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What drivers said after NASCAR season finale at Homestead

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Here is what drivers had to say Sunday after the 18th annual Ford EcoBoost 400, the 2016 season finale, at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson – winner and 2016 champion: “Oh my gosh, there is no, no way on earth. Just beyond words. Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. (Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs.  Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship. I wouldn’t be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance.  From my dirt days – my parents first and foremost. My brothers. My wife and family today. Car owners, sponsors, Chevrolet, Lowe’s, so many amazing people along the way that believed in me to give me this chance. Jeff Gordon, Rick Hendrick, all the men and women at Hendrick Motorsports for working so hard to get these cars fast and giving me an awesome 15 years with the company. Just thank you. From the bottom of my heart.  Thank you. So thrilled to be in this moment. So grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”

Kyle Larson – finished second: “Congrats to Jimmie (Johnson), congrats to Chevy for winning the championship, that’s pretty cool and that Jimmie could win seven there. We had the car to win there and I know that I did everything in my power to win the race. But rules are rules and I have to work in the (restart) box … Well, you are supposed to be side-by-side entering the box and he was all the way behind me. So not really anything I could do to maintain his distance behind me. But it’s whatever, I am happy for him.”

Kevin Harvick – finished third: “I’m proud of everyone on my Jimmy John’s team and every person that’s prepared my cars this year. We fought to the very end and tried to close out the season with one last win. I have to thank Jimmy John’s, Busch beer, Mobil 1, Outback, ditech, Hunt Brothers Pizza, Morton Buildings, Bad Boy Off-Road and all our great partners. I also have to say thanks to two great partners who played a major role over the course of my career: Chevrolet and Sprint. They were so good to us for such a long time, and I can’t thank them enough for their support. We finished strong, and we’ll be back in 2017 to try and make another run at a championship.”

Joey Logano – finished fourth: “It was eventful, to say the least. I hate being that close to a championship and not getting it. The team did a great job all day. We had a good race car and we put ourselves in position to win. No one made any mistakes or anything like that on our pit crew. That last restart, I was hoping to get Jimmie there and trying to get either to the inside or outside of him. I just timed it a little bit wrong to get underneath him. I just didn’t have enough time to get under him. We lost some time there and unfortunately we finish second. The championship means so much and everyone forgets about second place. That is what stinks. But overall I am proud of this team. This will be motivation for next year. This hurts.”

Kyle Busch – finished sixth: “We were just too far back. In order to make up that many spots, we were going to need more than just two laps, but we were going to be able to do it if there were more laps, but that’s the choice we made and we didn’t feel like we had a shot to win if we didn’t come down (final pit stop). So, we were going to just be fighting them off from that point. Just can’t say enough about this M&M’s team. All year long they fought hard and there were moments today where definitely it wasn’t going to be our race at all and then there were moments where it might be our race and we just weren’t able to pull through tonight.”

AJ Allmendinger – finished eighth: “Just a product of hard work. I will be honest, I was shocked by how bad we were. Dropped the green and the car wouldn’t turn and we just kind of fought that all night. This tire is a tire that we’ve definitely struggled on. Got to keep doing our homework on it. Had a pit road penalty, we fought back there and kept doing the right thing. I could see the No. 21 was the guy we were actually racing. He was having trouble, so I was just trying to be smart. Kept getting the wave around, kept getting our laps back, and missed the big wreck and hell I don’t know how we finished eighth. Good finish, we’ve definitely got to do our homework to be better and be ready for next year.”

Michael McDowell – finished 10th: “We had a great car. We made up a lot of spots in the beginning and we just sort of maintained that all day. We were running right there 16th – 20th most of the day and the strategy worked out, everything played out. Got back on the lead lap which obviously was a game changer. There at the end we got a couple of good restarts and we had a good car. We were able to close off a good season. … Well, it’s great momentum. The last 10 weeks have been great. We have run more in the top 20 than we ever have. As you do that every weekend it gets easier and easier to do it. We’ve got a busy offseason and still got to work hard and everybody is going to be trying to find extra speed come February.”

