Michael Waltrip Racing adds Maxwell House to the mix; Hendrick Inducted into Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame; NASCAR ’15 good-to

NASCAR: Friday Texas Notebook: Gordon compares Texas Motor Speedway to a rollercoaster

By John Sturbin
NASCAR Wire Service
 
 
FORT WORTH, Texas—Six Flags over Texas is located in nearby Arlington, but Jeff Gordon doesn’t need to hustle over to Interstate 30 for a rollercoaster ride. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion says he gets a thrill every time he buckles-up at Texas Motor Speedway.

 
“I like to relate this track to a rollercoaster because certainly driving it is similar to a rollercoaster,” Gordon said after Friday’s second/final Sprint Cup practice for Saturday night’s 19th annual Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX). “The transitions from the straightaway to the corners are more abrupt than any track we go to. When you look at the pace and the grip level, it goes up-and-down. You get new tires, you get a lot of grip and it sticks really good, then falls off a lot and you’ve got to move around the racetrack.
 
“As you’re running the race you’re going to see a lot of cars going forward and going backward. It’s definitely a rollercoaster ride—a tough racetrack, a very technical racetrack.”
 
Gordon stood 25th after the final practice with a hot lap at 187.370 mph in his No. 24 Panasonic Chevrolet SS. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne topped the sheet at 190.975 mph in the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet.
 
Gordon, who is competing in his 23rd and final full-time season for HMS, will make his 29th start on TMS’ 1.5-mile quad-oval on Saturday—five months after his now infamous post-race scuffle with 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski.
 
Gordon’s shot at a fifth championship began to unravel during the AAA Texas 500 last Nov. 2 in the Eliminator 8 Round of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Gordon apparently was headed to victory with less than five laps to go
when contact with Keselowski, of Team Penske, cut a tire on Jeff’s No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS during a green-white-checkered flag restart. Gordon, who finished off the lead lap in 29th, angrily confronted “Bad Brad” on pit road post-race and ignited a brawl between the drivers and their teams. Both drivers emerged from the melee with bloodied faces.
 
Upon offseason review, Gordon said there was not much he could have done differently in a race won by Hendrick teammate/six-time NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson. “A little better restart, and I probably would have stayed on Jimmie’s quarter panel a little bit stronger,” Gordon said. “We come through the double dogleg (on the frontstretch), the second part I got close to him and then I opened up that gap to get my angle for the corner and that’s when Keselowski took that middle lane. I probably would have done something to try to not give him that option. We had a pretty amazing race up until that point last year.”
 
Gordon’s TMS resume features a victory in the 2009 spring race, three Coors Light Pole Awards, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes, 688 laps led…and scuffles with Jeff Burton in November 2010 and Keselowski last year. Ironically, Gordon received the Texas Motor Speedway Sportsmanship Award during the 12th annual Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala at The Speedway Club Thursday evening. Specifically, he was cited for his support of pediatric cancer research, treatment and patient support programs through the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation. Gordon, who has been under the weather here, accepted the award via a videotaped message.
 
“I’m still scratching my head,” Gordon said with a laugh. “Last time I was in Texas I remember there being quite a brawl on pit road. I don’t know if that was the best example of sportsmanship, but for those of you that voted—thank you!”
 
Michael Waltrip Racing adds Maxwell House to mix
 
Michael Waltrip Racing will carry primary sponsorship from Maxwell House Coffee for five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this summer and in the season-opening Daytona 500 in February 2016. The 10-month agreement with MWR is scheduled to begin with the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 2.
 
In addition to Pocono, Clint Bowyer will wheel the No. 15 Maxwell House Toyota Camry at Watkins Glen International, Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway during the second half of the 2015 season. Team co-owner Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, will carry Maxwell House’s blue colors at Talladega Superspeedway in October and in the 2016 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Waltrip drove a Maxwell House-branded car in 1989.
 
"It's a great lineup of races for me,” said Bowyer, who is entered in the No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota for Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500. “I'm looking forward to those races and having Maxwell House on-board. It’s neat. Anytime you can have a sponsor and bring a sponsor back into this sport that has been a part of this sport for many years—a staple name in this sport—to have them back on-board not only with NASCAR but on the side of my race car is huge for me and our sport. It's big anytime you can bring funding to these race cars; it's a game-changer."
 
