Plenty of road racers have made an impact on NASCAR
A stats-based look ahead to the 14th race of the Sprint Cup Series season DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 1, 2015) – Below is a look at some of the top statistical performers at Pocono Raceway in Pocono, Pennsylvania going into the Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 on June 7. POCONO-SPECIFIC STATISTICS Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · Two wins, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.7 · Average Running Position of 10.2, second-best · Driver Rating of 105.9, third-best · 332 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.733 mph, second-fastest · 2,659 Laps in the Top 15 (77.0%), fourth-most · 774 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), seventh-most Dale Earnhardt Jr . (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) · Two wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.3 · Average Running Position of 14.0, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 92.6, ninth-best · 102 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.237 mph, eighth-fastest · 2,286 Laps in the Top 15 (63.3%), eighth-most · 727 Quality Passes, 10th-most Carl Edwards (No. 19 ARRIS Toyota) · Two wins, five top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 15.5 · Driver Rating of 94.2, eighth-best · 176 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.224 mph, ninth-fastest · 2,262 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6%), 10th-most · 712 Quality Passes, 11th-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 AXALTA – PENN STATE Chevrolet) · Six wins, 19 top fives, 31 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 9.9 · Series-best Average Running Position of 9.9 · Driver Rating of 103.5, fourth-best · 169 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most · 1,573 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.625 mph, fifth-fastest · Series-high 2,777 Laps in the Top 15 (76.9%) · Series-high 885 Quality Passes Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · Four wins, nine top fives, 12 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 11.9 · Average Running Position of 10.8, fourth-best · Series-best Driver Rating of 108.3 · Series-high 437 Fastest Laps Run · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 162.806 mph · 2,543 Laps in the Top 15 (79.3%), sixth-most · 685 Quality Passes, 12th-most Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser / Jimmy John’s Chevrolet) · Six top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 13.6 · Average Running Position of 13.7, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 91.9, 11th-best · 1,777 Green Flag Passes, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.159 mph, 10th-fastest · 2,277 Laps in the Top 15 (63.0%), ninth-most · 789 Quality Passes, sixth-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's / Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet) · Three wins, 10 top fives, 17 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 9.9 · Average Running Position of 10.5, third-best · Driver Rating of 106.9, second-best · 273 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · 1,507 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.708 mph, third-fastest · 2,774 Laps in the Top 15 (76.8%), second-most · 861 Quality Passes, fourth-most Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet) · Two wins, five top fives, eight top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 17.8 · Driver Rating of 92.1, 10th-best · 306 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 1,643 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.436 mph, sixth-fastest · 2,199 Laps in the Top 15 (60.9%), 11th-most · 804 Quality Passes, fifth-most Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) · One win, three top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 13.4 · Driver Rating of 90.8, 12th-best · 96 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most Kyle Larson (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) · One top five, one top 10; one pole · Average finish of 8.0 · Average Running Position of 12.7, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 95.7, sixth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.690 mph, fourth-fastest Ryan Newman (No. 31 Grainger Chevrolet) · One win, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 11.4 · Average Running Position of 11.4, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 95.4, seventh-best · 1,634 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.135 mph, 11th-fastest · 2,689 Laps in the Top 15 (74.4%), third-most · 883 Quality Passes, second-most Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1 / Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) · Two wins, 12 top fives, 22 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 11.8 · Average Running Position of 12.2, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 97.6, fifth-best · 99 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 1,728 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.319 mph, seventh-fastest · 2,619 Laps in the Top 15 (72.5%), fifth-most · 880 Quality Passes, third-most The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2015 Top 16 at Pocono Raceway Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Kevin Harvick 28 0 0 6 10 2 13.6 91.9 2 Martin Truex Jr . 18 0 0 2 6 0 15.9 80.4 3 Jimmie Johnson 26 3 3 10 17 1 9.9 106.9 4 Joey Logano 12 2 1 2 4 1 16.6 88.9 5 Dale Earnhardt Jr . 30 1 2 9 13 1 15.3 92.6 6 Brad Keselowski 10 0 1 3 4 0 13.4 90.8 7 Jamie McMurray 24 1 0 0 6 3 19.8 73.1 8 Kasey Kahne 22 2 2 5 8 3 17.8 92.1 9 Jeff Gordon 44 2 6 19 31 5 9.9 103.5 10 Aric Almirola 6 0 0 0 0 1 24.0 67.6 11 Matt Kenseth 30 0 0 3 10 1 16.0 86.7 12 Paul Menard 16 0 0 0 2 1 23.1 64.6 13 Ryan Newman 26 2 1 9 14 2 11.4 95.4 14 Denny Hamlin 18 3 4 9 12 2 11.9 108.3 15 Kurt Busch 27 1 2 11 15 5 14.7 105.9 16 Carl Edwards 20 0 2 5 8 1 15.5 94.2 * – Based on last 20 races at Pocono Raceway . Pocono Raceway Data Season Race #: 14 of 36 (06-07-15) Track Size : 2.5-miles Banking/Turn 1 : 14 degrees Banking/Turn 2 : 8 degrees Banking/Turn 3 : 6 degrees Frontstretch Length : 3,740 feet Backstretch Length : 3,055 feet Shortstretch Length : 1,780 feet Race Length : 160 laps / 400 miles Top 10 Driver Ratings at Pocono Denny Hamlin ............................ 