Austin Dillon – finished 12th: “We had a really good Dow-Dow Corning Chevrolet today. I’m so proud of everyone at RCR for putting together a car that was so unbelievably fast. We worked as a team and used a lot of what we learned at the Homestead-Miami test a few weeks ago. At the beginning of the race, I thought we were going to drive to the lead. The race just didn’t play to our favor at the end. I want to thank all of the partners on the No. 3 car. We’ve had a great season making the Chase for the Sprint Cup and the last few weeks have shown what we are capable of.”

Kurt Busch – finished 13th: “We really struggled on racetracks that chew up tires such as Homestead, Texas, Chicago and Fontana. We just didn’t have the long-run speed or the balance, but luck played in our favor today to take the wave around and guys we were running with in points got in that wreck to help us get back on the lead lap and to get a set of fresh tires at the end. We were able to dodge some of the cars on the restart with the damage we had. It wasn’t the Chase we wanted. We were the slowest seventh-place car in points that I’ve ever seen. We finished a spot higher in points but we didn’t have the car as good this year as we did last year. The second half of the season was a struggle. We need to revamp our notes and try to turn over a new leaf starting next year.”

Paul Menard – finished 14th: “First, I’ve got to thank my team for all the hard work they put in this year. This schedule can be tough. The Richmond/Menards Chevy wasn’t handling like we had it during practice at the beginning of the race. We were good in the shade but handling went away in the sun. Once the sun went down, we were able to make adjustments in the right direction. The long green-flag runs didn’t do us any favors as we were caught a lap down more than once. We were able to race to the free pass position, though, and started in the top 15 in the closing laps. It wasn’t the year we wanted. Luckily I have a team that doesn’t give up. We’ll regroup in the offseason and come back fresh in Daytona.”

Brian Scott – finished 15th: “We actually had a car that was capable of competing. That kept us in the race and kept us able to hang on when we took the wave around to get back on the lead lap. I thought we were gonna have a shot for a top 10, but it just didn’t play into our favor with not having a car that was very good on restarts the first couple of laps. I’m proud of my guys though for fighting all year. Even through the struggles it’s been a fun year … I’m excited. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m excited to find out.”

Danica Patrick – finished 19th: “Today was another reminder of why you don’t give up. We’ve had some tough races this year, but my guys have never given up. I’m so proud of everyone on the No. 10 TaxAct Chevy team for all of their hard work all season. They put in so much effort every single weekend. The tough days are character building, and they’ve definitely made us stronger as a team this year, and I know we’ll carry that strength into next season.”

Trevor Bayne – finished 20th: “That wasn’t the result we were looking for but I’m proud of my team tonight. We never gave up and fought hard tonight. I just want to thank everyone who worked on this AdvoCare team all season long. This is a great group of guys and I’m really looking forward to working with them again next season when we get to Daytona.”

Tony Stewart – finished 22nd: “I’m proud. It’s been an awesome 21 years racing in NASCAR with the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series. That is really cool to see that No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) up there making history. Now we’ve got three guys in the seven win club. Pretty proud day, I was glad I got to race with him on the day he got his seventh … I raced, I did what I do every time I get in the car. I didn’t think of anything else other than just racing the race. We got behind there and we tried something to make ground and got caught out and had to run 60 laps on a set of tires. At the end the line-up there was, let’s say confusing. I was still screaming about that just like I would on any other race. I was true to form all the way to the end.”

Ryan Newman – finished 25th: “I hate it for the guys. Our Caterpillar Chevrolet struggled a bit today compared to Friday and Saturday, but Luke Lambert and the crew made our car better throughout the race to take an 11th-place car and put it into contention with 20 laps to go. I want to thank my Caterpillar pit crew for gaining me a bunch of spots on pit road. We gained track position after most, if not, every pit stop we made. Unfortunately, we got caught up in the big wreck. We tried to do everything we could to stay out and limp home to the finish, but our Caterpillar Chevrolet was too damaged to complete the final few laps. I want to thank everyone at RCR for a solid season and look forward to returning in 2017 to compete for another championship. ”

Ryan Blaney – finished 26th: “We just struggled tonight. I made a lot of mistakes. I made a big mistake early and we ended up getting a flat tire out of it. I just hit the wall early being impatient. That just wasn’t smart, so that’s something I need to be better at and not being so impatient. We learned a lot this year. It was a fun year and I’m just looking forward to years to come. This team does a great job. We’ll learn during the offseason and then come back.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 30th: “I was just trying to get all I could get there. It looked like (Austin Dillon) got underneath (Matt Kenseth) and I tried to get underneath (Dillon) and when I did he was really close to my door and it just kind of sucked me around and we got loose. It’s a bummer way to end. We were just kind of average all night. It’s a tough way to end the season, but we’ll build it and get back ready for next year.”

