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Gordon to Pace Daytona 500

It was announced Friday afternoon four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Jeff Gordon, will serve as the pace car driver for the 59th running of the Great American Race behind the wheel of the new 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

“To me, you go down the list of prestigious things I have done, this is right at the top of the list,” Gordon said. “This is truly an honor to be asked to drive the pace car for the Daytona 500.”

A winner 93 times at the Cup level, Gordon won every race in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, so it’s only natural he will drive a Chevrolet at the front of the field Sunday afternoon.

He was a Daytona 500 victor three times, with wins coming in 1997, 1999, and 2005.

“Driving for Hendrick Motorsports for 23 years as a driver, to be able to lead this field in a Chevrolet Camaro but also have two Chevrolets in my rearview mirror, that makes it even more special,” he said.

One of those cars will be his old ride, the No. 24 now driven by Chase Elliott, and the other will be the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr., whom Gordon subbed for last season for a handful of races while Earnhardt dealt with lingering concussion symptoms.

After he steps out of the pace car, he will head up to the FOX broadcast booth to resume his broadcasting duties with Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip.

The Daytona 500 can be seen on FOX Sunday at 2 P.M. ET.

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Gordon Wins Overall Rolex 24 Title

Jeff Gordon, along with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates Max Angelelli, Jordan and Ricky Taylor, led the No. 10 Cadillac to its first successful run in the 55th Rolex 24 since 2005 at Daytona International Speedway.

The win comes as a sweet relief for the Taylor brothers, who failed to take home the checkered flag in last years event, and as a great end to an illustrious career for Angelelli, who insists this event will serve as his final race before retiring.

Although it’s another great victory to tack on to his list of Daytona 500’s and NASCAR championships, Gordon says victory in an event he failed to win in 2007 with the Taylor team is an exceptional feat unlike any other.

“I haven’t been this emotional for a win and an experience like this for a very long time,” Gordon said. “The reason is because I know what this means to this team, Wayne, these kids, Max. Oh my gosh. This is amazing — Daytona has always been special, but this one sent me over the top. I’m just blown away right now.”

However, it wasn’t a spotless victory for the Taylor team.

“I had the experience of being in the wet, and I couldn’t see anything. It was a hard — it was very hard to feel the car, let alone push it,” Gordon said of his own struggles in the cold and rainy conditions that led to a lengthy full-course caution period during his segment of the race.

After winning the second and third sections of the event, the foursome entered the final six hours with a one-point lead over the No. 5 Mustang Express team.

In the last hour of the event, with the Express team in the lead, Ricky Taylor made what is being considered a controversial pass, but nonetheless put the No. 10 at the front of the pack.

When Taylor made a final attempt at a pass on driver Filipe Albuquerque, with the No. 10 traveling on the inside of the No. 5, it wasn’t clear if he could make the pass cleanly. The two vehicles ended up making contact, sending Albuquerque spinning. Luckily, after the review, no penalty was issued to the No. 10 team.

With such an exciting and amazing race, Gordon was asked if he would compete in next years event, to which he replied, “I’m kind of like Max. I mean, I think retiring and going out on top is a pretty good thing… [but] it was a better experience than I even had in 2007, which was a good one. So who knows, maybe there’s the chance of one being even smoother and better.”

With this victory, Gordon joins Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, and Jamie McMurray as one of the only drivers to ever win both the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24, making this memorable victory all the more historical.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Emotion Defines Hall of Fame Induction for Hendrick

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When Rick Hendrick spoke Friday night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, it culminated an emotional week.

The Hendrick Motorsports owner has faced lots of adversity throughout his career but has also experienced incredible successes. These moments made the atmosphere surrounding this event special, but still difficult. 

“This has been the toughest week, besides losing a family member,” Hendrick said.

He took a step back from the everyday hustle ahead of the induction as he relived all the moments that led him to become a NASCAR Hall of Famer.

“I didn’t do anything else this week but just think about — go back and reflect on the past, and it just — man, it’s just like, I couldn’t help it,” Hendrick said. “I’ve never been that way.”

