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.’’

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings