Podcast: Jeff Gordon on his past, present and future at Hendrick Motorsports

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Rick Hendrick recently recalled his first meeting with Jeff Gordon. His future driver, barely in his 20s, showed up carrying a briefcase with a stock-car magazine and a Nintendo Game Boy.

So, what was with the briefcase, Jeff?

“I mean where else am I supposed to put my Game Boy?” Gordon asked with a laugh during Wednesday’s episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast (and adding he also had an open-wheel magazine). “I did want to look professional. I guess I needed more than a briefcase. Somebody told me, probably my dad, you really need to get a briefcase to look the part. He forgot to tell me all the other pieces like the suit and tie and shaving the mustache.”

It didn’t hurt his chances for a ride at Hendrick Motorsports.

That first meeting in Hendrick’s office at his Charlotte dealership headquarters (Gordon remembers being “pretty nervous and intimidated. (Hendrick) was the coolest, nicest guy, and that certainly helped the decision”) began a business relationship and friendship that has lasted more than a quarter-century.

After four championships and 93 victories in Hendrick’s No. 24 Chevrolet from 1993-2015, Gordon retired to become a NASCAR on Fox analyst in ‘16. He remains actively involved with Hendrick Motorsports in an executive-level position, though (and once in the temporary role of substitute driver).

Calling it a “balancing act” that he has learned to master partly as a member of multiple councils in NASCAR (team owners, drivers, format changes), Gordon said his role shifts at the start of each year for six months.

“When January comes around, my attention focuses really primarily on Fox and the broadcast that’s going to go through June every weekend,” he said. “But in between that I’m doing all that I can whether on the marketing side, the PR side, the competition side with Hendrick to give my input and thoughts.

“So usually once after June is up, and I take a little time off, I’m really heavy into a lot of those meetings and decisions, working with (Hendrick president) Marshall Carlson, (competition executive) Jeff Andrews and (vice president of marketing) Pat Perkins in any way that I can assist and help.”

Gordon said he is hoping to ease the burden of Hendrick, who founded the powerhouse team in 1984 and restructured its competition department in the offseason.

“Rick has done this for so long and been so involved, and he still likes to be involved, but I think he’d like to take a step back at times, and he’s earned and deserved that and can enjoy life,” Gordon said. “So if I can take a little pressure off him whether it be interacting with sponsors or taking a specific meeting, then I’m there to do it.”

Gordon said it can be tricky at times to walk the line between broadcaster and team employee, noting that Hendrick’s “crew chiefs and engineers look at me slightly different” when he is doing preseason research on competition to help be better prepared and informed on air.

“I’m not trying to pull anything out for TV, but I can’t help but think in the back of their mind they’re going, ‘Well, is he going to retain this and use it on TV?’ I’ll say at the same time, that’s not the job,” he said. “The job is all about what is something that isn’t the obvious about the skill level of the driver, the crew chief, the pit crew, what the car is doing. I actually started out trying to get more on the technical side because I do like that. It’s a part of what you do as a driver. But sometimes that gets lost in the broadcast real quick because it can get too much. I think there’s just the right amount. All I want to do is be knowledgeable about it, not ‘Hey let’s reveal something that is a top-secret thing.’ ”

Being objective but also candid and critical of drivers when necessary also is important to Gordon, who kept some professional distance from his peers while in racing.

“I hope that if anyone listens to the broadcast and my point of view, that they realize I’m doing my absolute best to call it the way I see it and try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but also be as non-biased as possible,” he said. “And that becomes a challenge at times, too, because of my relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and the years I drove there, but I also have come to realize that everybody has a bias to some degree. It is a balancing act.”

Among other topics discussed on the podcast:

–His recent humorous encounter with an angry motorist on I-4 in Florida;

–The need for drama and emotions from drivers;

–His potential candidacy for the NASCAR Hall of Fame;

–The youth movement in the Cup Series (“I’m so anxious to watch what’s going to happen with some of these young guys … I see a lot of fans out there that love the sport and looking for that next driver to pull for to pull for the next 15-20 years.”);

–The best race he ever drove;

–The likelihood of his kids racing in the future;

Click on the embed above to hear the podcast or listen and subscribe to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcherGoogle PlaySpotify or wherever you download podcasts to receive the free episodes automatically.

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

MORE: Toyota looking to expand NASCAR presence

Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.