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.

Mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller dies at 65

JR Motorsports
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Brenda Jackson, mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, has died following a battle with cancer, JR Motorsports announced Monday. She was 65.

Formerly Brenda Gee, she married Dale Earnhardt in 1972. Together they had Kelley (1972) and Dale Jr. (1974) before separating.

Jackson was one of two daughters and four children to NASCAR fabricator Robert Gee, a Virginia native who built winning cars for racers, including Earnhardt.

After her separation from Earnhardt, the children stayed with her as Earnhardt tried to establish his racing career. After a fire claimed their home, Jackson moved back to Virginia while the children went to live with Earnhardt.

She remarried in 1985 to William M. Jackson Jr., a firefighter in Norfolk, Virginia. When he retired they moved back to North Carolina with step-daughter Meredith. Jackson joined JR Motorsports as an accounting specialist in 2004 and remained there through 2019.

Jackson is survived by her husband; her children Dale Earnhardt Jr. (wife Amy), Kelley Earnhardt Miller (husband L.W.), step-daughter Meredith Davis (husband Jonathan); her grandchildren Karsyn Elledge (18), Kennedy Elledge (13), Wyatt Miller (7), Callahan Davis (16), Claudia Davis (13), and Isla Rose Earnhardt (11 months); her brothers Robert Gee (wife Beverly) and Jimmy Gee; and her beloved Pekingese dog, Scully.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Piedmont Animal Rescue or Hospice and Palliative Care of Iredell.

Nashville Fairgrounds promoters respond to claims of contract breach

Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville
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Last week Claire Formosa, the VP of Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, and a lawyer representing Formosa Productions pushed back against allegations made by the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners that the company had breached its contract to run the track.

On April 8, the Fair Board commission sent a letter to the Formosas informing them that it was exercising a breach clause in their contract over two items: the track breaking its designated curfew of 7 p.m. on a school night and unpaid concessions commission of $31,930 from last year.

A third issue had been resolved regarding late office rent payments for the first three months of the year.

The claims by the commission come as the Formosas and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. face obstacles in their attempts to bring NASCAR back to the short track.

“To suggest that Formosa Productions breached its contract … that’s a serious allegation and I don’t believe that’s well-founded,” said Jim Roberts, the Formosa’s attorney, during the monthly Fair Board meeting on April 16.

Roberts observed that the language of the contract does not state when the concession payments are due.

“So I would submit that it’s impossible to be in breach of a contract when there are no payment schedules to find,” Roberts said.

Roberts argued concession payments would not be due until the end of the contract on March 23, 2023.

“That’s not how things are normally done, but let’s just be honest, that’s what the contract as drafted says,” Roberts said. Roberts also claimed the Formosas were not aware the concessions payments were part of the contract and that they’d never received an invoice.

“There’s been no invoicing, I think the board needs to be aware of that, no invoicing of these concessions until last week,” Roberts said, who added the Formosas asked for the invoices and received them on April 9, but that the provided invoices totaled $28,430 and not the $31,930 referenced in the April 8 letter.

The Fair Board’s letter alleged that the track broke its 7 p.m. curfew on March 27 when Kyle Busch took part in a test session for the All-America 400.

The Board claimed this violation came after a verbal warning for curfew violation on May 10 of last year. Roberts said the Formosas have no idea what event was held on that date to warrant the warning.

Regarding Busch’s test date, Roberts claimed the Formosas understood that if they received permission from the principal of a nearby school and the neighborhood association, there would be “no objection or problem” with a late track running time.

Roberts said they have a letter from the principal and the permission from the neighborhood association allowing the test.

Formosa said she had gone to the March neighborhood association meeting and was told she was cleared to go ahead with a late track rental, as long as she had the support of the school principal in the area.

Board member Jason Bergeron mentioned a series of emails from before March 27 where Formosa was told by Executive Director Laura Womack that they’d still be limited by the curfew and he noted that the principal’s permission was not part of the contract.

“She let me know and I told her ‘OK’,” Formosa said. “It was a complete miscommunication between myself and my office staff.”

