Ray Evernham on Jeff Gordon: ‘He has truly become everything I thought he could be and more’

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – As the guiding force of Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR’s career for nearly seven years, starting from the No. 24 Chevrolet’s Nov. 15, 1992 debut, Ray Evernham has a unique perspective Sunday.

When Gordon’s career concludes, possibly with a fifth championship, in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his first Sprint Cup Series crew chief will be present at the track for a possible coronation that still will feel like validation regardless of the outcome.

“He was a kid when I met him,” Evernham said of Gordon, who was 21 when he made the first of a record 796 straight starts (and counting). “Some days, it takes my breath away when I look at the things we did the first time we met to what he’s accomplished now, and it makes me feel really good to know that I had this feeling about this young man. That he was special.

“From the day that I met him, I just had this feeling that he struck me as being special. He’s done that. He’s not disappointed me in any way, shape or form. He has truly become everything I thought he could be and more.”

Gordon already has transcended NASCAR as a superstar who also was a suave spokesman with mass appeal. Evernham believes if the four-time series champion goes out on top, it’ll thrust Gordon even further into the mainstream sporting consciousness.

“When you stop and think about what he could accomplish, it’s not just motorsports,” said Evernham, now a NASCAR on NBC analyst. “To me, that’s one of the biggest sporting stories in the world.

“If he were to win this championship, it puts him as a figure that can be used in the same sentence as a Muhammad Ali or somebody like that.”

The most obvious comparisons to Gordon have been John Elway leading the Denver Broncos to championships in his final two seasons or Ray Bourque winning his first title with the Colorado Avalanche in his last season in the NHL.

Evernham, though, views those as imperfect parallels.

“I know some guys closed their careers by winning Super Bowls, but the game of football hasn’t changed as much as racing,” he said. “Jeff’s done that over a period of 23 years with mechanical changes, rules changes, other competitors, different cars and tracks.

“He’s had to adapt and rethink the way he’s raced over the years. That just amazes me.”

Just as mind-boggling to Evernham is Gordon’s record for consecutive starts, which he believes isn’t appreciated enough for underscoring the driver’s intelligence and toughness.

“How many athletes have said they never missed a game in their whole career? I hope that years from now, the generations to come will realize what an accomplishment that is, let alone in a world that has become so extremely competitive,” Evernham said. “Auto racing is more competitive and harder to do now as a driver than it’s ever been.”

“That just says a lot about how he’s been smart enough. Talk to a guy like Mario Andretti who fought his way through all the years when people were dying at one or two a week, and how they had to change their style and know in a split-second whether to take a chance or not. It’s just amazing that Jeff has kept that sharpness over all those years.”

There’s a simple edge that still remains after all those years, too, said Evernham, who guided Gordon to 47 victories and three championships in 217 races from 1992-99.

“He’s Jeff Gordon,” Evernham said. “Like I keep saying, he might not be as good as he once was, but if Jeff Gordon is as good Sunday as he ever was, those guys are in trouble. That’s just the bottom line.

“If he can summon everything that he’s done in the last 23 or 24 years just one more time, the rest of those guys are in trouble.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings