Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon competing together for likely final time at Martinsville

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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FORT WORTH, TEXAS – Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon entered Sprint Cup racing seven years apart, but they’ll be leaving together, just on very different terms.

Stewart and Gordon, winners of seven combined Sprint Cup titles, will make what is likely their last NASCAR start together this weekend at Martinsville Speedway in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500.

If you can’t help but feel we’ve gone through this before, well, we have.

“Keep in mind we thought we were doing that last year in the same scenario,” Tony Stewart said two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway during his “Smoke Show” fantasy camp to benefit the Speedway Children’s Charities. “Who knows, he might be here 10 more years at the rate he’s going.”

Gordon and Stewart made their original “last” start together in the November 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, capping off Gordon’s farewell tour after 24 years on the circuit. Two months earlier, Stewart announced that 2016 would be his final season driving full-time in Sprint Cup after 18 full-time Cup seasons.

Stewart made it clear then that he did not want his final season to mirror Gordon’s, which consisted of gifts and special presentations by every track, including horses from Texas Motor Speedway.

“I’m not really that kind of guy,” Stewart said. “I’m content to go race and be around the racing community and the racing family and be around our fans. They can just send me a note from the track president and say, hey, thank you, and that’ll be sufficient for me.

“I think it’s been very fitting for Jeff. I don’t think I’m worthy of that kind of admiration because I think Jeff has really done so much for the sport that nobody will ever be able to do again.”

But as 2016 unfolded, Gordon wrote an unexpected epilogue in his racing story, while Stewart’s final chapter was shortened. A pre-season back injury kept Stewart from making his first start of 2016 until the ninth race at Richmond International Raceway.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a season-ending concussion in June that didn’t present symptoms until July, Gordon was enlisted by Hendrick Motorsports to drive his No. 88 Chevrolet in eight races. That’s eight more races for “Smoke” and “Wonder Boy” to write history together.

“I haven’t thought about it a lot, to be honest,” Stewart said at TMS. “No more than I did last year. But it’s cool to run (against him) again.”

Aside from giving the command to start engines for the Sprint All-Star Race in May, the only real ceremonial moment Stewart has taken part in was at the July 24 Brickyard 400, Gordon’s first race in the No. 88.

The two drivers, who have both called Indiana home at one point in their lives, did a post-race parade lap around the 2.5-mile track they’ve won seven combined races at as a salute to the fans and the state that gave birth to their Hall of Fame racing careers.

“The Indy deal was special because it was Indy,” Stewart said. “He lived in Pittsboro, he wasn’t born there, but he lived in Pittsboro a lot of his life and he was 20 minutes away, I was 45 minutes away from there (in Columbus, Indiana). That’s a special place to us. It was neat to share that together.”

And they’ll get to share their final Martinsville start together.

Gordon is the active all-time wins leader at the short track with nine victories, including his final Cup win there last October.

Stewart has three wins there, including one during his third and final championship campaign in 2011.

Entering Sunday’s race Stewart and Gordon have combined for 1,418 Sprint Cup Series starts, 142 wins, 96 poles, 37,751 laps led and seven championships.

Here’s a look at the tracks Stewart and Gordon have enjoyed much success at together:

Martinsville Speedway – Gordon (nine wins), Stewart (three wins)

Watkins Glen International – Stewart (five wins), Gordon (four wins)

Daytona International Speedway – Gordon (six wins), Stewart (four wins)

Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Gordon (five wins), Stewart (two wins)

Sonoma Raceway – Gordon (five wins), Stewart (three wins)

Dover International Speedway – Gordon (five wins), Stewart (three wins)