Ty Dillon – finished 33rd: “We were so solid all day. I’m really happy with our effort all weekend long and how much speed that we showed. We unfortunately just got caught up in that big wreck in the closing laps of the race. It stinks, because it looked like we were on our way to a top-10 finish. Matt (Borland, crew chief) called a great race and we had some really solid pit stops. The balance of the race car was pretty spot on all race and that’s credit to Matt and the guys for being prepared. I’m proud of our No. 95 Advil Chevrolet and the partial season I was able to race with this team. I’m excited for what the future holds. I’ve learned a lot this season and am appreciative of the opportunity.”

Carl Edwards – finished 34th: “Yeah, I think it was shared, you know what I mean? I think it was just racing. I haven’t seen a real close up view, but the way I had it figured is first of all that was the race of my life up to that point. That was a lot of fun and Joey (Logano) was so good on the short run. I don’t know how he got that restart. It was a really good restart. I thought we were – I thought everything was going to work out and (spotter) Jason (Hedlesky) told me he was looking low and I – he told me basically he was there. I knew what Jason was saying and I just pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there and so here let me watch it again. Yeah, Joey just timed it perfectly, he moved down, I thought I could feel him a little and I just thought that – I was probably a little optimistic, but I thought I could clear him or force him to lift. I just thought I had just a little more time, but he drove down as far as a guy could be expected to drive down and that’s how it ended. I don’t know what the caution was for. I really hope it was something that we needed to have a caution for because that was really – that was going really well.”

Brad Keselowski – finished 35th: “It’s a product of a format that’s based on putting everything and risking everything. I don’t know. It’s not really all that surprising. It’s disappointing. I don’t think that’s great racing, but I understand why it happened on both ends.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 36th: “All I see is (Brad Keselowski) coming up the track and nowhere to go. This is one of those wrong place, wrong time. We got put in the back a few times. Once was our mistake early and (Kevin) Harvick’s after that. It’s unfortunate. We had a really good race car tonight and nothing to show for it. It’s two weeks in a row. Frustrating, glad this year is over and we will go and regroup and get ready for next year.”

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Danica Patrick on retiring from NASCAR: ‘I felt like it wasn’t a space I wanted to be in anymore’

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Danica Patrick was unhappy much of her final season in NASCAR.

Patrick revealed that and a lot more in this past week’s Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

When asked how she felt during the 2017 season, Patrick admitted she was disillusioned at times.

“A lot of negativity to some degree, and it feels like a grind a little bit,” she told Rogan. “I felt like it wasn’t a space I wanted to be in anymore.

“I wanted to be in a happy space, doing things that bring me joy. I was noticing I was missing that – or wanting it more.”

That’s why Patrick decided early on that 2017 would be her final full season in racing.

The timing actually couldn’t have been better: her contract would not be renewed for 2018 by Stewart Haas Racing, she lost her primary sponsorship early in the 2017 season and the remaining sponsorship on her No. 10 Ford Fusion ran out at season’s end and there weren’t many other opportunities to remain in the sport.

If there ever was a time for Patrick to go in another direction and try something else, 2018 would be that time.

“It’s just life; just do things that make you happy,” she told Rogan.

So Patrick has begun building a new life. Sure, she still plans on competing in next month’s Daytona 500 and in May’s Indianapolis 500 – she’s calling it the “Danica Double” – she’s also begun creating a new life after and beyond racing.

She’s building upon herself as a brand rather than just a race car driver. She’s moving in a direction that, with the exception of Daytona and Indy, she’ll not be involved in racing for the first time in more than 25 years.

“Those are going to be my last two races ever,” Patrick said. “This is my Danica Double goodbye tour. I’m ready. I love racing but I love other things, too.

“I’m okay with transitioning out and there were a lot of things that were kind of pointing me in this direction in 2017, stuff that had never happened to me before to kind of, yeah, head towards the exit a little bit. But I’m good with it. I’m a very decisive person.

