Jeff Gordon prepares for 700th Cup start at Darlington

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As four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon heads for his 700th career start (all consecutive) in NASCAR’s premier series this weekend at Darlington Raceway, the venerable driver is acknowledging the milestone but not putting a lot of emphasis on it.

“I’ve been fortunate to race this long and have the type of career I’ve had,” he said. “It’s really cool to see that this will be my 700th start, but it’s not something I really paid attention to. It’s hard to believe I’ve run that many – especially consecutively.”

Through his previous 699 starts, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has evolved from an up-and-coming “Wonder Boy” to one of the sport’s most decorated veterans with his four Sprint Cups and 87 career victories. Seven of those wins, as well as 18 of his 299 Top-5 finishes have come at Darlington’s infamous egg-shaped oval.

Adding to the inherent challenge that Darlington presents is the fact that the Generation-6 machines will be visiting the track “Too Tough To Tame” for the first time this weekend. Suffice to say, Gordon has lots of other things to worry about besides hitting the 700-race mark in his career.

“The [car] will be fast and have a lot of grip,” he said. “But racing the track while working traffic will be as tough as ever.

“They repaved Darlington a few years back, so it’s not the same track it used to be 10 years ago. But it’s still one of those tracks where you have to push hard but be patient. And it’s still one of those tracks you must respect.”

Gordon is tops amongst all active drivers at Darlington in wins, Top 5s, and laps led (1,720 — 903 laps more than any other driver).

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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