The memories ranged from his days of drag boat racing before he entered NASCAR to just having enough money to get by early in his career.

“And I’m kind of glad that I got to take a minute, and we shared stories about remember when I left to go to school and she was standing the boat in the yard, the drag boat, and we laughed about adding up our money in the back of the Winn-Dixie to make sure we could pay when we got out,” Hendrick said. “You know, those kind of things you just forget about, and then you think about the ones we lost.”

Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship last November added to the emotion of the honor, particularly since Johnson dedicated the race and the championship to Hendrick’s late son Ricky.

“My son, when Jimmie just — it was the sweetest thing ever when he dedicated the race and was talking to Ricky,” Hendrick said.

Throughout Hendrick’s illustrious career, he has referenced people as the cornerstone of successful business. Treating people like family served as one of his pillars of success and continues to influence how he operates his team.

“We are like a big family, even though it’s a lot of us, we care about each other, and I don’t care if people think that’s corny,” Hendrick said. “That’s the way I was raised. It’s worked for me, and it’s worked in our companies, both of them.”

Executive Director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Winston Kelley attested to how people-oriented Hendrick is and delivered him a compliment on Friday night that added to the prestige of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“When Winston told me when I walked in here, he said, there was one thing I can tell you about the fabric of both of your companies, your people love you,” Hendrick said. “And I said, you know what, you’re telling me that means as much to me as getting into the Hall of Fame because I feel like job well done because you look after your people and they look after you.”

Before Friday night’s ceremony, Hendrick gathered with some of his closest friends and family, including a doctor that saved his life and he couldn’t help but let the emotion of the moment show.

“We’re all emotions up and down, and we had a little champagne toast before I went in there, and the two doctors, the doctor that invented the medicine that saved my life was in there, and I lost it,” Hendrick said. “I mean, Jeff Gordon said, I’ve never seen you that emotional in there since I’ve known you.”

While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the fast pace of NASCAR and the automotive world for Hendrick, taking in the emotion of this honor that only 40 men have now ever received allowed him time to slow down, reflect, and celebrate.

“I think you get so busy in life, you’re looking at today and what you’re going to do tomorrow and plan for how you’re going to race this year, how you’re going to — I’ve got roll-outs with the automotive group next week and I’m knee deep in numbers trying to get ready,” Hendrick said.

Focusing on the future remains vital to success for Hendrick, but for one night he embraced the idea of cherishing all the moments that led him to become one of the latest racing legends inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

Changing of the Guard In Line with New Era

Change is difficult, but it’s not so bad when there are greater things ahead.

When Carl Edwards dropped a bombshell on the NASCAR industry this week, it surprised everyone. One of the sport’s most likable and talented drivers is stepping away from racing after finishing runner-up in the championship standings twice. It was a tough pill to swallow, especially since Edwards is only 37-years-old.

Many drew comparisons to similar announcements by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Gordon “retired” in 2015 yet made starts in the No. 88 last season to help out Hendrick Motorsports, while Stewart hung up his helmet this past November. Both made the announcements before the season began, giving fans a farewell tour of sorts. For Edwards, he acted on his personal decision immediately, something his gut told him to do.

When three well-known drivers leave within two seasons, it seems like the sport is falling apart – except it’s not. It’s simply ushering in a new era.

A lot of change has been announced since the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In addition to Smoke and Edwards leaving, the series is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The evolution isn’t stopping there, either; NASCAR has hinted at more adjustments coming in the next week or so. This new sponsorship deal caused a domino effect, allowing the sanctioning body to work on their brand and image. This was expected, yet it is still a shock.

Despite Monster’s entrance setting up change, this was brewing under the surface for a while. The youth movement emerged years ago and is still going strong, with NASCAR XFINITY Series champ Daniel Suarez taking over Edwards’ Joe Gibbs Racing ride. Although an unintended byproduct of this announcement, Suarez’s promotion proves times are changing. The dynamic between veteran drivers and youngsters has undergone a drastic remodel. Rookies are now legitimate threats, with sharp skills and quality equipment. Suarez moving up to the No. 19 is a testament to young guns throughout the entire sport.

