NASCAR Pocono Notebook: Gordon, Axalta Promote STEM Education Through Penn State Paint Scheme

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Seth Livingstone ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

LONG POND, Pa. — Jeff Gordon has always experienced strong support at Pocono Raceway, a track where he’s won six NASCAR Sprint Cup races.

This weekend, he’s feeling a little extra love.

Gordon is not only driving a Penn State-themed, blue-and-white Chevrolet in Sunday’s Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400, his team is helping to host more than 100 Penn State students – primarily business and engineering majors — at the track.

“It’s amazing. We had a chance to go over to Penn State and visit with the students and the faculty and the group of engineers that are doing so much to be the future of companies like Axalta and the future of racing,” said Gordon, who is competing in his final full Sprint Cup season.

Axalta (formerly DuPont) is a Philadelphia-based manufacturer of liquid and powder coatings. The Penn State program at Pocono, which includes a garage tour and panel discussion with Axalta, NASCAR, Pocono Raceway and Hendrick Motorsports executives, is designed to drive awareness of and support STEM (science, technology, education and math) and business education.

“Supporting STEM and future business leaders is vital to our future,” Gordon said. “I depend on the mechanical engineers on my team to make sure that my car in in top form for every race. Everything in my car is linked to engineering – drag and drafting, friction and heat, grip, sound, turning and load transfer. That’s why linking STEM education to the technology behind successful racing is so important.

“Having Penn State and those blue and white colors on our No. 24 car, we are certainly going to have more support. The pressure is on, but we are excited about that relationship.”

Last year, Gordon and Axalta teamed to run a maroon car at Texas Motor Speedway with a Texas A&M paint scheme. Axalta chairman and CEO Charlie Shaver says involvement in education and creating interest in STEM research is vital to success, not only on the track but in research, science and business.

“We’re based on engineering, science and innovation,” Shaver said. “We work hard on STEM projects to (reach) students who are in high school and college to get them interested in engineering and, ultimately get them interested in companies like Axalta.

“We have a couple thousand engineers and chemists in the company. We have to continue to replenish them and, as we think about staying ahead of our competition, continue to recruit the brightest and the best. This weekend, we’re exposing them, not just to the sport, but also behind the scenes – how engineering works, how business works in not only NASCAR but for the teams.”

Although Gordon has announced that 2015 will be his final season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver, Shaver says Axalta’s relationships with both Hendrick Motorsports and Pocono Raceway will continue. Axalta also maintains working relationships with Rick Hendrick outside of NASCAR and has already announced a long-term agreement to keep Gordon on board as an adviser.

“We do have a 23-year relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. We will be with one of their drivers (in 2016),” said Shaver, whose company is also hosting more than 50 racing enthusiasts from Brazil this weekend. “That contract continues. Jeff will continue to play a very active role with us in the company. He just won’t be in the 24 car. Later this year we’ll announce with Rick and the team where we’ll be and how that sponsorship will work.

“The sport is important to us, the relationships are important, and being able to build one at what we call our ‘home track,’ right outside our corporate headquarters is even more important.”

Harvick Hunting Pocono Win

Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick is winless in 28 career starts at Pocono Raceway. But he came close last August, finishing second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 400, and he’s consistently had the fastest car on the track this weekend.

“Pocono is one of those places where I haven’t had a ton of success,” Harvick says. “Probably the best memory I have there is winning a truck race.”

But the series points leader finally appears to have things zeroed in. His Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet posted the fastest lap time in all three practices for Sunday’s race, including a 175.974 mph circuit to edge Kyle Larson (175.292) in Saturday’s final practice.

“The car is really fast,” says Harvick, who also ran the fastest times in the first two qualifying sessions on Friday before settling for his fifth-place starting spot. His teammate, Kurt Busch, will start on the pole.

Chevrolet drivers Earnhardt Jr. (who swept last year’s Cup races at Pocono), Martin Truex Jr. (second in points), Kasey Kahne, Larson and Busch each turned top-10 laps in both of Saturday practice sessions. So did the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota drivers Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who had a top-four or better car in each of the three Pocono practices.

Jimmie Johnson, looking to build on his fourth victory of the season last week at Dover, was 19th in final practice. No Ford driver was better than 14th on Saturday (Brad Keselowski in the morning, Greg Biffle in final practice).

NASCAR Named “National Treasure”

NASCAR has been named one of the United States’ “National Treasures” by PARADE magazine and will be featured in the widely distributed print edition this Sunday.

PARADE’s ongoing series highlights “uniquely American people, places and things that make us very, very happy,” and so has also recognized the Declaration of Independence, the Hollywood sign, Stevie Wonder and potato chips among other “National Treasures.”

The NASCAR distinction is supported by Sprint Cup driver Danica Patrick, who describes the sport as “totally American – NASCAR’s roots are true.”

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