NASCAR’s growth in 1990s, Chase debut stand out most to Jeff Gordon

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From his 1992 Sprint Cup debut onward, Jeff Gordon has both been a witness to and has played a role in the evolution of NASCAR.

But as the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion looks ahead to his final full season at the top level of the sport, two particular moments from that evolution stand out to him for different reasons.

Thanks to his early run of championships on the track and youthful personality, Gordon became the face of NASCAR’s push beyond its Southern roots in the 1990s.

New races emerged in major markets such as Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Dallas/Fort Worth, Las Vegas, and Miami. As interest grew across the country, the sport eventually scored a $2 billion-plus TV contract from NBC, Fox, and the Turner networks for the 2001-2006 seasons (NBC and Fox will broadcast NASCAR for the next 10 years starting with this season).

NASCAR became white-hot, and Gordon helped get it there.

“I think that the greatest thing I saw was in those mid to late 90’s, the growth of the sport, and how going to Indianapolis, and going to Texas, and moving all over the country and then packaging the TV broadcasting partners along with that,” he recalled today.

“During that same time,  the fans and their avidness for the sport was growing further and further. The core was still the Southeast, but you started seeing it be so recognizable beyond that and throughout the U.S. I know it seemed like just a lot of things were coming together at one time through those mid to late 90’s.

“So it was fun to be a part of that and an incredible growth – just going to the racetrack and every weekend, the grandstands were filled. They were putting new grandstands in, and they’d fill those. They’d put more grandstands in and they’d fill those. So it was very, very cool.”

But not every change within NASCAR was to Gordon’s liking.

Today, he singled out the 2004 debut of the Chase format, which has since gone under multiple revamps over the last decade to become its current, elimination-style version.

Gordon recalled sitting on a dock in Key West, Florida with NASCAR Chairman Brian France when France told him that the Chase was coming.

“I told him that was not a very good idea,” Gordon said.

Over time, however, Gordon says he has come to love the Chase, particularly after he’s been able to do so well in the 2013 and 2014 editions.

Still, he’s frustrated that he hasn’t yet been able to win a Cup title in the Chase era. Now he has just one more opportunity to solve that problem.

“It really bums me out I haven’t won one under this format,” Gordon said. “We’ve been close, but haven’t won it, and I’m using that as motivation in this final season to run for the championship and to go out there and get it done.

“I thought we had a chance to do it last year, and, boy, I would love to get into that same position that we were in this past year and do that again this year with running for the championship at Homestead.”

IndyCar entry lists for Harvest GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

IndyCar entry lists Indianapolis
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There are 25 drivers on the NTT IndyCar Series entry lists at Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a few new yet familiar faces for the Oct. 2-3 race weekend.

Four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais will make his season debut in the No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet (shifting Dalton Kellett to the No. 41) with AJ Foyt Racing, which he is joining full time next season. James Hinchcliffe, who had run three races with Andretti Autosport, will return in place of Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda. Helio Castroneves will drive Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 7 Dallara-Chevy for Oliver Askew, who is out with concussion-like symptoms.

Sage Karam, who has two IndyCar starts this year at IMS (the road course on July 4 and the Indy 500 on Aug. 23), also will return to the series in Dreyer & Reinbold’s No. 24 Dallara-Chevrolet.

HARVEST GP ENTRY LISTS: Friday l Saturday

Friday and Saturday of the Harvest GP presented by GMR will mark the second and third races this season on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. While the July 4 race on the circuit was 80 laps, Friday’s distance is 85 laps, and Saturday will be a 75-lap event.

Championship leader Scott Dixon led 26 of 80 laps to win the July 4 race at the IMS road course. With three races remaining in the series, the five-time series champion enters with a 72-point lead on Josef Newgarden.

Click here to see who’s on the IndyCar entry lists in Race 1 and in Race 2 for the Harvest GP presented by GMR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.


START TIMES AND TV INFO FOR INDYCAR AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY ROAD COURSE (all times ET):

Thursday

IndyCar NTT Series practice: 2:25-3:40 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying, Race 1: 6:20 p.m. (two groups/12 minutes apiece), NBC Sports Gold

Friday

—IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix, Race 1: 3:30 p.m. (green flag, 5 p.m.), USA Network, NBC Sports Gold

Saturday

—IndyCar qualifying: 10:20 a.m. (two groups/12 minutes apiece), NBC Sports Gold

—IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix, Race 2: 2:30 p.m (green flag, 2:31 p.m.)., NBC, NBC Sports Gold