With the test going beyond 8 p.m., Formosa, who was not on site, traveled to the track and shut it down by 8:17. p.m.

Bergeron said he’s heard from people in the neighborhood “that they don’t feel like they can count on that 7 o’clock curfew” when it comes to track rentals.

Formosa objected to this assertion.

“We have these monthly neighborhood meetings for this very reason,” Formosa said. “I can tell you that I never heard an issue raised by either one of the neighborhood associations. If there were issues raised, this is certainty the first time I’m hearing about them.”

K&N Series’ Jagger Jones, Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pair up for Baja race

Photos: Richard Shute/Auto Imagery
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Jagger Jones is going to spend Spring Break not in Daytona Beach or Fort Lauderdale – but he’ll be seeing a lot of sand nonetheless.

About 1,300 miles worth.

The 16-year-old rookie NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver will be taking part in his second consecutive National Off-Road Racing Association 1000 off-road race (also known as the Mexican 1000) from April 28 – May 2 in Baja California, Mexico.

Sitting alongside Jones and splitting driving duties will be legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme, who will also be competing in his second Mexican 1000.

It’s not an easy race, for sure,” Jones told NBC Sports. “It’s long, it’s five days, it’s hot, the end of April and the start of May. Don really liked being in last year’s race, but I could tell he was unsure if he was up to do it again. Then my dad and I threw out the deal where we split the race and Don was on-board with that. We both just jumped on that idea.”

MORE: Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pairs with Parnelli Jones’ grandson for Mexican 1000

While other teenagers may be intimidated to be paired with one of the most legendary names in motorsports, Jones isn’t. He’s used to being around iconic racers, most notably his grandfather, Parnelli Jones. And his father, P.J., is not only a noted racer himself, he also built the Polaris off-road buggy that his son and Prudhomme will drive in the 1000.

It’s really cool to be able to do a race with the one and only Snake, who has been such a legend in the drag racing community,” Jones said. “I’m only 16 years old, so I think it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve always been around the off-road scene and watched my dad do a lot of races off-road. I grew up around Robby Gordon and off-road places like Parker (Arizona), where we always go there every year and go camping. I’ve always wanted to do off-road racing. My brother and I both enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of different than the pavement stuff. It’s really fun when you’re sideways and stuff.”

Prudhomme is looking forward to racing with Jagger.

Doing it with Jagger, he’s a young, real aggressive driver and he’s really fast,” Prudhomme said. “I couldn’t think of a better kid to be my co-driver.”

Jones is able to take part in the Mexican 1000 because the K&N Series West is on a six-week hiatus, his next race not being until May 11 in Tucson.

He’s done well in his first two K&N races, finishing runner-up in his series debut at Las Vegas (was knocked out of the lead on the final lap) and fourth at Irwindale Speedway.

Jones sits tied for third in the K&N West standings, three points behind series frontrunner Hailie Deegan.

I think we’ve had a great start to the season,” Jones said. “It was definitely a bit of a learning curve, but … so far for a rookie season, I don’t think it’s too bad of a start.”

Jones competed in last year’s Mexican 1000 with younger brother Jace. The pair were in the lead when the transmission on their off-road buggy failed, ending their hopes of a win (their father won in another class in the same race). Prudhomme finished 95th in a field of more than 150 drivers in the same event.

Much like Prudhomme feels he has unfinished business in Baja, Jones feels the same way. Now paired with the “Snake,” Jagger is ready to go for the win.

We definitely have a shot at winning,” Jones said. “It’s like an endurance race. First, you have to finish to win. That’s probably going to be our biggest goal.

We want to do good, but if we can just finish, I think we’ll wind up in a good place. If we finish, anything else is a bonus. To win would be awesome. My dad won last year, so if we could follow that up this year, it’d be super cool.”

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Michael Annett feels like ‘I belong here’ after best start of Xfinity career

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If Michael Annett‘s dog could talk.

The owner of three dogs, Annett has had Paisley, a miniature golden doodle, for 13 years.

That’s more than the entirety of his full-time NASCAR career, which began in 2009.