With younger drivers and an energy drink sponsor, the fan base should become saturated with younger people. That’s the goal here; NASCAR has turned over many stones since its inception, but it failed to capture the interest of young adults. There is so much potential for growth at the moment – and that should excite people, even if their favorite driver steps away.

Although various sports go through a ‘changing of the guard,’ NASCAR’s current transition is both jarring and complex. Three of the sport’s most recognizable names walking away emphasizes that. They’re leaving a large hole, a gaping unknown that is meant to be filled with Cup Series improvements and young talent.

It’s a crazy way to ring in a new era – but there is so much in store. Let’s embrace it.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Chase Elliott

As expected, Chase Elliott came out this season and put together an impressive rookie campaign, leaving both fans and naysayers pleased.

 

Car No. : 24

Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Wins: 0

Top-Fives: 10

Top-10s: 17

Points Finish: 10

2016 Quick Summary: Elliott proved he was up to the task of replacing Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 car in 2016. Elliott won the pole for the Daytona 500 in February and followed that up with an impressive 10 top-five finishes which includes two runner-up finishes, both coming at Michigan. His season was topped off with his first career Chase berth and Rookie of the Year honors in the Cup Series. Elliott finished 10th in the championship standings.

2016 Highlight(s): Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year, Daytona 500 pole sitter.

2016 Lowlight(s): Elliott’s dream rookie season would end in heartbreak as a 33rd place finish at Charlotte and a 31st place finish at Kansas would end his championship hopes in the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

2017 Outlook: Look for Elliott to rack up his share of wins during the 2017 season as well as make a return trip to the Chase when the first Chase race at Chicagoland rolls around in September. With veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson back on top of the pit box and a full year of Cup experience under his belt, there is no reason not to think Elliott can’t be in contention for the championship in November.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

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News

Jeff Gordon to Race at Daytona in 2017

Jeff Gordon will compete at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

The four-time NASCAR premier series champion will not be in a stock car, though. He’ll be in a sports car as a co-driver with Jordan and Ricky Taylor and endurance racer Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R for Wayne Taylor Racing.

The car will compete in the Prototype class in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the season-opening event of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“When I announced I would no longer be competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, my hope was that I would get an opportunity like this to compete again in such a prestigious event — with Konica Minolta and Wayne Taylor Racing — with the hopes of winning it this time,” Gordon said. “I know that Ricky and Jordan are super-fast, and I believe it will be a very strong combination.”

Gordon ran the 24-hour race on Daytona’s road course configuration in 2007 with Angelelli, Jan Magnussen, and Wayne Taylor as the drivers for SunTrust Racing, where they finished third overall.

“I think it is exceptional to have Jeff back with us after 10 years,” Angelelli said. “I look forward to sharing our new Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R racecar with him, discussing our setup and race strategy. It was great the first time — we might have won that race if some things would have gone our way. Now that it’s happening again, with the new car, it’s going to be absolutely great.”

Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who finished third in this year’s WeatherTech Championship Prototype standings, also look forward to racing with the 45-year-old NASCAR legend.

“It used to be common to have NASCAR guys joining teams for the Rolex but over recent years, it’s become less and less frequent,” Jordan Taylor said. “Jeff Gordon is a name that everyone knows worldwide. I can’t wait to compare notes and feedback with such a legend of our sport. It’s going to be an experience of a lifetime.”

Ricky Taylor added, “Having Jeff Gordon join the team is really a dream come true for all of us. It is a huge compliment to how well-respected the team has become over the years for someone with the history and career of Jeff Gordon to want to be a part of it. I’m sure he will be a great addition to the lineup, and hopefully, we can all get our first Rolex 24 win together.”

Gordon and the team will test the car during the IMSA’s test sessions at Daytona on Dec. 13-14 and Jan. 6-8, 2017.

The 55th running of the Rolex 24 will take place on the weekend of Jan. 26-29, 2017.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Elimination Doesn’t Define Elliott’s Rookie Season

Expectations were high for Chase Elliott entering 2016 as he embarked on his Sprint Cup Series rookie season piloting Jeff Gordon’s famed No. 24 car.

