Best of GarageCam: Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300
Matt Dillner leads you through the NNS garage as they prepare for Final Practice giving you an inside look at your favorite drivers preparing for the Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300.
Hamlin rides fresh tires to overtime XFINITY win at Charlotte
RELATED: Full Charlotte race results CONCORD, N.C. -- In an event that bore notable similarities to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race a week earlier, Denny Hamlin won Saturday's Hisense 4K TV 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a pass on the final lap. Hamlin's fresh rubber trumped the old tires of Kyle Larson and Joey Logano , who restarted ahead of Hamlin in overtime at the 1.5-mile track. In fact, Hamlin restarted sixth on Lap 205 after coming to pit road for four new tires under the eighth and final caution of the race, brought out when polesitter Erik Jones , Hamlin's teammate, slammed the outside wall and performed the coup de grace on his already wounded No. 20 Toyota. "It was a second opportunity, obviously," Hamlin said. "I was hoping for that caution there at the end, and we got it and we were able to get four tires on this Hisense Camry and took off. A little closer than what I thought -- I mean, we were just really tight those last couple laps, but what a great day." The victory was Hamlin's first of the year in his only start so far, and it was the fifth this season for the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the first four coming with Kyle Busch behind the wheel. Logano surged ahead of Larson at the restart, but Hamlin gained huge momentum on his new tires from the outside lane. With less than a lap left, Hamlin got past Logano and held on to win the race by .291 seconds over Austin Dillon , who edged Logano for second in the final corner. Dillon had opted for right-side tires only on his final pit stop. But for a timely caution, however, Hamlin would not have had the opportunity to win the race. As they had done a week earlier in the All-Star race, Larson and Logano swapped the lead, with Logano powering past Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet on lap 166 of a scheduled 200 , and Larson regaining the top spot with five laps left in regulation. But when Jones slammed into the wall on Lap 199, Hamlin had the chance to come to pit road for tires under caution, while Larson and Logano stayed out to preserve their track position. With just two cars up front on old tires, as had been the case for the final restart in the All-Star race, Hamlin made short work of the cars in front of him. It was the third last-lap pass for the win in the XFINITY Series this season. Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gayle conferred before the final pit stop and ultimately opted for the fresh rubber. "It was a collaborative call," Hamlin said. "He (Gayle) leaned towards staying out, but I thought that I could get around those guys in just two laps even though we were way faster on that last run. I thought tires were the thing. "I knew if I could start on the outside that I wanted new tires and it just worked out on pit road where I came out on the outside. It all worked out and it was very exciting in that last corner, a little more exciting than what I expected." Hamlin desperately needed the final caution because his No. 18 team had drawn a penalty for an uncontrolled tire on a pit stop under yellow on Lap 160. Hamlin restarted mid-pack instead of at the rear of the field as the violation requires, because according to NASCAR, the cars at the rear of the field failed to pass Hamlin’s No. 18 Camry before the green flag waved on Lap 164. Hamlin said he left a large buffer for the laps-down car to pass him before the restart, but that they declined to do so. By the time Jones hit the wall, Hamlin had driven to third place, trailing only Larson and Logano. The similarities to the finish of the All-Star Race were not lost on Logano. "I thought it was kind of supposed to be like what the All-Star Race was with old tires and new tires, but the (my car) was the fastest it's been all year," Logano said. "We can't hold our heads down about it. We had a car that was capable of winning if circumstances went right. I felt like I was going have a good restart next to Kyle. "I felt my restarts were a little better than his all day, and I thought, 'OK, if I can clear him,' which we did I was like, 'Alright, we've got a shot,' but it was really hard to hold off those four tires. What a fun race. It got really exciting there at the end. I got passed on the top by Denny and then Kyle just kept ripping up top and had a big run into the corner, so it was fun to watch that. I was hoping they would get into each other, and I would sneak one out."