108.3 Jimmie Johnson ........................ 106.9 Kurt Busch ................................ 105.9 Jeff Gordon .............................. 103.5 Tony Stewart ............................... 97.6 Kyle Larson ................................ 95.7 Ryan Newman ............................. 95.4 Carl Edwards .............................. 94.2 Dale Earnhardt Jr ........................ 92.6 Kasey Kahne .............................. 92.1 Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2014 races (20 total) among active drivers at Pocono Raceway . Qualifying/Race Data 2014 pole winner : Denny Hamlin , Toyota 181.415 mph, 49.610 secs., 06-06-14 2014 race winner : Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Chevrolet 139.440 mph, (02:52:07), 06-08-14 Track qualifying record: Kyle Larson , Chevrolet 183.438 mph, 49.610 secs., 08-03-14 Track race record: Jeff Gordon , Chevrolet 145.384 mph, (03:26:21), 06-12-11 At Pocono Raceway : History · Opened in 1968 as a three-quarter-mile track, Pocono Raceway held the first race on the 2.5-mile track in 1971. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was in 1974 – won by Richard Petty , Dodge, 115.593 mph, 08/04/1974. · The 2.5-mile track was repaved during the fall of 2011. Notebook · There have been 74 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway , one race from 1974 through 1981, and two per year since. · 2012 marked the first season the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono were scheduled for 400 miles. Prior to 2012 all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were 500 miles at Pocono Raceway . · 322 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway ; 229 in more than one. · Ricky Rudd leads the series in starts at Pocono with 55. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 44 starts. · Buddy Baker won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Pocono in 1974 with a speed of 144.122 mph. · 40 drivers have posted Coors Light poles at Pocono, led by Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader with five each; Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin lead all active drivers with three each. · Five drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Pocono. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Pocono with three; fall 1984 and both races in 1985. · Two active drivers have posted consecutive Coors Light poles at Pocono: Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep) and Joey Logano (fall 2011 and spring 2012). · Youngest Pocono pole winner: Joey Logano (08/07/2011 – 21 years, 2 months, 14 days). · Oldest Pocono pole winner: David Pearson (06/10/1984 – 49 years, 5 months, 19 days). · 32 different drivers have won at Pocono Raceway , led by Jeff Gordon with six wins. · Seven drivers have posted consecutive wins at Pocono Raceway , including three consecutive by Bobby Allison (1982 sweep and spring 1983) and Tim Richmond (1986 sweep and spring 1987). · Three of the seven drivers to win consecutive races at Pocono are active: Jimmie Johnson (2004 sweep); Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep and 2009 fall and 2010 spring races); Dale Earnhardt Jr . (2014 sweep). · Youngest Pocono winner: Joey Logano (06/10/2012 – 22 years, 0 months, 17 days). · Oldest Pocono winner: Harry Gant (06/17/1990 – 50 years, 5 months, 7 days). · Hendrick Motorsports has the most wins at Pocono in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 17: Jeff Gordon (six), Tim Richmond (three), Jimmie Johnson (three), Dale Earnhardt Jr . (two), Kasey Kahne (one), Geoff Bodine (one) and Terry Labonte (one) – including the last four consecutively. · Eight different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Pocono; led by Chevrolet with 30 victories; followed by Ford with 21 and Toyota has three. · 15 of the 74 (20.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Jimmie Johnson (June, 2013). · The Coors Light pole position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (15) than any other starting position at Pocono Raceway . · 24 of the 74 (32.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the front row: 15 from the pole and nine from second-place. · 52 of the 74 (70.2%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono have been won from a top-10 starting position. · Five of the 73 (6.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Pocono is 29th, by Carl Edwards in the spring of 2005. · Mark Martin leads the series in runner-up finishes at Pocono with seven; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six. · Mark Martin leads the series in top-five finishes at Pocono with 20; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19. · Mark Martin leads the series in top-10 finishes at Pocono with 34; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 31. · Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Pocono with a 6.556. · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Pocono with a 9.864. · Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards are the only two active drivers to win at Pocono in their first appearances. · Matt Kenseth leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Pocono without visiting Victory Lane at 30; followed by Kevin Harvick with 28. · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono Raceway was the July 23, 2000 race won by Rusty Wallace over Jeff Burton with a MOV of 0.126 second. · There have been three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Pocono Raceway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): spring of 2005 (200/201); fall of 2005 (200/203); spring of 2010 (200/204). · Six of the 74 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono Raceway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was the event on 8/5/2012. · Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono