Jeff Gordon and the men who raced him

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The first entry in Jeff Gordon’s Sprint Cup career came on Nov. 15, 1992, three years to the month before the birth of Chase Elliott, the driver replacing Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet next season following his retirement.

Gordon’s career will end with start No. 797 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a 1.5-mile track that didn’t exist when he made his first start 670 miles north at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Between those starts, competitors came and went while Gordon remained a constant, breaking Ricky Rudd’s record for consecutive starts earlier this year. More than a few can tell you about the first time they raced the No. 24 or met its driver.

Here are some of those stories.

Justin Allgaier

Justin Allgaier would first race Gordon on Sept. 13, 2013, at Allgaier’s home track of Chicagoland Speedway.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t the greatest race for me, he lapped me,” Allgaier told NASCAR Talk. Allgaier, then 27, finished 27th while Gordon placed sixth.

“Growing up and having idols, Jeff was obviously one of mine,” Allgaier said. “He’s passed me a lot more than I’ve passed him, but the first time that I was fortunate to pass him was pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie.”

But that race wasn’t the first time the two driver’s paths crossed. Allgaier remembers meeting Gordon around 1992.

“We were at a Chicago Boys and Girls Club banquet, it was like a racing banquet,” Allgaier said. “I have a picture. His pant leg was like super staticy and it was about halfway up his leg and he had no idea and we took the photo together. I was probably six or seven at the time. So I’m at his leg level anyways. So it was pretty awesome.”

The high point of Allgaier’s three years in the Sprint Cup came in the 2015 spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway when he earned his only top-10 finish. It was elevated by Allgaier seeing the No. 24, which had won there five times, in his rear-view mirror much of the night.

“He was behind me for about 150 laps and it was him, myself and Jimmie Johnson and we literally were racing each other like crazy for 150 laps,” Allgaier said. “It was cool because you have a guy like that that you respect and runs up front and then him to not be able to pass you, it’s like, ‘Alright, I’m doing my job well today. That’s a good thing.'”

16 Feb 1997: The three drivers of Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon (center), Terry Labonte (left), and Ricky Craven celebrate after finishing 1-2-3 in the NASCAR Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Mandatory Credit:
Jeff Gordon (center), Terry Labonte (left), and Ricky Craven celebrate after finishing 1-2-3 in the 1997 Daytona 500.

TERRY LABONTE

Terry Labonte, the “Iceman,” was a teammate to “Wonder Boy” from 1994 – 2006. One of his favorite memories of racing Gordon came in the 1997 Daytona 500.

“I think the one year we finished first, second and third at Daytona was pretty special for Hendrick Motorsports,” Labonte said. That day, Gordon finished first, followed by Labonte and Ricky Craven.

“The order was wrong,” Labonte joked. “We were passing somebody, might have been passing Bill Elliott. Jeff went to the inside and I went the other way and passed him. It just so happened Jeff came out ahead when we got clear of him. That was a great run.”

Gordon led the final six laps on the way to his 20th win in four years and becoming the youngest winner of the Daytona 500 until Trevor Bayne topped him in 2011 at the age of 20.

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch keeps his promises. Or at least the one he made to Jeff Gordon in 1999.

Busch made the promise when he was 13 years old and Gordon was a three-time Sprint Cup champion.

“He and (team co-owner) Ray Evernham came out to test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the (Xfinity Series) car back in that day,” Busch said, remembering when Gordon, fresh off a 13-win season in 1998, tested his Pepsi-sponsored car prior to the March 1999 race at the 1.5-mile track in Busch’s hometown.

The promise came in the back of the team’s hauler following the test session. While his dad got an autograph from Evernham, Busch approached Gordon with a box of t-shirts and diecast cars he hoped Gordon would sign.

CONCORD, NC - MAY 25: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Dupont Chevrolet speaks with Kyle Busch, driver of the #5 Kellogg's Chevrolet, during NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 practice on May 25, 2006 at Lowes Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jeff Gordon speaks with Kyle Busch during Coca-Cola 600 practice in 2006. Gordon and Busch were Hendrick Motorsports teammate for four years. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

“He sat there and signed it, and I talked to him a little bit and told him that maybe one day, I’d be racing against him, and he better remember my name,” Busch recalled.

“And he was like, ‘OK, yeah, right kid.'”

The promise was fulfilled four years later. Busch joined Hendrick Motorsports and drove in seven Xfinity Series races in 2003. A year later, he made his Sprint Cup debut at Las Vegas driving the No. 84 Chevrolet and dropped out after 11 laps after brushing the wall one too many times.

Busch made sure to remind Gordon about their initial encounter.