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Owner Standings
After Race 13 of the 2016 season at Charlotte Motor Speedway Pos Owner Car # Points Ldr Nxt PPos G/L Attempts 1 Stewart-Haas Racing 4 457 0 -- 1 0 13 2 Stewart-Haas Racing 41 421 -36 -36 3 1 13 3 Hendrick Motorsports 48 409 -48 -12 5 2 13 4 Joe Gibbs Racing 18 405 -52 -4 2 -2 13 5 Joe Gibbs Racing 19 404 -53 -1 4 -1 13 6 Team Penske 2 404 -53 0 6 0 13 7 Furniture Row Racing 78 381 -76 -23 9 2 13 8 Hendrick Motorsports 24 374 -83 -7 7 -1 13 9 Team Penske 22 373 -84 -1 8 -1 13 10 Joe Gibbs Racing 20 347 -110 -26 12 2 13 11 Joe Gibbs Racing 11 345 -112 -2 13 2 13 12 Richard Childress Racing 3 344 -113 -1 10 -2 13 13 Hendrick Motorsports 88 341 -116 -3 11 -2 13 14 Chip Ganassi Racing 1 318 -139 -23 14 0 13 15 Wood Brothers Racing 21 309 -148 -9 15 0 13 16 Richard Childress Racing 31 309 -148 0 17 1 13 17 JTG Daugherty Racing 47 308 -149 -1 16 -1 13 18 Roush Fenway Racing 17 299 -158 -9 19 1 13 19 Roush Fenway Racing 6 291 -166 -8 18 -1 13 20 Hendrick Motorsports 5 290 -167 -1 20 0 13 21 Chip Ganassi Racing 42 271 -186 -19 22 1 13 22 Stewart-Haas Racing 14 263 -194 -8 21 -1 13 23 Richard Childress Racing 27 257 - 200 -6 23 0 13 24 Roush Fenway Racing 16 245 -212 -12 25 1 13 25 Stewart-Haas Racing 10 236 -221 -9 24 -1 13 26 HScott Motorsports 15 229 -228 -7 27 1 13 27 Richard Petty Motorsports 43 228 -229 -1 26 -1 13 28 Front Row Motorsports 38 216 -241 -12 28 0 13 29 Germain Racing 13 195 -262 -21 29 0 13 30 Richard Petty Motorsports 44 190 -267 -5 30 0 13 31 Circle Sport-Leavine Family 95 172 -285 -18 31 0 13 32 BK Racing 23 171 -286 -1 32 0 13 33 BK Racing 83 161 -296 -10 33 0 13 34 Tommy Baldwin Racing 7 161 -296 0 34 0 13 35 Front Row Motorsports 34 145 -312 -16 35 0 13 36 Premium Motorsports 98 108 -349 -37 37 1 13 37 HScott Motorsports 46 108 -349 0 36 -1 13 38 GO FAS Racing 32 99 -358 -9 38 0 13 39 Premium Motorsports 55 53 -404 -46 39 0 8 40 The Motorsports Group 30 47 -410 -6 40 0 13 41 Circle Sport - Leavine Family 59 26 -431 -21 41 0 1 42 Front Row Motorsports 35 24 -433 -2 42 0 2 43 BK Racing 93 5 -452 -19 43 0 2 44 BK Racing 26 3 -454 -2 44 0 1 45 Hillman Racing 40 0 -457 -3 45 0 1
Emotions of final season starting to set in for 'Smoke'
Jeff Gordon talks with Tony Stewart over the radio during the Coca-Cola 600 pace laps about this being Stewart's final 600-mile endurance test in his career.
