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Jeff Gordon's retirement gifts: Where are they now?
RELATED: List of Gordon's gifts " @nascarcasm: Jeff's crappiest gifts LONG POND, Pa. -- As his full-time Sprint Cup Series career wound down last season, Jeff Gordon received some sort of "gift" -- sometimes tangible, often times not -- from race tracks upon his final stop at each venue. Gordon, filling in for No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono Raceway this weekend, gave us a little insight into just exactly what he's been doing with all of his new possessions. "Well, I'm kind of a hoarder when it comes to things like that, anyway. When somebody gives me things, I'm maybe too superstitious to give anything away or do anything with it," said Gordon, who finished 13th in fill-in duty last weekend at Indianapolis. "So, we have a warehouse in North Carolina that all those things are stored in. One day, I'll look forward to revisiting those moments and those things and enjoying them." Wait, so they're just sitting in a warehouse in North Carolina somewhere? That's no fun. EXCLUSIVE: I've obtained footage of @JeffGordonWeb in his N.C. warehouse full of retirement gifts. #NASCAR #PA400 pic.twitter.com/KqdFkvxh7N — Pat DeCola (@Pat_DeCola) July 29, 2016 What about the cool Bandolero that Atlanta Motor Speedway gifted to his kids? What about the Shetland ponies that Texas Motor Speedway … also gifted to his kids? "Nobody is ready for a Bandolero in my family, so that hasn't happened," Gordon said. "We've enjoyed the ponies. They surprisingly went over well in the family." Phew. As for the more "adult"-aged gifts … "We haven't done any Blackjack (Las Vegas Motor Speedway) and haven't drank any whiskey (Kentucky Speedway) or wine (Sonoma Raceway) or any of those things. Well, I mean I have (laughter); I drank plenty but it's just not from the collection I was given as a gift." Y ou thinking what I'm thinking? Off-season party at Jeff's mysterious, hidden warehouse? YUP.
Jeff Gordon set for longer sub stint in No. 88, if needed
RELATED: Weekend schedule for Pocono, Iowa LONG POND, Pa. -- Jeff Gordon maintains that he is looking at his stint in the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports "as a very temporary thing," but adds he's willing to remain in the role "as long as they need me." "I say that very loosely," Gordon quickly added Friday at Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, where he will line up 24th on the grid (1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is said to be making progress in his recovery from concussion-like symptoms that sidelined him following the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway. Alex Bowman drove for the team the following weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway before Gordon took over last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It was great last Friday to see him say 'hey I feel good today and made some progress,'" Gordon said of Earnhardt. "We want to just keep going with how he is feeling. The doctors are evaluating. I'm not speculating anything at this time. "I wouldn't be here in Pocono if I wasn't committed to be there for Hendrick Motorsports and this team in any way that they need me. I think there is a balance between trying to make this transition. First of all you want Dale to have the comfort of knowing that somebody is there for him. He doesn't have to worry about that aspect of it through this process. "… Then there is the side of who is the best person to be in the car to get the most points. And then there is the sponsorship side of it as well. So far from what Rick (Hendrick, team owner) is telling me that seems to be me. That is why I was at Indy and that is why I'm here." The series travels to Watkins Glen International next weekend, with an off-weekend before heading to Bristol, Tennessee. HMS officials have not indicated who would be in the car if Earnhardt Jr. is unable to return for next week’s event. Gordon, a four-time series champion who moved from the driver’s seat to the television booth after the 2015 season, finished 13th at Indy; Bowman was 26th at New Hampshire. There have been "a couple" of conversations between Gordon and Earnhardt Jr., Gordon said, noting that his former teammate "likes to FaceTime." "It seems like he is always on the treadmill every time I see him or talk to him," Gordon said. "He is just real interested in what we are up to and how it's going and things we are working on. I think also a lot of it is … evaluating where they are at as a team and some of the set-ups and whether I'm going to be making the same comments as he was making when he was in the car. "So far, I feel like it's been very similar. Definitely, any amount of information that I can get to help me prepare for every time I'm on the track is great information. I'm asking everybody questions just trying to get up to speed everywhere we go including Dale." RELATED: Latest updates on Dale Jr. Prior to competing at Indy, Gordon was able to reacquaint himself with the track through simulation programs; he also pulled information from