“This was one of them that I thought about a little bit how to be done or if to be done, I guess, but the how was the hardest part. My agent kept calling and asking me ‘what about this or what if you did that’ and I said no, no and no. You all have to be ready for me to be done, please.”

Patrick’s racing career began before she was 10 years old – she already was thinking at that age about going to college to become an engineer “so I could work on my race car.”

She began racing go-karts growing up in Roscoe, Illinois (about 2 hours from Chicago) and by 16 she was racing Formula cars in Europe.

So after nearly 25 years of racing, it’s time to move on – and Patrick is ready.

“In the last year, as far as an energetic space, it’s just so sad and negative a lot of the time,” she said. “Racing in general, most of the time it’s miserable. You have some days that are good, but most of time it’s not happy.

“You’re not satisfied, you wish somebody would have treated you better out there, there’s so many things to be negative about, and just the grind of it.

“Everybody is worn out. You have to be really careful about the people around you, everybody has to be in a good mood not to spiral out of control, because you see each other three, four days every week for 40 weeks of the year, so you’ve got to be in a good space with people.”

During her time in both IndyCar and NASCAR, Patrick became the face of and inspiration for female racers in all forms of motorsports over the past decade-plus.

She has given all of herself to racing on four wheels, be it in an open-wheel Indy car or a NASCAR stock car. Racing was all she wanted to do for so very long.

Heck, she has a tattoo on her back that starts out as an American flag and fades into a checkered flag. If that isn’t an example of a true bad-ass racer, what is?

Yet not having the success she hoped for and even expected in NASCAR left her becoming somewhat jaded, feeling like she was going in circles both literally and figuratively.

Still, her decision to retire from full-time racing at the age of 35 – she turns 36 on March 25 – caught some by surprise.

“I think everyone would expect with what I do, at the level I do it, that racing is the only thing I do, I love it so much I’ll do anything, I’ll drive every day – and the truth is, no,” Patrick said. “I like racing, but there’s a lot of things I don’t like about it, too.

“I’m grateful for everything it’s given me, but if you were to ask me what I do outside of racing, I don’t go to the racetrack, I don’t watch races.”

And after the upcoming Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 and Indianapolis 500 on May 27, she’ll permanently not go to the racetrack or watch races, it would appear.

Now it’s on to a life as enhancing and expanding her personal brand, transitioning from being a race car driver to making and selling wine, designing and marketing clothes, writing books and so much more.

Click here to listen to the two-hour audio version of Patrick’s appearance on Rogan’s podcast.

Or, watch the whole interview on YouTube:

Robert Yates left us with a beautiful gift: his NASCAR Hall of Fame acceptance speech

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Dale Jarrett cried beforehand while preparing. Edsel Ford II cried during, as did countless attendees at Friday night’s annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.

They cried not just about the induction of legendary team owner and engine building genius Robert Yates, but also the touching and profound words Yates left as his legacy.

Knowing that his long battle with cancer could potentially take him from us before the induction – which it ultimately did on October 2, more than three months ago – Robert Yates left the NASCAR world with an emotional gift: some of his final words.

Before he passed away at the age of 74, Yates hand-picked fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to read those words, a task that was both a great honor but also very emotional for Jarrett, who won a NASCAR Cup championship and Daytona 500 while driving for Yates.

“It was an honor for the Yates family to ask me to do that and to be a part,” said Jarrett, now a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports. “It was a very difficult thing to do. (It took) a number of reads before I could get through it, as you could imagine.

“This was someone that we could have spent the entire two hours talking about how special of a man and hard worker Robert Yates was. He’s exactly what this Hall of Fame is about, that type of person that started at the bottom, worked his way to the top, and there’s nobody that’s been as good as him ever in this business.”

Jarrett said he wished it would have been Yates who was inducted into the Hall in 2014 so he could enjoy the moment, rather than Jarrett.

“Speaking strictly from a personal standpoint, I look at this, that I wish he could have been the one going in in 2014. It would have only been fitting that he was in here in the Hall of Fame before I was, and we could have heard that speech from his mouth and in his words.

“But I was honored to do that, and when I look at it and think about it, a lot of us drivers were fortunate to drive for Robert and Doug Yates and the Yates family and what they’ve meant to me. But in my case, he took an average driver that had a huge heart and a huge desire to win and made me think that I could do extraordinary things.

