Long: Jeff Gordon showed that even a superstar needs his mother

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – On one of the biggest days of his life, a boy sought his mother’s comfort.

Jeff Gordon had planned to sleep in Sunday, but the excitement of his final Sprint Cup race and the chance to win a fifth series championship awoke him early. When he pulled the shades up in his motorhome, he saw his mother walk by.

To many, Jeff Gordon is one of NASCAR’s greatest racers, someone as fierce behind the wheel as he is kind in public. So revered, racing royalty – Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton – were at Homestead-Miami Speedway to watch Gordon’s final ride and former President Bill Clinton wished him good luck on Twitter.

To Carol Bickford, though, he is Jeffrey Michael Gordon, the boy who dreamed of racing and excelled in ways few had. No matter what he does, Gordon will be always be her youngest child.

On a day that ended with Gordon finishing sixth and Kyle Busch winning the championship, it started with mother and son together.

And the son crying – “boohooing as loud as a person can boohoo,’’ Gordon said.

He thanked his mother for her support, thanked her for believing and thanked her for all that she and his stepfather had done throughout his life to get to this moment, to get to where Gordon could retire on his own terms and go out with the dignity of a driver running for a championship in his final race instead of just filling the field.

And the tears flowed.

Gordon said his mother remained strong while he cried.

“I think she was wanting me to not lose control, so she was trying to be the stronger person, but I didn’t care, I was like, I want to get it out right now before I walk out of this bus,’’ Gordon said. “There was tears pouring down my face.’’

They reminisced. Then Gordon the child told his mother about the crowd that surrounded him as he walked from his hauler to his car before Saturday’s final practice. He was struck by the crowd and the fans who chanted his name, similar to what fans did three weeks ago after he won at Martinsville Speedway for his 93rd and final series win. He responded that night by running into the crowd to high-five those who remained in the dark an hour after he won.

Sunday night, he ran into a fan who has been following him for 20 years and who has a full back tattoo of Gordon’s car – “that is commitment,’’ Gordon said. Gordon invited the fan to watch Gordon’s press conference.

Gordon has embraced the end of his Sprint Cup career as he has embraced the fans even more this season.

It makes the disappointment of not winning the race and the title more acceptable.

“Today is pure joy that he’s actually going out like this,’’ Gordon’s wife, Ingrid Vandebosch said. “He’s a champion, no matter what.’’

She arrived at his car after the race and embraced him, telling her husband that he “did a great  job and I love you and (the result) doesn’t matter right now.’’

Gordon’s first embrace after he exited the car for the final time was with car owner Rick Hendrick. They hugged three times.

“He said I love you and I said I love you,’’ Hendrick said. “It’s a relationship that I can’t explain. Never an argument, always a handshake. How can you do it any better than that?”

Then Gordon told Hendrick he wanted him to have his final helmet.

Since 1992, they have been together. Now it is ending.

“It’s real now,’’ Hendrick said, holding Gordon’s helmet. “Until right now and he got out of the car and gave me his helmet … it’s real, it’s over. Until right now it wasn’t over.’’

Gordon’s bid for a championship made it easy for those close to him to put off that this would be his last race but the community understood.

Drivers tweeted their appreciation. Reigning champion Kevin Harvick, who talked about his respect for Gordon earlier this week, had his picture taken kneeling next to Gordon’s car before the race.

Danica Patrick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson wore Gordon hats. A short video tribute to Gordon was played during the driver’s meeting, and his competitors gave him a 20-second standing ovation.

“That sendoff at the drivers’ meeting … just doesn’t happen like that very often, and I really, really appreciate it very, very much,’’ Gordon said.

Gordon gave back to fans and showed his competitors a glimpse of what was so common in the 1990s – him in front of the field. He led nine laps early.

“I kind of got excited and got my hopes up there, but then Kevin started coming on pretty strong, and then we had that restart, and I knew when those guys got by me I just didn’t quite have what they had. I was just lacking a couple little things.’’

His car’s handling didn’t improve and it became apparent that unless something dramatic happened, Gordon would not win the title.

That’s OK, he has a greater role to devote his time to now – that of father. Ella is 8, and Leo is 5. Ella understands this was papa’s last race; Leo doesn’t. But papa will be around more often for them now.

“I hope they realize that one of the reasons I’m doing it is to spend more time with them,’’ Gordon said earlier this week about retiring.

A parent spending time with their children.

Just as a boy spent time with his mother Sunday, crying and thanking her.

2021 NASCAR Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes

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The 2021 Cup schedule features the first race on a dirt track for the series in more than 50 years, three new venues and six road course points races.