Raceway five times; most recently the spring of 2013. · Kyle Larson (8/03/2014) and Casey Mears (8/1/2004) posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Pocono Raceway . · One active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver has posted his first career win at Pocono Raceway : Denny Hamlin (06/11/06). · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Pocono with 1,037 laps led in 44 starts. · Two female drivers have competed at Pocono Raceway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie and Danica Patrick . Patrick’s average finish in four starts at Pocono is 32.750. Driver Starting Position Finishing Position Date Danica Patrick 10 30 8/3/2014 Danica Patrick 16 37 6/8/2014 Danica Patrick 34 35 8/4/2013 Danica Patrick 30 29 6/9/2013 Janet Guthrie 21 28 7/27/1980 Janet Guthrie 22 31 7/30/1978 Janet Guthrie 10 11 7/31/1977 NASCAR in Pennsylvania · There have been 108 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among nine tracks in Pennsylvania. Track Name City NSCS Pocono Raceway Long Pond 74 Langhorne Speedway Langhorne 17 Lincoln Speedway New Oxford 7 Heidelberg Raceway Pittsburgh 4 Reading Fairgrounds Reading 2 Bloomsburg Fairgrounds Bloomsburg 1 New Bradford Speedway Bradford 1 Pine Grove Speedway Shippenville 1 Williams Grove Speedway Mechanicsburg 1 · 141 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Pennsylvania. · Three of the 141 have won in NASCAR’s premiere series. Driver NSCS NNS NCWTS Dick Linder 3 0 0 Jimmy Spencer 2 12 1 Mark Donohue 1 0 0 MILESTONES – Pocono Raceway DRIVER HAS NEEDS MILESTONE Jeff Gordon 774 1 775th Consecutive NSCS Start - Gordon is first on the
He guided Kyle Busch to a fifth-place finish in NASCAR's championship battle in 2007, and Mark Martin to a runner-up result just two years later. But nothing can compare to this season, this Chase and, especially, this race. The No. 24 team's crew chief, Alan Gustafson, will be in the spotlight this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway , every bit as much as Jeff Gordon , his successful driver. Gordon, winner of more races than any active driver -- 93 total wins -- and No. 3 on NASCAR's career wins list, will wrap up a 23-year career when he hits the track for Sunday's season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Miami. A four-time winner of the series' title, Gordon, 44, seeks to go out on top, champion of a sport that he helped transform. And Gustafson, overseer of Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet since 2005, will be there by his side. Standing between the pair and possibly one of the biggest moments the sport has ever seen? Defending series champion Kevin Harvick , Busch and Martin Truex Jr ., an underdog who has continued to keep his title hopes alive with as much grit and determination as speed on the race track. The group makes up this year's Championship 4, and the highest finishing driver of the quartet on Sunday will earn the coveted 2015 Sprint Cup title. Gustafson has yet to be distracted by the spotlight as Gordon's racing career nears the end, and he expects that will be the case this weekend, although he knows it won't be easy. "I've tried not to focus on that all season even though it's difficult to do at times," Gustafson said last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway . "You just look at the race and you execute it and you do what you have to do to put ourselves in the best position to win. "Obviously, it's a huge deal. It's an amazing opportunity, but to me it's about the opportunity to win Homestead and the championship. How big that is or isn't in anybody else's eyes really doesn't influence me. It's different, but it really isn't different in my eyes from something I've worked for my whole life. You prepare your whole life for this and you have to embrace that and do the best you can." Gordon is the fourth driver Gustafson has worked for since moving into the crew chief role at Hendrick Motorsports in 2005. The Ormond Beach, Florida, native worked his way up from the chassis shop to shock specialist to lead engineer to crew chief in a span of seven years. Paired with Busch from '05-07, the team won four times; in '08 he called the shots for Casey Mears , and in '09 the veteran Mark Martin came on board and won five times. Gustafson also served briefly as an interim crew chief for driver Terry Labonte . Working with each driver brought new opportunities and a wealth of information. It would have been impossible not to learn as he worked with such a diverse group of talented drivers. "Absolutely. I'm fortunate to have those opportunities," Gustafson said. "You learn a lot from those guys. The vast experience that Terry had and what he's been through. And Kyle, you go right to the polar opposite -- has all the talent in the world, (at the time had) very little experience and he has to kind of navigate this sport. "He had to start tough for whatever reason. To work through those things with him and work with him as he matured and see the mistakes he made and go through the mistakes with him and make a lot of mistakes myself, that was very interesting and very fun and great experience. Had Casey Mears for a year, which was tough and humbling. Didn't seem to be able to do much right. That was a very trying time. I learned a lot about myself and how to work through difficult times. "And the success we had with Mark and the way he approached racing. That's it. He is so racing, racing, racing, racing, racing. Maybe lift weights in there somewhere. But Mark was a huge supporter of mine, which I've always appreciated. He wanted to see me be the best I could be. He was good about pointing out things and saying, 'Hey, look at this, look at that.' Even after he no longer drove, he's that kind of person. He likes to help other people. That was fun. He knows a ton and how he handles himself, absolutely learned a ton from that." Gustafson, who will continue as the No. 24 crew chief next year when Chase Elliott takes the ride, honed his talents and grew as a crew chief long before he and Gordon were united; Gordon's status as a sure-fire