Rick Hendrick on how close Jeff Gordon came to retiring earlier: He’d say, ‘This is probably time’


Few can appreciate the pain that Jeff Gordon gutted out to extend his NASCAR career than Rick Hendrick, and it’s not just because he owns Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet.

“I’ve had back problems, and we go to the same therapist, and the same doctor, and I don’t know how he did it,” Hendrick told NASCAR Talk. “I don’t know how he got in that car at the (2014 Coca-Cola 600). But I felt like I’d always say, ‘Jeff, just do it one more year, one more year.’

“But I’m so glad he did because now he’s in the final four, and he deserves to go out that way. Not as just a guy who rode around. He’s making his final race running for the championship, and I think it’s a super story for NASCAR and for him and for his legacy.”

Gordon has been battling an aching back for more than five years, sometimes alleviating his pain through injections and physical therapy. The four-time champion was forced out of practice for the 2014 Coca-Cola 600 but toughed out a seventh the following day in the longest race on the NASCAR schedule.

After qualifying for the championship finale in Miami with his Nov. 1 victory at Martinsville Speedway, he said in an interview on The Dan Patrick Show that he had mulled retirement for years, and it made it easier to be at peace with his announcement in January that the 2015 season would be his last.

“I guess if I had just started thinking about this last year and then made the decision this year to (retire), I might be second-guessing it, but this thought has been going on in my mind for the last five or six years,” Gordon said. “I don’t know if it was Tom Brady or someone else that said one time, ‘The moment you start thinking about retirement and you start thinking about, ‘Should I make a change? Is it time?’ then your days are numbered.

“You are just not the same competitor, and that’s what worried me when I first started thinking about that because it had to do with my back and competitive level. So luckily I had between my family and Rick Hendrick and some others that talked me into, ‘No, no. It’s not the right time. You need to stick with it a little longer.’ I’m glad that I did, but everything started adding up and this year definitely it’s the right time.”

Hendrick said he could tell Gordon often was “on the fence” about retiring the past few years.

“Every bad day or a day after therapy, he’d say, ‘This is probably time,’” Hendrick said. “And I’d say, ‘Are you sure? Let’s try one more year.’ (The 2014 season) was an awesome year for him. He led a lot of laps, and it kind of rejuvenated him. I’m glad it did. I’m glad he did. And hopefully we can go make it really special at Homestead.”

If Gordon can finish ahead of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he will earn his fifth championship in NASCAR’s premier series and first since 2001.

His recent record at the 1.5-mile oval is strong. Gordon scored his first win in Miami in 2012 and led a race-high 161 laps in his No. 24 Chevrolet last season one week after being eliminated by a point after the third round of the playoffs.

Gordon started from the pole position at Miami last year and was in first with 15 laps remaining before staying on track during a caution. Harvick was one of several who pitted, winning the race and the title.

“If we’d been racing for championship, we’d have run that race differently,” Hendrick said. “Honey and nuts and ifs and buts, but if I was Jeff Gordon, and I was that close to getting it done last year, I’d have been super disappointed. It’s tough when you know you’re in the twilight. He might have even moved (retirement) up a year.”

COTA Xfinity Series results

COTA Xfinity results
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger led 28 of 46 laps Saturday to win the Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

Allmendinger held off William Byron to score his first victory of the year and 16th in the Xfinity Series.

MORE: COTA Xfinity results

Ty Gibbs placed third and was followed by rookie Sammy Smith and Justin Allgaier.

Smith, Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, who placed sixth, and Sam Mayer, who finished seventh, will be eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash next weeked at Richmond after being the top four full-time Xfinity finishers Saturday.



AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at COTA

AJ Allmendinger Xfinity COTA
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger overcame damage from a restart to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

This is the second year in a row he has won this race. It is Allmendinger’s first victory of the season and 16th career Xfinity win.

MORE: COTA race results 

William Byron, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, finished second. Ty Gibbs placed third, Sammy Smith fourth and Justin Allgaier fifth.

Smith, Allgaier, sixth-place finisher Daniel Hemric and seventh-place finisher Sam Mayer — the top four full-time Xfinity drivers — will be eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus next week at Richmond Raceway.

Allmendinger won the first stage and then pitted. When a caution came out shortly, it put him 21st in the field. On the Lap 20 restart, his car suffered damage when he was hit going into Turn 1.

Allmendinger worked his way through the field and took the lead from Sheldon Creed on Lap 33 when they made contact and Creed spun. Creed fell back to 23rd and finished the 46-lap race in ninth.

Stage 1 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Stage 2 winner: Sheldon Creed

Who had a bad race: Austin Hill, who had won three of the first five races this season, had mechanical issues early and finished 37th in the 38-car field.

Next: The series races April 1 at Richmond Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FS1)

COTA Truck race results: Zane Smith wins


Reigning series champion Zane Smith won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

The victory is Smith’s second of this year.

MORE: COTA Truck race results

MORE: Truck points after COTA

Kyle Busch finished second and was followed by Ty Majeski, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.

The key moment came when Parker Kligerman‘s truck came to a stop on the frontstretch at Lap 28. Smith, running second, made it to pit road before it was closed. Busch, who was leading, had already passed pit road entrance.

Smith gained the lead with the move, while Busch had to pit under the caution and restarted 16th. Smith was able to build a lead and beat Busch by 5.4 seconds.

Stage 1 winner: Christian Eckes

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ty Majeski’s third-place finish is his best of the season. … Tyler Ankrum’s fourth-place finish is his best of the year. … Corey Heim has finished sixth two races in a row. … Rookie Nick Sanchez finished seventh, giving him back-to-back top 10s.

Who had a bad race: Parker Kligerman was running third when electrical issues forced him to stop on track just after the end of the second stage. … After winning the first stage, Christian Eckes had mechanical issues and had to pit for repairs, costing him several laps.

Notable: Front Row Motorsports has won the Truck COTA race all three years. Todd Gilliland won the race in 2021 and Zane Smith has won it the past two years.

Next: The series races April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
COTA winner Zane Smith’s truck catches fire after he did his burnout on the frontstretch. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.