“I’m appreciative of that and the opportunity that he gave me to win races and a championship, and a special night for the Yates family.”

Here’s Robert Yates’ full, touching induction acceptance speech, in his own words, that were read Friday by Dale Jarrett:

When I started in racing, this was not the goal. All I wanted to do throughout my career was win races.

“I would always say, I don’t race for the money, I race to win. For me, that’s what it’s always been about, but to be part of this year’s induction class is a true honor.

‘There are a lot of other people I want to thank because this isn’t really about me; it’s about those who gave me the opportunity to do something I love.

“I want to thank Bill France Jr. He loaded me up with wisdom through the years, and while some of our conversations were tough, he taught me things about this sport that were invaluable.

“And Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company. When you get to know people like Edsel, you realize that you’re always part of the Ford family, and that means a lot.

“Working in the Holman Moody engine shop turned out to be the best education I could ever ask for. We worked day and night, but if it wasn’t for people like Jack Sullivan, John Holman and Ralph Moody, I wouldn’t have developed the skills I needed.

“Junior Johnson is a man of few words, but I’ll never forget, we were at Charlotte Motor Speedway one day, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Robert, I’ve got to have you.’ We worked out a deal where he basically allowed me to run my own shop, and nobody appreciated what I did during that time more than him. So, Junior, thank you.

“I learned what it was like to run a race team in 1976, when I took over as general manager for DiGard Racing. I worked with Hall of Famers like Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison and had 10 great years there.

“The Allisons have been a big part of my life. I won a championship with Bobby in 1983 at DiGard, and then got to work with Davey, who was always so positive.

“When I bought Harry Ranier Racing, I knew other people wanted to hire him, so we talked about it, and he said to me, ‘Robert, I’ll always work for you.  You don’t ever have to worry about me.’

“Losing Davey was painful. We shed a lot of tears and didn’t know how we would move on, but we did. As NASCAR started to move to more multi-car teams, Ford approached me about running the Quality Care car in 1995.

“I never liked the idea of two cars. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and I always talked about how, until they made two places for cars in Victory Lane, you only need one. So I wasn’t fond of running a second team, but it worked out well.

“We hired Dale Jarrett on a handshake deal done at the Raceway Grill in Darlington. We didn’t sign a contract until several months later.

“Todd Parrott came on as crew chief, and everything just clicked. We won the Daytona 500 in 1996 in our first race together, and then won the championship in 1999. It was a special time in my life with a special group of people.

“So to you, Dale, Todd, and everyone who worked at Robert Yates Racing or in our engine shop, you have my deepest appreciation.

“I’m also extremely blessed to have my assistant Kristi Jones. She’s meant so much to me and our family.

“To this point, I’ve talked about some of the people who have made a difference in my career, but none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the people who made a difference in my life: my family.

“My brothers and sisters were all good students, but I didn’t care about going to school. I was the only kid in my family that didn’t make straight A’s. That’s when my sister, Martha Brady, stepped in. I moved from Charlotte to Wake Forest and lived with her. She told me what classes I was going to take, and that was the first time I studied and made straight A’s.

“My sister, Doris Roberts, talked to me about going to Wilson Tech, and that was the best two years of school I ever had. I loved physics and geometry. So if it wasn’t for my two sisters, I don’t know where I’d be today.

“Another person I want to thank is my twin brother, Richard Yates.  He’s been a big part of my life, and I love him dearly.

“When I was working for Junior Johnson, I would take Doug to the shop. He was still in diapers, but the floor was clean, so I would put him down there, and he would sort out nuts and bolts.  He could sort them out and put them all in the right bin.

“I knew he was destined for a career in racing. Little did I know that would include working side-by-side with him for 20 years. Doug, I couldn’t be prouder of the man you are today. I love you.

“I used to give Amy rides on my dirt bike when she was only two years old. She would sit in front of me and laugh and hold the handlebars and say, “Faster, Dad, faster.” She’s a great mom to her four kids and the sweetest daughter a dad could ever ask for. Amy, you’re my baby doll, and I love you.

“Doug and Amy have given Carolyn and I eight wonderful grandkids.  Your futures are bright, and I love each of you dearly.

“It’s been 51 years since I took a four-day leave from the Army and made the best decision of my life: I married Carolyn. She’s been by my side ever since and has supported me every step of the way. I worked all hours of the day and night, but she never called to say, get home. She let me work.