future Hall of Fame member, already in place, won three of his four championships with Ray Evernham as crew chief while the fourth came with Robbie Loomis atop the pit box. Some crew chiefs are great motivators while the strength of others might be more engineering based. Gustafson has worked hard to mesh the two. His car knowledge and understanding of aerodynamics allows him to converse easily with team engineers as well as fabricators and others who have their hands on the cars that roll off the line and wind up carrying the familiar No. 24 paint scheme. "He is just on their level and connects with them," Gordon said. "I think it earns a lot of respect, certainly, from my standpoint it is why I wanted to work with him so bad and why I've enjoyed working with him so much. It's because he is just so good with the cars. "He has definitely had to work and hone his skills on how to be that confident, powerful leader. He has become extremely good at it, but I do think that's probably something that was not as natural to him as the engineering. "He has got a tremendous work ethics and drive. That to me is what makes a great crew chief. When I think back to me and Ray (Evernham) or I look at other crew chiefs at Hendrick and in the garage, the ones that are just willing to sacrifice everything and put that kind of effort into it are the ones that are successful. That is what Alan does." When Gordon won at Martinsville to secure a spot in this weekend's final, the focus turned to the 1.5-mile Miami track. Efforts at Texas and Phoenix, where he finished ninth and sixth, respectively, may have suffered slightly, Gustafson admitted. "You are in a little bit of this, awkward is not the right word, you're kind of in this limbo kind of space," Gustafson said. "You don't want to run bad, you don't want to struggle, you don't want any bad momentum, you want to keep positive momentum and you're focused on Homestead. Other guys aren't, they're focused on Texas and (Phoenix). "It's a little different, first time I've been in this position. … It's a little bit of an unknown. I'm very curious to have gone through this, then go to Homestead and look back and say 'Eh, this (worked), maybe that (didn't), maybe this, you know, critique how we handle things because it is unprecedented now."
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Though the gravity of the end of his stellar NASCAR career is becoming more and more real, Jeff Gordon has maintained that the full impact won't be felt until the checkered flag falls on Sunday's finale. The same could be said for his longtime team owner, Rick Hendrick, who claims at least partial responsibility for keeping Gordon's career going to this point. Hendrick, who helped bring Gordon to NASCAR's big leagues in 1993, has coaxed a handful of extra seasons out of the 44-year-old driver in the twilight of his career, so much so that he's actually turned "one more year" into a verb. On the plane ride back from last Sunday's race at Phoenix, which left one more weekend ahead of them as driver and owner, Hendrick couldn't resist one more playful request for a 2016 return to the No. 24 Chevrolet. Gordon declined, especially at peace with his decision with one more championship to pursue. "It's hard to believe," Hendrick said Thursday, days ahead of Gordon's 797th start in NASCAR's top division. "It just seems like yesterday that he got started. … He just doesn't look like he's ready to retire. When I look at him and how young he looks, how good he is, it's like, man, but I've one-more-yeared him a couple of times, so I think I ran out of rope." The rope might end Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM), but Gordon won't be completely forgoing a career in motorsports. He'll be staying with Hendrick Motorsports to groom successor Chase Elliott in his transition to the No. 24 ride and will remain a fixture in the TV booth with NASCAR broadcast partner FOX Sports. But Gordon also left open the possibility for potential driving detail on the horizon, in a part-time role. "That's the beautiful thing about racing. It doesn't mean that I won't ever drive a race car again," Gordon said. "There's a lot of different types of series and cars out there that I maybe have never driven before and may have an interest in doing that. But currently, you know, I'm very content with the decision. I don't plan on doing any Cup races in the future. I know what a disruption that is to Hendrick Motorsports and the team that I'm still going to be involved with, and I've got enough things on my plate that are going to keep me very, very busy." Plenty of those busy activities -- watching his kids' soccer games, spending more time at home and being there with his family -- won't take place inside the microcosm of the race track. Admittedly, it was a decision Gordon had lobbied for earlier, but one where the timing never quite sorted itself out. When Gordon made his final announcement Jan. 22, Gordon sat poised to improve upon 2014, a season where he racked up four wins but fell short of the championship round by a single point. As the farewell gifts stacked up this season, the wins didn't, but Gordon & Co. still relied on their remarkable consistency and scrappy spirit. When the No. 24 finally broke through, clinching a title berth with a rousing victory at Martinsville Speedway , Gordon received further confidence that his career-altering decision was the right one. "That win in Martinsville, solidifying our chance to come here as a championship contender, that just sealed it for me," Gordon said. "I was more disappointed of how earlier in the season we weren't getting the results. We weren't putting the performances together. We weren't running as good as we wanted to. I was making some mistakes. I was thinking to myself, man, I don't want to go out like this, I want to go out being competitive, battling for wins. That's what would make me happy. "And we did -- all through the Chase we've been able to step up and perform the way I was hoping that we would, and then of course the Martinsville win, and now here we are with that same