Responding to fan interest, the series adds three road course events to the 2021 schedule. Those new races are May 23 at Circuit of the Americas, July 4 at Road America and Aug. 15 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The other points races on road courses in 2021 will be at Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval. The Daytona road course will host the Busch Clash exhibition race.

The race that might gain the most attention, though, could be the March 28 Cup race at Bristol. The track will be converted to dirt.

There are no midweek races. Pocono Raceway continues to have the only doubleheader weekend. There is a two-week break in late July/early August during the Olympics. NBC’s portion of the schedule will begin with the June 20 race at Nashville Superspeedway.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president & chief racing development officer, says the plan is to have practice and qualifying for new venues (Circuit of the Americas, Road America, Nashville) and new configurations (Indy road course) along with key events (Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Phoenix championship weekend). The plan is for the other races to be one-day shows.

The schedule is flush with change. Here’s a look at those changes:

NEW EVENTS

March 28 – Bristol Dirt race: It is the first Cup race on dirt since 1970 at Raleigh, a race won by Richard Petty.

May 9 – Darlington: The track that NASCAR returned to after the season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic this year will host two races in 2021. The track adds a spring date and it will be run on Mother’s Day. It will be only the third time in the last 40 years Cup has run on Mother’s Day. The added race comes from Michigan International Speedway, which will have one race in 2021.

May 23 – Circuit of the Americas: Inaugural race for the series on the road course in Austin, Texas that has hosted Formula One and IndyCar, among other series.

June 13 – All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway: First time the All-Star race has been held at this track. Marks third different year for the event after being in Charlotte in 2019 and Bristol this year.

June 20 – Nashville: The 1.333-mile track will hold its first race for Cup. The track hosted Xfinity and Truck races from 2001-11. The date comes from a Dover, leaving that race with one NASCAR race weekend in 2021. This weekend begins NBC Sports’ coverage of NASCAR races.

July 4- Road America: Will host the Cup Series for the first time. Gets holiday weekend with July 4 date. The date comes from Chicagoland Speedway, which will not have a NASCAR race in 2021.

July 11 – Atlanta: Kentucky race date moves to Atlanta to give track a second race. The first race at the track in 2021 will be March 21.

Aug. 15 – Indianapolis road course: After comping on the oval since 1994, Cup moves to the road course. Will be a part of a race weekend with the IndyCar Series. 

OTHER DATES OF NOTE

Feb. 21 – Miami: Moves to second race of the season and comes a week after Daytona 500.

Feb. 28 – Auto Club: Moves up a week earlier and this will be its last race as a 2-mile track. Track will be converted into a short track after this event for 2022.

April 10 – Martinsville: Track hosted its first night race in June but did not have fans because of the coronavirus. This April race will be at night. Provided fans will be allowed at that point, it will be their first time to witness a night Cup race there.

July 25 & Aug. 1: No Cup races because of the Olympics. 

Sept. 5 – Nov. 7: Cup playoffs. Same 10 tracks as 2020. Only difference is Texas and Kansas flip-flop weekends in the Round of 8. Texas will open that round on Oct. 17. Kansas will follow on Oct. 24. Round of 8 ends at Martinsville on Oct. 31. Phoenix again will host the title race, doing so Nov. 7.

 

2021 NASCAR CUP SERIES SCHEDULE

(Times, weekend schedule and TV info to be announced later)

 

Date Race / Track
Tuesday, February 9 Clash (Daytona Road Course)
Thursday, February 11 Duel at Daytona
Sunday, February 14 Daytona 500
Sunday, February 21 Homestead-Miami
Sunday, February 28 Auto Club
Sunday, March 7 Las Vegas
Sunday, March 14 Phoenix
Sunday, March 21 Atlanta
Sunday, March 28 Bristol Dirt
Saturday, April 10 Martinsville
Sunday, April 18 Richmond
Sunday, April 25 Talladega
Sunday, May 2 Kansas
Sunday, May 9 Darlington
Sunday, May 16 Dover
Sunday, May 23 COTA
Sunday, May 30 Charlotte
Sunday, June 6 Sonoma
Sunday, June 13 All-Star (Texas)
Sunday, June 20 Nashville Superspeedway
Saturday & Sunday, June 26-27 Pocono Doubleheader
Sunday, July 4 Road America
Sunday, July 11 Atlanta
Sunday, July 18 New Hampshire
Sunday, August 8 Watkins Glen
Sunday, August 15 Indianapolis Road Course
Sunday, August 22 Michigan
Saturday, August 28 Daytona
Sunday, September 5 Darlington
Saturday, September 11 Richmond
Saturday, September 18 Bristol
Sunday, September 26 Las Vegas
Sunday, October 3 Talladega
Sunday, October 10 Charlotte Roval
Sunday, October 17 Texas
Sunday, October 24 Kansas
Sunday, October 31 Martinsville
Sunday, November 7 Phoenix
  • Races in bold are playoff races

 

 

All-Star Race moves to Texas in 2021

All-Star Race
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The All-Star Race moves to Texas Motor Speedway in 2021, marking the third different track the event will held in a three-year period.

