Stewart (and Gordon) farewell tour reaches Pocono

by Sports Editor
Steve Stallone

It will be a final farewell to racing star Tony Stewart. It will be a “second” final farewell to racing legend Jeff Gordon. And, it will be a pivotal stop in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ looming “Chase for The Championship” in just a few weeks from now. Yeah, this weekend’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway will have plenty of meaning indeed. And lots of emotion.
At the center of the attention will be Stewart, a three-time series champion and two-time Pocono winner who has said 2016 will be his final season in racing. The driver they call “Smoke” has been on fire of late, winning in California two weeks ago and turning in an 11th-place showing last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He is looking for his 50th career victory this weekend, and his first at Pocono since 2009. In his final race at the Brickyard, Stewart was honored with a riveting speech from a longtime rival, which prompted a standing ovation in the pre-race drivers meeting. He was brought to the front of the field prior to start of the race in another ceremony.
And afterward, he shared the spotlight with that same rival.
Gordon, who retired following the 2015 season, was brought out of retirement prior to the Brickyard 400, subbing for injured former teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. It couldn’t have come at a more special time - Stewart’s final race at Indianapolis. “Tony and I have gone through a lot over the years, but he and I have become really good friends,” Gordon said in an article that appears on NASCAR.com. “I’m just so proud that I was able to be here and race with him in his final race (at Indy).”
After Kyle Busch took the checkered flag to win the Brickyard 400, the two drivers who have combined for 142 wins and seven series championships, Stewart and Gordon, turned a final lap together. “Tell (the 88) after this is over, let’s go around the track one more time together,” Stewart said of his team radio. Gordon got the message loud and clear. The two racing icons slowly circled the historic 2.5-mile track to the cheers of fans and many of the drivers and their teams still on pit road. Afterward, they shared a lengthy embrace of the once-rivals who have an admitted deep respect for one another.
“I can say that just ranks in the top-three coolest moments of my 18 years in this series,” Stewart said to the media afterward. That is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
They’ll get another chance to put on a show this weekend at Pocono, site of Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400.
Gordon’s ride in Earnhardt’s No. 88 will last at least through this weekend, and perhaps longer if Earnhardt isn’t recovered from the concussion-like symptoms he is suffering. This will be his third weekend out of the race car.
Both Gordon and Stewart are on a long list of contenders for the one who will be in Victory Lane come Sunday afternoon/evening. Gordon has more wins (six) than any drive in Pocono history, and also has led the most laps (1,040), has the racetrack’s race record (145.384 mph) and has logged 20 top-5 finishes, tied with Mark Martin for the most in track history. If you’re a member of the #88 team, that’s not a bad driver to put into your car while Earnhardt is on the mend. Gordon finished 13th at the Brickyard last Sunday.
Kyle Busch has struggled for consistency at Pocono, but had it all going for him last weekend when he swept both the Xfinity and Sprint Cup series races for the second time in his career at Indy. Matt Kenseth was second, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.
His brother Kurt Busch is a three-time Pocono winner, including earlier this summer in Long Pond. Hamlin is a four-time Pocono winner and Johnson is a three-time visitor to Victory Lane here. Other formidable drivers including two-time winners Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, along with past winners Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kenseth.
Visit pocononewspapers.com for the rest of the column.
GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES: Chef, restaurateur, New York Times best-selling author and Emmy Award-winning television host Guy Fieri will serve as Grand Marshal of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Pennsylvania 400 on Sunday. He owns Guy Fieri’s Mount Pocono Kitchen in the Mount Airy Casino Resort and Guy Fieri’s Chophouse in Atlantic City, amongst others. He is also the star of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and “Guy’s Grocery Games” on Food Network. Fieri will provide the “Start Your Engines” command prior to the start of the Pennsylvania 400.
REST OF RACING WEEKEND: There are two other races at Pocono this weekend. The ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards Modspace 150 will be Friday at 5:30 p.m., and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Pocono Mountains 150 will go green on Saturday afternoon at 1 o’clock. Friday’s schedule is: ARCA practice, 9:30-10:55 a.m.; Sprint Cup practice, 11 a.m.-12:25 p.m.; Camping World Truck Series practice, 12:30-1:55 p.m.; ARCA qualifying, 2 p.m.; Final Truck Series practice, 3-3:55 p.m.; ARCA ModSpace 150 race, 5:30 p.m. Saturday’s schedule is: Truck Series qualifying, 9:05 a.m.; Final Sprint Cup practice, 11 a.m.-12:20 p.m.; Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 race, 1 p.m. Sunday’s schedule: Driver introductions, 1 p.m.; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pennsylvania 400 race, 1:30 p.m.
Tickets are still available for all three events, as well as the Verizon IndyCar Series ABC Supply 500 at Pocono on August 21. For more information, visit www.poconoraceway.com or call 1-800-RACEWAY.

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