opportunity. That's how you want to go out, and that's how I hope I can." Gordon's demonstrative celebration at Martinsville might have warranted a penalty in the NFL, but the jubilation was nowhere near excessive considering the impact on one of the sport's greatest drivers with a chance for a fifth series championship. Should that crowning achievement come true Sunday, Hendrick said the moment would mark a celebration -- much like this season -- worth sticking around for. "You know, that's going to be an emotion that'll happen -- I think we'll all go bananas," Hendrick said. "It'll be just like what you saw at Martinsville on steroids, because everybody will be so proud and happy for him and the fact that he can -- and some of you guys are the ones that said it to me early; it's a walk-off home run, and I don't know how it could get any sweeter than to see a guy, especially for me, that meant so much to me personally, to our organization, could end his career that way. It would just be a fairy-tale story. I think it would be probably the biggest championship won in the last I don't know how many years."
MORE: Sunday's full lineup RELATED: Gordon's top 24 NASCAR moments " Full Gordon coverage HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Busy week, surrounded by a lot of friends and family, a legendary figure making the final start of his career with a shot at going out as a five-time champion. Racer. Philanthropist. Father. What's there to say about Jeff Gordon that hasn't been said? What's there to write that hasn't been written? Do a Google search for " Jeff Gordon " and the search engine generates approximately 79 million results. Tom Brady? 83.1 million. Kobe Bryant? 34.6 million. Derek Jeter? 14 million. Gordon, 44, is one of those rare athletes who have transcended their individual sport. A champion on the track? Without question. Off the track? Certainly. Television and tabloids flock to him. He purchased a second residence in New York City in part to escape the spotlight and to navigate life in between races unimpeded by the fame that followed him elsewhere. Maybe he would not carry the same clout or create the same buzz had he chosen another profession. Then again, perhaps his impact would have been even greater elsewhere. A precocious, driven youngster whose family packed up moved east from California in order to continue his development as a racer. A NASCAR premier series champion at 24. And 26. And 27. And 30. Now, at 44, is there one more title in the tank? What's there to say that hasn't been said, write that hasn't been written? WATCH: Gordon's first Homestead win The Alpha and Omega NASCAR didn't begin with Gordon, and it certainly won't end when the Hendrick Motorsports driver climbs from his No. 24 Chevrolet for the final time on Sunday evening. "Everybody's career comes to an end," Richard Petty said. "He's going out strong. I admire him for that part of it. "I wouldn't mind seeing him win the championship because he's meant so much to NASCAR over the years. They're going to miss him a whole lot from that standpoint." There is no one in the sport more qualified to speak on such matters than the man known simply as "The King." Now 78, Petty set the standard for champions on the track as well as how to conduct oneself outside the car. Icon, inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame member, winner of 200 races and seven championships, Petty is NASCAR. The Petty family is NASCAR. Petty's father, Lee, won three titles, 54 races and was in the very first sanctioned race. He, too, is a member of the Hall of Fame. The careers of Richard Petty and Gordon are inextricably linked by a single date – Nov. 15, 1992. Petty made his 1,184th and final start in NASCAR's premier series. Gordon made his very first in the same event. Petty met privately with Gordon this weekend at Homestead to present him with one of his signature Charlie 1 Horse cowboy hats. It was a gesture of appreciation and acknowledgement of everything Gordon has accomplished. But Petty understands better than most that the sport will move forward, just as it did when he stepped out of the car that sunny day in Atlanta. "No matter who you are, you're not strong enough to carry the whole load," Petty said. "He's been a strong leader all these years, but over a period of time, the next crowd comes along and kind of fades them all out. Over a period of time, you go away whether you want to or not." RELATED: Best No. 24 paint schemes Auspicious beginning Gordon won the series' Rookie of the Year title in 1993, competing for the honor against Bobby Labonte , Kenny Wallace and P.J. Jones. Two years later, he won his first championship. It was the era of Dale Earnhardt, the six-time champion chasing Petty's mark of seven titles while blazing new trails. He was "The Intimidator." He was NASCAR. Petty, Earnhardt and then there was Gordon. No one else was as dominant -- between 1995 and '99, Gordon won 47 races. He won Daytona. He won Indy. He won the Winston Million. Had he not come along? "Someone else would have taken that spot," Mike Helton, NASCAR Vice Chairman, said. "I don't know that anybody could have filled it, though. "There's a difference. It's like if the Atlantic Ocean went dry, somebody could figure out how to get water in it, but could they fill that whole ocean? "I think we were very fortunate for Jeff to appear when he did and do what he did along the way to keep our momentum going. It certainly added to the momentum that we had going in that era. We needed a Jeff Gordon and he arose. He came into the sport ... he could have chosen open-wheel racing ... and he would have been massively successful." Why was it Gordon? Why not someone else who stepped up and helped carry the sport forward, who resonated with fans and sponsors? Helton doesn't know. "I know growing up there was a reason I became a big fan of John Wayne. And there were a lot of cowboys on television," he said. "I just think that speaks to Jeff's inclusiveness, and his capabilities extended beyond just being a very successful athlete as a race car driver." There have been issues from