Martin Truex Jr. wins Coca-Cola 600 in dominating fashion
RELATED: Full race results " SHOP: Truex Jr. Gear CONCORD, N.C. -- The heartbreak kid survived 600 miles without another broken heart. Instead, Martin Truex Jr . broke records in Sunday night's victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway , a race in which the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota set new standards for domination. Truex led 392 of 400 laps, most ever in NASCAR's longest Sprint Cup Series race. He spent 588 of 600 miles at the front of the field, most ever in a single race in NASCAR history. And when it was over, Truex had his first victory of the season, the fourth of his career and an all-but-guaranteed berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Perhaps more important, Truex erased a litany of crushing disappointments that continued into this season and ruined potential winning efforts at Texas, Kansas and Dover. "It's just kind of sinking in now that we won the 600," Truex said in Victory Lane. "Really proud of my team -- everybody that made this possible, that believed in me, gave me this opportunity. (Crew chief) Cole Pearn, Jazzy (team engineer Jeff Curtis), my guys are something special. "I want to thank all of them. This is a big day. Got the troops on the cars (for Memorial Day recognition). This is a special weekend. It's really neat to bring that name (of fallen hero Gunnery Sergeant Jeffrey E. Bohr Jr.) home to Victory Lane. Just a lot of emotion right now. Not really sure it's sunk in yet. Just an amazing day, an amazing weekend for all of us. It's a weekend you dream about." Truex finished 2.572 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick , whose car tightened up during the final 56-lap green-flag run. Jimmie Johnson ran third and led the second-most laps -- five. Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski completed the top five, but the night belonged to Truex. When darkness fell, Harvick's No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet came to life, but the tight handling condition that developed over the final 80 miles prevented him from taking the fight to Truex. "Well, I saw him for about 50 miles or 75 miles," Harvick said. "The rest of the night I never saw him. I was back there swatting flies in the middle of the pack. I didn't have a lot of time to see the 78." Johnson was pleased with the speed in his own No. 48 Chevrolet, but it was no match for Truex's Camry. "I kind of felt like he was playing with us," Johnson said. "He was so fast. I would flatfoot (Turns) 1 and 2, and have a nose on him, and he would drive right back by me into Turn 3. It was so fast. It was very impressive. I'm happy for Martin. That team and those guys worked awfully hard to get where they’re at." But for the vagaries of green-flag pit stop cycles, Truex was out front for the entire race. He led 336 of the first 344 laps, surpassing the race and speedway record of 335 set by 1967 Coke 600 winner Jim Paschal. The average speed of the race, 160.644 mph, was a record for a Coca-Cola 600 that went the full distance, as was the duration of the race, 3 hours, 44 minutes, 8 seconds. Truex achieved a perfect driver rating of 150.0, the first of his career. "I had confidence," Truex added. "I had faith. I had confidence in my team. I've got a lot of great people behind me. Sherry (Pollex, Truex's girlfriend and an ovarian cancer survivor), she gives me a lot of inspiration. "And we keep on fighting. We never give up. We never quit. We always keep digging, and I'm proud of my guys for sticking by me. They all did a great job tonight. There are so many fans that have supported us the last few years with so many heartbreaks. I really appreciate that. I really had fun tonight."
Newman's rise more grit than glamour -- but it's working
Driver currently sits second in points despite no trips to Victory Lane in 2014 RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota Of the eight drivers who advanced to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, three -- Jeff Gordon , Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth -- have won at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Among the five remaining drivers, two have multiple wins this year in Joey Logano (five) and Kevin Harvick (three). Out of the final three drivers, two have finished second in the final series standings before in Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin . That leaves Ryan Newman . The 36-year-old may be the least flashy of the remaining competitors still in contention for this year's championship, but yet another timely performance last weekend at Martinsville Speedway has him second in the standings with two races remaining before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Newman finished third at the 0.526-mile track, tied for his best result of the year, behind the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Gordon. He's three points back of Gordon, the series points leader, and has five consecutive finishes of eighth place or better. "(The new format) has played to our advantage mathematically, no doubt," Newman said. "We were the 16th seed coming in without a win. We've not won yet. We were tied for the lead in the points with four races to go. So mathematically it has played to my advantage, as it has others, but probably mine mostly." Even a rare mistake can't ruin the momentum the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team has generated. Following a caution on Lap 188, Newman was busted for speeding on pit road -- coincidentally, so was the No. 24 of Gordon. That sent the No. 31 back to 31st in the lineup, setting the stage for a rally that was more grit than glamour. Newman's progress through the field after that penalty Sunday was slow. He was 25th on a Lap 277 caution, 13th after a Lap 386 caution and finally back into the top 10 by Lap 400. On the final pit stop following a red flag on Lap 488, Newman's team gambled on two tires. He restarted eighth, and had never cracked the top five in the race until the final lap. "The strategy of two tires there at the end worked out good for us," he said. "It was the right number of laps with the guys that stayed out, and we kept the guys behind us that had four tires. It was a great team effort. I put our team in a hole when I sped on pit lane, which doesn't happen very often. It cost us a lot of track position." Perhaps equally as important as Newman's outstanding day was that Earnhardt won the race. Junior is no longer in the Chase, and those in the Eliminator Round automatically qualify for the four-driver championship round at Homestead with a victory this round. That means at least two of those four heralded spots will be determined by points. For a driver that hasn't won this year, but whose average finish (13.0) ranks fourth in all of the Sprint Cup Series, it's setting up to be an ideal scenario heading to Texas Motor Speedway . "I mean, it's played to our advantage the entire time as far as not having a win, not having bonus points," Newman said. "But that doesn't mean it's going to be from the drop of the green in Texas or from the drop of the green in Homestead." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Post-Race Reactions: Grit Chips 200
Kyle Busch, James Buescher, Parker Kligerman and Aric Almirola comment on their Top 5 finishes at Atlanta.
