Jeff Gordon: “I’m still as passionate and as excited as ever”

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The running joke in 2013 for Jeff Gordon was, of course, his 11th-hour addition to the 2013 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup as a 13th driver on Friday the 13th of September.

In 2014, he hopes the narrative shifts to where his performance level doesn’t require an unprecedented act from NASCAR to get him into the championship-deciding 10-race stretch.

Gordon appears refreshed and rejuvenated after an offseason that included a trip to France with his family, and still motivated by the desire to return to championship-winning form. He expanded on all this in an interview with NASCAR.com.

Put simply, though, he still feels he’s got as much vigor and strength to go to the track, run hard and run competitively.

“When I get to the track, I’m still as passionate and as excited, if not more so, than I’ve ever been,” he said.

Gordon said he and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team, led by crew chief Alan Gustafson, need to eliminate the slow starts. Last year he had only two top-10 finishes in the first 10 races, as well as two-sub-30th place results. In 2012, there were only two top-10s in 11 races, with four finishes of 33rd or worse.

Simply speaking, more consistency early in the year will place him in a better position of not needing to play catch-up when the summer stretch starts and the push to the Chase begins.

Gordon has three Daytona 500 victories (1997, 1999, 2005) and seeks to add a fourth next month.

INDYCAR: Newgarden, Sato quickest in first of 2 Friday practices at Road America

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Josef Newgarden was quickest in the first of Friday’s two INDYCAR practice sessions at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion covered the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course with a best lap of 1:43.0477, followed by Takuma Sato (1:43.4729), Alexander Rossi (1:43.5603), Robert Wickens (1:43.5774) and Marco Andretti (1:43.8825).

Sixth-quickest was Tony Kanaan (1:44.0429), followed by Spencer Pigot (1:44.1080), Zach Veach (1:44.1306), Scott Dixon (1:44.1643) and Matheius Leist (1:44.2963).

Alfonso Celis Jr., making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut and with Juncos Racing, was 22nd quickest in the 23-car field at 1:44.9164, while Gabby Chaves was the slowest driver on the course at 1:46.4485.

While there were no significant incidents during the 45-minute session, a number of drivers struggled in several turns, primarily due to some lingering puddles from overnight rain, as well as on rumble strips that threw their cars into adjacent grass areas.

The second practice session today takes place at 4:15 p.m. ET.

A third practice kicks off Saturday’s busy day at Noon ET, followed by qualifying at 4 p.m. ET, the second round of qualifying at 4:40 p.m. ET and the third and final round of qualifying at 5 p.m. ET.

The weekend’s main event, Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, takes the green flag shortly after 1 p.m. ET. Make sure to tune in to NBCSN for the live telecast of the race.

We’ll have the full practice grid and driver quotes shortly. Please check back soon.

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