time to time, but nothing major, according to Helton, who added, "Of course we've had conversations in which he'd had to write checks afterward." Earnhardt's death in 2001, in the season-opening Daytona 500 , turned the sport upside down. Gordon was one of the few who could help stabilize it in an uncertain time. "I think the whole industry looked at Jeff to take Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s place when we lost Dale," said Helton. "The garage area needed a voice like we've had historically, whether it was Richard Petty or Darrell Waltrip, Dale Sr. ... He got pressure from the industry inside the garage to be that voice. "When that came, along with the championships that preceded that, he understood the need for a league or sanctioning body in order for the athlete to be successful. But he also had a good soapbox to stand on saying 'Look, we need our voice to be heard too.' And I think the respect worked both ways." RELATED: NASCAR Nation honors Gordon with #24ever 'Iron Man' of NASCAR Consecutive starts: 796. It's one more impressive record in Jeff Gordon 's body of work. He's never missed a start, and passed Ricky Rudd for the consecutive starts record earlier this year. Now, only one remains, one final attempt, one final opportunity. Because of the format for NASCAR's championship-determining Chase, Gordon doesn't have to win Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 . He has to finish ahead of only three challengers -- Kevin Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), Kyle Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ) to capture the title. He'll go out a winner regardless of where he finishes. Whether or not he goes out a champion has yet to be determined. Capturing the inaugural Brickyard 400 in '94 has always stood out as his most memorable moment. Until a recent Martinsville victory put him in the Championship 4 here at Homestead-Miami Speedway . The '98 season when he won 13 races, the fourth title in '01 with crew chief Robby Loomis after the departure of mentor Ray Evernham and the '95 crown that was won when he "was going against Earnhardt; that was huge," Gordon said earlier this week. The finality of the moment, though, carries much weight. "My final year, my final race, (wife) Ingrid and the kids," Gordon said. "Kids motivate you in a whole new way, and no matter what we're going to go out and be happy and celebrate. "But to do it as a champion, oh, my gosh, I just can't imagine anything that would be more emotional and more exciting and more gratifying than to look at my wife in the eyes and see that reaction from her when that race is over if we win it." MORE: Drivers offer favorite Gordon memories
Going out on top is something every athlete dreams of when their career is winding down. That metaphorical ride into the sunset feels a whole lot sweeter with a title in hand. Because an athlete's performance tends to diminish in the latter years, the feat is much easier said than done. But heading into Sunday's Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM), the Ford EcoBoost 400 , Jeff Gordon is in position to walk away on top -- with his fifth Sprint Cup Series championship. In January, the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet announced that 2015 would be his final full-time season. Chase Elliott will pilot the car starting when the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series begins. Gordon's swan-song season hasn't been as strong as his four-win campaign in 2014, but he is still walking away while performing at a high level. That was evident a few weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway , where the 44-year-old scored his 93rd career premier series victory. In addition to the pure joy Gordon displayed upon winning the race, the victory locked him into being one of the four drivers to battle for a championship. If Gordon is the best finisher among the four title-eligible drivers at the 1.5-mile track, then he goes out in style and truly walks away on top. Gordon would not be alone in that club among all athletes. There have been several stars to walk away while still performing at a high level, but its even rarer to see an athlete walk away on the top of mountain with a championship. • Quarterback John Elway spent his entire 16-year career with the Denver Broncos, despite being drafted by the then-Baltimore Colts, who would later deal Elway to Denver. Up until his final two NFL seasons, Elway had not won a Super Bowl, but he closed his career with back-to-back Super Bowl titles before calling it a career. He even was named the Super Bowl MVP in his final game, Super Bowl XXXIII. Elway's dream ending is the type of finish Gordon is going for. • You may know Michael Strahan better these days as one half of LIVE! with Kelly and Michael, but before that he was busy chasing down quarterbacks like nobody else. In his career, he recorded 141.5 sacks, including setting the single-season mark of 22.5 in 2001. Strahan was the defensive leader of the New York Giants for several years and was a key part of the team that knocked off the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. He retired the following summer. • David Robinson was one of the NBA's best centers for a number of years. Injuries and the presence of Tim Duncan on the San Antonio Spurs saw Robinson's offensive role decrease toward the end of his career, but "The Admiral" was still a force on the defensive end. In the final game of his career, Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals, Robinson turned in a vintage performance with 13 points and 17 rebounds as the Spurs topped the New Jersey Nets to win the championship. The title was Robinson's second of his career and sent him out of the NBA on top. Gordon has a chance to ride into the sunset with a championship. He already has four titles (1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001) but is hungry for a fifth. Will he score a championship for the ages or will Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr . deny him in his bid for another title? Tune in Sunday to find out.