The 2021 race will be held June 13, the track announced Wednesday. Eddie Gossage, track president, said the race will be at night. He said he will talk to NASCAR about a format and wants to have fans play a role in the event.

The complete 2021 Cup schedule will be announced Wednesday afternoon by NASCAR.

MORE: COTA to host Cup road course race in 2021

MORE: 2021 Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes 

The All-Star Race was held from 1985-2019 at Charlotte Motor Speedway except for 1986 when Atlanta Motor Speedway held the race. The event moved to Bristol Motor Speedway in July because of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings in North Carolina.

Chase Elliott won Bristol All-Star Race.

Texas also announced it will host a NASCAR Camping World Truck race June 11 on All-Star weekend. The Xfinity Series will race June 12.

Texas will remain in the playoffs in 2021. It will host a Cup playoff race Oct. 17. The Xfinity Series will race at Texas on Oct. 16.

NASCAR Cup Series to go dirt trackin’ at Bristol in 2021

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Cup teams will compete on a dirt track for the first time in more than 50 years when the series races March 28 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the track announced. 

The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

“Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted many historic events over the years and we will be adding to that resume,” Jerry Caldwell, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said on Wednesday. “We can’t wait to see how the stars of NASCAR take to the dirt.”

MORE: 2021 Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes 

Said Austin Dillon of the race on dirt: “I’m super pumped. … I’m hoping it becomes a staple.”

Caldwell said the track will work with NASCAR on the race format for the dirt event.

“This is returning to our roots in racing,” Caldwell said. He noted that this concept has been talked about for “awhile.” He also said the track will “explore other options” on any other series that could race on dirt beyond NASCAR.

Caldwell said the change comes from feedback from fans. Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO, said Wednesday that he pitched the idea of a dirt race at Bristol for the 2020 schedule.

Bristol hosted dirt races in 2000-01 with the World of Outlaws (see video below of 2001 race) and dirt late models. The track used 14,000 truckloads of dirt for the project.

The last Cup race on dirt was Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Richard Petty won a 200-lap race on the half-mile track. He earned $1,000. Petty was among one of five Hall of Famers in the 23-car field that day. Bobby Isaac finished third, Bobby Allison placed sixth, Benny Parsons was 14th, Wendell Scott placed 20th.

The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series raced on dirt at Eldora Speedway from 2013-19. It was not held this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Bristol also will host a second race. That event again will be in the playoffs. The Sept. 18 race again will be an elimination race in the first round. The playoff race will be on the concrete track surface.

Road America to host 2021 Cup race on July 4

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Food, fireworks and road course racing will fill the July 4 calendar for NASCAR fans with Road America hosting the Cup series on that holiday weekend in 2021.

The track announced the race date Wednesday. The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

The 4.048-mile course has hosted Xfinity races since 2010. Among the current Cup drivers who won there in the Xfinity Series are Michael McDowell in 2016 and Christopher Bell in 2019.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

MORE: Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

MORE: 2021 Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes 

The track takes the holiday date that had been held by Daytona International Speedway from 1959-2018 before Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the Cup Series that weekend last year.

“We certainly have been working very close with (Road America) not only how we bring this to life but, ultimately, where it was going to be located on the schedule,” Ben Kennedy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, told NBC Sports, said of adding the Wisconsin track to the schedule. “We started to really toss around the idea of hey, what about July 4th weekend and what would that look like for the track?

“Just even the name, Road America, it feels like Americana and the July 4th weekend and everything. Fireworks, camping and cookout, everything that goes along with it. That track is almost synonymous with it. I think that’s where we really ended up kind of tying Road America to July 4th weekend. Working with NBC on that as well, they are certainly very bullish on it and excited about having Road America on that weekend.”

Tim Flock won the lone Cup race at Road America in 1956. Flock was among nine NASCAR Hall of Famers among the 26 drivers in that race. Others included Fireball Roberts (third), Herb Thomas (sixth), Buck Baker (eighth), Rex White (11th), Lee Petty (13th), Joe Weatherly (20th), Curtis Turner (24th) and Junior Johnson (26th).