teammate Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team, which tested at the 2.5-mile track the previous week. That hasn't been the case this week. "Get fitted in the car, debrief with the team from Indianapolis and then preparation for Pocono," he said. "Didn't have test video from some of our teammates for here like we did last week at Indianapolis and I didn't have time to get in the driving simulator either. "The first few laps today were definitely again a steep learning curve. This is a very challenging race track so it's going to be a tough, challenging weekend, but I do like this track and (there is) a little bit to learn with this new package." Earnhardt's absence has resulted in a fall from 13th to 17th in the points standings. He will need to either a race win or be 15th or higher (based on the current list of winners and their respectively point standing) in points to potentially earn a position in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He would also need a waiver from NASCAR, something that would not be determined until he has officially been cleared to return to competition. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Food City -Bristol partnership roots run deep
RELATED: Bristol quick facts " Full weekend schedule BRISTOL, Tenn. – It began with a promotion to help former series sponsor RJ Reynolds sell product. Today, 25 years later, the Food City sponsorship of Bristol Motor Speedway 's spring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event is as strong as ever. It is the second-longest race entitlement in NASCAR – trailing only the Coca-Cola sponsorship of the 600-mile May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "We started in 1992, followed up the Valleydale 500 ," Steve Smith , Food City President and CEO, said Thursday at BMS. "That was back when it was still Winston Cup. We worked with RJ Reynolds on a promotion ... that was the whole genesis of us getting involved in racing." Initially, it wasn't a long-term deal, but by the time the next season had arrived, officials with the grocery chain were ready and willing to return. "We signed the (initial) agreement and we had a great first race," Smith said. "Alan Kulwicki actually won our first race in 1992; I remember that well. We were off and running." Kulwicki, an owner/driver, went on to win the series title that season. Tragically, the following year he was killed in a plane crash while en route to BMS to defend his Food City 500 title. Smith said his company, founded by his father Jack, became involved at the right time in the sport, when the fan base was on the upswing, TV coverage was gaining traction and sponsorship dollars were flowing. "What happened with Bristol was really indicative of what was happening with NASCAR, it was just growing and growing," he said. "Five years later Bruton (Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc. founder) bought the track and things just really started to escalate here with the amenities and the things that they did for the race fans. ... Folks love coming here, they love the racing environment, and they love, I think, the southern hospitality. "We try, as a sponsor, to do a lot of things to get them in here a little bit early, whether it's Food City Race Night or other events to really make it a full week of fun for the race fan." In addition to the Sprint Cup race sponsorship, the company also sponsors the August NASCAR XFINITY Series event at Bristol. While there have been times that spending money on race entitlement rights might have been questionable, Smith said "I don't think there's ever been a time when we really thought about dropping the race. "Now, we've negotiated pretty tough with Speedway Motorsports because obviously the fan base dropped a little bit, the viewership dropped a little bit, but when you've got folks like (former BMS General Manager) Jeff Byrd and (current GM) Jerry Caldwell that you know are going to do everything they can to give the race fan, our customers, that experience, it makes it pretty easy to continue to spend the dollars and continue to keep our associates that work in our stores involved in racing, and that's a big part of it, too." The return for Food City , he said, comes in many forms. No. 1 is name recognition. "We're a relatively small regional company -- we're in four states, 135 stores, 16,000 associates," Smith said. "It sounds like a lot but in the scheme of things compared to some of our competition, it's not. But it's a sense of pride for our associates, our customers who know we sponsor racing. "NASCAR fans are very loyal, they're loyal to the brands that are involved whether it's Food City or other consumer products sponsors. We think it helps us sell more products and bring more people in to our stores." In February of 2014, Food City and BMS officials announced a five-year extension for the naming rights of the track's spring Sprint Cup race. "At the end of the day, it's hard to put a financial statement together that proves that it's a great spend, but we've been doing good ever since we been sponsoring racing so we don't want to stop there," Smith said.
Menard's Darlington scheme gives honor to Al Unser Jr.