NASCAR tweaks rules for Kentucky, Michigan races
RELATED: 2016 Cup schedule " Memorial Day weekend schedule Changes to the rear spoiler, front splitter and rear deck fin will be put into play for two upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races as the sanctioning body continues to reduce aerodynamic downforce and sideforce in an effort to promote closer competition on the race track. The changes, announced Thursday morning, will be in effect only for upcoming races at Michigan International Speedway (June 12) and Kentucky Speedway (July 9) and are in addition to previous adjustments made by the officials in recent weeks. Initial moves implemented before the start of the season combined with a Goodyear tire matched more closely to the lower downforce package have resulted in closer competition through the season's first 12 races. Why, then, continue to make adjustments in the overall package? "I think we look at it as a never-ending journey; if we can improve we're going to do that," Steve O'Donnell, executive vice president of competition and chief racing development officer, told NASCAR.com. "We wanted to go the direction of low downforce, see how that worked, not kind of go all the way in and hope that we are directionally right. And we are seeing that play out. We've seen some great racing at the beginning of the year. "But we also knew that we had some more levers that we could pull if the direction kind of proved out, so we've tried some of those things. We've tested it and what we've also wanted to do is lower some of the corner speeds to allow for even more passing. That was one of the areas where we've seen minimal change, but there are some levers we can pull to really drive that down." The changes for those races consist of a reduction in spoiler height from 3.5 inches to 2.5 inches, a splitter reduction of two inches and a re-sizing of the rear deck fin to complement the spoiler change. Beginning with this year's race at Kansas Speedway , NASCAR required teams to weld truck arm mounts; for the recently completed Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway , downforce-generating electric fans were removed and the rear toe alignment was reset to zero to reduce sideforce. The changes to truck arm mounts and fans are to remain in place for the remainder of the 2016 season. The rear toe adjustment was initially only in play for the All-Star event but now will be incorporated into the June Michigan and July Kentucky races. Downforce is the pressure created across the surface of a vehicle at speed. Likewise, sideforce is generated by the flow of air along the sides of the vehicle. O'Donnell said limiting the latest changes to two upcoming races is beneficial in two ways: Teams have spent plenty of time in development of setups with the initial base package and that information will still be relevant; and focusing on two tracks will give teams and officials much-needed information as they look ahead to 2017. "We have worked collectively on some directions we want to go in, but to do that right we think the final step is to let that play out on one or two tracks," he said. "And these are the two -- Kentucky and Michigan -- that we've played out and let the teams concentrate really on what they've done to prepare for the year. We think that's manageable and that'll give us enough data to look at for 2017." Four teams recently tested the aero changes while taking part in a one-day Goodyear tire test at Michigan. Kentucky, which just completed a re-pave and redesign of its 1.5-mile layout, remains an unknown. It is expected to be fast with the additional grip provided by the new pavement. Ray Evernham, winner of three premier series titles as crew chief for Jeff Gordon and currently in a competition role with Hendrick Motorsports , said rule changes don't necessarily create more work for teams, but rather redefines the focus of what's being worked on. "Everybody works on something, no matter what," Evernham told NASCAR.com. "… It just changes that focus because any of the good teams are working to the maximum on something all the time." Evernham said he had been impressed with how the previous changes had affected the racing this season. The All-Star Race, he said, provided "the best racing we've seen at Charlotte in awhile. "That's what's coming around the corner. That's exactly