“I actually told him that story right after I signed with Hendrick Motorsports,” Busch said. “He couldn’t put it in his head. He couldn’t remember it. I think since then, me telling him that story, and me being right about I’ll see you one day … I don’t know if he was as happy that I was there as I was.”

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick is biased. His favorite memory of racing Gordon is defined by six thousandths of a second. Or at least six inches. That was the difference between Gordon’s 53rd win and Harvick winning in his third career start after replacing Dale Earnhardt Sr., following Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Harvick’s first time on a track with Gordon took place at Las Vegas, but it wasn’t in a race.

“One of the coolest moments for me is when we would go to Las Vegas and test over the winter, and then Xfinity cars and the Cup cars would just run on the track together,” Harvick said. “There weren’t separate test days. The first car I pulled out behind was Jeff Gordon, and I remember that moment thinking about how cool it was because Jeff Gordon is a legend in this sport, and was a legend at that time in the sport.”

MARTINSVILLE, VA - NOVEMBER 01: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet, is congratulated by Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 KOBALT TOOLS Chevrolet, after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on November 1, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon  is congratulated by Jimmie Johnson after winning his 93rd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway on November 1, 2015. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

JIMMIE JOHNSON

Jimmie Johnson’s first NASCAR race against Gordon was the 1999 Outback Steakhouse 200, an Xfinity Series race at Phoenix International Speedway. Gordon won, Johnson finished 18th.

Two years later, Johnson made his debut as Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate in the first of 506 Sprint Cup races in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte.

In the 14 years since, Johnson’s two fondest memories of racing the man who helped bring him into the Cup series occurred in 2007.

That was the year Johnson beat Gordon by 77 points to capture the Cup title, his second of eventually five in a row. The other came in the spring race at Martinsville Speedway, the track where Gordon had seven wins at the time.

In the Goody’s Cool Orange 500, Johnson was going for his second straight win at the track and had led the previous 112 laps when he took the white flag with Gordon dogging his rear bumper.

Johnson would go on to win at Martinsville in five of six races. Gordon wouldn’t get his eighth grandfather clock until 2013.

CARL EDWARDS

After 1992, Gordon only competed in the Xfinity Series 11 times. As a result, Carl Edwards didn’t compete on the same track with Gordon until his Sprint Cup debut in the 2004 GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway, where Gordon has three wins.

“I just remember that race – I remember everyone because I couldn’t believe I was on the track with guys like Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace and everyone else,” Edwards said. “Just the intensity of being able to race with those guys is crazy.”

The day ended with Edwards finishing 10th, three spots behind Gordon.

Like Martinsville, a track synonymous with Gordon and success was Sonoma Raceway, where he won five times in nine years. Edwards was victorious there for the first time in 2014 after fending off Gordon over the final 16 laps.

“For me, that road course win was huge and to have Jeff Gordon finish second – really it meant a lot to me to hold him off and win there having watched him race and been successful at that track,” Edward said. “The coolest part was him coming to victory lane and congratulating me on a good race – that was really special to me.”

Denny Hamlin

When Denny Hamlin started his first Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 9, 2005, he had to do it from the rear of the field after wrecking on his second qualifying lap.

He wasn’t the only one who had to start from the back.

“I went to the back and (Gordon) was back there, he had to go back there for some reason,” Hamlin said. “I remember pulling off pit road thinking ‘Wow, I’m right behind Jeff Gordon in my very first race.'”

Unlike Edward’s top-10 debut, Hamlin would stay in the back of the field, finishing 32nd, two laps down. Gordon finished 10th.

CONCORD, NC - MAY 05: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard AMP Chevrolet, Brad Kesslowski, driver of the #70 Haas Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Dupont Chevrolet talk in the garage during NASCAR Sprint Cup testing at Lowes Motor Speedway on May 5, 2008 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon talk during a Sprint Cup test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 5, 2008. All three were teammates at Hendrick Motorsports that year. Keselowski would make his Sprint Cup debut six months later. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

BRAD KESELOWSKI

Brad Keselowski will forever be connected to Gordon by the end of the fall Texas race in 2014. But the 2012 Sprint Cup champion does have at least one good memory of Gordon, a teammate during Keselowski’s two years at Hendrick in 2008 and 2009.

“I have this picture, and it is kind of a montage that my sister put together for me and one of them is of me and Jeff when I was driving at Hendrick in 2008 and he was giving me some advice and that is a moment I will never forget,” Keselowski said. “I was getting my first opportunity to test the Cup car and having him come over and give me some advice was probably one of my fondest memories. Certainly there are more than that, but that is the first one that comes to mind.”

Keselowski would make his Sprint Cup debut in 2008 at – of all tracks – Texas Motor Speedway. Gordon finished second that day, while Keselowski came home 19th.

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).