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes CONCORD, N.C. -- When Valvoline officials queried NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Paul Menard about his racing heroes, the first name on the list was Al Unser Jr. So Menard couldn't be more pleased that the Valvoline-themed throwback paint scheme he will run in this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 pays tribute to Unser Jr.'s lone NASCAR premier series start. Menard's Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet will carry the gray, orange and black color scheme used by Unser Jr. for the 1993 Daytona 500 with sponsor Valvoline featured on the hood when the series travels to Darlington Raceway for the annual Labor Day weekend classic. "Little Al's first NASCAR race was the Daytona 500 in 1993," Menard said earlier this week as preparations for the unveiling of the paint scheme got underway. "The partnership with Valvoline this year -- we got to talking earlier about who some of my racing heroes were and Al Jr. was right away, even without the Valvoline relationship. I've always been a huge fan of his. He was the guy in IndyCar that I always pulled for." Menard said he met the former open-wheel champion and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 "when I was probably 12." "I remember; he probably doesn't," Menard continued. "But I pulled up (this morning) … and he was standing out in the parking lot. We were out there talking probably 10 or 15 minutes, just about the '93 (Daytona) 500 , his autocross stuff that he's doing now, just talking about a little bit of racing." Unser Jr. was carrying the Valvoline colors in 1992 when he won his first Indy 500 title. Already a NASCAR sponsor, Valvoline wanted additional branding in '93 to promote its line of synthetic products, particularly for that year's Daytona 500 . And the Daytona 500 just happened to be on Unser Jr.'s bucket list. "There were special races that I wanted to race in my career," Unser Jr. said. "The Indy 500 , the Daytona 500 , the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans. Those are the ones that I really wanted to run as a kid. "The Indy 500 is really where my heart is so we'd been doing that. But yeah, I wanted to run the Daytona 500 sometime during my career and it was just a blessing when Valvoline called me up and said, 'You know, we'd like to do this down in Daytona. Would you like to do it?' "I said, 'Of course I would. It's got to be with a great team.' "They said, 'We've contacted Hendrick Motorsports,' and I go, 'Awesome.' " At that time, the Hendrick organization consisted of three teams with drivers Ken Schrader, Ricky Rudd and rookie Jeff Gordon. The addition of Unser Jr. made it a four-team effort for the series' most notable race. A crash during the second of two twin qualifying races three days before the 500 , however, cost Unser Jr. his primary entry and he wound up racing Schrader's backup Chevrolet Lumina. Instead of a gray, orange and black paint scheme, Unser Jr.'s race-day car was white with the Valvoline branding on the hood and across the rear quarter panels. A crash with less that 50 laps remaining took Unser Jr. out of contention, and he finished 36th. When told that Menard and Valvoline were bringing the original paint scheme back to the track for the Darlington throwback weekend, Unser said he was "just overwhelmed." "Mainly because this was just a one off," he said, "not a traditional kind of car with a lot of running behind it, a lot of heritage to it. So when they contacted me and said they were thinking about doing this throwback at Darlington … it was a true blessing." Menard praised Valvoline for not only bringing back the paint scheme, but for the company's long involvement in auto racing. "The brand is iconic in our sport," he said. "You pick out right away where that Valvoline car is on the race track, whether it's a stock car race or IndyCar races, NHRA. They're always around the sport. They have a huge racing legacy and I'm proud to be a part of it." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Almirola reflects on career, heritage as he makes 200th start
Aric Almirola insists he was absolutely prepared to climb into his No. 43 Smithfield Ford this Sunday for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway completely focused on nothing other than scoring a victory and working toward earning a position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But his public relations team brought up an important milestone that even he conceded was definitely worth noting, if not celebrating. This Sunday's race marks the 32-year old Almirola's 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start -- a significant measure of his staying power and a testament to how far he's come. Literally. He is the son of a Cuban immigrant on his dad's side of the family and the grandson of one of Florida's most celebrated and accomplished racers -- Sam Rodriguez -- on his mom's side. That has created a unique background dynamic that gives Almirola motivation and pride. And makes this