Jimmie Johnson remembers “the wildest 30 minutes of my life” with Jeff Gordon

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Of all the impressions left by Jeff Gordon on his NASCAR peers, none is more indelible than his mark on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

The trajectory of the six-time Sprint Cup champion’s career permanently was altered by his first formal meeting with Gordon nearly 15 years ago.

“It was the wildest 30 minutes of my life,” Johnson said with a laugh Thursday on Daytona 500 Media Day.

Johnson had spent his first three seasons in the Xfinity Series trying to catch Gordon’s eye but had no luck with arranging a meeting until a Saturday morning in August 2000 at Michigan International Speedway. With his team on the verge of losing a sponsor and his options including a switch to another manufacturer, Johnson sought the counsel of Gordon.

“I needed advice,” Johnson said. “I knew Jeff left Bill Davis and Ford and went to Rick Hendrick and Chevy, so I thought he had the magic answer. I asked for a few minutes of time and introduced myself, and he brought me back to the transporter.”

Gordon indeed had some career guidance for Johnson – namely, that he was on the verge of being set for life with a NASCAR powerhouse.

“(Gordon) said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but we’re talking about starting a fourth team, and your name is the only name that’s been brought up,’ ” said Johnson, who had gotten off to a nondescript start in NASCAR and wouldn’t win until midway through the following season. “In a 30-mintue window of time, it went from trying to work up the nerve to introduce myself to him, looking for some advice and then practically leading with the job. It was just insane.”

With Gordon poised to begin his final full-time season in NASCAR, it has triggered countless reflections on the impact of the four-time champion who changed the dynamics of multiple racing series. Bursting onto the scene in 1993 as a California native entering a circuit with predominantly Southern roots, Gordon paved the way for drivers with open-wheel backgrounds to make NASCAR their ultimate goal instead of the Indianapolis 500, and his success fostered a more welcoming environment among the stock-car community.

He’s done so much on so many levels, and we’re all looking back and having some, ‘Aha!’ moments,” Johnson said. “Like wow, he really was instrumental in helping car owners and sponsors realizing there are drivers far and wide who can come in and be competitive. Now we have more drivers from California than any other state. It’s wild to think in NASCAR that’s the case.

“I think Jeff is responsible for that trend happening. … We needed a clean-cut well-spoken person to carry the sport. Jeff was that guy. His dominance helped our sport. The fact he gave me my chance, created a team to go racing, and what has happened from there. You won’t find another competitor singing his praises like me.”

There were many others who were Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. Here’s a sampling of drivers’ tributes to Gordon:

KYLE LARSON: “I always looked up to him as a kid watching on TV and trying to follow his career path as well as I could. He grew up in Northern California close to where I grew up. We raced sprint cars and Midgets at a lot of same racetracks and won a few of the same big races. Jeff was a guy I looked up to and paved the path for dirt guys to get to the Cup Series. Getting the chance to say I got to race with Jeff Gordon is pretty cool.

“I got to hang out with him a couple of times away from the track at Knoxville, Iowa. He sponsored our sprint car this year. I got to hang out with him the last couple of years as part of his Children’s Foundation Kick-It program. We’d hang out after the races at night. He’s a character. He’s a lot of fun, and that’s the kind of Jeff Gordon a lot of people don’t get to see. He’s definitely a fun guy to be around.”

JOEY LOGANO: “I think it is really cool I got to race against him. For me, I never got to race against Bobby Allison or Richard Petty but I got to race against Jeff Gordon and that is just as cool. For me personally, I watched him when I was 6 years old, that is when he first started and I was a big Jeff Gordon fan. Why? Because he was the young guy out there. I rooted for him. You never think then that you are going to race against him someday or race against him for wins like we did in Texas or for a championship like we did last year. That is really cool. … It is funny because when I was 7, the Hartford Courant interviewed me, and I said I was going to be Jeff Gordon’s worst nightmare. It is hilarious. I don’t think I am his worst nightmare by any means but it is so cool to race against him now.”

CASEY MEARS: “The most impressionable time I had (with) Jeff racing was the first time that I was in this series. I qualified right near him, and I was starting next to him in one of my first races ever. I couldn’t believe I was getting ready to start a race next to Jeff Gordon. Now it’s really crazy because he is one of my good friends. We just had dinner last night together. It’s crazy where life takes you.”

CLINT BOWYER: “It was an Atlanta, a long time ago, but we raced for like 30 laps. I was a lot faster than him and he knew it. I was running the bottom. I was really loose. I couldn’t get to the outside of him like I needed to. I’d go to the outside and get loose and would drive off four or five car lengths. I’d get back to his bumper in half a lap and try to get under him and he’d keep me pinched down. A couple of times I slid up and about got into him and wrecked us both. I was screaming at the spotter, ‘What the hell is doing?’ I was extremely frustrated and it just like something hit me about 30 laps later and I started laughing because I knew he was in his car laughing at me because I couldn’t get around him.

“(After the race) I’m trying to figure out if he’s going to be pissed. I was looking for him because I was upset. He was coming laughing at me. That was fun. That was one of the fun moments. I bet he remembers that.’’

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

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Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.