what everybody has been asking for -- the drivers, fans, everybody," he said. "That was some darn good racing in the daytime and in the nighttime. That's what I'm focused on. I think that NASCAR and Goodyear and the teams are getting to a place now where the cars are competitive like they want them, but it gives the drivers, crew chiefs and teams a lot more options to have passing." All races with the rules package, with the exception of this year's stop at Auto Club Speedway , have been contested on 1.5-mile or smaller venues. The package is not in play for restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega. Will the base package provide similar results at the larger venues? Pocono (2.5 miles), Michigan (2 miles) and Indianapolis (2.5 miles) loom ahead. O'Donnell believes that will be the case. "I think one of the biggest things we've seen from Goodyear is the ability to match the tire up now with where we're going, the tire wear we're seeing producing much better racing," O'Donnell said. "If you take a Michigan for instance, one of the things with low downforce, if you don't do anything to the tire, you're going to go in and the speeds are going to continue to increase. We know that's a challenge for us. How do we balance that with the corner speeds? "By tweaking the package a little bit, it's really going to keep what we've seen from the positive play out and then really lower that corner speed which should produce the best of both worlds." Buy Tickets: Michigan " Kentucky
Five legends unveiled as 2017 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Class
RELATED: See all of the nominees DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 25, 2016) – NASCAR announced today the inductees who will comprise the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2017. The five-person group -- the eighth since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010 -- consists of Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons. In addition, NASCAR announced that Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles won the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel met today in a closed session at the Charlotte Convention Center to debate and vote upon the 20 nominees for the induction class of 2017 and the five nominees for the Landmark Award. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton announced the class and Landmark Award winner, respectively, this evening in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's "Great Hall." The Class of 2017 was determined by votes cast by the Voting Panel, including representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from major facilities and historic short tracks, media members, manufacturer representatives, retired competitors (drivers, owners, crew chiefs), recognized industry leaders, a nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.com and, for the third year, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion ( Kyle Busch ). In all, 54 votes were cast, with four additional Voting Panel members recused from voting as potential nominees for induction (Ricky Rudd, Robert Yates, Waddell Wilson and Ken Squier). The accounting firm of EY presided over the tabulation of the votes. Voting was as follows: Benny Parsons (85%), Rick Hendrick (62%), Mark Martin (57%), Raymond Parks (53%) and Richard Childress (43%). The next top vote-getters were Robert Yates, Red Byron and Alan Kulwicki. Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Buddy Baker, Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, Benny Parsons and Larry Phillips. The five inductees came from a group of 20 nominees that included, in addition to the five inductees chosen: Buddy Baker, Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Ron Hornaday Jr., Harry Hyde, Alan Kulwicki, Hershel McGriff, Larry Phillips, Jack Roush, Ricky Rudd, Ken Squier, Mike Stefanik, Waddell Wilson and Robert Yates. Nominees for the Landmark Award included Earles, Janet Guthrie, Raymond Parks, Ralph Seagraves and Ken Squier. Class of 2017 Inductees: Richard Childress Long before he became one of the preeminent car owners in NASCAR history, Richard Childress was a race car driver with limited means. Childress, the consummate self-made racer, was respectable behind the wheel. Between 1969-81 he had six top-five finishes and 76 top 10s in 285 