weekend a heartfelt measure of success. "I think here I am and my dad came over from Cuba and 50 years later I'm making my 200th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty," Almirola said. "It's so crazy to me, what living in this country affords you and allows you to be able to do, and my grandparents made that decision to come over here and take this chance." The sheer number of starts represents a mark of opportunity for Almirola. Making it into NASCAR's big league was always the harder path, the road less travelled. But he has made it. And that's only the beginning. "I don't think anybody dreams about running two hundred races, they dream about 'a' race," Almirola said. "So as a kid I dreamed about driving 'a' Cup car, running 'a' race. So, now the fact I've had the opportunity to do it two hundred times, when you realize that, and the marketing department brings to your attention that, 'Hey, Pocono is going to be your 200th start,' it really makes you kind of reflect on everything that's led up to this. "From being a kid racing go-karts all the way up to all the opportunities I've had. I realize by reflecting on all that stuff how fortunate and blessed I am." The thing is, Almirola could have just as easily been a star baseball player as a winning NASCAR driver. His native city of Tampa, Florida is a ballplayer's town. It produced Wade Boggs and Lou Piniella. Both Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield graduated from Almirola's Hillsborough High School. A calendar year in this part of the country has traditionally been delineated by baseball and football seasons. That just makes Almirola's success climbing the NASCAR ranks even more impressive. "I was in somewhat of a hot bed there for athletes," Almirola said smiling. "But I had a really strong passion for racing and I know that made me somewhat of an outsider at school growing up. When friends would ask, 'Hey what are you doing this weekend?' I'd say, I was going racing. "That kind of separated me from a lot of kids at school -- not in a bad way, I wasn't an outcast in a negative way, but I didn't have as close a relationship with kids at school because I didn't go parties at their house Friday night after football games. I was always working on my race cars or go-karts and racing on the weekends. "I wasn't looking for something to do on the weekend. I already had it." "I was always going to be a NASCAR guy. My grandfather raced sprint cars, so obviously the open wheel path was there, too. He'd race at East Bay every Saturday night and occasionally travel around the country going to races. But every Sunday it was normal, to get up, eat breakfast, hang around the house and then watch the Cup race. That was routine around my parents and my grandparents. We love NASCAR." The result for Almirola has been a starring role driving his sport's most iconic car -- the No. 43 -- for the sport's biggest legend, Petty. NASCAR's crown jewel, Daytona International Speedway, is also Almirola's "home track" and fittingly the venue he won his first Sprint Cup Series race in 2014, the Coke Zero 400 -- exactly 30 years after his boss Petty scored his historic 200th victory at the track. Consider this: Petty's win total would be equivalent to Almirola winning every start he's made. RELATED: Almirola's Darlington scheme honors Petty " Darlington schemes Though that remains the only Cup victory so far for Almirola, it was enough to propel him into the 2014 Chase and make him only more eager to return. His team's best finish this year is a 12th-place in the season-opening Daytona 500 . He's had four top-15 showings -- three in the season's opening four races. He ranks 25th in points entering Pocono, hopeful to score a win in one of the remaining six races to set the 16-driver Chase field. "I think the reality is we have struggled this season and you can tell by watching the race and looking at our results," Almirola said. "This year has been a struggle and we can't really put our finger on what's wrong. People often ask what's wrong and it sounds like a smart-aleck answer, but if I knew, we'd fix it. "There are a couple places looking ahead that have been strong for us. Bristol comes to top of mind. We had a chance to win there a couple years ago battling with Carl Edwards. And then there's (regular season finale) Richmond. Last year we went there kinda do or die to make the Chase and finished fourth, but had a really strong car and a legitimate chance to win that race, too. Those are kind of top of mind to me where we might go in and get a win." Listening to Almirola reflect on his first 200 races, there is both a fond memory of what it took to get to this point and a distinct urgency in his voice to succeed in a way worthy of the hard work already put in. "Making my 200th start really forces me to reflect and when I do that and think about doing it for Richard Petty, who is very much an American icon. And I can't help but reflect on my family, which has done so much and sacrificed so much to get me where I'm at," Almirola said. "It really is amazing."
