Hornaday, Bodine, Crafton and Buescher comment on their top-five finishes at Darlington.
The GarageCam gang tries to tackle a place that has been called 'The Track Too Tough to Tame .'
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Kevin Harvick , ever the prankster, the needler, the “I bet I can get under his skin” guy, took the high road Thursday during Championship 4 media day activities, choosing instead to pay homage to a four-time series champion. “In the end, you don’t want to be the guy that was disrespectful at Jeff Gordon ’s last press conference or say something that’s just a total jackass move,” Harvick said. Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) is the defending Sprint Cup Series champion. Gordon ( Hendrick Motorsports ) is a four-time winner of the title and is retiring as a full-time driver at season’s end. The two, along with Kyle Busch ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ) make up this year’s championship contenders. The highest finishing driver of the four in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway captures the title. It was an unexpected tact from Harvick, who began this year’s Chase by going for the throat when asked about Joe Gibbs Racing ’s perceived superiority heading into the 10-race playoff. “I've raced against the Gibbs cars. I think we're going to pound them into the ground, that's what I think,” Harvick said of his No. 4 team during a pre-Chase media day gathering in Chicago. “Hopefully they can beat themselves." At last year’s pre-championship press conference, it was Team Penske ’s Joey Logano who bore the brunt of the Harvick mind game, coming after what Harvick saw as questionable driving tactics at an earlier Chase race. After Logano referenced the anticipated “hard racing” in the finale and added “we want to be able to win the championship the right way,” Harvick was quick to chime in. “I thought you were going to say you were going to send Brad (Keselowski) out to be the moving chicane like you were at Talladega," he said. Thursday, Harvick said this year’s fellow Chase competitors deserved much success for what each has been able to accomplish this season. Truex and his single-car, Colorado-based team surviving each round of the Chase to make the finals and Busch coming back after missing the first 11 weeks of the season due to injury to not only qualify for the Chase but make it this far. “There’s really no reason to ‘create’ a story. There’s no reason to ‘create’ a moment,” Harvick said. Gordon, however, deserves special recognition, he said, primarily because of what he has meant to the sport for more than two decades. “Sure I want to go out and win the championship and win the race, but you know in the end, this is a pretty big moment for our sport,” Harvick said. “… Even though it's his last race and growing up a race fan and seeing all the things that he's accomplished in the sport and being able to be a part of (it) a little bit closer … over the last couple years with the SHR relationship with Hendrick for me has been pretty neat. “I think when you look at all that, I think there's a demand for that respect that he deserves, and it's Jeff Gordon . So … this is a moment where it's about the championship, but it's also paying respect to what is going to be his last race and a pretty cool moment, whether he wins or loses, the way the year has gone for him has been pretty neat.”
See what tough drivers make the list and what they did to get them there
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
RELATED: See the throwback schemes for Darlington Just when it looked like Darlington Raceway 's 1970s "throwback" promotion couldn't get any groovier with retro race car paint schemes and a return to the track's historical Labor Day weekend calendar spot, NBC Sports upped the game again. The network announced Tuesday that iconic broadcaster Ken Squier will team with NASCAR Hall of Famers -- and father and son -- Ned and Dale Jarrett in the broadcast booth for a portion of Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 telecast on NBC (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Not only will the race look like a blast from the past, it will sound like one, too . "Something I'm looking extremely forward to is to have a chance to call some of the race with my dad and Ken Squier, who really helped put our sport on the map,'' said Dale Jarrett, who appears on NBC's pre-race show along with Krista Voda and Kyle Petty. Viewers can expect to be transported to a different era in the sport with approximately 30 cars running retro paint schemes and the broadcast set to adjust even fine details, like making its graphics and logo authentic to the time. The track nicknamed " Too Tough to Tame " is itself a perennial "throwback" to some of the most noteworthy historical times in NASCAR. Described Squier, "Darlington is truly like no other, its imperfections ... it's the perfect competitive place for NASCAR." "Authentic" was the buzzword Tuesday afternoon as the NASCAR on NBC team shared its collective thoughts about one of the sport's most traditional races, the Southern 500 and its long-awaited move back to its Labor Day weekend position on the schedule for the first time since 2003. Squier called it "the best move NASCAR has made in a decade." Others spoke at length about how this weekend's race at the notoriously tough Darlington venue also represents a bridge between the longtime NASCAR purists and the new generation of fans. "I think it's really important to understand where you came from to know where you're going, and what a perfect weekend to do it,'' NBC analyst and former Darlington winner Jeff Burton said. "At a time we look back and celebrate the past, we can celebrate what's going on now too ." Fellow analyst Petty agreed the weekend would please those who hang onto the memories of Richard Petty battling David Pearson, Ned Jarrett's record 14-lap margin of victory, Dale Earnhardt's afternoons charming "The Lady in Black" and Bill Elliott winning $1 million in the old Winston Million incentive program. At the same time, there is hope the attention generated this weekend will pique the interest of new fans who have a wide field of young new talent ready to follow in the legends footsteps here. "It's a time to wax nostalgic, but also an opportunity to educate fans to the history of the sport at a place that has that much history … and at the same time introduce them to what the sport has now," Petty said. "There are certain places that evoke history and the guys that came before you, and Darlington's that place. It's still the exact same place my granddad drove around 50-60 years ago. "I was ecstatic when they moved it back to Labor Day. ... This is where it should be. "All is right with the world this week for me because we'll be in Darlington and it's Labor Day."
