Jeff Gordon on Tony Stewart: ‘Wish I could pat him on the back, give him a hug, talk to him’

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – Rick Hendrick experienced great tragedy when he lost his only son, brother, two nieces and six others in a plane crash in 2004, but dealt with the resulting pain and grief with incredible grace and strength.

At the same time, Jeff Gordon not only comforted his boss and friend, he was also a stoic leader in helping to keep the Hendrick organization on track both literally and figuratively.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Hendrick and Gordon both understand and know the kind of grief and mourning Tony Stewart is going through following the Aug. 9 sprint car tragedy that took the life of young Kevin Ward Jr.

Following Gordon’s win Sunday at Michigan, MotorSportsTalk asked Hendrick and Gordon their thoughts about Stewart. While neither man has yet to talk directly to Stewart out of respect, they helped paint a picture of what they think he has to be experiencing.

“I’ve talked to Eddie Jarvis (Stewart’s business manager and close confidant),” Hendrick said. “I didn’t talk to Tony. I’ve stayed in touch with them. I brought Regan up to the race in Watkins Glen (to fill in for Stewart in the No. 14 race car for last Sunday’s Sprint Cup race).

“I think they’re making the best of the situation that they’re in. Tony’s got a lot of good folks around him. I’ve told him I’m there if they need me. But I haven’t talked to him.”

Gordon, meanwhile, downplayed the leadership role he took following the Hendrick Motorsports plane wreck, but also can understand how much his fellow racer and good friend is hurting.

“We luckily had an incredible leader in Rick Hendrick,” Gordon said. “To me he set the example for all of us. I was just so motivated by his ability to go through something so tragic, lose family members, yet be so appreciative of the people that work at Hendrick Motorsports, their efforts.

“You’re always looking for something to get you out of that. Even though it takes time to grieve, there’s a period of time where that needs to find a solution and a way for each and every person to go through it. I think at the same time seeing the race team go and perform and win races, come together through a tough, tough time was huge for all of us. I think Rick played a bigger role in that than I did.

“I have not spoken to Tony. I have reached out to him through texts, knowing I’m not going to get a response, but just to let him know I was thinking about him.

“I just can’t imagine what he’s going through. Can’t imagine what the Ward family is going through. It’s a very, very difficult time.

“But I support Tony, definitely support him. Wish I could pat him on the back, give him a hug, talk to him. I’d love to.”

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Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.