at Cavin-Cook Funeral Home, Mooresville, North Carolina. They have created a Facebook page where you are encouraged to leave a story for the family to enjoy. (facebook.com/Remembering-Mark-Smith-301261653675224)

NASCAR America: Analysts break down Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. wreck (video)

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Given how wild the Brickyard 400 played out, the big wreck between race leaders Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t exactly surprising.

Rather, with the way the race transpired from the opening lap, was the Busch/Truex wreck almost inevitable?

Truex got loose and washed up into the left rear of Busch’s car, sending both drivers and their respective cars into the outside retaining walls, hitting hard and ending their respective days.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about the wreck from Monday’s show in the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. recaps wild Brickyard 400 (video)

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. — who will become part of our NBC Sports Group in 2018 — looked back on a wild and intense Brickyard 400.

Earnhardt was one of several drivers whose day came to an early ending — in Junior’s case when he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne‘s car, destroying his radiator in the process.

All the mayhem and mishaps could be linked to over-aggressive driving, Earnhardt said, saying that every driver was in “attack mode,” especially on restarts.

Check out Junior in the video above.