starts, finishing fifth in the NASCAR premier series standings in 1975. Having formed Richard Childress Racing in 1972, Childress retired from driving in 1981. He owned the cars that NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt drove to six championships and 67 wins between 1984-2000. In addition to Earnhardt’s championships, Childress drivers have given him five others. Childress was the first NASCAR owner to win owner championships in all three of NASCAR’s national series, and his 11 owner titles are second all-time. Childress also owned the vehicles driven by NASCAR XFINITY Series driver champions Clint Bowyer (2008) and Austin Dillon (2013), as the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver champion Austin Dillon . Rick Hendrick The founder and owner of Hendrick Motorsports , Rick Hendrick’s organization is recognized as one of NASCAR’s most successful. Hendrick Motorsports owns an all-time record 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car owner championship titles -- six with Jimmie Johnson , four with Jeff Gordon and one with NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte . Hendrick also has 14 total NASCAR national series owner championships, most in NASCAR history. Gordon and Labonte combined to win four consecutive titles from 1995-98. In 2010, Johnson won a record-extending fifth consecutive championship. Hendrick also owned the car driven by 2003 NASCAR XFINITY Series driver champion Brian Vickers . Hendrick’s 242 owner wins in the premier series rank second all-time. Mark Martin He is often described as the "greatest driver to never to win a championship," but Mark Martin 's legendary career is so much more than that. He came incredibly close to that elusive title many times -- finishing second in the championship standings five times. Over the course of his 31-year premier series career, Martin compiled 40 wins (17th all time) and 56 poles (seventh all time). Martin saw success at every level of NASCAR. He won 49 times in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, holding the series wins record for 14 years. He retired with 96 wins across NASCAR’s three national series, seventh on the all-time list. In 1998, Martin was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. Raymond Parks Raymond Parks is one of stock-car racing’s earliest -- and most successful -- team owners. Funded by successful business and real estate ventures in Atlanta, Parks began his career as a stock-car owner in 1938 with drivers Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall. His pairing with another Atlantan, mechanic Red Vogt, produced equipment good enough to dominate the sport in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Red Byron won the first NASCAR title (modified, 1948) and first premier series title (1949) in a Parks-owned car. Parks’ team produced two premier series wins, two poles, 11 top fives and 12 top 10s in 18 events. Benny Parsons Benny Parsons won the 1973 NASCAR premier series championship and could be called an everyman champion: winning enough to be called one of the sport’s stars but nearly always finishing well when he wasn’t able to reach Victory Lane. He won 21 times in 526 career starts but finished among the top 10 283 times -- a 54 percent ratio. One of Parsons’ biggest victories came in the 1975 Daytona 500 . He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Parsons also was known as a voice of the sport making a seamless transition to television following his NASCAR career. He was a commentator for NBC and TNT until his passing in 2007, at the age of 65. Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR: H. Clay Earles One of the original pioneers of stock car auto racing, H. Clay Earles played an integral role in the early years of NASCAR's development. Earles built and opened Martinsville Speedway in 1947, and the short track remains the only facility to host NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races every year since the series’ inception in 1949. The speedway held its first race on Sept. 7, 1947 -- three months before the creation of NASCAR. That initial race drew more than 6,000 fans to the track, which had just 750 seats ready. In 1964, Earles decided it was time for a "different" type of trophy for his race winners. He gave winners grandfather clocks, a tradition that continues today.
