Jeff Gordon on the only race he missed in his career

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CHICAGO – In a racing career that spans nearly 40 years, yard work is the only reason Jeff Gordon has missed a start.

The four-time NASCAR champion was clearing vines off his family’s house in Pittsboro, Ind., as a teenager when he ran into a patch of poison ivy.

“It went into my blood system, and I got extremely allergic, my arm blew up, and I couldn’t bend it to turn the wheel,” Gordon said. “I’ve never missed a race since then.”

The Hendrick Motorsports driver, who has 10 races left in his 23rd and final full-time season in Sprint Cup, will tie Ricky Rudd’s record for consecutive starts in NASCAR’s premier series when he takes the green flag Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway for the 788th straight race in the No. 24 Chevrolet.

Gordon, 44, will break the mark the following week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, though he understandably was leery about discussing it.

“I’ve got to get through this weekend first,” he said. “That’s one of those things where I feel a little strange talking about it because I do appreciate and respect the safety of this sport.

“(That) side can be taken away from you at any time. I want to break that record. I think it’s a huge accomplishment because it’s not easy to do. It’s easier today because the sport is safer. I look at Ricky Rudd and what he went through to make it. That is pretty extraordinary. I can’t quite compare that.”

Though there have been advancements such as SAFER barriers and head-and-neck restraint devices that have lessened the rate of driver injuries, Gordon still has endured his share of heavy impacts. His crashes into unprotected walls at Richmond International Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway led both tracks to add sections of SAFER, an energy-absorbing technology that made its debut in 2002 and reduces the G forces felt by a driver in a wreck.

Gordon said his most fortunate moment came in the March 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway, where he slammed the turn 4 wall after a right-front tire failure.

“That was no SAFER barrier, no HANS, and seats and seat belts were not what they are today,” Gordon said. “That could have been a very serious injury. It ended up being bruised ribs, and I was hurting.”

After a week off, Gordon returned to finish sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway, completing 500 punishing laps on the high banks of the 0.533-mile oval.

“I had all kinds of padding and different things that I put in my suit and on the seat to try to protect my ribs,” he said. “But what I realized was in the car, with pressure against it, through the Gs of the corners at Bristol actually made it feel better. It was when the caution came out and had to take a breath is when I was actually hurting. But that was the closest I’ve come (to missing a race).”

In the latter years of his career, the most serious threat to the streak was an occasionally ailing back. Gordon missed a May 24, 2014 practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway but was able to finish seventh the following day in a 600-mile race that is the longest on the schedule.

“When it hurt as bad as it did, I was scared I might not make it into that race car the next day,” he said. “Luckily, I had some great doctors that got me through it to get the injections, and I was able to make it through.”

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Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman ‘clear the air’ about All-Star incident

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CONCORD, N.C. — Five days after Clint Bowyer threw several punches at Ryan Newman as Newman sat in his car after the All-Star Race, the two sat side by side during an autograph session at a Bass Pro Shops near Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bowyer was upset with Newman for contact that led to Bowyer crashing after last weekend’s race. After Bowyer drove to pit road, he ran to Newman’s car while still wearing his helmet — earning a rebuke from his team owner for not removing his helmet. After reaching Newman’s car, Bowyer unleashed a number of punches.

Both drivers talked this week before they got to the autograph session.

“It was good to have a conversation about it,” Bowyer said Thursday night after qualifying eighth at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. “At the end of the day there were a lot of things that escalated very fast and obviously got out of hand.

“There’s one thing I can always promise you about something like that and it is unfortunate, and you hate having things like that happen, (but) that’s probably the best attended autograph session at Bass Pro Shops that I’ve had in a long, long time.

“Obviously I don’t want to do that every weekend. At the end of the day we all love this sport, we are all passionate about this sport and every now and then that shows a little brighter.”

Bowyer was asked if he thought Newman would retaliate.

“I don’t know,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully it’s behind us. We both have a little better understanding of how it escalated into that and you’ve just got to get stuff like that behind you.”

Newman said it was good to talk to Bowyer about what happened.

“It was good to kind of clear the air,” Newman said. “It is what it is. It’s the past. Just something you always remember. You learn about somebody in a situation like that.”

Newman was asked if he’ll race Bowyer differently.

“I try to race everybody the same way and that’s hard because that’s what I get paid to do,” said Newman, who qualified 18th for the Coca-Cola 600. “I try to give-and-take when I came. The way it works anymore with stage points, especially in the All-Star race, you don’t give and take. You take.”

Starting lineup for the Coca-Cola 600

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William Byron will start first and Aric Almirola will start second for Sunday’s 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600.

Byron, 21, is the youngest pole-sitter in the race’s history.

The top five is completed by defending race winner Kyle Busch, 2017 race winner Austin Dillon and two-time 600 winner Kevin Harvick.

Click here for the starting lineup.

William Byron wins pole for Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. —  William Byron won the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Byron claimed the top spot with a qualifying speed of 183.424 mph. At the age of 21, he’s the youngest Coca-Cola 600 pole-sitter.

It’s Byron’s second career Cup pole, joining his pole in this year’s Daytona 500.

He beat out Aric Almirola (183.069 mph), Kyle Busch (182.933), Austin Dillon (182.766) and Kevin Harvick (182.741).

“This is awesome, a dream come true,” Byron told FS1. “Obviously, I grew up in Charlotte so I came to this race every year. It’s a dream come true to qualify on the pole next to Hendrick Motorsports across the street over there. … Can’t think of a better way to start the weekend.”

Byron has qualified on the front row five time this year and four times in the last seven races.

The pole is the 12th for Hendrick Motorsports in the 600, which leads all teams.

Busch has qualified in the top three for the last three 600s.

Corey LaJoie‘s No. 32 Ford failed pre-qualifying inspection twice, resulting in the ejection of an engineer.

Click here for qualifying results.

Joey Logano and family mourn their dog

Photo: Logano family

CONCORD, N.C. — Joey Logano provided a sobering update Thursday night about the family’s lost dog, Luigi.

The dog had been missing since Tuesday.

Logano’s wife Brittany wrote on a Facebook post for lost and found pets in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area that the family’s French Bulldog got out of their fence Tuesday night.

“Our little Luigi I believe he’s stolen, I think,” Joey Logano said earlier Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We can’t really put a match to anything. We put a bunch of signs up and things on social media and we watched the cameras at our house and we see him running around the backyard and then you don’t see him again. Not really sure what happened there.”

“We’ve learned that Frenchies are one of the most stolen dogs around. It’s kind of sad that someone does that. It’s a member of your family. It’s a jerk move. Hopefully, we can figure it out.”