Additional elements of the sponsorship include special appearances by the Michael Waltrip Racing team, exclusive behind-the-scenes access for select fans, special in-season and grocery store promotions and sampling at select races. A Kraft Foods Group brand, Maxwell House also will serve as an associate sponsor for the remaining Sprint Cup races this season.
 
Hendrick inducted into Texas Hall of Fame
 
NASCAR team-owner Rick Hendrick became the 17th member of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame—and its first “Southern Gentleman” —during the 12th annual Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Gala at The Speedway Club Thursday evening.
 
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip, a former Hendrick Motorsports driver, praised Hendrick as “my good friend, my buddy, somebody I love to death.” Waltrip said Hendrick personified the qualities of a true “Southern Gentleman” during his introductory remarks.
 
“When I think about a Southern Gentleman I think about his dad (Papa Joe Hendrick) and about Rick,” said Waltrip, who scored nine of his 84 career NSCS wins at HMS between 1987-90. “And a Southern Gentleman has a lot of characteristics that I think have gotten lost through the years but Rick still has them—hard work, respect for your elders, a firm handshake, your word is your bond, you make eye contact with someone when you’re talking to them…you treat other people like you want to be treated.
 
“He’s as smooth as silk but he’s as strong as steel. Rick Hendrick, folks, in my opinion, is a true Southern Gentleman and he is so worthy of any award but particularly this award tonight.”
 
Hendrick’s teams have enjoyed a wealth of success at TMS. HMS’ six career Sprint Cup victories are second-most by a team owner, trailing only fellow-Texas Motorsports Hall of Famer Jack Roush’s nine.
 
“I’ve been so blessed in my life because I get to do the two things I enjoy the most—outside of my family—and that’s racing and the automobile business,” said Hendrick, whose auto empire includes three dealerships in Texas. “I’ve met some terrific friends, like Darrell. I’ve seen guys like Jeff Gordon (emerge as superstars). Now he’s retiring and I’m still here—I’m a fossil.
 
“The sport’s been so good to me. In some of the darkest hours of my life, NASCAR has been there. I’ve been to the top of the mountain and all of my friends have been with us. But in any business you’re in today, it’s all about people…and racing’s that way. Thank you for this terrific honor. I’m blessed to be here; I’m honored and humbled.”
 
The remainder of the night’s awards amounted to a Hendrick Motorsports love fest. Waltrip received the O. Bruton Smith Legend Award after an introduction by brother Michael. A popular analyst on FOX Sports’ NASCAR telecasts, “Ol’ D.W.” said the award was special to him because it had the blessing of longtime friend O. Bruton Smith, chairman of the board of Speedway Motorsports Inc.
 
“In 2000, I was honored to receive the Bill France Award of Excellence, and that meant a lot to me,” said Waltrip, a NASCAR Hall of Famer. “But this award, I mean this when I say it, this means more than any award I’ve ever gotten from anybody.”
 
The driver who will replace Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet next year—Chase Elliott—was honored as TMS Racer of the Year. Elliott posted his first NASCAR XFINITY Series victory in last April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. At the age of 18 years, 4 months and 7 days, Elliott became the second-youngest driver to win an XFINITY Series race and the first series rookie to win at TMS. The son of 1988 NSCS champion Bill Elliott, Chase went on to win the XFINITY championship.
 
In addition, Sprint Cup race title sponsor Duck Commander was presented the Major General Thomas Sadler Award for its contributions to Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter. The local chapter’s mission is to care for children in educational, financial, social and medical need and help them lead productive lives. Since its founding in 1997, Texas Chapter has awarded more than $9.7-million in grants and has touched the lives of more than three million children.
 
NASCAR ’15 good-to-go in May
 
Texas-based GameStop Corp. plans to launch its NASCAR ’15 video game on May 22, with NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Erik Jones in a virtual starring role. Jones’ No. 20 GameStop/Mortal Kombat X Toyota Camry, fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, is featured in the newest product at $19.99.
 
“For a long time we’ve had NASCAR racing games, but it’s never really been taken to the level I thought capable,” said Jones, who will make his first XFINITY Series start at TMS in Friday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. “So to have you guys (GameStop of Grapevine, Texas) come in and try to make something out of it is pretty exciting. Definitely looking forward to the game that’s coming out this year. It’s a blast to race…and try not to tear too much stuff up.”
 
In XFINITY Series qualifying, Jones covered the 1.5-mile quad-oval in 29.163-seconds at 185.166 mph for his second series pole
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