Elliott excelled in two full-time XFINITY Series seasons driving for JR Motorsports. By capturing the championship in 2014 and scoring 53 top-10 finishes in 66 races during his two full-time seasons, he showed tremendous promise.

He delivered on this potential throughout 2016 and emerged as the most successful Sprint Cup Series rookie in a decade.

The No. 24 team began the year with momentum on their side by winning the Daytona 500 pole. They then finished inside the top-10 five times in the season’s first eight races and consistently ran near the front.

From Talladega in May until Michigan in June, Elliott captured six consecutive top-10 performances. He finished inside the top-five in four of these races, including leading a race-high 51 laps at Pocono. 

During the following race at Michigan, the 20-year-old picked up his first of two runner-up finishes in 2016. He finished second again when the series returned to Michigan in August when he contended for the victory late but came up short to Kyle Larson.

He secured his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup based on points and became the first rookie along with Chris Buescher to make the playoffs since Denny Hamlin accomplished the feat in 2006.

Elliott performed exceptionally in the Round of 16. He finished third twice at Chicagoland and Dover and easily made the second round.

However, bad luck struck at Charlotte to begin the Round of 12 when the No. 24 was involved in a crash on a restart that included five other playoff contenders. Elliott and Austin Dillon suffered the most damage and faced a premature end to their day.

Elliott’s bad luck continued at Kansas as he had multiple tire issues which led to a 31st-place finish and set up a must-win situation at Talladega Superspeedway if he hoped to advance to the Round of 8.

He showed strength early in the race by running up front and consistently challenging Brad KeselowskiOnce the race neared its conclusion, he was unable to return to the front and finished 11th and was eliminated from championship contention.

However, an early elimination won’t define Elliott’s Chase performance or overall season. Through 32 races in 2016, he has scored nine top-five and 15 top-10 finishes.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has picked up the most top five’s for a rookie since Kyle Busch also accumulated nine finishes of fifth or better en route to rookie of the year honors in 2005. Elliott could potentially top Busch if he can score another top-five run in the final four races.

While the No. 24 team hasn’t won this season, they have shown the capability of reaching Victory Lane They now have four more opportunities to cap off an already impressive rookie season with a win.

Competing in the playoffs and his many impressive performances throughout the season attest to Elliott’s strength this year. As he continues to gain experience and use what he has learned moving forward, he will be able to elevate his career and reach new heights in the coming years and beyond.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Gordon’s Biography Offers Different, Refreshing Presentation

During NASCAR’s popularity surge in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there came a glut of books about the sport and its people.

Histories, compilations and biographies … you name it and it was available. To be honest most of them were good. And some were not.

Over recent years there has been a decline in books about NASCAR and I think that is a reflection of the sports slow but steady demise after the popularity explosion.

The word is that NASCAR books no longer sell. I’ve reached the conclusion that the only way to change that, even minutely, is for a new publication to be fresh, informative and, most important, entertaining.

And a biography needs to be something other than a catalog of the subject’s racing endeavors; his on-track efforts week after week.

I think we now have just that.

If “Jeff Gordon, His Drive & Destiny” were just another routine biography that glorified the Hendrick Motorsports driver – not hard to do, by the way – I have no doubt that stores would place it on their bargain racks in short order.

But it’s not. Admittedly, I have been around a long time and my shelves are loaded with NASCAR books – yours may be, also.

So for a biography to impress me, even slightly, it has to tell me things about the subject that most of us never knew. It has to be personal and honest. If I want to learn about his racing achievements, I’ll look them up on the Internet. No need to read a word.

Yes, Gordon’s book does indeed recount his on-track victories, frustrations and championships. But, thankfully, there is much more – it’s personal and, in some cases, not so flattering.

Some examples:

 

jeffgordonbook— As a kid, Gordon may have been a baby-faced racing protégé, but he was all boy, which means he was by no means perfect.

He would slip out of his house at night and hookup with a friend who owned a car but did not have a driver’s license. They would go from Vallejo to San Francisco and spend the early hours of the morning skateboarding in parking lots.

