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


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.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


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


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.

NASCAR Friday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s new Cup Series aerodynamic package for short tracks and road courses will be tested in competition on a road circuit for the first time this weekend as the tour stops at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

All three major national series will be in action at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn track this weekend. The schedule begins Friday with practice for all three series and qualifying for Xfinity and Trucks.

MORE: Drivers say North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will be challenging

The Friday practice was added for Cup teams because of the new competition package, providing 50 minutes of on-track time for adjustments. Teams also will be racing with a new tire compound this weekend.

Chase Elliott (2021) and Ross Chastain (2022) are winners from the previous Cup races at COTA. Elliott won the inaugural event in a race shortened by rain, and Chastain won after a last-lap battle with AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman. The victory was Chastain’s first in the series.

A look at Friday’s schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning. Mostly sunny later. High of 87 with an 80% chance of rain.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)