NASCAR Daytona Notebook: Jeff Gordon’s Final Run At Daytona Delayed Because Of Rain

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Bill Speros ~ NASCAR Wire Service

The field takes the green for the Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Sunday at Daytona International Speedway (Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The field takes the green for the Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Sunday at Daytona International Speedway (Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jeff Gordon’s final spin through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit rubbed up against Florida’s mid-summer weather pattern and lost – at least for a while Sunday night.

The start of the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola was delayed for more than three hours Sunday night because of wet weather that soaked Daytona International Speedway late Sunday afternoon and into the evening.

Gordon began his Sprint Cup Series career 20 years ago and enjoyed summer success at Daytona early.

Gordon has won the July 400-mile race at NASCAR’s 2.5-mile-long Florida Cathedral three times and has 14 wins here overall. He has not found Victory Lane here since winning his third Daytona 500 back in 2005. He captured the pole for February’s Daytona 500 and led that race for 87 laps before finishing a disappointing 33rd.

Speaking to NBC Sports during the rain delay, Gordon indicated there’s no time for sentimentality even when it comes to his final scheduled start at Daytona.

“It will probably hit me once we get to Homestead,” Gordon said of the emotion of his final Sprint Cup season as a driver. Gordon is 11th in the current points standings but does not have a victory this season.

Gordon’s No. 24 Rainbow Warrior paint scheme is making a return when he runs at Bristol for the final time in August. A version of the venerable No. 24 Chevrolet was on display in the Sprint Fan Zone and was a popular spot with fans and their smartphone cameras before the rain arrived Sunday.

Gordon turns 44 in August. His 92 Sprint Cup Series wins and four Sprint Cup championships have cemented his place among the sport’s all-time greats and spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His first NASCAR race was Richard Petty’s last. He briefly battled the late, great Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the hearts and minds of a younger generation of fans who flocked to the sport during Gordon’s ascendancy in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Once the young upstart, Gordon has grown and matured into an unlikely and steady statesman. The mustache is gone, as are his youthful facial features. But the desire to race and win appears as vibrant as ever.

Clint Bowyer Out of Mulligans In 2015

Bowyer, who missed the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last season, was winless heading into Sunday night’s Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway. He admitted that he and his team have run out of space for mistakes if they hope to make NASCAR’s playoffs this season.

“You can get by in the first part of the year,” Bowyer said before Sunday’s race. “When you get to the summer months, you have to hit on all cylinders. That set in for me and our race team weeks ago. We’re out of mulligans and it’s time to go. Get our crap together. We’re working on our race cars. We know we’re behind. These mile-and-a-half tracks are kicking our butts.”

There are only nine more events remaining to set the 16-car Chase after Sunday’s race. Boywer was one of several marque NASCAR stars, including Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, who were still seeking a win in 2015 prior to Sunday’s race. Boywer was in contention to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, California, last week but finished a season-high third behind the Busch brothers, winner Kyle and runner-up Kurt.

“It’s easy to get beat down and get out of sync,” said Bowyer, who said he does not subscribe to the theory that failure is often the result of bad luck.

“You also have a lot to do with what happens,” he said. “You can get caught in the wrong situations. Other times you caused the dang thing. There’s always something different that wins these races.”

All the talk about racing for points and reaching the Chase without a win will quickly fade if and/or when Bowyer has his next opportunity for victory. “It’s a balancing act. Win and you’re in, but you’re only one point out of racing your way in,” he said. “If you’re up front [near the end of the race], all that goes out the window and you forget about that crap. All you can see is winning. You get us with a sight of victory, and we’re going for it.”

Bowyer said the new, lower-downforce “Kentucky Package” debuting next week presents an entirely new set of challenges. “If we make it through tonight, we’ll go to Kentucky Wednesday and figure it out,” he said. “A good race car driver adapts. We’re going to learn in Kentucky. There will be some growing pains. They have a good game plan. They’ve done their due diligence. If we don’t see exactly what we’re looking for in Kentucky, we’ll see it soon.”

Medal of Honor Recipients Honored at DIS

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore A. Giunta was serving his second tour of duty in Afghanistan on Oct. 25, 2007 when his company was ambushed by Taliban fighters. Under fire from all sides, the Iowa native risked his life to rescue a wounded comrade, getting shot twice in the process. Later, then-Specialist Giunta recovered a fellow paratrooper from enemy hands.

According to the Army, “his courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability [to] defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow paratrooper from enemy hands.”

Staff Sgt. Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2010. Giunta , the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan, was one of three Medal of Honor recipients who made an appearance in the Sprint Fan Zone signing autographs prior to Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola. Guinta was joined by Sgt. Major Gary Littrell [Vietnam] and Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts [Afghanistan] at Daytona International Speedway.

When Giunta joined the Army in 2003 after growing up in Iowa at the age of 18, he was “gung ho” because he expected the United States to achieve quick victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. Giunta said the young men and women who volunteer to serve in the military in 2015, after more than a decade of war, are worthy of high praise.

“We were a country fighting two wars in 2003. I think I joined for very naive reasons,” he said. “To see these kids today, after 14 years of war, given how the media portrays the situation now, they’re better than we were. I went in there thinking we were going to win this war quick. These kid know it’s not going to be quick. They know it’s not going to be easy. Yet they keep showing up and doing it every single day at whatever the cost. They are what makes America great. Not the politicians. They’re a bunch of clowns.”

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