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 outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

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4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.

 

 

 

SunnyD to sponsor Kevin Harvick in two races, Riley Herbst in Daytona 500

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Kevin Harvick has picked up a sponsor for the new season, and Riley Herbst has picked up a ride in the Daytona 500.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that orange drink SunnyD will be the primary sponsor for Harvick’s No. 4 Ford at Darlington Raceway (May 14) and Kansas Speedway (Sept. 10).

SunnyD also will be the sponsor for Herbst as he joins the entry list for the Daytona 500 in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing car. The orange drink also will be an associate sponsor for Herbst in the No. 98 Xfinity car fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing in the Xfinity Series.

The 2023 season will be Harvick’s final year as a full-time Cup driver.

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The Daytona 500 will mark Herbst’s first Cup Series start. The 24-year-old native of Las Vegas has made 109 Xfinity Series starts.

“It’s great to have Riley making his first NASCAR Cup Series start with RWR and be a part of the next step in his career,” said team owner Rick Ware in a statement released by the team.

“As a kid you always dream of being able to race in the Daytona 500, and I’m able to accomplish that with Rick Ware Racing,” Herbst said. “It’s such a big event and for it to be my first Cup start will be a crazy experience.”

 

 

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).