Gordon's love for Charlotte lasting, 22 years after first win
Photo credit: Charlotte Motor Speedway CONCORD, N.C. – With its close proximity to race shops, Charlotte Motor Speedway is known as the home track for most of the NASCAR community. But Tuesday's gathering at the 1.5-mile speedway had more of a tourist feel, as fans hailed from places near and far. There was the man from Bakersfield, California, – "Harvick country," he states proudly – the fan from Switzerland, the Canadian couple and everyone in between. They wore different numbers on their shirts and spoke with different accents, but they were all there to see one man. Mr. Jeff Gordon . The FOX Sports analyst and four-time NASCAR champion helped celebrate the 10 Days of NASCAR Thunder leading up to Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) by taking photos with 100 Charlotte ticketholders. Despite Gordon's retirement following his championship run last season, the fandom was as feverous as ever, as each visitor itched to exchange a few words with the former No. 24 driver. "It's slightly different (now) because many of them say a lot of the same things, 'I wish you were out there,' (or) 'I miss you being out there,'" Gordon said of the fans. "But I'm getting a lot of great comments about being up in the booth, so it's nice. I'm enjoying myself, so I think it comes across in the broadcast and interacting with the fans, I get to hear that from them as well." Gordon and the fans stood on the roof of the infield's Champion's Pavilion, the spot providing the group a birds-eye view of the quad oval. The track is impressive; a feeling Gordon reciprocates, as he recalls the first time he laid eyes on it. "I think it doesn't mean the same to everybody," Gordon said, "but for me, the very first time I ever came to North Carolina … when I drove by this facility, I was blown away. I'd seen Indianapolis Motor Speedway , but beyond that, I'd never seen anything that looked like this. Just the appearance of it put me in awe." Gordon found success at Charlotte early in his career, earning a runner-up result in his first race at the North Carolina track in 1993. And on Sunday, he'll broadcast his first Coca-Cola 600 ; 22 years after he earned his first-ever win in the Cup Series in the '94 running of the 600-mile event. The win put Gordon on the racing map and made folks wonder about this young "kid" from California who was driving nose-to-nose with Dale Earnhardt. RELATED: See all the winners of the longest race in NASCAR But Gordon's love affair with Charlotte began before the Victory Lane celebration. "When I drove a stock car here for the first time, I just fell in love with it," Gordon said. "I love the way the track flows, the banking, the grip level, bumps and everything that comes along with it. And of course, winning my first race, having it happen in the 600." The longest race on the Cup circuit, the Coca-Cola 600 has long been revered as one of NASCAR's biggest races – one of the sport's "Majors," as Gordon says. "Daytona, here, Brickyard, maybe a Southern 500, some would also say Talladega." Gordon said, rattling off a list of stock car racing's biggest events. "But this is a big, big deal to win this race. To me, it's probably second or third ranking in our series as far as most prestigious events." Winning the coveted Coca-Cola 600 trophy is no easy feat – the man who has won three of those races can tell you that. With the cars being more advanced today and eliminating some of the physical aspect, Gordon emphasizes the continued need for mental toughness. "You're talking about a minimum of four hours being in the car," Gordon said. "Pit crews, crew chiefs, everyone's on edge, not just the drivers … (They're) pushing the limits every single lap, which is not the way it used to be. You used to pace yourself and be able to manage the tires and your car and you could still be competitive at the end of the day – if you were in one piece. "That's not the case anymore – it's just all out. So, that mentally drains you by pushing that hard for that period of time." RELATED: Gordon embraces new career with 'contagious' energy The task of taming a 600-mile monster is daunting, especially for younger drivers. Gordon's No. 24 replacement Chase Elliott will attempt the feat, as he prepares to make his second Coca-Cola 600 start. Elliott, now in his rookie season, started 28th and finished 18th in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600 , then driving the No. 25 for Hendrick Motorsports . As for any advice from the former boss of the No. 24? Gordon said his 20-year-old successor doesn't need it. "I haven't had to give him much advice on the race track," Gordon said. "He's a natural … He gets better every weekend. "I'm excited for that 24 team. I had to defend a lot with fans being upset about them keeping the No. 24 and I said, 'Just wait, just wait, I think you're going to be proud of the results.' And now, I'm starting to see everybody's now saying, 'What a great replacement for the 24!' " Gordon's statement was validated by fans sporting Elliott-themed shirts earlier, one young boy in particular wearing a blue No. 24 NAPA hat. This fan will likely grow up knowing Elliott -- rather than Gordon -- as the driver of the legendary No. 24 Chevrolet. It's a mark of a racing transition, a generational shift. And Gordon loves it. "Listen, I love seeing the sport grow," he said. "I'm still heavily involved in the sport, not just from the FOX side, but from Hendrick Motorsports . And I think the sport is amazing right now. The racing is as good as it's ever been. We have some great young talents. Not to mention veterans that are doing great things … I'm all for bringing new fans and seeing fans get excited about it, people like Chase or Ryan Blaney or Kyle Larson . "I support it 100 percent."