News & Media

From the Notebook: Payback always looming on the horizon

July 01, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Fresh from Sonoma, Gordon will seek a familiar partner for drafting at Daytona

Payback in NASCAR is always looming on the horizon, and in the aftermath of a particularly brutal season-opening Sprint Cup road-course event last weekend at Infineon Raceway, it makes the upcoming Coke Zero 400 at Daytona really interesting.

And why is that? Because tandem drafting became the only way to go in February as rookie Trevor Bayne used the method of racing to great effect and became the youngest Daytona 500 winner in history. And the phenomenon continued in the spring at Talladega.

"I kept it pretty clean this year at Sonoma, so hopefully I don't have too many other enemies this weekend."


But what will it be like this weekend, after a lot of fenders get bent and even more feelings flayed? Jeff Gordon, who came out of Infineon last season with more than a few enemies, had a unique perspective this week.

"It's certainly an interesting aspect to be going into Daytona after coming from Sonoma, that a lot of guys are going to have to consider and think about," Gordon said after the race. "It's going to make the week go very interesting. I'm sure there's already been calls being made because a lot of times you have your drafting partner set up from maybe Talladega or maybe earlier in Daytona and if you made that guy angry on Sunday at Sonoma, it's going to make that phone call a little tougher."

At Daytona and Talladega, the Hendrick teammates made it a point to work together, with Gordon opting in with Mark Martin and five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson latching onto Dale Earnhardt Jr. Expect that to continue, Gordon said.

"More important, for me, I feel fortunate [that] we had a great working relationship with Mark Martin at Talladega and we continue to do that and plan to continue to do that in Daytona this weekend," Gordon said. "He and I had no issues on Sunday, and unlike last year, I kept it pretty clean this year at Sonoma, so hopefully I don't have too many other enemies this weekend out there, also."

Only time will tell.

Block and get dumped

Last weekend's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway had its share of great racing, but it also had a triple handful of emotion, and that's a good part of what can make Sprint Cup racing great -- not to mention the similar action on display Saturday at Road America.

One of the best comments I heard in the aftermath of Sonoma, and I'm kinda paraphrasing here, came from Ryan Newman -- who was involved in a couple set-to's and verbally drawn into another by his boss, owner/driver Tony Stewart.

Newman was asked about blocking, because Stewart, early in the race dumped Brian Vickers after accusing Vickers of blocking him. What wasn't clear was if Stewart was talking about numerous points, not only in the race but earlier this season -- though everyone, including Vickers, jumped on the point-of-impact as an unavoidable part of racing and not a block.

Anyways, Stewart said he would have dumped his own teammate, Newman, if Newman was blocking him. Don't worry about it. Newman said he despised blocking as much as Stewart did and said it was particularly an issue at Infineon.

Newman brilliantly cited some of his competitors' lack of nerve, or ability when he said words to the effect of "they need to grow up and learn how to get into the corner deeper," or "they need to grow 'em and get into the corner deeper."

Why are we not surprised such a hardcore racer's mentality comes courtesy a couple of former USAC champions?

Stewart still stewing?

Tony Stewart had plenty of reason to be frustrated after his potential top-five finish last weekend ended up in a heap atop a tire wall at Sonoma, a result of payback by Brian Vickers. After a couple days after the incident, Stewart's feelings, understandably, hadn't cleared much.

"I don't really feel that frustrated anymore about it," Stewart said. "I pretty much stood my ground and I'm still not happy about the outcome, obviously, but I kind of knew that was potentially what could happen out of it because of what happened earlier in the race. It's like I said, I don't race guys that way and I'm not going to let anybody else race us that way -- it's doesn't matter who it is."

More good things happen for Baldwin

Geoffrey Bodine's latest attempt to keep his driving career going, which resulted in a five-race deal with Tommy Baldwin Racing backed by Luke & Associates beginning this weekend at Daytona, has turned out to be somewhat of a financial windfall for Baldwin. The driver raced his way into the precious top 35 in owners' points earlier this season -- and with the help of lead driver Dave Blaney -- has solidly stayed there.

Luke & Associates will be an associate sponsor on Blaney's car, in addition to its primary placement on Bodine's No. 35 Chevrolet at Daytona, Charlotte, Talladega, Texas and Homestead.

NEMCO steps up for missing persons

As part of the Extenze Local Hero program, 2010 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Kevin Conway and teammate/owner Joe Nemechek are stepping up to assist the Daytona Beach Police Department this weekend in the longstanding Diane and Tammy Hollins missing persons case.

During Friday's Subway Jalapeno 250 Nationwide race, Conway's No. 87 Toyota will carry the image of Diane Hollins while Nemechek's No. 97 will carry the image of Tammy Hollins along with police contact information on the cars' deck lids.

Diane Hollins, who was 31, and her daughter, 14 at the time they went missing, were last seen by a neighbor on June 9, 1979 walking away from their house in the 500 block of Park Drive. Diane never showed up for work and Tammy never showed up to school that day.

"This case has been a real mystery to us," Steve Beres, deputy chief of the Daytona Beach Police Department said. "Other than the neighbor who last saw Diane and Tammy, this is a case where there were really no witnesses and very limited information on the missing persons. Hopefully someone will see these race cars carrying the images of the Hollins and come forward and give us some long awaited information to help solve this case. We think it is tremendous what Extenze Racing and NEMCO Motorsports are doing to help us in this case."

Psyched for Kentucky

Count Tony Stewart among those excited about the inaugural Sprint Cup weekend at Kentucky Speedway, which slots into the weekend following Daytona and includes a NASCAR triple-header with the Camping World Truck Series (Friday) and Nationwide Series (Saturday).

"[It's] definitely long overdue for sure," Stewart said. "Ever since the speedway opened, we all wondered when we were going to have a Cup date there and definitely think it took a lot longer than all of us anticipated. Just the tri-state area there has such deep racing roots with dirt track racing and pavement racing -- it's a perfect market, it's a perfect area and the race fans that go there are true diehard race fans."

The grandstands will tell the tale next week, as they have all year.

* Kentucky: Track Page | Tickets

No news is no news on Gordon's retirement

The media often won't let go of many bones it gets its teeth into, and talking retirement with Jeff Gordon is one of them. As Gordon's family grew to two children and he continued to thrive as a competitor -- he won his second race of the season at Pocono -- he made it clear that retirement was not in his near future.

"I've never looked at retirement from an age standpoint."


He reiterated that this week.

"I've never looked at [retirement] from an age standpoint," Gordon said. "The Chase [for the Sprint Cup] definitely heightens the emotions and the stress level and the pressure to go out there, not only once you get in the Chase for the championship, but trying to make it into the Chase.

"So, yeah, there's definitely some significance there. It makes you have to be in better shape physically and mentally as the season winds down, so it takes more of a toll on you as you get older. But I've never really put an age limit on where my career is going.

"I've always said that it's really three components that's going to make those decisions, and when that time comes, that it's time for me to maybe move on from driving full-time. And that's being healthy, enjoying what I'm doing, and being competitive. And I feel like all three of those things kind of link together."

And there's obviously no worries on Gordon's part on any of those fronts, this season.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.