Jeff Gordon made it look easy in winning Wednesday's charity go-kart race in Knoxville, Iowa. (Photo: Cyndee Bonkowski)

Fans race (and try to wreck) Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson

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KNOXVILLE, Iowa — How many NASCAR fans have said to themselves or friends, “Man, if I only had the chance, I’d love to bang fenders with my favorite driver?”

Or, “Man, I’d love to take (fill in driver’s name) out in a race.”

Well, on Wednesday at Slideways Karting Center in Knoxville, Iowa, nearly 60 lucky fans had the chance to do one of the rarest things in pro sports: to race with their heroes, four of the biggest names in NASCAR.

Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson took on the lucky fans in the second annual Kick-It/Weld Racing Go-Kart Spectacular to benefit pediatric cancer.

“This is really going to change the lives for children out there with pediatric cancer, so thank you, thank you, thank you,” Gordon told the crowd of about 2,500 fans that turned out to watch. “When I looked at the parking lot today and saw the line of cars down the road, I knew it was going to be a good day.

“I don’t know of anywhere in the world where you’re going to go to a go-kart track and see Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and myself together – or have as much fun.”

Each of the nearly 60 fans that raced paid at least $300 for the chance to do some rubbin’ and racin’ on the slippery oval, a track that was made even more slick with periodic rain sprinkles throughout the afternoon.

“We’re all passionate about this week, this event and we’re all passionate about Jeff’s efforts,” Stewart said. “We do it because of Jeff and because of the kids that he supports. That’s what racers do. It’s not about being a stock car driver. That’s the breed of drivers we are and the background we come from.”

There even was a special guest in the house, Gordon’s former crew chief and NASCAR team owner and broadcaster, Ray Evernham.

Evernham and the four drivers were all in town for the Daytona 500 of the sprint car world, the Knoxville Nationals, which began later Wednesday evening.

Before one of the heats, Evernham looked like he was trying to improve Gordon’s go-kart, prompting Tony Stewart to quip with a laugh, “No fair, no working on the car. You’re cheating just like you used to.”

“It’s great to see Jeff, Tony, Kasey and Kyle supporting what they’ve got going on out here,” Evernham said. “To me, (sprint car) is really grassroots racing. It’s where a lot of us grew up and it’s really neat to see a lot of people doing it and all the support that they have.”

When I asked Evernham why he wasn’t in the go-kart race, he replied with a laugh, “My problem is I’ve always been a much better mechanic than driver.”

The event raised nearly $25,000 for charity, including Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Foundation.

“Oh my gosh, it was so much fun,” Gordon said. “This place is so much fun to go out there in (simulated) sprint cars and slide ’em around. A little bit of sprinkle making for a lot of fun conditions. And there’s some guys out there with some real skills. We all have big smiles on our face, having a lot of fun.”

“Those of us with Kick-It, for kids cancer, this is a real treat for us to be able to come here, be a part of this event, raise money for a great cause – pediatric cancer – have a go-kart event like this and to have the fans come out and support the way they did this year is amazing. It’s a huge crowd. When you get this kind of a driver lineup out here in Knoxville, the fans are going to come. I hope they enjoyed it, because we certainly did.”

Added Kahne, “It’s neat to see, all the money goes to a great cause, and we get to race a lot of people that are out here having fun like we are. It’s a cool, cool event.”

There were eight heat races leading up to the main event. The winners of each heat advanced to race all four pro drivers, who understood and took it good-naturedly that some of their fellow drivers were looking for bragging rights that they spun out a NASCAR star.

“It’s fun racing with the fans because this is like the biggest thing they’ve ever done, racing with us,” Larson said. “They take it really serious, you can see it on their faces. It makes it fun for us to see how focused they are. And when we beat them, they grip the steering wheel even harder.

“You can see it happen, too. You see them like focus on your rear bumper and just turn toward you. We understand it, though, and it’s funny.”

Not surprisingly, much like the way Sprint Cup drivers typically dominate when they race in the Nationwide Series, the Cup drivers were the stars in Wednesday’s main event.

Gordon won the race, Kahne was a close second, and Anthony Corini, a 20-year-old college student from Rockville, Md., was the top-finishing fan, taking home a trophy and the experience of a lifetime.

“That was pretty fun,” Corini said. “The rain made it real interesting. It was a lot of fun. I’ll never forget it. It was a great moment. There was a lot of money raised for a good cause.

“I did it last year, but I ran around the back in the main. I made it, but I didn’t do as well as I did this year. I finished behind Jeff and Kasey, but not too bad of company, I guess. I think I was flying under the radar.”

Stewart and Larson finished further back in the 12-driver pack.

“I think (sprint car driver) Brad Doty put it best when he said, ‘Think about what this means to people and being able to do this,'” Stewart said. “But at the same time, think about how much it means to us to be able to do it. It’s fun for us. Nobody’s out there trying to wreck you and put you in the wall. Everybody’s racing and having fun. It makes stuff like this a lot of fun.

“Look at everybody that’s out here, and in the rain, no less. That’s the kind of fans you see at sprint car races. Everybody’s having fun and enjoying it.”

As for a certain MotorSportsTalk writer who also competed in the event, well … let’s just say he finished and leave it at that.

And we won’t get into that he got spun twice by a certain NASCAR star whose last name rhymes with “pain,” or about the flat tire – his third in five days – said writer had on the way to Iowa.

But that’s another story for another time.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Vettel ‘expected a bit more’ than fourth in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel says Ferrari “expected a bit more” than fourth place in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix as Red Bull moved to within a point of the Italian marque in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship.