“Carolyn, I don’t know where the time has gone, but it seems like yesterday we were in a one-bedroom apartment trying to make ends meet. You’re the light of my life. You’ve always been there for me, particularly this past year. Your devotion reminded me of our vows: In sickness and in health. And I love you.

“I never prayed to win a race. I just prayed for the wisdom to help me make good decisions. My creator didn’t always give me what I asked for, but he gave me more than I deserved.

“I thank you for this great honor.  Good night, and God bless.”

Ray Evernham on NASCAR Hall of Fame induction: ‘This is forever’

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Ray Evernham has been successful in virtually everything he’s done in his life.

That includes an amateur boxer, race car driver, 3-time NASCAR Cup championship crew chief, Cup team owner, TV and radio personality, racetrack owner, businessman and so much more.

But nothing will ever personify and speak to Evernham’s career success like Friday night’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

It’s without question the pinnacle of his career, celebrating a man who has done so much in the sport – as well as for the sport.

“You dream about it and you work hard to get there, and the whole time you’re doing it you never really think that you could ever make a mark in a sport that would get you at this level,” Evernham told reporters after his induction.

“I can tell you it still really blows me away. To stand up on top of that stage there and look at the banner and look at the people sitting there in front of me and when I turned around people were on their feet and clapping, it was like very surreal.

“It was just like being in a movie. I thought, ‘Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ But I can tell you it’s the greatest moment of my career.”

Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ … It’s the greatest moment of my career.” — Ray Evernham

Evernham was presented for induction into the Hall by Jeff Gordon. When asked how much of a role he played in Evernham’s career, Gordon was gracious in his reply.

I think (Evernham) played a larger role in my career,” Gordon said. “I’m so thankful to be a part of this.

“What he’s meant to me with my driving career and as a friend because of all we’ve gone through – I mean, we’ve seen one another go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, on the track or off the track.

“And when you go through that and you have the kind of relationship that we had, the business relationship that then turned into the friendship, when you see somebody honored like Ray was tonight, which is so deserving – this guy sacrificed – I think that’s why I love seeing people.

“Listen, don’t get me wrong; I love seeing the drivers. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, all of them deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But to me, the drivers already get a lot of rewards or accolades or written up, but guys like Ray, even though he got his fair share, but it was never enough for the effort, the sacrifices and the things that he did to make that car, the team and me really shine the way that it did.”

While Gordon and Evernham teamed together for the first time in Gordon’s NASCAR Cup debut, the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, something magical happened when they first got together two years earlier in a 1990 test.

“I knew it immediately, we just clicked,” Evernham said of Gordon. “I liked him a lot and he liked me. We spoke the same language. He was a kid, might have been 19.

“I had seen the best drivers in the world. I knew talent. What I saw him do that day at Charlotte with the car that we had that wasn’t that special, I believe it was a Buck Baker school car we went and tested with, and he was quick, I think second quick overall that day to Davey Allison.

“He did some pretty amazing things, and the way that he spoke to me and the way that he described what the car was doing and what he needed in the car, I thought to myself, this guy is way too young. That’s not experience; that’s pure talent and that’s ability.”

Gordon concurred.

“It was the same for me,” Gordon said. “It clicked right away. … I came home from that test, and I just said, ‘You’re not going to believe this guy.’ He had a clipboard. He’s writing down every word that I say, and he’s like, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this, we’re going to put this spring in.’

“I was like, ‘What’s that going to do?’ I didn’t know anything about springs or shocks. I was racing dirt sprint cars and midgets. He said, ‘Well, it should do this,’ and I’d go in the corner, and it did it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is a genius.’ So we clicked immediately.”

Evernham, now 60, admits that his induction had him choked up.

“It’s been emotional to me,” he said. “I mean, certainly you look at this as a cap-off on your career, and you look back, as I said – I meant it when I said I’ve seen some of the toughest, most articulate guys we know stand on that stage and be emotional.

“Tonight it’s very special to me because Ray J (Evernam’s son) was up there, Jeff was up there and Ben Kennedy, again, because his dad Bruce and I were close, to have all three of them up on the stage. When I walked up there, I said, I hope I can get through it without crying, but that’s normally Jeff’s deal. But I get it.