His parents finally busted Gordon. They threatened to send him to military school. He cried his way out of it.

 

While traveling across the country amid a storm and freezing temperatures with stepfather, mentor and business manager John Bickford, a stop was made at Gilley’s in Houston.

Gordon immediately took to the available video games and started playing five-card draw poker. He kept hitting Bickford up for quarters.

Bickford was puzzled. Then he learned that the poker game had an image of a pretty girl. Every time Gordon won a hand her top would come off.

Gordon, just a kid, thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.

 

— Gordon was already a superstar in Sprint Cars and on ESPN’s “Thursday Night Thunder” series when he ventured into stock cars at the Buck Baker Driving School in Rockingham. ESPN effectively picked up the $4,000 tab by televising the happenings.

Gordon excelled on the track. That was all it took. He went back to the motel and breathlessly told his mother Carol that he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. It was NASCAR and not the Indy 500. Then he dragged her to the speedway to meet everyone.

 

— History has duly recorded Ray Evernham’s influence, personally and competitively, on Gordon and his career.

To acquire Evernham’s services for Gordon, who was with Bill Davis’ Busch Series team in 1992, Ford agreed to pay a reluctant Davis half of Evernham’s $50,000 salary.

Years later, after Gordon and Evernham enjoyed much success with team owner Rick Hendrick, Evernham was lured by Dodge to form his own team.

Evernham wanted to do his own thing; to advance his career. However, he was reluctant to do so because of his affinity with Gordon and Hendrick.

But when he was not allowed to contribute his ideas for the team’s championship ring – Gordon had nothing to do with it – his mind was made up. He was gone.

 

— After his first victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis an exhausted Gordon finally returned to his hotel room. He was famished.

He called Pizza Hut and ordered a pepperoni and pineapple pizza (!) for delivery. He was told that heavy traffic around the speedway would delay the process for hours.

Gordon played the celebrity card. He told Pizza Hut who he was and what he had done. His order was filled in 30 minutes. He handed out a $100 tip.

 

There is much more – such as Gordon’s bitter and expensive divorce from first wife Brooke (more interested in herself than anything else), his escapades with fellow Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson in New York (aspiring actresses, models), and his decision to retire, which was made a full year before it happened (One day while he was shaving, daughter Ella walked in and asked, “Papa, why are you crying?”).

There’s plenty to read about Gordon’s career and his thoughts about the many things and people that were part of it.

But hopefully you have gotten an idea of what makes the routine something pleasantly and surprisingly different.

“Jeff Gordon, His Dream, Drive & Destiny,” has earned its place on my bookshelf. And in my opinion it belongs on yours, for sure.

 

EDITORS NOTE: The Gordon book is available at http://store.jeffgordon.com.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Commentary

Gordon or Bowman Could Bring 88 to Victory Lane

With Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sitting out the remainder of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season and recovering from concussion-like symptoms, does the Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet still have a chance at visiting Victory Lane before the year is over?

Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman have been summoned to be the substitutes for the rest of the season. Gordon will drive at Richmond International Raceway, Dover International Speedway, and Martinsville Speedway while Bowman races the other eight remaining events.

Gordon hasn’t been very impressive since his return to Cup competition. He has finishes of 13th, 27th, 14th, 11th and 14th in his five starts. He’s also failed to lead a lap or qualify in the top 10. But remember, he’s Jeff Gordon — a NASCAR legend with four Cup championships and 93 career wins. Never count out the 45-year-old racer, especially at Dover and Martinsville, where he has a combined 14 victories.

In 2015, Gordon won at Martinsville to advance to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But performance-wise, the No. 24 didn’t have the speed to contend for wins every weekend and averaged a finish of 14th last year. For most of the season, Gordon was a top-10 car at best, but his win at the paperclip track demonstrated he could get the job done no matter what kind of car he has.

Bowman has looked a little faster than Gordon in the No. 88; although, he’s had some bad luck. At New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July, he was running eighth with 30 laps remaining, but suffered a flat tire and finished 26th. At Michigan International Speedway in August, he qualified sixth, ran in the top five early on, but had an engine issue and was forced to take the car behind the wall and finish 30th.