Jeff Gordon talks about where his consecutive starts record places among the other stats in his storied career and ponders whether the next generation of drivers will have an easier time breaking his mark .
'Two of the biggest names in Hollywood' to develop scripted drama RELATED: Roma Downey, Mark Burnett Q&A at Martinsville DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 29, 2015) -- Roma Downey and Mark Burnett have joined forces in a deal with NASCAR® to develop a scripted television drama based on the legendary racing world. The series will weave exciting dramatic stories within the backdrop of this beloved sports franchise. "We have wanted to develop an original, scripted drama inside our sport for some time, but have been waiting to find the right partner," said Zane Stoddard, NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing and content development. " Mark and Roma are two of the biggest, most well-respected names in Hollywood. They share our vision for this project and we are very excited to collaborate with them on the show." "From the first time we got to attend NASCAR, we fell in love with their racing world. The teams, the drivers, the fans, it's an electric atmosphere and is quintessentially American," said executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. "Now to be able to partner with NASCAR, Brian France and Zane Stoddard is a dream come true." Burnett and Downey will serve as executive producers of the NASCAR series, along with Zane Stoddard. Through 14 regular season races in 2015, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series™ broadcasts draw an average of 6.5 million viewers per event. Moreover, NASCAR delivers programming to dedicated viewers worldwide in more than 175 countries and territories in over 25 languages each week. Based in Los Angeles, NASCAR's Entertainment Marketing and Content Development division develops and produces quality television, film and digital projects on behalf of the sport. The Entertainment Marketing and Content Development division seeks to access a younger and more diverse audience through the development of original content, the integration of NASCAR drivers into existing programming, and talent acquisition for races and industry events. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Johnson: Earnhardt 'did a fantastic job of intimidating me' RELATED: Which one was the better driver? LONG POND, Pa. -- Jimmie Johnson 's quest to match NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt's Hall of Fame statistics reached another level last weekend. In both cases, the lofty numbers are worthy of stock-car racing elite. The 39-year-old driver's bid to equal Earnhardt and NASCAR's King, Richard Petty, with a seventh premier series championship has been in full swing ever since Johnson claimed title No. 6 in 2013. But after scoring his fourth victory of the season last weekend at Dover International Speedway , Johnson inched closer to Earnhardt on NASCAR's all-time win list. Earnhardt recorded 76 victories in his legendary premier-series career, placing him eighth on NASCAR's registry of winners. Johnson enters Sunday's Axalta "We Paint Winners" 400 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Pocono Raceway sitting on No. 74. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon is the only active driver with more wins -- 92. While Johnson didn't want to get too far ahead of himself in reaching Earnhardt's mark , he's clearly given some thought to what it means to be considered in the same company. "It's still two away from us, and we certainly hope to have the opportunity to tie him, and then the competitor in me would like to pass that and chase down the next guy," Johnson said Friday at Pocono. "I remember and had the great fortune, like everybody here, to watch Jeff Gordon tie that monumental record. I know how much it meant to Jeff." Gordon's ascendance to NASCAR royalty in the 1990s came during a time when Earnhardt reigned, creating a rivalry that grew from playful tweaking and intense competition to mutual admiration and respect. Gordon passed Earnhardt with his 77th Sprint Cup victory in 2007 at Talladega Superspeedway , and fans from the longtime stronghold for "The Intimidator" responded by throwing beer cans on the track. Gordon said Friday that the milestone still means a great deal to him, especially as he enters a period of transition in his last full season as a driver. But he said that Johnson is also cognizant of what the accomplishment might mean as he creeps up the all-time win list. "Having the opportunity to race with Dale and know his greatness, what he meant to the sport, how tough he was as a competitor and how many races he won, it overwhelmed me that I ever got to that mark because to me, when I started in the sport, it just seemed like he was winning everything and had done it for a long, long time," Gordon said. "Jimmie, it's just a matter of time really for him. This'll be just one of the many records he continues to break and surpass and putting his name in the record books as one of the all-time greats. Doesn't