“It’s a tremendous, tremendous honor, and when you start to … when you realize that it really is all about the people and the relationships that you’ve made, because without those people and without the relationships, the rest of the stuff is just trophies, man.

“When you win at the Cup level, you get to enjoy it for four days, and then there’s 39 more guys trying to knock you off that pedestal. They’re not going to let you have fun. Friday morning, it’s back to square one.

“The memories are going to be of the things that we did with the people. … That’s what’s really special about the Hall of Fame, because this is forever.”

Ron Hornaday Jr. kept up a cold tradition with Hall of Fame induction

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The call came “out of the blue” in November.

The name “Horny” flashed on Wayne Auton’s phone.

The nickname belonged to Ron Hornaday Jr., four-time Camping World Truck Series champion and one of Auton’s closet friends.

Earlier in the year, the former Truck Series director and current manager of the Xfinity Series had been the one to call Hornaday and let Hornaday know he was one of the nominees for the 2018 class in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“Hey, buddy, I need you to do something for me,” Hornaday said. “I want you to induct me into the Hall of Fame.”

Auton needed a moment.

“Ron, did you just say what I thought you said?” He eventually responded.

“Yeah.”

“Damn man, you need to let somebody in your family do that.”

“No, you are my family.”

Auton began crying.

For two days Hornaday couldn’t sleep.

The 59-year-old native of Palmdale, California, fretted over the speech he’d give Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center as the first Truck Series champion to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“This is really the crown jewel of everything he’s done,” Hornaday’s wife, Lindy Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He was scared he was going to forget somebody and I said, ‘Everybody knows you and they know that you’re thankful to everybody. So don’t thank anybody specifically. Just thank them all.'”

Friday morning, Hornaday woke up without a speech set in stone.

“I got up at 9 o’clock this morning and it was like *makes gagging noises*,” Hornaday said. “I walked away, took a deep breath, come back and I couldn’t do it again. And I said to hell with it. When I started seeing my friends and family, something will come to me instead of trying to read this speech off that prompter. I got back to the room and I’ve never had an anger deal, I don’t know what it’s called in your stomach, but my stomach was turning over so bad. I was regurgitating air for about four hours. I finally fell asleep for a little while. My wife wanted to go to lunch. I sent her with all the family to lunch. I finally thought about thinking about what this really means and still didn’t know what it meant until I started seeing friends, family, peers, the Hall of Famers. They really just got me into a different mood. I did that one sober. Usually I get a couple of beers in me before I speak.

“Everybody’s telling me, ‘be yourself, take your time.’ How can you do that? It’s the freakin’ Hall of Fame!”

Those are the same words Hornaday bellowed at the beginning of his unscripted speech, with both arms raised high.

“That was the best part about the whole thing,” Hornaday said. “Had to break the ice, just to get somebody to giggle. And I knew I could get on a roll.”

Hornaday said he only forgot to mention Chevrolet, the manufacturer he earned all 55 of his NASCAR wins with.

Wayne Auton, left, poses with Lindy Hornaday and Ron Hornaday Jr. (Photo: Daniel McFadin)

During the two days Hornaday fretted over his speech, Auton was with him.

The two first encountered each other in 1995, the inaugural season of the Truck Series.

“He was there at every one of my wins,” Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He’s the one that gave me the words of wisdom, he’s the one that pulled me down and closed doors and told me what I had done wrong on the race track. He’s the one that chewed my butt out, he’s the one that when he got all done and said I’d chew his butt out. We got all done and said and we’d get a beer together.”

For 18 years, the two were “friends, enemies and warriors,” said Auton.

“Whether he won, whether he lost … when we were inside the gate we had a job to do,” Auton said. “When we walked outside the gate we were very good friends. We had to have a beer together. Cold beverage. We knew each other’s family like they were our own.”

Leading up to the ceremony, the two pestered each other about what the other would say when the time came.

“I said, ‘Ron, I just hope I don’t pee in my pants,'” Auton said.

“When he was up there speaking, I seen him shaking pretty good,” Hornaday said. “I’m glad I got back to him and made him as nervous as I was.”

Standing on the auditorium floor afterward, Auton described the moment as “the biggest honor” he could ask for.

“I’ll never top that.”

When they left the stage, it took them awhile to get back to their seats.

Auton said they stopped to have a cold Coors Light.