But Bowman has eight more races to prove himself in the series. He’s driven the No. 88 for JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series five times this season, and has a top-10 result in each race, along with a pole. We know he’s fast when he’s in top-notch equipment — it’s just a matter of the Tucson, Ariz. putting complete races together.

So what would happen if Gordon or Bowman were to pull off a substitute win?

Well, it’s been awhile since someone filling in for an injured driver has won a race, so that’s a story within itself. The last one was Jamie McMurray, who drove the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 40 to victory in only his second career start as a substitute for Sterling Marlin after he suffered a neck injury at Kansas Speedway in 2002.

But imagine if Gordon were to win in what likely are his final three career starts. Obviously, he wouldn’t be eligible for the championship since he hasn’t been a series regular this year. But a 94th career victory would add to his tremendous legacy and probably send fans and media into a frenzy.

If Bowman were to win, it would shock the NASCAR world, too. Here’s a 23-year-old racer trying to make a name for himself and what better way than to win for Earnhardt? The fans have been supportive for Earnhardt making his health a priority over racing, and Bowman would win the hearts of Junior Nation if he were to park the No. 88 in Victory Lane.

Bowman ran two full seasons in Cup the last two years, but it was with BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. These two organizations don’t have the strength to compete with powerhouse teams such as Hendrick or Joe Gibbs Racing, so he never really got to showcase his potential. But the opportunity to race in the seat of NASCAR’s most popular driver is a priceless moment for Bowman’s career.

Junior Nation will have to wait until 2017 to see their favorite driver behind the wheel again, but his team is still competing every week. Now with stability in the schedule, things can only get better.

Gordon has nothing left to prove, but a win would be as great a comeback story as there’s ever been in motorsports. For Bowman, he’d establish himself as a racer that can, and should, stick around at NASCAR’s top level for years to come.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Earnhardt Jr. Ruled Out for Remainder of 2016 Season

Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday morning that Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t been medically cleared to return to competition for the remainder of the 2016 season as he continues to recover from a concussion.

The 41-year-old has undergone a regular evaluation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program with Dr. Micky Collins and Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty since first stepping out of the car at New Hampshire in July.

“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” Earnhardt said. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career.”

When Earnhardt Jr. returned to the track at Watkins Glen last month to address the media, he reiterated his focus on recovery and not retirement, and he continues to recover in order to return to competition in 2017.

“I’m 100 percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me,” he said. “They’re seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that.”

“The support from both inside and outside the race team has been overwhelming,” he said. “Everyone has been so encouraging and positive, from my teammates and sponsors to my family, friends and fans. It’s motivating and humbling at the same time.”

“I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him,” Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports said.

“He wants to be back, and we want him back, but we want it to be for the long haul. We’ve had incredible support from everyone involved with the team, including all of our sponsors. They’ve put Dale’s health first every step of the way.”

In Earnhardt Jr.’s absence, Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman have shared the seat in the No. 88 car. Bowman competed at New Hampshire and Michigan, and Gordon made his return to competition at Indianapolis and then raced at Pocono, Watkins Glen, and Bristol. The two drivers will continue to share the ride in the season’s remaining 12 races.

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Michigan

Alex Bowman

As previously announced, Gordon will compete this weekend at Darlington Raceway. He will then race in three more events this season, at Richmond, Dover, and Martinsville. Gordon has 23 combined career wins at these tracks, including nine at Martinsville where he captured the victory last November.

Bowman will fill the rest of the schedule and compete at Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead-Miami. He has at least two career Sprint Cup starts at these facilities.

“Jeff and Alex will give us a great opportunity over the rest of the season,” Rick Hendrick said.

“Jeff is one of the best of all time and knows our system. He brings things to the table that no one else can. Alex is a young driver with a lot of talent, and he will give us a fresh perspective. We know they’re not only capable of running up front and giving us a chance to win, but they’ll help us get better.”

Earnhardt Jr. will address the media on Sunday at Darlington along with Rick Hendrick and Dr. Micky Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

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