Along with his girlfriend at the time, Paisley was a passenger in Annett’s car in February during the seven-hour drive back from Daytona International Speedway a day after Annett scored his first career Xfinity Series win.

“She’s seen it all,” Annett told NBC Sports. “I’m sure she was pinching herself, too. It was just pretty special to have that time in the car, honestly. It wasn’t a bad thing I drove because it gave me those seven hours to really digest everything we did the day before is pretty special.”

Annett’s win locked him into the Xfinity playoffs, which he was unable to take part in last year in his second season with JR Motorsports. Annett and what was then the No. 5 team finished 16th in a season that saw Annett work with two crew chiefs for most of the campaign’s 33 races.

The second crew chief, the man who leads Annett’s No. 1 team now, was Travis Mack.

A former car chief at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne’s crew chief at Leavine Family Racing, Mack joined Annett’s team after 19 races had been completed.

The change came as the series entered Annett’s worst stretch of races.

“He came in and we had three road courses (Mid-Ohio, Road America, Watkins Glen) and Bristol right away,” Annett said. “I told him leading up to it, ‘This is where I’m the worst, road courses. I’m sorry they’re throwing you to the wolves like this.'”

Annett didn’t finish better than 12th at the road courses, but he snagged a seventh-place finish at Bristol, his first top 10 through 22 races. He’d round out the season with three, including a ninth in the finale in Miami.

“We left Homestead everybody was just really pumped for February to come,” Annett said.

Annett approached the ensuing offseason differently than at any other point in his career.

“A lot of guys when you leave Homestead we kind of scatter,” Annett said. “Honestly, the whole offseason I was at the shop almost every day. Team lunches with guys, dinners with the guys. The crew chief, Travis Mack and I, working out every morning together. Just always bouncing ideas back and forth and if it wasn’t about racing it was team camaraderie and just building that relationship, wanting to make sure everyone on that 1 team’s going to hold the end of the rope for you if you’re hanging by it. That’s what you need, you gotta to have everybody bought into the same goal and I think just building that relationship and unity`has been a huge benefit for us.”

It didn’t just benefit Annett at Daytona.

After eight races, Annett is off to the best start of his NASCAR career. He has two top fives (Daytona and Las Vegas) and five top 10s, two shy of the seven total he had when he returned to Xfinity from Cup in 2017.

“Going to Atlanta and being fast in practice, didn’t have the best race, finished 12th. Last year at that point, man, we’d be high-fiving for a 12th,” Annett said. “Just continued to grow and it’s still continuing to grow. We’re not even close to where we want to be right now.”

Annett’s performance in 2018 came back to bite him early in the season when two of the first three races had qualifying rained out. That caused the field to be established by last year’s owner points. He started 16th at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

As a result Annett missed out on getting more stage points than he thought he was capable of.

“That put us in a pretty big hole right away,” Annett said. “But even those races, honestly is when we got the most (12 total). It’s hard to say. I’m not a genie or anything, but I feel like we’d have more bonus points at this point, but I still feel like those were some of our best races for some reason.”

With his Daytona win and being locked into the playoffs, Annett’s team has taken gambles he’s never been able to, like staying out on old tires in the middle of Stage 1 at Richmond. It didn’t work out and Annett finished the race in 13th.

“It took a little bit (of adjusting) just because I was hungry for those top fives and when you don’t have a top-five car you know if it doesn’t work out you’re going to be outside the top 10,” Annett said. “That part’s been tough. Really had to get in my head and figure out what’s going to help us go through rounds in the playoffs. Once I really got that in my head it was easy.”

What has Annett learned about himself as a driver in the months since Mack was brought on board?

“I think that just that I belong here,” Annett said. “At some point you beat yourself down long enough you start to wonder if you remember how to drive a race car or if you belong. But once you start to show that consistency and you’re passing cars that you know that could have a chance to win a race and you’re driving by them, it’s moments like that. When you’re driving past race-winning cars that’s when you start to get that confidence and ‘Yeah, you still remember how to do this.'”