Auto Racing / Sports

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Your guide to the Oral-B 500

Jeff Gordon's first career Sprint Cup Series start came at Atlanta Motor Speedway and so will his 750th.

Gordon, a four-time Cup series champion, began his career in the 1992 season finale race at Atlanta and will continue it in Sunday night's Oral-B 500 looking for his fourth win of the 2014 season.

"It seems like just yesterday that it all started right here, over 20 years ago," Gordon, 42, said. "I love this track, love racing here, so it's pretty cool to have 750 happening here."

Gordon's 750 career starts ranks 11th on the all-time list. He has 91 wins and 76 poles in his career.

At Atlanta, Gordon has five wins, two poles, 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes and has led 1,297 laps.

--CMS to host country jam: Charlotte Motor Speedway will host a three-hour country music festival prior to the start of the Oct. 11 Bank of America 500. The Band Perry will headline the festival.

"It's above and beyond what we've ever done before for the fans," speedway president Marcus Smith said. "This is going to be the biggest country music festival and pre-race party ever."

In addition to The Band Perry, there will also be concerts by Parmalee and Jimmy Wayne. NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make appearances. There will also be Q&A sessions, pit crew demonstrations, games and photo opportunities.

--Bass Pro Shops stands with Stewart: Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris issued a statement Saturday expressing support for driver Tony Stewart. Stewart's No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet is sponsored by Morris' outdoors store chain.

"What started as a sponsorship discussion between Tony and I 15 years ago has turned into a long and special friendship," Morris said. "It's a friendship that has given me the opportunity to get to know one of the most compassionate and kind-hearted individuals I have ever met.

"On behalf of the Bass Pro Family, and as Tony's friend, we are proud to stand by him as he returns this weekend to the sport he loves so much."

--No issue with Hamlin and Harvick: Denny Hamlin was none-too-pleased with Kevin Harvick following last Saturday night's race at Bristol, Tenn., when Hamlin was hit and wrecked by Harvick while Hamlin was leading the race.

Hamlin said Friday he heard from Harvick almost immediately after the race, apologizing for the incident. Hamlin even tossed his HANS safety device at Harvick's car after the incident.

"Kevin's a great driver. He knows what he's doing. He just made a little mistake," Hamlin said. "We all do it at one point or another."

Three things to watch

1 Tony Stewart will make his first start since the Aug. 3 race at Pocono Raceway. NASCAR has ruled should he win one of the next two races, Stewart would be eligible for the Chase.

2 Kevin Harvick has now won as many poles (six) this season as he has in the previous 13 seasons of his Cup career.

3 Roush Fenway Racing has been working diligently to improve its performance on intermediate tracks. This is their last opportunity to show gains before the start of the Chase.

Observations

--How much frustration did NASCAR fans and officials express in recent weeks because of mainstream media's attempts to portray the Aug. 9 race in which a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart struck and killed another driver was somehow a NASCAR sanctioned event or under its purview? By granting Stewart a waiver into the Chase based on what he did in an event that had nothing to do with NASCAR only serves to confuse the masses even more. If NASCAR is willing to blur the lines then it shouldn't be surprised -- or complain -- when outsiders do as well.

--The new sponsor of what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series will be unveiled Wednesday during a news conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. All signs point to a sizable agreement with Xfinity by Comcast. Since Xfinity is owned by the parent company of NBC, which will broadcast half of the series' races, it will be interesting to see how the dynamic plays out during the half of the season broadcast by Fox and its partners.

--Two years ago the Internet was abuzz with stories from "experts" wondering why Roger Penske would hire Joey Logano to drive in the Cup series. Now, two years later, many of those same people are wondering why no one else was interested.

Best bets

Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart.

(c)2014 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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