Long: Jeff Gordon’s rock star performance brings fans to their feet


MARTINSVILLE, Va. – They paused to take in the moment. The chants and cheers came between bursts of camera phone flashes. When they didn’t take pictures, they stood, soaking in a scene no photo or video can truly replicate.

Then the chanting resumed from among the thousands who stood in the darkened frontstretch grandstands, their numbers visible through flickers of light from the scoreboard well after the sun had set at Martinsville Speedway.

Jeff Gordon stood on a stage before them bathed in light and the crowd’s affection.

“Homestead! Homestead! Homestead!’’

Standing next to the grandfather clock – the ninth he’s won at this track – and surrounded by his family, Gordon pumped his arm to the rhythm of the chants.

He’s heard the thunderous roar at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, felt the love at Daytona International Speedway and experienced the adulation at Sonoma Raceway, located near his hometown. Sunday’s victory, though, was unlike any of his 92 other Sprint Cup triumphs.

Winless in more than a year and days from the end of his career, Gordon will go into the final Cup race – in three weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway – with a chance to win his first championship in more than a decade.

Fans wanted to savor Sunday, which began with rain and concerns that the race might not make it the full distance. Fans stayed through that and weren’t ready to leave when the race was over.

They surrounded the stage. They stayed in the grandstand. They stood near his car, parked nearby. NASCAR officials and police officers guarded the car but fans orderly kneeled one at a time next to it, a keepsake for their Facebook page or phone to show that they were there the last time Gordon raced at Martinsville.

The chanting continued.

“Thank You Jeff! Thank You Jeff! Thank You Jeff!’’

While Sonoma is home, Indianapolis his adopted home and Daytona the home of stock-car racing’s biggest race, Martinsville has always been a special place for him and his fans.

He noticed it this week with the crowds that surrounded him for an autograph, photo or just the chance to be near the man who transformed NASCAR. They told him this was their last race together. They fretted about never seeing him again. He had to remind them he wasn’t dying, he just won’t be racing.

Sunday, he gave them one reason to cheer. When Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked leader Joey Logano with less than 50 laps to go, two of Gordon’s toughest foes were out of the way. He moved into the lead with 22 laps left and held off Jamie McMurray in two-lap shootout to the checkered flag.

Afterward, Gordon stopped his car on the frontstretch, climbed out and grabbed the checkered flag. He danced with the innocence of a 5-year-old, waving his arms before flying into the embrace of his crew.

The crowd roared. Many have seen him cry, pump his fist and celebrate win after win in a career that dates back to 1992, but they had not seen this.

Even with darkness smothering this historic half-time track, they knew they were seeing something special.

Kyle Busch understood. Days earlier he said he didn’t see Gordon winning the title at Homestead if Logano and Kevin Harvick also were among the final four. Busch, a former teammate to Gordon, went to the stage to congratulate Gordon.

“I don’t think there is anything more sentimental or cool than him to win his final race at Martinsville and punch his ticket all the way to Homestead,’’ Busch said, walking away from the stage in the darkness. “Hopefully, we can be at Homestead to race them.’’

“Gordon! Gordon! Gordon!’’

Throughout the numerous interviews, the crowd chanted. Gordon often waved his arms in a bond one rarely sees between driver and fans because Victory Lane often is hidden from them. There’s not a good place in Martinsville’s compact infield to put Victory Lane, so track officials decided years ago to celebrate a driver’s win at the start/finish line, allowing fans to share in the celebration.

Last year, fans cheered when Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored his first victory at this track. Sunday seemed to top that moment.

“I don’t know what it feels like to be a rock star,’’ Gordon said, “but that’s as close as it can get I think.’’

After the interviews, Gordon, known for his humility, acted like a rock star. He ran up the steps to the walkway where fans had been watching him for more than an hour.

He high-fived young, old, new fan, veteran fan even non-fan, going one along the catwalk one way and then the other, tightening their bond on this special night.

As Gordon walked away, the crowd was silent.

There was nothing more left for them to say.

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.