Long: Tears and emotions plentiful at Sprint Cup Awards


LAS VEGAS – Jeff Gordon cried in his final appearance as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.

Martin Truex Jr. nearly did as well, but summoned the strength girlfriend Sherry Pollex has faced in battling ovarian cancer to tell the crowd at Wynn Las Vegas: “We’ve learned that life isn’t just about living, it’s about being alive.’’

Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch first thanked the doctors who reassembled his broken bones earlier this year and saved a special message at the end of his speech for wife Samantha that left her wiping her eyes, and trying to hold back tears.

This was not a typical NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards where the drone of thank yous, while necessary, proves numbing.

Yes, thanks were given, but this night felt so much different and that had nothing to do with Tom Cruise’s surprise cameo to introduce Gordon, his friend.

Gordon was brought to tears by Cruise’s appearance – “That messed me up, that got me good,’’ Gordon said. As they shared an extended embrace on stage, Cruise told Gordon: “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.’’

Gordon told Cruise: “Man, I wish I was an actor like you because I’m getting ready to struggle with this speech.’’

He did multiple times in his final act as a Sprint Cup driver. Gordon’s quivering voice halted as he talked about the end of “a fulfilling career.’’

He caught himself, sniffled and scrunched his face as he tried to restrain more tears. They returned when he thanked car owner Rick Hendrick and wife Linda. After saying their names, Gordon could only say “thank you so much” before he briefly broke down. Gordon had told Hendrick beforehand he would say little about his boss because he wouldn’t be able to get through the speech with all that he wanted to say. Same for Gordon’s family.

“When I speak, I speak with my heart,’’ Gordon said afterward. “When it’s speaking from my heart in a thankful way and appreciative way and I start to really go there in my mind, the river starts flowing.’’

Gordon held back the river but the tears were plentiful.

Kevin Harvick joked about having to follow Gordon’s speech, but Gordon had to follow Truex.

Truex ended his speech by talking about Pollex, who was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer in August 2014. That came as Truex was struggling in his first year at Furniture Row Racing. AS Pollex’s condition has improved, so did Truex’s fortunes on the track, leading to a spot in the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The only advice I have for you tonight,’’ Truex told about 1,500 people in the ballroom and an NBCSN audience, “is to enjoy every moment, celebrate life, help others and never give up.’’

Then he looked at Pollex.

“Sherry, thank you for being in my life,’’ Truex said, his voice wavering. “You’re an inspiration, and I love you very much.’’

Gordon saw the emotion and said he thought: “I’m not going to be the only one (emotional).’’

Gordon admits that Truex “held it together far better than I could have ever.’’

Kyle Busch felt the emotions within him as he turned to his wife at the head table and thanked her at the end of his speech, moments after they cried while watching a video of the past season.

Their journey to this moment had been anything but easy. The struggles on the track most knew about. The issues with infertility had not until they revealed it after Samantha became pregnant. Three months before their long-coveted child was to be born, Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot in a crash in Daytona International Speedway. Suddenly, Samantha had to care for her injured husband.

He returned to racing days before son Brexton was born in May, beginning a remarkable journey that led to a Sprint Cup title.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t thank you for giving me the best gift life can give in our Brexton,’’ Busch said toward the end of his speech, as Samantha cried. “I love you.’’

Through tears, Samantha mouthed to her husband “I love you.’’

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

William Byron wins Cup pole at COTA


William Byron will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron won the pole with a lap of 93.882 mph around the 3.41-mile road course Saturday. He becomes the first Cup driver to win a pole at four different road courses: Charlotte Roval (2019), Road America (2021), Indianapolis road course (2021) and COTA (2023).

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Byron will be joined on the front row by Tyler Reddick, who had posted the fastest lap in Friday’s practice and fastest lap in the opening round of qualifying Saturday. Reddick qualified at 93.783 mph.

Austin Cindric (93.459 mph) qualified third. Former IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, substituting for an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, qualified fourth with a lap of 93.174 mph. AJ Allmendinger (93.067) will start fifth.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

Ross Chastain, who won this event a year ago, qualified 12th. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen qualified 22nd, former world champion Jenson Button qualified 24th, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 31st and IndyCar driver Conor Daly qualified 35th.

Sunday Cup race at Circuit of the Americas: Start time, TV info, weather


Is this Toyota’s weekend?

Chevrolet won the first four races of the season. Ford won last weekend with Joey Logano at Atlanta. Is it Toyota’s turn to win its first Cup race of the season? Or does Chevrolet return to dominance?

Chevrolet drivers have won 11 of the past 12 Cup races on road courses. The exception was Christopher Bell‘s win for Toyota at the Charlotte Roval in last year’s playoffs. Chevrolets have won the two previous Cup races at COTA: Chase Elliott in 2021 and Ross Chastain in 2022.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard in “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting at 2:45 p.m. … Driver introductions at 3:05 p.m. … Invocation will be given by Sage Steele, ESPN broadcaster, at 3:30 p.m. … Jaime Camil, actor from “Schmigadoon” on Apple TV+, will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 68 laps (231.88 miles) on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 15. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and moves to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and will also stream at goprn.com; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly cloudy with a high of 80 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

STARTING LINEUP: COTA Cup starting lineup

LAST YEAR: Ross Chastain scored his first career Cup win in a physical battle with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap. Alex Bowman finished second. Christopher Bell placed third.


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NASCAR Saturday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


Saturday will be a busy day at Circuit of the Americas, as all three national series are on the track.

Cup will qualify ahead of the Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series races.

The forecast Saturday calls for sunny conditions and no chance of rain all day. The high is expected to be 69 degrees during Cup qualifying, 76 degrees at the start of the Truck race and 81 degrees for the start of the Xfinity race.

Zane Smith looks to win his second consecutive Truck race at the road course in Austin, Texas. AJ Allmendinger seeks his second consecutive Xfinity win at COTA.

Saturday, March 25

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

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

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)