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.

Joe Gibbs Racing adds young racers to Xfinity program


Connor Mosack, 23, and Joe Graf Jr., 24, each will drive select races in the No. 19 Xfinity Series car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Mosack, who has a 20-race Xfinity schedule with Sam Hunt Racing this year, will run three races for JGR: Chicago street course (July 1), Pocono (July 22) and Road America (July 29) while also competing in six ARCA Menards Series races for JGR, including Feb. 18 at Daytona.

Graf, who has a 28-race Xfinity schedule with RSS Racing this year, will run five races in the No. 19 Xfinity car for JGR: Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 25), Las Vegas (March 4), Richmond (April 1), New Hampshire (July 15) and Kansas (Sept. 9).

“I made my Xfinity Series debut with JGR last June at Portland and from the moment I made my first lap in their racecar, I realized why they’ve been so successful,” Mosack said in a statement. “Their equipment was second to none and the resources they had in terms of people and their knowledge was incredible.

“Jason Ratcliff was my crew chief at Portland and he’s got a ton of experience. I was able to learn from him before we even went to the track. Just in our time in the simulator, we made some great changes. So, to be back with him for three Xfinity races is going to be really valuable.

“And when it comes to JGR’s ARCA program, it’s the class of the field. After having to race against JGR cars, I’m really looking forward to racing with a JGR car. No matter what track they were on, they were always up front competing for wins. To have that chance in 2023 is pretty special, and I aim to make the most of it.”

Said Graf in a statement about his opportunity with JGR: “Running five races with JGR is a fantastic opportunity for myself and for my marketing partners. I think I can learn a lot from JGR and showcase my skills I’ve been growing in the series in the past three years. 2023 is shaping up to be a great year and I’m pumped to get started with the No. 19 group.”

Ryan Truex has previously been announced as the driver of the No. 19 Xfinity Series car in six races this season for JGR. The remaining drivers for the car will be announced at a later date.

Mosack didn’t start racing until he was 18 years old. He went on to win five Legends car championships before moving to Late Model stock cars in 2019. He graduated from High Point University in 2021 with a degree in business entrepreneurship. Mosack’s first Xfinity Series race with Sam Hunt Racing this season will be March 11 at Phoenix Raceway.


NASCAR weekend schedule for Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum


NASCAR’s winter break ends this weekend as Cup Series drivers return to the track for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

The second Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum has been expanded to 27 (from 23) drivers for the 150-lap main event. Qualifying, heat races and two “last chance” races will set the field.

MORE: Drivers to watch in the Clash

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash, the perfect start to a season that ended with him holding the Cup championship trophy.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Cup)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 71.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 66.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup Series practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 5

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four Heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two Last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)








Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum


The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:


Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.


Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?







Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing


Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.