GarageCam host Matthew Dillner takes you through the NSCS garage at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the last time in 2015 and pays tribute to NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon.
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- It's Ford Championship Weekend and the automotive manufacturer has its name on all three NASCAR races this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway . A champion in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be crowned Friday, where Brad Keselowski Racing driver Tyler Reddick trails Erik Jones by 19 points. On the XFINITY Series side, Roush Fenway Racing 's Chris Buescher has his Ford out front by 18 points over Chase Elliott (JR Motorsports). Sunday, the Sprint Cup championship will be decided among four teams that have survived a nine-race, elimination-style playoff to get here. None of the entries among those four title-contending teams preparing for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 carry the Ford nameplate. "It's tough . I'm not going to mince words," Edsel Ford II said Friday. "We're very disappointed that we don't have a car in the Chase, especially (for) Ford Championship Weekend." Two Ford drivers, Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano , qualified for the 16-team Chase for the Sprint Cup . Roush Fenway Racing , the last Ford team to win the Sprint Cup title (with Kurt Busch in '04) failed to place one of its drivers in the Chase for the first time since the format debuted that same season. But Keselowski, who won the championship in 2012 with Penske and Dodge, failed to advance out of the final eight this season to earn a berth in this weekend's Championship Round. Logano, meanwhile, swept one of the three-race rounds and appeared to be one of the title favorites before a run-in with Matt Kenseth escalated, eventually ending when Kenseth wrecked the No. 22 earlier this month at Martinsville. Thus, this weekend's four Chase contenders represent two of the three automotive manufacturers competing in NASCAR -- defending series champion Kevin Harvick (Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon (Chevrolet), Martin Truex Jr . (Chevrolet) and Kyle Busch (Toyota). "We would have loved to have had a car in the Chase, frankly. But it is what it is. That's racing I guess," said Ford, a member of the Ford Motor Company Board of Directors. This was a chance we could win a Ford Championship -- we've got good trucks, we've got good XFINITY cars, we've got very good (Sprint) Cup cars so who knows?"
Practice 2 recap " Results Joey Logano led the final XFINITY Series practice at Darlington Raceway on Friday, posting a top speed of 166.676 mph on Lap 2 of 28. The Team Penske driver was fourth-fastest in the series' opening practice earlier in the day. Kyle Busch , who was fastest in the first XFINITY Series practice at Darlington, came in second-fastest behind Logano (166.642 mph). Ty Dillon (165.643 mph), Kyle Larson (164.556 mph) and Daniel Suarez (164.457 mph) rounded out the top-five fastest on the practice leaderboard. Saturday's VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the final race in the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash program and Suarez, Dillon, Brian Scott and Chase Elliott will compete for the final $100,000 cash prize. Elliott was ninth-fastest while Scott was 11th-fastest in Friday's final practice. Practice 1 recap " Results Kyle Busch led opening practice for Saturday's XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway . The Joe Gibbs Racing driver completed his fastest time on Lap 2 of 19 at a speed of 167.379 mph. Closing in on Busch was JGR teammate Denny Hamlin who came in as second-fastest (167.015 mph). Paul Menard (166.304 mph), Joey Logano (166.034 mph) and Ty Dillon (165.788 mph) round out the top-five fastest drivers at the " Too Tough to Tame " track. Piloting the No. 9 Chevrolet, defending race winner and XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott was 11th-fastest in the first session (165.009 mph). The XFINITY Series returns to the track at 3 p.m. ET for the final practice before Saturday's race at 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN/Live Extra, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
RELATED: Full lineup Denny Hamlin will start Saturday’s race at Darlington Raceway after earning his 20th career Coors Light Pole Award in qualifying. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver topped the leaderboard in the final round of qualifying with a best speed of 171.704 mph. Hamlin, who started and won from the pole at the track “ Too Tough to Tame ” in 2006, 2007 and 2010, has never finished an XFINITY event outside the top 10 at Darlington. JGR teammate Daniel Suarez will start alongside him on front row after running a lap at a 171.178 mph clip. Kyle Larson (170.970 mph), Joey Logano (170.815 mph) and Paul Menard (170.703 mph) -- who led the first two rounds -- round out the top five. Following a bit of a bizarre moment, XFINITY stalwart Kyle Busch will start 36th after failing to advance to the second round. His time was disallowed for a blend line violation. Defending race-winner Chase Elliott will start seventh after a best speed of 170.395 mph. Tune in to watch the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Additional coverage is on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.