Letarte: Let me tell you about the Jeff Gordon I know

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When I told my son Tyler that I would no longer be Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, he cried. So did my daughter Ashlyn.

Tyler was 7 then in 2010 and Ashlyn was 5. My work identity to them was tied to Jeff. Tyler and Ashlyn cheered the No. 24 car when they watched the races. It was all about the No. 24 car for them. Then it changed. Tyler was heartbroken.

Sometime after the change, a picture arrived for Tyler. It was from Jeff. He wrote: “I know I’m not driving your dad’s car anymore, but you will always be my buddy.’’

That’s the Jeff Gordon I know.

You’ve heard the stories, you’ve seen the examples of Jeff’s generosity throughout his magnificent Sprint Cup career, which will come to an end Sunday. For each story you’ve heard about Jeff’s kindness, there are many more that you haven’t – such as what he did for Tyler after the 2010 season.

He didn’t have to send that picture, but he did. Just like Jeff didn’t have to fly down from New York City to meet after Rick Hendrick moved me from being Jeff’s crew chief to being Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief for the 2011 season.

I was a Hendrick employee, and it was Mr. Hendrick’s decision to move me from the team I had been with since 1995 when Ray Evernham hired me to sweep the floor and do other odd jobs in the shop. I wasn’t Jeff’s employee. In fact, Jeff had told me as much when I first started as his crew chief late in the 2005 season.

His only advice was to treat him like every other member of the team. I couldn’t do it. He was still my mentor, and I still had him on a pedestal by none of his doing. I couldn’t hold him as accountable as he could have been held. If I could go back and redo 2007 when we finished second to teammate Jimmie Johnson, we win going away because Jeff didn’t get anywhere near my best as a crew chief.

When I moved to Dale’s team, that’s when I fully grasped what Jeff had told me in that first meeting. The ripples from Jeff helped Dale Jr. and I have success.

There were many other lessons I learned from Jeff that helped me when I was with Dale’s team and now in my role with NBC. Jeff’s lessons came through his actions. Not everything has gone well for Jeff in his career or his life, but he’s shown how to persevere. He taught me that there’s not a storm in the garage that isn’t going to go away.

Now, he’s on the verge of a fifth title, but he’s so big that whether he wins the championship this weekend it won’t matter. He’s already iconic. He’s already a legend and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Four championships or five won’t measure his greatness.

Instead, I see Jeff’s greatness in the message he wrote to Tyler.

Brandon Jones wins Xfinity pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Playoff driver Brandon Jones won the pole position Saturday morning for Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Jones was clocked at 185.637 miles per hour. He has won three of the past four Xfinity poles.

MORE: Texas Xfinity qualifying results

MORE: Texas Xfinity starting lineup

Scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on the USA Network, the race is the opening event of the Xfinity playoffs.

Following Jones in the top five were Noah Gragson (winner of three consecutive Xfinity races), Daniel Hemric, John Hunter Nemechek and Sam Mayer.

MORE: Post-race celebration? Try the Waffle House

The race is 200 laps (300 miles) on the 1.5-mile track. Drivers will be battling heat in the mid-to-high 90s.

 

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Texas Motor Speedway

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NASCAR Cup and Xfinity teams will be busy Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Cup Series enters the second round of the playoffs with 12 drivers remaining for the title. Cup teams will practice and qualify today.

The Xfinity Series begins its playoffs Saturday with 12 drivers in championship contention. Xfinity teams will practice and qualify before racing.

All track activity will be broadcast on USA Network. The temperature will climb into the mid-90s Saturday, according to Weather Underground.

Saturday, Sept. 24

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 – 11:05 a.m. — Xfinity Series practice (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 11:05 a.m. – noon — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 12:35 – 1:20 p.m. — Cup Series practice (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 1:20 – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (200 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, NBC Sports App, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday Texas Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The Xfinity Series playoffs begin this weekend. Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs enter as the favorites. They’ve combined to win 11 of the 26 races this season.

Gragson, who has six wins this season, seeks to win his fourth consecutive victory.

MORE: Noah Gragson’s special celebrations at Waffle House

Gibbs, who has five victories this year, is one of four drivers in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time. The other three are Josh Berry, Austin Hill and Sam Mayer.

Also in the playoffs are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric, Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Brandon Jones, Jeremy Clements, Riley Herbst and Ryan Sieg.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Andy’s Frozen Custard executives Andy Kuntz, Dana Kuntz and Carol Kuntz at 3:38 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 8:30 a.m. … Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. … Qualifying begins at 11:05 a.m. … Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Bret Shisler of Texas Alliance Raceway Ministries at 3:30 p.m. … Janie Balderas will perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) on the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3 p.m. on USA Network. The post-race show will air on USA Network. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 3 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Tyler Reddick gave Big Machine Racing its first series win in May. William Byron was second and Sam Mayer was third.

 

Ryan Blaney’s team to appeal Bristol penalty

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Team Penske will appeal the penalty to Ryan Blaney‘s team from last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the organization confirmed Friday.

NASCAR suspended crew chief Jonathan Hassler, jackman Graham Stoddard and rear tire changer Zachary Price four races each after a wheel came off Blaney’s car during a pit stop. His left rear wheel rolled off when he exited his stall and the tire bounced down pit road through before it was captured.

The penalty would have caused Hassler and the pit crew members to miss all of the second round and the first race in the third round. With the appeal. Hassler, Stoddard and Price will be able to participate in Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.).

Blaney enters the second round holding the final transfer spot. He, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell are tied with 3,013 points. He won the All-Star Race in May at Texas.

Chase Briscoe is the first driver below the cutline. He’s four points behind Blaney. Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez are each six points behind Blaney. Austin Cindric is seven points behind Blaney.