seem like that's going to slow down any time soon, and it's hard to put it in perspective maybe when you didn't get much of an opportunity to race against somebody like Dale. I know how much it meant to me to know him as a friend and a competitor, but you know, Jimmie's got a great sense of the sport and what he's doing and I know how much it means to him, so I know that something like that will mean a lot to him as well. And I hope he gets the proper respect when that day happens." Johnson didn't enter NASCAR's top series full-time until the 2002 season, one year after Earnhardt's death in a crash at Daytona International Speedway . Though he never got to test himself against Earnhardt's hard-nosed racing style, Johnson said he had enough intimidation to go around in his brief interactions with Earnhardt early in his career. "I unfortunately never had a chance to race against Dale. Definitely there's a void there in my mind in my career that I didn't have that opportunity," Johnson said. "I did meet him a couple times and he did a fantastic job of intimidating me and scaring the you-know-what out of me in both of those instances. If it does happen, we'll of course want to handle it the right way, pay tribute to Dale and what he's done for our sport -- the true badass he was in our sport -- and when and if that does happen, it'll be an honor to be there in that status with him." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Veteran driver will pilot No. 20 Toyota before calling it a career RELATED: Buy Iowa tickets " HERMAN UNPLUGGED: The retirement edition Kenny Wallace will make the final start of his NASCAR career at Iowa Speedway in the U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by New Holland (Aug. 1, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, MRN, SiriusXM). The race at Iowa will mark the end of a 26-year NASCAR career and will also serve as his series-record 547th career start in the series. The veteran driver will go behind the wheel of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing at the short track. Wallace finished 23rd in the May race at Iowa and his race will be the third start of the season for the 51-year-old. "To me, this isn't a sad moment; I'm at a truly happy place in my life right now," Wallace said in a release from Rusty Wallace Incorporated. "After all, not too many guys get to have the privilege of being a NASCAR driver, especially for as long as I have. I really wanted to end my long career on a positive note and I'm very excited about our chances in Iowa. The No. 20 team is one of the best in the sport and I'm looking forward to having a chance to end my NASCAR career with a great finish. I really want to thank U.S. Cellular for helping me make that happen." Wallace has made 344 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts in addition to 13 starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. However, all nine of his national series wins have come in the XFINITY Series. In 1991, Wallace finished as the runner-up in the standings for that series. Heading into the Iowa race, Wallace has completed the most laps in XFINITY Series history with 101,673. On the Sprint Cup side, Wallace's best finishes were a trio of runner-up showings at Loudon (in 1999), Talladega (in 2000) and Rockingham (in 2001). In addition to still competing every so often, Wallace has served as a NASCAR analyst for FOX Sports, appearing on FOX Sports 1's "NASCAR RaceDay" and "NASCAR Victory Lane" programs. He also does a "Herman Unplugged" feature, offering his opinions on the hot topics in the sport, for NASCAR Illustrated that appears on NASCAR.com. "Growing up as a kid and watching my Dad race in Rolla, Missouri, I never dreamed that I'd have the chance to do what I've done in my life," Wallace said. "I've had a long and successful career and I've been able to support my family doing what I love. To me, it doesn't get any better than that. I'm really proud of everything that I've been able to accomplish in NASCAR. "I've been fortunate enough to be able to turn my NASCAR driving career into another career doing something else I love -- that's working with FOX Sports on television. Those guys have been great to me and I get a lot of happiness from being able to educate the fans about the sport that I love. I'm going to stay involved in the sport through TV and I'm going to stay behind the wheel in my dirt cars, too. "You know, everyone experiences change at some point and I'm honestly looking forward to opening the next chapter in my life. As always, I promise that I'm going to have a lot of fun doing it." The No. 20 XFINITY Series car has seen five drivers take turns behind the wheel this season for JGR. Erik Jones has made nine starts, while Matt Kenseth has made three, Denny Hamlin has made two and Ross Kenseth and David Ragan have each made one start in the car. Jones won at Texas, while Hamlin won at Richmond in the car for crew chief Mike Wheeler. The No. 20 team enters the New Hampshire race weekend fourth in the owner standings for the XFINITY Series. Hamlin will pilot the car at the Magic Mile.