Tag: Terry Labonte

The Road Course Ringer Myth

Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

There’s this myth that comes around NASCAR twice a year during the Cup Series schedule. That myth is if you get yourself a “road course ringer,” you’ll have instant success in the race. Well that’s not been the case more often than not and it’s actually surprising to me that this is still a thing.

Working against the road course specialist is how the Cup Series is structured now with 36 charters in play. Because of this guaranteed spot, it’s harder than ever for good and competitive rides to be open and available for someone to jump in once or twice in a given year. Usually the driver of the car is too tied to the sponsor that they cannot step away, or they might be in the thick of the championship battle. Continue reading “The Road Course Ringer Myth”

Gordon’s Impact On NASCAR Immeasurable

There it is, the official word is out that Jeff Gordon is done as a full-time NASCAR driver at the close of the 2015 season. Thus ends the speculation and questions that have been building since the 2009 season.

We should have all seen it coming, especially in the cryptic language of recent sponsorship announcements. Especially when 3M came on board, the emphasis was sponsorship of the team, not driver. Add in rising star Chase Elliott needing a place to go, this opens the door for him and keeps Hendrick Motorsports from losing another champion in the making.

Looking over his career, where do you start to put his time in perspective of NASCAR’s greats. Easiest place would be his stat line. Coming into his final season, Gordon has started 761 consecutive races (11th all-time), has won 77 poles (3rd all-time), has won 92 races (3rd all-time), collected 320 top-5s (3rd all-time), has 454 top-10s (2nd all-time), led 24,664 laps (6th all-time), and of course there are those four championships (1995, 1997, 1998, and 2001). The argument could be made that had the Chase not be developed, we’d be talking about a five or six time champion at this point.

Gordon also represents the last link to what many fans consider the best years of racing, the 1990s. He was the kid who came out of nowhere (well Pittsboro, IN to be exact) to challenge the great Dale Earnhardt and won. His youthful image and business prowess redefined NASCAR superstars. Not only was he a changing of the guard, he was an overall game changer for NASCAR. His rise to fame was something of a storybook, being nicknamed Boy Wonder.

Take away his statistics, he was able to rewrite NASCAR history without doing anything on the track. He had the eye to saw something in Jimmie Johnson that no one (including Johnson) saw. The result has been five championships and 70 wins for Johnson since 2002 as a teammate to Gordon.

The future, like many press releases before, is unknown and cryptic. On paper it says “last full-time season,” which indicates we might see Gordon run some races in the future. I’m thinking Hendrick might go the route it went with Terry Labonte, letting Gordon run a fifth car at tracks of his choosing. I hope that is the case because I think he has a lot left in the tank at age 43.

I’m sure the motivation is to be able to spend more time with his family. Another factor has got to be that nagging back injury that almost had Gordon call it quits in 2009. Instead of backing down, he came back and proved he was still an elite driver.

We have 36 more races to see Gordon, a walking legend. I just hope fans appreciate exactly what Gordon has done for the sport. I’m confident in saying it would not be at the levels it is without Jeff Gordon.

The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR

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Much was made last November about a changing of the guard in NASCAR when we ran the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin and Ken Schrader made it be known it would be their final Sprint Cup Series race. For Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte it represented their final full-time race in the series, although Labonte did not make the trip south as his finale was a week prior at Phoenix.

Beyond those four drivers there are a few more veterans who might be shut out of the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, making a landscape of drivers whom diehard fans know, but the casual fan might not. David Reutimann, an eight year veteran has been let go from BK Racing and it’s not looking good for him securing a new ride. Dave Blaney, with 16 years, has said he will focus more on sprint cars than the Sprint Cup Series in 2014. And signs are not good that Travis Kvapil, a nine year veteran, will have a ride in 2014 either.

There always comes a time in NASCAR when it seems the whole landscape shifts to a new crop of stars. In the late-80s drivers like Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarborough got out of the way for the new crop. That crop included Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin among others.

Those drivers have slowly retired along the way, handing off the baton to the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and others. With rides being at a premium in the Sprint Cup Series, this will be the first time in a very long time we will have a deep rookie class coming into the season. That comes at the cost of veterans who have been hanging on, for good or bad.

This rookie class has, officially, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, and Michael Annett. Unofficially Justin Allgaier should be joining them in the Phoenix Racing entry and most recently it looks like Alex Bowman should as well with BK Racing.

While it is unfamiliar times for some NASCAR fans, this time should be embraced with excitement. While we wish all the veterans can hang on, I for one believe it’s time for change and to get new faces into the sport.