A friendship motivates Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award finalist Logan Houptley
RELATED: All the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award finalists A friendship made a decade ago has endured -- and endeared, creating a heartwarming story. Logan Houptley and Mikayla Resh, children when they met, now are young adults who have a special bond that has led to the formation of a special cause. At the age of 10, Houptley met Resh in his third-grade classroom after moving to a new school district in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Resh was bravely facing the challenges presented by multiple disabilities that included brain damage, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder along with blindness and deafness. Houptley didn't see those challenges when he looked at Resh. Instead, he simply saw another child in need of compassion and kindness. Fellow classmates saw Resh in the same light. Collectively, they made sure she knew that she belonged . "I just found it so fascinating in third grade that the children who had grown up with Mikayla to that point already felt so comfortable with her and included her in the everyday life of the classroom," Houptley, 20, said. "I just took to that." That experience stuck with Houptley. How could it not? And so the friendship continued -- and continues still, along the way leading Houptley in 2010 to help found "Mikayla's Voice." The organization is dedicated to inspiring children and young adults to embrace individuals of all abilities, while championing cultural change by teaching communities about the importance of inclusion and acceptance. When Mikayla's Voice was founded, Houptley served as co-president of the Junior Board of Directors until 2015, when he became a member of the Board of Directors. Houptley, now living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is proudly representing "Mikayla's Voice" as one of four finalists for The NASCAR Foundation's 2016 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide. The award, which honors volunteers who work for children's causes in their communities, will be presented by France -- The NASCAR Foundation's Chairwoman Emeritus and founder – on Sept. 27 during The NASCAR Foundation's inaugural Honors Gala at the Marriott Marquis in New York City . The foundation will donate $100,000 to the charity represented by the award winner and $25,000 to each of the other three finalists' charities. The award winner will be determined via an online vote now underway and running through Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. (ET) at NASCAR.com/Award. Friends Mikayla Resh and Logan Houptley work on a finger painting together. Houptley always has been a strong advocate for Resh and other children facing similar challenges. As a founding member of "Mikayla's Voice," Logan has spoken at national conventions about a book written on Resh's life, promoted inclusion in sports and recreation through "Tri for Inclusion" triathlons and led a fundraising efforts for the organization. Through books, school assemblies, recreational activities, cultural initiatives, and more, "Mikayla's Voice" demonstrates vividly the importance of inclusion. Approximately 25,000 children have been impacted by the organization's school assemblies; there have been 440 participants in Tri for Inclusion triathlons which pair able-bodied athletes with physically challenged athletes; and 14,000 children have been impacted by "Wheels of Friendship," an initiative that allows children to paint with the wheels of a wheelchair and the paws of service dogs. On Sunday, Houptley will attend the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway where he'll be cheering for his favorite driver, Tony Stewart, who is making his final start at Pocono. Most importantly, Houptley will be representing Mikayla's Voice, meeting with media and other fans to talk about inclusion and acceptance – and the friendship which continues to chart his personal course. "In terms of inclusion, I think we've made a big difference with 'Mikayla's Voice,' " Houptley said, "but in terms of the big picture, yes, we've made some strides there's still a long way to go. … I'm definitely in for the long haul as far as I can tell." To learn more about this year's finalists for The NASCAR Foundation's Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide, and to cast your vote today, go to www.NASCAR.com/Award . Voting is open now until Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. ET.
Gordon: SHR reached out before Daytona 500
RELATED: Full schedule for Indianapolis " Gordon through the years SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Jeff Gordon 's "un-retirement" from competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series began in earnest Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is filling in for Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indianapolis and next weekend at Pocono Raceway while Earnhardt recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Almost as surprising as Gordon's return to the driver's seat -- he retired from full-time competition after the 2015 season -- was his disclosure that he had been approached about filling in for the injured Tony Stewart in this year's Daytona 500 . Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet and co-owner of the four-car organization, missed the first eight races after suffering a broken back in an off-road driving incident prior to the start of the 2016 season. Gordon's role as a FOX NASCAR analyst (the network provides coverage of the season's first 16 points races) prohibited him from returning to competition. "The crazy thing about all of this (is) I was asked to drive Tony Stewart 's car in Daytona to start the season," Gordon said Friday. "I wasn't able to do it because of my commitments to FOX. Now Rick (Hendrick, team owner) has some amazing ways to convince people into things that the average person might not be able to. I don't know, maybe he could have called Eric Shanks or something, but no, I don't think so." Shanks is President, COO and Executive Producer of FOX Sports. Stewart is competing in his final season as a driver. Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard will be his final appearance at the famed 2.5-mile track, where he has earned two of his 49 career victories. That Gordon was asked about filling in earlier this season was news to Stewart. "I wasn't (aware)," Stewart said, "but that would have been awesome. That probably would have been one of the coolest things to happen this season. If that happened, I would have been all for it. … "I wasn't aware of that, but that would have been a really cool deal for us." MORE: Dale Jr. out, Gordon in No. 88 at Indianapolis, Pocono
Brick-by -Brick: Gordon preps for Indy
NASCAR.com’s Jonathan Merryman takes a look at the hard work Jeff Gordon has done to get ready for his substitute role in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jeff Gordon and Junior fans react at Indianapolis
Several Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans offer their reaction to Jeff Gordon substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Watch Jeff Gordon climb in the No. 88
Watch as Jeff Gordon climbs inside the No. 88 AXALTA Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.