Vettel claimed his second race win for Ferrari in Hungary last year, but was left to settle for P4 this time around after failing to pass Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo for third in the closing stages.

The result extended Ferrari’s winless run in 2016, and allowed Red Bull to pull up just a point behind in the constructors’ championship.

When asked by NBCSN if Ferrari now how to admit it was in a battle for second, Vettel said: “We never denied it! We have to fight Red Bull.

“Our target is always to fight for P1 but Mercedes is strong. It’s not big news. We try everything. So is Red Bull.

“I think we had a good package today. We expected a bit more. But we’re up against it trying to improve it. We have the best pace right behind it.

“We need to get better Saturdays to have a chance on Sundays.”

Vettel was left fuming over the radio on multiple occasions during the race on Sunday after getting stuck behind lapped cars, calling for blue flags to be respected.

“I calmed down. I don’t think they showed the bit where I said please wave a blue flag,” Vettel said after a couple of his messages were broadcast, albeit censored.

“Obviously you get the impression you lose more than others. Lapped cars are usually doing a good job.

“Mirrors aren’t that big. It’s not like a 75 inch 4K resolution mirror you’re looking into. And we’re quite a bit faster in three to four corners.

“I know that I got pretty loud in the car but I’m not going to criticize anyone.”

Gutierrez calls Hamilton ‘disrespectful’ after in-race gesture

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Esteban Gutierrez has called three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton  “disrespectful” after being shown the middle finger during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Towards the end of the race at the Hungaroring, leader Hamilton got stuck behind Gutierrez while trying to lap the Haas driver in the final sector.

Hamilton’s lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg dropped by two seconds, with Hamilton only managing to pass Gutierrez down the start/finish straight.

While passing, Hamilton raised his hand and showed Gutierrez his middle finger, angered by the incident.

Hamilton managed to retain his lead and win the race, while Gutierrez was handed a five-second time penalty for ignoring blue flags that dropped him to 13th in the final classification.

Hamilton batted away a question about the incident after the race, but Gutierrez took to Twitter to express his thoughts.

Ricciardo feels “really satisifed” in happy return to podium

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.
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Daniel Ricciardo’s first podium of the year at the Monaco Grand Prix was soaked in disappointment, with a sure win going away thanks to a botched pit stop and a hard luck second place.

His second podium of the year, at a similar short track that suits both the Red Bull RB12 chassis and the likable Australian, brought the return of the smiling Daniel we all know and love in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo was the only driver to even make a remote crack at the Mercedes teammates at Turn 1, launching strongly from third place on the grid into an attempt at the lead around the outside of the corner.

Problem was, Lewis Hamilton got out ahead in the lead and then Nico Rosberg made it back past Ricciardo for second into Turn 2.

Third was always going to be the best case scenario from there for Ricciardo, and he held off Sebastian Vettel’s late-race charge to the finish en route to third place.

“It’s great to have another podium this year. First one was bittersweet but this one I can definitely enjoy,” Ricciardo said on the podium.

“I’m super happy to be here today. Three years in a row at this circuit. Thanks to the team. We’re continually getting better, and I’m having fun.”

Ricciardo’s third place is his second third place at the circuit after coming third last year, and then winning in 2014.

His result, plus the fifth place achieved by Max Verstappen after his battle with Kimi Raikkonen, has put Red Bull within one point of Ferrari for second place in the Constructor’s Championship (224-223).

Ricciardo expanded on it in a separate post-race interview with NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“I’m so happy to be back up here. It’s been a while since I’ve left Sunday feeling really satisfied,” he said. “Podium is the icing on the cake but all weekend I got the maximum out of the car. For that, I’m pleased.

“At the time we looked quite competitive. But in the end they were quite quicker. They sucked us into that, but I held Seb behind. Anyway I enjoyed it and it was quite fun to cross the line and knowing I’m back on the podium.

“From my side it was nice to be first out of Red Bull and Ferrari. I felt I did my job. Hopefully this means second in Constructor’s later in the year.”

Raikkonen: ‘Very questionable’ not to penalize Verstappen

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Kimi Raikkonen believes it was “very questionable” of the Formula 1 stewards not to penalize Max Verstappen following their clash during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Raikkonen lost part of his front wing while trying to pass Verstappen for fifth place late on, the pair making contact at Turn 2.

Raikkonen fumed over his radio to Ferrari after the incident, claiming that Verstappen moved more than once while trying to defend his position.

Both drivers were able to continue, their scrap lasting to the line where Verstappen finished 0.3 seconds clear.

Speaking to NBCSN after the race, Raikkonen questioned the decision not to penalize the Dutchman.

“I think it was very questionable, but it’s not my decision to decide,” Raikkonen said.

“I’ve seen penalties for much less. It depends on the stewards.

“In the end it didn’t damage our race, but it’s more disappointing to have such a good car and not be in a better position since we started so far back.”

Verstappen had been in the battle for the podium early on, but his race was compromised when he emerged from the pits behind Raikkonen, who was running a reverse strategy after starting down in 14th place.

“It was very frustrating,” Verstappen told NBCSN after fading from the podium fight.

“We were quick but then I got stuck. Ferrari was catching me… then you get stuck behind Kimi, destroy your tires, and do your own races, and the guy behind you catches up on fresher tires.”

Of Raikkonen’s penalty claim, Verstappen simply replied: “It’s his opinion. I tried to defend my position.”