NASCAR: Jeff Gordon still a home favorite at Sonoma

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Jeff Gordon may have rose through the racing ranks while living in Indiana, but the four-time Sprint Cup champion is a California native. Additionally, his “first” hometown of Vallejo, California is not too far from the Sonoma Raceway.

And it’s those Sonoma fans that give him one of the better welcomes along the Cup circuit.

“It is hard to say it is my home track, but this is home for me,” Gordon said today at Sonoma between practice sessions.

“I love coming out here, and yet had I not moved to Indiana, I don’t know if I would be here today, and get the reception we get out here, which is a fantastic one.

“It is awesome. Even my truck driver was saying that the truck parade that was last night in Sacramento, he saw 24 hats everywhere. That is not necessarily the case in Johnson City, Tennessee.”

This weekend, Gordon returns to Sonoma as the Sprint Cup championship leader and firmly in the Chase after his win earlier this year at Kansas Speedway.

But all he has to do is look across the garage at defending Cup champion and teammate Jimmie Johnson – who has rattled off three wins in the last four weeks – and he knows that he has some catching up to do.

He’s also looking to finally capture his sixth career win at Sonoma after taking No. 5 all the way back in 2006. But with the way Hendrick Motorsports has been performing lately, Gordon has every reason to be confident.

“We know that we need to get to Victory Lane a few more times and I think we are capable of doing that,” Gordon said. “I think that we are a team that can be very consistent and yet also be a real threat to win.

“This year, the way my cars are running everywhere we go, I’m excited to get in it, push the limits of it and I’m having a blast. Every time they drop the green flag I feel like we have a car that can compete for a win.

“That is very exciting and I’m proud of the effort that has been put in to make that happen.”

Gordon also said that his back issues from the Coca-Cola 600 have not been bothering him on the hilly Sonoma circuit, which he seemed to take as a pleasant surprise.

“I’m happy – as hard as you are braking, and all the shifting you are doing out here, I was a little concerned, but it has gone really well,” he said.

“The plane ride out was harder than anything – sitting there for five, six hours.”

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”